We lived in western Pennsylvania back in the late sixties and Bob grew up visiting his grandmother and two aunts in Springdale, so we had a certain feeling of “coming home” when we got Pittsburgh! Our Airbnb was easy to find and although we knew the parking would be on the street, we found the place with no problem. Getting into our apartment was a whole ‘nother story. The pictures online had shown a few steps up from the street which we thought would be no problem, but what they had failed to show was an entire uphill walkway around to the side of the apartment which was the only way to access our entrance.
And as if that steep climb wasn’t enough there was no railing of any kind! Because it was dry we made the trek easily enough but when we tried the code the host had given us, the door refused to open. We tried it again several times, looked around to ensure we were at the right door. It was getting cold and dark! And we were frustrated! Finally we called the host only to have her tell us that she was sorry but that the cleaning lady probably had not changed the code. Okay, not off to the best start! Then overnight the snow arrived. Over the past four years we haven’t been in snow country often but when we have, hosts have always had us shoveled out! This time, no shoveling us out, not even a shovel or salt! Luckily the wintry weather was short-lived and we were only held captive in our apartment for a day. The apartment was also listed as being in the “heart of Lawrenceville” which we had read is a funky fun area of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately that too turned out to be inaccurate. We were two miles from there and not within walking distance of anything!
One of the nice things about Pittsburgh is that we are only a four hour drive to the DC area. We had planned to spend Thanksgiving in DC with part of our family but when we found out that our 8 year old granddaughter had a part in Oliver, (7th from the right)we decided we had to see the performance! So on Friday we made the trip down, went to the play and drove back on Sunday knowing that the following Wednesday we’d make the trip again to spend Thanksgiving with them! We always enjoy being in DC first because we’re near family and second because it’s such a fascinating city. We had hoped to visit the US Botanical Gardens on the day after Thanksgiving to see their Christmas Exhibit with model trains and replicas of famous DC buildings but the line turned out to be a couple hours long so we opted for the nearby National Gallery of Art instead. When we travel to big cities we often use a parking app. In this case, Park Whiz helped us find a place to park near our destination It kept us from spending a lot of time hunting for parking spots, we knew in advance how much it would cost and it was close enough for even little legs to manage.
We took a very small elevator to the top of the National Gallery of Art to see the Giant Blue Rooster which is more than 14 feet tall. It was commissioned for the London Contemporary Art Series in 2013. Designed by Katharina Fritsch, it is now on long term loan to the National Gallery.
We timed our jaunt to DC right so that we were going into the metro area as most people were headed out and we were headed back to Pittsburgh when most were returning to DC. The drive also gave us time to realize that we needed to move out of our Airbnb. I remembered Lynn Martin saying in her blog a couple of years ago that if things aren’t right you just have to bite the bullet and move on. So that’s what we did. And we were really lucky to find a great place in a great location with two accessible entrances; the front door and through the garage. The host lived in the same house which we’ve found is always a good thing. But most of all we felt safe regardless of the weather. It snowed a few inches on one of the first nights we were there and before noon the driveway was shoveled clear. We were pleased when we explained the situation to Airbnb that they made an adjustment in our rent. Definitely still an expensive mistake but not as bad as it could have been and we feel lucky that this was the first time in four years we’ve rented a place that we absolutely could not live in!
When I think of Pittsburgh I think of the Steel City. I can remember as a college student going to the drive-in theatre and being fascinated by the fiery slag being dumped over the hillside. Many rich industrialists got their start in Pittsburgh. Among them: Henry Heinz, George Westinghouse, Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and Henry Fick. Their wealth and resulting generosity has provided Pittsburgh residents with an abundance of cultural opportunities. But I can never quite accept the fact that this wealth was acquired at the expense of the working man. The Henry Clayton Frick Museum presented one such quandary for me. One of my very best friends, Rita, (You may remember that she visited us in Boston last year!) lives in Pittsburgh. It was great to spend time with her and in addition, it got Bob off the hook from traipsing off to places that I found that he may or may not have an interest in. Before we arrived Rita had told me the Frick Art Museum was hosting the Isabelle de Brochgrave exhibit, “Fashioning Art From Paper.” I really wanted to see it. But then we also decided to tour the Frick mansion, Clayton House. The home is lovely but it was hard for me to appreciate the opulent interior knowing Frick’s adversarial relationship with the unions, how he stared them down in the Homestead Strike which resulted in the deaths of 11 union workers. After the home tour, we walked on to the Frick Art Museum and the Brochgrave exhibit. Wow! It was absolutely incredible. I’m always fascinated by the use of different media but how could someone possibly create these gorgeous gowns from paper. It all looked so real…even the lace. See for yourself:
On a rainy Saturday Rita and I headed off to Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh. These spectacular rooms were the brainchild of the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor John Bowman in 1926. Most of the first floor rooms were built between 1938 and 1957. They were designed to make the interior as inspiring as the outside of the Cathedral of Learning. Each room was funded and designed by individual committees after which the university would maintain it. The newest room is the Korean room which was dedicated in 2015. Entering the building took my breath away; I felt like I was walking into a great cathedral. We went to the desk at the gift shop and gave them a drivers license and in return they handed us a key that would unlock each of the doors. No political statements are allowed nor are any portraits of any living individual. I can’t imagine attending class in such an inspiring environment.
After some lunch at Market Square we headed to the PPG Building to see their “Spirits of Giving from Around the World” display. Immediately in front of the castle-like building was a skating rink with many out enjoying the season. Inside we viewed the 32 foot Christmas tree which was surrounded by lifesize Santas from around the world. In addition there were hundreds of gingerbread houses all part of a competition of organizations as well as individuals in the Pittsburgh area. It doesn’t get much more festive than this!
Although we had visited the Phipps Conservatory on previous occasions, it’s hard to pass up at Christmas time. Flowers and Christmas are such a great combination. And again because we were in the area and Rita has a membership which gets me in free as her guest (Lucky me!) meant we could just stop in for an hour or so and take in the highlights!
Pittsburgh is a huge sports city; it seems to us more than any city we’ve visited. For a city of just over 300,000 (well, yes the metro area is more than 2 million) they have a hockey team, a baseball team, and a football team. And given the number of jerseys we see on the street it seems like everyone is a fan of all the teams! I read online about Museum 21 which is dedicated to the life of Roberto Clemente, a Pirate’s right fielder. I remember well the New Year’s Eve day when we learned Clemente, who was only 38, had been killed in a plane crash while delivering aid packages to the people of Managua, Nicaragua after an earthquake. This museum is privately owned by a local photographer. It’s housed in an old firehouse and contains tons of memorabilia from his boyhood growing up in Puerto Rico through the rest of his life. Any baseball fan would find the place really interesting. l also loved the connections in the wine cellar to the Chicago Cubs and the Pittsburgh Penguins!
While I really love hockey and the Pittsburgh Penguins, I also love penguins of any kind so it only made sense that we would visit the aviary. When you think about it, aviaries are really unusual places…you just sort of walk around among the birds. Sometimes with them flying over our heads; other times walking in front of us. And so many times they act just like people. For instance the parrots were showing off in front of us, one trying to outdo the other. It was pretty cold outside but I had to go out and view the penguins, particularly because no one else was out there. One lone penguin was standing on the edge of the pool. I tried to coax him until he finally jumped in the water. And then he’d swim back to me, swim around in circles before darting off again. Wow! I was having my own private interaction with him.
Years ago we had visited Legoland when we were in Denmark and were fascinated with the constructions of everything from Mt Rushmore to the Statue of Liberty. So when Rita told me the world’s largest Lego Art Exhibit was at the Carnegie (It’s pronounced Car NEG e!) Science Museum, I really wanted to see it. The artist, Nathan Sawaya, is a fascinating individual. While he was intrigued by Legos for his entire life, he went to school and became a lawyer but he continued to stay involved with Legos whenever he wanted to relax. He finally decided to forget the law and just concentrate on the Legos. There were two full floors of his work. His Lego creations included: “Starry Night,” “American Gothic,” “the “Mona Lisa” as well as other original pieces including one of a bridge especially done for Pittsburgh. What a creative genius!
We had hoped to get tickets to see Hamilton but it didn’t get to Pittsburgh until January. So we decided instead to go see “Straight No Chaser.” They are an a cappella group originally from Indiana University. It was great entertainment. A good combination of music and humor. We found it refreshing at the beginning of the program when they announced, “Take lots of pictures. Post them on Facebook.” It was a nice conclusion to a great month in Pittsburgh.
We were now ready to head to Michigan to spend Christmas with family there. And then on to the Dominican Republic to avoid winter! We are so lucky!