Baltimore, Give or Take 10,000 Steps
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
It's the anti-Segway tour. One of Baltimore's latest promotions marries old-fashioned sightseeing with health and eco-consciousness: a tour that has visitors walking 10,000 steps, the American Council on Exercise's daily exercise recommendation.
Using an itinerary e-mailed to me by a Baltimore-boosting PR firm, I suited up in good walking shoes, a sun hat and SPF 30, grabbed some water and a pedometer and set out on a recent Tuesday to try the route.
Baltimore is fairly easy to get to on weekdays, thanks to the MARC trains that run from Union Station in Washington to Baltimore's Penn Station or Camden Yards. Despite train delays, I made it to Charm City by noon. From the Camden Yards stop, it was a short walk to Federal Hill, the starting point of the 10,000-step tour.
Reaching the top of the hill, just south of the Inner Harbor, I found visitors on park benches reading books, playing guitars and eating lunch. During the Civil War, Union troops called Zouaves, who wore North African-inspired uniforms, drilled on the grassy rise overlooking the bustling port town. Where once the barracks and training grounds were, there's now a playground, a cannon and a huge American flag flapping in the breeze.
I walked the path around the hilltop's circumference and back down the slope, making my way west toward my next stop, the Cross Street Market.
I found a long, narrow, indoor market that has been in its spot between Light and Charles streets, in various forms, since 1846. Today it's filled with stalls selling fresh fish and meat, flowers and fruit, ready-to-eat sausages, tacos and sandwiches from such stands as Big Jim's Deli and Steve's Lunch, and sushi, crab cakes and beer from wood-paneled Nick's Oyster Bar. The Piedigrotta Italian bakery beckoned, and parents let kids pick out bags of gummies and chocolates at the Sweet Shoppe. Leaving the market, I checked the pedometer, which read 416 steps. I headed back into the sunshine for the walk to Fells Point, a two-mile arc through the Inner Harbor and Harbor East, ending at the water taxi dock at Fells Point.
At the Inner Harbor, I popped into the airy, glass-sided visitors center to pick up tickets for the water taxi, then strolled to Harbor East, the newly developed neighborhood between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, anchored by a Landmark movie theater and a Whole Foods Market. Restaurants and clothes and furnishings stores fill the ground-level space in gleaming new residential, office and hotel buildings.
Over fresh-brewed iced tea and a lunch of quiche and salad at Teavolve, I checked my tally: 2,417 steps. Now we're getting somewhere. Lunch revived me a little, but I was realizing that 10,000 steps in a summer heat wave is a far cry from the steps taken on a daily commute and trips to the water fountain at work. This felt more like exercise than sightseeing.
The boat ride was a welcome break. I'd just made my boat, the last of the day to Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, where the Americans fended off the British in an 1814 battle -- the one, of course, that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the poem that became our national anthem.
Glad to be out on the water, out of the sun and off my feet for a while, I checked out the new buildings along the water's edge and how they contrasted with the old Domino Sugar building as the Inner Harbor receded into the distance. Docking at Fort McHenry, I made my way to the visitors center to watch the short orientation film, "The Defense of Fort McHenry," a dated and corny but still charming retelling of the Battle of Baltimore. (The dramatic ending is either stirringly patriotic or quaintly cheesy, depending on your point of view.)
The 43-acre park has walking trails that encircle the re-created star-shaped fort, though some of the paths are blocked by construction of a new visitors center. More popular than walking, though, seems to be lounging on the grass, on folding chairs or just on a blanket; as I walked back to the water taxi, I stopped to chat with an older couple setting up their pool chairs along the water's edge, settling in for a relaxing sundowner facing Canton Industrial Park.
Back at Fells Point, I transferred to another water taxi bound for the Inner Harbor and checked my pedometer again. Only 4,810 steps? It was after 5 and I wasn't even halfway to 10,000! Would Baltimore fail me after all?
Hopping off the boat near the Power Plant Live! entertainment complex, I wound my way northwest toward Charles Street, heading for Penn Station for my MARC train home, past the restaurants on Market Place and the strip clubs on Lombard Street, then uphill on Charles toward the neoclassical First Unitarian Church on Franklin Street, climbing higher toward what the itinerary lists as the final stop: the Washington Monument and its 228 steps to the top.
But when I reached the tower at Centre Street, which is flanked by the Walters Art Museum and the Peabody Institute, I found its gates locked. Thwarted! The monument -- the country's second dedicated to George Washington, erected after the South Mountain memorial in Boonsboro, Md., and before the one on the Mall -- is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Still, I figured, with two-thirds of a mile left before I reached the train station, I'd have 10,000 steps in no time.
After several blocks I took out my pedometer, and I was shocked: The numbers had scarcely budged. The tally was barely 5,000. It seemed that the pedometer had had a meltdown once I got off the boat, maybe a kind of gadget revolt, like the time my camera froze in Iceland.
No matter, though. I had more than a half-mile to go, a train to catch, a shower to take, a sorely needed nap to take. My walking tour had taken me to familiar places but also to some new-to-me spots, such as the Cross Street Market.
I don't know whether I made it to 10,000 steps, but when you're out exploring, who's counting?