We've spent the last two days exploring Baltimore and it's been quite a contrast to what we're used to. Annapolis seems very much like England with it's quaint brick houses and narrow streets. Baltimore is a big, brash American city. It has towering glass buildings alongside two-story houses, wide roads, constant traffic and an edgy feel with a few people decidedly down on their luck. In among all that are police on Segways - those funny two-wheeled pogo-stick things that didn't take off in the UK. They're about as effective as Daleks - all the criminals have to do is run up or down some stairs and the cops are knackered.
We went out for coffee yesterday morning at the Whole Food supermarket. This is a chain of shops the size of a modest Tesco but full of healthy food, most of it Organic and very good quality. It's not what I was expecting of America atall. I'm sure most people eat rubbish (and it's hard to find anything to eat out that's remotely healthy) but there is a mainstream alternative. We've got Holland and Barratt, full of protein supplements and mumbo-jumbo herbal remedies and the Americans have a supermarket full of good, honest food. Anyway, we were having a Fairtrade Latte in a compostable cup and the chap on the next table asked us "Where are you guys from" which is something we hear all the time. We got talking to him and found that he was named Devon after the County and that he taught history at the University.
It was great chatting to him about Obama and US politics in general. He was very much in favour of Obama, having benefitted from the improvements in welfare provision and considered that it would take years to repair the damage done domestically and internationally by the Bush administration. Murdoch's minions in Fox News are busy spreading horror stories about how our National Health Service is dreadful in order to scupper healthcare reform here and I'm sure they're just as busy in the UK telling everyone that Obama's attempt at reform is an unpopular failure. As ever, the reality is more complex and nuanced than we're given to believe in the media.
After lunch, Kali and I took the tender to the other side of the harbour to visit a chart shop where we spent the whole afternoon and a couple of thousand dollars. We now have all the charts for Bermuda and the whole Caribbean along with Pilot books and a whole lot of Courtesy Flags for all the islands. As part of the UK Government money-saving plan, the British Admiralty are discontinuing their Leisure Chart folios of the Caribbean and we were lucky to pick up the last few left in the US. The shop staff were incredibly helpful and even complimented us both on our lovely accents and Kali on her pretty hair.
Once we got back onboard, Andrea and I set off to find a nice place for dinner at Fells Point, an old cobbled area of town. We found a lovely Greek restaurant just around the corner from the Mezze eatery where we'd all eaten the night before. They actually took us on a tour of the ingredients - a collection of iced fish from around the world - before asking us which one we'd like. It was great food, though, and we shared a Black Bass caught off South Carolina in honour of Bill.
This morning, Andrea and I set off to visit the National Aquarium in the Inner Harbour. It was a great place, especially as it was almost empty out of season. All the staff were so friendly, too, and we spent a good while talking to them about their fish and what we'd seen on our trip over. They have a pod of performing Dolphins which we went to see. That was odd. We're not quite sure what we think about it. The dolphins seemed to be having a great time but I've no idea if it's possible to tell whether they're distressed or not. They have a breeding program here so they can't be doing too badly. There's a gloss of "education" over the whole thing with the dolphins demonstrating their evolved abilities, rather than just cavorting for our benefit. That seemed a bit false to me and I missed them standing on their tails and singing "Happy Birthday" like the ones in Brighton used to do. Still, the kids around us were enthralled by the whole thing and if they go away and dump a bit less rubbish in the sea, then perhaps it is serving a worthwhile purpose after all.
A much more low-key exhibition which blew my mind was about Jellies (as they call Jelly Fish). They had space-craft shaped tanks of real-live Jellies pulsating away in a most extra-terrestrial way. Up close, you could see all the fine tentacles and the details of their simple anatomy and get an appreciation of just how extraordinary and beautiful they are. The ones that live in the Chesapeake give birth to thousands of young, each of which attaches itself to the seabed for the winter. When spring comes, they don't just head off into the sea, they each transform into a kind of Jelly factory and emit yet more thousands of young. The way they move between individual and collective is just amazing and so alien to the way we view our bodies as a single entity, even though we're hardly more of a single being than the Jellies, in truth. They've been around for half a billion years so they must have got something right.
There was a whole swimming-pool sized tank full of rays and sharks with a huge turtle meandering around in there as well. When it was feeding time, a couple of SCUBA divers got in and fed the rays right in front of the glass walls where we were sitting. In the Australia section, we watched Archer Fish shoot Crickets off a branch by spitting water at them and then eating the helpless insect once it landed in the water. On top of the building, they had a proper jungle full of plants, birds and even a Sloth. We had an amazing day until we just couldn't take any more excitement and had to go out and have a coffee and a sit down.
As if all that wasn't enough for one day, we then found out that Prince William is to be married.... Makes you proud to be British.
We went back to the Mezze restaurant for dinner, dodging the rain showers and the Segway-Police and we're now back onboard as the wind builds up and the waves slap against the hull. Saxon Blue is making a fine downtown apartment for us to explore the big city.
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