Sunday, July 25, 2010
Your Guide to the Charm City, Part One: Getting Here
The National Sports Collectors Convention is just weeks away, and for the first time in eight years The Nat is back on the East Coast. Many of you have never been to "The Charm City" and as a resident of the region who drives through the city frequently, I've come up with this guide of what to do, where to go, and most important, how to get here. There's a lot more to Baltimore than crab cakes, Pink Flamingos, and cheap heroin!
The site of The Nat is the Baltimore Convention Center, directly across Howard Street from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Convention Center is located in the Inner Harbor -- one of those 1970s-era "urban renewal/edifice complex" redevelopment projects whose benefits haven't exactly spread to the rest of the city. (If you've seen The Wire, you know what I mean.) The Inner Harbor is home to various bars, restaurants, shops, hotels, and caters mostly to out-of-towners. Most of the Convention muckety-mucks will be staying here, but that's for another post.
How to get here
Planes: Baltimore-Washington Airport (BWI) is located about 20 miles south of the city, proper. Most domestic airlines serve BWI and you should be able to catch a flight from just about anywhere in America. Southwest Airlines is BWI's #1 carrier, and most of the other discount carriers serve Baltimore. Getting a cheap flight should be no problem.
British Airways does have one non-stop flight from London-Heathrow and Air Canada has 5 flights from Toronto. Otherwise, the closet airport with overseas flights is Dulles Airport (IAD), which is about 25 miles west of Washington, D.C. and about 60 miles from Baltimore.
To get from the airport to the city (and if you're not renting a car), you could take a taxi which will run you $25. Or if you want to save a few bucks, you could take either the MARC train to Penn Station or the Baltimore Light Rail (see below).
Trains: Baltimore's main rail station is Penn Station. Located about three miles north of the Inner Harbor in the Mount Vernon section, Penn Station is right smack-dab in the middle of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor. If you live in the Northeast or Midwest, chances are, you can get here from there.
Mass Transit: The state of Maryland's MARC commuter rail provides an affordable alternative to Amtrak. The MARC Penn Line runs from Union Station in Washington D.C. all the way to Perryville in northeastern Maryland with a stop at Penn Station Baltimore. The MARC Camden Line parallels the Penn Line from Washington to Baltimore and terminates across the street from the Convention Center at Camden Yards. Unfortunately since MARC is a commuter service, it doesn't run on the weekends. (Although Amtrak serves Aberdeen, BWI, New Carrollton, and Washington D.C. along the Penn Line seven days a week.) But for those of you planning on attending during the week, the MARC train is a viable and affordable transportation option. A one-way ticket to/from Baltimore from Washington D.C. or Perryville runs $7 each way.
Probably the best kept transportation secret is the Baltimore Light Rail. Stretching from Hunt Valley in the north to Glen Burnie in the south, with spur lines to BWI and Penn Station, Light Rail cuts right through the heart of the city with a station conveniently located right across the street from the Convention Center. Best of all, it's only $1.60 to ride it and there's plenty of free parking available -- which alone will save you at least $15-$20 if you so choose to drive here. Unfortunately, it doesn't run past 11:00 pm. Plan accordingly.
Baltimore also has a Subway line which goes from downtown to Owings Mills, a suburb northwest of town. Just like the Light Rail, it also costs $1.60 each way and parking is free. Take the Subway to Charles Center, walk a few blocks south, and you're there.
Automobiles: Most of you will probably be driving to Baltimore and the good news is that the Inner Harbor and Convention Center are easy to get to. From the south and northeast, just take I-95 to exit 53 (I-395) and you're (literally) there. I-70 and I-83 serve the city from the west and north, respectively.
Those of you coming from the New York/Philly area, and want to avoid the $4 ripoff toll on the Delaware/Maryland state line, here's an alternate route. From I-95 South, get off at exit 1B, Delaware route 896 North. Take 896 North for about three-quarters of a mile and take a left onto Christiana Parkway (DE Rt. 4). Follow Route 4, past the abandoned Chrysler plant where Bob Marley used to work (really, he did!) and make another left onto Route 2 Elkton Road. Take Elkton Road across the Maryland state line for two miles back to I-95 South (Elkton Road becomes Route 279 in Maryland). Returning north, exit at 109-B in Maryland. Congratulations, you just saved $4; four extra bucks you can spend on cards at The National.
And when you cross the state line into Maryland, you might want to stop at State Line Liquors in Elkton. State Line has one of the largest selections of beer, wine, and spirits on the East Coast, and all at cheap-o Maryland prices. Stock up and save!
Parking: There is plenty of parking available in the Camden Yards lots and expect to pay "Stadium Prices," since the Orioles are home throughout the duration of The National. There are also thousands of parking spaces available in various garages scattered throughout the Inner Harbor and Downtown areas, but if you're going during the week, expect to pay "commuter prices."
Of course, you can avoid the hassle and cost of parking by leaving the car in the suburbs and taking the train or Light Rail to The Nat.
Next time, where to stay and eat!