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Trip Report The Joy of Introducing a Canadian Friend to NYC, DC and Baltimore

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There are numerous reasons I enjoy traveling. One is to travel to someplace I’ve never been before, and I find I always get excited seeing a landscape, demographic, culture, architecture, streetscape, etc… that I’ve never seen before. Something that I enjoy just as equally though is introducing places to somebody I know that has never been to that place.

And so it came to fruition that a friend of mine who lives here in Montreal, decided to accompany me on the train to New York City, with the lure of free accommodation at my aunt’s. She’d been only once before, as part of a class trip, when she was a teenager. Despite living only 30 miles from the US border and having traveled about Canada and Europe (lived on a Canadian base in Germany) a bit, all she’d seen of the US was NYC and a bit of highway in Michigan as a short-cut driving from point A to B in Ontario.

With NYC as bait, I said I’d treat for her train ticket if she’d go down to Washington & Baltimore as part of the trip. New York City was the big draw for her, but she had a bit of time, so thought “why not?”

New York City was enjoyable to her, with its pulsating streets and seemingly infinite energy. Last time she’d not had the independence she would have liked as part of a school trip, so she was thrilled to discover the charms of storied neighbourhoods like Chelsea and Greenwich Village, what with their narrow streets and often (seemingly) locally-run stores. The Guggenheim, which I’d never been to before either, was also a highlight for her being a modern art junkie, with their extensive collections of Kandinsky and Picasso. She was smitten with NYC and felt she’d gotten to see so much more than as a teenager.

Washington DC was next. After chilling in the northern Virginia for Xmas at my parents, Great Falls was on the itinerary. Even though I’d been there many times in my youth, I must say it is a gorgeous, underrated sight to behold surrounded by rocks in a pleasant natural setting. I’ve decided I PREFER them to Niagara Falls, for the overall aesthetic.

In Washington DC, she was impressed by Hane’s Point, the view of the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Memorial and the Smithsonian. The Freer Gallery opened her eyes to a world of Asian art she was unaware of and despite a bit of jingoism, the Civil War exhibits at the Museum of American History were eye-opening to both of us. Perhaps due to my own immaturity of youth, I’d always thought of the war as something long ago, where people wore funny outfits and had weird-looking moustaches. But now, reading about the events again, I saw all these young North Americans killing each other and was instilled with a great sense of sadness at the loss and at some of the brutality. Realizing that this was only my great-great grandparents’ generation, I realize it all seemed not so long ago actually.

The big “discovery” for my friend though was BALTIMORE! Seeing my former home through her eyes was fascinating. Seeing the segregation of the neighbourhoods along black-white lines was eye-opening for her; while she enjoyed the energy of the Lexington Market area, she commented to me afterward that “I’ve lead a very whitewashed existence and I didn’t even know it. I feel like I’ve been ignorant of so much even though I talk like I understand race relations.” She really fell for Federal Hill next, appreciated all the locally-run stores and the energy of the Cross Street Market (loved the cod cake sandwiches at Nick’s here!). What was interesting for me is that she felt that the more white working-class Baltimore neighborhood reminded her a bit of her home province of New Brunswick in feel, a kind of Maritime commonality with good seafood. She felt she preferred Baltimore over DC interestingly enough, finding Baltimore more real, less cold and built on a more human scale (in her opinion but I agree). She loved the architecture of Baltimore, feeling it to be well-preserved and diverse, and hoped that people would reclaim the boarded-up rowhouses and not let developers tear down the history.

Ultimately, she told me that the whole trip had been like an epiphany for her, and I felt so happy to have shared it with her...

Happy New Year! DAN

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