Is my spring break really over already?! After a week in Pittsburgh, PA, here we are in Northern Virginia once again. It's a bitter sweet feeling to be back, but I feel like Kris and I got to spend some quality time with family and friends, as well as get some time to explore the city for a couple of days. It was cool and rainy most of the time, which was fine. At least, we did get some sun all day last Thursday, which was saved for the South Side of the 'burgh. Our first stop however was the Cathedral of Learning in the Oakland portion of Pittsburgh (pictured above).
My dad worked here and my brother went to school here, and it's been a little while since I've last visited the place. It blows me away that students get to study, hang out and take classes in this amazing structure. Strangely enough, the cool, dark, wet weather was perfect for a visit to the Cathedral.
The main reason we visited was to check out the Cathedral's Nationality Rooms. There are roughly thirty rooms open to the public earlier during the day, dedicated to the many cultures who migrated to the local region many years ago. I took a lot more photos but have a lot of work to do on some of them. Below is a small sneak peek at some of them in the meantime.
My favorite was the Chinese room, mostly because of the artwork inside. Mind-boggling how good the work in this room was. As with all of the rooms, and the Cathedral in general, you have to visit this place, and take a lot of time to really see it to believe it.
Later, after a good lunch down the street, we went to the Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History. A lot of people have their signature place they think of when they visit Pittsburgh. For me it is the museum. This is where I discovered science as a small boy, and fell in love with the dinosaurs, like most young boys. I later got turned onto modern art when we'd take field trips to this place in high school. With the exception of the amazing Andrey Avinoff exhibit, we didn't see much art, however we did check out the fairly new dinosaur set up, which blows both New York and DC's exhibits out of the water, hands down.
Fortunately, there weren't a lot of people at the museum Tuesday afternoon, with the uncanny exception of a large crowd of Amish folk. This made it easier to wander around and check out the skeletons from lots of different angles.
One thing I really appreciate about the dinosaur hall, and the entire museum overall, is the thought and consideration put into space. Nothing looks too crammed or forced. I highly recommend a visit to the Carnegie - it has one of the best dinosaur bone collections in the world, and the art is always excellent, and thought-provoking, and occasionally dazzling, many times going beyond "safe" and what is expected.
I had to take photos of some of the backlit geodes, which made for a great photo montage. This was Kris' favorite part of the museum by far - especially the gemstone collection.
After Oakland, we made a brief stop to the Bloomfield part of Pittsburgh, if not for the wonderful treasure trove of tunes that is Paul's Compact Discs. I freakin' love this little place, and that's an understatement. They carry all kinds of music, including a huge jazz selection. They focus mostly on the more underground stuff - the good stuff, both rock and electronic and everything in between. It's been way too long since I've been to Paul's, and they sure as sh@t better stick around for an even longer time. If you live in Pittsburgh and like good music, well get off your behind and support this joint. If you don't live in the area but are passing though, don't miss it!
Thursday turned out to be a far sunnier, shinier and happier day. This day was set aside for the wonder that is Pittsburgh's very own South Side. To me, this is what the 'burgh is all about. It's a nice little conglomerate mix of feakshow, hipster, art-head meets gritty, old-school, yinzer. Sure, there's some yuppification going on in the area, but that's not all bad, as long as it doesn't infiltrate the true character and spirit of The South Side. City Books, South Bank Galleries, Groovy, Slacker, Dave's Music Mine and of course, the Beehive are all essential stops, to name a few.
City Books was our first stop, and it was nice getting there early and having the whole place to ourselves. What a beautiful old independent book shop. My favorite part is the top floor, where you can kick back and get lost in the pages of a good book for a little while. Kris found an excellent recipe book like new, for only five bucks here.
The pic below is my favorite part of the store. I could live here in this room, if it weren't for my allergies.
Next stop, Groovy!! I've been into selling and donating a lot of things lately, and even years ago I sold a bunch of Garbage Pail Kid trading cards to Groovy. Still, with a collection of toys this immense, I couldn't resist buying a couple. Thanks to nostalgia, I snagged two little Go Bots for only five bucks each, both in real good shape and once owned by yours truly many moons ago. They've got tons of Star Wars, Transformers, GI Joe, Barbie and more here. The selection is endless and the place is like walking into a beautiful time machine.
A visit to the South Side is never complete without a stop to the Beehive, just in time for some lunch. One of the biggest and most unique coffee houses on the planet, The Beehive was once rivaled only by another, equally awesome Beehive in Oakland, which had two floors and boasted a great concert hall and movie theater. Unfortunately, that closed down around the time I moved out to Virginia, due to poor money management, or something to that effect. Luckily, the South Side original is still around, after over two decades. My only wish is that they'd get an Artomat back in the place.
Oh man! An original Shepard Fairey on the side of the Beehive! He did more work across the street as well! The 'burgh has truly been blessed by artistic brilliance.
Kris and I also took the T, Pittsburgh's little subway train, from Station Square to the Cultural District Downtown, where we dropped by the Space, 707 and 709 galleries, all boasting very good art exhibits. We briefly hung out with a friend who works there then dropped on by the big transformer sculpture, made up of Pittsburgh's bridges. I'm not sure who made the piece, but it's a treat for both Transformer fans and art-lovers alike. Nearby you'll find a couple of clever magnolia tree sculptures, which blend in with a couple of real ones, which have to be seen to be believed.
So, we only scraped the surface of this great city full of many hidden and some not-so-hidden treasures. We'll be checking out more in July, so expect another Pittsburgh post then! While it was good to be back in the 'burgh, it's also good to be back home. Looking forward to next time!
UPDATE: From my friend Chris in Pgh:
Glenn Kaino is the artist who did the transformer made out of bridges. He also had a recent exhibition at the Warhol.
Tony Tasset is the artist who did the magnolia trees made out of bronze.