Monday, January 19, 2015

The Road Trip, Part 1: The first couple days

*Just a quick note - as the formatting on this blog keeps some of the photographs pretty small. You can click on any of the pictures to enter a slide show, which will allow you to see larger format photographs*

We left Albany on a Wednesday in late August. Our first destination was Pittsburgh, PA. 460 miles - 7 hours 16 minutes.  We had been scrambling for days to get all of our affairs in order and we were decidedly anxious. On our way out of town we cashed in our first Groupon - for groceries at the Honest Weight Co-Op. We stocked up on some non-perishable food and spent the remainder on some sandwiches which we ate in the parking lot. 

It was pushing 90 and becoming increasingly humid. The drive ahead wound up being the most unpleasant of the trip due to our broken air conditioner. J quickly fashioned herself a mister and spent the majority of the drive spritzing herself to stay cool. Not knowing how to pass the time, we wound up listening to audiobook for Mary Roach's, Stiff. For whatever reason - neither of us could get into the book and it just added to our misery. 

It was right around dinner time when we got into Pittsburgh. It was our first time there - and we both were taken by its rugged appeal. We came in on 376, driving along the Monongahela River to the Fort Pitt Bridge, where we were admired the city's beautiful skyline, as well as the houses and buildings scattered throughout the surrounding hills. Suddenly the comparison to San Francisco's terrain was making sense to me. We crossed the river and headed to Mt Lebanon, where we were staying for the evening.

Our hosts, Jeff & Andrea - two of the most fun and generous people we have the pleasure to know - are the parents of a dear friend of mine who I met while going to school in Chicago. Julia is currently the Executive Pastry Chef at the Boarding House. We quickly settled in and refreshed ourselves before heading out for a late reservation at Il Pizziolo. We had pizzas and under the cover of lemon trees on their beautiful patio, and discussed our plans for the following day. Jeff & Andrea were preparing for a road trip of their own, in France, which they were leaving for in two our time was limited. Jeff decided he would spend the next day showing us around town. We eventually made our way back to the house and quickly fell asleep.

Our first stop of the day, at my request - was to see Canton Avenue, the steepest in the United States (and possibly the world - there seems to be some dispute between it and Baldwin Street in New Zealand). I wont embarrass myself by posting the photograph I took, so I suggest you just check this out to see it . Theres not much to say other than it is a very steep street. 

Our next stop was to see a sculpture of Mister Rogers along the North Shore, just south of Heinz Field. While this was pleasant, with the entire thing overlooking the cities skyline and Point State Park, the eleven foot bronze sculpture was....kind of creepy:


From here we spent some time exploring, making quick stops at the Andy Warhol Museum and the Heinz Center. Throughout the trip if we weren't totally sold on seeing a museum or didn't have time, we would check out the gift shop to get a 'cliffs notes' version of things. This was the case here

Checking out the gift shop at the Heinz Center

Around lunch time we made our way through PPG Plaza - a complex of six buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, gazing at the fascinating architecture and use of highly reflective glass.

Installation at PPG Plaza
After seeing PPG Plaza, we walked over to Market Square and browsed through the mid week farmers market. The produce was largely the same as what was available in Upstate New York, which was no surprise. We walked around a bit more and decided to get some lunch at Sienna Sulla Piazza where we sat on the sidewalk so we could watch the city happen. This part of Pittsburgh seemed pleasantly calm. In fact, we were surprised how 'not busy' the entire city seemed. 

Eggplants at the Market Square Farmers Market

After lunch we walked around a bit and made our way to the Monongahela Incline - and took the tram up to the top of Mount Washington for the famous panoramic look at the city skyline. 
Taking the tram

After taking in the view we walked around Mt Washington for a few minutes. It reminded us, strangely enough, of Florida. Maybe it was the weather, or the excessive amount of ice cream shops? We spent the next few hours driving around, taking in the sights. We spent a bit of time in The Strip - where we picked up some wonderful cheese at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company . We decided that we would eat it picnic style at the first green space we found...which happened to be Allegheny Cemetery. The cemetery was surprisingly pleasant. Very still and quiet. We saw an unbelievable amount of wildlife, especially deer who were grazing on apples that had fallen from trees around the property. 

Cheese in the cemetery

After our picnic we decided to make our way back to Mt Lebanon, which took us a ridiculous amount of time because of several accidents in addition to unusually heavy traffic due to some event at Heinz Field. When we got back we relaxed a bit, having some drinks on the back porch, just enjoying the last bits of light for the day. We decided to check out Jeff & Andreas 'go-to' sushi spot - Little Tokyo, which we absolutely loved. It wasn't life changing sushi, but just a good, honest, eat-here-every-week kind of place. I don't think we found sushi we enjoyed better on the entire trip. Our conversation geared mostly towards our plans for the remainder of our trip as well as their upcoming trip to France. It was a great end to a very nice day. 

Jeff & Andrea insisted that we take whatever food we wanted from their fridge, as it would spoil while they were away, and we could save some money on groceries. We were ecstatic, as this was the perfect gift for two people trying to travel cheap. We made breakfast, eggs with some rainbow chard Jeff's father had grown. We then packed up and made our way out. Our next destination; Indianapolis, Indiana by way of some Big Cats. And a drive through Ohio

Ohio, What happens here stays here. But nothing ever really happens here.

Before we left we did quite a bit of research on each destination - so we would have some idea of what to do. Most of the things are geared towards being thrifty - and I think I have decided to include the information we came up with for each city with each corresponding post I write. Some are light, like Pittsburgh, because we had people to show us around - or because we didn't plan on staying for very long. Either way, hopefully someone can find use of this information. Please keep in mind that everything was compiled in the summer of 2014.

Pittsburgh, PA

  • REGIONAL SPECIALTY: Primanti Brothers – classic ‘Pittsburgh’ sandwich
    with French fries, slaw, cheese, tomato on top
Free to do:

  • Canton Ave – Steepest street in US. Close to Mt Lebanon
  • View from Mt. Washington – 'top 10 views in US'
  • The Strip – shopping/cultural district/open air market/good for foodies
  • Society of Contemporary Craft – Mon-Sat 10-5, current exhibition is
    contemporary works in ceramics. In the Strip. 
  • Pittsburgh Glass Center – Mon-Thu 10-7 – museum, studio, school. In
    transitional neighborhood. 
  • The Frick Museum – Tue-Sun 10-5, art museum, car and carriage museum,
    and grounds
  • Frick Park – Largest Park in Pittsburgh, walking & hiking, Reynolds St
    entrance is opposite Frick Museum.

  • Carnegie Museum of Natural History & Museum of Art.  $11.95/student. Admission covers both museums.
  • National Aviary –  $14.  


  1. I'm looking forward to the rest of the trip, what a great opportunity you were able to take advantage of.

  2. Dominic - it was quite an experience. Im excited to be able to talk about it on here