Saturday, November 2, 2013

Baltimore & Washington DC


My wife was in Baltimore for a conference so I took the opportunity to leach off her hotel room and visit the area. Thanks to grandma and grandpa who made this possible by watching the kids. ;)

Baltimore from the air

Getting from the airport to the hotel was a breeze with a combination of the light rail and two rides on the free circulatory bus.  After dropping my stuff off I searched for food and ended up exploring the charming Federal Hills neighborhood. I saw the Cross Street Marked and assumed it to be a grocery.  I was surprised though that this grocery had the length of a block.  So curiously I looked inside where I found an indoor marked like the ones in Taiwan. I'm quite surprised to find one in the US.  There are several in this area as I found out later.

Domino Sugar Baltimore

After lunch at the marked I wandered a bit more and saw the gorgeous view of Baltimore and the Inner Harbor from Federals Hill park.

Baltimore Inner Harbor

Biking DC

Since I've never been in DC and there were a few nice bike path I took the opportunity to ride with the bike into the city for a day.

Arrived at Union Station

The monuments were a slight letdown.  They appeared much smaller and less impressive than my mind had them build up to.  It's one of the issue having heard of them so much.  Maybe you should only visit them as a kid.  The white house of course was just a white building behind a fence.  Slightly interesting was Penn Ave. and the park behind it, just because of the diversity of people there.  As everyone probably expects there are small groups of people that demonstrate for some cause and think they'll change the world by doing that.  Truth is that so few people are at Penn Ave. that they get mostly unnoticed.  Then there are the small groups of tourists, quite often on Segways, to stop briefly to take a shot before rushing off to the next site. Surprisingly homeless people sleep in the park while daycare providers wheel toddlers in wagons through the park. It's just like any old park in big cities across the US.

Lincoln Memorial
Jefferson Memorial

Interesting things are the little less talked about side things that one stumbles across.  The Eisenhower Executive Office Building for example was architectural more impressive for me than the white house.  And the nature areas on the Potomac river while riding the Mt. Vernon trail are a nice sight.

Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Capitol Building

Mt. Vernon Trail

Dyke March by Mt. Vernon Trail

As for riding bicycle in DC it's quite nice and easy.  There are just a few things to keep in mind.  Unless you are OK with locking up your bicycle outside you won't be able to go into any buildings. That meant no Congress or Library of Congress visit with my Brompton.  Laws aren't enforced even though DC has a wast amount of police officers, park rangers, and other security personnel.  The DC bicycle map states that riding bicycles on sidewalks is prohibited yet all commuters were riding on and off the sidewalks as needed. I ended up riding on sidewalks as well since in some places it just made more sense. At first it was a bit queasy when riding past police officers and park rangers.  Right at the monuments I didn't ride and in the beginning even folded up and carried the Brompton since there was an explicit no bicycles sign.  But I gave up on that as well when I saw that the guide led the bicycle tour groups with bikes right up to the monuments. 

WWII Memorial Detail

Jefferson Memorial as seen from MLK Memorial

I met a coworker for lunch and we ate at Toki, a Taiwanese soup place which served lunch at the Union Market. The place had only seating for 6 people and a nice and apparently one of the shorter line of customers stood right behind them patiently waiting for their turn.  Some unacquainted customers asked if they could have  the soup to go or asked for a menu.  The cook nicely told them that he only serves this beef ramen soup with whole soft-boiled egg today and that he didn't had more soup bowels. While the soup was great, I think the exclusiveness added a lot to his business nostalgia.

Not everything is bicycle friendly

The National Cryptologic Museum sounded intriguing for the second day.  The museum could be quite interesting  in a geeky kind of way.  I also wouldn't be torture others with a potentially boring subject to them. And also I would have some rest from riding the bike.  Oh, and did I mention that it's free.  Well this plan fell apart when I was looking at Google map and noticed that none of the streets around there were visible in Street View.  This is due to the Fort Meade military base.  The only way to access the museum without military credentials is via the freeway and bicycles aren't allowed to ride limited access roads in Maryland. So, no Enigma or Hobo signs for me.

Must be a bicycle friendly hotel

Gwynns Falls

So instead I cycled the Gwynns Falls trail which had lots of interesting historical markers and text along the way. Part of the trail was on an abandoned road.  Especially the disconnected water hydrants gave the ride an unique feel of abandoness.

Gwynns Falls trail markings

Abandoned road

The weird thing I saw was the Terra Nullius. I still don't understand this. If it's truly free land then neither the local or federal government would be able to do any enforcement over this area. That isn't the case. If it were some interesting stuff would probably be occurring there. Instead it looks like a public park to me.


The following I rode down the Baltimore Annapolis Trail, which was another beautiful long trail. Cycling in Annapolis itself wasn't that great and the small historic downtown was crowded with tourists.  Unplanned and by accident I visited the Maryland State House and learned that it served as the capitol for a brief period.

Navy Academy and Annapolis

Maryland State House

More Baltimore

After my wife's conference was over we visited the Constellation and Fort McHenry.  It didn't click until I was there that this is the origin of the star spangled banner. At least now I got a pretty good grasp of the history around it.

Masts of the Constellation

Checking out the plastic cannons of the Constellation

Hanging out aboard the Constellation

US Capitol

The last day we saved for visiting DC.  For the first time slot I got us tickets to tour the US Capitol. On the tour we learned that to visit the chambers you need special passes from your state's congress men(or women) and you can even get exclusive tours from them.  While the representative offices can only issue passes for the House, the senator offices can issue passes for both. So right after the tour we went by our democratic senator's office.  The intern was kind of like "what the heck do you want here" but she did give us passes to the chambers after we told her we're from Iowa and made the request for them.  So I wondered how the republican senator's office would welcome us.  To our luck a few Iowans had made arrangements for a tour and the republican interns invited us along on the tour.

US Capitol in the sunrise

Iowa corn part of the US Capitol

Tourists in the Capitol rotunda

These private tours start right away off by going through the restricted access subway which is way cool.  Of course we saw several of the same rooms in the Capitol but having a different tour guide we learned lots of new things.  Unfortunately neither the House nor the Senate was in session so we didn't get to see them again but the tour guide told us we could come back in the evening when the Senate was in session.

Old senate office building subway monorail car

Russel capitol subway line

Needless to say we went back to the Capitol after visiting the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court across the street. Btw, I highly recommend sitting in on the Courtroom Lecture.  When we entered the Capitol building the visitor center was already closed.  It was just us walking alone past the security personnel through the Capitol building.  By that time I felt like "home" in this building which is super cool.  No sleeping was one of the strict rules for visiting the chambers.  After having experienced the Senate I understand why.  Not much was going on.  At one time Senator Harkin (Dem) was addressing the empty Senate.  Apparently it is normal for Senators to hold speeches to nobody but the cameras.  After a long time of nothing we decided to head back to the train and call it a day.

Library of Congress

Supreme Court

Staircase in the Supreme Court

US Capitol with secret service