If you read our blog and/or know me well you may already realize that with my points and miles hobby, it’s not all too uncommon for us to have “expiring award nights” – that is, hotel award nights we’ve been given for a credit card sign-up bonus or spend, that we haven’t gotten around to using for the past year (or sometimes two). Last summer we found ourselves in that situation for some Fairmont Hotel award nights we had, and we were trying to figure out where we could use them without too much trouble. I looked at the map of Fairmont Hotels, and one that’s local to home stood out: Pittsburgh!
All of these years, all of these travels, all of these countries; and we’d never been to Pittsburgh together. It was time. We booked the hotel and then timidly contacted a couple we had met five years before in a hot tub in Hawaii. Gregory and Nancy had driven from their residence in Pittsburgh to Philadelphia once since then, for Elliott’s birthday party, but it had ended with an emergency room visit and we weren’t sure if they were too keen on seeing us again. What a fabulous surprise, then, when they appeared delighted at the idea of us visiting their town, offered us a place to stay, and insisted on being our personal tour guides.
Gregory grew up in Pittsburgh and was proud of his hometown. Elliott had never been, and I didn’t remember being impressed as a kid, but Pittsburgh apparently grew up and matured with us! Even from our hotel room, we could see a nice-looking, clean city.
On our first evening in town, Gregory and Nancy showed us some local outdoor sights. There’s a really nice walkway that goes right under some buildings downtown, and at least one of the many bridges lights up at night. We found a statue with some really big eyeballs in front of it to see if we could freak out Elliott.
We also went to Point State Park and got a comprehensive history lesson on it and its role in forming Pittsburgh. After a 12-year refurbishment period and $40 million, Point State Park reopened in 2013. Point State Park is a Pittsburgh landmark like the arch for St. Louis and the Golden Gate Bridge for San Francisco. It is located at the site where three rivers meet; or more accurately, where the Monongahela and Allegheny form the Ohio. It’s marked by a huge 150 foot fountain at the edge of the park, and has great views, grassy areas on which to play or relax, and the nearby River Trail.
But Point State Park is more than just geographical; it’s highly historical as well. It is the former site of not one but two forts – Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt – and where the “wild West” began. Fort Duqesne was built by the French and used during the French & Indian War, but was also destroyed by the French when they no longer felt they could defend it from the British. Once the British got hold of the land and found there was no longer a fort on it, they built their own fort – Fort Pitt. Though neither fort stands any longer, a stone path in the park still marks the outlines of Fort Pitt.
Finally, we were excused from school and allowed to go to recess where we played in a fountain as it changed colors and form.
The next day, Gregory and Nancy took us to the Carnegie Science Center. I got right to work on some important projects for mankind while Elliott took a nap.
On our third day, Gregory and Nancy decided to stop taking it so easy on us, and they packed our itinerary with activities. We started out at the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, which were well worthwhile despite the sometimes blistering heat in those greenhouses!
Next up was the Heinz Chapel at the University of Pittsburgh. We were all very excited it was open and we could get inside, as Gregory and Nancy said it is often closed.
Gregory told us our visit to University of Pittsburgh would not be complete without seeing the Cathedral of Learning. It was, indeed, a fun and interesting building to walk around! Parts of it really did remind us of our favorite school: Hogwarts School of Withcraft and Wizardry of the Harry Potter series.
Last but not least, Gregory was sure to drive us to every great Pittsburgh viewing point he could think of. We had a lot of great vantage points, and saw the city in a whole new way! We can’t wait to go back and spend more time in this fun city with our amazing guides:)