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Pittsburgh: The Pleasures of a Third Tier Town October 19, 2011

Posted by homolog88 in Travel Dispatches.
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Pittsburgh in oil

Who travels to Pittsburgh for tourism alone? Although there is plenty to do here, few people would purposely fly any great distance to visit the Andy Warhol Museum or ride the wonderfully restored Mt. Washington incline railways. Everyone knows of Pittsburgh. Who hasn’t heard of the Steelers? Andrew Carnegie?U.S.Steel? All of these people and institutions have left their stamp upon this small city, yet it remains just that . . . a small city.San Francisco  too is small city, though a Second Tier one. And Savannah,Georgiais even smaller. Yet Savannah is a tourist destination in a way that Pittsburgh is not.

Of course Pittsburgh is a regional hub, Pennsylvania’s second city and the largest city of the Appalachian Mountains. People come here for other reasons. I myself am here for a film festival (another LGBT one) and to visit my young cousin Jeremy, who is a senior at Carnegie Mellon University. However, I also have a bit of past with Pittsburgh. When I was a young man, working as a mid-level bureaucrat for Peace Corps/Washington, I spent my Christmases in  Pittsburgh, with the family of friends from Peace Corps days who had settled there. This was in the 1980s. And through five or six successive Decembers, I got to know this charming city somewhat well.

Pittsburgh across the Monangahela River

Pittsburgh deserves consideration as a travel destination. Its physical setting is quite beautiful, bordered by great rivers and spanned by picturesque bridges.

Reflected buildings in the Golden Triangle

 

 

 

 

 

 

The downtown area, known as the Golden Triangle, is cute and compact, a walkable mixture of 19th century and contemporary architecture. Major money from the steel industry heyday created buildings with magnificent interiors, and Pittsburgh, for whatever reason, not only survived the demise of its industrial base but successfully replaced it with a mix of service sector businesses (finance and health care).

What’s interesting about Pittsburghas a case study in tourism is that it boasts all of the generic attractions of a city of any importance. It possesses big cultural institutions (the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra), major sports teams (the Pirates), important museums (the Carnegie Museums), the above-mentioned downtown area, gorgeous parks (Schenley – really pretty now due to fall foliage). You can find the same in Cleveland, Providence, and Richmond—other cities that are not really tourist destinations in themselves. Ditto the neighborhoods, wide array of restaurants, and Famous Names. (Did you know that Stephen Foster was born and raised in Pittsburgh? I didn’t.)

The Cathedral of Learning from my hotel balcony

Yet Pittsburgh has its quirky sights, things that are unique to this endearing town that doesn’t puff itself up. The Universityof Pittsburgh’s kitschy Cathedral of Learning  houses 24 classrooms reflecting the culture and history of the various ethnic groups that make up the city’s population. The Mt.Washington incline railways are a wonderful time capsule into the 19th century as well as a magic carpet rise to spectacular views of the city and its rivers. And, for history buffs (I’m one), the Ft. Pitt Museum housed in a rebuilt rampart of the original structure, provides an entertaining and scholarly overview of how nakedly and shamefully the French, British, Americans, and Indians strove for power and dominion. (The 1763 Indian uprising, Pontiac’s War, was a revelation to me. Now, of course, the Ottowa Indian chief brings to mind only the brand name of a vintage automobile. Sic transit Gloria mundi.)

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