The State of Maryland
Whe travels through Maryland by car, often gets stuck in traffic. At least if you are in the center of the east coast state, which is very jagged on the map. Between Baltimore and the many dormitory towns for tens of thousands of commuters to neighboring Washington DC, it feels like it’s a constant rush hour on the interstates.
But if you drive further inland, you will be amazed at a completely different Maryland, which was named after the English Queen Henrietta Maria: farms everywhere that offer farm holidays, cozy bed & breakfast houses, many horse farms, forests and lakes.
The greatest outdoor adventure on and in the water begins in the pretty capital of Annapolis with just under 40,000 inhabitants on the Chesapeake Bay: In summer there are always regattas here, when countless boaters are out and about – there are at least around 212,000 registered leisure boats, 12,500 jet skis and countless small boats at 425 public marinas on the Atlantic Bay. If you want, you can also rent canoes or kayaks and paddle onto a secluded beach. Windsurfing, fishing trips on cutters and evening cruises on large schooners are also popular.
The Potomac estuaries have the best fly fishing spots; for whitewater rafting, try the rapids at Great Falls. Sandy Point State Park and Calvert Cliffs State Park, where you can also collect fossils, are considered the best beaches on the bay. If you continue east through the marshland to the Atlantic, you will end up in the bustling seaside resort of Ocean City with its 16 km long sandy beach.
One of America’s most popular campgrounds
A maximum of 154 campers with family or friends are allowed to stay overnight on the uninhabited wild horse dune island of Assateague on the Atlantic. The island is one of the most requested campgrounds in the USA: between March and November only with reservation, for up to six people, 30 dollars per night, often fully booked six months in advance.
The island is under nature protection. Overnight stays are only allowed on the half of the island that belongs to Maryland. Here you can experience a special kind of Robinsonade: camping in the dunes, barbecue at the ring of fire, sunrise on the beach.
There are bike trails through the coastal forest and kayaking tours, but most visitors come for the swimming ponies: 150 wild horses, dappled brown and white, who love to swim or nibble on the beach grass. It is forbidden to lure them. At the campground, which is controlled by rangers, all food must be locked up because the ponies are wild but curious.
Double bridging across the bay
Here everything revolves around the water. On the Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the USA, 311 kilometers long, where fresh water from 150 rivers and streams mixes with salt water from the Atlantic. It divides Maryland in two.
At its narrowest point near Annapolis, the bay is only four miles wide; it is spanned there by the gigantic Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a double suspension bridge. Those two overwater highways—the 10-minute toll eastbound—took Maryland out of “the sleepy groove,” as writer James A. Michener put it in his classic The Bay. 80,000 cars drive here every day, a third bridge is planned.
Old traditions from England
Although only a half-hour drive from the Capitol in Washington DC, one feels far removed from current political events. Maryland persistently maintains nostalgic traditions from England, even the chief justices are the only ones in the whole USA to wear red robes.
So it’s not surprising that Maryland has made jousting a state sport, which has been played on the Bay since the 17th century. Two horsemen spear a small ring at a gallop with a lance or a ring piercer, and they do so in medieval costumes.
From May to October there are jousting tournaments with ring riding everywhere, as well as banquets and fairs, such as the “Medieval Times” in Baltimore. The largest Maryland Renaissance festival is celebrated in a replica English Tudor village, with theatre, jousting and craft shops.
Tip: a boat trip to Smith Island, where many of the only 200 residents are descendants of the first English settlers. They speak an ancient dialect from Cornwall, are mostly called Tyler or Evans – and have been baking the Smith Island cake since colonial times: a buttercream sponge cake with twelve layers, reminiscent of a Prince Regent cake. The cake was, of course, elevated to Maryland’s state dessert.
Seafood in Summer
Chesapeake crabs, with their bright blue claws, are pretty to look at, but most importantly, delicious. They are one of Maryland’s specialties – especially in the summer shortly after their shell change, when these blue crabs are very soft and can be steamed and nibbled whole.
Then the Marylanders go “crabbing” and collect them by the bucketful on the shore for the barbecue. The bay is so rich in seafood it’s been dubbed the “natural protein factory.” The Crab and Oyster Trail leads to seafood restaurants, markets and seafood festivals. There are plenty of crabs here, also in the form of soup, cake or a fried snack. Alternatively: Oysters to slurp or as a pie.
“Male facts, female words”
Maryland is the only US state with a state motto in Old Italian. It was the motto of the English Calvert family who founded the colony of Maryland in 1634. The official translation is: “Male deeds, female words”. Not all Marylanders are happy about that anymore. That’s why there are initiatives that want to change the motto to “strong deeds, gentle words” in a gender-neutral way.
Bizarre, record-breaking, typical: You can find more parts of our regional geography series here.