It’s a “Hon”derful Life for Daria and cousin Emma as they brush up on their Bawlmerese in the place where Hon is the norm – the world famous Hamden in downtown Baltimore.

A muggy and hot 90-degree day greeted us as we motored up the Patapsco River and entered Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Steaming under the Chesapeake Bay and Francis Scott Key bridges, then passing by the industrial areas of Dundalk and Essex, and seeing Fort McHenry, Federal Hill and the towering Domino’s Sugar sign near Harbor Place brought back a flood of childhood memories that gave me goosebumps…even on a scorching and steamy day!

Welcome to Bawlmor Hon! Wow, has it changed over the past 15 or so years! The waterfront is loaded with new neighborhoods and businesses designed to make downtown a friendly place to live, work, eat and play – among all the history and culture that Baltimore has to offer.

Michelle, who is Michael’s cousin and a childhood friend of mine (Michelle’s mom Gerri, Michael’s aunt, introduced us!), and her daughter Emma, were the first ones to greet us after we docked in the Baltimore Maritime Center at Lighthouse Point, located in the beautifully restored section of Canton, just east of the Inner Harbor and a short walk to the hIstoric Fell’s Point area of town.

Michelle is all about making people feel welcome, and she did that for us in spades when we arrived in Baltimore. She’d been on the phone and texting me that morning making sure she wasn’t going to miss our arrival. She was there within minutes of us pulling in, with lots of cheers and a beautiful welcome sign from Emma to make our arrival into Charm City complete. If you ever need a tour guide when you visit Baltimore, Michelle is your girl!

She borrowed her dad’s car for us and came with a list of activities and options a mile long that would have kept us here for weeks exploring. She’s so knowledgeable about the area, having lived here for more 40 years (despite being 29 herself!), that you just tell her what you want to see, hear, eat or do and she’ll point you in the right direction with numerous options and back-up plans if needed! Like typing into the Yahoo! search box.

Between Annapolis (our previous port of call) and Baltimore, she welcomed us with everything Baltimore from crab flavored potato chips, local Burger Cookies, Whoopie Pies, homemade banana bread, a Maryland flag, Maryland wine, monogramed hand towels for the kiddos and a beautiful blue glass crab pendant to hang in our window. She really made everyone feel welcome. Thanks Michelle!!!!

So what did we do in Baltimore, Hon? Everything! While Michael spent two days in Washington, D.C. meeting some old school and work chums, the kids and I spent our days visiting memorable places my childhood and exploring some new areas of Baltimore too. It’s amazing how many things we were able to squeeze into a long weekend. Baltimore is mighty big, but in a very drivable kind of way. We covered everything from downtown Baltimore to the great wide open spaces of the Maryland countryside where I grew up.

First stop, Fort McHenry, right? Nope! Walters Art Gallery? I don’t think so. No, Daria picked the fist stop. She was in need of some beads for her very successful jewelry business. She found a great place online called Bedazzled. They happened to be hosting one of their African bead sellers, and boy did Daria find some beautiful things to add to her collection. Lucky for us the shop was located on historic Charles Street, so we were able to slip in a little culture and history along the way.

A short walk up the street and we entered the historic Peabody Institute, a division of The Johns Hopkins University and home to a world class music and dance conservatory. The building itself is a beautiful reminder of a bygone era of giant mansions with sweeping grand stairways, marble inlayed floors, carved wood moldings around doors and windows and massive chandeliers.

Keenan and Daria were astounded at the huge collection of books available for browsing in the highly ornamental Peabody Stack Room. We were able to thumb through a huge selection of meticulously cataloged book and journal cards (the ancient card catalogue!) housed in four large cabinets in the central atrium of the library. Rising up all around us were five tiers of ornamental cast-iron balconies and archways 61 feet high topped by a giant glass skylight allowing the sunlight to stream in. This library dates back to 1857, the year the Peabody Institute was founded and dedicated to the citizens of Baltimore by a wealthy Massachusetts born philanthropist named George Peabody. Quite a treat for all of us and definitely a highlight along our tour of Baltimore.

Next up, a drive-by of three of my childhood homes. Between my mom’s good memory for the address of each location, my iPhone map-guide, and Keenan navigating from the backseat of the car, we successfully visited each of my former homes around Baltimore County. Both kids were impressed with the wide lawns, big old trees and beautiful landscaping that accompanied each area of Baltimore we visited. I was impressed that despite all the years, my childhood memories of each location were, for the most part, still intact. Some new home construction was evident out in the farmland around our last home in Glen Arm, but the overall feeling of the countryside with farmers cutting hay and grazing cattle and horses was still there.

I was able to drive the kids past Hampton Pool, Notre Dame (elementary – middle-school) and Loch Raven (my high-school), and the chapel where Michael and I we were married, around the Loch Raven Reservoir (Baltimore’s source of drinking water surrounded by beautiful woods, trails and picnic areas that I used to frequent), our past home on Manor Road (where Michael and I had our wedding reception) to Long Green Road where we discovered the Prigel Family Creamery, a delicious, homemade, self-run, organic ice-cream store located on a working dairy farm.

What a treat for my road-weary and hungry kiddos! We originally planned to stop for lunch at Sanders, a favorite roadside cafe near the reservoir, but it was closed and for sale. Bye bye to a favorite place. So how about ice-cream for lunch? You betcha’! And what delicious ice-cream it was! We even saw the cows coming down the hill for a drink at the creek as we were driving away. Definitely a good addition to the neighborhood!

Next up, a short drive to our local Maryland wine producer, Boordy Vineyards for a quick visit. With beautiful rolling hills, a quaint yellow barn and old stone farmhouse, this Maryland attraction was a definite favorite of my parents when we were growing up. After a quick look around the wine cellar along with the tiniest taste of wine for me, the kids helped me pick out some nice bottles that we could take home. While I would have liked to have sampled more before choosing the bottles, the kids’ idea of looking at the label and choosing the cutest picture won out in the end as we were time-pressed with a dinner reservation downtown.

Check-out some of the photos we took on our drive back into town from the countryside. Maryland farmland is some of the prettiest you will find. We even happened upon some fresh-picked strawberries that the kids enjoyed eating along the way. After driving back around Dulaney Valley Road, past Peerce’s Plantation (a local favorite for an elegant dinner) and Eagle’s Nest (the swimming club we belonged to growing up) we got back on the highway and headed down to a recently developed “green” neighborhood called Clipper Mill. This great little area of town has reconfigured some of Baltimore’s oldest foundries, grist and textile mills into condos, restaurants and stores that compliment the surrounding neighborhood and add immediate old world charm to our tour of Baltimore.

We met Michelle and Emma for a delicious meal at Woodbury Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant featuring the seasonal best from local growers. It’s all about organic and local and knowing where your food comes from before you eat it. I love this kind of place!!!

We also stopped by Corradetti Glass, a one of a kind, hand-blown art glass studio, and watched them as they were hand-firing and shaping a glass vase. Talk about a “hot” location! Just around the corner we toured Mandala Creations for a look at some custom hand forged metalwork. The kids were amazed to see what a simple rod of iron can be shaped and welded into. Beautiful lamps, signs, drawer pulls, and gates were scattered around the actual workshop filled with every tool and welding machine you can imagine. Quite an interesting place.

Ok, if you think the day was done, you are wrong! No visit to Baltimore is complete without a tour of the “world-famous”, not to missed, charm city special section of town and home to the annual “Hon” Fest called Hampden. If you’ve seen the John Waters broadway hit musical and movie Hairspray then you will be familiar with the neighborhood scene and accent. This is where words like “Bawlmer”, “murca”, “murlin”, turlit”, “fahr”, “Sairdee”, “cafflick”, “oryulus”, “spensive” and “tar”, take on their own special sound and unless you brush up on your “Bawlmerese”, yu won undorstan a wurd dem balmorians are tawkin to ya HON!

Great shops and eateries line the streets along with the familiar old red brick row houses that have been a Baltimore staple for decades. We had fun exploring the Cafe Hon and the Hometown Girl & Co. across the street. Beehive hairdos, feather boas, leopard print, and horn-rimmed glasses are all the rage hon! A long day, but worth all the driving around town. Sort of like a long day on the water.

The next day I got the kids up to the top of Baltimore’s World Trade Tower for some extraordinary views and a few historical stories of downtown Baltimore. We learned that the first bloodshed during the Civil War occurred when Union troops, marching towards what is now Camden Yards, were attacked by a group of Baltimoreans. Though the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the first casualties in the Civil War happened right here. Interesting history, and a reminder that the border states were not in some peaceful middle zone during the Civil War. They had divided populations, sometimes even within a single family.

Apart from all the learning, and re-visiting of childhood memories, we had some really nice visits with family and friends. A big thank you to my friends Sally and Macky (fellow hiking/adventuring friends) for visiting the boat our first night with Michelle (and purchasing all that jewelry from the kiddos!), Lydia and her husband John, with sons Andrew and Patrick for stopping by the night before we left.

And a special thanks to the entire Hamed clan (Michael’s aunts, uncles, and cousins) – Gerri and Jim, Parviz, Michelle and Emma, Seth, Jenny, Conner, Jack and Wesley for hosting us and also hanging around with us Saturday and Sunday afternoon. We had such a terrific visit with all of our friends and family and were even able to slip-in a few sleep-overs, both on the boat (Emma and Michelle) and on land (Keenan and Daria with cousin Seth and Jenn’s kids!), recharging the kids’ batteries once again with lots of family time.

Charm City has added some lasting and fun memories for the crew of Muddy Waters. Thanks Baltimore!