Day 4, Pittsburgh, a post-industrial University town


Pittsburgh proved to be an interesting city. We first headed out to the University area - CMU and University of Pittsburgh (“Pitt” as the locals call it) are both housed here in the wonderful Oakland district. The student vibe is infectious and energizing. We also happened to land on a “visitor day” (or perhaps it is a collection of visitor days?) where students with accepted offers were checking out the campuses before making a decision. We even signed up for a guided tour of Pitt. 

The American experience of wooing students they have made offers to, is completely new to me, as nothing of the kind exists back in India. To me it was an eye-opening experience of how marketing a university as a product is a necessary ingredient to the educational sector too. CMU and Pitt are both wonderful universities, sitting right next to each other in a small city of the US tells you how deep and strong the American education system is. 

Of specific note in this tour is to check out the Heinz Memorial Chapel and the Cathedral of Learning, or Cathy as the Pitt students call it. 

Before and after the tour, we walked around a bit and thoroughly enjoyed the buildings and architecture around this part of the town. The enormity of the achievements of such educational institutions always hits me!

Pittsburgh is the home of Heinz ketchup. The city still has a number of buildings bearing the name. We stayed in a building named Heinz Lofts, on a street named Heinz Street. You can’t miss the branding. If you are someone who likes the Heinz products, like I do, then you will definitely feel the attachment. However, none of this is active, in the sense that all of the buildings seem to be from a different era when Heinz perhaps was a dominating part of the city. The company itself seems to have next to no presence in the city, at least in the bits that we saw. 

One remarkable feature of Pittsburgh is that Tuesday is a wrong day to be in the city. All the good museums are closed, and many of the restaurants are closed. To have Tuesday, in the middle of week, to be off for so many institutions was definitely new and shocking to us. Having Sundays being closed, or in some cases, Mondays being closed after the hard work of the weekend for the hospitality and tourism sectors seems understandable, but why Tuesdays? We asked around and the answers didn’t seem satisfactory. This is one to ponder upon.

After the University area, we went to the famous Strip District for lunch and had selected Primanti Brothers as our destination for the day. To be honest, neither the Strip District nor Primanti Brothers were much to write home about. Strip District is apparently still recovering from the aftershocks of the pandemic, but whatever may be the case, it felt a bit of a post-industrial ghost town to us. Primanti Brothers sandwiches were just big, not all that much tasty, so I would definitely give them a miss next time around.

We walked around a bit, found Point State Park, learned about the history of Fort Pitt at the Fort Pitt Museum, watched the sights of the Ohio river splitting into Allegheny and Monongahela rivers and generally taking in the views. However, even here, we couldn’t help but miss the fact that the whole place felt a bit of a ghost town. For a city that houses the headquarters of a few financial companies with big offices and such, the feel of the downtown area is unmistakably one of emptiness.

After downtown, we took the Duquesne Incline to go up to Mt Washington. Going up there definitely brightened us up after some of our disappointments downtown. This incline features a working museum at the top station, where you can see the functioning of the motors pulling the inclines. Seeing the wire spool in one direction and then the other as the coaches alternate between going up and down, is a mesmerizing view for anyone interested in the inner workings of these things. 

(As a trivia, the functioning of this motor is very different than say the functioning of the SF cable cars, as the cables in SF keep running all the time and the cablecars either hold onto it or not to control movement, whereas the inclines are entirely coupled in motion to when the motors operate here in Pittsburgh!!)

We walked around a bit along Mt. Washington, stopping to soak in some spectacular sights of Pittsburgh city, in light as well as at night. We stopped by one of the bars there to get ourselves a couple of rounds of cocktails before finishing the day.

Food tip: Check out the crepes at Crepes Parisiennes near the University!

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