Carroll County Times

Travel Tips: Save gas, vacation close to home

For this article I'm saving gas money by staying close to home. Actually, the farthest I have to go is downtown Baltimore. We'll be looking at two very nice downtown hotels that would be excellent locations for a city overnight getaway.

Let's begin our trip at the corner of Charles and Baltimore. For you locals, a location you've passed hundreds of times over the years. That piece of real estate began life as the B & O Railroad Building in 1906. It was and still is a beautiful example of Beaux-Arts architecture. It came to life with marble floors,a marble winding staircase, two sculptures over the Charles Street entrance and Tiffany stained glass windows. You'll find all that there today.

The building is now home to the 13-story, 202 room Monaco Hotel. It opened with much fanfare in the spring of 2009 and became an almost immediate hit. It is owned and operated by the San Francisco-based Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group. Currently the company operate 53 hotels and 53 restaurants in 23 cities.

Hotel design was by Parker & Thomas. The Monaco is their first design job in Baltimore. Actually, the fonder of the company, Bill Kimpton, was the first to bring boutique hotels to America. He founded the company in 1981.

The theme of most of the Kimpton Hotels is 'world traveler'. For the Baltimore hotel they have incorporated subtle railroading elements as a tie to the B&O building. Headboards with built-in sconces are the focal point of each room. The bedside tables resemble steamer trunks and the drawer knobs have a screen print of the B & O railroad map.

One thing that definitely makes this hotel different from the many others downtown is that it is pet-friendly. All the pets are assigned to one floor (I think it's the seventh). Staff said they are happy to take pets of all sizes. For me that's good news since I so love to travel with my pet giraffe.

Amenities to enjoy include a complimentary hosted wine hour and complimentary organic coffee and tea service in the living room lobby and 24-hour room service.

In the morning you'll find the paper at your door and all the guest rooms have high-speed wired and wireless internet access. If you feel like a little exercise, you can borrow a bike for a quick trip around town.

Perhaps the best thing for us locals, who at least are somewhat familiar with the downtown landscape, is that there are so many things within an easy walk. How about the Hippodrome Theatre, Harborplace & The Gallery, Harborplace attractions, the Harbor East area, 1st Mariner Arena, Baltimore Convention Center and the WaltersArt Museum . Park your car yourself, or valet it, just once, and you're set for the entire stay.

For instance, here are a few suggestions to take in on your weekend getaway.

Take a free trolley and journey up to the Baltimore Museum of Art (10 Art Museum Drive). They currently have a few exhibits on display. One is "Hand Held: Personal Arts from Africa," and the other is "Candida Hofer, large scale images of photography." A museum a little closer is the Walters Art Museum (600 North Charles Street), which is showing "Exploring Art of the of the Ancient Americas." Both are free.

Still another museum is at the Maryland Institite of Art (1303 West Mt Royal). In their Decker Gallery you'll find "Under Cover," an exhibit examining the shifting definitions of shelter and privacy.

Also on Mt Royal Avenue (140 West) there's the Lyric Opera House where you can see "Come Fly Away," Feb. 24-26, a tribute to Sinatra.

On Feb. 14, the Lyric is celebrating that special day with a big band revue.

One block from the Lyric is the beautiful Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. On Feb. 16 the show is "The Genius of Mozart" and on Feb. 25, Prokofiev's "Fifth Symphony." And for you lovers, Feb. 10-12 - "BSO Valentine."

Only a few blocks to the west is the 1st Mariner Arena. On the February calendar is "Monster Jam," the last weekend of the month. At the Baltimore Convention Center the Auto Show stops by Feb. 9-12 and Feb. 24-26 the American Craft Council Show.

In the same general neighborhood is the Hippodrome Theatre. Through Feb. 12 you can enjoy Carrie Fisher's one-woman show, "Wishful Drinking;" on Feb. 25, The Peking Acrobats; and opening March 6, "The Addams Family."

When you get hungry, it's good news to know a restaurant is adjacent to the hotel. It's the B & O Brasserie, serving all three meals seven days a week. Some of the entrees there just waiting to be put on your fork include the Hudson Valley duck breast, diver scallops, rockfish, petit filet and the braised lamb shank. The railroad theme continues here with details from old dining cars incorporated into the chairs and lamps.

Room rates do vary from season to season. My guess is the winter is when you'll find the best rates. For more information call 1-800-KIMPTON or go to

For our second downtown hotel we travel just a few blocks south and wind up at the InterContinental Harbor Court Baltimore, 550 Light St. This property offers stunning views of the Inner Harbor, so be sure to ask for a harbor view room. Here you'll find 195 rooms, including 22 suites, a fitness center with indoor pool, jacuzzi, tennis court on the roof and racquetball court. The feature people do remember the most is the winding staircase in the lobby. If I had a dime for every bride photographed there I'd be writing these articles in Martinique.

The Harbor Court is serious about thinking green. They were the first Baltimore hotel with three vegetated roofs. On the seventh floor is an herb garden and, yes, they do use the produce in their kitchen.

Dining options are available in Brightons Restaurant and Explorers Lounge (offering lighter fare). If you're into your morning coffee then you'll be sure to head to Formula Espresso just off the lobby. It features cappuccino, espresso, coffee of course, and gourmet sandwiches. Explorers is certainly worth a look even if you're not eating. I'll call it a safari theme. Don't puzzle over it, take a look for yourself.

As with Hotel Monaco, Harbor Court offers many attractions within a 10-minute walk. From Little Italy to the east, to Oriole Park and M & T Bank Stadium to the north.

Since the Harbor Court is so close to the Monaco you can of course enjoy all the above mentioned attractions, and more. Across the street is the Maryland Science Center. They have too many exhibits to note here, but a series you might enjoy is the IMAX Film Fesitval. If you've never seen a movie on an IMAX screen, you really need to.

Nearby, at the National Aquarium, you should check out the Rainforest.

In Fells Point, just a few minutes away, the Fells Point Corner Theatre (251 S. Ann) is doing a very good production of "The Iceman Cometh."

The Vagabond Players is also worth a look. They're on South Broadway.

And for you TV buffs, on Thames Street in the former Fells Point recreation pier, is the police headquarters used on the popular series "Homicide: Life on the Street."

For more information go to