Yesterday I took a day-trip from Washington to Baltimore. I feel I’ve seen enough of Washington at this point, and Baltimore is relatively accessible. Plus, I got to experience the American train system.
I set off from Union Station.
As station buildings go, this one really knocks it out of the park. Not only does it look magnificent, it’s a proper practical building too.
It does suffer a little from that tendency to turn transport hubs into shopping centres, but at least you’re not forced to walk through the shopping gallery.
Outside there’s this statue to Columbus, along with an outdated inscription about how he ‘discovered America’.
The street lamps around here also have eagles forged into their base.
Just astonished by the level of detail and care put into something as mundane as a lamppost. Congratulations Union Station, I’m impressed.
Okay enough gushing about the beautiful station.
Inside there’s a statue of A. Philip Randolph.
Quoting directly from the plaque beneath the statue, he’s “America’s foremost black labor and civil rights leader” and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. There’s a film about this which might be worth watching sometime.
I got my ticket, only $8 either way. That’s not expensive, and it’s at least comparable with British train prices.
Here’s the front of the train, waiting on the platform.
Apparently I’m on service number 414.
The train service is… not crowded. That’s fine by me, I get a whole row to myself.
See that pattern on the seats? Here is is in closeup.
Other train companies might go with a simple pattern, or just plain colours. But this isn’t just any train, it’s the Maryland Area Regional Commuter service, so you get MARC MARC MARC MARC MARC MARC MARC MARC MARC MARC MARC repeated indefinitely. I actually like it, it gives the trains a personalised feel.
About an hour later we reach Baltimore. The landscape outside is vaguely industrial.
Here’s my stop.
Baltimore’s Penn station has a sense of faded beauty about it. Wooden benches, wrought iron bannisters, elegant facade. What I like most though are the arrows on the platform which point ‘Washington’ one way and ‘Boston’ the other. It gives a neat impression of your place in the rail network.
Outside Penn station there’s a statue which looks like a cutout of a figure. Otherwise, if you head directly away from the station the pavement leads naturally into the city.
Shortly after I arrived it started raining heavily.
I made it as far as the Washington Monument.
Got very wet.
After a while I reached the Pratt Library and ducked inside for shelter. It’s under construction at the moment, and I mistakenly walked into the archive section. I wandered about, dripping all over the clean marble floor and making loud squeaky sploshy noises. I couldn’t just stand around so I looked up a book about the Republic of New Africa movement and settled down with it to dry off quietly.
From there I decided to make my way to Lexington Market. Someone on twitter sent me this old song about the ‘Streets of Baltimore’.
And here are some… backstreets, of Baltimore.
The centre is generally dilapidated, there are boarded-up shops, it looks run down. Some areas, particularly around Lexington Market, didn’t seem safe. That’s partly code for the fact they’re areas with majority black populations, but beyond that there were things which put you on your guard. You’re being watched, not observed with curiosity from a distance, people staring directly at you and you know it.
Its not only that I got spooked because people were looking at me, I can tell when there’s a hostile atmosphere, it’s just difficult to explain. There’s also the beggars. I’m not used to the level of people regularly and directly asking you for money. And when they ask, they’re asking nicely, but it comes with an expectation that you should pay.
I’ll occasionally (once a month?) give a few coins of small change to a beggar in Britain, because, being homeless is hard and giving to beggars is just a thing you do. But if you get intercepted by several different people every time you pass a bus stop, a street corner… it’s too much.
The thing is, I’ve been through poor areas in much poorer countries, and found nobody bothers you. It’s not a matter of poverty, or race, it’s a question of culture I guess.
Besides that, Baltimore actually looks much more liveable than Washington. Around the centre there are narrow roads and the pavements actually get foot traffic, pedestrians don’t always respect traffic lights either, they walk in the road and cars just have to stop. Housing in the centre is made up of terraced multi-storey buildings, and there are tower blocks surrounding that.
There’s also a decent public transport system - tramways, underground rail, and regular buses. It sits a few notches up on the urban density/efficiency scale and taken on that measure it’s comfortably ahead of the trend (compared with the rest of America?).
Here’s the entrance to Lexington market.
There are various stalls selling street food, a few fishmongers.
Megan recommended the famous Baltimore crabs, so I got some crab soup.
It was tasty. I should’ve just gone ahead and bought their crab cake though. She took me out for crab cake later and it was delicious. Thanks Megan!
From there I went towards the city hall.
Here it is. I thought it was a thing to visit but there was a sign at the entrance implying it wasn’t really for visitors, and I could see a security guard inside… I didn’t go in.
So, I headed towards the inner harbour. This is the old sewage pumping station, which looks far too grand for a municipal sewage facility.
The building used to host the Baltimore Public Works Museum, and outside there’s this exhibit of a cutaway street.
It shows all the infrastructure built into a typical street: the pipes, the street signs, the cables, etc. I think this is cool and it’s a shame the museum is closed because I probably would have enjoyed it. I don’t know if the building is still used for pumping sewage. Thankfully it wasn’t stinky.
By this point I was anxious to get back to Washington to see Megan. I walked briefly along the harbourside before turning straight up and going directly back to Penn station. I got on board a two-storey train.
And about an hour later, I got off at Union station.