Pittsburgh - First Impressions of the City of Bridges


Pittsburgh – First Impressions of the City of Bridges

I almost didn’t get to Pittsburgh yesterday thanks to the ever vigilant authorities at Pearson Airport. Despite having a Nexus card I got tagged for extra scrutiny and diverted to the regular security lineup where I presented my boarding pass and put my things through the scanner. No big deal – until I tried to board the plane for Pittsburgh. Apparently my boarding pass had not been stamped properly after I was being flagged as a potential I don’t know what. Everybody else got on and I waited, and waited and waited for someone to come from security which is seemingly miles away as it was departure time before some guy who looked like Kono from the original Hawaii 5-O mosied along, frisked me in front of all concerned and gave my boarding pass the literal stamp of approval. I boarded the plane and tried to avoid the questioning looks of my fellow passengers.

Note to Barry, my travel agent – Never, ever send me through Toronto again when I can pre-clear in Halifax!

It’s been a while since I was in a Dash-8 (thought they had been retired years ago), but it was a great day for flying and the low altitude made for a nice view. Every time I land in Pittsburgh I’m always amazed at how they found enough level ground for an airport – everything is hills, valleys and rivers.

There was a driver scheduled to meet me and another arriving TMACer, but he wasn’t at the appointed spot. After waiting for twenty minutes I called Kristin and asked if I missed something. Actually yes I had, by walking right by the guy with a sign with my name on it at the bottom of the escalator. Nice professional move Dale – travel much?

I had been told that the view of Pittsburgh that literally explodes in your face as you exit the Fort Pitt tunnel is one that always blows away people the first time they see it and sure enough it did. The skyline of the golden triangle from this viewpoint is truly something to behold, particularly the beautiful PPG Place building with its castle-like crenelations.

After checking in at the Wyndham Grand, I changed into clothing appropriate for the high 70’s weather outside and headed out to explore. It was pretty apparent the the Wyndham has a great location for exploring downtown Pittsburgh with Fort Point State Park literally outside the front door.

Wyndham Grand Hotel, Pittsburgh
Wyndham Grand Hotel

The tower of the  beautiful PPG Place main building is visible just behind the hotel. PPG stands for Pittsburgh Plate Glass and as you can see its put to good use in this building.

PPG Place Tower, Pittsburgh
PPG Place Tower

Walking across into Point State Park I can see that there are hundreds of people out enjoying this unseasonably warm May day at the confluence of the Monongahela and Alleghany Rivers, the tip of the famous Golden Triangle. This is the where the mighty Ohio River starts its journey to the Mississippi; an American industrial lifeline that is still very much in evidence today as I can see coal barges by the dozen moored across the river by the railyards where this once conventional, now controversial source of energy is headed downriver to fuel power plants all the way to New Orleans.

It is also one of the most historic spots in America, the site of Fort Pitt, Britain’s bastion of power in what was then the most westerly frontier of the colonies, a place where the English and French rubbed shoulders uncomfortably until the French-Indian War of 1756-1763 settled things irrevocably in favour of the English. A lot of blood was shed hereabouts. This afternoon people are milling around the Fort Pitt blockhouse, the oldest building in Western Pennsylvania, but dating from a year after the war ended.

Walking on I can see a field of grass rimmed by greening trees and a few flowers, mostly cranesbill, and a huge fountain almost exactly where the three rivers meet. Not too long ago this was an industrial wasteland, the detritus of Pittsburgh’s golden age as the steel capital of the world. Now it’s been cleaned up and instead of being a place where nobody is welcome it gives the proper meaning to ‘open to the public’. Way to go Pittsburgh.

Going closer I am reminded of the Chicago song Saturday in the Park as just about everything described in that song is going on right now at the Point.

Sunday in Point State Park, Pittsburgh
Sunday in Point State Park

The most interesting sight is that of dozens of young teenagers gambolling and whooping it up inside the fountain. I can just imagine the response in Canada if you wanted to actually swim inside a fountain – no way. This tells me that there is a laid back side to Pittsburgh I wasn’t expecting. The view of the Pittsburgh skyline from behind the fountain is exceptional.

Point State Park Fountain, Pittsburgh
Point State Park Fountain

Looking back at the rivers, there is a ton of activity here as well. A lot of people are out in private boats, some moored just off the point, a few of them with fishing lines in the water. There are miniature riverboats as well as the now omni-present duck boats that travel on land and water. Even though the waters are calm, the sides of these boats seem a little too close to the waterline for my liking. One good wave from the wake of a barge could send them under, as actually happened in Ottawa a few years ago when four people drowned in a duck boat sinking. Looking up from the water I see across the way another sight that contributes to my brief outbreak of morbidity – Heinz Field, home of the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Now I certainly wouldn’t express these feelings aloud in this company, but as a Vikings fan I have never forgiven them for winning Superbowl IX when they lowered the Steel Curtain for the first time and kept the Vikes to a measly six points. Aaargh – I need to move on.

Heinz Field
Heinz Field

There are other things going on in Pittsburgh right now as is evident by the roar of the crowd from the other waterfront venue in Pittsburgh, PNC Park where the Pirates are hosting the Washington Nationals. I can see that it is a sell out crowd and wish that I had been aware of the game earlier I probably would have gone, but its now in the late innings so I’ll settle for a picture.

Full House at PNC Park, Pittsburgh
Full House at PNC Park

Thinking about the Vikings and their four Super Bowl losses, combined with the Steelers’ six titles makes me look for a bar or a place to at least buy a beer, but things are strangely quiet. Only when I get back to the hotel and settle in at the bar there to watch the last of the ballgame (Pittsburgh loses 5-2) and the golf (Adam Scott beats Dufner in a playoff) do I learn that Pennsylvania’s alcohol laws are as bad as Canada’s. Beer can only be purchased in beer stores and other liquor in state owned stores. No running to the local corner store for beer or wine here – that’s not laid back.

After the golf is over I head a few blocks to Market Square where the scene is not dissimilar to the park – a lot of people are enjoying themselves, eating at sidewalk cafes, playing chess under the shade, sitting in family groups of up to four generations. It’s pretty damn harmonious. Surrounding the square is a dizzying choice of eating establishments, some chains, some Pittsburgh originals. I sit at the bar in Il Pizzaiolo and order the Sunday special ragu which is excellent, especially the meat balls. I’m too tired to think about another stop and head back to the Wyndham.

It’s been a good start Pittsburgh. See yinz.

After Pittsburgh, join me at Nemacolin, western Pennsylvania’s premiere resort.