Thursday, April 5, 2012

Day 8: Pittsburgh - Art & Cancellations

Sometimes things go like you want them to and sometimes they just don't. And then again if they don't go like you want them to sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes not so much. We had a little bit from all of this today.

When we meet people here they are quite impressed how much we get around town, while most 
Pittsburghers are not really fans of neighborhood jumping and river crossing. We did river - the Allegheny to be specific - crossing again today. Early in the morning we went to Millvale and started the day with a breakfast at Pamela's. I had  the famous strawberry shortcakes and Gabi had an omelette with the equally famous potatoes. It was really good and I get why lots of people are so crazy about breakfast there - we just should have shared one. It was embarrassing how much food we had to leave on the plates.

It's always amazing to see how diverse the neighborhoods in
Pittsburgh are - and in this case it is even more than just a hood - Millvale is its own little town that looks again totally different compared to all parts of Pittsburgh we have seen before and you can see how much energy the residents put into their community to rebuilt and reconstruct it especially after a flood a couple of years ago caused a lot of damage.

Our reasons to go to Millvale were first of all the St. Nicholas Croatian Church and the murals of Croatian artist Maxo Vanka inside. When we finally found our way up the hill the lot of the church packed and the church yard crowded with very Croatian looking people. We met our tour guide - Millvale native, historian and former registrar of the Frick Collection in New York, William - Bill - Stout and he told us that one member of the Croatian community just died and that the funeral had to be done right away since the holy Easter days are just ahead of us and no funeral mess could be held in these days. We had to postpone our tour to the Vanka Murals for an hour and Bill used the time to show us around Millvale, which was totally unplanned but added so much value to our visit. We learned a lot about the little town and not in a dry history lesson type of learning but by having a nice walk 
listening to Bill sharing his knowledge as well as personal memories and childhood stories. We really liked it up there - Millvale has a special atmosphere and spirit.

When we came back to the church the funeral was over and we could finally see the murals.
Maxo Vanka was a Croatian artist who lived in New York and came to Pittsburgh first in 1937 on request of Father Albert Zagar, the priest of the St. Nicholas Croatian Church in Millvale. Father Zagar did not like his church to be white from the inside and when he saw some of Vanka's pieces he decided that this Croatian painter was the right choice to give his church a whole new inside design and Vanka agreed. In the following years Vanka completed his work in the church in a couple of painting sessions.
The themes of his murals are of course classic religious scenes but also very intense scenarios taken right out of the life of the Croatian immigrants - contrasting their rural life in the old and the hard industrial worker one in the new world. Vanka, who was married to Jewish lady, also reflect the political situation of his time - from the mourning mother of a dead soldier to one of the most impressive pictures in the church: a dark angel symbolizing "Injustice" who is wearing a gas mask.

The light in the church is very difficult for making pictures and so we do not upload here too much, but you for further information and most importantly detailed pictures go to

We were very, very impressed by the powerful intensity of the murals and the way Vanka used to not only tell pure religious stories but capture the daily pains of living far from the motherland and work hard in the heavy industry or serving in a war. It was also extremely interesting to see this all in the Croatian context and with all the Croatian writing as an element of his art as well as details like the traditional clothes of the characters in his pictures representing people from different regions in Croatia.

Bill btw could explain us also why the Croatian left not such a deep footprint in the Pittsburgh city history than other ethnic communities. He told us, that in most cases the 2nd generation of Croatian immigrants left Pittsburgh already for cities like Chicago with a much stronger Croatian community.

The Vanka Murals were really overwhelming and when we drove down to the 
Warhol Museum we first needed a break and went on to the bridge. I have to say that I deeply LOVE the three sisters (Rachel Carson, Andy Warhol and Roberto Clemente Bridge) and Pittsburgh looks really pretty from there - especially on such a summer like day. 

About the
Warhol Museum I already wrote already last year and you can read it here. For Gabi it was the first visit and she also liked the museum a lot. My favorites - the silver clouds - also left a deep impression with her. We also made the great picture right at the top of this post in the photo machine down at the basement of the museum.
It was pretty amazing to see how different the Warhol Museum is compared to the New Museum in New York. At the New Museum was no place to rest, no way to at least for some minutes LIVE with the art. The Warhol on the other hand has several places that invite you to rest and stay and think. We even found an especially nice place where we could sit down comfortably - surrounded by the art - and talk about all kinds of things. 

After the 
Warhol Museum  we had planned to go to the National Aviary but I had to cancel that because we were totally out of schedule due to the 1.5 extra hours we had spent in Millvale. That hurt a little but rushing does not make sense in an art collection and so the Aviary is now on my bucket list for  next year and the tour of the murals was definitely worth it.
What we initially did NOT cancel was our visit at the Mattress Factory, but this time Suzy, the GPS, screwed it up again. She got all confused told me to stay longer at a certain road than I should have and so I ended up on the freeway stuck in a mixture of building site and rush hour. And there it went ... our time for the 
Mattress Factory . It got so late that we could do nothing more than just drive home. That was the part when things do not go like they should and it is totally NOT appreciated. 

The end of the day was then again much better. We had an absolutely FANTASTIC dinner together with food bloggers and friends James and Becky at "Salt of the Earth". I had heard so much about the place that I really had to try it myself and it was indeed wonderful! We shared our food with each other - especially the starters and desserts (S'MORES!) and really none of the dishes did not taste interesting and fantastic. HAPPY END!


The Vanka Murals

The Andy Warhol Bridge against an unreal blue sky

All Polaroids by Gabrijela Obert


  1. i have lived here my entire life and never toured this church. might be time to change that! thanks for the info!

    and i am so glad you liked salt. i still haven't gone because i don't think it is quite my type of place, but maybe...just maybe...

  2. I am impressed with the fact that you drove as much as you did in Pittsburgh. I have friends here that will not drive into the city. "Park and walk" is what they do or have someone else drive. It is a bit confusing, I must say. The joke growing up in Pittsburgh is that you couldn't date anyone that lived in an area which would cause you to have to drive over more than one bride. Someone would ask us (from the North Hills) to come visit them in the South Hills sometime. More often than not, we would respond... "Oh, I'd love to, but my passport isn't up to date." :) --pghpete

    1. When I was in PGH the first time I lived at The Priory and did all by walking and bus. This time I really enjoyed the ability to cruise up and down the city and cross rivers again and again. It is tough city to drive but after a while it's fun.

    2. My mother lives on the North Side and walks everywhere. To/from work no matter what the weather. (I should follow her lead really. I could stand to loose a few.) But yes, I definitely see the value of having a car if you are visitor. One thing to note now, is the new T line (light rail) that goes under the river from the North Side (or North Shore) There are two stops on the North Side, the called the "Allegengy" stop, and the "North Side" stop which is across a parking lot from PNC park (toward the Clark buidling) You can ride it through town for free aka "the free zone", they start charging from Station Square and further south. Another fun thing to do is to bike pgh. There are some amazing trails that follow the rivers and take you in and out of town. I often park at the Millvale Riverfront Park and bike to the North Side. (it's a pretty quick ride) but you can also rent bikes, kayaks, and canoes at the base of the Roberto Clemente bridge, I believe. --pghpete

    3. Yes, the bike and kayak rental is below the Clemente Bridge and both ... biking and kayaking is high on my list for the next trip. I love biking.
      BTW ... Bill told us that they are planning on installing a bike / kayak rental place also at the Millvale river front and I think that is an awesome idea.

    4. There already is a bike rental / bait shop place there (At the Millvale Riverfront park). But yes, a canoe or kayak place would be awesome. Another thing I love is that we went down to rent a bike (I had mine) my fiancée didn't have one... and the guy at the rental place initially looked scary but was one of the nicest people I have ever met... I asked if he needed our id or wanted me to pay then and there. He said, "You'll be back right?" to which I said yes. "Ah, then just get me on your way back... enjoy your ride." How cool was that!? We had the bike for a few hours and I think the total was $6.

  3. See ... that is what I mean. Where people at other places are too often randomly rude like at the bike place or car rental return for example are Pittsburghers often simply nice. And 6 $ for a bike rental is a damn good price.

  4. What cameras did you use on this trip? You have some beautiful photos. I'm most interested in the lo-fi 120 photos you have here. I've lived in Pittsburgh almost two years and it's a wonderful place to live. Shadyside is a great area to work, live and spend some quality time having fun.

    1. Hi Alex,

      my partner in blogging crime - photographer Gabrijela Obert - used for the Polaroid style pictures a standard iPhone 4 and the app "Shake It Photo".

      The bigger pictures I took with my Panasonic TZ10.

      When Gabi and I made a concept for the travel blogging we made a concious decision for the iPhone since it perfectly fits the quick and spontaneous character of the blog with daily travel reports.

      In parallel Gabrijela carried her professional equipment through the city and made a couple of hundred more pictures which are not on the blog.
      We think about different formats (a small book, maybe an exhibtion) to work with those. If you like to hear what equipment she used for the professional pictures, I can ask her to post it here. I am just the writer and do not know much about the high end camera stuff ;)

      Thanks a lot for readin!