Adventures in Charm City

This past weekend, I saw my friend Jane.  Jane has been a nurse for the past 28 years and she is the first person who told me that I should “just stop thinking about it, and do it!”.  In September, I took this to mean, “Go…follow your dreams, send in an application, and throw some caution to the wind” and more recently I have expanded on that, taking it to mean “Baltimore, your future new home, is just an hour away!  Stop talking about going there and just go”.

As someone who lives almost an earshot from Baltimore, one might think I would have spent a little more time there over the past several years.  The truth is that aside from various trips to BWI and stopping through on the way home from Thanksgiving in NJ, Baltimore has remained somewhat mysterious to me.  I know that BWI and “stopping through” hardly qualify as getting to know a place and fortunately my friend, Stefan, and his girlfriend, Nuala, (who is getting her PhD in Astrophysics at JHU) know that too, and they encouraged me to come spend a weekend with them to get the insider’s tour of Charm City.

Last Friday evening, some of our DC cohort finally joined forces with the Baltimore cohort and through the chill and the first real snow of the season, we bundled up, huddled together, and got our first real taste of the city I can now say I look forward to calling home.

Nuala lives in Hampden, just a few blocks from what they call “The Strip”.  Everyone thought I was out of my mind for saying so, but I fell in love with “The Strip” because it reminded me of one of my favorite neighborhoods in Los Angeles called Los Feliz.  Between the art galleries, the upscale diners, and the vintage clothing shops, I felt right at home.  These are all things that I long for in DC, and it was a treat to be right in heart of all of it shortly upon our arrival in Baltimore.

We went to dinner at a place called “Rocket to Venus” and easily settled into the laid back, unpretentious atmosphere.  One of my first questions was how Baltimore got the nickname  “Charm City”.  Despite my greatest googling efforts, I could not come up with an adequate answer.  Nuala told me that the best explanation she can think of is that “a lot of strange things happen in Baltimore…strange, but interesting things that can only be described as sort of charming”.  That answer, of course, made me that much more excited to get acquainted with Baltimore’s unique charm.

Later that evening, we met some of Stefan and Nuala’s friends at a restaurant/bar located on “The Strip”.  I was amazed that people were wearing sneakers and jeans out late at night…this is a scene one almost never encounters in DC and I can’t stress enough how nice it was to be in such a relaxed environment with incredibly down-to-earth people.  Just sitting there, I got excited about the idea of wearing scrubs and leaving the high heels at home (I know it sounds shallow, but in all honesty, I felt a little relieved).  Everyone was so warm and welcoming; they asked about where I am planning to live and gave me great advice about different neighborhoods and the pros and cons of living in each place.

In the morning, we woke up to Nuala’s car covered in snow, and made a joint effort to scrape and shovel for better visibility and traction.  After grabbing brunch, Stefan and Nuala explained that JHU runs a free shuttle from the undergrad campus to the Medical School and they showed me different points along St. Paul Street where I might be able to catch the shuttle if I lived on the northern edge of the city.  We drove through Charles Village, where the brownstones were painted the most funky, beautiful colors and where Nuala and her former roommates had paid $1550 all-together for a 3-bedroom house.  Being used to high DC prices, we were in absolute shock and were ready to move immediately!

We drove up St. Paul Street past Penn Station and through Mt. Vernon, which I liked primarily for its Socialist bookstore, “Red Emma’s” and its Eastern-Market-like brownstones.  Stefan and Nuala suggested Mt. Vernon as a great place to live as a nursing student at Hopkins and I’m curious to know if it is a popular place to live among the student body.  As much as I liked Fells Point and Canton, multiple people told me that they were unsure about the walk between there and school.  I would be so grateful for any advice current/past students or those who know Baltimore might be able to give me!

We drove by the harbor and all of the houses decorated in Purple to support the Ravens.  Stefan and Nuala drove past JHUSON to show me exactly where it is located in relationship to all of the neighborhoods we had just driven through, which was incredibly helpful and I left later that afternoon feeling like I had a much better sense of the layout and where everything is in relationship to campus.

As much as I like DC, Baltimore has a distinctive flavor and I have a good feeling that I’m going to appreciate the differences.  Call it strange, call it gritty, call it The Greatest City in America (a slogan I saw on a park bench), and definitely, without-a-doubt, call it charming.

Getting ready for our tour!
Snow on “The Strip” in Hampden


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