Thursday, September 10, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Pittsburgh Tourist Attractions

From Pittsburgh Skyline

I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Despite the fact that I spent the first eighteen years of my life in the area, I am almost completely unfamiliar with the tourist attractions of the city.  My family rarely left our suburban neighborhood when I was young, with only a few forays into Pittsburgh, usually to see a Thanksgiving Day parade or tag along with my dad if he went into the office on a holiday.  I just got back from a family reunion in Pittsburgh over the Labor Day weekend.  The young couple sitting next to me on the plane going to Pittsburgh asked if I could recommend any places to see while they were in town, and I felt bad that I could only recommend things mostly secondhand!  Well, I finally got to visit some of the popular local sites while attending the reunion that I had never visited in the past, so I thought I would list them here for anyone who is planning a trip to this city and would like a firsthand account!

The Three Rivers Queen, one of the Gateway Clipper fleet
(from KMA Design)

My husband and I arrived a day late for the reunion, so we missed the first big attraction, which was a ride on the Gateway Clipper.  I actually did experience the child's version of this boat ride when I was small, on their Good Ship Lollipop (if you are old enough you remember that Shirley Temple song!), so I think I can still consider this a firsthand, if dated, account.  The Gateway Clipper is a riverboat that cruises the three rivers of downtown Pittsburgh.  You can take in the city skyline sites and enjoy a meal on the boat at the same time.  Our family reunion was on a lunchtime cruise, but you can choose from a variety of themed cruises.  Prices, menus, and activities will vary with the type of cruise.  The length of the cruise can range from one to several hours depending upon which one you choose.

Phipps Conservatory entrance
(from Landscape Voice)

Our reunion dinner was held at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden.  The reunion took place there for the first time last year.  This is another attraction I visited once when I was very young, and all I remembered prior to last year was being lifted up to peer down from a bridge at aquatic turtles swimming in an indoor pond (like I said, I was very young, but those turtles certainly did make an impression!).  There is definitely so much more to see!  While I did not notice any turtles this time, I am old enough now to appreciate the gardens themselves.  My husband and I are avid supporters of botanical gardens, and we both love seeing the gardens and exhibits and learning about the plants, both native and exotic.  The website for the conservatory even has a virtual tour, so you can get a taste of what the actual gardens and greenhouses are like online!  The Phipps Conservatory was built by Pittsburgh steel baron and philanthropist Henry Phipps, who was a business partner of Andrew Carnegie, another renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist from Pittsburgh.  Both men strongly believed that those with great wealth had an obligation to give back for the public good, and both contributed much of their time and money to their communities for that purpose.

The Grand Concourse Restaurant
(from Yelp)

The final day of our reunion was on Labor Day, and a brunch was held at the Grand Concourse in Station Square.  Station Square is on the site of the old Pittsburgh railroad station, which has been converted into a riverfront walking district full of shops and restaurants.  The Grand Concourse is a beautiful restaurant located in the former railway station, and it is worth a visit just to see the exquisite details of this landmark building.  Most of the original materials of this Victorian-era building have been preserved, and I could have kicked myself for forgetting to bring my camera, because the stained glass alone was worthy of even my unskilled photography.  Mosaic-tiled floors, intricately carved woodwork, a grand staircase, and a truly breathtaking cathedral stained-glass vaulted ceiling are just a few of the other impressive aspects of this structure.  My sister, who used to travel extensively in Europe for her job, declared that the Grand Concourse station was the most impressive she has ever seen anywhere, so if you do get to Pittsburgh, try to make a point of at least visiting this historic building.  This was the first time I had ever been to Station Square and the Grand Concourse, and they really made an impression on me!

Monongahela Incline
(from Travel Photo Base)

The last tourist activity we tried before heading to the Pittsburgh International Airport for our flight home was a ride on the Monongahela Incline to the top of Mt. Washington for a panoramic view of the city.  There are actually two inclines (the other is the Duquesne Incline), but the one we rode was closer and we were a bit short on time.  The Monongahela Incline was scheduled to close the next day for three months of renovations, so we thought it would be fun to ride it now and check it out again at next year's reunion to see the improvements.  I had never ridden either of the inclines before, so this was another first for me.  The ride is short but steep, and my sister-in-law, who does not like heights, declined to accompany us, which was probably for the best.  There is an overlook at the top, a circular railed platform built out over the hillside with a grand view of the river and downtown area, but it is also not for those with acrophobia.  Fortunately I do not suffer from this particular affliction and enjoyed the view immensely.  A couple of locals recommended DiFiore's Ice Cream Delite shop on nearby Shiloh Avenue, so most of us indulged, as it was a hot day and ice cream (or frozen yogurt for some of us) really hit the spot.  Next time we return to Pittsburgh I would like to ride the other incline as well, as they are fairly close to each other and it would be nice to compare the views.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History
(from The Huffington Post)

One more set of attractions in Pittsburgh with which I am very familiar and can heartily recommend are the Carnegie Museums, specifically the museums of natural history and of art in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh, where I spent many a Saturday morning while taking the free art classes I was selected to attend.  By far the most impressive exhibit for me was the Dinosaur Hall, because as a youngster I went through that seemingly obligatory dinosaur-obsessed phase.  The stegosaurus was always my favorite.  My youngest brother accidentally bumped his head on the stegosaurus skeleton's skull when he was very little, a not uncommon occurrence it seems, as the museum finally put a barrier up around that portion of the display!  Anyway, I have not yet visited the Science Center or the Andy Warhol Museum, and I would really like to see both of them one of these days.  One other place in Pittsburgh that I remember with fondness is the Carnegie Library, also in Oakland.  Even if you do not have time to read, it is worth a visit to check out the historic building.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
(from Wikipedia)

It is ironic that I am finally learning more about the city I grew up near decades after I left home.  I figure that it's better late than never, and maybe I can even appreciate Pittsburgh more now that I have lived elsewhere for so long than I could have back when our little corner of the state was the only place with which I was familiar.  Over the years I have learned that just about every place has its own unique charms, and with a little effort it is not that hard to find these spots.  I hope you have the opportunity to visit Pittsburgh one of these days, and get to see some of the attractions I have now learned to appreciate!

I couldn't resist - good old Stegosaurus ungulatus as he was displayed
at the Carnegie Museum when I was a girl, before apparently being
moved to a new and certainly safer exhibit. You can just barely see
the added rail to the far right under the dinosaur's chin.
(from University of Bristol)

Stegosaurus ungulatus in his new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum.
(from Wikipedia)

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