Excursions: Pittsburgh

Getting Out

Brandon and I love traveling together. While we both travel on our own for work, we rarely get to do so as a couple. Yet we like visiting new places together, both for the opportunity to try new things, and to reflect on our current life and potential changes we could make to it. We don’t do it as often as we’d like due to the expense, but we try to get out of town overnight at least one a year.

Given that both of our families live about 1,000 miles away, trips home take priority. Once in a while, though, we get the chance to visit a place that is new to both of us. Sometimes these opportunities develop through work, as we did with Scotland last year. Other times, we travel for social reasons. Such was the case with our most recent excursion to Pittsburgh. Let’s take a look!

Panoramic view of Pittsburgh from Mount Washington

Old friend, new place

I’ll admit, prior to this year, Pittsburgh wasn’t on my list of places to visit, but not for any adverse reasons. I just didn’t know anything about the city or that part of the state. Before this past weekend, I’d only visited the eastern part of Pennsylvania, when I did some research for the Magical & Real exhibition. Outside of flight layovers, I’ve only spent one day in Philadelphia. Beyond that, my experiences with Pennsylvania have been limited to driving through it en route to other places.

That all changed about a month ago when a mutual friend, Amberly, moved to Pittsburgh to become an Associate Registrar at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Amberly was the Roswell Museum‘s Registrar during my last year or so as Curator. Over the course of working together on various exhibitions and other projects, the three of us became good friends. Our paths have diverged since then, but we’ve stayed in touch and visit each other when we can. When we learned she’d be moving to Pittsburgh, we made plans.

Pittsburgh: Someplace New

Brandon and I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Pittsburgh beyond a vague familiarity with its industrial history. We knew about its association with Andrew Carnegie. One of our friends in the American Studies Program also told us about some of the prominent businesses started there, including Heinz. And apparently the Steelers play there.

During the course of our short visit, we got a better, if still preliminary, sense of the city. Geographically, it’s situated where the Allegheny and Monogahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River, and multiple bridges connect the various parts of the city. It’s fairly hilly with lots of steep, curving roads. The city itself is less a singular metropolis than a series of urban neighborhoods, each with its own architectural and cultural character.

Our hotel, Maverick by Kasa, occupies an old YMCA building. Across the street is the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, completed in 1935.

Like a lot of older cities, the architecture is a mixture of historical and contemporary buildings, and many structures have been repurposed. Our hotel, for instance, was originally a YMCA building, and you can still see traces of its original function on the exterior and interior. Yet for all its seemingly quaint charm, its operation reflects the influence of recent events like the pandemic, as it is a contactless hotel.

Pittsburgh: Someplace Familiar

What ended up surprising us more than anything was how much Pittsburgh reminded us of other places. Its steep, hillside streets and vistas reminded us both of Richmond and Roanoke. The steep roads and architectural styles recalled Burlington for ne. The mixture of old and new architecture suggested Edinburgh to Brandon. And of course, there was the familiarity of our friend, Amberly, who acted as our guide in this new city.

Since we were only there for one full day, we didn’t have much time to see all the sights, but what we did see, we enjoyed. Mount Washington offered great panoramic views of the city, and we all enjoyed walking around the extensive meadows and sculptural installations at the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. The food was excellent, with highlights including retro diner Pamela’s, vegan-friendly Square Cafe, and a family-owned Hungarian restaurant called Huszar. But the most lasting highlight was being able to see our friend.

A Change in Perspective

Another thing Brandon and I both enjoyed about visiting Pittsburgh was the opportunity to envision change. In August, it’ll have been five years since we moved to Williamsburg. While we’re both content here, we also keep an open mind regarding change and relocation. After all, as Brandon has pointed out, change has defined our lives since arriving in Williamsburg, from starting new jobs, to enduring a pandemic, to becoming homeowners, to getting married.

As we drove around Pittsburgh and explored different places, we had the opportunity to imagine ourselves living different lives in a new location. Given the familiarity we both sensed with Pittsburgh, it felt easier to envision potential lives here. We imagined what the commute might be like, which places we’d like to make part of our routines, or which restaurants we’d like to take each other to for birthday dinners. We don’t plan on moving in the foreseeable future, but we both enjoyed imagining what our lives could be like in a city like Pittsburgh. It makes the prospect of a future change less scary, when and should that ever happen.

Future Visits to Pittsburgh

So after our brief visit, would Brandon and I go back again? Absolutely! We barely touched on the city’s various attractions; we didn’t even get to the Carnegie Museum. If money were no object, we could return multiple times and do completely different activities on each visit. And with a friend living in town, we have all the more motivation do to so. All we need is the disposable income to do so.

Of course, given the ongoing economic situation, that last one could be trickier. One thing at a time.

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