Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Pittsburgh's Impressive Persona

I must admit we had our doubts about Pittsburgh, the last time I was there was 1996, and Craig had never been. Visit Pittsburgh hired us to speak at the PRSA Conference and had of course been talking it up since they scheduled us in February. Apparently cleaned up, revitalized, and renovated for access, Pittsburgh is building a new name for the Steel City.

We had pleasant surprises all five days we were there, starting with the flight in last Wednesday. Rolling greens and endless trees came into view as we approached Pittsburgh Airport; and although we're both from the east coast, the greenery never fails to impress itself upon us when we arrive.
From there, we found our way to our hotel, the Westin Conference Center; nestled in the heart of downtown, just a minute's roll from the river, the art district, the new ball park, and to our joy that evening, a live free concert. Pointed in the right direction, we spent the evening strolling around the area, tasting the local pizza, shooting shots of the riverwalk, and ending up at the Lotus show, where the young Pittsburgh was out twirling to the music and recycling their trash. Thorough recycling centers surrounded the small outdoor stage, complete with assistants who made sure your trash went into the appropriate container. (Left)

Thursday was no less impressive; starting bright and early with an overslept breakfast because our Westin "Heavenly Bed" was so dreamy. After conference speakers and breakout sessions on Green Travel, we met up with the rest for a touring cruise down the three rivers.

The three-floor river boat was accessible on the ground level with bathrooms, a bar, and a nice dance floor, even viewable from the upper floors, but since the food tables were on the second level, we begged the crew for a manual lift up the steps, and with smiles and a few grunts, they obliged. After snacks and a personal and impressive history lesson from the captain, we begged the crew again, and spent the last portion of the tour on the top deck.

Groups departed the boat in 10s and made their way to various restaurants for a dine-around. We meandered back to the hotel area to check out the Fish Market and tasted our share of the ocean's pleasures.

Friday began with a keynote breakfast including Lynn Swann, signing autographs, sharing laughs, and inspiring us to explore Pittsburgh, and Richard Bangs, the "father of modern adventure travel," inspiring us to continue to do what we do and share the world to people with disabilities. Our talk on marketing to this niche followed, and the day panned out a success with many contacts in the industry that we're excited to pursue.

Following the conference this day we made our way across the river to the Andy Warhol Museum, and dowsed ourselves in artistic wonder. Warhol's from Pittsburgh? Who knew. The museum's access was impeccable.

After downing a few rounds at the nearby Irish Pub, we spent the evening enjoying America's favorite passtime. The park's access was excellent; escorting us personally through the maze to the right pathways, and ending up with some primo seats behind home plate. Even though the Pirates couldn't get-er-done in 9 innings, and the park stops serving alcohol in the 7th, they scored in the 12th, and Canada Day's celebrations against the Toronto Blue Jays included an amazing fireworks show. Hey, what a pleasant surprise!

Sad to leave on Saturday, we strolled around downtown one last time, winding up at the Steel City Diner for some greasy eats and happy service. This morning clinched something for us that we hadn't solidified in our minds until now. Pittsburgh is a friendly town. Everyone we'd met was happy and excited to share their town with us. Smiles from strangers on the street, great conversation at the bar, and friendly locals everywhere we turned, Craig dubbed it the Big City Steamboat.
We didn't get to see everything we would have liked to- explore the restaurants fully, visit Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water, or do the NY rivaling theaters, so Pittsburgh, we'll be back! Count on it.

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