We slipped into a convenient parking space and proceeded to act like tourists, enjoying the sights along the waterfront. The dragon paddle boats are always popular in the summer, and there's a water taxi for those of us who prefer to let an engine do the paddling. Baltimore's World Trade Center soars above the harbor, with a 27th floor observation deck for stunning views. Moored down below along the harbor are historic ships that are National Historic Landmarks and also serve as living classrooms.
The queen of the harbor is, of course, the USS Constellation. She is the last all-sail warship built by the U.S. Navy, and the last Civil War era vessel still afloat. The ship is open year-round and offers a variety of special educational tours. Youngsters enjoy the Powder Monkey Tour that includes some hands-on learning of what it was like for boys 11 to 18 who served on warships in mid-19th century America.
A bit further along the harbor is the U. S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney, a veteran of Pearl Harbor, and the only surviving vessel still afloat of the 101 that were present and fought during the attack on December 7, 1941. She went on to serve in the Okinawa campaign, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and in the war on drugs in the Caribbean.
And then moored at another pier are the Lightship Chesapeake and the submarine USS Torsk. Once there were ships like Chesapeake anchored all along the coast, marking entrances to channels, and warning of hazards to navigation. The ships provided weather information and helped in rescue operations. During World War II the ship was "drafted" and did harbor patrol duty near the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal in Massachusetts. With peace, Chesapeake came back to Maryland, then to the Delaware Bay until 1971 when she became an ocean-going environmental classroom for the National Park Service. She came home to Baltimore in 1981 to join the Baltimore Maritime Museum.
The submarine Torsk was late getting into the action of World War II when commissioned in December 1944. She headed for the Pacific in early 1945 and took up patrol in the Sea of Japan. Her crew made history on August 14, 1945, when they sunk the last ship of World War II; less than 24 hours later hostilities ended. Until her retirement in 1967, Torsk was in the Atlantic and Mediterranean fleets, and was part of the blockade keeping Soviet missiles out of Cuba in 1962.
The National Aquarium is worth a day trip itself. Visit Australia, experience a tropical rain forest, and enjoy the dolphin show, all in the glass pyramid buildings on Pier 4. That sign, "It's Weird Down Here" is advertising the strange fish you can find at the aquarium.
We didn't realize just how right that sign was until we were headed back to our car. Just as we stepped out from a building entrance we heard the sickening crunch of metal on metal as two SUV's collided just feet from us. One of them ran up on the sidewalk, took out a huge light pole, threw it's bumper in our direction, and ended up way too close for comfort. We had to jump to get out of the way of flying debris – talk about scary! Fortunately, no one was hurt, but it is definitely weird down here!
We were leaving any way, but after that it was time to head home. Even with that unwelcome adrenaline rush, we still enjoyed our one-day vacation. When you visit Baltimore, be sure to plan on spending some time walking along the harbor. I promise – SUV's on the sidewalk really are quite rare.