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But I say the most valuable artwork in Baltimost is Saint Apollonia. It's an unprepossessing portrait in the Old Masters gallery of the patron saint of dentists and people who suffer from toothaches. The contemplative Apollonia is holding a raw tooth with a pair of pincers. Granted, it's not a great painting, but to me -- because I still have that nagging toothache -- it's the most valuable.

Which just goes to show that after you've taken your last best straightest surest shots in pursuit of the elusive superlative, you may still fall short of ultimacy.

Bingo knight: It's not Baltimore's oldest attraction, but in a city of superlatives Bingo World may rank as gaudiest. (Grant L. Gursky For The Washington Post)

A superlative, as it turns out, is super relative.

Escape Keys

GETTING THERE: From D.C., Baltimore is 40 miles or so on I-95 north. Amtrak goes there many times a day for as little as $15 one way.

WHERE TO STAY: Mr. Mole Bed and Breakfast (1601 Bolton St., 866-811-2477, www.mrmolebb.com; from $150 a night) offers private suites in the historic Bolton Hill neighborhood. Garage parking and a large Dutch-style breakfast are included. Or stay where we stayed: the Wyndham Inner Harbor (101 W. Fayette St., 410-752-1100, www.wyndham.com/hotels/BWIIH/main.wnt; weekend rates start at $109), which is not actually on the Inner Harbor but close enough.

WHERE TO EAT: For lunch, Ze Mean Bean Cafe in Fells Point (1739 Fleet St.) offers the finest in Slavic food. I ordered $7 samplers of both Eastern European fare and white wines. For dinner at La Scala of Little Italy (1012 Eastern Ave.), I had some overly peppered lobster and a glass of chianti. Total, with tip: $43. The Least-Best-Known Best Eatery, according to Ruby Glover, the 75-year-old concierge at the Wyndham, is Gertrude's at the Baltimore Museum of Art. A club sandwich is $7.50.

BEING THERE: For rooms and rooms of art, hit the Baltimore Museum of Art (10 Art Museum Dr., 410-396-7100, www.artbma.org; admission $7). Bingo World (4901 Belle Grove Rd., 800-992-9300) is open seven nights a week. You can get started for about $10. You must be 18 to play. The Phoenix Shot Tower (801 E. Fayette St., 410-837-5424) is open for tours by appointment only. The Robert Long House (812 S. Ann St., 410-675-6750, www.preservationsociety.com) is open Tuesday through Sunday for tours at $3 a person.

INFO: Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association, 877-225-8466, www.baltimore.org.

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© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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