It Ain’t What It Used to Be! Former Pittsburghers — gone from the area for many years — we were amazed at the transformation that has taken place in the once-smoky city. Pittsburgh has turned from the color black to a proud and beautiful green.
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the dying iron and steel industry, this city’s renaissance from a dark, dirty, depressing, and smoke-filled, industrial town to a shining example of what a modern metropolis can and should be is truly amazing. Pittsburgh has, in fact, more than once found itself in recent years on lists of the most “livable” cities in the nation, and we can easily understand why.
Two well-known sports-related colors of Pittsburgh, of course, are the gold and black (the color black is allowed here) of the city’s sports teams: the Pirates, the Penguins and the ever-popular Steelers. The Pirates’ PNC Park, by the way, is considered by Major League Baseball to be one of the best ballparks in the nation.
The color gold in Pittsburgh , meanwhile, is also represented in the three gold-painted bridges that span the Allegheny River, the only three identical sister bridges of their kind anywhere in America. They are named for some of Pittsburgh’s luminaries: the Clemente Bridge for Pirates baseball hero, Roberto Clemente, the Rachel Carson Bridge for the famed environmentalist, and the Warhol Bridge for contemporary artist, Andy Warhol.
The two of us were like kids again as we spent the better part of three days in this historic and strategically located region of our birth. We were excited about everything we were able to fit into our schedule there.
Here are a few of the highlights that we highly recommend to fellow travelers:
First, out of many choices, we’d suggest riding up and down the steep Duquesne Incline cable railway just for the excitement of the ride and to see the mechanical workings — more importantly to get a view of the dazzling expanse of the city from the heights of Mount Washington. Operating since 1877, this is one of the few such inclines left in America. http://www.duquesneincline.org
Highly visible from Mount Washington is the area called “the Point,” the triangle of land where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the mighty Ohio. Old Fort Pitt is also located on this critical spot, and General George Washington wrote in his diary on October 31, 1753: “I spent some time in viewing the rivers and the land in the fork; which I think extremely well situated for a fort, as it has the absolute command of both rivers.” This strategic location, of course, influenced much of the history of America.
In modern times, as Pittsburgh aged, the city fathers were puzzled as to what to do with the many old structures on “the Point” itself, so they called in the well-known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright and paid him a large sum of money for his assessment. His answer was curt and literally “to the point.” He said simply, “Tear everything down, and start over.”
Start over: Pittsburgh did, and a whole new and beautiful city emerged. ForbesTraveler.com, by the way, voted Pittsburgh as having one of the world’s most stunning skylines.
Our suggestions for a fun visit there also include spending a day on the University of Pittsburgh campus seeing the renowned Carnegie Museum of Natural History with its fabulous dinosaur collection, as well as the impressive, adjoining Carnegie Museum of Art, the lovely Heinz Chapel, and also the striking Cathedral of Learning with its famed Nationality Rooms.
If you’re in search of souvenirs and memorabilia, check out the historic Market District known as “The Strip” — an area of many city blocks located just inland from the Allegheny River. Wow! Talk about an exhilarating place alive with vendors of all kinds and restaurants galore. This is it. Here is also a must-visit, world-class museum – the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh History Center – an affiliate of the Smithsonian (www.pghhistory.org). The History Center also houses the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum, both in a beautifully restored brick building located just across the street from the friendly, comfortable and well-appointed Hampton Inn and Suites where we stayed. The property, by the way, is within walking distance of many excellent restaurants and shops and also the downtown area.
Two great places to eat, among many others in the Strip, are Primanti Brothers, popular for its “almost famous” sandwiches and also Pamela’s Diner, a bustling, little eatery that touts a visit from President Obama. Both establishments offer tasty selections sure to please.
With taste buds satisfied, plan to spend a day at the huge Carnegie Science Center, located on the North Side of the city. Fun for kids of all ages, the CSS features Roboworld , a 6,000 square-foot exhibition of robotics that is so exciting it’s said to “fry your motherboard,” as well as a four-story OmniMax theater, a huge miniature train display of the Pittsburgh area, and a separate building housing the interactive SportsWorks for sports enthusiasts. CarnegieScienceCenter.org
If birds are your fancy, then be sure to fly on over to the premier bird zoo, Pittsburgh’s National Aviary. Here, the interactive encounters include daily feedings of many of the more than 600 feathery friends, as well as a raptor experience, trainer for a day program, “bird day” parties, breakfast with the birds, and viewings of penguins, flamingoes, eagles, and more. http://www.aviary.org
In the same general area on the North Side is the award-winning and inspiring Children’s Museum which offers a host of cultural offerings for families. Exhibits and activities include lots of “real stuff” that kids love—among many other delights, the Garage/Workshop, the Attic, the Studio, Waterplay and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood – Pittsburgh being the birthplace of Fred Rogers. http://www.pittsburghkids.org
Also within a short distance is the Mattress Factory, an art gallery unlike any other you’re ever likely to see. Begun in 1977, this unique gallery is housed in two creatively reused buildings. And, through a world-renowned student residency program, much of the work is created onsite and is designed to engage all the senses. If you like ever-changing, room-sized contemporary art, this is the museum to experience. http://www.mattress.org
Art lovers will enjoy exploring the Andy Warhol Museum, one of the four Carnegie Museums in the city. Several stories of another of Pittsburgh’s refurbished, old buildings are filled with displays of this controversial Pop artist who was native to the once-smoky city. http://www.warhol.org
Wishing we could have stayed longer to experience more of all that Pittsburgh has to offer, we ended our visit there with a few hours at Station Square, a 52-acre playground famous for its shops, dining and night life. From there we took a one-hour ride on one of the city’s Just Ducky narrated tours, first traveling through many of the important and historic streets of city, then splashing into the river for yet another fun and informative way to learn about the area. The entire ride took place in a World War II era duck boat, now colorfully painted in bright hues, and bearing the name North Side Nelly. http://www.stationsquare.org and http://www.justduckytours.com
If time permits, be sure to take a side trip to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning Fallingwater, the resort home that he designed for the wealthy Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh. Referred to as the epitome of serene, organic architecture, this icon is located about an hour’s drive southeast of the city and is visited by 150,000 people each year, a total of over 4.5 million since its construction in the late 1930’s. Set over an actual waterfall in the woods, the dramatic use of cantilever (diving board) design makes this stunning home one-of-a-kind. While there, be prepared to walk back through pathways in the dense trees to see this remarkably beautiful home which is appropriately placed on a list of “Places to See Before You Die.” http://www.fallingwater.org
With Falling Water and so many other things to see and do, the Pittsburgh area, with its many vibrant colors definitely captivates, delights, entertains, excites, edifies, and is a must for any adventuring traveler’s “bucket list.” It certainly ain’t what it used to be!