Pittsburgh Highlights

Phipps Conservatory  was a highlight of my recent visit to Pittsburgh.  I took more pictures there than anywhere else on the trip.  In addition to beautiful flowers and exotic plants, works of glass art were included in almost every display area.  It was often hard to figure out which flowers or plants were real and which were glass.  You will have that same problem if you look closely at the pictures I have posted.  We spent all our available time in the conservatory buildings and didn’t get a chance to look around the outdoor botanical gardens or other features of Shenley Park.  Those areas will require a return visit.

In early May my husband and I set off to explore the City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, taking advantage of a 6-day tour offered by Road Scholar and adding an extra day to the beginning and end of our tour itinerary.  We had never been there before and really did not have high expectations, since we had images in our heads of city problems from earlier decades.  The benefit of low expectations was that we were blown away by the beauty of the city and its many attractions. City leaders and the community are determined to overcome bad publicity and serious challenges of the past. They have made remarkable progress in transforming their city, through control of pollution, re-use of industrial sites, embracing modern technology, and promoting their strategic location. The result is new businesses, residents and tourists in a city proud to show off its parks, universities, museums, sports facilities, residential neighborhoods, waterfront and historic sites.

My excitement about the trip grew before our plane even landed.  From my window seat on the plane I could see forests of deciduous trees, hills, valleys, rivers, farms, and neighborhoods partially covered with a green canopy of trees. It looked amazingly similar to the rural and suburban communities just outside of Seattle, except there were no high mountains or tall evergreens.  Since we had arrived early, we had a chance to do some exploring before meeting up with our tour group. 

Not being part of the running community, we didn’t realize we had arrived during the Pittsburgh Marathon, an annual spring event which attracts thousands to the city.  The route of the runners went right past the windows of our hotel room.  The start and finish of the race were both in Point State Park, where we had decided to start our visit, without realizing its critical role in the race.  After waiting for the runners to be cleared from the street of our hotel, we got a ride to the park.  Only after being dropped off, did we realize there was still a lot of marathon activity around the park.  As we made our way to the Fort Pitt Museum, located in the park, we passed proud runners wearing the medallions they had earned by completing the race. 

We enjoyed the history of Pittsburgh portrayed in the museum and also the beautiful waterfront setting  of the park, which is located on the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to become the Ohio River, which flows southwest to join the Mississippi River at the southern tip of Illinois.  One look at the geography of this location shows how strategic the area was for the native people and early settlers, who relied heavily on rivers for transportation.  The British built the first fort at that location in 1754. A census completed in 1761 showed 332 people and 104 houses in the area.  One of the earliest institutions was a result of a land grant and charter for the Pittsburgh Academy in 1787, which became the University of Western Pennsylvania in 1819.  The city was incorporated in 1816, with a population of over 1500 people.

In order for this blog post to be of a reasonable length, I will leave out the details of the remainder of our week in Pittsburgh.  You can research these other sites yourself or feel free to ask questions about them.  We rode the Duquesne Incline and really enjoyed the amazing views of the city from the top, an area of the city referred to as "Mount Washington" which seemed odd to those of us from the State of Washington.  It turns out that George Washington was an important figure in the early settlement of the area, so they have a better claim on the use of the name than our state. The Fort Pitt Museum, pictured above in Point State Park, is a branch of the Heinz Regional Historic Center, which in turn is affiliated with the Smithsonian.  I loved the exhibits in their main museum and would welcome a return trip there to do additional exploring.

Our hotel was located in an area of the city which has several colleges and universities.  The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon were just up the street, as were the Carnegie Museums of Art, Natural History and Science.  I was really impressed with the building called the Cathedral of Learning at the university.  It is very unique in many ways, one of which is that many of the classrooms have been sponsored by local residents originally from other countries and contain art and artifacts from their homeland.  The significance of the items and the style of each room is not necessarily apparent at first glance, but our guide was able to give us detailed information about each room we visited and I was fascinated, especially since several of the rooms we visited were sponsored by local residents from countries I had visited and in which my great grandparents had once resided. The Carnegie Museums could be explored for days without running out of things to see.  We were only there a few hours and I will definitely return if I get the chance.  The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area provided us a good introduction to the history of steel-making in the city.  

There were a few places we were not able to visit which I would want to see if I traveled there again.  The Andy Warhol Museum is highly recommended.  We drove past it but did not have time to stop.  The National Aviary contains 500 birds, but we didn't get there.  Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water house is a popular destination 19 miles outside the city.  Advance reservations are recommended and we would have needed most of a day to complete a visit there.

We loved our stay in Pittsburgh and would recommend it highly as a place to visit.  You don't need to be in a tour group to have a successful trip, but our Road Scholar Leader, Woody Cunningham, did an excellent job of providing the back story of the the places we visited.  Since Road Scholar provided most of our meals, we also had the benefit of not having to find good places to eat.

If you would like to know how we spent our last full day in Pittsburgh, take a look at my Flight 93 Memorial blog post.  If you would like to view larger versions of the pictures on this page, right click on the picture on your computer and view on a new page.  You may also be able to use your zoom function on the computer to make them larger.

Carolyn Hayek