Ithaca is paradise in the summer, but if you want someplace to go on a quick summer vacation, with some urban excitement? There is always NYC, a place we dearly love, and will visit at hat's drop. But if you want something a little less known, a bit farther afield, and to make a discovery, go in the opposite direction, west instead of east, and visit Pittsburgh.
Yes, Pittsburgh. We visited Pittsburgh for the first time 6 years ago. We were going to a conference, and staying with friends. We had good, particular reasons to go: the conference (paying us), and those friends. But we found that Pittsburgh has attributes, as a city, of its own.
Its image is of a smokey, smolten steel town. Of course, this is no longer true. The city, to its enormous credit, did not die with the death of its first industry. Instead it recreated itself, as a center of education, and a home to health care and insurance businesses. It stayed economically strong.
Emerging from the transition was the physical beauty of the place. It got clean, and its three rivers, in their mighty confluence ("confluence" is a commonly-heard word in Pittsburgh) became prominent in their loveliness, recreational capacities, and interesting, cool-to-think-about, geographic and historical importance.
Also physically lovely about Pittsburgh are its hills. The hills are above those rivers. (That's where the water runs from.) Pittsburgh's hills reminded us of San Francisco, a place we have visited many times, and love. But San Fran's hills don't run with water, like Pittsburgh's. And they don't have trams running up them for thrilling views, as Pittsburgh's do.
Pittsburgh has also become a culinary center. There are great food people working there, running the range from farmer's markets and inventive food trucks, to fancy, splashy joints. When we were there, we talked to our restaurant host/chef, after a fantastic meal (at an expensive place, let's be clear - we like to spend money on such evenings pretty nicely, once in a while - though we can tell you, it was maybe only 60% NYC expensive), who told us he chose Pittsburgh over Brooklyn, as a place to ply his trade in comfort and calm, at a reasonable rent, to appreciative clientele. We can tell you he was doing it to great results.
The other thing, for summer, is that Pittsburgh has a major league baseball team. They play in a park that is regarded as perhaps the loveliest in the nation. (San Francisco's is its rival - there's that comparison, again - but tickets in Pittsburgh are about half the price of S.F.'s.)
As restaurateurs do, at least one bookstore has chosen to be in Pittsburgh rather than New York. It's called Amazing Books. It is a great shop and is run by a guy from the Bronx who married a woman from Pittsburgh and settled there. He has invited us to do a reading of our book, "Brooklyn 3, New York," at his place, and we are sure doing it. It is scheduled for Sunday 29 June, at 11 a.m. The New York Mets are in town that day to play the Bucs. Our plan is to do our reading first and then go as a group to the game. If any of this interests you to the point of involement? Let us know, and we'll see what's doing.