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Mulberry St. inn markets range of city’s features

The large front windows of the historic Bennett Mansion downtown overlook some of Baltimore’s most beautiful landmarks: The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Navi Rosario, general manager of HI- Baltimore, aims to help guests discover all that Charm City has to offer.

For guests who shell out $29 a night to stay in the city’s only hostel, it may just be the best deal in town.

“There is more to Baltimore than just the harbor,” said Navi Rosario, 30, general manager of the 44-bed inn located at Cathedral and Mulberry streets recently absorbed by the international group Hostelling International.

That merger will lead to a new push for marketing Baltimore’s history and attractions to world travelers who land in Charm City unaware of its lures, said Rosario, a New Yorker who started working at the Hostelling International-Baltimore site last week.

She said on Tuesday that guests who stay at the 156-year-old brownstone soon will have access to information about local walking tours in communities like Federal Hill, Fells Point and nearby Mount Vernon, as well as details and buzz from other aspects of city life, like Baltimore’s diverse and inimitable eateries and retail spots.

“Hopefully, we will make it a little more exciting,” she said of the offerings to the hostel’s roughly 15,000 annual guests. There has been a hostel open in the old Bennett Mansion at 17 W. Mulberry St. since July 1983.

Until July, it was run by the local Potomac Area Council of Hostelling International, which gave way to a “nationwide unification” this summer under which 26 local hostel councils unified into a single national organization, said Dominic Petruzzelli, a regional vice president of Hostelling International-USA. Another hostel, in Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., was also part of the conversion.

“The mission for HI-Baltimore is the same as all our 54 hostels across our network: to help all, especially the young, gain a greater understanding for the world and its people through hostelling,” Petruzzelli said in an email. “Each of our hostels has its own unique vibe centered around providing authentic, local experiences, and HI-Baltimore is no different.”

He said in the past, guests, also known as “hostellers,” have participated in organized outings to the local roller derby and the citywide scavenger hunt, Next Level Hunt.

“The lobby often features artwork from local artists, and moving forward, we’ll be incorporating more opportunities to connect the global community with Baltimore culture,” he said.

Next year, the HI-Baltimore property will participate in the annual Great Hostel Give Back, encouraging community service. In January and February, volunteer groups of 10 or more will receive a free night at a participating hostel for each day they offer their services. Rosario said cosmetic changes may be on tap for the volunteers, although she said the property is in need of major roof repairs.

Leon Fisser, a traveler from Amsterdam, uses the computer in the lobby of the hostel in the Bennett Mansion on Mulberry Street. As part of a trip that has taken him to Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and now the U.S., he says he has been pleasantly surprised by Baltimore.

The Mulberry Street hostel was closed for five years beginning in 1999 for other renovations that totaled more than $750,000, officials there said. A new kitchen and a deck were added as part of the transformation, with volunteers helping to make the upgrades.

Today, guests stay in rooms with bunk beds set out on two working floors. When they check in, they are given clean sheets and towels. A pancake breakfast greets them each morning, and on Thursday evenings, a community pasta dinner is offered in the large kitchen to help forge bonds among strangers in a strange land, Rosario said.

Maps of the world adorn the bright yellow kitchen walls, filled with push pins from guests who have stayed, noted their native countries and moved on.

“The environment is an open canvas,” she said. “You can meet anyone from anywhere, and that person could be a doctor or a world traveler. This being a small hostel, I see what [it] can do for a community, for travelers to get to know Baltimore. It’s a very fun city.”

Michael Evitts, a vice president for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said the hostel has enhanced the city’s urban core because of its mission that attracts thousands from around the world. It is located on a busy block where several new apartment units have recently opened, just off Charles Street.

“It sits in one of Baltimore’s great neighborhoods, where visitors often compare the architecture and easy access to art and culture with the great capitals of Europe,” Evitts said.

“The hostel’s affordable price points open up our city to students, artists and adventure seekers who might not be able to explore Baltimore otherwise.”

That was the case a couple of weeks ago, when a church-based group from Ohio stayed at the hostel while it performed community service at a soup kitchen, Rosario said. Another group of Georgetown University students has made reservations for later this month as it visits Baltimore for volunteer work, she added.

On Tuesday, one guest, Leon Visser, 32, sat in the hostel’s ornate living room and surfed the house computer. A marketing executive originally from Amsterdam, Visser quit his job last year and embarked on a trip that will take him nearly around the world.

He left home in January for parts of Asia, Australia, New Zealand and western Canada and arrived in the U.S. a month ago, traveling to Seattle. He said he had made his way cross-country recently, flying to Washington last week from San Francisco.

“I am staying in hostels,” Visser said. “Because I am on a low budget and because you also meet a lot of people. There is a big difference from a hotel, because there, you are by yourself. At a hostel, there are more people in the rooms, you meet them, cook with them in the kitchen, and that’s nice.”

Visser said he is heading to Philadelphia Wednesday — and will stay in a Hostelling International property there.

Of his time in Baltimore, he said he was pleasantly surprised.

“I didn’t know what kind of city Baltimore was, and I wanted to go from Washington to Philadelphia and got the option to stop in Baltimore,” he said. “The hostel here is downtown, and you can walk and it’s easy. I like it because it’s not so big.”