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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

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Why vacation in Pittsburgh? You’ll be surprised

Tags: Travel
The Pittsburgh skyline

When planning our family vacation to Pittsburgh, Penn., this summer, invariably the first question asked by nearly everyone we told was “why Pittsburgh?”


When planning our family vacation to Pittsburgh, Penn., this summer, invariably the first question asked by nearly everyone we told was “why Pittsburgh?”

It’s not a destination known as a top priority for tourists and is often bypassed by the masses travelling the United States every summer. With its reputation as an industrial city, it came as a big surprise to us that Pittsburgh is actually a world-class city, with much to offer touring families and Jewish travellers in particular.

Pittsburgh is situated at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, where the two meet to create the Ohio river. Its historical significance as a major transportation hub is legendary. The city, built into numerous hillsides, is home to no less than 446 bridges, the most of any city in the world. Venice, Italy, is a close second with 443.

The city grew quickly during the 1800s, when it became the world’s leading steel-producing city. The steel industry had its downside, though. Thick black smoke, a byproduct of steel production, would shroud the city for days on end. It was said that simply moving to the city in the late 1800s increased your chance of developing respiratory problems, decreasing life expectancy by nearly five years.  To this day, the outside walls of many older buildings are still blackened from years of exposure to smoke and soot.  

Much has changed in the last 30 years or so, however. The city took proactive measures to clean up its environmental image when the steel industry largely moved overseas. Today, higher education is the driving force behind the city’s economy. There are more than 30 colleges and universities within the city limits. Some of the larger institutions, such as the University of Pittsburgh (commonly called Pitt for short) and Carnegie Mellon University offer tours of their campuses.

Pittsburgh offers a vibrant cultural experience as well. The Andy Warhol museum, located at 117 Sandusky St. in the North Shore section of the city, is open every day of the week except Monday. It’s easily accessible from downtown Pittsburgh via the appropriately named Andy Warhol Bridge.

A Pittsburgh native, the late artist was considered among the most popular artists during the visual art movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Many examples of Warhol’s works are on display in the multi-level museum. Be warned, though, several exhibits within the museum contain risqué artwork and photography. Those areas are limited to visitors over the age of 18.

The Carnegie Science Center, named for renowned industrialist Andrew Carnegie, is located just several blocks from the Andy Warhol Museum. It’s one of the most visited tourist attractions in the area. The current facility, opened in 1991, offers many hands-on experiments for children of all ages (adults, too!). The museum’s indoor miniature railroad village is quite remarkable. Kids will also get a kick out of the USS Requine submarine, moored in the Allegheny river just alongside the museum.

The city is also home to two of only a handful of incline cable cars still in use in the United States. The Duquesne Incline (pronounced Du-Kane), opened in 1877, is operated by a non-profit society and allows the city’s residents easy access to the Duquesne Heights and Mount Washington sections of the city. The trip up the incline takes just several minutes and offers riders a stunning view of the entire area. It’s open every day of the year.

In recent years, the city has rebuilt its once drab waterfront. The revitalized Station Square area is just across the Smithfield Street Bridge, five minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. The area is lined with cafés and restaurants, and offers a lovely view of the city’s skyline. Just Ducky Tours, a tour bus that doubles as a boat, leaves from Station Square. It’s a very enjoyable way of touring the city, both on land and water.

The city’s Jewish community is largely centred in the Squirrel Hill section of town. Home to most of the city’s 40,000 Jewish residents, the area along Murray Avenue, south of Forbes Avenue, has everything the Jewish traveller could want.

The Milky Way, under the kashrut supervision of the Vaad HaRabbanim of Pittsburgh, is located at 2120 Murray Ave. It’s a dairy restaurant specializing in pizza, sandwiches and falafel.

Dunkin Donuts, located at 5819 Forbes Ave, offers a wide selection of yummy goodies, all under the Vaad’s supervision.

Kosher groceries can be found at Murray Avenue Kosher, 1916 Murray Ave., and at the Giant Eagle supermarket directly across the street.

During our stay in Pittsburgh, we davened at two beautiful synagogues – Congregation Poale Zedeck at 6318 Phillips Ave., and Congregation Shaare Torah at 2319 Murray Ave.  

Located just a five-hour drive from Toronto, and close to 10 hours from Montreal, Pittsburgh is a must-see destination for the whole family.



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