Summary – day 10 – Pittsburgh (Saturday 29 June)

Cumulative distance: 591.91

No cycling for us today – but today is a special day for cycling – it’s the first day of the Tour de France! It seems a little odd to be so far away from it. This year is the 100th edition of the Tour and it’s starting in Corsica – a bit of a controversial decision, as there are quite a few people in Corsica who don’t particularly regard themselves as part of France at all! We’ll be following the Tour from afar this week and then going to see the finish in Paris on our return.

We were planning in spending a very leisurely day exploring Pittsburgh. My knees were still a bit sore after all the climbing we’d done yesterday. So no riding whatsoever.

I needed to get some soya milk and some other breakfast things, so I wandered down the hill into the city to find a grocery store. Walking down afforded a wonderful view of the city skyline and brought home how much climbing we’d done at the end of our journey to get to Patrick’s house – it’s in a district called Fineview – there was a clue right there! I went through Deutchtown – an attractive nineteenth century area.

Back to the house for breakfast. Patrick had started some repair work on his shower, (so curiously no warm shower for us today!). Mike (McL) had ordered a new new cycle rack, but had discovered that it didn’t fit on his bike, so that needed to be sorted out, (I’ve a terrible reputation for being last-minute, but I think that even I would have wanted to establish that rack and bike were compatible sooner than the day before a trip!) Patrick took Mike (McL) to a bike shop over on the South Side of city – miles away. While they were out they also collected some donated bikes for charity – something Patrick often does on a Saturday. Patrick is a brilliant bicycling advocate (and he works for the city’s transport department – superb!) He’s also an exceptional Warm Showers host – I don’t expect that ferrying strangers from England across the city is what people expect when they sign up, but this is entirely typical in our experience – cyclists are nice people by and large and I’m really happy to count ourselves part of the cycling community.

While Mike and Patrick were preoccupied with plumbing and bicycle racks and donated bikes, Matthew and I went into the city to visit the Carnegie Science Center exhibition on the Science of the Bicycle – much more to my taste, (although I do a good line in plumbing DIY).

The Science of the Bicycle. exhibition was lots of fun and it was really interesting to look at so many vintage US bikes. My favourites were the 1950s and 1960s, children’s machines that were brightly-painted, had fake petrol tanks on the top tube and must have been a struggle to ride very far, light-weight they were not!

The display boards were really informative and revealed how as bikes became less popular in the ’50s and ’60s because car use increased, bicycle manufacturers concentrated more on children’s models – that mimicked some of the styling from cars and tied in with popular personalities of tv programmes. There was a ‘Champion the Wonderhorse’ bicycle, a Pewee Herman bicycle that looked like a scooter, and even an Elvis Presley bike!

There were some lovely bicycle posters on display, too.

Having paid our entry fee, we could visit any other part of the Center with our ticket so we also manged to go on board the Requin – a US submarine built in 1945 and launched just before the end of WWII.

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It’s preserved as a museum and it’s fascinating – I couldn’t help feeling that it must have been a terrible life in such cramped conditions. There were recollections from crew members though who said that it was a good place to be, with a strong sense of community. I didn’t realise that submarines spend hardly any time submerged – mostly they sail on the surface with the crew able to be out on the decks. The kitchen was improbably big and well-equipped. The display boards made it clear that one of the ways that sailors were enticed into serving on submarines was the prospect of better food!

There were some stunning views from the Carnegie Science Center and the Requin over to the city and Point State Park on a peninsular, at the confluence of the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River, (which become the Ohio River at the peninsula) and down to the West End bridge that we’d crossed on our way in to the city last night.

Matthew wanted to visit the park, so we walked up past the Heinz field – home of the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team and up towards PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates, (aka the ‘Buccaneers’) baseball team are based. We passed a beautiful Vietnam War memorial and over Fort Duq Bridge to Peninsular Park. The park was laid in the 1970s and it was a deliberate attempt to change the image of the city from a declining industrial city to a more diverse and vibrant place.

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We wandered through the park and watched the enormous high fountain for a while – getting soaked when the wind blew the jet over and gallons of the water landed on us! We headed towards downtown and visited the Fort Pitt block house, which was built in 1764. We saw an amazing sand sculpture still being prepared – we thought for the 4th July as it seemed to show the westward expansion of the USA.

Up through downtown, the skyscrapers are very concentrated in a small area – Pittsburgh was used as Gotham City in the filming of the recent Batman films/movies and we could see why.

We read about a major flood in Pittsburgh in March 1936 – a plaque on the wall showed the water level up to 46 feet – that’s over 14 metres! Heinz Hall was rather splendid, too – Heinz  has been a part of Pittsburgh since 1890 and the company’s world headquarters are here. The famous ‘keystone’ logo is based on that of Pennsylvania, which is known as the ‘keystone state’. We’d passed Heinz Field stadium earlier on the North Shore near the Carnegie Science Centre.

We took a bus back to Patrick’s house and waited for him and Mike (McL) to come in. I’d suggested to Patrick that we could take him out to dinner and he’d suggested a Thai restaurant that was in an old house. We drove there in Patrick’s car. The restaurant was perfect, we sat in the garden among plants and flowers and with fountains playing. The food was really nice – it’s so good to be able to have a hearty vegan meal every now and again! While we were there, we were visited by dozens of brightly glowing fireflies. We talked about Patrick’s work and family and his adopted city. After dinner Patrick wanted to drive us to up to Mount Washington a high point overlooking the city. It was fantastic. The baseball game had finished and there was a spectacular fireworks display. The view was terrific and it was really kind of him to show it to us. Back home – tired, after a good rest day.

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