Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The 'Odd'yssey (Part 3)

Wednesday morning saw us wake up bright and early to head back (once more) to George Bush Intercontinental Airport. We had an early flight north which, hopefully, would mean that we would arrive with a reasonable amount of the day left to take a look around Baltimore, Maryland. Once again Chris drove us down and dropped us off with enough time to spare that we were able to have a spot of breakfast before we had to board the plane. This time we were flying with Delta (who recently acquired Northwest as a subsidiary) and on a significantly smaller plane than some we had travelled on over the last few years.

The first leg of the flight was up to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport which opened back in 1947. Although it is called Cincinnati Airport, it has the code CVG because Covington, Kentucky is actually the closest major city. Indeed, Cincinnati Airport is in Kentucky rather than Ohio (which is the state in which Cincinnati is) hence the second part of the name. As you might see from the photos visibility was poor as it was heavily overcast and raining. This meant for a minor delay as we prepared to land but we were soon on the ground safely. Our next step was to change planes ready for the second leg of our flight.

This time we were on an even smaller Delta Connections flight to take us to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (the name is certainly a mouthful). After another small delay we were able to take off and made fairly quick time across to Linthicum, Maryland (the airport is about 10 miles south of Baltimore and 30 miles north of Washington, D.C.). While the weather was still fairly overcast there was no more rain and the forecast was that the clouds would clear a little in the afternoon. The airport has featured in a number of films including ‘Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Goldfinger’, ‘Broadcast News’ and ’12 Monkeys’ which gave us some landmarks to look out for. Landing was smooth, as was the transition through to baggage collection (we only had carry on) but that was where the positives ended for a little while.

When Meg and Chris had booked the hotel for Baltimore they had tried to find one in the downtown area of the city, near to the major sporting stadiums. On the website it indicated that there was an airport shuttle to take us to the hotel but when we reached the terminal there was no sign of such a beast. With the assistance of a kindly bystander we gave the hotel a call and it transpired that there was no hotel shuttle. However, there was an airport shuttle which would drop us at the hotel for the generous sum of only $35 per person. Some investigation brought to our attention that it was possible to catch the Light Rail system into Baltimore for something approaching $4 for the two of us. Weighing up the options, we made the short walk to the Light Rail terminal.

Travelling up from the south into Baltimore was fascinating and led to some interesting reflections on parts of American society. This sort of public transport was not well patronised (we were the only non staff members who boarded at the airport) and as we travelled in we noticed that the occupancy was approximately 80% african/american and leaned toward working class. This was a contrast to some of the villages that we passed during the trip which were almost picture postcard representations of what you might expect from a traditional New England town. However, much of the remainder of the journey was through very industrial areas, where the majority of the housing seemed to be run down. As we have come to expect from Americans, everyone was very courteous and friendly making sure we knew where we were stopping and assisting us with getting off safely.

We found ourselves just up from Camden Yards at the stop called Convention Center. Because it was meant to be right by the stadiums we assumed that the hotel wouldn’t be too difficult to find, so we figured on walking there and grabbing some lunch on the way. Having walked off the platform we could see a Holiday Inn so we walked up in that direction. However, on reaching the building we could see (which was right across from the stadium) we discovered that this was not the Holiday Inn which we had booked. It turned out that our Holiday Inn was a couple of miles to the south of where we were and they did have a shuttle but it didn’t pick up from the airport. It would, however, pick us up from the Convention Center, so we waited there.

When the shuttle did arrive it turned out that there were other people that needed to be picked up from a different part of the city, so we wouldn’t be going straight to the hotel. However, the driver was excellent and gave us a potted tour of Baltimore as we drove through the traffic (which was quite heavy for the early part of the afternoon). One of the things that Baltimore has been renowned for is the quality of the education facilities it provides and we had the opportunity to see some of this first hand. Our route took us past the University of Baltimore, John Hopkins University, Loyola College in Maryland, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland and Morgan Street University. When you tie this with the John Hopkins Hospital which has a reputation as a teaching hospital worldwide, then you get an idea of what education means to the community.

The city has a long and distinguished history going back to its founding as a port in 1706 and then a city in 1729. It was named after Lord Baltimore of County Cork, Ireland, who became the first Proprietary Governor of the Province of Maryland. During the early part of its life it was particularly important as a port because it was closer to the Caribbean than other ports (such as New York City or Boston) and so there would be less chance of spoilage on food products. During the American Revolution the city joined the resistance against Britain, and Congress met there during 1776/7, making the city the effective capital of the United States. Of particular significance were events off Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 which led a lawyer named Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to what would become ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, the American National Anthem since 1931.

After having picked up the other guests we finally made it back to the hotel and were able to put down our bags and rest for a while. It wasn’t long, however, before we went back down in the elevator to catch the shuttle back into the city ready for the baseball game that was to take place later on that evening. When we got into Camden Yards there was still a little while till game time, so we took the opportunity to venture into the Sports Legends Museum which is just across from the Stadium. Inside there were tributes to a multitude of famous (mostly American) Sports people, particularly those who had played in the Baltimore area. Meg was interested to see more on some of the baseball players she and Wayne have talked about, specifically Babe Ruth (who was born only 2 blocks from the museum), Frank Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. When it came to a focus on some of the more obscure sporting teams in Baltimore we decided to leave and headed off to the game.

Unfortunately, not long after we had arrived in our seats the heavens opened and people were soon scurrying for cover. We had just purchased some dinner (traditional hot dogs and drinks) so we retreated up from where we were seated to just under the scoreboard to get some shelter. As it turned out, the rain lasted a little while and there were lots fun scenes as the grounds crew struggled to get to covers on and off each time there looked like being a break and then it started to rain quite heavily again. Meg wasn’t hugely thrilled and suggested that she might go back to the hotel if it continued to rain which seemed to be enough to scare the clouds into retreating. It was soon announced that play would begin only 40 minutes late, although that was too late for a number of people in the crowd who had already taken the option to leave.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards is one of the more beautiful stadiums in Major League Baseball, having been built in an old railway center where the exteriors of the old warehouses and other buildings have been preserved and turned into offices and apartments. Our seats were in the Eutaw Street bleachers, one of the areas where home runs could possibly be hit, and just around from the bullpens where the pitchers warm up. Just outside our entrance is a Wall of Fame commemorating famous baseball players of the past and in the paving of Eutaw Street are plaques recalling the spot where Home Runs have been hit right out of the park. Even though the Orioles are not having a particularly good season (or decade, if we want to be honest) Camden Yards is still a great place to watch a game.

On this night the Baltimore Orioles were up against the Kansas City Royals whose starting pitcher, Zach Greinke, had been having a particularly good season up till this point. Much to the delight of most of the crowd around us, the Orioles hitters were able to score some runs of him, including a home run up on to Eutaw Street not far from where we were sitting. On both sides were sat some ladies and gentlemen from a local nursing home (along with their minibus driver) who took great delight in telling us that they managed to get to one game a month and that some of them had been watching the Orioles play baseball for their entire lives. They also asked us a number of questions when they discovered that we were Australian and were pleased to welcome us to their city. Although they left with an inning still to play they contributed to the excellent night.

The final score was Baltimore 7: Kansas City 3, which kept the crowd happy as we exited the stadium at the end of the game. Now that the rain had gone it was a beautiful evening and the lights around the stadium and the rest of the city were very attractive. After looking around some more we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel and, during the trip, Meg totally flummoxed Wayne by suggesting that they should skip their planned visit to Washington the next day in order to attend the final game of the series, which started at 12:30pm. While appreciative of the offer, Wayne declined, went out to get some chocolate for his wife, and then came back so they could both get some sleep in preparation for what promised to be a big day.

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