In a Pittsburgh State of Mind

No, nothing about the G-20 summit here, though that gathering being in Pittsburgh this week gives me an ideal excuse to jump in the time machine and recount highlights from my trip to the city this time (in fact, this week) last year. It’s been on my to-blog list for, um, about 11 1/2 months now. About time!

My husband’s work rarely takes him on the road, and when it does it’s a quick fly-in for a couple days of conference in an often uninspired setting. So me tagging along with him for a trip is a rarity. But last year he was working on a certificate program at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, made four trips to thepittcampus city. Inspired by the fact that (a) I’d never been to the city before and (b) a college pal I hadn’t seen in ages teaches at Pitt, I went along on his September trip.

The first or second day of the trip, I answered my cell phone. The friend on the other end of the line asked “Are you home?” And I knew she meant “Are you home, not at the grocery store, so I can swing by to pick something up?” After I said, “No, I’m in Pittsburgh,” there was puzzled silence on the other end of the line. From the silence I interpreted “so much for picking that thing up” and “what the hell are you doing in Pittsburgh?” But she eventually sprung back to conversation with no mention of my whereabouts.

Honestly, I was a little surprised to be there myself. But what a glorious time we had. Arriving mid week, I had two days mostly solo while Bob was in classes, then we had the weekend to explore a bit before heading home. I’m a serious believer in walking a city to get to know it, so had my sites set one day on doing just that. I picked the Andy Warhol museum as my ultimate goal. We were staying in a Holiday Inn across the street from the glorious Cathedral of Learning tower on the University of Pittsburgh campus. I took my handy city map down to the front desk, planning to confer with someone about my day’s plans. The woman looked up at me blankly when she saw where I’d pointed my finger, saying “I want to walk here, what’s the best route?”

“You can’t walk there,” she said.

“Can’t” as in “there a huge freeway/train station/snake-infested forest you won’t be able to cross”?? Or “can’t” as in “are you crazy? that’s too far to walk!”

Ends up it was the latter, of course. Two and a half miles is nothing, if you’ve got the right shoes and the time. I had both. It was a really nice stroll, I got a taste for some of the city’s character and it felt great to just wander.

pittpink2If not for my nice long walk, I probably wouldn’t have happened upon these firemen, in their pinked-out truck traveling around to spread awareness about breast cancer treatment. The truck’s covered with notes from supporters, it was an awesome thing to see. Particularly hit home as I’d just 2 weeks prior walked the Breast Cancer 3-Day, as is the case again this year! (Another reason 2 1/2 miles doesn’t register as a long walk for me.) Check out the pink coats they even wear, one hanging from the door.

I also meandered around to check out the public art, inspired in part by apittart1 walking tour I’d found on this great site(the Cultural District tour, in particular). This city’s bursting with art. Loved these eyeball sculptures/benches, with that cool bronze fountain in the back (heated water, so it can flow year-round). Across the street I spied the lovely ivy-covered corner nook with the pretty flowering trees. It was a gotcha!! Up close, found them to be art as well, bronze magnolia trees with hand-painted petals.

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pittwarholEventually I made it across the Allegheny River to the Warhol Museum. That was definitely a new tidbit of trivia for me, I had no idea Andy Warhol was born in, and grew up in, Pittsburgh.  Not necessarily a huge Warhol fan, but I always love taking in art museums (particularly modern art) on travels, this was definitely a highlight of the trip! Simple converted warehouse space proved a great multi-story setting for a cool range of exhibits, from simple pencil drawings to floating “Silver Clouds.”

Another day we visited The Strip district, a neighborhood of old shops, many of them food lover destinations. It was late morning, breakfast on the agenda. We considered both Pamela’s Diner (all pink and blue, chrome, a whole retro decor theme going on) and DeLuca’s (old, scruffy, unpolished). DeLuca’s easily won, like jumping down the rabbit hole to another time. The old guy bussing tables muttered to himself unintelligibly as he cleared tables. At the next table, a young guy eating was chastised by a waitress passing by who said “you’re late for work!” Frills? none. Character? yep. But it was a great breakfast,pittstrip perfectly simple, honest, filling, tasty.

This neighborhood used to house produce wholesalers in decades past, today far more retail businesses in place, though the food roots show still with many shops in the neighborhood. In the “old school” department is Pennsylvania Macaroni Company, a culinary dreamland of the Italian variety, one of those times I wish I had a kitchen to go back to with armloads of pasta, marinated artichokes, cheese, meats, etc. Fun to just walk through and breath it all in though. (Note DeLuca’s in the photo, the low green building in the background.)

More mod was Mon Aimee Chocolat, another aromatherapeutic spot in the Strip. Not only a great selection of chocolates in general, but an admirable array from around the world, favorites from England, Germany, Canada, and a good 20 other countries. And it was nice to see treats from Seattle’s chocolate doyenne, Fran, prominently displayed as well!

pittgardenDining? Yeah, we did some of that too! Lunch one day was with a local food writer friend at the Café at The Frick, on the lovely Frick family estate with its gardens and museum space. Wandering through the Victorian greenhouse, we’d met up with Miriam Manion, head of Grow Pittsburgh, a non-profit group promoting urban agriculture.  Lunch was lovely, looking out over the gardens. The chef braised some lamb belly that he was curing for pastrami, serving it with just-picked hot chiles from the greenhouse next door.

Another favorite meal was at Eleven, though my pitiful notes from that trip didn’t get beyond “housemade maraschino cherries for the CK Manhattan” in regards to that meal. Sheesh. Maybe I had 2 Manhattans and just forgot to write any more…..  I loved the mod/dark room, great service, one of those all-around great meal experiences. 

But the best meal of the trip was with my dear friend Eric. Super close pals inpitteric college, we’d lost track over the years, until he sent an out-of-the-blue email a couple years ago. I so appreciated reconnecting, particularly over his wonderful dinner of Indian cuisine, sipping too many gin and tonics, listening to Matt Bianco, pretending we were back in college again.

Made getting up the next morning something of a fuzzy prospect, but off we went to hit the highway and cover some Pennsylvania countryside. Our visit to Fallingwater was amazing, inspiring. Appreciated even more so after reading Loving Frank, which gave me a better understanding about Frank Lloyd Wright’s background and genius. This drive and visit delightfully capped off a wonderful few days of exploration in a part of the country new to me. So glad to be the tag-along for once!

Actually, just occurred to me that I’m returning to Pennsylvania on Wednesday next week. This time the eastern edge of the state, visiting another friend in the countryside, before hitting a conference in Philadelphia. So perhaps more missives on the Keystone State before long.

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1 Comment

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One response to “In a Pittsburgh State of Mind

  1. Eric Clarke

    Was it really a year ago?!? What a fun evening! I’m telling all my friends about your blog.

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