Business Travel MARYLAND MAGIC; This Little State Is Not a Place to Go If You Want to Take Things Easy. Everything Is in Excess from the Gargantuan Meals to the Vast Shopping Malls and Glittering Lights, as Caroline Gammell Discovers

Article excerpt

Byline: Caroline Gammell

Maryland boasts the best crab-cakes in America. It claims the most historical US landmarks and it says it has the greatest shopping.

For one of America's smallest 50 states - squeezed between Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia - that's not bad going.

This little state is not a place to go if indulgence is not your thing. Everything is in excess from the gargantuan meals to the vast shopping malls and glittering lights.

There is also no avoiding its history. Annapolis - the former capital of America - is shrouded in the past and its Maryland State House is the oldest in continuous legislative use.

Annapolis is home to the US Naval Academy, the pride and joy of the Navy. The cream of the high school crop, each cadet costs pounds 230,000 and over four years they train, live and sleep as one.

Not only do all 4,000 midshipmen, as they are known, sleep in the same dormitory, but eat at one sitting and are strictly prohibited from male-female hanky panky. And still the drop-out rate is only ten per cent.

The academy is certainly worth taking time to explore - the chapel is stunning with a dome of cobalt blue windows which are literally irreplaceable.

The rest of the city, small enough to be a town, is based around narrow alleyways, small red brick buildings and dainty high street boutiques.

Its B&Bs mock the British equivalent, with immensely elaborate breakfasts and bedrooms.

One such establishment is The Annapolis Inn, run by Joe Lespier and Alex Devivo - a retired double act who have observed marriage proposals, marriage patch-ups and heard couples' darkest secrets revealed over a pot of tea.

Their lavish house once belonged to former President Jefferson's physician and when Joe and Alex are not hosting guests they look after the academy's midshipmen, acting as home away from home.

At night Annapolis offers an all American pub crawl, with local guides donning 18th century garb, calling themselves wenches and leading punters through the streets.

In summer the sailing industry flourishes, forging out across the Chesapeake Bay where the infamous Boston Tea Party caused a stir.

Not only does the water breed keen sailors, but great seafood. O'Leary's Seafood Restaurant and the family-oriented Phillips Seafood Restaurant battle it out for the best crab cakes.

The vital role of the sea in Maryland life is symbolised by the spectacular - both in engineering and title - William Preston Lane Junior Memorial Bridge or Bay Bridge.

The 4.3 mile bridge, originally built in 1952, stretches from the mainland to the eastern shore.

Beautifully constructed, the original narrow bridge could not cope with the traffic cutting short the five hour journey by land.

In 1973, a parallel but separate bridge was built, snaking defiantly over the water.

From water to wallet, Maryland's newest shopping mall Arundel Mills, opened last November, leading the shopper to financial meltdown.

After acclimatising to the daunting choice of more than 200 shops and restaurants, a 24-screen movie theatre and a bowling alley, Arundel Mills is a buyer's dream.

Laid out in the shape of a race track, the shopper is guided by maps, signs and brightly coloured coded zones all on one floor.

Unfortunately, you may end up spending all your hard-earned cash in the first four stores and then limp longingly past the rest - a credit card is essential.

For the cultural, Maryland does possess some significant history. …