I’m sure you’ve already picked up that I’m a little bit of a foodie. Sometimes I truly do live to eat, like the time I devoured soup dumplings in New York’s Chinatown, or the time I spent hours on the bus just to eat a burrito in Seoul or maybe that other time I digested mass amounts of cake while in Germany. If you’ve ever even glanced at my Instagram account, you’re fully aware that good food is one of my favorite things. Ever. (And I may or may not have even made an Instagram account solely out of a desire to post pictures of food. May or may not.)
Sometimes I get a little restless living in Pittsburgh. But there’s one thing that hasn’t disappointed me yet about being here: the incredible variety and quality of food, everywhere. And much to my delight, that includes lots of ethnic food.
Can you spell “nom?” I believe it goes like this: P-I-T-T-S-B-U-R-G-H.
I’ve been in town for five months now and eaten a lot of great food, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to food found outside of my house. Even though I’ve become quite the capable cook, lately. Fasten your bibs, folks.
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I’d be the worst kind of Pittsburgh-er if I didn’t flaunt our cultural pride and joy, the deli sammich with fries and ‘slaw in da sammich. (That’s “in the sandwich,” for those not fluent in Pittsburghese.)
I’d also be the other worst kind of Pittsburgh-er if I didn’t include Pamela’s AMAZING crepe-like pancakes with bananas and walnuts inside.
Also burgers. Pittsburgh has some great burger joints that really go all out. Pictured above is an Angus beef patty with brie cheese from BRGR. I’ve also had an incredible burger at Legume/Butterjoint, in Oakland. Fatheads, formerly THE Pittsburgh burger restaurant, officially has serious competition all over town.
Yes, I am blessed by burgers.
Now that I’ve got my bases covered there, we can move on to the ethnic food.
The color balance on this picture is THE WORST but the taste of this sushi was literally THE BEST. Thank you, Little Tokyo, for making my sushi dreams come true.
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A new French pastry shop opened up in my suburban town. And much to my surprise, an actual French lady runs the place. And not surprising at all, all of the above was incredible. Apparently also healthy, because “butter isn’t bad for you,” according to this French woman. Right.
Are these Pittsburgh or ethnic food? Both, really. Pierogi Fest was a little like taking a trip to heaven, and then eating little pieces of it. Over. And over. These two types of pierogis: hot sausage and pesto ricotta. Let me know when you’ve finished drooling and we can move on.
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Maybe Mulled Wine is more of a thing you drink, but I’m going to throw it into the “nom” category anyways. A German friend of mine went all out recently, and made the real deal, Bacardi-and-sugar-fire and all. Authentic German Glühwein? It looks like I don’t even have to leave town. (And then this was accompanied by authentic, catered German sausage. Boom.)
Indian food is my biggest weakness. Nobody try to bribe me into doing terrible things, because spicy dishes from Mintt would probably do the trick.
I might have occasional (…or frequent) longings to see new countries and spend more time abroad, but I certainly can’t complain about my stomach not getting an international experience it craves. Pittsburgh, you’re doing something right.
For a more in-depth look at Pittsburgh’s food scene, my blogger friend Julie’s stomach gets around. Check her out.
What makes your mouth water? Does your hometown kill it when it comes to food, like Pittsburgh does?
So the phrasing isn’t usually so direct, but the gist is about the same. When you return home and you’ve finished your undergraduate education, everyone wants to know about the big picture. You’re 24, what are you going to do now? Did you finish dealing with that pesky travel bug you’ve been plagued with for years? (Haha, funny joke!) Wow, you’re going to be here for at least a year? Is it time to settle down, now?
But maybe for a little bit.
If you’ve been following my Instagram recently, you’ve probably noticed that my life consists of a lot of domestic things at the moment. There are dogs, scarves I’m in the middle of knitting, running shoes, neighborhood street lights… not so many foreign things. Unless you count that sushi I ate two weeks ago, which I definitely do. It’s almost the same as going to Japan, right?
Anyways, that’s what I’ll be telling myself for the next few months. Not that I’m unhappy to be back in Pittsburgh, because that’s not the case.Pittsburgh is awesome, especially in the summer. But I think it’s always a hard adjustment to start a routine when you’ve been living a country-to-country, city-to-city kind of life for any serious amount of time. And even harder if you spent a year and a half prior to that living in Asia and eating strange foods on the regular. It’s just tough to go back to your neighborhood grocery store or bar or mall and feel very excited about it; I’m experiencing that first-hand and certainly not for the first time.
What’s different about this time is that I have to learn how to work through it.
I’m going to be back in Pittsburgh for at least a year.
Why, you ask? Well, let’s start with the most obvious reason: I’m broke. Thanks for all the cash, South Korea, and you’re welcome, Europe, for spending all of it within your borders. Even if I was planning to move to another city in the USA, I’d still need to take some time and work in Pittsburgh until I could afford to do so. But that’s not the plan at the moment, because I’m waiting to hear back from an application to the Peace Corps that I sent in last month. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get in, but in the chance that I did, it would still be about a year (or more) until my departure date and it makes the most sense to stick it out where my friends and some of my family are, and where the flexible timing of it all wouldn’t strand me.
But, if I needed more reason to stay, it arrived last week when I accepted a writing and social media job in Pittsburgh. This job would have been tough to pass up no matter what my plans were; it’s what I love to do and do well, but with room to grow. So while some of my readers may be sad to hear that my next job isn’t overseas (I just couldn’t work with kids in a classroom again, I’m sorry!), the rest of my friends from Pittsburgh are pumped to see me stick around for more than just a few weeks here and there. And I’m pretty happy about the new gig, myself. A job I enjoy is a first, solid step in the right direction for a recovering expat like me.
Which leads me to my personal goal for this year or more (who knows?) in Pittsburgh: I want to make Pittsburgh work for me. I don’t want to feel like I’m just passing the time here. I want to put things into my life that I enjoy and which are fulfilling. Part of that process will be dissecting what exactly about expat life and travel abroad made me smile. Was it the new foods? The broken English and prevalence of foreign languages all around me? The chance to meet people with different cultural upbringings? Or just the sheer variety of cheese in Germany? Because if that’s the case, I’m pretty sure the USA has a few stores that won’t disappoint in the cheese arena, and all I need to do to feel better is visit them.
So my plan is to find activities and organizations in Pittsburgh that scratch my international itch. And see if I can’t recreate some of the things I love about life abroad, but do so while staying in one place for a bit.
This is going to be one heck of a challenge, folks. Wish me luck.
[Begin shameless self promotion.]
Did I mention I’m poor?
And I’m selling blank notecards with my photography on them! If you’re interested in grabbing yourself a set of 4, head over to this page and order yourself a few. Contact me with any problems or questions or haikus you’ve written for me, anything!
Are you also in a transitional move home? What have you done to scratch those itchy feet without jet-setting across the world again?
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.)
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.
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.
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?
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.
See the river up there? It was completely frozen over, from shore to shore. Talk about cold weather!
Next up, the photos with a flare of drama. AKA, me playing around with my camera settings and not being consistent. Whoopsies.
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.
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…
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.
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! 🙂
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?
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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.]
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?
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?