Category Archives: THE EAST COAST MISC
We did a lot in Pittsburgh but not everything our Pittsburgh enthusiast friends recommended so including here for the next trip! (Some places were also closed due to the pandemic.)
North Side – there is a homey German restaurant that’s been there forever. Max’s Allegheny Tavern at 537 Suisman Street. They have pretty good schnitzel on the menu.
Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh campus – the nationality rooms. We walked around on our own. Would be much better with a tour. They are just amazing and are used as classrooms and study rooms.
Heinz History museum – if you love/d Mister Rogers, you have to see the display from the show.
Primanti Brothers is famous in the Strip – where you get french fries on your sandwich along with coleslaw.
Phipps Conservatory – our indoor botanical garden in Schenley Park close to the Pitt campus.
In the strip district— the original Pirmanti brothers location is there, home to the famous cheesesteak sandwichtopped with French fries
Penn Avenue Fish company fir great seafood in a casual atmosphere. Your order from counter with all selections on a big chalkboard
And you need to have some polish food of course. The S&D deli fits the bill nicely. Traditional cheap polish delights that your Bubba used to make.
The best periogies are made by the parishioners at St. Stanislaus kostka church tucked away on a side street in the strip. Probably not selling them now due to pandemic. But the church is worth visiting anyway
Closer to downtown also on penn avenue in the cultural district there are a number of places where you can eat outside on the street. One of our favorites is Emporio: A Meatball Place. They also have rooftop seating. You order one or more meatballs of different persuasions
Other places: The Pleasure Bar in the Bloomfield neighborhood has great Italian food but is best known for its French bread pizza. Its less than a mile from Lawrenceville
You have to ride one of the inclines-up mount Washington. The Duquesne Incline’s entrance is right near Station Square an old train station that’s been gentrified and is full of sho ps and restaurants. The mon incline is usually less busy. Both feature great views of downtown. The night view is spectacular
I assume you already know about the Warhol museum on the north side. The senator john Heinz History Center on smallman street in the cultural center is a terrific place.
My busted foot has opened up a new world of Washington DC by bike (which is easier on my foot than walking). Noah was a great tour guide, eager to show us his discoveries in and around Capitol Hill, his favorite houses, alleys, parks, hidden bike trails and even more hidden breweries.
After a good bagel brunch for Mother’s Day with takeout from Call Your Mother, in the Barracks area (near a cocktail bar called Betsy), we set off peddling to Union Market, which seems to have exploded with neighboring high rise developments since I was last there a few years ago. We took the MBT (metropolitan branch trail) through an urban landscape that I would not have pegged as DC had I seen it in photos alone. Next stop Navy Yard and more glass and steel high rises near the Nats ballpark but Noah took us to Bardo biergarten, a surprisingly rustic and bohemian outdoor spot, vaguely reminiscent of a homeless encampment on the riverbank, scattered with worn diner booths and rough wood plank tables in a wooded area. It felt like a lost world, beside the gleaming developments.
Dinner was takeout upscale Indian from Rasika. (The spinach chat was especially delicious.) This morning we picked up pricy but delicious sandwiches with precious names (Pippa, Hermione) at a nearby corner shop Wine & Butter Cafe, which beat the Subway fare available on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
About 1.5 hours south of Pittsburgh, we stopped at the site of the flight that crashed into farm land on 9/11/01, averting even more devastation in Washington D.C. (The terrorists were likely targeting the U.S. Capitol, or maybe the White House.)
The weather was fittingly gloomy, cold and rainy. The hardest part of the visit was listening to telephone messages that three passengers made to their families from the plane when they knew they would likely die. The plane had been hijacked by suicide terrorists, other planes had already crashed into the world trade Center Towers and the crew and passengers of flight 93 decided to thwart the hijackers plan to crash into the U.S. Capitol …which is a stone’s throw from where we are sleeping tonight, in an Airbnb carriage house in the Capitol East neighborhood, around the block from our son’s apartment. Flight 93 crashed in the tiny rural hamlet of Shanksville, killing all 40 passengers and crew aboard.
The weather gradually cleared and we had blue sunny skies punctuated by the occasional slow moving dark cloud filled with showers and wind, nothing that kept us from bike riding all over with Noah. We started the morning at Eastern Market which is a block away from our well-situated and well-appointed Airbnb on 8th street near Independence (Noah’s street.) I fell for a delicious French pastry I’d never heard of, a kouign-amann ( “queen a-man) “a cross between a croissant and a palmier, with layer after layer of buttery, flaky pastry on the inside, yet caramelized with ever-so-slightly-burnt sugar on the outside,” according to Wikipedia.
We rode in Noah’s lovely Capitol Hill neighborhood, admiring the spring blossoms and old architecture. How strange to have the US Capitol as part of your neighborhood. I couldn’t help but think about the Trump rioters and the Shanksville 9/11 heroes as we passed that august building, now surrounded by a black fence and concrete Jersey barriers. So many threats. Next we glided onto the mall, past the smithsonian museums, the Washington monument and American U. college graduates in their robes posing by the Lincoln Memorial. We rode onto the Jefferson Memorial, covered in scaffolding and looked across the water at the MLK Memorial. We rode around Hains Point or some such which has a golf course and then over to the Wharf development that felt very un- DC, with high rises and trendy restaurants along the riverfront. We had Cuban coffee at Colada Cuban cafe.
After biking,dirck and I drove to Georgetown for a quick stop and purchase st the Allbirds (shoes) store, not far from a good burger place we got food from our first night called Good stuff Eatery. Dinner Was take out from a Chinese Korean place in Noah’s neighborhood called Chi Ko.
Very full and fun day seeing a variety of provoking art on a cool sunny Thursday. We began at a Croatian Catholic Church (St. Nicholas) in Millvale for a docent-led tour of the amazing murals inside painted between the world wars (1938, 1941) by Maxo Vanka, an Austrian painter with ties to Croatia. We were early so we drove up an impossibly steep one-lane road to a handful of houses clinging to the hillside, with spectacular views of the old brick mill, modest homes and river tucked in the valley.
The Vanka Murals are strikingly contemporary, with scenes of modern war, proud socialism and uncharacteristically (for churches we are told) strong females. The murals cover all the walls and high-domed ceiling and are in the process of being restored. Tours are offered on Saturday. We lucked into a Thursday tour, thanks to a bigger group that had booked and came 1/2 hour late.
Next stop, a fresh fried fish sandwich at the Original Oyster House downtown on Market Square which gave us a chance to admire the interesting architecture, old and new, downtown. The fish tasted very fresh and fun to eat inside (yes, inside…post-vaccines) an old tavern with vintage photos of Miss America pageants and Pirates baseball.
The Mattress Factory is in the lovely Mexican War Streets neighborhood, with gorgeous restored homes lining the streets. Fancier than Lawrenceville, not as fancy as Squirrel Hill. The museum specializes in “immersive” art and that it was, which was a bit challenging to navigate at times with my broken foot because we were sometimes plunged into complete darkness and had to navigate tricky steps and dark narrow passageways. Some artists we recognized – James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama.
Beyond the four floors of the factory building are two neighborhood houses nearby, also with immersive installations. One installation takes up the entire three floors of the house, with holes cut in the floors so you can look up or down at the adjacent floor. Another had a Small piano hoisted awkwardly in the air on ropes and a song composed for the piece you could play on your phone.
Covid is also inspiring some strange art, this museum suggests.
We did a little browsing at sweet independent shops along Butler street. (Pastries at la gourmandine, buttercream) Quite a few have limited hours, perhaps due to the pandemic. People are good about wearing masks and/or reminding you to put yours on if you forget. (Mine hangs on a chord around my neck for easy in and off.)
We met old (younger) friends Dan and Elizabeth for dinner in a tented space outside Spirit, a performance space in Lawrenceville located in a former Moose Lodge.
With steep narrow streets lined with narrow row houses and so many iron bridges, hills and valleys, Pittsburgh struck me at first as a giant Easton, as in the river town on the other side of Pennsylvania, where my mother grew up.
We went first to ride the atmospheric funicular that climbs Mount Washington at a steep incline (hence the name, the Duquesne Incline), traveling inside an old wooden cable car. As promised, the view of the city fanning out across the valley below and up the opposite hillsides, at the convergence of three rivers, is spectacular. We returned at night to Grandview Avenue, which is lined with viewing platforms to see the city adorned with lights. Dazzling.
We finally found the concentration of old warehouses and ethnic food purveyors along Penn Avenue in the Strip District and I hobbled along (my foot is broken) to window shop. (We stopped at a huge candy store, grandpa Joes to pick up some hard-to-find Royal Crown Sours.) Next stop, Squirrel hill, the fancy and yes, hilly, area with non-attached big brick houses and past the various Carnegie Museums.
Our Airbnb is one of those narrow row houses in Lawrenceville with long caramel-colored wood plank floors and an old red brick fireplace. The street reminds me of my grandmother’s street in Easton (except it has hipster shops and restaurants a block a way on Butler Street). We entered through a little gate on the side of the white wooden row house and walked down a narrow alleyway to the back door. Dinner was good takeout pizza (pandemic style) from Driftwood Oven and then off to church for a beer. No joke. There’s a place called The Church Brew Works in a lovely old high ceilinged Romanesque church in Lawrenceville. Dirck’s brother figured it counts as mass attendance.
For my next trip to L.A. and beyond (trying to remain optimistic!) Other options for pandemic outings in New Orleans, D.C., DSM, Chicago…
These are some of America’s most beautiful urban parks
See the nation’s geographical diversity, history, and grandeur—without leaving the city.
Read in National Geographic: https://apple.news/AF-vvfA4XT02TA4Wzvp6zGw
L.A. BARNSDALL ART PARK
Within walking distance of the trendy Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz, this tiny park normally draws crowds for art classes and Friday wine tastings. But now visitors come for ambles around the landscape and architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s first and only L.A. opus, Hollyhock House, commissioned in the 1920s by oil heiress Aline Barnsdall. In 2019 the home and seven other Wright-designed buildings in the United States were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Good stuff here too!: (Related: Explore secret urban walks in Los Angeles, Chicago, and D.C.)
Explore some of America’s secret urban walks
Step into history and nature on these surprising summertime strolls in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.
IN A SPRING and summer of coronavirus lockdowns and travel slowdowns, our usual modes of escape—planes, trains, cruise ships—have become fraught with health, ethical, and even legal perils. Suddenly, flying to see relatives in Arizona or Amsterdam or hopping a train to New York City for the weekend have become major life choices instead of simple vacation whims. And many types of trips (cruises, vacations to Europe for Americans) aren’t even possible during this Summer of Corona.
It’s no wonder that people from Paris to Pittsburgh have turned to their own two feet—and places in their own backyards—to get out and see the world. In the U.S., depending on where you live, that might mean hiking in a nearby state park, running on a local beach, or just strolling through deserted downtowns.
Still, with so many people getting outdoors, many popular paths and parks are overrun. These writers, in three cities across America, found unusual, less-traveled places to walk. Here’s how they got out of the house—and out of their heads.
Steep, secret staircases in Los Angeles
An introvert, I welcomed the stillness of quarantine. Yet, after months of being homebound with my sweet-tempered cat in Long Beach, California, I missed the outdoors. Apparently, so did thousands of equally stir-crazy Angelenos who, once spring stay-at-home orders lifted, poured out onto beach paths and hiking trails.
It was hard to avoid crowds, but I had an ace up my sweatshirt sleeves. All over Los Angeles, cement or wood outdoor stairways are sandwiched between apartment complexes and tucked away in unassuming neighborhoods. Dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, these pedestrian byways were incorporated into new residential developments built around light-rail lines and trolley systems.
“The stairs were erected when the city started expanding into the hilly neighborhoods of Echo Park, Silver Lake, Mount Washington, and Highland Park,” says Charles Fleming, who wrote the book Secret Stairs: A Walking Guide to the Historic Staircases of Los Angeles. “People moving into the hills often didn’t have cars, so, they needed an efficient way to get down to the Pacific Electric Railway trolley system, the markets, and the schools.”
While the trolleys were dismantled in the ’40s and ’50s, the stairs remained. Fleming’s book documents more than 275 of them, each with distinct views and quirks. In hip Silver Lake, where street art flourishes, the Murray Stairway is painted to resemble piano keys and the Micheltorena Stairs bear rainbow stripes. Nearby, The Music Box Stairs and Three Stooges Stairs have silver-screen pasts: starring roles in Laurel and Hardy’s 1932 Music Box and the Stooges’ 1941 An Ache in Every Stake, respectively. Both movies feature the hijinks of delivering heavy objects—a piano and blocks of ice—up the outlandishly steep steps.
One morning during quarantine, I headed to one of the oldest—and most challenging—set of stairs in the city. The view from the bottom of the Eldred Street Stairs alarmed me with its 33.3 grade, which rises and dips like a roller-coaster track. Located in Los Angeles’s Mount Washington neighborhood, it’s the steepest street in California, beating San Francisco’s famed Filbert Street by 1.8 percent.
I took a deep breath and started climbing, my movements comically slow as I steadily gained 219 feet in elevation during the short 0.1-mile hike to the top. Sweat trickled down my forehead, and I had to take frequent breaks to catch my breath. I spied 1920s Craftsman bungalows, preposterously built along the hill. How did early inhabitants drive up to their garages, presumably in Model Ts? The street felt nearly vertical.
The journey was likely even more arduous for residents on Cross Avenue, who had to scale an additional 196 steps up a wooden staircase past the peak of Eldred Street to get home. At the bottom of the Eldred Stairs, legs quivering, I considered turning back. But the mystery of the foliage-shrouded climb ahead beckoned.
Ascending the deserted stairs felt like stepping into the past. I imagined some silent film hero tipping his straw boater hat as I passed. But I was alone, joined only by Monarch butterflies and playful sparrows who darted among the blue morning glories and overgrown weeds peeking through the stair railings.
I finally reached the top, popping out onto a narrow residential street with a scenic overlook. I soaked in the cool breeze, plus spectacular views of craggy Mount Baldy and the San Gabriel Mountains. I was done for the day, but that first outing inspired me to conquer other climbs: the Mattachine Steps in Silver Lake, dedicated to Harry Hay, founder of the Mattachine Society, one of the earliest LGBTQ rights group in the U.S. Next on my list: an Echo Park trek that leads to Angelino Heights, a late 19th-century neighborhood dotted with Victorian and Queen Anne mansions that seem popped out of a storybook.
During the pandemic, I’ve dreamt of time traveling to life after the crisis or to the glorious before times. Venturing up these old stairways is, in a way, like journeying into a bygone Los Angeles. It’s been just the escape I needed. —Rachel Ng
Down by the river in Chicago
Ordinarily, the glassy expanse of Chicago’s Lake Michigan attracts both photo ops and crowds of people who walk, bike, run, or sun themselves along the shore. But when this spring’s COVID-19 shutdowns closed the lakefront, I found a different watery escape: strolling the connected parks and paths along the North Branch of the Chicago River.
The multi-forked, 156-mile river winds from Lake Michigan through a series of other waterways that finally connect with the Mississippi River. Historically, the Chicago River has been a route for both indigenous people and European settlers, allowing Chicago to flourish as a major industrial city. But for me, during this pandemic, trails along the river have transformed into a secret world where I can get my nose out of my phone and into nature. Well, at least for a couple of miles a couple of times a week.
All it takes to get to my hideaway? A quick turn into what I think of as my personal portal: a cut in the railing of the Belmont Avenue Bridge near my home in the Avondale neighborhood. Just west of Western Avenue, I leave the busy road and zigzag down a concrete ramp to the meandering asphalt trail along the river.
The murky green water to my left, I walk through a thicket of trees and step inside a corner of Richard Clark Park called The Garden. Even during the pandemic, this hidden dirt-bike park was semi full of excited kids whooping and whipping their wheels over multiple mounds of soil, twisting and turning in an exhilarating escape from confinement. My 12-year-old nephew was often among them.
In the Garden, happy screams echo through the trees, a diversion from my doomscrolling on Twitter before I continue on my walks. And the land the bikes roll on has a long history of fun: it’s the site of the former Riverview Park. The legendary amusement park operated wooden roller coasters and toboggan rides from 1904 to 1967 under the slogan “laugh your troubles away.”
As I walk north on the trail, a contemporary grey stone building rises like a series of undulating waves. It’s the WMS Boathouse, designed by local architectural star Jeanne Gang, opened in 2013 as part of the city’s ongoing efforts to revitalize the riverfront. Gang used her trademark crisp engineering and green infrastructure elements (rain gardens, porous concrete that helps store and filter river water) to make a structure that’s both a design and environmental win.
RELATED: GARDEN CEMETERIES WERE AMONG AMERICA’S FIRST URBAN PARKS
In other summers, I’d rent a canoe outside the boathouse, or peek inside at the rowers who train here. Though the building is quiet this year (rentals and programs are on hold for now), the structure’s serene, zigzaggy roof still soothes me, a reminder that tough times, like flowing water, eventually move on.
Just beyond, my running shoes hit Riverview Bridge, a new concrete path that gently climbs 18 feet above the river. The slither of concrete with rusty steel tooth-like railings is popular with runners and bikers. Me, I slow down to a saunter high above the water, surveying the tops of surrounding trees, imagining I’m far from home before I turn around.
The bridge connects to an old path in California Park, where it ends. For now, at least. Work is underway for more legs of what urban planners aim to make one contiguous river trail. In these long, repetitive days, even small developments—like an extension of my secret world—feel like hope. —Kate Silver
Graveyard rambles in Washington, D.C.
During the pandemic, I‘ve been strolling amid hundreds of people, none of them wearing masks. But don’t COVID shame me: they’re all buried six feet under in historic Washington, D.C. cemeteries, so I’m not worried about social distancing.
My adopted hometown is famously rich in green spaces—Rock Creek Park, a ribbon of grass, trees, and water; the monument- and museum-studded National Mall. But during months of lockdown, my usual paths were jammed with runners and walkers, many unmasked and going about their sweaty, potentially germ-spreading business like it was 2019.
So my husband Callan and I retreated to cemeteries for walks that were often, well, deathly quiet. Our ambles started in March in Glenwood Cemetery, a still-active burial ground in the northeast quadrant of the city near Catholic University.
We came seeking exercise and a look at the grave of Reginald Wycliffe Geare, an early 20th-century architect infamous locally for designing D.C.’s Knickerbocker Theatre. It collapsed in a blizzard in 1922, killing 98 people. Geare also drew up the plans for our 1920 townhouse, which seems to weather storms OK, so we wanted to pay tribute.
On laps around Glenwood’s rolling acerage, Callan and I discovered more than Geare’s simple, flat stone. In spring, cotton candy-pink cherry blossoms backdropped weathered, grouchy stone cherubs. On Memorial Day, we witnessed a funeral procession where brightly dressed mourners on motorcycles provided a bittersweet foil to the dark hearse they followed.
Each time we dropped by, greeted by a swarm of life-sized, trumpet-playing stone angels, we’d discover more evidence of life and death’s rich pageant: a clutch of early 20th-century Greek immigrants in a family plot; recent, silk flower-decked tombstones engraved with Ethiopian surnames, a sign of D.C.’s large immigrant population. And just last week, my genealogist husband discovered two distant relatives were interred there under an expansive elm, an Ancestry.com data point made real.
I cop to morbidly scanning headstones for 1918 or 1919 passings (Spanish flu?). But I mostly consider these strolls a pleasant revival of the 19th-century cemetery movement holding that graveyards should be like public parks, gathering places where well-dressed Victorian crowds held picnics, concerts, or even horse races.
“Back then, if you had distinguished out-of-town guests, you’d take them to see the gravesites of local worthies and show off the sculptures,” says Keith Eggener, a graveyard historian, architecture professor at the University of Oregon, and author of the book Cemeteries. “They became so popular, people started to lead tours of them and write guidebooks.”
Those boneyard guides would’ve had a lot to talk about at the Georgetown nabe’s shaded, creek-side Oak Hill Cemetery, which I turned to for one-on-one, six-feet-apart strolls with girlfriends as D.C. rolled from crisp spring to boggy, hot summer. Amid tombs dating back to the 1850s, the steep stone steps and winding paths worked out both my calves and sense of mortality.
Civil war officers, sea captains, and other notables are buried amid the towering oaks. Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie’s body was temporarily interred here in a cliffside masoleum in 1862, inspiring George Saunders’ recent graveyard novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. And legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee’s remains are entombed here behind a metal sculpture of a tree.
One June day, as I turned to leave the graveyard, I saw a spotted baby deer peeking out from behind a grizzled Victorian gravestone, all bright eyes and shaky legs. The lush, secluded surroundings seemed to make Bambi—like me—feel very alive indeed. —Jennifer Barger
Los Angeles-based writer Rachel Ng hopes to be fit enough to walk the Great Wall of China someday. Follow her on Instagram.
We didn’t have as much time as needed to explore Portland properly but what we saw of it, we enjoyed. After staying with a friend in Cousin’s Island, we drove on a bright sunny morning through the pretty village of Yarmouth (with lots of old clapboard houses labeled with historic plaques) to the Eastern Promenade, a park with a broad grassy lawn and walkway overlooking Casco Bay. Lovely way to start the day. We enjoyed both the harbor views and the beautiful old homes across the street, as well as a community garden in full blossom.
For lunch, we met old friends from Des Moines who now live in Brunswick in the cool Old Port area at a sandwich shop called The Works Bakery Cafe – nothing fancy or special, compared to the many other notable restaurants in town but we gathered less to eat than to catch up after not seeing each other for many years. Our friend Jon’s architecture office is around the block above the popular Bard Coffee. Dirck had to leave earlier than I did for the airport (we took different flights – long story) so I got to wander around, equipped with NYTimes travel stories on Portland. Lots of fun shops to explore including the Salt Cellar, Rough and Tumble (gorgeous leather purposes made in Maine) and restaurants/food shops including Holy Donut, which was down to one donut by the time I got there around 3 p.m.
Fortunately I decided to leave early for the airport to catch my 6 p.m. flight thru Newark. Arriving around 4 p.m. I found out that my flight was delayed 2 hours, which meant I wouldn’t make my connection. No worries. There was no line at the United counter and the young guy behind the counter seemed ready for my request (even though he was wearing a vest that suggested his regular job was steering planes on and off the tarmac). He rebooked me on a flight leaving at 4:50 p.m. to Chicago – with 2.5 hour layover. I’d get home about an hour earlier than my original 11:50 p.m. When I got to Chicago at about 6:30, I saw there was a 7:30 flight to DSM as well as the 9:35 flight I was booked on. I walked over to the 7:30 flight desk and got on that flight instead. So I actually got to DSM at about 8:45 p.m. — much earlier than expected and at about the same time that Dirck’s flight on American (via Philly, which left at 3:30 p.m. from Portland) arrived. Not sure I’ve ever had that good an experience…it helped that I didn’t have any luggage (dirck took my suitcase and checked it since I couldn’t lift it, due to my broken arm) and I was rerouted.
A day later…still in DC. Turns out the pop-up storm on Wednesday eve while I was at National Airport screwed up flights and now I am flying to…Chicago. (I was going to Chicago on Saturday morning. Post-storm on Wednesday, I couldn’t get another flight to Des Moines until Friday p.m. so I decided to fly early to Chicago Thursday and went back to the DC hotel Wednesday night, where D was staying one more night. Of course later I found out I could have gotten to DSM very late Wednesday because my connecting flight from St. Louis was delayed in departing…earlier in the night it was first delayed and then back on time just as I was planning to leave DC, meaning I would have missed my connection. Mine was one of many sob stories. Lots of airport confusion.)
From last night: It’s pouring outside the floor to ceiling windows of National Airport so hoping my Southwest flight is not delayed. I spent much of my day at the elegant Library of Congress, where I met with a very nice and interesting archivist who specializes in women’s manuscripts. I walked around the imposing and ornate library feeling a bit intimidated, which I think is the idea, and visited an exhibit comparing British and American suffragettes. Also heard a short lecture on the topic presented by the archivist I later interviewed.
We ended up walking through a long underground tunnel to the Dunkin’ Donuts in the bowels of the Madison Building. Quite the contrast with the above ground library. Felt like I was in the guts of the place.
It was blazing hot when I left around 3 pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch so I went to the cafe in the American Indian museum, which had slim pickings’ but I got some vegetarian chili and fry bread and enjoyed the view of running water over stones out the window.
I made a mistake en route to the airport, by taking the blue line Metro from L’enfant Plaza, which was 13 stops/28 minutes vs 4 stops/14 minutes on the Yellow line. Fortunately I had plenty of time. The sky appears to be clearing!