Saturday, December 4, 2010


Last weekend we had a wonderful Thanksgiving here in Ashburn with friends from church.  Then my wife and I made a spontaneous decision to go to Baltimore on a family weekend getaway.  We've been wanting to go for quite some time, but just never got around to it until now.

We drove up just after lunch on Friday.  Our first stop was at Fort McHenry to see where the flag was flown that inspired the Star Spangled Banner.

I have yet to be disappointed by listening to a Park Ranger from the National Park Service give a talk.  The Park Rangers here at Fort McHenry were no exception.  This Ranger gave us a great introduction in the visitor's center, and another Ranger was dressed up in a uniform from the War of 1812 and was milling about the grounds of the fortress.

After the introduction by the Park Ranger, we went into the small theater to watch the introductory video.  The video was a little on the cheesy side, but did provide good background on the sequence of events during the battle.  Then ending was extraordinary though.  As the video ended, an electric motor drew back the curtains to reveal the flag flying over the fort while a very moving rendition of The Star Spangled Banner played on the stereo system.

The entrance to the fort and a Park Ranger dressed in a uniform from the War of 1812.

My eldest son looking out over the entrance to Baltimore Harbor.

Self-Portrait with ES.  That flagpole in the background is where Francis Scott Key observed, "that our flag was still there."  Fort McHenry is an excellent National Historic Site with many interactive exhibits in each of the buildings inside the fort.  Both of the boys did the Junior Park Ranger activity sheet and earned another Junior Park Ranger badge, too.

Next we went and checked into our hotel.  We used our Marriott Reward points to stay at the Renaissance Hotel right on the waterfront in Baltimore.  When we checked in, the lady at the counter gave us a free upgrade to a room with a view.  Score!

When we got to the room, we found that they even provided binoculars in the room.

The front desk staff was VERY helpful with information about what to see and do nearby.  We had already been planning on going to the National Aquarium Baltimore because it is open until 8 p.m. on Fridays.  What we didn't know, and what the hotel receptionist informed us, was that the aquarium was only $5 after 5 p.m. to get into the aquarium on Fridays.  Score!  Cha-ching! Cha-ching!  It was like 4:30 then, so we went and had an early dinner at a restaurant across the street first, and then headed over to the aquarium.

I've been to many aquariums across the country, and I was very impressed with the National Aquarium Baltimore.  When you buy tickets, they are for a certain entry time, done in 15 minute increments.

The inside of the aquarium is organized in a manner to keep people moving through each of the exhibits, with moving walkways and escalators keeping people moving in ONE direction through the museum, not back and forth and all over the place.  Having the time sequenced entry, limiting how many people are allowed to enter each 15 minutes, and having the layout to keep people moving was genius.  It was very efficient and well planned.

Here is YB checking out the kelp forest.  This felt like a homecoming to me.  I "grew up" learning to scuba dive as a teenager in the kelp forests off of San Diego.  You can see a beautiful male sheepshead in there, too.

YB with the jellyfish.

Toward the end of our visit to the aquarium, we came to this seemingly black wall.  I probably wouldn't have thought anything of it, except for a smattering of various people sitting and standing around watching this wall as if they were watching a giant movie screen with nothing on it.  Suddenly, there were "ooohs!" and "ahhhs!" and gasps through the crowd as these gray ghosts gracefully glided past behind the glass.


We ended up taking a seat to watch the dolphins swim past a few more laps before moving on.  (Note the reflection of LW's pink sweater in the glass above.)  This reminded me of being at sea off the coast of Southern California where the dolphins look like ghosts in the water, but there they are highlighted by a sheen of bioluminescence and leave a glowing trail behind them.

Night view of Baltimore from our hotel room.

Saturday morning, we went to tour the historic ships on the Baltimore waterfront.  First we went to USS CONSTELLATION.

This boatswain's mate met us on the main deck of the CONSTELLATION, and he was AWESOME.  He enlisted our help to do morning colors.

Raising the flag on USS CONSTELLATION

The Bo'sun showing the boys the ropes.

Oh say can you see...

The boatswain told us to come back after we finished our tour in order for the boys to receive their "pay" for working for him that morning on raising the U.S., Maryland, and Baltimore flags.  When we returned for the boys to receive their pay, he explained how much they had earned and how much he had to deduct for their uniforms and candy they took from the ship's store, so they wouldn't actually get any pay.  However, he said in honor of their service, President Lincoln was awarding them each a presidential medallion.

The boatswain presents "presidential medallions" to the boys.

ES inspects the presidential medallion he earned for doing morning colors.  It looked suspiciously like a penny, but the boatswain assured him that pennies had Indian heads on them and that this was a genuine presidential medallion from President Lincoln.

We also toured the submarine USS TORSK, the last submarine to sink a Japanese ship during WWII.  One of the volunteers on board told us the boat received an encrypted message in the middle of attacking a Japanese convoy.  They sank two of the Japanese ships and were lining up to shoot a third when the radiomen brought the deciphered message to the captain reporting the Japanese surrender and directing U.S. forces to cease all hostilities.

While we were touring the USCGC TANEY, we were climbing up a ladder and my eldest son behind me said, "Daddy, there's a big hole in your pants."  There is?

Why, yes, indeed there was a RATHER LARGE and GAPING WIDE hole in the crotch of my pants.  No wonder I was so cold!  My loving family proceeded to form a sort of privacy-screen walking in front of me as we proceeded down the street to the nearest department store to buy me a new pair of jeans.

Last stop for our whirlwind trip to Baltimore was the Port Discovery Children's Museum.  The boys had a BLAST. 

Here are two young archaeologists pulling themselves across a river in Egypt.  I was actually pleasantly surprised by some of the side exhibits at Port Discovery like this Egyptian archaeology exhibit.  There was an actual mission to find out the name of a pharaoh, and you had to put together pieces of pottery and take crayon rubbings of hieroglyphs and decode clues in order to come up with the answer at the end.

Later, YB asked my wife if he could get his own car when he gets older.  She said, uhhhh, sure, why?  He responded because then he could drive himself to Baltimore to go back to the Port Discovery Children's Museum.  Sadly, by the time he's old enough to drive, I think he will have long forgotten how much fun he had there last weekend.

We had a great weekend getaway to Baltimore.  There's still a LOT more to see and do around Baltimore, so we look forward to going back again someday.


Hilary said...

What a great time you and yours had in Baltimore. It seems there was no shortage of fun activities. And wow, your view was incredible!

Worry not about your son not being interested in the Children's Museum sometime down the road. After all, his Dad was plenty interested. Your grandchildren will be too. ;)

Tanya said...

What a great weekend! The aquarium was always my favorite growing up (besides the Monterey Aquarium)! We just came from my best friend's wedding @ the Renaissance and she also had one of the suites that overlooked the Inner breathtaking! Port Discovery's where we had our wedding reception (after the USNA ceremony)...but we've yet to take our kids there. One of these days we'll get around to it! My friends and family still talk about how much fun that reception was!

Thank goodness for ES's eagle eyes! I had the same issue in my dress when the Hubs and I first started dating. Luckily he was in uniform and I used his cover to cover up the ventilated area of the dress!

Hope all is well!