When I emerged from the station in Baltimore about an hour later, I hopped a cab to my riverfront hotel. As we drove, I didn't see many cars and could count on one hand the number of pedestrians I saw. Where were all the people? They leave after work, the driver told me. Apparently, my previous impression of Baltimore wasn't so far off the mark, I thought.
Still, it was puzzling. Given that it's a city with top-notch universities, hospitals, and medical centers, and a major seaport and nationally known attractions, I expected to see more signs of life.
On Friday, my sorority had scheduled community service projects. We visited public schools to read to children and donated hundreds of books to their libraries. As we drove through the streets in the early morning, I couldn't help but think of Homicide: Life on the Street. I loved that TV show for its grit and realism, and now I could see how real it was. Where were the people going to work? Where were the school buses? The trash trucks? The city buses?
At the school, the children, teachers, and administrators were so warm and welcoming, participating in lively interactions and even giving us hugs and applause when we left. That's the thing about serving others: I'm never sure who benefits the most.
On Saturday afternoon, my family joined me for dinner at the Inner Harbor. That's when I knew I wasn't in Philadelphia any more. The Baltimore Ravens were playing the Denver Broncos for the AFC Championship. There was some cheering after the Ravens won, but we were more excited than the locals.
The next morning, I wanted my daughter to see the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. It is one of the most-visited museums in the city.
The next time you're in Baltimore - or even driving by on I-95 - make the effort to visit this museum. It offers a look at the African American experience from an African American perspective. The Middle Passage exhibit of a slave ship was very emotional. The exhibit on lynchings carries a warning, and I declined to take my 10-year-old daughter there - or to see it myself.
I loved the museum, learning even more about the folks I had grown up reading about, and being introduced to some I hadn't known.
It had been a wonderful weekend, but my impression of Baltimore hadn't changed after all these years. Was I missing something? Perhaps. I will keep an open mind and I'll visit again.
Let me know what I should look for on my next trip there.
Travel editor Philippa J. Chaplin is a native Philadelphian who has lived in many cities and looks forward to exploring many more. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.