Postcards from Pittsburgh No. 2: Easy to Hook

Story by Milli Thornton. Photos Copyright © Milli Thornton.

IT WAS A perfect Sunday early spring afternoon when we set off from our house in Youngstown, Ohio to embark on the first adventure of our Pittsburgh challenge.

We’d been lazing around all morning and only decided at the last minute to do the trip. Our goals were simple:

(a) to enjoy ourselves;
(b) to eat! To start tasting the flavors of Pittsburgh;
(c) to check out the countryside southwest of Pittsburgh as a possible area to target for house hunting.

As we entered Pittsburgh and drove through some of the shabbier parts of town, my initial skepticism about National Geographic Traveler’s choice of Pittsburgh for their Top 20 Places in the World to Visit in 2012 got reactivated.

Brian wanted to show me the area near Carnegie Mellon University, where he’ll be working, so he parked below Schenley Park and we strolled up Flagstaff Hill to get the view. The tall, stately building in the photo is the Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh. In front and to the right of that is Carnegie Library and Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Pittsburgh skyline from Schenley Park

City skyline from Schenley Park

So far, so good. People out enjoying urban nature, a guitarist strumming on a park bench, pretty skyline, plenty of culture and higher learning. But I’m not hooked yet.

However, serious cracks appeared in my stereotyped assumptions about Pittsburgh after we crossed the street and entered Phipps Conservatory.

Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory

Palm Court, Phipps Conservatory

Phipps Conservatory

Fountain and pillars in the Victoria Room, Phipps Conservatory

The mission at Phipps is

To inspire and educate visitors with the beauty and importance of plants; to advance sustainability and worldwide biodiversity through action and research; and to celebrate its historic glasshouse.

I didn’t know their mission until later, when I looked it up on their website, but in my experience they’ve nailed it.

One cannot do justice to Phipps Conservatory in a mixed post, so I forced myself to choose only four images to share with you here. (I’ll do another post on Phipps, with a cornucopia of photos, a bit later on.) The feature photo showing the yellow sign—Change is on the wind!—was taken in one of the gardens at Phipps, and it perfectly captures the reason for our challenge: Brian’s contract at the Software Engineering Institute and the possibility that we might move to Pittsburgh.

Chalk up a point for Pittsburgh thanks to Phipps.

After sating ourselves on the colorful and lush exhibits, it was time for a late lunch. We drove over to the Strip District (aka Pittsburgh’s Historic Market District) hoping for a sidewalk-cafe style restaurant. We found one right away and, lemme tell you, that was a big point-winner in my books.

Kaya, Pittsburgh

Kaya: Island cuisine in the Strip District

The moment I laid eyes on Kaya, I felt sheepish about our challenge and being so easy to hook. But, let me be honest. All credit goes to Youngstown for making a valiant recovery from the decline of the steel industry in the 1970s . . . and yet it’s not the most stimulating place to live. After three-and-a-half years in Youngstown, I might as well admit it: I’m a pushover for a place that can show me a good time merely by driving around without a plan.

Kaya, Pittsburgh

Our Kaya appetizer. YUM!

Kaya, Pittsburgh

My Kaya entree

Kaya was more than the thrill of a sidewalk table in the late-afternoon sunshine privy to the gossip of university students. The food lived up nicely to the promise of “island cuisine in the Strip District.” We shared made-on-the-premises plaintain chips with mango-tomatillo salsa, washed down with a beer. My entree, Jerk Pulled Pork Quesadillas, had me making sounds of bliss (and I’m not even a pork lover).

After the pleasures of the conservatory and a good meal, I was ready to move that day. Just find me a house I can love and Pittsburgh, I’m yours!

Brian jogged me out of my reverie by pointing out that we didn’t have much daylight left for the other part of our mission. We jumped back in the Jeep and headed out of town through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, in search of a rural lifestyle.

Fort Pitt Tunnel

Fort Pitt Tunnel

Taking a million photos at Phipps had worn me out and I just wanted to be the passenger. So I didn’t get any pictures for you of this leg of our journey. But you didn’t miss anything. The two points gained from visiting Phipps and eating at Kaya were offset by one point down for disappointing rural suburbs to the southwest.

To be fair, as Brian pointed out, we didn’t stray from the main road. There could be something more to our taste waiting for us off the beaten track. In fact, that’s exactly what we would prefer. Still, a point down is a point down.


Pittsburgh: 2
Bummers: 1

Postcards from Pittsburgh No. 1: The Challenge



Phipps Conservatory

Schenley Park

Kaya: Island cuisine in the Strip District

Milli at Devi, Montreal

Milli at Devi, Montreal


Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of Unleash Your Writing! and the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse.



  1. Wow! Phipps Conservatory looks like a place I could spend days in. Great pictures. Too bad you didn’t find your first choice in areas promising, but I’m sure you will find the perfect place with a little research.
    Cant wait to read more!

  2. Beautiful! Honey Bunny is from Pittsburgh, but not the city….I’m almost embarrassed to tell you – but we’ve not been in the down town area except when someone is in the hospital! I guess I need to change that!

  3. Oh my gosh, I’m in love with your Phipps Conservatory photos, Milli! <3

  4. Milli, I admire your discipline only putting up 3 photos from Phipps, it looks absolutely amazing!
    Looks likes Pittsburgh has plenty of potential. Fingers crossed a bit more suburb exploring will prove fruitful.

  5. Is there a bench or a place to sit and write in that Victoria Room in the Phipps Conservatory? Wow, great pictures, what a place!

    I just love this series of yours, Milli. Best line in this post:

    “I’m a pushover for a place that can show me a good time merely by driving around without a plan.”

    Good quotable quote right there!

    Can’t wait to read more. Thanks 🙂

  6. Congratulations on the new contract. And I wouldn’t worry about the bummer of the suburbs. As Brian mentioned, you stayed on the main road. If you did that going through Nanticoke, PA, you never would have seen Honey Pot (wink)and although downtown Nanticoke is okay, I wouldn’t want to live there on its main street. However, just a quick right and a couple switchbacks up a hill and there you are, right at the edge of Honey Pot with views galore of the valley and river below.

    Keep going back — the next time you go, you may want to look for some property management companies before you leave, and see what they have available. Drive by specific addresses and then tool around the neighborhood to see if you like it.

    How far is Pittsburgh from Philly? I seriously need a cheese steak!

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