Displaced, But at Home

It’s always an interesting feeling to come home when you’ve been gone for several months, and one I’m not all too unfamiliar with. I’ve come home from five months in Austria, five months in Argentina and eighteen months in South Korea and while each homecoming was not quite the same, they all had one factor in common: I had a place that was my own, no matter how much time had passed.

But this time, coming back from five months of travel in Europe, even I was caught off-guard by how un-homey it felt.

Times are hard.

It all started a few months ago when my parents moved to Germany. As part of that arrangement, they didn’t sell our home in Pittsburgh, but they cleaned out several rooms for rental. My (now former) room, being the fantastic, spacious and bright room that it is, was obviously prime real estate to someone wanting to move in. My belongings were packed up into several boxes and put into another room for storage. The house’s Internet was shut off and the kitchen cabinets were cleaned out. On one hand, I’m extremely impressed with my parents; that must have been a ton of work, because those cabinets were packed to the brim. On the other, I wish I could still rifle through there for some oatmeal every once in a while. None of these developments were unexpected, in fact I knew exactly what I would encounter walking through my old childhood home. But it’s still weird. Thank goodness my bookshelf is still largely intact and as it was, though moved, because I don’t know if I could handle missing books on top of missing oatmeal.

So each morning, now, I instead wake up in my Aunt’s spare bedroom in the house next door. The first few days, I used to wake up and look over to see a giant collage of my cousin’s face all over the wall. And the room isn’t completely empty, in fact there’s quite a few things held in storage in what’s now “my” room. But once I reorganized some drawers, claiming one as my own and unpacking my suitcase from the floor, and also moved my cousin’s (beautiful, lovely, marvelous!) face and senior pictures over to her bedroom, the space felt a little better. It feels slightly more like my own. (That’s probably also because I put some books on top of the drawers; I’m instantaneously at ease.)

How to make any room instantly become Sally's room: lots of books.
How to make any room instantly become Sally’s room: lots of books.

There’s one factor, though, that has me totally disoriented, but has been a complete non-issue for the past five months of travel: I don’t have a car. Or a motorcycle or a scooter. I have a bicycle and my feet. In Europe, I had no issues with this as the public transportation was fantastic. I would have been thrilled to have a bicycle in Spain or in Austria; I loved biking in Germany during my last week there. Walking aimlessly through new towns was one of my top five activities. But now that I’ve moved back home, into my neighborhood which is quite descriptively called “Mission Hills”, I’m finding that I’m not so enchanted with the idea of riding my bicycle around town. Even just walking the serious hills in my area has been an adjustment both for me and my poor calf muscles.

It was particularly hard during my first week back; I had a dentist appointment, bachelorette party and a wedding to go to, which were all completely inaccessible via public transportation in the area. Between asking for rides from my cousin, two friends, and my grandmother, I’ve never felt like such a useless, ride-begging invalid. Even visiting my friends in the city is complicated; the nearby streetcar only takes me into the downtown area, where my friends often have to pick me up to get to their neighborhood. As much as I’d like to see car-less life in the city suburbs as a cool challenge I should take on, it’s just not so. I’m becoming more disenchanted with Pittsburgh’s public transit system daily.

One of a million of Pittsburgh's beautiful overlooks... because it's full of giant hills. Womp womp.
One of a million of Pittsburgh’s beautiful overlooks… because it’s full of giant hills. Womp womp.

But it’s definitely not all bad.

I didn’t write that article, 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best, on a whim; I truly do love this city and am glad to be back. And among the dizzying spin of trying to become settled, there are bright and shining moments during which I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I love being back in my favorite coffee shop culture. Sitting with a coffee and a book, or laptop or just a notebook and pen are all perfectly accepted and encouraged behaviors, and if you sit for hours, no one will look twice. Refills on black coffee are half-priced. And heavy ceramic “For Here” cups feel at home in my hand. It’s great to be back in a place where I can really sit back and relax again, outside of my home.

Of course coffee sometimes comes with great reunions. Since I’ve been back, quite a few old friends have come out of the woodwork to meet me, and it’s been nothing but a pleasure. While I definitely don’t have a good answer for them when they ask, “What are you doing now?” (A post on that is coming soon!), it’s still great to catch up. I love seeing familiar faces again and spending time with some of the wonderful people I’ve been privileged enough to call my friends. Being away so long has really made those relationships that much more meaningful and I’m really excited to be seeing them not just once or twice, but regularly in the next months to come.

There’s also a cultural quirk of the United States that I’ve really learned to appreciate since the last time I lived here. People here live out loud. Maybe it’s the sheer time away or maybe I’ve grown older in the last few months and years, but where I once scorned other Stateys abroad when they were loud and obnoxious, I recently started looking at them with smiles. Those are my loud, obnoxious and overwhelmingly alive people. That’s my culture that will crack jokes in line, even though you’ve never met any of them. People from the USA are generally friendly to all kinds of strangers and aren’t afraid to laugh loudly anywhere they go. And for some reason, even when it’s obnoxious, I kind of love it.

So while I’m still settling in for the long haul, here, things are progressing. It may be the strangest transition I’ve ever had to go through, which is unexpected, considering that I’m at “home”. But I’m learning that even home can be another world, and maybe it’s one I’ve just begun to really discover.

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What’s the hardest or strangest transition you’ve ever gone through? Have your parents ever abandoned you for Germany and sold all their cars? Have any advice for me, if you’ve gone through a similar thing?

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Photoessay: Picture Perfect Pittsburgh

One of my goals while at home this past month was to really soak up Pittsburgh and everything it has to offer. Couple that with my budding passion for photography, and it was only a matter of time until I picked up my camera and tried to capture what I see as an iconic city. First as a steel and industrial city, and more recently as a revived and historical city, yet ripe with everything hipster and grassroot-y. Over the past week, the weather has finally cleared up enough to snap some shots and I have to say, I love some of the photographs I’ve taken of Pittsburgh. I feel as though I’ve done a pretty decent job of capturing what it is that I adore about this town.

If you haven’t already, take a minute to meet Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: home of obsessive sports fans, a lot of movie sets and almost Hilary Duff but in the end, not.

One of a million of Pittsburgh’s beautiful overlooks… because it’s full of giant hills.

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See the river up there? It was completely frozen over, from shore to shore. Talk about cold weather!

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Next up, the photos with a flare of drama. AKA, me playing around with my camera settings and not being consistent. Whoopsies.

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Not pictured: incredible ethnic restaurants galore, the man hollering at my sweet leather Converse while I walk down the street, honking river geese, river geese poop (watch your step on those river trails!), awesome biking culture and the sweet Pittsburghese accent that many Yinzers (Pittsburgh natives) wear with pride.

Oh and the negative a million degree weather isn’t pictured well, either. But that’s made better by all the hipster coffee shops and their in-house-roasted beans that I transform into delicious, aromatic medicine that warms me up once I head back inside.

No, it’s not so bad, after all. Despite the weather, it’s good to be home.squiggle3

Like what you see? You can find more pictures of frozen Pittsburgh on Laura of Eclectic Travel Girl’s blog, some very similar, probably because we were walking together while we took them…

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Photoessay: Holidays in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Did you know? I’m from Pittsburgh. You probably already know that, maybe thanks to me gushing about the city in this post. On Christmas day I arrived home with two big suitcases, a ten month old puppy and a visitor from Korea, who may or may not be a long-term boyfriend that I’ve been keeping secret because that’s my personal life. The week or so following Christmas was absolutely packed with events: multiple days of “Christmas”, a birthday and birthday party, dinners and cousins and shopping trips, a visit to the famous Fallingwater house, what felt like no sleep and not enough coffee to combat my exhaustion. New Years Eve, New Years Day, an airport goodbye, meeting my little brother’s boyfriend (AHHH he’s not ten anymore!), my cousin’s birthday, and now mass amounts of snow have followed the holiday insanity, keeping up the insanity. It never ends. But I took a lot of pictures!

So for now, while I take a breather and set up my schedule this January in preparation for European adventures, I’ll share with you some photographs I’ve taken these past days. I’ll preface it with just one more comment: it’s been everything you’d imagine winter is and then some. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and settle in, now.

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Christmas morning breakfast, the day after Christmas. I had to rectify my gluten intake after so long in Korea, primarily through the consumption of too many Christmas eggs.
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Christmas cookies also required.
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Mary looking adorable, as usual.
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A pancake trying to look as adorable as Mary, and it’s kind of working.
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My boyfriend did the first puzzle of his life and is now completely addicted.
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Downtown Pittsburgh looking gorgeous. In the winter, PPG Plaza turns into an ice skating rink with this Christmas tree as the centerpiece.
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I don’t know why I never noticed the beautiful, old-timey architecture directly next to more modern gems until I already had moved away from Pittsburgh.
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Christmas without puppies? Now that’s just wrong.
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A trip to Phipps Conservatory was a great way to spend an evening. The building is entirely LEED approved (also known as a “green” building) and has cool exhibits year-round. If you don’t like plants, you’ll still like the glass sculptures hidden around all of the gardens (though they’re a seasonal installment) and maybe also the miniature volcano that you can make erupt.
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Acrobats. Failed acrobats.
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My birthday was lovely and filled with friends and delicious cake!
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Then the snowstorms arrived in full force.
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A trip to Fallingwater to see the architectural genius that is this house. The freezing temperatures made me want to cuddle up next to the fireplace in there and never, ever come out.
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Hi Mary, you’re still adorable and kind of weird!
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I became a little enchanted with winter photography this past week or so…
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New Years Eve dinner at a fancy restaurant was a nice treat. Thanks Mom and Dad! (Too bad I was so cranky and exhausted by this evening that I cried because I didn’t want to wear high heels and the patriarchy. LOL.)
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We celebrated my one-week-delayed kind-of-my-twin cousin’s birthday, too.
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Need another reason to visit Pittsburgh? Hofbrauhaus.
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The snow is so gorgeous when you’re bundled up and warm.

The whirlwind is finally coming to a pause, so expect a few more posts coming up soon and don’t forget to enter into the giveaway, which ends on Wednesday night EST. Unless you don’t like free stuff, in which case, WHO ARE YOU?! I hope everyone has had a good first week of January! Don’t break your resolutions, just yet! 🙂

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Have you had a busy couple of weeks, too, or were your holidays more relaxing than mine? What do you think of all that snow?

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13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best

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When it comes to people, distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. But that phrase came about for a reason, and I think that perhaps, the inventor of that phrase was actually thinking of their hometown when they said it. Ever since I’ve spent time away from home and in other lands, I’ve returned with more and more love for Pittsburgh. Maybe at that exact time Pittsburgh was also getting more and more awesome, which could be the case, but I think I was also wising up to the fact that it’s not such a bad place to be.

And with my upcoming short-term return, my mind has been dwelling on the things I’m looking forward to doing in the city of bridges. I figure that it’s about time that I sing the praises of this random US city to the travel community. Someone has to represent, right? And I’m not just saying Pittsburgh is the best because I’m from there and everything has a nostalgic feeling for me, but I truly think it’s an incredible city to live in and to sight see through. Somehow, Pittsburgh has managed to hold onto its history and past, while also making crazy futuristic advancements in a variety of areas. I love that mix; old and new, past and future. So as a city it’s got a lot to offer, my favorite of which are these following thirteen things.

1// It’s Not Dirty Anymore

So when you think of Pittsburgh, I’m guessing you think of steel or industry or possibly Heinz. Well, the factory central days of Pittsburgh are over, and have been for quite some time. The steel production has all but ceased in the areas near the city, and the air is clean, gloriously clean. One of the old steel mills was actually turned into a giant shopping center with an awesome movie theater and some nonfunctional smoke stacks as a reminder of history. Lovely. The days of black-stained-stone suburban homes are gone, Pittsburgh is as clean as can be these days.

2// Riversides Galore

Downtown Pittsburgh is situated on this triangle of land, surrounded by two rivers and a technical third, created by the rivers merging. Obviously it spills over onto both sides of all three of the rivers, which leads to one wonderful development. Riversides, glorious, river fronts and river walks and river trails galore. There’s a riverside biking/hiking trail, an entire park on “the point”, where the two rivers merge, over the river balconies and restaurants, and other random uses of riverside space. And that doesn’t even touch the boating, river cruises and just ducky tours. Pittsburgh does rivers right.

3// Market Square & PPG Plaza

Market Square and PPG Plaza are a street away from one another, so they’re kind of the same entity. In summer, Market Square has outdoor tables and plenty of restaurants and coffee shops to make sitting outside beautiful. PPG Plaza has cool automated fountains at ground level, so kids can come and run around getting soaked with water on hot days. The mood is always friendly and relaxed, even inside such a busy urban area of downtown. In winter, PPG Plaza is transformed into a giant ice skating arena with a massive Christmas tree in the middle. Tell me that isn’t awesome! You’re wrong! It’s awesome!

Awesome, I tell you.
Awesome, I tell you.

4// It’s Bikeable

There are some parts of the city that are a little terrifying on bicycle, particularly the busy downtown/fifth avenue areas. Thankfully, though, that area is very small, and the majority of the city is actually very accessible to bikers. The Southside always has a million bikers, head East over to Oakland and there are two million bikers, go deeper into Squirrel Hill, Bloomfield and Lawrenceville and you have yourself a biking party at every intersection. You can even bike over bridges. So if you’re visiting, the bike-ability should be a great help, as you can transport yourself places more easily. (Except for Mt. Washington which just can’t be helped, because it’s a giant effing mountain. Sorry.)

5// Kennywood

Do you like amusement parks? Do you like places that have history and character? Do you like really terrifyingly awesome roller coasters and delicious french fries covered in gravy? Then I can assure you that Pittsburgh’s nearby amusement park, Kennywood, is going to be one of your new favorites. It’s been open for over a hundred years, the signs are old-timey, the rides are new-timey/terrifying at times and the food is delicious, heart-attack-inducing deliciousness.

The swings are from the 80s and they're STILL fun.
The swings are from the 80s and they’re STILL fun.

6// The Pirates’ Recent Comeback

So while the last ten years were the Steelers’ golden years, they’ve since fallen into disarray that involves rape lawsuits and less than spectacular game performance. Somewhere in there, the Pens also blew a few people’s minds, but now it’s the Pirates’ turn. While for years Pittsburgh’s baseball team has held records, those have been of the depressing variety: the most consecutive losses, the most years in a row with a losing average, etc. This year, the Pirates came back, kicked butt and advanced pretty far into the playoffs. Pittsburgh baseball has officially gone from zero to hero and that’s pretty damn awesome, if you ask me.

7// The T

If you’re a public transportation nerd and addict, then Pittsburgh public transportation will satisfy you somewhat, though like most US cities, it has a ways to go. But what I love most about Pittsburgh’s public transportation system has been the continued use of the Trolley, affectionately (at least by me) called “The T”. It’s an above ground rail car that also heads underground, depending on the area, and serves most of the southern suburb areas, bringing people into the downtown area and back out. I’m not sure why I like it so much, considering that it can’t get you very far within Pittsburgh and there are only two main lines (and a couple other side shoots), so maybe this item is more nostalgia based than the others. It’s still great. You can’t tell me otherwise.

8// It’s Kind Of Hipster

Recently, someone somewhere said Pittsburgh was more hipster than Portland, Oregon. (So specific, I know!) Looking around areas like Lawrenceville and Squirrel Hill, you could easily believe it. Small businesses abound, fresh produce and fair trade, gluten-free menu items, biking as previously mentioned and farmer’s markets are all getting some solid business in Pittsburgh. You can find grocery store co-ops, tons of local breweries, a restaurant/brewery built inside an old, converted church. The Southside hosts a population that seems to be 100% tattooed and pierced from first glance. I could go on, but just suffice it to say that Pittsburgh is kind of hipster and for people looking for interesting dining/walking experiences, this is a huge plus.

Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.
Yep, you go here to drink beer and eat delicious food.

9// Primanti Brothers

Do you like sandwiches? Primanti’s is a city-wide chain that started the way the best places do, as a hole in the wall in 1933, in a busy industrial district. Why is this place still around? Because putting french fries and coleslaw on an Italian bread, deli meat sandwich is GENIUS. Every time I come home, one of the meals I look forward to most is my first Primanti Brothers sandwich. Is it unhealthy? You bet. Is it difficult to bite, because the sandwich the size of half your face? Absolutely. Is it my recommended daily calories, in one meal? Yep. Worth it.

10// The Southside

The Southside isn’t just home to tattooed people and tattoo parlors, it’s a mishmash of interesting things, all down one very long street. (Technically the area is all the Southside, though most people mean East Carson Street when they say the name.) I’d recommend biking down Carson, but if you have the leg power and the time, walking is also a great option. All along the street you’ll find the most eclectic collection of shops: gyro places, tattoo and piercing parlors, pizza shops, independent coffee shops and a pricy sushi restaurant, some hardware stores and fair trade shops, my favorite Burger place Fatheads (that also has a huge selection of local beers), another million piercing places, a hookah bar or two, some normal bars, an Irish bar that has a little person come in on Tuesdays? Thursdays?, and towards the end of the street, a super developed area with fancy designer clothing, H&M and a favorite restaurant, the Cheesecake Factory. Talk about a weird mix.

[Note: I’ve just been informed that the aforementioned little person has passed away. RIP.]

Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.
Oh, and aside from the newly developed end of E Carson, all those eclectic shops are housed in old, historic buildings. Coolness.

11// The View From Mount Washington

If you want to get a view of the city (which you do, believe me), then it’s mandatory that you take the incline (trolley up the mountain) up to Mount Washington and go see the overlook. It’s a traditional spot for prom photos, engagement pictures and other picture-worthy occasions, so you won’t be alone up there. But it’s a stunning view, especially at night, and the view does not disappoint. Nor does the intro picture of this post, taken from Mt. Washington, do it justice, you’ll have to go see it yourself.

12// The Newly-elected Mayor Actually Cares

Nothing drags a city down like a crappy government, and while this may have been the case in the past (cough, cough, Ravenstahl and strippers), the future looks bright. Bill Peduto will come into office this January, and he’s already accepting applications for transition committees to get things running smoothly is a bunch of areas. As far as I can tell, Peduto is actually…. ethical. Insane for a politician, right? And when the mayor actually cares about the city he’s supposed to work for, then good things are on the horizon. Hurray.

13// Green Things

Did you know that Pittsburgh is actively trying to make the city buildings environmentally friendly? In the USA, Pittsburgh is 4th in line for having the most green buildings. The convention center is LEED-certified, seven Carnegie Mellon University buildings are “green” and the list goes on. The commitment to green space within the downtown area is easy to see and if you head farther East, towards the city neighborhoods, you can find tons of park and grass areas. Who doesn’t love green?

The Phipps Conservatory has a "green" visitors center, too!
The Phipps Conservatory has a “green” visitors center, too!

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Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? What do you love about the city? Do you disagree with anything? What’s the best sandwich from Primanti Brothers?

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