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Ever since colonial times in the late 1700s when its port was charged with supplying the Caribbean with sugar and Francis Scott Key wrote the Star-Spangled Banner watching the "bombs bursting in air" over the city's Fort McHenry, Baltimore has held a special place in American history. Surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay, a thriving and redeveloped Inner Harbor, nearby Annapolis and the United State's Naval Academy, as well as more crab restaurants than anywhere else in the world, the city is a cosmopolitan and architectural gem. If you can't get there, watch the films of Barry Levinson and John Waters. If you can get there, take advantage of these low airfares, hotel deals, sites and attractions.

Southwest Airlines (tel. 800/435-9792; www.southwest.com) uses Baltimore as one of its largest East Coast hub. Flying into the city to BWI Airport is more than affordable with the low-cost no frills airline's current fare sale. The Baltimore/Washington, D.C. area, lucky for us, just happens to be Southwest's "Featured Destination" this week. (We didn't plan it, I swear.) What's that mean for you? It means a whole bunch of "Hot Fares" into Baltimore from Southwest destinations all over the United States. Certain restrictions apply, mainly that travel is good from December 6, 2005 through March 31, 2006 with a purchase deadline of midnight November 24, 2005. A 21-day advance purchase is required. An additional excise tax of $3.30 plus $14 in taxes and security fees each way will also be imposed. Sample fares include $68 from Albany, Hartford, and Cleveland, $118 from Birmingham and Chicago, $198 from Las Vegas, $188 from St. Louis, and $198 from Los Angeles.

The Southwest Featured Destination page also lists rental cars deals through Hertz (tel. 800/654-3131; www.hertz.com) at $14.99 per day and hotel deals to area hotels. A room at the Brookshire Suites (tel. 410/625-1300; www.harbormagic.com/Brookshire/brookshire_default.asp), a modular hotel with a black and white geometric fa¿ade located in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, costs approximately $89 per night for stays through March 31, 2006, if you book by November 28, 2005. You can book the car and the hotel room directly through Southwest's website.

For hotel packages to Baltimore with accommodations at some of Baltimore's most well-known hotels all located in the Inner Harbor area or nearby Fell's Point, a cobblestone off-shoot of the Inner Harbor that's reminiscent of a Baltimore past, the website www.harbormagic.com lists sites in the area, local restaurants and hotel deals. In the "adults traveling without kids" category, the site lists a Harbor Magic Romantic Getaway trip. The package includes accommodations at the above mentioned Brookshire Suites, the Admiral Fell Inn, or the Pier Five, a full breakfast, and drinks at some of the area's more popular bars and restaurants including micro-breweries of martini bars. The package, which also includes Godiva chocolate delivered to your room, starts at $139 per night.

The Admiral Fell Inn (tel. 410-522-7380; www.harbormagic.com/AdmiralFell/admiral_fell_default.asp) is one of America's most historic hotels. Comprising seven buildings, the largest of which stands on a prominent corner overlooking the waterfront, the hotel dates back to the late 1770s. The entire neighborhood, known for eclectic shops, great bars with all different types of live music, and old-fashioned restaurants, is named for the hotel's namesake, Admiral Fell. What old hotel isn't without its ghost stories? At the website for the nation's best historic hotels sponsored by the Historic Hotels of America, the Admiral Fell Inn has a chilling tale that dates back to just 2003.

The Fell's Point neighborhood is less frightening. For Baltimore seafood, try Bertha's Bar and Restaurant (tel. 410/327-5795; www.berthas.com), just a block away the Inn at Fell's Point's main shopping stretch. Bertha's serves delicious crabmeat soup but is best known for its mussels that come in several different broths including a garlic and anchovy mix that has become a Baltimore institution.

If you bring the kids, the National Aquarium (tel. 410/576-3800; www.aqua.org) anchors the Inner Harbor. Species housed in the aquarium include sharks, whales, eels and stingrays. Lines are reasonable as well, and the short wait is well worth your time. If you go around December 1, 2005, the aquarium is lowering its prices for a one-day special of $7.50. Normal prices are $21.95 for adults and $14.95 from 3 to 11 years old. The huge edifice is 115,000 square feet and holds a million gallons of water. More than 560 species of animals live inside the aquarium and number up to 10,000 total specimens. The National Aquarium in Baltimore is a national treasure. If you're in Baltimore, it's not to be missed.

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