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Friday, September 2, 2016

CLASSIC TRIP - East Coast Odyssey - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

After Ohio's Amish country, we head east to the Keystone State, Pennsylvania. The next three night's worth of lodging will be at the Amerisuites Inn in Cranberry Township about 10 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh.

Driving in from West Virginia, it seems as though every freeway is under construction and our map from Yahoo! Maps is woefully inadequate. Luckily, our AAA map of Pennsylvania is more up to the task of navigating us over to Cranberry.

Cranberry Township seems like one of those suburbs that grew way too fast for the infrastructure to keep up. The main streets are clogged, strip malls abound, and construction is everywhere. A few barns dot the landscapes pointing out the doomed farms they reside in.

Unfortunately, our AAA Pennsylvania Tourguide is not up to par with the AAA map and we cannot find Amerisuites. I have to find a pay phone to call them. The woman answering the phone gives me cryptic directions to continue down the street I'm on and look for the Long John Silver's across from Eaton Park.

That's all I could get out of her after several tries, so I drive on to see what I can find. About three blocks later, I see a Long John Silver's across from an Eat 'n Park drive in diner (shouldn't that really have been named Park 'n Eat? Never mind...). I turn in the adjacent access road and there it is, the Amerisuites Inn.

I cannot rave enough about this hotel. A huge two room suite with a full kitchen and separate dining area. In room ironing board, full refrigerator (not an honor bar), and an on-site laundry room. In theory, the indoor pool sounds nice but is just too noisy to enjoy.

We are treated to a daily newspaper and a continental breakfast that includes pancakes and waffles.

We were very comfortable here. The rate was about $80 per night and we slept like babies, although the room did not have a roll-in shower.

The next day we take a drive around the area to see what's there. We arrive in the little town of Zelionople about 10 miles north of Cranberry. It's a cute little town with an incredible amount of traffic flowing through it. Imagine being on Main Street in Disneyland with the traffic of the 405 freeway flowing down the middle. It was incredibly noisy.

The Zelionople Diner provided us with lunch. What an unbelievable bargain this place was. It's a sit down place with friendly service. I had a meat loaf dinner with mashed potatoes and dinner rolls...$2.75. My wife had a tuna casserole dinner...$3.00. Tim had a hot dog...75 cents. Sodas were extra at 75 cents each with free refills. It was all delicious. Try to match that at any McDonalds.

After lunch, we return to the hotel for a nap...we have a big night ahead of us.

Next, we drive over to downtown Pittsburgh and park across the river adjacent to the baseball stadium. Tim is a transit buff and wants to try every mass transit system he comes across. Pittsburgh has a small trolley system. Downtown it's in a subway. All downtown stops are accessible and transit in the downtown area is free.

We ride around for awhile seeing the sights at the different stops. There's a massive stone jail connected via an enclosed stone bridge to an equally massive courthouse. There is a pretty fountain at Steel Plaza. There are some department stores to see.

In all, downtown Pittsburgh looks like an area that is slowly coming back to life after an extended nap. The city seems to be shaking off its rust belt doldrums. It is a pleasant place, but still has a ways to go. I look forward to seeing it again in the future.

We walk over to the baseball stadium, PNC Park, to see it there are any tickets left for tonight's game against the Houston Astros. The game is sold out except for standing room only tickets. Tim really wants to see the stadium to add to his quest to see them all. Already on this trip he has added three and this is the last city we'll be at with a major league field. We go ahead and get the tickets.

There are still over two hours till game time. It's back across the river (which is beautiful, by the way) to the Renaissance Hotel where we build up a tab in the Bridge bar.

When it's time for baseball, we head across the bright yellow Roberto Clemente bridge. It has now been closed to traffic and only pedestrians and sidewalk vendors inhabit its lanes. Directly on the other side is PNC Park.

In we go. Of course, we have nowhere to sit, so we take the pregame time to make a circle tour around the stadium. It's small, capacity 38,000, and every seat is good. The view from home plate takes our breath away. It's a perfectly framed view of downtown Pittsburgh with the Roberto Clemente bridge in the foreground looking like the Yellow Brick Road leading into Emerald City. I look at the picture included here and think that it's so pretty it looks fake. Nope, that's the real view, folks.

The View From Home Plate at PNC Park

Ushers tell us where the best places are to stand during the game. Other ushers tell us to watch for empty seats after the first inning because there will be season ticket holders who don't show up.

We decide to while away the rest of the pregame time in the Outback Steakhouse built into the stadium's left field side.

There are two rooms here at the Outback. One with a view of the field and one with a view of the city. You are not required to have a game ticket to enter either one (though you need one to exit out into the stadium). Since you can watch a free baseball game with your meal, guess which room was more crowded.

We just want to have a few drinks, so we choose the relative solitude of the city view room which does have closed-circuit TV's to keep tabs on the game action.

I have three beers (Iron City Ale and Yeungling's of course) and my wife has two glasses of wine. Tim has a Coke. The anthem has been sung and "Play ball" is commanded, it's time to head back out into the stadium. I'm dreading the bar tab but am very pleasantly surprised to see that it's only $18. For you baseball fans, you know that's a bargain. For the rest of you, that's what the three beers alone would cost in most stadiums.

Outside the exit of the Outback, I see a wheelchair accessible section near the third base side of the left field foul pole with three seats wheelchair spot in the middle of two seats. We go ahead and sit there, mindful we may have to move if the ticket holders show up.

After 4 innings, it's apparent that we will not have to move and enjoy the rest of the game. This is just a wonderful place to see a ball game. The food is wonderful with those grilled sausages, pirogies, and 15 inch kosher dogs. I now have a new favorite baseball stadium. Too bad the Pirates are not playing up to the same level.

Accessibility is also very good with wheelchair seating sprinkled liberally throughout. There is even a front row reserved for wheelchairs next to the Pirates dugout.

This is a brand new baseball-only stadium which replaces the old dual-purpose Three Rivers Stadium. The next day, the Steelers will take the wrappings off of their new stadium, Heinz Field, for an exhibition NFL game.

Not for us, though. We head south through the gorgeous countryside of southwestern Pennsylvania. Our destination today is Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's signature house design.

Along the way we see there is something called Fort Necessity National Monument. Not being one who can pass up a place like this, we stop in. I'm very glad we did.

Those of you who have read our trip reports here will know I'm a lover of history. Fort Necessity is a very historical place so I am in heaven here.

What is it? It's just a little meadow off the side of the road with a small circle of upright logs making up the fort. It just happens to be the spot where a young British colonel by the name of George Washington fought his first battle two and a half centuries ago in the French and Indian War.
Fort Necessity

It's one thing when you plan to go to a historical site such as Fort Sumter. It's a another thing completely when you stumble upon such a major historical spot completely unaware that it's there.
Docent Demonstrating a Musket at Fort Necessity

We listen as docents in period dress describe what the conditions were like and what lead up to that fateful encounter with the French troops that day long ago (Washington lost this battle in case you're keeping score). Another demonstrates the arms of the day including a musket firing. A native American docent gives the Indian view of the times in another tour. I am in complete awe.

We continue on to Fallingwater. This is a masterpiece of American architecture. I'm sure just about everybody has seen a picture of this house Wright designed for Pittsburgh department store magnate Edgar Kaufman. It sits spectacularly over a waterfall.


Unfortunately, Wright did not design it with wheelchairs in mind. Tim and I are limited to the living room, dining room and kitchen while my wife continues on the complete tour. I am a bit miffed that the foundation still charges the full $15 for the tour even when you cannot physically get past the first two rooms. They do offer to show you a video of the rest of the house, but it's just not the same.

Afterward, it's back to Pittsburgh where the three of us, hungry for dinner, stop off at the Ponderosa Steakhouse. I'll save you the details...the Ponderosa is the absolute worst restaurant we have ever had the misfortune to eat at. You know that episode on the Simpson's where the kids are stranded on the island and the girls says "I'm so hungry I could eat at Arby's"? Well, I'd have to be near death to ever set foot in a Ponderosa again.

Well, that's it for Pittsburgh. We had another wonderful night at Amerisuites, drove nine hours the next day to Hickory, North Carolina, stayed at the wonderful Comfort Suites there, ate at the Cracker Barrel (which is as good as the Ponderosa is bad), and continued on to our next stop...

Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick

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