PITTSBURGH: Eye Candy

3 Aug

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We awoke early; it was our last day in Pittsburgh and we had so much to do!  Breakfast at The Priory is out of this world; laid out buffet style, grab a plate and dig in. This Sunday they were serving hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit platter, a selection of hard and soft cheeses, salami, mustards, a pound cake like sweet bread and an array of pastries that made my mouth water. It is an amazing variety of food accompanied by really good coffee. We filled our plates; juggling dishes, silverware and beverages, we managed to make our way out to the garden courtyard; this is the life! Then, with our appetites satisfied it was time to gather our belongings and hit the sight-seeing trail.

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Pittsburgh is made up of a succession of unique neighborhoods; as you drive around, the city never lets you forget it’s a blue-collar town. Built up by industry and manufacturing it is clear this is where working men lived, I love that about this place. Heading east and south from downtown you pass through The Strip, Bloomfield (their Little Italy), Shadyside (a little more trendy) and then our destination of Oakland.  The Oakland area is home to many cultural attractions; we were here to visit Phipps Conservatory. Open since 1893 this steel and glass Victorian greenhouse is an elegant sight. Inside concrete pathways lead you from room to room; Orchids, Ferns, desert plants and Victorian gardens will enchant you. The Summer Flower Show is titled Fountains of Youth; a collection of displays that incorporate water features with healing plants, aromatic herbs, spices, fruits and veggies. Hibiscus, Zinnia and Lantana dazzle us in oranges, pinks and yellows; fish swim in shallow ponds and tubes of bubbling water catch our attention. On the main floor they were demonstrating the process of extracting honey, fascinating! The Butterfly Forest is popular with both amateur and professional photographers; these flying wonders of color seem eager to pose. 

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Our next destination was the Cathedral of Learning, at 535 feet tall, this is the world’s second tallest tower of classrooms. Decked out in Indiana limestone, the lavish Gothic architecture structure is impressive. Considered the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus, ground was broken in 1926 and it was  finally dedicated in 1937. Put this on your list of places to visit! Inside we were taken aback by the massive Commons Room; this three-story Gothic masterpiece is used as a general study area. Seriously, I don’t know how anyone could take their eyes away from the view long enough to study. Inside the walls are Indiana limestone, floors are green Vermont Slate; the arches are stunning. Visitors and locals alike come to ramble through the building. Twenty-nine “Nationality Rooms” are located on the first and third floors; these are actually classrooms designed and decorated to represent the culture of different countries. You have to see them; representing countries like Italy, Poland, Ireland, China and France, no detail is left out. My favorite one  was the Austrian Room; Baroque in design,  the room features red tapestry walls, a parquet floor, ceiling murals and of course Lobmeyer crystal chandeliers, it is absolutely gorgeous. Some of the rooms are open most of the time, to see each and every one take the audio tour, along with your listening device you get a key that allows you entry to all the rooms.

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Just outside the cathedral in Schenley Park is the Heinz Chapel, dedicated in 1938 this structure is magnificent. Also made of Indiana limestone, the carvings are exceptional both inside and out. Lanterns, door fittings and railings are wrought iron; the wood is oak, they say each entrance door weighs 800 lbs! From the carvings to the windows the buildings theme is spiritual values in education; concepts Anna Margaretta Heinz believed in. Her son Henry John Heinz, founder of H J Heinz, arranged in his will for the building to be built in her honor. Take the time to check it out.

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We drove back downtown for lunch. We stopped in at Dibella’s Old Fashioned Submarines on Market Square and grabbed some food, then walked over to the plaza at PPG Place to eat. The fountain is the main draw of the plaza; jets of water shoot up from the surface in varying patterns and heights, then disappear back into the surface. On a hot day such as today, its popularity grows. Kids and grown-ups alike dart through 140 columns of water, the smaller ones shrieking in joy. The tiniest of visitors find it all very puzzling, just when they give up and think the water is gone for good it pulses up again; it makes for great entertainment. The plaza is located in the center of the 6 building PPG complex; the buildings are all of matching glass design and boast 231 glass spires. Often referred to as the “crown jewel” of the Pittsburgh skyline, we think it is cool modern architecture. 

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The hours were ticking by too quickly, but we still had time to visit to the Children’s Museum. Spread out over four floors, there is lots to do! The Wizard Of Oz exhibit is based on the classic movie; I think I had as much fun as the kids. Here you can climb the witches castle and retrieve her broom or visit the Gale farm. You see what it felt like in Dorothy’s bedroom when it was caught up in the tornado and then travel to Emerald City. The Attic features a large doll house, the girls love this one. Get your fortune told by Zelda the Fortune Teller machine or walk around at a 25 degree angle in the gravity room. Adults like to gather in the Garage, here you will find things that drive, fly and roll. Play Hide and Seek in 5 and 7 foot tall tires, build a custom racetrack for toy cars or launch parachutes off a vertical conveyor. Upstairs is home to a 53-foot water table, a very active area. The museum provides bright yellow slickers and water clogs to help keep the kids dry, I have my doubts about that…tikes dressed in yellow from head to toe splash around in the shallow pond, older kids work on creating fountains from pipes sprinklers and elbows, some of them are quite good. All in all the place is a bevy of activity and laughter.

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It was nearly 5pm, time to take the scenic route back west to the Motor City. We are still getting to know this complex city, and having a blast doing so. 

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