Long-haul bus travel is a double-edged sword. Although it’s much cheaper than flying, it’s also less comfortable and more time-consuming. With that said though, overnight buses are the best. Not only can you take advantage of travelling through the night, which can essentially save you a night’s accommodation, but you have the luxury of waking up somewhere new.
Uriel and I hopped on the 7:45pm Megabus departing from Toronto’s main bus terminal and quickly ran to the top of the double-decker to search for a pair of seats. We were in luck, found some seats at the back, and settled ourselves in. I was excited for my first time on a double-decker, and I know I exclaimed louder than I probably should have “It’s like we’re in a glass-covered boat! Look at the sky roof!”. I’m pretty sure my kid voice made an appearance during my initial excitement.
The bus was going to be making a few scheduled station stops: first in downtown Buffalo, then Philadelphia, then finally Baltimore, before continuing on to Washington, DC. One thing I love about bus travel is that you get to see different cities, even if it’s just for a few minutes while you’re passing through.
We drove through the night with a few pit stops somewhere in New York state and Pennsylvania, and arrived promptly on time in Baltimore at 8:30am. The only quam I have about the Megabus Baltimore “station” is that it’s actually a marked-off area of a mall parking lot in the suburbs, about a 20 minute drive from the downtown core. I booked the ticket fully aware of this situation, and even looked up the public bus route to take into the city. However, after twelve hours of sitting and sleeping in a chair, we weren’t willing to spend another hour and a half on yet another bus. We decided to take a taxi instead, and lo’ and behold there was a lone cabbie waiting in the lot.
In retrospect, we probably should have just taken the bus into town to save some money, as a one-way fare is only $1.60 USD. When you’re sleep deprived and achy though, sometimes the quicker option wins out.
Our cab driver acted as a tour guide on the ride in. Born and raised in Maryland, he knew everything about the area and pointed out some of the sights along the way, including Johns Hopkins hospital, one of the forerunners for cancer research in the United States. We talked about housing and the economy, the area that we were staying in, some history…overall it was a nice introduction to the city.
We arrived at the Hostelling International before check-in, so we dropped off our bags and took off on foot. Uriel and I each had a “must-see” that we wanted to visit, and we both shared a “must-do” that had to be done on the trip: my must-see was Edgar Allan Poe’s grave; Uriel’s was Geppi’s Entertainment Museum. Our “must-do” was to get the longest-lasting souvenir that you could possibly could — a tattoo.
Our first stop was going to be Lexington Market, a historic landmark whose site has been home to a functioning market since 1782. It’s dubbed as being “world famous”, so I thought we’d stop there for breakfast before wandering around the city.
Now, I’m used to a certain level of “sketchiness”. I live in one of the most diverse and multi-cultural cities in the world and consider myself to be more “blue-collar” than “white-collar”, despite my office job. However, walking into that market made me a tad uncomfortable (uncomfortable enough to not want to take out my big camera to take pictures).
I was expecting something like Toronto’s own St. Lawrence Market, and although there are similarities in vendors and goods sold, it didn’t feel very welcoming. Maybe I was just tired from the overnight bus ride; maybe I was overwhelmed by the smell of raw seafood (a smell which makes me gag); or maybe I just didn’t want to be inside. Whatever it was, the vibe just wasn’t right so we made a quick lap of the perimeter and promptly left.
Thankfully, the cemetery that contains Poe’s remains was just a few blocks away, so we made our way over to visit the writer. Poe’s grave is actually right within the gate and is easy to spot before you even enter the cemetery grounds.
Although Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, he had spent some time living in Baltimore throughout the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s. He started to gain acclaim as an author after he won a writing competition in the city (a competition, we found out, that saw its jurors making the deciding choice in a building located right next door to our hostel). It was during one of his Baltimore stints that Poe passed away of unknown causes. It was October 7,1849 and the great wordsmith was only forty years old.
Standing in front of his grave, I was half expecting to see a raven swoop in to land on top of the monument. However, all we could hear was a rowdy group of men on the street corner just outside the cemetery wall. I remember thinking to myself “peaceful resting place, my ass” while I was trying to appreciate the importance of the man whose tomb I had pilgrimaged to. While I took photos, lines from some of his poems danced through my head: “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream”; “Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore”; but more prominently, lines from Annabel Lee, which I decided to share with you all in its entirety.
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of ANNABEL LEE;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.
I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea;
But we loved with a love that was more than love-
I and my Annabel Lee;
With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven
Coveted her and me.
And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.
The angels, not half so happy in heaven,
Went envying her and me-
Yes!- that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we-
Of many far wiser than we-
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling- my darling- my life and my bride,
In the sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.
We were finishing up our visit to Poe when an older gentleman approached us in the cemetery. He started chatting us up but was obviously looking for a few dollars as he kept on saying he “needed a sandwich”. He became an impromptu tour guide for us, finding out where we were from, giving us suggestions on what to see, and even chided us for going to Lexington Market. He actually walked with us for a few blocks. I had to eventually use the restroom at Starbucks, which gave us an out from his volunteer “tour guide” duties, but we decided to give him a few bucks for his efforts. He even gave us goodbye hugs. We never caught his name, but he looked like an Old Joe to me, so he’ll remain Old Joe in my memory.
By this time it was around 10:30am or so and we still hadn’t found a breakfast spot, so we made our way down to the Inner Harbor to try to search out some food. We even considered having a “liquid breakfast” as we saw some pubs with their doors open, and hell, when you’re on vacation it’s always an appropriate time for a beer. Alas, they were just being giant teases as although their doors were open, they weren’t serving for another hour.
We eventually found a spot, ate some grub, and looked at the boats in the harbor that acted as our backdrop.
After breakfast we decided to make our way to the tattoo parlour that I had found online. It was located in the historic neighbourhood of Fell’s Point, and from what I saw on Google Maps, it had cobblestone streets. I was very excited.
The walk took about fifteen to twenty minutes and we actually passed the shop the first time around without realizing it. Once it was located, however, we found out they didn’t have time for walk-in appointments that day or the next, so we were out of luck. The artist that we talked to offered directions to another shop nearby, so we continued on our way, hoping for “better luck next time”.
Without knowing the name of the parlour we were going to, we found our way to what turned out to be another shop I had researched: The Baltimore Tattoo Museum. To be honest, this place wasn’t even in my top three choices based on reviews I had read online, but I couldn’t have been more happier with our luck that day. The guys there were hilarious and welcoming, and as its name signifies it’s not only a functional tattoo parlour but also acts as a tattoo “museum”, housing vintage flash, historical items and educational panels of information. I even saw a hand drawn tattoo sketch by my man Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins.
We got set up with Dave, who only needed a rough idea of what we wanted to produce a sketch of exactly what we had in mind. He’s amazing, down-to-earth, and the lightest hand I’ve ever been tattooed by. We ended up staying at the shop for about two and a half hours, including initial consultation. It was definitely one of the best vibes I’ve ever gotten from a tattoo shop.
I had previously decided that any “souvenir” tattoos I get in the future had to not only have a relevance to where I was visiting but also to me personally. I was originally going to get a Sailor Jerry style anchor during this trip, as Baltimore is a harbour town with a long-standing naval history and I’ve always had a fascination with boats, but the day before we caught the bus I had a revelation. I was doing some general reading on Poe, getting myself amped up for our visit, and for some reason the image of a quill pen popped into my mind. It immediately stuck and just felt right. I want to be a writer, Poe was a brilliant writer and a founder of the Gothic genre, we were visiting the city of his final resting place, and a quill pen could represent Poe, Baltimore, and my passion. That one image perfectly represented everything I was looking for.
Uri had decided on his design even before we booked our trip. He’s always been passionate about music (and even writes about it on his own blog), and got the idea when a particular line of lyrics made an impression on him. His decision was then solidified after hearing Dave Grohl’s keynote speech at this year’s SXSW. I’m not going to go into details behind it’s meaning as it’s personal to Uri, but I’m still going to share this shot:
Once we were done and bandaged, we said our goodbyes and then footed it to an Irish pub I had found out about, called The Life of Reilly. It was about fifteen to twenty minutes away from the Tattoo Museum, but it took us through another part of Fell’s Point that we didn’t previously see, so it was worth it.
There was an Oriole’s game on once we arrived, so without knowing it we perfectly timed our visit with the pub’s O’s game day special: $2.00 pints of Baltimore’s home brew, National Bohemian (also known as “Natty Boh”).
We enjoyed lunch and a few pints, then hiked it back to the hostel to check-in and wash up. That walk took us cross town and worked off any beer we may have had, plus our lunch. We were so sore from walking once we arrived at the HI that we decided we weren’t going to venture very far for the evening’s activities.
We were tired, but it was still early, so we weren’t really sure of what to do. We didn’t have any sort of itinerary planned for the trip, so we asked the lady at the desk if there were any pubs nearby (when in doubt, go for a pint…), and she directed us to another Irish pub just around the corner.
The same O’s game that was on at the first Irish pub was just finishing up at the second pub, so at least we were able to see it through to the end. We enjoyed a few more Natty Boh’s (I’m actually quite sad we don’t get it in Toronto), stuck around for the live Irish band (who had a liking for covering Flogging Molly, one of my favourite bands), then sauntered home in the light rain that had begun to fall.
We were in bed by 10:30pm, that’s how tired we were. The combination of an overnight bus ride and a day full of walking takes the piss out of you (well, maybe I should also include in that equation an undisclosed number of beers).
Day one was done but had been full of a variety of different Baltimore neighbourhoods, demographics, and architecture. I fell asleep completely pooped but proud of how much we saw in just one day with barely any use of a map. Baltimore was definitely growing on me.