When my husband told me that we were headed to Pittsburgh for our first wedding anniversary, I couldn’t help but scrunch my face, bite my lip and nod with feigned enthusiasm. Pittsburgh? What in the world is in Pittsburgh? As I turned away, I started regretting handing over the responsibility to plan a celebratory weekend away. I had visions of deep rooted forests, perhaps a quiet resort or bed and breakfast somewhere by a lake. Instead, we were car-bound and en route to Pittsburgh.
I kind of had this coming. I’m the annoying travel addict who can’t stop talking about wanting to discover new cities! After a fabulous weekend in Chicago where I was (surprisingly) blown away by the windy city, you’d think I would have been more open minded but nope; I had a picture in my head of what a one year anniversary was supposed to look like and it wasn’t Pittsburgh. Or, so I thought. Turns out, I thought wrong.
Day 1: Rockin’ out Gangnam Style and making a pit-stop at Presque Isle
Our trip to Pittsburgh started off well! We were armed with great snacks and a solid playlist including the international Korean sensation, Gangnam Style which was to become the theme song of our weekend away (see below):
Then, just as we were getting into our road rhythm, we approached the American border. We had an interesting experience that resulted in our being pulled over and held in Room #2 for about an hour and a half (full story here) before finally, we were back on the road. As we entered Eerie, PA my husband informed me that there would be an unexpected stop along the way! I love surprises and wasn’t disappointed at all as we pulled over to grab a hamburger at Sally’s Diner, a famous eatery that supposedly serves up some of the best ice cream in town.
I passed on the ice cream in favour of a larger helping, and just as I was about to take my first bite, my husband blurted out “Stop! You aren’t allowed to eat that yet.” Confused, but loving the anticipation, I scrunched up my napkin and waited patiently as we drove on. Two minutes later, what do I see? A sign welcoming us to Presque Isle State Park! And what is in Presque Isle State Park? Well, in addition to providing romantics with a lovely walk through the forests, there also happens to be…. a beach! So, after enjoying a mini-stroll and chopping away on our delicious burgers, we dipped our toes into the ice cold waters of Lake Eerie. It was freezing, but fabulous.
After soaking up the beach scene and finishing our mid-afternoon snack, I suddenly I saw my husband glance at his phone to check the time and before I knew it, we were back on the road! I was informed that we had somewhere to be by 7pm – yet another surprise! Yippee! So we turned the jets on and make headway for Pittsburgh. The drive from Eerie to Pittsburgh was entirely unexpected. Driving through hills upon rolling hills of forest and grassy area was unimaginably beautiful, but the biggest surprise was turning the corner and seeing what appeared to be the emerald city, a la Wizard of Oz. It was magical! This, I had not expected.
As we pulled into Pittsburgh, I noticed that the city skyline seriously resembled the set of The Dark Knight Rises. As it turns out, it more than resembles it; the final chapter of the Batman trilogy was actually filmed there! So, of course, my husband and I started searching for Batman locales, starting with the bridges and ending with a gargoyle that I’m sure was featured as the podium for Batman’s gaze over the city. We could be totally off the mark but this scavenger hunt definitely added a pretty hilarious dimension to the trip.
Our hotel, the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown, was located in the Central Business District, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. The location was perfect, and the hotel was lovely. We checked-in and then checked-out five minutes later, but only for the evening. I wondered where we were headed since my husband insisted we take the car when our hotel was in walking distance of eateries nearby. Then I remembered that we, in fact, had somewhere to be! Reservations for 7pm, but where? As our drive took a turn uphill, I began to clue in! We were heading to the tip of Mount Washington, a peak overlooking the entire city, to celebrate one year of marital bliss. Fabulous!
And it was. The restaurant was called Monterey Bay Fish Grotto and boasted not only a spectacular view (see below), but incredible food (including lemon and chocolate desserts reminiscent of our delicious wedding cake) and unparalleled service. The perfect place for a fitting celebration!
After taking a stroll along the mountain top, we made our way back into the city towards the hotel – we were zonked and after a fun filled journey to and dinner in Pittsburgh, a little R&R was long overdue.
Day #2: Exploring the city! Pittsburgh in a day
When we woke up Saturday morning, I realized just how incredible the view from our hotel was! We were literally overlooking PNC Park on one side while the entire city awaited exploration on the other. Now, neither myself or my husband are baseball fans, but for those of you who are, you know that taking in a baseball game is kind of a big deal in this city. PNC Park was built in 2001 and is the 5th home of the Pittsburgh Pirates since their inception in 1887. According the to Park website, PNC Park is the first ballpark with a two-deck design to be built in the United States since Milwaukee’s County Stadium was completed in 1953, giving every fan an ideal sight line to the pitch.
With our eyes set on the Andy Warhol museum, we made headway towards the park, stopping en route to pay tribute to some of baseball’s biggest stars.
In order to get to the park however, we had to cross one of Pittsburgh’s many bridges. Stretching as far as the eye can see, the bridges really serve to symbolize the important roles of both steel production and coal mining in establishing the city of Pittsburgh. As of 2006, the city boasted 446 bridges, a world record (Pittsburgh has 3 more bridges than Venice, the previous world record holder). It was in Pittsburgh that Andrew Carnegie, famous businessman and philanthropist, would found Carnegie Steel Company, and start his journey to becoming one of the wealthiest men in American history.
After crossing the bridge and snapping a few shots at PNC, we made our way towards the Andy Warhol Museum, also known as the warhol. The warhol consists of five levels of everything Warhol from paintings, videos, prints, pictures and sketches to shelves lined with covers of Warhol’s magazine Interview (see featured image above post) and a Great Dane named Cecil – stuffed, of course.
On the first floor, visitors will find a chronological biography on the life of Andy Warhol, a life which paints a vivid picture of a … complicated artist, to say the least. Not a huge Warhol fan myself, I found the museum… interesting? The exhibits convey explores the artists’ lifelong obsession with contemporary news media with an entire floor dedicated to playing the videos he shot while working in The Factory, his New York City studio. But let’s stick around Pittsburgh for a while shall we? After all, we’re just getting started!
After a visit to the warhol, we took an incredible tour around downtown Pittsburgh. Starting at the Strip, we enjoyed some delicious chicken tacos (street meat at it’s absolute best) and continued to roam the many bakeries and small shops that line the street. Both sides of the strip offer a little something for everyone – whether you’re looking to grab a coffee, park yourself down for a full meal or simply breathe in the aroma of freshly baked breads, pizzas or churros! There are also a number of gourmet cheese shops as well as butcheries and fish markets, in one of which we found these poor guys about to be snatched up as someones dinner!
I have to say, my first reaction whenever I see lobsters being kept like produce waiting to be cooked alive is to wonder how PETA hasn’t interjected on their behalf. Then I did my research and realized that they have, well, they’ve tried anyway. I, myself, am a wannabe vegetarian who eats like a Flexitarian and has no right to judge meat-eaters or lovers of all things seafood (which I hate). That being said, I do try to buy responsibly and simply can’t stomach the idea of cooking a screaming lobster as it tries to scrape it’s way out of the pot. If you’re a fellow lobster lover and are interested in PETA’s pro-lobster brigade, click here.
Alright, I’ll stop preaching, back to Pittsburgh! After the strip, we meandered up and down the main streets, following a historical and architectural tour that my husband had prepped before leaving. What a smart man I married!
From the Heinz Building pictured above (home to the Senator John Heinz Regional History Center which is ranked high on TripAdvisor’s list of things to do in Pittsburgh but which we decided to skip) to the Central Train Station at Grant and Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh is host to a great deal of jaw-dropping architecture including towering skyscrapers (see the U.S Steel Tower pictured below) and older municipal buildings and hotels like the Omni William Penn Hotel, that opened it’s doors in 1916.
The Renaissance Pittsburgh Hotel! Pittsburgh’s very own Arc du Triomphe (pictured below)
The Omni Willian Penn Hotel, built in 1916 (pictured below)
After a long day of touring the city, we had just decided to make our way back to the hotel when all of a sudden, we had the most memorable encounter with a very proud Pittsburgh…ian? Having grown up in the city and worked in a number of sky risers framing the skyline, this kindly gentleman recapped the best of the best that Pittsburgh has to offer, and then pointed us towards Market Square.
Conveniently located merely a block away from our hotel, we’d somehow bypassed this gem, located in the heart of the city. Market Square quickly became a favourite for both myself and my husband as we wandered into a beautiful square lined with restaurants and pubs that added a charm and quaintness to the hustle and bustle of the downtown core. Directly past Market Square, you’ll find PPG Place, home to buildings below which I can only describe (to my husband’s chagrin) as mirroring the parliament buildings in London, albeit perhaps on a smaller scale. Please, don’t tell the queen.
Sampling the nightlife…
After taking countless pictures of ourselves in the never-ending reflection of the buildings surrounding PPG Place, we opted to enjoy dinner on South Side at a little place called 17 Street Cafe.
17 Street Cafe had started out as a butcher shop in the 1800s when the South Side was home to many immigrants looking for work in the steel mills. The butcher shop later became Bendik’s Tavern and then finally in the 70’s, turned into 17 Street Cafe. The food was pretty good but the ambiance was terrific. After a lovely meal at a very reasonable price, we decided to take a stroll down the road where hundreds of bars and pubs were just waiting to be explored! We weren’t convinced that a night cap was on the agenda, until, that is, we hit the Tiki Lounge.
The Tiki Lounge, beckoning us with it’s kitschy palm trees and promises of paradise within, was awesome. After the bouncer eloquently disclosed just how obviously in love we were (which is always nice to hear one year after saying “I do”), we entered a whole new world, filled with little Tiki men, delicious cocktails and an empty dance floor waiting to be filled. And fill it we did! Dancing the night away at what was possibly the most random pit-stop we’ve ever taken turned into the perfect way end to a perfect day in Pittsburgh.
Stay tuned for Day #3 in Pittsburgh including pictures from the Cathedral of Learning and the Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History!
For more information about Pittsburgh, visit the Visit Pittsburgh website!