Monday, October 15, 2012

Pittsburgh Day 1 - Steel City

Do you think it is weird to talk to a city? It probably is, but then ... weird is good isn't it?
I vaguely remember that the description of the Garden Room (my room at Briarwood B&B) said something of downtown view, but I kind of forgot about and probably took it not too serious in the first place, but when I put the curtains to the side early Saturday morning my jaw dropped. Out there was the most beautiful sunrise over a golden glowing downtown Pittsburgh skyline. This picture does not do it justice at all. In reality it looks closer and much more glamorous.

The good thing about the jetlag over arriving in the US is that it turns a night owl like me into a morning person. That is very helpful when you have a lot of plans and really need your days starting early. It also allows you to catch the beautiful sunrise and that's really awesome. The jetlag thing is btw super painful on the way back to Europe where it just destroys your days and make you feel horrible at normal workday hours, but that's a diferent story that will be told later.

We got ready  to leave the house at 8 am because we wanted a GREAT breakfast before we would start into the adventure of the day. After a long long travel day of just "pasta or chicken" airplane food the system begged for good fuel. That's why we stopped on our way to Rankin at one of our favorite breakfast spots - The Square Café. When you are really hungry in the morning than there is nothing better than some eggs, perfectly crispy, delicious bacon (worth the way alone) and the gorgeous spicy Square Cafe homefries (so good). On top I ordered this time an extra slice of the famous french toast. Not that I was still hungry, but I really had  to try and I loved it. 

Our next stop and the main adventure for the day was only a few miles away down that the Monongahela river:  The Carrie Furnaces.
Although it is mostly gone steel is the heart and backbone of Pittsburgh. The steel formed the city and the people who live here. So if you try to understand why Pittsburgh is like it is, you need to try to understand it's steel industry roots and I recommend two things:

1) Go to Braddock and stop at the Edgar Thompson Steel Works. It is one of the few steel mills in the Pittsburgh area that is still active. Stop there - for a more intense effect in the evening when it gets dark - get out of the car, listen, inhale and then try to multiply by several dozens. That was Pittsburgh.
For the ones of you who never been close to a steel mill (it was not exactly new to me as a Ruhrgebiet kid though): It is very loud and it has a very specific and intense smell.

2) Tour the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin (only a stone throw away from Braddock). This is a no longer active steel mill which is on selected days open for touring.  And here is what you get to see:

"Carrie Furnaces 6 and 7 are extremely rare examples of pre World War II iron-making technology. Since the collapse of the region's steel industry in the 1970s and 1980s, these are the only non-operative blast furnaces in the Pittsburgh District to remain standing."

Rivers of Steel Corporation a is non-profit organisation in Western Pennsylvania which works on preserving the steel area heritage and make it accessible and experiencable. The Carrie Furnaces are one of their major locations and they organize the tours.
I can strongly recomend to go on one of these tours, when you come to Pittsburgh. Very strongly. We did the self paced tour and that means you can walk on your own (only where it is allowed of course) and take your time. And we needed a LOT of time, because it is impressive, mystic, intense, beautiful and in its own way, mindblowing, amazing and unforgettable.
For Gabi it was also hard work, because this place has a bazillion of incredible motives for an architectural photographer. It is more worth a week of work than a day - at least.

The fantastic thing about the self paced tour is also that at several points volunteers are waiting for you to explain what you see and what happened at this particular part of the furnace. A lot of them are former steel workers who explain their ladies to you with a lot of knowledge and a lot of heart. These people alone are worth the trip.
Our special thanks go to Rick Rowlands of the Youngstown Steel Heritage Foundation, who works also intensively with Rivers of Steel as a volunteering preservation specialist. He gaves us some insights in the enormous complexity of the structure and the endless challenges of preserving a steel mill. I hope when we are back to Pittsburgh soon again, we can pick up, where we stopped this time.

I will dedicate definitely an extra picture posting to the Carrie Furnaces, when I am back in Germany. Now I have no time for all the picture editing, but I will post some pictures for you to get a first impression.

There was also a very impressive and fun to watch iron casting demonstration.

The day at the furnace was fun, but also hard work for Gabi. 

Instead of the usual 1.5 - 2 hours a regular self paced tour takes we spent 4.5 hours at the Carrie Furnaces and were exhausted and hungry when we finally left.
What to do when you are in Rankin, PA and need late lunch?  Crossing a river!  We drove over to Homestead to check out the secretly famous Smoke Taqueria
And I can tell you: all the great stuff you hear about Smoke is  ... true. The restaurant is super cute, they play some great music, the staff is super nice and it all smells heavenly. I tried the chorizo taco, which was great, and the pork taco, which was super duper finger licking awesome. YUMMY!!!!

Back home we were really, really tired but with the last bit of energy we got up again to drive back to Braddock for the openening of the recent exhibition "Not like I remembered". Stupid enough the traffic was HORRIBLE. It was stop and go all the way down the Monongahela. I still could not figure out WHY there was such a traffic jam. What did all those people want on this particular road?
We ended up being over an hour late for the opening and sadly missed the fun part, but still could have a look at the works of Gail Simpson ...

And Pittsburgh area native Aristotle Georgiades

Then the jetlag kicked in and we went home for some coma type of sleep. That was almost too much for a single day, but hey ... life is short and vacations are even shorter. 

And finally because I bet you all are waiting for this already - Gabi's polaroids!

All polaroid pictures by Gabrijela Obert. 


  1. Loved this blog. I will share it with my ESL students.

  2. At Smoke, did you introduce yourself to Nelda?! I forgot to tell y'all that the Squirrel Hill Tunnels were closed this weekend and that's probably why you ran into so much traffic. It made getting around Squirrel Hill a pain. ;)

  3. Yes, we did introduce ourselves to Nelda and she was super nice. Love her!

    Squirrel Hill tunnel ... of course. I knew about it but kind of forgot. At least it makes sense now.