Dashing across Pittsburgh, splashing through Niagara

Here comes my completely subjective view of Pittsburgh/PA, the city “between Chicago and New York”, best known to Americans from its steel industry history. A view taken from urban skater perspective, that is making wikipedia description more complete, as well as half-a-day-tourist visiting Niagara Falls (off skates for that purpose if you are curious).

As regular visitor from Europe you will find Pittsburgh quite typical North American city: tall buildings in downtown, wide streets and highways, and mostly burgers in restaurants (yes, after a week I was missing soups in regular lunch menu). What makes difference is that downtown seems to be a little depopulated; in the work week you can find a few  people on the sidewalks or driving cars as over the weekends. Comparing to Chicago or New York it looks like abandoned city. For me it was perfect, I could easily skate fast through the city.

City center is a perfect place for skating. Flat and clean sidewalks and streets, flat downtown in delta of two rivers with isolated steep hills. I was surprised I have seen none skater there! Truly speaking I read that local law disallows skating sidewalks of business center and maybe this is the reason. I believe however it refers to aggressive skaters: I was skating almost every day, late afternoons and early evenings, couple policemen have seen me but did not react. They looked astonished by a guy skating backwards empty streets and path walks :)

Crossing main bridges is easy, they have sidewalks with good concrete surface and either bike driveways or wide stairs to climb. Do not be deceived however by elevation of Fort Duquesne Bridge riding towards downtown: it has arc shape and the more you go to the end the faster your rides is, plus the sidewalk becomes more narrow. Having speed of average biker (25-30km/h) I drove from bridge to the State Park with serpent valleys. My imagination pictured possible crash with biker on a sharp bend so I decided to ride straight through the spot of grass to loose momentum; intuition was right, right after the corner three bikers emerged going up the bridge.

While downtown and north part is quite easy, surrounding hills on south-west make skating impossible – crossing the west end bridge you can only ride along the river and railways, quite good road no sidewalks however (be warned) so that I made the distance to south end bridge quite quickly, no fun up there. Also the east part is demanding. I decided to ride from downtown to Carnegie Melon, 7km east, and even checked the 5th avenue landscape using google “street view”. It was hard to see that on long distances it is quite steep so that on the way back it looked like Ankara downhill on a bit wider roads. While such a trip is “doable” 1/4 of distance was pure physical effort without notions of fun.

Skating routes and difficulty areas

South-east hills are know from pricey houses and restaurants with excellent view, hence name of the street along the crest, Grandview Avenue. Having a dinner in The Grandview Saloon (what other name would match that place) everyone can enjoy both good food and great… sorry, grand view.

With one day off at the end of my week staying, together with my colleague we decided to rent a car and hit the road to Niagara Falls, 300km away from Pittsburgh. This time skate boots were useless and the only equipment was camera, sunglasses and wallet. Couple hours later I could spot a noticeable white cloud over the city. I thought it was a fire or steam electricity plant. From close distance it became obvious, that was a mist made by falling water. The view was impressive. I have not seen such a massive waterfall. Despite I was overwhelmed by this wonder of nature, we skipped commercial boat trip along the falls. In fact we were sure the only way to take a boat is to cross Canadian border but there is also harbor on the US side. I believe best view is from Canadian cliff where we could not get without visas. Anyway, another spot on the Earth was marked, with obvious option to come back. As always.

PS. I did not splash Niagara waterfall in any way but the subject of this blog entry sounds more sexy, doesn’t it?

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