Swinging the Night Away

It’s safe to say that I recently have one of the most fun Saturday nights of my college career. 

Last night, I ventured out into the Pigtown neighborhood with a new group of friends to the fabulous 1870s-church-turned-dance-hall, Mobtown Ballroom. Why was I at such a quirky venue for a night out? Swing dance! The zany and crazy fun dance of 1940s fame is a Friday-night staple at this neighborhood institution, and is a fabulous way to ring in the weekend. 

For only $10 I was able to take both an hour-long class on the basic steps of swing dancing and dance the night away with the general public afterwards for as long as I wanted. If people only wanted to come for the open dance portion, the fee was $7. 

Swing dancing at the Mobtown Ballroom is a really great way to meet new people in a super casual setting. People can do what I did and go with friends for a fun group activity or meet other singles in the area. Everyone there obviously has a common interest in swing dance, the small bar offers a location for conversation, and obviously, the dancing is fantastic. Even beginners like me will find themselves getting the hang of the steps after a while. I also did some improvising which was both funny and really cool!

The night I went, a DJ (situated in was probably once a priest’s lectern) was playing ’40s tunes from a computer, but a live band is often in the house on a small stage. There is just something about swing music that injects an irresistible energy into the crowd and make everyone want to throw their hands up and get their feet moving. An incredible sense of community is created around a core of music and dance. What a wonderful way to cap off a busy week of school or work!

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Baltimore’s Inner Harbor: COME HERE!!

I know that when most people think of Baltimore, their thoughts usually go right toward the Inner Harbor (if not crabs). And rightfully so. The Inner Harbor is the hub of the city, a cultural mecca filled to the brim with fun activities to do and delicious food to eat. In particular, on a bright, sunny, Saturday afternoon, nothing beats getting out of the Hopkins “bubble” and spending time downtown with friends. 

This weekend, I needed a break from school life, so I rounded up two of my friends, Ruthie and Amanda, and took the bus down to the harbor. Baltimore really makes it easy for college students (or anyone, really) to get around town. The JHMI and Charm City Circulator busses (both free of charge) are great. In just 10-15 minutes, you’re right by the water. How convenient!

Once we got where we needed to be, we did what any girl would do: make a b-line for the mall. The Gallery mall, which is directly across from the Harborplace complex, is a fabulous mall. It is not as big as other area malls like the Towson Town Center, but it has just enough stores to please the savvy shopper on a budget. Such anchor stores like the Gap, Ann Taylor Loft, and Banana Republic always have sales going on. This is great for me, since I like to consider myself a professional bargain hunter. Also, if you hunt around enough, there are some stores that give out freebies. For example, Bath and Body Works lets customers sample soaps and lotions, while Coach sometimes offers free perfume samples. Score!!

After leaving the mall with our loot, walking around for a bit and enjoying the glorious sunshine, we decided to try out the water taxi service. I had always seen this, but never took advantage of it. For $12 (an adult all-day pass), we were able to take this adorable, little ferry from the inner harbor to Fells Point, the most historic neighborhood of Baltimore. Not too shabby!

The ferry drops passengers off at a convenient spot. We just hopped off and strolled the cobblestone streets of this gem of a neighborhood tucked away within a major city. We popped in and out of small boutiques, but the highlight was definitely the Pitango Gelato store. They make their own gelato in-house, and boy does it taste like it! Kids of all ages love this shop! It has all sorts of standard and unusual flavors. The mango gelato is to die for! 

After galavanting around Fells for a while, we went back to the harbor on the water taxi and took the bus back to school. All in all, a successful day for us. I would highly recommend spending a day downtown. We all had so much fun, and it did not cost us too much!Image<– Amanda, Me, and Ruthie

Image<– You know it’s spring in Baltimore when the dragon boats make an appearance! 

Razzle Beadazzled

Crafters and lovers of sparkly things unite! The best bead emporium lies in the heart of Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood (and in Washington D.C. and Falls Church, VA). It’s aptly named Beadazzled, a lovely little do-it-yourself workshop in one of Baltimore’s most charming and historic neighborhoods that allows customers to tap into their creativity and whip up original works of beaded art. 

For a reasonable price, visitors can make any jewelry item they imagine become a reality. In the mood for a statement necklace? Beadazzled has a wonderful variety of cords and chains to choose from, clasps, and large beads and colorful gemstones to choose from. Earrings more your speed? Then make a b-line for the selection of earring wires and maybe pick out some delicate jewels or seed beads for decoration. The possibilities are endless, and your wallet will thank you in the end. 

The shop also holds small classes during the week for ladies who want some individualized inspiration. Perhaps you want to learn to learn the latest jewelry trends or the best techniques for making that perfect bracelet. Learn all of that and more here. 

One of the best aspects of this fantastic craft shop is that is near so many other wonderful artsy institutions. The Walters Art Museum, Peabody Institute, Center Stage Theater, and various cafes and restaurants are within walking distance and easily accessible by the free Charm City Circulator bus system. 

I highly recommend stopping by Beadazzled. I dare you to leave without making at least something sparkly. 

 

Howl at the Moon..For Less!

This is a version of an article I wrote for the JHU News-Letter:

What happens when one converted power plant, two pianos and a whole lot of singing and dancing are mixed together? Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar that has helped fuel the nightlife of Baltimore’s Power Plant Live complex since 2001.

Once the sun goes down, the taps start flowing and the fun goes way up in this hip area of the city. I explored this funky area downtown with some friends last weekend, and absolutely loved it.

Power Plant Live is, in fact, a converted power plant that currently houses some of the most fun and unique clubs, bars, and restaurants in Baltimore. Visitors are free to explore all of the various institutions, the most unique and energetic of which is Howl at the Moon. This is no ordinary bar. It is neither a dingy pub where the odor of stale beer permeates the air nor a claustrophobic, chaotic and crowded dance club with flashing lights.

Rather, Howl at the Moon provides a more refreshing experience. Its layout is big enough that the atmosphere is not stuffy, but still intimate enough to feel like a neighborhood hangout that attracts energetic young people.

And this place is certainly energetic. The spacious bar area in the back is a great space for chatting with friends over a good drink. There is also a stage in the middle of the establishment with two “dueling” pianists who take audience music requests and amazingly crank out classics from the 70s, 80s and 90s, one by one.

The pianists are not the only ones who are making the music. They want the bar experience to be an interactive one by calling on certain audience members to take the stage and sing along.
Compared to its dance club neighbor, Mosaic, Howl at the Moon is a far better choice for people who want to have the opportunity to casually socialize with everyone at a bar and be part of a community where everyone is actively participating in the music.

Mosaic is more intended for those who want the stereotypical nightclub scene with flashing black lights, a glamorous bar, constant dance music operated by a DJ, and fewer interpersonal interactions.
However, Howl at the Moon provides a warmer atmosphere that is somewhat off the beaten track when it comes to city nightlife.

Howl at the Moon also offers fantastic promotions and contests to keep its customers coming back for more. For instance, by filling out a form on the bar’s website, people can enter to win a party, which includes free cover charge and two free drinks. Additionally, there are private party packages available for purchase that provide seating, quick entry, cover charge and drinks. There is even the Rock Star Program, a membership of sorts which provides members with free admission and special drink promotions throughout the week.

Combined with its active social media presence on Facebook, Howl at the Moon’s marketing tactics prove that it is committed to attracting and forging good relationships with regulars who appreciate good drinks and even better music at a low price (if any!)

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Aside

Ok, I’ll admit it…I never was a huge science buff. In high school, chemistry was the bane of my existence, and when it came to understanding the laws of physics…forget about it. However, when I stepped inside Baltimore’s National Aquarium, I discovered a real interest in nature and ended up having a really fun and affordable afternoon at one of the nation’s premier scientific institutions.

Even though I was never into chemical equations and all that jazz, I was really into animals growing up, which inspired me to volunteer at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, CT for about seven years. What I lacked in complex scientific knowledge I made up with a keen interest in anything having to do with animals and how they lived among one another in the ocean. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I ever had, and my visit to the National Aquarium reignited my old love of the sea.

When I arrived at the National Aquarium, I was expecting aquarium admission to be through the roof, but I was pleasantly surprised. I paid about $29 to wander through countless, state-of-the-art exhibits featuring wildlife from all over the globe. I got to witness an amazing shark exhibition where I got up close and personal (as close as I’m ever willing to get) with the scariest creatures out there, and then made my way over to the “Jellies Invasion” exhibit where jellies big and very, very small floated through the water. I even saw gigantic sting rays casually swimming through an open pool. My favorite exhibit, though, had to be the interactive rainforest. The aquarium nearly recreated a real-life rainforest complete with trees and most exotic and colorful birds known to man. The sounds and smells make the entire experience come to life as I walked underneath the canopies. Way cool, if you ask me!

There is a lot to see and do at the National Aquarium. I only went with a few friends and paid regular admission, but I found out that there are special programs that offer special pricing that might tempt some potential visitors.

For instance, there is a parking discount if you use the garage across the street, Maryland residents get discounts Monday through Friday, and Amtrak, Baltimore’s Hotel Monaco, and local restaurants offer special deals with aquarium admission. There are even children’s story hours and crafts programs that are free during September and October.

I highly recommend stopping by this Baltimore landmark. Before you know it, you’ll spend an entire afternoon getting lost..take it from someone who knows!

Image<- rainforest recreation!

Image<- creepy stingray

Image<- my friend, Ruthie, in front of cool water displays.

The BMA: A Priceless Experience – Literally!

A world class art museum…in a dynamic city…and there’s FREE ADMISSION? What is this madness? Welcome to the Baltimore Museum of Art, a perfect place to spend an afternoon either by yourself or with the whole family. There is enough to do so that no one is bored, and all of it is free of charge!

I recently went to the museum to review the new exhibit, “Max Weber: Bringing Paris to New York,” for the Johns Hopkins News-Letter. My article traced the personal history and technique of the Russian-American visual artist of the early twentieth century. I discovered that Weber is one of the unsung heroes of modern art. Amazingly, his three-year sojourn in Paris determined the future of his career. After being mentored by Picasso, Matisse, and other giants of the modern art movement, Weber returned to New York where he created sketches, paintings, and sculptures that explored spatial distortion, unusual color usage, and the interlocking of lines. He ultimately succeeded in viewing life forms in an unexpected and imperfect way.

As you can see, I was fascinated by this exhibit, but there is so much more beyond it. Not only is the Weber exhibit part of a fantastic modern art wing, but there is a plethora of art categories and activities present in and outside this museum that will satisfy any and all interests. For instance, one minute you could be exploring the art of ancient American and Asian cultures and then find yourself in an eclectic Prints, Drawings, and Photographs exhibit. Or maybe you want to get some fresh air and explore the sculpture garden outside. If you’re looking for a more formal and guided family experience at the museum, you could always take advantage of the Free Family Sundays program and have some hands-on fun making your own storybooks or crafting your own jewelry at no cost.

Feeling hungry? Then head over to the museum’s very own Gertrude’s Restaurant, a breakfast, lunch, and dinner eatery that celebrates the best of Mid-Atlantic cuisine. Serving up specialties such as southern fried catfish and crab omelets, and perennial favorites like burgers and sandwiches, this quality and reliable restaurant makes the cut every time and is reasonably priced.

I highly recommend visiting the Baltimore Museum of Art. It is a fantastic cultural institution now, but just wait until a few years from now. With a $65 million philanthropic initiative underway, the museum promises to be a rewarding experience for many generations to come. Such enhancements as free audio tours, new project spaces, better customer service, and larger donations of art will likely catapult the museum to stardom as an artistic powerhouse not to be missed by any visitor to Baltimore.

Image <– Courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art

Amazing Glaze with Amazing Friends

When I was in high school, my pottery class was one of my favorites to take. It was so cathartic to let my creative juices flow while throwing a bowl on the potter’s wheel or painting my own design on whatever I created. I loved being artistic then, and I still love it now, 5 years later at college.

This beautiful Saturday afternoon was such a treat because I got to revisit my love of art at a great price! Along with my friends, Christine and Danielle, I ventured out to the lovely Mt. Washington area of Baltimore and visited Amazing Glaze, a paint-it-yourself pottery studio. When I first entered the doors, I was immediately hit with inspiration, as every angle of the interior is adorned with painted pottery, signs, frames, etc. in every color of the rainbow.

The concept of Amazing Glaze is very simple. You select the piece of pottery you want to paint, pick out your paints and brushes, sit down at a table, and paint. When you’re done you go up to the front counter, pay, and leave your pottery on a shelf for firing in the kiln. You can pick up your piece five days later after the glaze has set.

Price wise, each piece of pottery ranges from $3-50, and there is a studio fee of $7/hr per painter, which covers paint, supplies, glazing and firing. The studio fee caps off at $12/day, so you can paint as many pieces as you want for $12. I painted a $13 mug, so with tax, my grand total was about $21. Not too shabby for a college student on a budget!

I was really proud of my “final product” and the cute daisy design I painted. I appreciated the hour or so I spent with two of my close friends..having a fun outing together painting great pieces of pottery, listening to music, and chatting. These days, when so much of my time is consumed by homework and extracurriculars, it was great to get away and do something fun without cleaning out my bank account!

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Christine & Danielle post-painting