Timeline: March 18-27
With a relatively short drive to Baltimore to visit our Nephew Jed, we took our time leaving Philadelphia, making a stop at the Starbucks across the corner from the apartment for a large latté and one of their consistently good breakfast sandwiches before retrieving the car from the parking lot.
The drive went smoothly through an area of the country where one must pay numerous tolls to access an expressway, use a bridge, or go through a tunnel. We checked in early at our lodging for the night, the Best Western BWI Airport North, free to us as we were using the reward points we’d earned staying in their properties over the course of the last year or so. We had an upper floor room and it was one of the nicer accommodations we’ve stayed at in some time, a spacious room with new furnishings.
We drove over to Jed’s apartment in Dundalk, a suburb slightly southeast of downtown Baltimore. After taking some time to catch up with him, and his friend Nick who is living there until he begins his training to become a flight attendant, Jed drove us to the Inner Harbor, where we parked and walked its perimeter.
It was a Friday and yet there were surprising numbers of people out and about, making for interesting people watching to compliment taking in the physical surroundings of the harbor.
Towards the end of our walking tour we stopped in at Leinekugel’s Beer Garden, one of many bars and nightclubs located in the Power Plant entertainment zone, a mixed-use project.
Re-developed in the late 1990s in a former coal-burning power generating station, it was originally built in 1900-05 for the United Railways and Electric Company which operated a public transportation system of streetcars, trolleys, and cable cars. Most of the bar sits under a glass enclosed patio, bringing in lots of natural light yet shielding us from the cold afternoon winds.
We returned to Jed’s car and drove back to his apartment so that we could pick up ours, to then drive about twenty miles to Timonium for dinner at a restaurant he frequents when working a part time job in that area, Hightopps Backstage Grill. When we arrived the parking lot was jammed and we were directed to an adjacent area a block or so away. Walking into the restaurant we could see why as it is a very large venue, with a labyrinth of rooms to walk through to reach the other side.
We were seated quickly in a side dining room and ordered the drink of the day apiece, a rum punch that went down easily. Not needing any appetizers, a good thing as it would turn out the portion sizes were large, Jed ordered the Jambalaya (Blackened chicken, shrimp, jalapeño sausage, sautéed peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, rice and Hightopps homemade spicy sauce, topped with green onion), Joanna the special of the day, a Crab Wrap with pineapple salsa and I a half order of the Chopped Salad (Chopped greens with chopped Black Forest ham, roasted turkey, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, diced eggs, crumbled bleú cheese, diced red onions, sliced avocado, toasted hot and spicy almonds, tossed with jalapeño bacon and ranch dressing), served with a warm bread stick.
It was a lot of food; after gamely attacking his large side salad, Jed took half of his Jambalaya home for later. Pleasantly full and feeling nice after our large rum drinks, we said good bye to Jed and parted company, driving back to the Best Western and a quiet evening in the room, watching some type of house flipping/hunting program on the flat panel while we put a dent in the books we were reading.
We didn’t dawdle the next morning as the drive ahead of us would be a bit longer and we wanted to have the bulk of the afternoon free for beginning to explore our next destination, Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. The eastern coast of the United States has a few barrier islands that are home to wild ponies; having seen herds of them during our 2015 trip to the Outer Banks, we were looking forward to seeing Assateague’s famous cousins.
We would be staying across from Assateague Island on Chincoteague at the Best Western Chincoteague Island. As it was too early to check in we drove over the bridge connecting the two islands and immediately entered the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge where we drove to its Visitor’s Center. Operated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, this 14,000-acre preserve sits on the Virginia half of Assateague Island and contains a large variety of wildlife, including various animals, birds, and Chincoteague Ponies.
The ponies achieved popularity with the 1947 publication of by Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague and the 1961 movie of the same name. For children growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, this book and its subsequent series captured the hearts and imaginations of many; indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how many people I talked to about the ponies volunteered that they had loved the books, one even going so far as to name their youngest daughter after Misty.
We spent about an hour at the Center, getting up to speed on the history of the islands, the flora and fauna that call them home, and watching a 20-minute video, one of three, on the wild ponies. With a bit of the afternoon still left we drove out towards the beach, stopping briefly to catch a glimpse of a lone pony grazing in the marshland.
We made it to the beach, which can be driven on during certain times of the year; it was closed to autos and so we walked a bit along the shoreline with many others enjoying a mild early spring day.
A quick stop at the Toms Cove Visitor Center took up some time as Joanna had an engaging conversation with a park naturalist. Finished with the center, and as we planned to spend a full day on Sunday hiking and exploring we made way to the Best Western, where we checked in, opened a beer or two and enjoyed the sunset from the balcony of our room.
Having eaten well for a number of days in Philadelphia, and given that many of the restaurants nearby where closed for the season, we settled on the nearby Famous Pizza and Family Restaurant for dinner. We placed our order at the counter, where a medium sausage-mushroom pizza and two beers ran us a budget saving total of $22.37. It was a good pizza, decent sauce, the right amount of ingredients, a thoroughly satisfying meal.
We next drove to Main Street to the Island Theater for a special program by the Chincoteague Storytelling Guild, being presented as part of a Chincoteague Heritage Days, chronicling the lives of the people who used to live on Assateague Island. Parking a block away, we walked the street a little, coming upon the statue of Misty commissioned by the city many years ago to honor the little pony that had brought attention to the island.
The subsequent program was interesting, a blend of formal presentation (a local who got their masters degree studying the area and oral readings of diary and journal pieces from former residents of Assateague). It was a stroke of good luck on our part to be there for the additional depth of information we were able to assimilate about the place.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped for dessert at Island Creamery, splitting a large one-scoop dish of rich and satisfying ice cream. We’d had a good transition from the city and looked forward to a day of exercise out of doors the next. Who knows, we might even get to see some ponies.
Power Plant Live: http://www.powerplantlive.com/
Hightopps Backstage Grill: http://hightoppsbackstagegrille.com/
Assateague Island: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assateague_Island
Best Western Chincoteague Island: https://www.bestwestern.com/content/best-western/en_US/booking-path/hotel-details.47125.html
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/chincoteague/
Chincoteague Pony: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chincoteague_Pony
Misty of Chincoteague: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misty_of_Chincoteague
Famous Pizza: http://www.famouspizzaci.com/
Island Theater: http://www.islandtheatres.com/
Island Creamery: http://islandcreamery.net/