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Trip Report Unwrapping Pittsburgh (a little Christmassy journey)

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As some of you may remember, I gave my nieces and nephews a brief trip (December 27 to 29) to Pittsburgh for their Christmas present. There were 21 of us altogether: my two sisters and two BIL's, me, and 16 kids ranging from almost 3 to almost 21. (Quite a variety!) Most of them live in western PA, but this was actually my first time in Pittsburgh.

On our way, we went via the Big Mac museum, just, well, because we could. It's a working McDonald's, and has the world's biggest Big Mac statue and a bust of the guy who invented it in Uniontown in 1967, Jim Delligatti. (Mr. Delligatti and his family opened the museum in 2007, when he was 89 years old. I'm not sure how many Big Macs he actually ate, but there's a lesson there somewhere.)

We started our Pittsburgh experience at the Duquesne Incline, whose website records that it's the "third most romantic lookout point in America." However that may be, everybody had a great time watching the little red funicular chug up and down the incline, and when it was our turn to ride it--we got the whole car to ourselves--it was quite a thrill for the littles. The view from the top is splendid, and doing it at sunset as we did was really special, as the lights of the city and the three rivers coming together made for a beautiful view. I like the way Pittsburgh is nestled into the mountains, with the rivers providing a counterpoint.

After the ride, we checked into our (Priceline) hotel; the Omni William Penn. The lobby is lovely (Baby J said that the tree was "fabulous"; she has an extensive vocabulary for a two year old) and the rooms are fine: reasonably spacious, decently kept. The staff was quite pleasant and helpful, as well. Valet parking at the hotel runs $27 a night, but it's a great location, so if you go in good weather and without a ton o' little kids you probably wouldn't need to use it.

Quaker Steak and Lube (the one on Andrew Drive) was our dinner location that night; we had called ahead, but still waited for about half an hour until we were seated. The wings were worth it, though. Oh, my. It's a loud and funky place with motorcycles and cars hanging around, perfect for the sound of enthusiastic wing fans diving into their "team buckets" and onion rings. Everybody stuffed themselves silly on wings, mostly the classic hot sauce Buffalo style but some yummy ones with parmesan and peppercorn. It's not a place to take your first date or your inhibitions but it definitely worked for a group. They kept up well with the service, too, after we were finally seated and finally served.

Tuesday found us going to the Cathedral of Learning, a soaring building on Pitt's campus. There is a tour of the many classrooms that are from different countries, but as the next one available was at 1:30 and lasted for quite a long time, we thought our best option would be to visit the third floor rooms to get a taste of the place and the Christmas decor. (Again, I'd love to go there on my own sometime, but you have to be wise when you're traveling with such a diverse group.) Most everyone fell in love with the Austrian room, albeit Princess S, the five year old, had a special fondness for the simple serenity of the Japanese room, and two of the boys had a lovely time copying the Armenian alphabet. (The Armenian room was my personal favorite.) Even the eight rooms of the third floor held a lot to absorb--the carvings, the desk styles, the decor--and it was the favorite spot for our first grader.

After grabbing some sandwiches, we went to the John Heinz History Museum, a Smithsonian associate which has much of the Smithsonian "feel". There are two discovery/play areas for children, and the exhibits are very well done and interactive. It usually closes at 5, but was opened extended hours for the holiday. There's a two-level sports section that held a lot of appeal to the Western PA'ers, and the other exhibits were visually appealing. There's a tiny bit of a cohesiveness problem, probably due to the many areas that are touched on, but I'm guessing it's great for school field trips where they are probably focusing on just one or two areas. It's a good size building, but you can find your way around fairly easily.

Dinner Tuesday night was at Joe Mama's (www.joemamas.com) where we had our own cozy red room and family style Italian food: salad, focaccia, mini meatballs (oooh, great red gravy!), artichoke dip (mmmm hmmmm), penne alfredo, chicken with roasted tomato and fresh mozzarella, ratatouille, dessert (tiramisu/chocolate cobbler/bread pudding mix) and unlimited soft drinks--for under 20 bucks a person. Not bad, not bad at all. All of the food was reasonably good, and the dip, alfredo, ratatouille, and desserts were really great. Our waiter was excellent--always a plus!

After a cold journey (right across from our hotel) to the Grant Street creche, with its huge figures derived from the Vatican display and its Christmas songs/stories playing, we went back to one of the bigger rooms and had our present opening. (Our families get together for Christmas between Christmas and New Year, as it's a little crazy to bring more people in to a house of 15 at Christmas when they're opening gifts. :) )

We left the next morning, not too replete to stop at that grand depository of all that is wrong with America's eating habits, The Cracker Barrel, for brunch. (But it did definitely do service as both breakfast and lunch.)

A good time was had by all!

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