It is amazing the wonderful experiences a person can have when she least expects them. Such was the case for me Saturday.
On Wednesday I found out that my niece, a member of the Morgantown High School marching band, would not only be in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Thursday, but in Pittsburgh's Christmas parade on Saturday. While New York was a bit out of my reach, Pittsburgh was definitely doable. So my sister Betsy, Joellen, and I decided to head north for the day.
I had never been to a parade in Pittsburgh before and was excited and interested to see just what it would be like. I can't exactly say I was mesmerized. As for the parade itself, it mostly bored me with the large gaps created when groups performed for the cameras in front of Macy's, just like they do in the Big Apple. But the most pleasant surprise happened in a little coffee shop along the route.
During one of the gaps Betsy noticed a small cafe near us that was advertising pumpkin spice lattes. Sounded good and warm to us, so we headed for shelter. While I stood in line Betsy and Joellen took a seat in the full-length window. The parade came along again and it was a wonderful spot to watch the spectacle. A few other people found the gem of a location and we all continued to watch the parade and share in its experience. We talked about shopping, identified celebrities in the parade, played "I Spy", and even sang a few Christmas songs. It might have been a slightly unorthodox way to watch a parade with a group of strangers, but I think we all thoroughly enjoyed it.
Afterward we headed up to Macy's so Joellen could get her fill of escalator riding. We explored every moving staircase, even redicovered the Holy Grail of escalators we had found many years ago. It is a wooden escalator that, unfortunately, is no longer in use, but we're always thrilled at the sight of those grooved wooden treads. It's so unusual.
When we finally made our descent to street level we exited the revolving door to find a free trolley right in front of us. We boarded for a ride and narrated tour of the downtown. The next stop was the USX Tower Plaza. We had never seen the giant Pittsburgh Creche before, so we disembarked to take it in. It turns out it is the world's only authorized replica of the creche in front of Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. It was first erected in Pittsburgh in 1999 by the Christian Leaders Fellowship, through the help of various donors.
We continued into the USX Tower and viewed their lobby decorations, rode their elevator, then proceeded through an unknown "tunnel". We didn't know where it would lead us, but by this time our visit to the city had become an adventure and we were up for exploring.
Turns out it led to the Grant Street station of the subway. Since our car was still a fair distance away (we exited our trolley ride after it had taken us further from our car and hadn't yet headed back south), a free ride on the subway would take us closer.
While we waited for the next train Joellen got to look at the tracks from afar, while Betsy and I both held her tightly.
Another stop at Fifth Avenue Place yielded some lunch and stations by the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh with various fun activities.
We finally arrived back at our car, a few hours after originally parking there.
As I thought back on our downtown visit I was so pleased with our adventure. We all had fun and Joellen got to experience so many new things. . . and all of them were free. Sure, we paid for parking, some food, and the gas to get us there and back, but it was a small price to pay for such an experience. And there was even more we could have seen and done for free.
We didn't even make it to PPG Place for ice skating or taking in their "Spirits of Giving From Around the World" exhibit, seasonal music, or gingerbread house and train display. Oh so much to see and do.
While I am a firm believer that we have great activities and shopping opportunities here, a trip to a big city is sometimes a special treat. I highly recommend a visit to Pittsburgh this holiday season. There is so much to do and much of it at no or little cost. For more information check out www.pittsburghcreche.org and www.ppgplace.com, or Google Pittsburgh Christmas.