This Summer’s vacation was a road trip across eight states plus the District of Columbia. Mr Pict and I have undertaken several North American road trips before but this was our first with the boys. Six people in eight states (six of them new to the kids and me) across fifteen days. It was bound to be an adventure.
We set off from the Philly suburbs on the morning of 16 July and drove straight through to Pittsburgh – our first pit stop, pun intended, of the trip. I had never been to Pittsburgh before and was keen to see something of the city. We, therefore, opted not to explore any museums but actually experience the place through the soles of our feet. This turned out to be achingly true.
We started our explorations at Point State Park where three rivers – the Allegheny, the Monongahela and the Ohio – all meet. This geography made it an important area in times past, with the French and the British trying to control it in order to be in charge of passage and trade through the area. Its strategic significance is demonstrated by the fact that the site has the remains of two forts, the French Fort Duquesne and the British Fort Pitt. Not much that is discernible remains of either fort but we were able to pop into a blockhouse of Fort Pitt. The cramped space had been turned into a museum showcasing some archaeological finds from the fort. I tried to engage the kids in relics from various conflicts with the local Native American population but the kids were most taken with fragments of an old root beer bottle.
The boys were less interested in the history of the area and were more drawn towards the cooling water of the impressive fountain. The fountain shoots water 150 feet into the air, apparently drawing the water up from a well of groundwater in the rock below. We enjoyed people watching and taking in the scenery while the kids dipped their feet in the fountain pool.
Rested and refreshed, we walked across a yellow Fort Pitt bridge that circled us around to the Duquesne Incline. Pittsburgh has a very steep hilly section that can be accessed via a couple of these Inclines – what I was referring to as a funicular before I remembered what they were called in Pennsylvania. Essentially it is a 5 foot gauge railway track ascending at a 30 degree angle. The Dequesne Incline was built in 1877 (and looks and feels every bit of it!) and rises 400 feet in height on 800 feet of track. In its industrial heyday, the city apparently had several of these Inclines operating but now only the Duquesne and Monongahela remain. As well as being used by the residents who live in the hilly neighbourhood, the Incline is a major tourist attraction. This was evidenced by the length of the queue we joined.
The queue moved at a steady pace but I did not enjoy the experience for one bit. For some reason, the corridor above the road set my fear of heights into intense overdrive. My nerves were utterly shredded by the time we were at the head of the queue and safely inside the terminus building. We knew we needed to pay for our journey with cash and I had researched the ticket prices online. Unfortunately, the prices quoted on the website were incorrect which was very aggravating since it transpired we were short on cash. We opted, therefore, to pay for a one way journey on the basis that we would withdraw more cash from an ATM at the top. We boarded the rickety old wooden car and rattled our way up the worryingly mouldering track that looked like it could crumble to mush imminently.
Upon arriving at the summit, however, we learned that the ATM at the viewing platform was out of order. Uh oh. We did not have enough cash to get all six of us back down the Incline. We decided to have a wander of the neighbourhood to check it out, take in the view, and seek out a source of cash. The latter mission was entirely thwarted. The view, however, was pretty spectacular. From that steep vantage point we could really appreciate the geography of the area and the way it nestled around the confluence of those three rivers. We also checked out a sculpture depicting George Washington and Seneca leader Guyasutu entitled ‘Points of View’.
Then it was time to problem-solve our stupid cash-strapped difficulty. We had three options: wander further afield in search of an ATM, send one parent back down the Incline to fetch the car and collect the others, or walk back down the hill. We chose the last option thinking it would provide us with a further opportunity to see more of the city. This it most certainly did and I must state that the architecture of Pittsburgh is fascinatingly eclectic. I quite enjoyed looking at all of the styles and the way that different architects had solved the problem of sloping ground. Our children, however, could not be convinced that this study of architecture and topography was worth the time and energy it took to ascend the hill. The path was long and twisting and the air was stiflingly muggy. Moods were descending into grumbles and grouches.
When we got to the bottom and found a petrol station, we fell on its drink filled refrigerators like they were manna in the wilderness. Thirsts slaked but with aching feet and kids still whinging, we returned to our starting point via the Smithfield Street Bridge. Then it was on to that night’s hotel and an invigorating swim in its pool.