As I write this in late October 2020, the world has been living through the Coronavirus pandemic for over seven months. After all of these months without travel, I decided to plan a short excursion to a nearby state. It would not be the weeks long international travel I have been writing about for five years now, but it would be something…a break in the monotony of pandemic life. I narrowed potential locations to places within a 2-4 hour drive south. Given the time of year, north would be chilly for outdoor dining. My preference was someplace walkable with water…lake, river, or ocean. Annapolis, Maryland fit the bill and as luck would have it, this small city is a model for hosting tourists in a safe and friendly manner.
Normally when I write a travel blog, I focus on the culture, history, and people. Many of my blogs have been about volunteer travel to faraway places and the things I have learned from the experience. I have never written a blog about places to stay, eat, and visit. Until now. Because the circumstances are unique and Maryland is not a different culture for most of us, I want to share the practical things I found on this short pandemic getaway.
Where I stayed: The Flag House Inn
This charming B&B is located on Randall St, across the street from the United States Naval Academy. It is a 3 minute walk to the center of the action in Annapolis….shops, restaurants, and waterfront. It is a double house (2 townhouses converted to one B&B), with five guest rooms, owned and operated by Marty and Carmel Etzel.
I stayed in the Commodore Room, the only available room when I booked it 3 days before my arrival. It was on the third floor, spacious, street facing, but very quiet. The bathroom was small, but functional. The room décor as seen on the B&B’s website looked a tad distracting, but in person was quite beautiful. The bed and linens were comfortable and the owners have placed sleep sound machines in each room. The inn has a small parking area, a plus in the tight neighborhood, and breakfast is included. The weather was nice enough that I enjoyed my breakfast on the front porch, surrounded by pumpkins and flowers. From this vantage point I admired the sharply dressed midshipmen(women) walking to and from the Naval Academy. Breakfast was fresh and delicious, and the coffee plentiful.
Aside from the excellent location and beauty of the physical structure, I also chose the Flag House Inn because they have instituted safety measures that reduce the chance of virus spread. Check in was conducted on the porch, with both parties masked. Hand sanitizer was available in several spots in the house. The tv and air conditioning remote controls in each room are shrink wrapped in plastic, masks are required anytime guests are in the common areas. Although I did not spend anytime in the indoor common areas. For those guests who wanted to have their breakfast inside, there were plexiglass dividers on the dining tables. Each guest was given their own tea and coffee carafes, sweeteners, and cream pitchers, eliminating the need to share. Each day at noon management performed electrostatic disinfecting, a system that envelopes every surface in a positively charged sanitizing mist. Whew! The Etzels are doing the hospitality business right!
Where I ate:
I chose the restaurants where I had lunch and dinner based on recommendations from the inn.
This restaurant is located on Main Street in the center of historic Annapolis. One lane of Main Street has been blocked off for outdoor dining for numerous restaurants. There is still one way traffic on the street, which means you will experience some noise and exhaust the closer your table is to the lane for traffic. But we are living in unusual times. I had lunch here on a bright sunny Thursday afternoon, no crowds, but some traffic noise. Service was a bit slow, but the food was delicious and they even had my favorite French wheat beer available.
This restaurant was a twenty minute walk across a small bridge from Annapolis to Eastport. I made a reservation for 6:15 PM and was able to watch the sunset. I thought the food at Carroll’s Creek was good, not great. The draw here is they have lots of outdoor space with probably the best views of the marina on Spa Creek. Service was excellent. I should add that I walked back to the inn, alone, and felt very safe.
This historic tavern, established in 1750, has hosted the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin. It is a 3 minute walk from the inn, has a large outdoor dining area, and a view of the harbor. The draw here is its history and location, so I was surprised by how tasty my lunch was -soft shelled crab sandwich and fries was the special that day. It was delicious. Service was friendly and efficient.
Customers go to Vida Taco bar mainly to sample their extensive tequila and margarita menu. I am not a fan of tequila, so I tried Tecate, a Mexican beer, that for this fussy beer connoisseur was a pleasant surprise. I ordered two different tacos, which were good, but did not make it onto my very short list of favorites. Like Café Normandie, Vida Taco is located on Main Street, so there was a fair amount of foot traffic, a lesser amount of automobile traffic, and limited view of the harbor. Service was very good.
Kilwins, purveyors of candy and ice cream, has been around since the 1940s. I stopped in on impulse and ordered their Kilwins Mud, vanilla ice cream with an explosion of chocolate chips, swirled with rich caramel.
It was wonderfully satisfying and I enjoyed it on the comfy front porch of my lodging, the Flag House Inn.
The Big Cheese
This deli, also conveniently located between the Flag House Inn and the harbor, is very popular with the lunch crowd from the naval academy. Crowd being the operative term here. It is takeout only. I ordered a sandwich for pick up, but when I arrived they had made me the wrong sandwich. As I waited for them to make the correct one, the shop began to fill up with midshipmen/women. They were all masked, but my anxiety went up with their proximity in a relatively small space. All’s well that ends well. My sandwich was delicious and I did not catch the virus!
Things I did:
I love to walk and the cobbled streets of Annapolis with its water views, shops, historic homes and buildings, was a delight. I easily met my step goal every day. I did participate in two local tourist activities.
Watermark Annapolis Harbor and US Naval Academy cruise
All COVID-19 precautions were in place – masks required, hand sanitizers before boarding, temperatures were taken, and social distancing was easily achievable on board. Because the grounds of the Naval Academy are closed to the public due to Covid-19 restrictions, the next best way of seeing it is to cruise by. While the boat, the Harbor Queen, does not get up close and personal with the academy, it is convenient and not overly expensive. The 45 minute narrated cruise on the Severn River leaves from the city dock right across from Main Street and costs $6 for children 11 and under, $19 for everyone else. Our narrator was fun and informative. The cemetery at the academy is visible from the water and, much to my surprise, I learned that Senator John McCain is buried there.
Colonial Annapolis Walking Tour
This 1.5 hour walking tour is led by well-informed guides smartly dressed in colonial garb. Our guide was Squire Frederick. His knowledge of history, the historic homes, the state house, and other sights was remarkable. He stayed with a few of us answering questions long after the walk ended.
Again, all COVID-19 precautions were taken.
Did this experience scratch my travel itch? Sadly…no. But it was a little break from the sameness that is life during a pandemic, and I’m glad I went. If you do travel and you can afford it, tip a little extra. Whether it’s restaurant wait staff or tour guides, they are all struggling. I hope to be writing about Greece next Spring. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I know American ingenuity and I’m counting on science.