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Capital Ideas in Maryland and Washington, D.C.

For years, the 31-foot-high broadcast antenna crowned the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Today, it’s one of the most powerful museum artifacts in Washington, D.C.

The antenna is one of numerous items on display in the 9/11 exhibit at the Newseum in Washington. I visited the museum in late October of last year during a four-day group familiarization tour in Maryland and Washington hosted by Mid-Atlantic Tours and Receptive Services (MARS). Having never visited the region before, I was thrilled to experience some of the area’s immense cultural history and famous cuisine.

Maryland is home to so many historic sites, from the Maryland State House, America’s first capitol, and Fort McHenry National Monument, where the national anthem was composed. Groups can stroll down 17th-century streets and dine in taverns once frequented by revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. And D.C. offers many moving experiences for groups, including the impressive, newly opened Museum of the Bible.


We kicked off our four-day expedition with lunch at the Hard Rock Café in Baltimore, which is housed inside the historic Power Plant Building overlooking Inner Harbor. The iconic 65-foot neon guitar sign above the restaurant, a Hard Rock Café trademark, stood at the top of the towering redbrick structure, alongside four black power-plant chimneys.

After eating our fill of tasty burgers and fries in the cafe, we made our way across the harbor on foot to the No. 1 attraction in the city: National Aquarium. Widely regarded as one of the finest aquariums in the country, National Aquarium is home to more than 20,000 animals. From the outside, the aquarium looks like a monolithic greenhouse, with rocks and greenery visible through a glass, pyramidlike structure.

Visitors could easily spend a day wandering through the vibrant exhibits, which include such wide-ranging subjects as the wilds of Australia, the Amazon River Forest and the teeming Blacktip Reef. Throughout the habitats, we came face-to-face with golden lion tamarins, poison dart frogs, bottlenose dolphins and giant pacific octopus. One of the most famous residents of the aquarium is a 500-pound, three-finned green sea turtle named Calypso.

Next, we took a bus across the harbor to visit the marvelous American Visionary Art Museum, which displays the work of innovative self-taught artists. The face of the building features a glittering mosaic of green and blue swirls, making it impossible to miss. Inside were all sorts of curiosities, from self-portraits of mental patients to robots made from recycled household objects.

We closed out the evening with a dinner and a show at Toby’s Dinner Theatre, about 20 minutes from downtown Baltimore in the outlying community of Columbia. Now in its 38th season, the theater presents award-winning Broadway productions such as “Mamma Mia,” “Newsies,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Young Frankenstein.” Before the show, we took advantage of the lavish buffet set up on the stage floor; we then turned around our chairs as the night’s performance of “Dream Girls” began. One incredible fact to note is that the performers double as the wait staff, alternating between serving tables and belting out show-stopping numbers through two back-to-back performances.