The Martini Diaries – Episode 4, Baltimore

In this episode I explore the city of Baltimore and discuss coping with jet lag, American portion sizes, a barman trying to put cheese in my Martini, striped ties and coloured blazers, and visiting the battlefield of Gettysburg.

Baltimore: Saturday June 8th 2019

9 am and breakfast time in Baltimore USA. Starting my day in the executive lounge on the 18th floor of the Hilton Hotel in Baltimore – a free room upgrade finds me entitled to a corner spacious bedroom and access to a lounge on the same floor for members which includes a modest (by American standards) breakfast of fruit, yoghurt, cereal, croissants and coffee. Perfect.


My room in the Hilton Baltimore

I am trying an experiment to avoid jet lag. My usual methodology has been to eat and drink on the flight to the USA, nap, and then when landed and unpacked, head straight for the bar and then drive on through to dinner and bed at midnight local time. My theory has been to crash through the time difference. This, if I am realistic, has not been a highly successful strategy in the past!

For example, last year I arrived in San Diego, via Los Angeles, after a 12 hour flight. I had followed my usual maxim of ‘eat and drink everything British Airways puts in front of me’, and now, at 6 pm local time (2 am UK body time) I unpacked and joined my staff, who had flown out the day before, for a drink at 7 pm. Then followed another dinner, and still determined to make it to midnight, a bar for a whiskey and a cigar. I fell into bed just after midnight (8 am UK body time) having been on the go for 26 hours, exhausted – surely this would work. No. Two hours later I awoke with a start, wide awake. I stared at the ceiling, feeling as though I had eaten a dead rat in my mouth, until 6 am. I spent the next two days in a state of exhaustion – not always helpful on a diplomatic business trip!

This year, another year older and wiser, and with my jet lag survival plans in tatters, I had a new plan. Avoid the bar, no dinner/meal on arrival, in bed by 10 or 11 am, and try to nap for a few hours on the flight. Last night I stuck to the plan (helped in no small way by a one hour queue at immigration at the airport, and a further 45 minute wait for my ‘pre-booked’ shuttle to the hotel (“Don’t worry Sir, we’re on it”, said the lady at the Shuttle desk – whatever that means). So, it was 9.30 pm before I checked in, and 11 pm after I had unpacked. I popped a melatonin tablet, put on my eye mask and went to sleep – voila, awake at 6.30 am!

Part two of the new plan calls for some exercise, rather than bars and dinners and big breakfasts. I went down to the gym at 7 am, and ran for 30 minutes on the treadmill, whilst looking over the Baltimore rounders pitch outside. A fabulous view of a huge stadium, but I am not sure you would get such large crowds to watch rounders in the UK.

And now breakfast – I am feeling great. It is a whole new sensation on a long haul trip like this. Perhaps I am on to something!

Baltimore: Saturday June 8th 2019, 11 pm.

A productive and busy day setting up our exhibition stand at the American Society for Nutrition annual conference, and then beginning the conference at 5.30 pm. A welcome reception saw large crowds (although not the 3,000 we had been promised) milling around. Each delegate had only been provided with one drink ticket – for a soft drink, beer or glass of wine. If, over the course of the next 2 1/2 hours (!) you wanted a second drink, you had to pay for it. A beer or glass of wine was $8, and a can of coke or soft drink $5! Needless to say, by 7.00 pm the Reception was nearly empty.

We headed off for dinner to a small place called Penny Black, as guests of our publishers. Located on the Waterfront at Fells Point, Penny Black is an old family owned ‘tavern’ which feels very much like an English pub. It specialises in classic American food – my chicken pot pie was delicious, and definitely ‘classic’.

Now ready for bed, having avoided the bar again on arrival back in the hotel, at 11 pm.

Baltimore: Sunday June 10th 2019

A long day, started with another great night’s sleep, a 7 am visit to the gym, a full day at the conference, a working lunch with one of my staff (memorable for the huge size of the salads we had for lunch – neither of us finished more than 50% of it – such a waste of food), a conference call about next week’s visit to Kenya, a cocktail, hosting a dinner for our international colleagues and finishing with a large cognac before bed at 11.30 pm. 

A very large lunch portion!

I also decided to have some sartorial fun today and wore my new yellow striped blazer for the conference. I felt I needed to bring some fun and slight eccentricity to our exhibition stand – it is hard work being at exhibitions, so anything which can bring a little colour and fun is worth trying!

Back to portion sizes – always a source of great bewilderment whenever I visit America. I have already mentioned our lunch portion size, my Martini at 6 pm was almost overflowing the glass (and very strong), and our dinner portions at La Scala (an excellent Italian restaurant by the way) enough to feed a small army. Why? ‘Less is more’ is not I sense a concept understood by our American colleagues! I wonder if it is a competitive issue – size is more important than quality, with one restaurant starting to entice customers with a larger portion, and then their competitors try to ‘out size’ them, and the spiral continues. Where will it end (part from an obesity crisis!)?

I should also comment on my Martini – having stipulated it be made with Tanqueray gin I was asked if I would a blue cheese stuffed olive in it! Why would any sane person put blue cheese in a Martini? It brought a whole new meaning to another of those classic American sayings “Do you want cheese with that?”, which we are all too often asked with every meal!

Baltimore: Monday 11th June 2019

No gym this morning, feeling a little fragile after the food, wine and late night cognac (must have been a triple cognac by UK standards). Last day of the conference, and an opportunity for another sartorial experiment. I wore my new Hawks and Curtis horizontal striped tie for the first time. I had, somewhat unnaturally, a fear about horizontal stripes. I cannot explain it, but for the longest time the thought of horizontal versus diagonal stripes has been too much to contemplate. I worry perhaps unnecessarily about such sartorial issues.

So, I boldly dressed this morning in my new linen suit from Samuel Windsor and put on the tie. I instantly loved it. Throughout the day nobody mentioned it, which again is evidence I worry unnecessarily about such things. I am a convert – and will be taking the tie to Kenya next week. I should also declare I am a brand ambassador for Samuel Windsor clothing. I do so happily as I have been a loyal customer for many years. The quality of their clothing is superb, classically designed and tailored, and is a key component of my wardrobe. Accepting the role of ambassador is difficult to judge – one has to believe in the company and its values as well as its products. I did my research thoroughly before accepting. 

Monday evening was another Reception, but due to the unappetising food on offer I left after 30 minutes and walked to the Inner Harbour of Baltimore. It was my first real visit outside the hotel/convention centre since arriving (an all too frequent situation on my time crunched travels). I am glad I made the effort. One can learn a lot about a city by walking its streets. The shortish walk to the harbour showed much homelessness, fairly aggressive begging, some extremes of wealth and poverty existing side by side. Architecturally Baltimore has some classic buildings, interspersed in a random manner with very modern bland tower blocks. It felt pretty much like any other American city I have visited in the past few years.

The inner harbour contained the USS Constellation, the last sail-only warship built by the American Navy in 1854 and a memorial to the Twin Towers outside the World Trade Centre building. Alongside the harbour I found Phillips, a family seafood restaurant, founded in 1956 as an indoor market, expanding then into dining. Here was time for Crab Cakes – the Baltimore speciality. Crab cakes are made from crabmeat, egg, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice, breadcrumbs and local seasoning. They are delicious. I was thrilled to find mine served with a variety of roasted vegetables. Regular visitors to American will know how challenging it is to find a variety vegetables in a restaurant – I was served roasted carrots, parsnips, green beans. A rare treat!

Baltimore: Tuesday 12th June 2019.

I packed last night, so I could make a quick check-out this morning, ready for my visit to the Battlefield of Gettysburg – a lifelong ambition about to be fulfilled! I rented a car from Avis at the airport and drove the 1 1/2 hours across country to Gettysburg. It was a delightful drive, endless fields dotted with red barns and white clapboard farm houses, small one-Street towns, a clear blue sky overhead. I arrived just before my pre-reserved entrance ticket time of 11 am.

I followed the advice from the Gettysburg Foundation and firstly watched the introductory video in the theatre, narrated by the actor Morgan Freeman. It covers the political and economic build up to the Civil War, presenting a balanced view from both the South and the North, and not being afraid to openly confront the issue of slavery. This lasted some 25 minutes. From the movie theatre I entered the cyclorama room. A stunning 360 degree painting of the moment in the battle known as Pickett’s charge.

From the cyclorama I then entered the main museum. This follows a logical sequence, taking one from the political, slavery and economic issues, to the start of the civil war, its main developments viewed from both sides, the battle of Gettysburg, the aftermath, the Gettysburg Address, the end of the war, the assassination of President Lincoln, and completes with a review of the creation of Gettysburg as a National Park, Memorial and Museum. I spent nearly two hours walking through. Each exhibit was not overwhelming in detail, making it easy to navigate and absorb the data.

After a quick lunch (a typically limited choice of dried out cheeseburger or pizza) and an excellent shandy beer I mounted the bus for the 2 pm two hour guided tour of the battlefield. The perimeter of the site is 24 miles, so it is not a large battlefield by some standards. We stopped on a regular basis to de-bus so our guide could highlight keys elements of the battle. We followed the course of the battle over its three day duration fairly logically. The battlefield is extraordinary. It is almost identical to 1863. Our guide explained the site is kept as it used to be, by regular pruning of trees, planting replacements, and not allowing any developments. Gettysburg was one of the first battlefields to be photographed, as many people descended upon it in the days immediately after the battle. These archive photographs are used to maintain its original state. 

Of particular note is Little Round Top, and the culmination of the end of the battle – Pickett’s charge, both quite possible to stand at and feel exactly as it would have felt in 1863. 

My tour finished at 4 pm, and I drove back to the airport arriving in ample time to catch my flight back to London at 9.25 pm.

Gettysburg exceeded my expectations. One always has a fear such a site becomes ‘Disney-fied’ in an attempt to gloss over the horrors for today’s snowflake generations. Gettysburg has not done this – it tells a vitally important story in American history with complete respect for the views of both sides, and in doing so has maintained a location every person who wants to understand history and draw their own conclusions can do so in freedom of thought. Well done America!

England: Wednesday 13th June 2019

I enjoyed the departure lounge in Baltimore airport – the Chesapeake Lounge. Friendly, light, airy, good sandwiches, fruit and cheese, some nice wines, and plenty of seating.

It was only a two minute walk from the gate, so I was able to settle into my seat on the flight quickly. A light supper and last glass of red wine, and I was sound asleep by 11 pm. We landed at 9.30 am and, after a quick shower, change of clothes and breakfast in the BA arrivals lounge, I was behind my desk in my office in London at 11.30 am. I arrived home at 7 pm, and was in bed sound asleep by 9.30 pm. I awoke at 6 am, my usual time, with no jet lag – the new strategy has worked!

Just as well – I fly the other way, East, to Kenya in just 7 days!

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