The Washington Times - April 15, 2009, 01:52PM

By Jon Gann, special to Donne Tempo Magazine

I currently live in the heart of Washington, DC with no car, little free time, and a dog that does not fit in a handbag. Growing up in a suburb close to where I am today, I have spent the majority of my time within the Beltway. The State of Maryland was just an abbreviation at the end of my street address — not a part of my psyche.

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So when the opportunity came along to explore the Eastern Shore and Annapolis, I took it.

Eastern Shore Home
Our Eastern Shore Home (Photo/Jon Gann)

Early on a Saturday morning, along with my friend, Richard and my dog Pilot, we packed into the SUV for a weekend of relaxing, water-view rooms, antique shopping and visiting every dog park in site.

However, it was the unintended result of our travels that made the experience truly memorable: I was able to relearn my grade-school knowledge of the events and people that make Maryland’s role in our nation’s history truly unique.

Driving only an hour and a half from D.C., we arrived at the rental house where we would spend the evening.

The beautifully appointed home on a tributary of the Chesapeake was located in the small town of Oxford — founded in the late 1600s by a shipbuilder and financier of the Revolutionary War.

These remarkable homes are managed by Eastern Shore Rentals and can be reserved for a week or a weekend, providing one of those† “home away from home” experiences† packed with the amenities you probably don’t have at your house but that make a friends and family reunion or just a quite weekend with your dog special.

Keeping guests entertained and relaxed, the home featured a pool table, hot tub, gas fireplace, large kitchen for entertaining, and a private sand beach and boat dock.†† Leaving us disappointed we would only be there one night.

Harriett Tubman Trail Marker
Marker on Harriet Tubman Trail (Photo/Jon Gann)

After dropping off the bags, we continued for the day’s main event: driving along parts of the Underground Railroad trail, and discovering sites where the famed Harriet Tubman lived and worked.

Starting in the heart of Cambridge, MD, we picked up a brochure the Visitor’s Center and began the odyssey.† The 100-mile self-guided tour began with a leisurely stroll around a Colonial town that was accented with at the courthouse, which served as a slave trade auction site in the day, the long wharf, and the small but informative Harriet Tubman museum.

Along the way, we discovered Chesapeake Classics — a fascinating store filled with one of the largest collections of bird decoys. They hung from the ceiling, rested in boats, crowded glass cases and shelves — everywhere.

Chesapeake Classics
Chesapeake Classics, Cambridge, MD (Photo/Jon Gann)

Pilot was a little freaked out to be among so many birds.

We grabbed a quick lunch of fried oysters and steamers at Jimmie and Sooks, hopping into the car for the remainder of the tour.

Although many of the structures in which Ms. Tubman lived are no longer with us, the rich history of the areas, the proximity (and distance) of the sites to one another, and the magnificent pastoral and marshland settings opened my mind to the tribulations of the freedom seekers.

Runaway slaves relied on the actions of forward-thinking revolutionaries (black and white alike) to make their way, by land or water, from plantations in Maryland and Virginia to the freedom of Pennsylvania and north.

The sanitized stories I learned through Black History Month grade school lessons, and the Cicely Tyson movies of the late 1970s were giving way to the realities of the situation.† I began to imagine what it must have been like to move in the dark of night from safe house to makeshift hideaway.

The evening ended in the cozy town of Easton, MD, where narrow Colonial streets revolve around the Talbot County Courthouse.† A fine meal at Legal Spirits put us in the mood for wonderfully relaxing evening.

Legal Spirits has been an Eastern Shore tradition for almost thirty years, though new owners took over in 2001.† Their dinner menu included a wide selection of seafood inspired appetizers, from the staple Crab and Spinach Dip ($13.00) to a robust Coriander Seared Tuna Martini made with Sushi grade yellow fin tuna ($14.00).

Known for their hearty soups, Legal Spirits offers thick Cream of Crab and Cream of Charred Tomato ($4.25 - $9.25), both savory and warm.† Dinner included an appetizer of fork tender braised short ribs, served in a tomato base with just a hint of tang.† Richard’s duo of crab cakes were some of the nicest I have tasted — all lump crab, with just a touch of binder holding the fragile balls together.† My braised Cornish hen over a bed of almond risotto was paired with delicately with spicy collard greens.

 

Annapolis State House
Annapolis Capitol Statehouse (Photo/Jon Gann)

Our repast was followed by a live concert in the adjoining Avalon Theater — a 1920s-era movie house that has been meticulously restored to showcase visiting bands, theatrical performances and films.

As a filmmaker, I am always happy to visit old movie theaters, and the Avalon is a stunning example of careful preservation with a state-of-the art technology update.† Their upcoming calendar is so impressive, that I am considering returning for another weekend joint.

The next morning, we drove through Oxford to get a better sense of the town. This quiet village of only a few streets is a walk back in time.

Expertly restored and preserved colonial homes sit grandly along the main street.† At the tip of the peninsula, a wide public beach was a pleasant surprise for Pilot, and in the summer, a small ferry can whisk your car to nearby Bellevue.

Our next stop was Annapolis, MD — site of the oldest state capitol still in continuous legislative use and the only state house to serve as the nation’s capitol.

Arriving at the Westin, I was delighted to see how pet-friendly the chain has become.† Other pooches in the lobby greeted pilot, and a special pet bed and bowls were already in the room.

Westin Lobby
The Westin Lobby (Photo/Jacquie Kubin)

The hotel rooms themselves are modern and comfortable.† Working desk space offers Internet and large windows provide vista views of Annapolis.†† A downstairs lobby bar provides light bites and well-crafted cocktails.

The atmosphere of the hotel is relaxing and fun and sharing it with Pilot made it the entire experience all the better.† The next day we quickly discovered that the whole town is dog friendly: stores, restaurants — even the water taxis and tour boats — welcomed Pilot.

Its traditional Irish Pub defines a town and the Galway Bay Pub did not disappoint. Celebrating its 10th year anniversary, this mid-street gathering place offers plenty of Irish and regionally inspired specials, including a wide variety of Irish Seafood dishes like Chesapeake Oyster and Irish Bacon ($16.99) or Jerpoint Oatmeal Trout ($13.99).

The pubs trademark Corned Beef Poppers ($9.99) do not disappoint either.† Small chunks of piquant meat are beer battered and flash fried.† With all of the walking over the weekend, splurging on this heart-attack-on-a-plate was justified.

Dinner was followed by a spirited performance at the famed Ram’s Head Tavern, steps away from the center of town.† Booking the best of today’s music in an intimate room, the Ram’s Head rivals clubs along the East Coast.† This evening crowds gathered to enjoy 60’s era singer-songwriter Richie Havens whose performance was well received by the standing room only crowd.

Personally, I was most impressed with the opening act: Harry Manx, who combined eastern and western influences into blues.† Needless to say, I was mesmerized by the unique sounds and lyrics, so I quickly pulled out the iPhone to purchase a recent CD release.

Our last day of adventure started with a hearty breakfast at Chick and Ruth’s where Governors, state representatives and foreign dignitaries have all dined at this crowded NY-style deli, joining in on the traditional morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.†† I am a sucker for corned beef hash and patriotism.

Annapolis City Dock
Annapolis City Dock† (Photo/Jon Gann)

We strolled down the cobblestone streets to the City Dock, where the Miss Anne, a small tugboat style vessel ready to escort us on a tour of the harbor, greeted us.

Annapolis rises up on the hill from the harbor.† Homes — from multi-generational cottages to grand mansions — face the water with views of soaring gulls and sails.

However, only from the vantage point of a boat can you see the skyline of spires that watch over the city — from the State House to the U.S. Navy Chapel.† More shopping followed by more eating.

Clothes boutiques, candy shops and craft galleries line the winding streets of downtown Annapolis.† Recently, a cookie cutter “town center” of box stores and chain restaurants appeared a few miles away.

Thankfully, Annapolis’ resilient historic district has maintained its economy — a testament for our appreciation of the unique.† Quiet Waters Park offered us our last stop before home.† Friends and strangers alike rave about this famed parkland — and dog beach.

Jon and Pilot
Jon and Pilot

Woven between the protected marshlands and river lies a play haven of well cared for lawns, picnic pavilions and playgrounds offering abounding fun for man and dog.

On leaving the enclosed dog playground, I bumped into the woman whom I met at the show the previous evening.†† “I knew I recognized you!” she exclaimed.

History, love of the water, and dogs — elements that tie the people and culture of Annapolis together.

Jon Gann is a local filmmaker and marketing consultant. He has traveled extensively with his dog, Pilot, and their adventured can be read at Pilot is my Co-Dog

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Eastern Shore Vacation Homes.† Beautifully appointed rental properties throughout the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

Finding a Way to Freedom Driving Tour.† Brochures are available in Cambridge and at visitor’s centers throughout the state.

Avalon Theater.† Historic 1920’ s-era art deco Theater showcasing concerts, plays, film and other performances.

Oxford, Maryland. A charming, tree-lined and water bound, Oxford is one of the oldest towns in America and has a long history in maritime activities.

Annapolis, Maryland.† A quick drive from D.C., this historic state and nation’s capital offers something for everyone, young and old.

Ram’s Head On Stage. One of the top nightclubs in America, presenting headliners from around the globe.

Watermark Cruises.† From 40-minute tours to daylong charters, and on-demand water taxis, there is no better way to discover 

Quiet Waters Park.† 340 acres of parkland with paved jogging trails, picnic area rentals and a nature center. 

Jimmie & Sook’s Raw Bar and Grill is located at 421 Race Street at the heart of Historic Cambridge, Maryland.† Open for lunch and dinner, Jimmie & Sook’s is where shore locals meet and tourists know they must stop before they had back across the bridge.