Thursday, March 27, 2014

Walking Pittsburgh

I spent last week in Pittsburgh, visiting my brother. He lives downtown or dantan, as they say here. One of the things I love about visiting here is the amount of walking we do.

On Sunday we walked about 2 miles to the far end of the Strip district because I wanted to check out the indoor market, the Pittsburgh Public Market, at 2401 Penn Avenue. There were some great vendors at the market, including an olive oil and vinegar place, a fabulous charcuterie stand, a Lebanese vendor with excellent spreads and a shop with wonderful hand crafted wood items. We then explored the area around the market…going into stores and past restaurants and apartments that my brother had yet to explore.

As we walked back to his apartment we went into lots of the shops in the Strip. We compared the four Asian markets: Lotus is my favorite with its huge selection of sauces and condiments. We “popped” into the Pittsburgh popcorn company for a sample and stuck out heads into the Italian coffee shop nearby.

For lunch, we had delicious and totally decadent huge fish sandwiches at the Luke Wholey's Wild Alaskan Grill. Checked out the handcrafted pottery at Penn Avenue Pottery and bought a hipster knit hat (Bobby will disown me!) at one of the street-side stands to keep my ears warm.

Monday we walked from his place over the 9th Street bridge, past the stadiums and across the North shore as far as the Carnegie Science Center. Then we crossed the Fort Duquesne bridge and walked around Point State Park where the 3 rivers meet and went through Market Square, meandered around downtown and back to his apartment…nearly a 5 mile loop!

I love walking around this city, particularly along the rivers' edge. On the first walk, the water was very high and moving swiftly with chunks of ice and winter debris, branches, even a large log racing down river. My brother commented that the log might make it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico….heading down from the Allegheny to the Ohio at the point, and eventually the Mississippi. By the end of the week the ice had gone though the river was still high. The natural geography of Pittsburgh is so prominent in the city…the downtown being bounded or really embraced by the Allegheny and Monongahela (I love that name!) rivers, with Mount Washington looming overhead.

You feel the natural world intimately, in a way that you don't in many cities. There is a conscious use of fountains that brings the water into the urban spaces so that when you don't see the rivers you are reminded of them by the fountains. And one of the most charming features, I think, is that many of these fountains are kid friendly…they are encouraged to play and splash in them!

I've taken my boys to visit my brother in Pittsburgh since they were small. For years, we avoided Smithfield Street because there is a great old fashioned toy store called Randall's that I didn't want to be dragged into! I think it was these visits to my brother where we lived in the city and walked everywhere that turned my kids into urban explorers, making them comfortable in cities, appreciating the ease of walking to dinner (and walking off  your dinner), seeing that cars are not always a convenience, and the value of public transportation.

On the lighter side, they learned to appreciate the people watching as well. For a couple of years, our visit seemed to coincide with the "furry" convention. If you are not aware of this subculture, wikipedia defines furries as "The furry fandom is a subculture interested in fictional anthropomorphic animal characters with human personalities and characteristics." ie kinky, real life stuffed animals. One night we went to dinner and on one side of us was a table with a half a dozen nuns in old fashioned habits, and the rest of the restaurant was filled with "Furries" in full regalia.....and us. One of the boys, quietly commented that we were the only ones in the restaurant not in some kind of costume! Ah, city broadens perspectives...

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