A Travellerspoint blog

June 2011

Pittsburgh

PENNSYLVANIA - PART III

sunny 80 °F

Pittsburgh is the town I hate to love. Pittsburgh is one of the main rival towns of my beloved Cincinnati, and Pittsburghers can often be unbearable (they tend to be loud, boisterous, and not overly friendly to non-Pittsburghers). But alas, I can't help but looking forward to every trip to Pittsburgh. I can't make it back to Cincinnati as often as I would like, and Pittsburgh is similar in many ways. The downtown is bordered by a wide river (actually two of them in Pittsburgh's case), both cities' roots are tied to blue-collar labor, and both cities have awesome food!

Jason, Megan, and I started off the day by going to the Heinz History Center, the history museum for Pittsburgh and Western PA. The History Center is an old warehouse in downtown Pittsburgh that once stored ice. I braced myself for the onslaught of Pittsburgh Pride I was about to endure.

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Unsurprisingly, the first thing you see upon entering the Heinz History Center, is a tribute to Heinz itself!

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Heinz actually has a half floor dedicated to themselves on an upper floor, but before heading there, we walked through the Pittsburgh Sports Hall of Fame. Here is Megan next to a Steeler (that looks like he is taking a peak down her dress).

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Pittsburgh is the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the Sports Hall of Fame went well beyond the professional level. Of course plenty of Steelers and Penguins memorabilia was present (not too much from the Pirates), but a large portion of the museum was dedicated to local high school sports. They also had a section dedicated to improving your own physical fitness (with a display of what 5 lbs of fat looked like, which was disgusting) and the ability to create your own medals for personal achievements.

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We continued through the museum, making our way to the most interesting section, the history of Pittsburgh as a city. The exhibit started describing Pittsburgh as one of the original frontier towns, full of wildlife. Downtown Pittsburgh is surrounded by tall, steep hills and sits on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. The two rivers flanking the city form the Ohio River. Megan posed next to one of the original residents of Pittsburgh.

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Pittsburgh's manufacturing rose to produce 1/4 of the nation's glass and over half of the nation's steel, thus earning the city the nickname "The Steel City". Unfortunately, with the increase in manufacturing came the increase in pollution. At one point, the smog was so thick in Pittsburgh that the city lights had to be lit 24 hours a day.

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Pittsburgh grew in size partly due to the large number of immigrants that moved into area. These immigrants helped form a distinct accent, "Pittsburghese". Here is a sample of Pittsburghese:

Listen, yinz, ta this story. Last Mundy, when I got home from dahntahn Picksburg, I redded up the hahse, worshed the clothes and did the arning, n’at. Then I decided ta take a break coz I was gettin’ rilly hungry. I looked ina fridge, but it needed stocked. Alls I had was butterbread and leftover city chicken. No jumbo, no chipped ham, no kolbassi.

Pittsburghers are proud of the accent, and every conversation has plenty instances of "yinz" and "jagoff" mixed in. The museum had an entire section dedicated to helping you speak Pittsburghese (notice the caption at the bottom of the display says "Are you a true Pittsburgher?").

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Before leaving the museum, I stopped by to say hi to my friendly neighbor.

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We left the museum and wandering around downtown. The compact downtown area is full of giant skyscrapers as the hills and rivers forced the city to build upwards. Jason took us down to the coolest looking buildings in Pittsburgh, the PPG complex. Here all the buildings are covered in reflective PPG glass, and all the buildings have spires at the top.

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We left downtown and crossed the river into the South Side, a neighborhood on the south side (obvious, I know) of Pittsburgh. The South Side is sandwiched between one of the steep hills and the Monongahela River. Looking up from the river, getting to the top of the hill is daunting. Several tunnels allow motorists to drive through the small mountain instead of attempting to go over. However, many residents live at the top of these hills, forcing them to make the long climb. I didn't envy the steel workers of yesteryear who had to climb the hill on foot. Luckily, incline lifts are available to ferry people up and down. The lifts are not used by the city workers as much any more, but rather by those out for entertainment purposes.

We paid our fee and boarded the incline near the river's edge. In a moment, we started rising quickly above the city skyline. Look at how steep the grade is!

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At the top, we were presented with one of the best views of Pittsburgh. It was a beautiful day that allowed clear views of the Pittsburgh Steelers Stadium, the Pirates Stadium, and views of the downtown skyline.

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We walked over to a bar with a great overlook and enjoyed the nice weather. After a couple drinks, we took the incline back down.

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From here Jason, Megan, and I walked further into the South Side. Jason showed Megan his 5 story mansion that was originally built during the civil war (Megan said it reminded her of Ron Weasley's house in Harry Potter). Finally, Jason and I got to show Megan my favorite part of Pittsburgh, Carson Street.

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Carson Street has it all—blue collar bars, upscale clubs, piano bars, tattoo parlors, German beer houses, concert halls, restaurants, and dives. I like the authentic feel of the most of the area. The row houses and bars built over 50 years ago are a stark contrast from the strip malls and new developments seen in most other areas. The South Side has character. It also has some of the best food in the entire country. Mike & Tony's Gyros (pronounced ji-rows in Pittsburgh), the giant sandwiches at Fat Head's, and the restaurant formerly know as Tom's Diner are hard to beat. We only had time for one meal, so we went to Primanti Brothers.

Primanti Brothers makes awesome sandwiches. They use locally baked bread, fill it with your choice of deli meat, and stuff the sandwich with fries and coleslaw. The story goes that the sandwiches are made this way so the blue-collar guys could eat their entire meal with one hand. Regardless of the reason, they are delicious.

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After dinner, we make our way out of downtown. Our trip through Pennsylvania is over, but I'll be back soon enough. I'll see you, Pittsburgh, next St. Patrick's Day!

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Posted by Mike.Flynn 11:45 Archived in USA Tagged museum local_food Comments (0)

The Amish & The Snack Capital of the World

PENNSYLVANIA - PART II

My friend, Nick Pironio, oft spoke of a marvelous land filled with as many pretzels as one could eat and where beer had only one name—lager. This marvelous land was Hanover, PA, and the only beer on tap was Yuengling. Unfortunately my travels wouldn't take me far enough north to go to the Yuengling brewery, but I would be able to make a few stops in the heart of the The Snack Capital of the World.

Heading west from Philadelphia on the shoddy (yet expensive because of tolls) Pennsylvania Turnpike, the air turned a little sweeter. This area has an abundance of companies making candies, baking pretzels, and salting chips. Utz, Snyder's of Hanover, and Wise are just some of the big names that can be found in the area, but there are scores of mom and pop chip and chocolate companies around each corner as well. Our first stop was the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Company.

The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Company is located in Lititz, a town small town in the Pennsylvania Dutch country. We chose the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Company because Utz and Synder's of Hanover tours didn't allow pictures or were not available Friday afternoon (not to mention that Sturgis pretzels are delicious!). Megan was also super-excited about the tour because they let you twist your own soft pretzel!

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We just about passed the bakery (you can't miss the giant pretzel out front) and went inside to inquire about the tour. Nobody was out on the streets, and it didn't look like anyone was inside the bakery. I got the feeling that tour was not taken very frequently, and that we had wasted time driving through Lititz. We found a lady serving pretzels from behind a counter and inquired about the tour. To my surprise she said the 2pm tour was full and we would have to wait until 2:30. Not only were the tours actually running, they were filling up with people! We wandered around the shop and lobby looking at old advertisements, newspaper articles, and pretzel making equipment to kill time until our tour started.

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Right before 2:30, a heard a herd of shuffling feet as they piled back in the bakery lobby. Our tour guide gathered those of us waiting for the next tour (another 15 people had joined us) and took us back into the bakery. After explaining a little about the history of the Sturgis family and how it spawned multiple pretzel companies (reminded me of how the Jim Beam family spawned multiple whiskey distilleries when we did the The Bourbon Trail), our guide started instructing us on how to fold the perfect pretzel.

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Our guide mixed in some pretzel history (stories about German monks and children's bedtime stories), some pretzel traditions (how "tying the knot" now refers to getting married), and some pretzel jokes (check out his shirt in the picture below, you can get a feel for his sense of humor wearing the "Old & Salty" shirt). Megan bragged about her pretzel being the best in the entire group, but we all got certificates indicating we passed pretzel twisting school.

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Next we walked over to the giant brick ovens that were used to bake the pretzels. The guide informed us that soft pretzels begin to go stale 30 minutes after they come out of the oven, so to truly appreciate one you need to eat it still warm (makes you think twice about the soft pretzels at sporting events that sit on the rack for hours at a time). Hard pretzels were made by baking them a second time by storing them on the second story to reuse the heat from the ovens located below. Based on the temperature and humidity outside, it could take anywhere from 1 day to a week for the hard pretzels to finish baking.

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Just as the guide was wrapping up the tour, our soft pretzels came out of the oven. I have NEVER had a pretzel this good. My mouth is watering just remembering how it tasted.

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I sampled a variety of the hard pretzels, including some of the "experimental" flavors (like garlic pretzels and hot cheddar pretzels, mmmmm). I could have stayed there for a week, especially if a beer had been available. Megan was eventually able to drag me back to the car so we could continue the trip.

As a mentioned above, we were not only driving through the Snack Capital of the World, but also through the Pennsylvania Dutch country, home to the Amish. Since we had left the turnpike and were driving on smaller roads, we frequently passed by the Amish riding in their buggies. Most of us are familiar with the Amish as the people who have decided to give up worldliness (electricity, tv, computers, cars) in order to strengthen their relationship to God. I was somewhat surprised at how frequently we saw them riding on the streets and working in the fields.

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The countryside was beautiful as we made our way further west. Rolling fields, silos, and barns stretched out in front of us. Philadelphia seemed a million miles away in this rural countryside.

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Our travel through Snack Central was not finished just yet. Having got a taste of salt, it was time to even it out with a taste of sweet. And what place is sweeter than Hershey, Pennsylvania?

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In Hershey, everything related back to the chocolate company. The street lights were Hershey kisses. The sign on every barn and silo was branded Hershey. Every street sign pointed towards the Hershey Theme Park.

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When I was a senior in high school, we visited Hershey on the way up to a Young Life Camp in New York. I remember having a good time at the amusement park, and remembered everything smelling like chocolate. Megan and I didn't have time to ride the rides, so we opted to take a tour of the chocolate factory instead.

Upon entering the Chocolate World, my excitement quickly drained. This place was way over-commercialized. You could make your own candy bar in the Chocolate Lab, you could ride a trolly through the chocolate factory, and you could participate in the 4-D theater—all for $25 a pop. The majority of the floor space in Chocolate World was dedicated to buying CostCo size boxes of chocolate (and even a 25 lb bar of chocolate), but the prices were higher than at the grocery store back home. I was briefly in my own personal heaven in the Reese's corner, but there were no free samples.

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They did have a free factory tour ride, which was supposed to simulate how chocolate was made. It matched the rest of Chocolate World in its commercial-ness, complete with singing cows and a picture your could buy of yourself on the ride upon completion. There wasn't anything authentic about Hershey, and I was about 20 years too old to appreciate anything in Chocolate World.

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Megan and I grabbed a handful of free white-chocolate kisses and got back in the car. We still had to drive halfway across Pennsylvania to get to our next destination, Latrobe (and then on to Pittsburgh)!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:26 Archived in USA Tagged museum tour local_food Comments (0)

Philadelphia

STATE 18 - PENNSYLVANIA

sunny 78 °F

Only 1 of the original 13 colonies did not touch the Atlantic Ocean, but it was also the center of the emerging nation politically and geographically. It is the birthplace of cheesesteaks and soft pretzels. Somehow, this state got the entire nation to watch a rodent predict a late winter or early spring. Megan and I are headed to Pennsylvania!

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Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania, and arguably the best (just kidding Pittsburghers). Philadelphia does have a pretty cool view when driving into the city from the south. The downtown skyline is visible while the Phillies and Eagles stadiums fill the foreground (it was especially cool at night).

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One thing immediately jumps to mind when I think of Philadelphia. You might be thinking obnoxious sports fans, cheesesteaks, or the Liberty Bell, but I can't help but remember the greatest underdog story of all time—Rocky. Our first stop is the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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We could see the museum from the hotel room (at the end of the road heading in the 2 o'clock direction) so it wasn't a far walk. Flags from every country lined the side of the road (I'm not sure why). There was a fountain in front of the museum with plenty of statues, Megan couldn't resist posing.

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It was about 6:00 in the morning, and the only people around were either homeless or people working out on the steps. Some were doing yoga and stretching exercises, while others ran up and down the steps. Getting into the Rocky spirit, Megan challenged me to a race up the stairs.

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Upon reaching the top, Megan and I danced around, did a little shadow boxing, and high-fived one another. However one thing was missing, there was no statue of Rocky at the top! Try to differentiate between Rocky, Megan, and me in the following pictures:

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From the vantage point on top of the steps, we spotted the new location of the Rocky statue. After walking back down the steps and over to the statue, Megan dared me to shout "Adrian" while posing for a picture. What you can't tell from the video is that there is a stoplight 15 feet from the statue where 20 cars had stopped on their morning office commute. Needless to say, they all turned to stare at me.

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After getting our Rocky fix, Megan and I crossed through downtown to reach our next Philadelphia destination, Independence National Park. Philadelphia played a huge role in the forming of the United States. Its central location among the first 13 colonies made it a convenient place for the founding fathers to meet. Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed in Philadelphia. Philadelphia initially served as the nation's capital, and several presidents had homes in the city. Independence National Park is a preserved area in downtown Philadelphia that contains Independence Hall (the building where the documents were signed and original home of the Liberty Bell), President Washington's house, the First Treasury of the US, a number of era-representative buildings, and the town bar.

Our first stop was the Visitor Center so we could empty our bladders and get a ticket to enter Liberty Hall (you have to be escorted through Liberty Hall at a specified time). The Visitor Center had people dressed up in late 18th century attire, including slaves. People played instruments from the time, and a couple demonstrated common crafts like stitching (it was a little reminiscent of when we were at Colonial Williamsburg). It was a little weird to see US Park Rangers walking around with their wide brim hats, but I guess they wear the same outfit whether they are in downtown Philadelphia or at the Grand Canyon. There were some hints of modern day Philly too, like the Philadelphia Phanatic!

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We had about 2 hours before our scheduled tour of Liberty Hall, so we decided to walk around the park. On the way to see the Liberty Bell, we passed by George Washington's house.

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Well, we passed what was left of George Washington's house. You could see the foundation 15 feet below ground behind a plexiglass wall. The space on top of the foundation was dedicated to a display about George Washington's slaves. It was an interesting display because it didn't mention anything about George Washington specifically, just whatever information they had about the slaves that Washington owned. It seemed like the display was better suited for a Civil War era park instead of a Colonial era park. However, it wouldn't be the last time slavery was discussed during our time at Independence National Park.

The Liberty Bell was located right next to the foundation of Washington's house. Just about every kid knows the story about how the Liberty Bell was the grandest bell in the world and how it cracked when it was rung to announce the signing of the Declaration of Independence (although none of that is 100% true). Regardless of the true story of the bell, I was intrigued to see it. Unfortunately, so was just about every other person. People were waiting to see the Liberty Bell in a non-moving line that stretched around the side of the building (surprisingly, foreigners made up 75% of the people in line).

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Seeing bell wasn't important enough to wait an hour in line, so Megan and I continued walking towards Independence Hall. Upon reaching the end of the Liberty Bell building, I saw that waiting in line to see the Liberty Bell was a complete waste of time. The entire end of the building containing the bell was made of glass! Anyone who wanted to see the bell could easily do so without waiting a minute in line. I guess the only benefit of going in the building is to get a little closer or get a better picture with the bell (tip to anyone who wants to do this, they have a perfect replica of the bell in the Constitution Center, and no one will even know that it isn't the real Liberty Bell). Megan and I listened to a short story about the bell, got a picture, and moved on.

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Since we still had about 90 minutes until our tour started, Megan convinced me to walk through the rest of the park to see the Rose Garden. The crowd disappeared as soon as we passed Independence Hall. It seemed that most people stayed in the portion of the park between the Constitution Center, Visitor Center, Liberty Bell, and Independence Hall. I tried to follow the map to the Rose Garden, but there were no signs on the cobblestone streets. After wandering through several different gardens, we finally reached the Rose Garden. There was only one bush in the entire garden with roses, and Megan was not impressed.

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We walked to the end of the park, passing by the First Bank of the US, the first US Treasury, several statues, and a variety of historical buildings. The building we really wanted to see was the watering hole of the founding fathers, the City Tavern.

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The City Tavern was closed when we walked by, but it does open for lunch and dinner every day. It would have been cool to get a beer at the same place George Washington once did, but not even the founding fathers grabbed a drink at 9am in the morning.

We headed back to Independence Hall to get ready for our tour. Unfortunately Independence Hall was getting renovated, so the exterior view of the building was not quite authentic.

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The inside however, was kept as authentic as possible. There are two main rooms, one side is a court room and the other is the gathering room where the delegates met. Each room only had furniture from the late 18th century, some of it being the actual pieces that were used by the delegates (such as George Washington's chair and Thomas Jefferson's walking stick).

The first room we entered was the courtroom. The guide told a story about how the seal of England used to be on the wall, but once the Declaration of Independence was announced, it was ripped from the wall and burned in the street. You can also see the cage that the accused man used to stand inside while making his case. Thank goodness the court system has evolved, no one would ever appear to be innocent when pleading their case from within a cage!

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The next room, the Assembly Room, is where all the real action happened. We got a good dose of history on how the delegates were gathered here to debate the Declaration and later the Constitution. The guide went into a long story about how North and South Carolina initially refused to sign the Constitution because it would have ended slavery. I was shocked, I had never imagined slavery was a dividing issue for our country from day 1. Eventually the references to slavery were removed from the Constitution, and it was signed by everyone. The guide pointed out where each delegate sat, and described how the windows were screwed shut to prevent the listening ears of the press from reporting the proceedings until they were finished. At the front of the room sat the chair with the carving of a sun where George Washington presided over the conference, in which Ben Franklin commented "I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I... know that it is a rising...sun."

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After the tour completed, Megan and I made our way back to the car. It was nearly lunch time, and I was starved. I was told there are two options for lunch, Geno's or Pat's, the two most popular cheesesteak places in Philly. We drove out of downtown and decided on Geno's based on a local's recommendation. I ordered an "American With", which means an American-cheese based cheesesteak with peppers and onions. Listening to the next 50 people that ordered, I realized that the most common order was the "Whiz With", a cheesesteak that uses cheez-whiz (which ironically isn't real cheese).

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Our day through Philly was over, but our trek through Pennsylvania was just beginning.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 02:45 Archived in USA Tagged museum historical tour local_food world_heritage_site Comments (1)

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