Maryland Offers a Passport to Fun
Planning a trip to Europe? Imagine the fun you’ll have trying to remember which side of the road to drive on. Wondering whether “wiener schnitzel” is an entree or a good name for a dog. Watching the value of the dollar fluctuate on an hourly basis.
But is there any other way to see those fabulous cities steeped in history and alive with activity -- cities like Berlin, Vienna, Salisbury, Oxford and Cambridge? If only you could reach those destinations without spending so much time or money. But that’s just wishful thinking, right?
You can find all those places in Maryland, just by getting in a car and heading along U.S. Route 50. Whether you’re seeking a side trip that will add a new twist to your annual pilgrimage to the beach, or if you’re just searching for the perfect weekend getaway, Maryland’s versions of these great European cities offer all the fun at a fraction of the cost and hassle.
Heading east, your first stop is Oxford, one of the oldest towns in Maryland and, along with Annapolis, an original port of entry for the colony. Until the American Revolution, this town was an international trade center that witnessed the arrival of ships laden with goods from Europe and the departure of vessels carrying Eastern Shore tobacco across the Atlantic. Now the boats that come and go are filled with eager visitors, the shores are peppered with marine facilities, and the streets are lined with boutiques, bed and breakfasts, and restaurants. Here you can ride the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry, the oldest privately owned ferry in the United States; stock up on everything from boating supplies to original artwork -- and even get your bike repaired -- at the multi-functional Oxford Mews; or settle down for a tasty Eastern Shore dinner at The Robert Morris Inn, home to James Michener’s favorite crab cake when he was in Maryland writing the novel Chesapeake.
If you’re going to Oxford, it’s only right to spend equal time in Cambridge. Nestled on the banks of the Choptank River, the county seat of Dorchester County has retained much of the charm that made it a popular center of activity in Colonial days. Stroll along brick-paved High Street, which is lined with beautiful old homes and brilliantly landscaped yards. Learn about the county’s ties to the water by visiting the Brannock Maritime Museum, Dorchester Heritage Museum or James B. Richardson Maritime Museum. Take a picnic lunch to Long Wharf (pack extra bread or crackers for the ducks), and then go crabbing or boating. Climb aboard the Cambridge Lady or skipjack Nathan of Dorchester to view the area the way it was meant to be seen -- from the water. Cambridge is also the proud home of a Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort, which features a spa, marina, golf course and even a bird sanctuary.
Just a short drive from Cambridge is the town of Vienna. It doesn’t have a boys’ choir, but that’s okay; in recent years, it’s visitors who have been singing the praises of this little town on the banks of the Nanticoke River. Unlike Oxford, which fell upon hard times during the American Revolution, Vienna prospered because it was a source of goods and supplies for the Continental Army. Years later, during the Civil War, Vienna’s own Thomas Holiday Hicks was Maryland’s governor. It is he who is credited with preventing Maryland from seceding from the Union. His home is located on Water Street, where the neighboring Tavern House continues to be a stopping point for weary travelers.
Continuing east, the next stop is Salisbury. The British version boasts ornate churches. Maryland’s version has its fair share of beautiful houses of worship and historic districts characterized by Victorian structures. But Maryland’s Salisbury is best known for its fascinating collection of duck carvings. Travelers are intrigued by the glories of the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, which traces the evolution of decoy carving from a hunter’s tool to a highly respected art form. Antique decoys and contemporary bird carvings give visitors a better understanding of the roles that decoys have played not only on the Eastern Shore, but also throughout the world. For those who prefer live animals to the carved variety, the Salisbury Zoo and Park is considered among the finest small zoos in the country. It’s home to bears, monkeys, jaguars, bison, bald eagles, and, of course, waterfowl of all kinds.
The last stop on this whirlwind tour is Berlin, which unlike its European cousin has never had a wall to prevent people from wandering in -- or out. But for some reason, visitors who stop by have a hard time leaving. Perhaps it’s the fact that residents of this town are particularly friendly, encouraging their guests to take time to appreciate their surroundings. This village possesses such charm that it was selected by Hollywood to epitomize a quaint, small town in the 1999 movie Runaway Bride. It made its second big-screen appearance in the 2002 Disney release, Tuck Everlasting. In the good old days, Berlin supported more hotels than neighboring Ocean City. Although the popular beach resort now dwarfs its country cousin in that respect, the folks in Berlin are content to welcome visitors to the historic Atlantic Hotel Inn & Restaurant (which had a starring role in the Richard Gere-Julia Roberts movie mentioned above), or Holland House or Merry Sherwood Plantation, a pair of delightful bed and breakfasts.
At those places and all along Maryland’s Eastern Shore, they’ll treat you like royalty. So abandon the search for your passport, return your copy of “Learn German in 10 Minutes” to the library and head down Maryland’s Eastern Shore this summer.