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(Car-less in) Annapolis: The Jewel of the Mid-Atlantic?

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Prequel: This trip to visit my parents for the holidays in greater Washington, D.C. (they live in Falls Church in suburban DC/northern Virginia) from my home in Montréal, Canada, I was determined that finally I would take a day to visit Maryland’s capital, a town whose praises had been sung by various acquaintances. A visit I felt was long overdue, having lived in Baltimore for 3 years in my late twenties and Falls Church for the duration of Jr. High and High School.

Logistics: Part of the difficulty getting to Annapolis for car-less little old moi has been the relatively small number of public transportation options to the capital. However, this trip, thanks to internet research, I had decided to take the #921 (Dillon’s Bus in conjunction with the MTA—Maryland Transit Administration) for $3.50 each way, what is truly a commuter bus operating out of New Carrollton Metro stop (running only on weekdays) right into the heart of Historic Annapolis. The last commuter bus out of New Carrollton left at 8:45am in the morning, so this required me getting to West Falls Church metro by 7:15am, an early morning on a holiday. Be warned, those who wish to follow in my footsteps that you go the the right side of the Metro (buses toward Route 50 as the sign at New Carrollton indicates) to catch the Dillon’s-MTA bus, which is more the height and size of a Greyhound with comfortable cloth seats, rather than a typical MTA Baltimore bus model.

Although it was about 30ºF and somewhat blustery today, I was pleased that the sun was out, providing sufficient warmth to make walking around bearable. I highly recommend to start one’s day with a visit to the Visitor Information Center on West Street near Church Circle, as not only were the women working there incredibly helpful with independent walking tour, restaurant and café suggestions, these ladies were terrifically warm human beings, who appeared to take great pleasure in their work, chatting with me at length and giving me some of my fondest memories of the day.

It didn’t take long before I decided that Annapolis was the unsung jewel of the mid-Atlantic, so charmed was I by the compactness of the city, with its narrow, red-brick sidewalks, streets and roundabouts à la England, not to mention the delightfully-named alleyways like Chancery Way surrounded continually by the rows of early-13-colonies window-shuttered architecture. While this may seem reminiscent of a Colonial Williamsburg, the presence of the harbor on the mouth of the Severn River/Spa Creek offers a delightful, scenic bonus. The battery of evidence of the historic importance of Annapolis was ubiquitous, with the tall, red-, white- and steel-coloured cupola-adorned Maryland State Capitol (which was briefly in the 1780s the U.S. Capitol!) visible from multiple angles around surprising corners; the grey pointy steeple of venerable St. Anne’s Church must be one of the older congregations in the USA; and the stately campus of St. John’s College (founded 1696) can’t be preceded by too many institutions of its kind in English North America. But unlike certain history-associated destinations in the Americas which can feel unlived-in and museum-like, I appreciated that Annapolis, like its European brethren, certainly remains a living, breathing community due in part to its proximity to Washington DC and importance as Maryland capital.

Be warned in the winter season (especially around Xmas) that relatively few historic homes will be open to visitors and also that at the William Paca (pronounce “PAY-ca”) House (one of the four Maryland signers of the Declaration of Independence), the $8 home tour is not necessarily focused on the actual history of the house (there was a theme of Christmas decorations instead the day I went) as I had expected.

As far as snacks were concerned, I was pleased for the options of tea/coffee shops (not just Starbuck’s but all two local, Hard Beans Café and City Dock Café) in the walkable historic area near the harbor, allowing warming relief from the the finger-chilling (gloves *had to* come off to take photos!) windy coldness of the day. However, it was a stop in the Middleton Tavern (founded in 1740) for a “Maryland clam chowder” and an amber lager that was the highlight of the brief visit; hard to believe that for under $13, at a very unpretentious establishment, that I was congregating in the same locale as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington did some 230-odd years ago! The wooden paneling, framed prints and “John Shaw” US flag of the 13 colonies with 8-pointed stars (rather than 5-pointed stars as on the modern flag) reminded me that the “Betsy Ross” flag was only one model of its time.

Catching Dillon’s Bus at 2:40pm from West & Calvert (~10-minute walk from the City Docks), I was thinking how under-rated Annapolis is (a number of well-educated Canadian friends had never even heard of it when I said I was visiting!), an affordable getaway from Washington-area visitors costing me $7 round-trip from New Carrollton, $15 round-trip all-told from Northern Virginia. It’s a pity the capital is not better served by public transportation options, with especially few options on weekends. I’ve liked other places within easy striking distance of DC such as Old Town Alexandria and certain Baltimore neighbourhoods, but Annapolis in my mind is unquestionably the most charming community I’ve seen yet within an hour of the nation’s capital.

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