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THIS holiday season finds Baltimore more festive...


THIS holiday season finds Baltimore more festive than usual.

While its animals are presumably asleep at night, the Baltimore Zoo is filled with electric, exotic animals and Victorian skaters made out of thousands of flickering lights. Talk about a magic kingdom.

Many Baltimore area residents may not think of Druid Hill Park as a place to visit after dark, but ZooLights is a "must see."

It runs from 5:30 to 9:30 every night until Jan. 2 and will raise funds for the zoo's conservation, animal acquisition and exhibit improvement programs.

Another welcome return to this season's offerings is Baltimore on Ice, a series of events that took place at the Inner Harbor in the late 1980s and then disappeared. This year, the festival is back.

So is a public ice rink at Rash Field, which offers skaters an unparalleled view of the downtown skyline and the holiday lights of Harborplace.

"We made a seven-year commitment to bring this thing back each year," explained Bill Gilmore, director of the city Office of Promotion.

The centerpiece of this winter season's activities is the waterfront ice rink, which will operate until early March. It was purchased with an interest-free loan from the Abell Foundation.

ZooLights and Baltimore on Ice are exactly what the doctor ordered to ward off holiday boredom. Both events take people out of doors to enjoy a wonderful season that comes once a year.

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THIS FROM A friend who recently visited Argentina:

Jet lag? It doesn't happen flying north-south to any extent comparable to east-west. Baltimore to Buenos Aires is as interminable as Baltimore to Tokyo, but your body clock does not have to adjust (except for the loss of a good night's sleep).

What's nice about a trip to our own Down Under at this time of year is the change of seasons. You are transported from the gray chill of early winter to the lushness of late spring.

Trees in full leaf, gardens in full bloom, snow receding on the peaks of the Andes, Scotch Brush yellow and wild rose bushes along the roads, warm sun with heightened intensity as the days go by. Why it's enough to want summer forever.

But wait. On an earlier trip, leaving behind a Maytime Maryland, exultation still awaited down around the 40th Parallel South. For at that moment in Argentina, the leaves were turning into an autumn rain and the thoughts of the athletically inclined were on a new snow season -- not an Orioles schedule just beginning.

Yes, it's a topsy-turvy world on the north-south circuit but a world ever remindful of its joys and wonders. In between browse equatorial stretches of uninterrupted heat. But in this day and age, you can fly over them and relish spring and fall with deliciously heightened awareness.

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