Monday, December 13, 2010

The land of steel and penguins

This weekend, I yet again left the warm embrace of Astoria to continue my as-of-yet-unmentioned pilgrimage to all the former steel capitals of the United States. My journey to Pittsburgh was 99% about seeing the sites of this industry marvel and 1% about visiting my dear friend B who is studying there. (Just kidding, B, and thanks for letting me sleep on your sofa bed!) Nevertheless, Pittsburgh surprised me with its, at times somewhat surreal, charm and its unparalleled obsession with its sports teams. Per my usual take on travel writing, I'll be letting photos do much of the work for me. After all, Pittsburgh is, in many ways, a city that needs to be seen to be truly appreciated.

On Friday night, shortly after arriving in the steel city, we visited the Phipps Conservatory which is open in the evening only on Friday nights. The botanical gardens were all decked out in a Christmas display that interestingly featured a great deal of snowman carnage. At one point, our group happened on Santa's chair, completely vacated of Santa. We did what any self respecting group of young adults would do and tried to see how many people we could fit in Santa's chair. We then made weird faces and asked some drunk woman to take a picture of us.

This is so my Christmas card next year.

Another favorite of mine from Phipps was an extensive miniature town with several trains running through it. I tried to take the obligatory picture of me as a giant trying to squash the tiny town, but because my timing was off, I just look like a regular-sized person who hates toy train tracks. Oh well, can't win them all.
Nothing about this picture does the tiny town justice. You'll just have to take my word for it. Or visit Pittsburgh.

The other highlight of the trip (aside from some excellent waffles) was a museum called the Mattress Factory that is apparently the best kept secret in Pittsburgh. You wouldn't think it was a secret given the copious signage advertising it, but all the bus drivers we asked about it looked as us like were crazy. Perhaps "mattress factory" has some other tawdry meaning to some, but all I got was confused or repulsed looks, rather than helpful directions. Nevertheless, it's a fine museum and definitely worth a visit. When we were there, they had an exhibit of Cuban art that was very interesting. The follow pictures are from that:
In hindsight, I feel pretty uncouth and insensitive smiling in front of what is clearly a heavy-handed political message.

This is just the sort of seedy thing the bus drivers of Pittsburgh were subtly trying to warn us about.

This, in a nutshell, is Pittsburgh.

Overall, it was a wonderful trip to one of the true American cities. A city where a sandwich with cole slaw and french fries on it is consistently described as the only local cuisine. Where you can get updates on the Steelers game on a loud speaker in the airport bathroom that has the same urgency as actual flight updates. A city where it is possible to have endless baskets of bacon with your happy hour. Frankly, I wouldn't be upset to call such a place home. Well except for the football-crazed thing. Either way, it was wonderful to see my friend again and to meet some new ones. And both thanks and apologies to all the over-worked grad students who helped make my weekend great!

Also, apropos of nothing, it's really cold in Pittsburgh!


  1. Hi Susan! I so enjoy reading your blog. It is so funny and entertaining. You are such a wonderful and witty writer. I hope you are having a great holiday season!

  2. you've posted some pretty snazzy pictures!

  3. Sarah--thanks! I hope your holiday season is wonderful too! You should totally crash the company party on Thursday!

    ChiChi--Thanks! Obviously you're to thank for that. Unless you mean the last one, in which case that was all my own photography skillz.

  4. Love it! And don't worry. A glass of something and all the grad students know how to handle stuff. It was great to finally see you in what I'd call my American home. :)