On my first day exploring Pittsburgh, my friend asked me how long I’d be staying in the city. I replied a week, and later added, after seeing the number of parks under construction, that it might be two days too long. I was quickly proven wrong–this rising Rust Belt star has won over my heart.
Now that I’ve spent my full week in Pittsburgh, I can safely say that I’ll definitely be coming back. It’s a fantastic city, and even though Toronto still resonates with me, Pittsburgh holds its own. And, at the very least, it’s the far more affordable option.
Steel City surprised me a lot. Locals call it a small city, but with 89 distinct neighborhoods, it doesn’t feel small at all. Add to that the thriving arts scene, urban parks, growing food movement, and great public transit system, Pittsburgh becomes a high contender on my list for one of the most livable cities in the U.S.
The city’s rich diversity is united through Pittsburgh pride and manifests itself most obviously through sports. I’m not a sports fan myself, but it was really fun to see the whole city unite and move, almost en masse, behind their alliterative sports teams. And if you know me and how oblivious I am to sports, the fact that I can actually name their sports teams—The Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Panthers, and Pittsburgh Pirates (the Bucs)—says a lot about their visible sports pride.
Their public transportation system is also a great asset. Though it can get a bit pricey at a $2.50 fare for one zone ($3.50 for a transfer), buses are plentiful and on time. As a Baltimore native, I tend to think of bus arrival times as a general guideline, since they are often late and sometimes don’t even show up at all. This is not the case in Pittsburgh. I actually missed a few buses because I had arrived a minute or two after the estimated arrival time. Plus, everyone here rides the bus; riding the bus doesn’t carry the same lower-class stigma as it does in many other American cities. This is probably aided by the subscription to public transit by various Pitt universities; many university students ride public transit for free. I also think it’s interesting to note that though Pittsburgh is already known to not be a major tourist city—which is something I love about it—nothing is more telling than its lack of the public transit day pass.
I’ve made a lot of great memories—and learned a whole lot about food— in Pittsburgh, thanks to the people I’ve met along the way. As I write this, I’m on the Megabus making its way through the relentless rain to Cleveland, OH. I’m replaying the seven days back into my head one at a time and realizing that I could write continuously about the sights and experiences, but instead, I’ll condense it into a few highlights:
– The Downtown Pittsburgh Bridges & River Shores Walking Tour (a free hour-long guided tour arranged weekly by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation)
– The Mattress Factory, an experimental art gallery that I went to on a very empty day; the interactive exhibits made me feel like Alice in Wonderland
– Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, a really stunning display of exotic flora, Dale Chihuly’s glass art, and interactive, whimsical elements
– Going to an Industry Night, where the cooks from top restaurants get together for a communal meal, conversation, and good wine—it was an incredibly cool experience and I got to eat some lamb chili cheese fries, freshly cooked pierogies in creamy tomato sauce, and a few other delicious items.
– Eating at Cure, a restaurant that focuses on sourcing its food from local, urban farms and constantly innovating new dishes. The menu changes every day.
– Exploring the Nationality Rooms at the Cathedral of Learning
– Visiting The Strip District and all of its specialty shops, from spices to coffee, from pierogies to biscotti, from meat to donuts—Pittsburgh knows its food and does it well.
– Eating grapes foraged from an urban cemetery. They were sweet and delicious.
– Dumpster diving at 1AM and taking home a mountain of day-old bagels, baguettes, sliced bread, and more. I’m actually eating one of those bagels on the bus. Don’t worry though, all the bread was in plastic bags when we fished them out from the bin.