May 22, 2012

Visiting Pittsburgh

Two of my children went to college in West Virginia. While driving them to college we would go whizzing by Pittsburgh on Interstate 79 and comment, “We really should visit Pittsburgh. I hear they have done wonderful things.” But, there was never time. On a recent trip to Ohio John and I made a point to come home via Pittsburgh and were so glad we did. Pittsburgh is a wonderful destination.

I have always had a fondness for Historic Hotels of America. I have stayed a few including the Beekman in Rhinebeck and the Mohonk in New Paltz. Both are unique and historic in their own way. The Beekman has operated continuously since 1766 and is where political rivals Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton exchanged insults that led to their infamous duel and Hamilton’s death. The Mohonk has a prized location on the palisades above the Hudson River and has been owned and operated by the Smiley family since 1869.

In Pittsburgh we stayed at a stunning Historic Hotel of America, The Omni William Penn, considered Pittsburgh’s “Grande Dame” accommodation. Walking into the lobby graced with three immense sparkling chandeliers was like stepping into a more elegant and refined era. The hotel has retained it 1916 classic look but has recently completed a remodeling project while still maintaining the feel of the Old World-style of elegant hotels. Every seated president since Theodore Roosevelt has visited the hotel, including President Barak Obama.

While I could have spent all my time wallowing in the grandeur of the hotel it was necessary to explore the “new” Pittsburgh. It is truly amazing the renaissance that has turned Pittsburgh from a dingy steel town to a city known for its excellence in education and medicine. Luckily the double-decker tour bus stopped right outside the hotel. We should have taken it for two days as there was too much to see in one day. Considering the cost of parking and/or taxi fare the $25 tour price is a good deal. We got to see all the major sites of the city while learning about the history of Pittsburgh.

We could easily have spent the greater part of a day exploring the five floors of the Heinz History Center. It is Pennsylvania’s largest history museum and affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution. Included is a Sports Museum and temporary exhibit called “Stars & Stripes: An American Story.” The exhibit which closes on June 17 displays an amazing collection of American flags each with its own story to tell. I would have liked to have had more time in the History Center's newest long-term exhibition, “Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation,” celebrates the region's incredible impact on the world. Andrew Carnegie, Rosie the Riveter, and, of course, Mr. Rogers were all Pittsburghers. I was surprised to learn that the first field test of Jonas Salk’s vaccine to prevent polio was tried on elementary students in Pittsburgh in 1954.

There is something quite mesmerizing and thought provoking about dinosaurs. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has an extensive collection of dinosaurs along with a display of North American wildlife. And, the Carnegie is a great stop on the bus tour because it houses two museums in one – history and art. We only scratched the surface of things to see and do. We will just have to visit again.