Big City Tales

The Pride of Pittsburgh

January 11, 2018
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Even with one of its nicknames being “Steel City,” Pittsburgh is a city that has long intrigued me. True, some historical references conjure up images of thick black plumes of smoke hovering over dreary factory buildings in a landscape devoid of green spaces. But that was then and this is now. The industrial town of old has definitely made way for a new cosmopolitan vibe that is attracting curious visitors like me in droves. Indeed, in recent years the city has received notable accolades for its livability, culture, foodie scene and economic prosperity.

Yes, “The ‘Burgh” or “City of Bridges” as the city is also referred to today is chock-full of amazing architecture, museums, parks, educational institutions, restaurants, and sports & entertainment options on par with New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major US cities. Whichever nickname you prefer, each truly represents the best of Pittsburgh’s past and present.

Here is a sampling of the Pride of Pittsburgh:

A “Top 10” City View

As the locals have long been aware, Pittsburgh has a lot of attractions to be proud of. The view of downtown from the Mt. Washington district at the top of the Duquesne Incline (pictured below) is one of the city’s shining gems. This vantage point also just happens to rank in Fodor’s Travel “10 Most Incredible Views of America’s Cities” and shows off many of the city’s bridges, skyscrapers and the fountain at Point State Park, a national historic landmark.
downtown Pittsburgh

When dusk makes way to mid-evening and late night, the city lights begin to twinkle and reflect off of the river waters making for a glorious sight that photographers of all levels clamor to capture. Even my humble 35mm point and shoot digital camera produced a decent shot. Having enjoyed a lovely panoramic nighttime view of downtown, I was looking forward to getting a closer look in the daylight of Pittsburgh’s iconic buildings.

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Architecture

It may not be the tallest building in Pittsburgh, but PPG Place certainly caught my eye as it sparkled against the backdrop of a crystal blue sky.  The complex towers above most of the city’s skyline and its series of buildings stretch over three city blocks. PPG Place is noteworthy for its matching glass design consisting of six buildings, 231 spires, and 19,750 pieces of glass. At ground level, a large plaza paved in a mosaic of red, grey and black granite provides a gathering place for various seasonal activities such as an outdoor skating rink during the winter months and a fountain feature from spring until fall. For those who prefer an indoor refuge, the Wintergarden is a glass-enclosed garden oasis located in the main tower that is open year-round.

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PPG Place is also located next to the Market Square district where restaurants, cafes and retailers cater to tourists, as well as the regular Monday to Friday downtown business crowd. One of the popular casual dining haunts in Market Square is Primanti Brothers, known for their colossal “Almost Famous” sandwiches of grilled meat, an Italian dressing-based coleslaw, tomato slices, and french fries piled high between two pieces of thick Italian bread. Believe me, you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day, and you’ll probably want to head to one of the city’s nearby world-class museums to walk off some calories!

Museums

From history to art, to soldiers and sailors, or the celebration of the bicycle, Pittsburgh’s wide variety of museum options offers something for everyone’s taste and interests. 

Heinz History Center

Located in the Strip District, which is a one-half square mile shopping area northeast of downtown, the Heinz History Center is Pennsylvania’s largest history museum and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The center showcases Pittsburgh’s past and highlights its tradition of innovation, notably that Pittsburgh is known as a city of “firsts” such as the first Big Mac hamburger at McDonald’s, the first retractable roof, the first drive-in gas station, the first ferris wheel, etc. As depicted in its many permanent and rotating exhibitions, the city is the headquarters of the Heinz food empire, is where famed explorers Lewis & Clark launched their epic trek from Pittsburgh to the Pacific from, and is where the beloved children’s show, “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” was filmed at the local public broadcasting station. A unique feature of touring the museum is that you can start in the stairwell and view highlights of the city’s 250-year history on the walls and steps as you wind your way to the top floor and then work your way down. I highly recommend this approach before taking in the full exhibits; the incline is not too steep and the museum is only six floors so you don’t have to be in tip-top shape.

Andy Warhol Museum

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Before he took New York City and the entire world by storm with his abstract art (most notably Campbell’s soup cans and images of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), Andy Warhol was a fresh-faced kid from Pittsburgh. Located in the city’s North Shore district, the Andy Warhol Museum holds the largest collection of Warhol’s artworks and archival materials, and is the largest single artist museum in North America.

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I found it interesting to see Warhol’s development as an artist before and after his fixation with Campbell’s soup cans, and late in his career when he started using computer generated design and color techniques. It also surprised me to learn that he was a pack rat and amassed quite a collection of knickknacks.

andy warhol

Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History Museum 

Founded in 1895 by renowned businessman Andrew Carnegie, the Carnegie Museum of Art is considered to be the first museum of modern art in the United States. With paintings ranging from Monet to Whistler, the museum’s impressive collection also features one of the largest collection of plaster casts of architectural masterpieces in the world that are housed in the massive Hall of Architecture wing. The statues and building facades may be plaster, but they certainly looked authentic which speaks to the high quality of the replication process. The Porch of the Maidens installation captured my attention along with an elaborate burial shrine.

The Natural History Museum is noted for having one of the finest collections of dinosaur skeletons in the world, but has many other exhibits covering subject matter such as minerals and gems, Ancient Egypt, life in the Arctic, and geology. The museum’s high vaulted ceilings are the perfect construction to show off the towering heights of long extinct species.

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Educational Institutions

Situated in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus, the Cathedral of Learning stands 535 feet tall and contains 42 floors.

Aside from its magnificent Late Gothic Revival exterior, the interior features the infamous Nationality Rooms that are located on the first and third floors. The rooms are representative of various cultural and ethnic groups that have settled in the Pittsburgh area. When not in use, the public is free to explore the rooms; there are also great city views from the windows on the 35th and 36th floors.

Sports & Entertainment

Pittsburgh has a stellar record of winning sports franchises and an impressive array of venues to show off their talents in. PPG Paints Arena is the home of the 5-time Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League; Heinz Field is where the 6-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League play; and PNC Park is where the 5-time World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball hear the cry “Batter Up!” Even if ‘black and gold’ aren’t your colours, there’s plenty to cheer about and admire in this amazing “City of Champions!”

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Philadelphia is Proof Positive that Every City Has A Silver Lining

January 24, 2013
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Prior to visiting Philadelphia in the fall of 2010, a friend of my sister’s had this to say:

“Why do you want to go to Philly?  It’s a dump!”

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for a city of incredible historical significance to the American people, and one that is equally proud of its rich sporting traditions, renowned cheese steak sandwiches, and refined arts community.

Undaunted by the less than favourable review, we decided to keep Philadelphia on our list of East Coast historical cities to see and made it our mission to discover the beauty within this Pennsylvania landmark.

Truth be told, the beauty was at first hard to find.

Approaching the city from the north where industrial plants are abundant, my sister and I looked at each other in a moment of utter defeat for Philadelphia did, in fact, look like a “dump!” Further, it appeared to be a veritable barren wasteland. Granted, it was a rainy, overcast day so the grey of the dimly lit sky was not helping matters, but we still couldn’t help but think we may have been a tad overly optimistic about uncovering any hidden pearls in the midst of this less than awe-inspiring scenery.

Such was our mindset as we exited left off of the interstate and headed for the inner city. With each passing mile, our spirits were buoyed and even though the rain was still pelting down with a vengeance, the city’s silver linings were nonetheless all around us shining in all their splendor.

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Feeling the LOVE in Philadelphia!

Here is a sampling of what we took in:

On the city’s south side, Wells Fargo Center, Lincoln Financial Field, Citizens Bank Park, and the iconic, still-standing at the time Philadelphia Spectrum formed the impressive cornerstones of the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.

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The Philly Fanatic is the well-known and much-loved mascot of the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team.

In the city’s core, the downtown skyline beckoned with the resplendent and expansive City Hall complex as its prime showpiece.  Another feast for the senses was the Reading Terminal Market, a large farmer’s market boasting everything from Amish specialties to more urban street fair.  The Market is definitely the place to grab a bite to eat, but be prepared to have a tough time choosing from the many diverse options.  Of course, you can’t go wrong with a classic cheese steak, whichever way you prefer it prepared!

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Until 1987, City Hall was Philadelphia’s tallest building.

Just east of downtown, despite being in the midst of a restoration at Independence Hall, the historical district glimmered as the clouds eventually cleared on day two of our visit and the sun cast a warm, welcome glow. There’s nothing like walking the grounds where the founding fathers toiled over the United States Constitution. And you can’t miss paying homage to the Liberty Bell or visiting the National Constitution Center.

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The Signer statue sits outside Independence Hall, where the U.S. Constitution originated.

To the north, sights along the picturesque, Champs Elysees-like feel of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway included Logan Square (where the famous LOVE statue is located),  the Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum, and la creme de la creme, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Yo, Adrian, now that I’m champ we should climb those stairs and go see the Museum of Art!

Yes, things may have initially looked very bleak from the outskirts of Philadelphia, but the ‘City of Brotherly Love’ opened its arms and we heartily soaked up what it had to offer.

Fast forward two years and the release of the new hit movie, Silver Linings Playbook. Based in Philadelphia, the film is more than just an exploration of recovering from mental illness, it is a celebration of a great city that does, indeed, have its fair share of silver linings.  Check it out and be your own judge!

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Independence Hall was the home away from home for America’s founding fathers.