It’s our last night in Pennsylvania, up on top of a “mountain” at Mountain Top Campground (click here to read our review), 25 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. Up until a hour ago, we’ve had great views of the lush green hillsides, but the heavy rains of a thunderstorm have erased our view for the time being.
We came here to see Pittsburgh. Why, you ask? Good question!
During the past 6 months, I’ve heard/read several reports of Pittsburgh’s beauty. It was so surprising that I picked up the AAA Tour Book… and they raved about Pittsburgh, too. Okay then!
On the map, downtown Pittsburgh appeared to be fairly small and walkable, on a peninsula where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers come together to form the Ohio. This area is called the “Golden Triangle”, with the very tip of the peninsula set aside as Point State Park, site of an historic fort, a lovely fountain, and riverside walkways. Our agenda for Friday? Drive into the Golden Triangle, visit a farmer’s market (downtown), walk to Point State Park and along the riverfront walkways.
Our reality? Get lost, cross all three rivers more than once, get hopelessly snarled in downtown road construction. View the tiny (4 booths) farmer’s market as we rolled past, looking for parking – and decide to skip it. Dodge the pedestrians who pay ABSOLUTELY NO attention to signals.
We eventually turned into a parking garage that seemed to be near the state park (our GPS had lost the signal in the canyons of downtown several blocks earlier), oriented ourselves, and headed to the park. Undergoing renovation, it is the only place we have seen in all of Pennsylvania where the grass was dry and brown, the earth cracked. The fountain was turned off, and the riverbank walkways were fenced off from the public. Grim!
By then, we were hungry and discouraged. We had seen a small outdoor kiosk/cafe in a shaded spot in a pretty plaza, so returned there to get a sandwich. They were disorganized and out of several menu items, but at last we had our food and cold drinks (not alcoholic, unfortunately!), found a bench and dug in. Halfway through our meal, the door of a nearby high-rise office building opened – smoke break!
Two smokers settled on a bench beside ours, two more on the bench across from us (6 feet away) and lit up their smokes. We ate faster. Splat! One of the smokers across from us hocked a loogie right out on the sidewalk – well, maybe he just spit, but it was totally gross, whatever it was. Another drag on his smoke, another splat on the sidewalk. I think my eyes were bugging out of my head.
Back at home, the few rigs in the park all were running their air conditioners trying to stay cool in the 85+ degree sunshine – while the park’s electric grid dropped to an abysimal 102 volts, enough to damage appliances. We shut down our A/C’s, turned on the fans, and wondered what next.
New plan: search out the trailhead of a nearby hike/bike trail I had noticed a day earlier. Before long, we were back in our element. Another of Pennsylvania’s rails-to-trails projects, the Barton-Freeport trail follows an unused railroad right of way along a small river through leafy green tunnels of trees – cool and quiet, the perfect antidote to our visit downtown. By the time we returned home at 7 pm, we could eke out enough voltage to run one A/C, sufficient to cool us down after sunset.
Though we had planned two days for sightseeing in Pittsburgh, Day One cooled our interest. Instead, we revisited Freeport and our leafy green trail, then found a tiny hoagie shop and ordered two sandwiches for lunch. Riverside Park, along the Allegheny River in the cool shade of giant trees, had picnic tables and a view. We ate, loitered, and finally returned home, awaiting the arrival of the cooling thunderstorm.
So, Pittsburgh is still a mystery to us. Yes, it is in a beautiful setting – but those hills and rivers make it mighty difficult for visitors to navigate easily. Yes, downtown appears to have some great amenities – inaccessible to visitors at this particular time. It appeared to us to be a city much better explored in the company of knowledgeable residents, and I am sure a tour would have greatly increased our appreciation… but we didn’t have the stamina for a return visit!
Tomorrow we are heading over to the outskirts of Cleveland to visit THEIR lakefront state park and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Here’s hoping for a better urban experience!