By Harriet Frapier
It’s 2 p.m., the sun is shining at full blaze, and I’m ready for a rest. Sitting by the market I look across the square to its grand skyscrapers hovering above — the scene is intriguing. To the left elderly men challenge each other to a game of chess. On the right a clown draws a crowd of kids with his juggling. Everywhere people sit soaking up the sun, reading books, and chatting to friends.
I can’t believe this is not Europe. Maybe it’s the glass replica of London’s Houses of Parliament or the stillness of Market Square or the many people out and about on foot that makes downtown Pittsburgh stand out. Business brought me here but the city’s charm will bring me back.
Market Square is the central meeting place and situated in the heart of downtown, which is also known as The Golden Triangle. A major development program transformed the area into a pulsating business district. “The city has changed a lot in the last six years. It used to be a steel city; it was dirty but now it’s turned into a place loved by the locals,” says Lulu, the barista at Nicholas Coffee Company. The smell of freshly ground coffee lured me here from my place of rest.
With coffee in hand Lulu leads me on a tour of the in-house roastery. Since 1919 the Nicholas family has served freshly-roasted whole bean coffee to discerning customers. The number of coffee varieties is overwhelming. They cover the walls of the dimly-lit shop and the smells of 30 flavors compete for business. From Amaretto to Peaches & Crème, coffee lovers will succeed at finding “the one.”
Pittsburgh has much more to offer than the average business district. There is a free audio-guided tour that shows you just that (download from www.visitpittsburgh.com). Learn about the history of the city’s skyscrapers and important figures such as Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, and discover treasures that will make any architect’s heart skip a beat. One such diamond is the Union Trust Building on Grant Street. Built in the Flemish-Gothic style, it boasts a flamboyant lobby.
In contrast to the city, the natural boundaries of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers create the downtown “triangle.” Point State Park marks the tip of it. Here the meeting of both rivers forms the Ohio River. Skyscrapers behind you, your view extends far beyond the riverbanks to the lush green hillsides of Pittsburgh. Here you can breathe, relax, and hear the rivers’ rushing waters pass beside you.
To get an equally impressive view from a bird’s perspective take the Duquesne Incline up Mt. Washington — in operation since 1877. For a mere $5 the bright red cable car takes you up in five minutes. Passing through the museum-like station you step onto the observation deck. It unfolds a cityscape view of countless yellow iron bridges and high-rising skyscrapers — a perfect contrast to the natural flow of the three rivers. In 2009 USA Today voted this scene from above as “One of the Top Ten sites in the world for viewing a cityscape,” and rightly so.
Back at Market Square, at Primanti Brothers, this time the realization kicks in that this is America. Where else could you find a ham and cheese sandwich filled with coleslaw and chips while slurping a bottomless Diet Coke? I’ve seen enough of downtown to wish I had more time to discover all of Andy Warhol’s hometown — including the Strip District with its ethnic culinary melting pot and Southside’s nightlife scene. The city caught my attention and I will return someday soon.
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