Oakland: The Cathedral of Learning and The Carnegie Museum of Natural History

After spending an absolutely wonderful two days making our way from Toronto to Pittsburgh and then spending our time discovering the city piece by piece (read more here), it was time to head to Oakland and get ourselves a bit of an education. But not before I had a chance to say one final farewell to Pittsburgh in typical giraffe fashion; I decided to go for a run. Going for a run in a new city is my absolute most favourite way to get acquainted with the life of the city behind the landmarks. What people do early in the morning as they prepare for a full day’s work always says much more about a city than what you see during daylight hours. Thus, I headed out before my husband woke up and decided to take on Pittsburgh by foot. It sounds great, but as soon as I stepped foot outside the hotel, I realized I had no idea which way was best (and safest) to run. After surveying the area, I thought it might be best to stick to the bridges and so I headed once again in the direction of PNC Park towards the opposite side of the shore.

As I mounted the bridge and peered in the direction of the waterfront, I saw a mass of people joining together. After a moment of being very confused, I realized that a race was about to start! What luck! A race around the Pittsburgh waterfront! Well, there wasn’t much to do really, except join right in. 5km later, I was at PNC stadium and veering off to avoid being questioned about my non-existent race bib. What a thrill! The runners were really motivating and I got a neat insight into the demographics of active people in Pittsburgh! Men, women, young, old, black, white, everyone came out to have a good time and do something productive with their Sunday morning. The only difference was at the end line there was cotton candy and popcorn waiting instead of protein bars and bananas, but maybe healthier snacks were available inside the stadium – I’ll never know for sure!

The Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History

Once I’d returned from my little adventure, we drove the quick jaunt to Oakland and started our tour with a visit to The Carnegie Museum of Natural History. What was guarding the museum? Only my most favourite carnivore on the planet (used to be on the planet): a Brachiosaurus! Ever since The Land Before Time and then again in Jurassic Park, my love for these long-necked creatures has grown, maturing with ever hypothetical portrayal of a giant dinosaur and lover of all things veg. Perhaps it’s the “being really tall” thing connects us, but I have an unfounded affinity to these beautiful creatures. A warm welcome to a world of wonder!

Inside the museum, we were immediately directed into the Hall of Sculpture. Lucky for us, the Carnegie Museum of Art is attached the Museum of Natural History, giving visitors a glimpse into what is waiting once they finish their historical tour. The statues on display were mainly replicas of statues that now lay in museums like the Louvre. Pictured below is a beautiful copy of  the  Winged Victory of Samothrace, also referred to as the Nike of Samothrace. If you haven’t been to the Louvre, I’ve seen the original and this was just as breath-taking.

One of my favourite pieces on display was this statue featured below, which, as we learned from the sign, indicated that it was of Venetian original. While I thought it seemed as if the Venetian lions were being crushed by pillars, my husband believes it represents the Venetian Lions supporting the pillars the city is built upon. What do you think? Either way, the sad faces of the lions were so moving that it caught and held our attention.

After touring the relics of ancient Greece and some modern classics, we stepped even further back in time and took a stroll with the dinosaurs, also located on the first floor. I love dinosaurs (finally a beast bigger than I) and was thrilled to find a number of dinos on display, including this impressive triceratops, a stegosaurus, a T-Rex, a pterodactyl and so many more!

Next to the dinosaurs were their buddies from the ice-age. On this level we found mammoths, mastodons and this giant deer with which I was particularly impressed. I bet Bambi didn’t know that her forefathers had antlers this big!

The second floor of the Museum focused on African and North American wildlife. Here I mingled with my friends the giraffes and stood in wonder at the sheer of the Caribou and the Polar Bear. Remind me never to go wandering around the Arctic Circle alone (or with anyone I can’t beat in a footrace). Our final stop was on the third floor where we visited a few mummies in the Egyptian wing, crawled through an Igloo in the American Indian exhibit (this section was littered with relics from the Canadian territories) and squashed a few bugs. Okay, I didn’t squish them, but I really wanted to. Given the enormity of the Museum, we had to skip a few exhibits including precious gems etc (I’m more of an animal fan than a rock fan anyway) but would definitely recommend a visit to anyone interested in natural history.

The Cathedral of Learning and Heinz Chapel

After leaving the museum, we crossed the street and headed towards the Cathedral of Learning.

Visible from quite a distance, the Cathedral stands as part of the University of Pittsburgh campus at 535 feet tall, with 42 stories – the second-tallest education building in the world according to the website. Building on the Cathedral was started in 1926. Struggling to continue building during the depression, school children were encouraged to contribute a dime to “buy a brick” and see the Cathedral completed in 1937.

Fun fact: When John Gabbert Bowman, chancellor of Pittsburgh at the time, hired Charles Klauder of Philadelphia to design the Cathedral, he wanted a building that would be a “dramatic symbol of education” for the city; Klauder’s vision was to build a tower that resembled a modern skyscraper in Gothic style. Since many of the locals opposed to the idea, construction started at the top so that the project couldn’t be canceled! Below you can see how the Gothic style influenced much of Klauder’s design.

The interior of the Cathedral was majestic to say the least, but the highlight of the trip was definitely time spent touring the Nationality Rooms on level 3 of the Cathedral! Each Nationality Room is an active classroom that was designed to reflect the learning style of a particular culture. Below are a few of the Nationality Rooms we visited during our tour of the Cathedral:

The Armenian Room

The Indian Room

The Israeli Room

… and the Welsh Room. Did you know that Cymru means Wales… in Welsh?

Our final stop at the Cathedral was to head to the second top floor and take in the view from above. And it was quite the view…

Last but not least, we walked over to sneak a peak at Heinz Chapel. The Heinz Memorial Chapel was a gift from Henry John Heinz, the founder of the H.J. Heinz Company, who wanted to commemorate his mother by donating a building to the University. After Henry died in 1919, his children asked that the building also act as a memorial to their late father. Preparations for the chapel began in 1933 and building was finally completed in 1938.

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