Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Our Honeymoon: Part 1: Pennsylvania: Aug. 14-19

PHOTO CAPTIONS: 1. Pittsburgh skyline, as seen from the Ducky boat, 2-5. Carnegie Mellon Museum with Ellen, John, Maya and Kai, 6-11. Allegheny River trip with Steffi and Larry, 12-14. Pittsburgh Zoo, 15. the infamous Just Ducky amphib mobile, 16. Cousins at sunset.

My cousin Steffi picked us up at the Pittsburgh airport on Thursday evening. She took us to her favorite restaurant Ali Baba’s and suggested the lamb shank for Andre because he likes big chunks of well-done meat. I had moussaka and salad. It was all delicious.

The next day, on Friday, my former housemate Ellen Chinn and her family drove over from Indiana, PA where she and husband John teach at the university. They have a family membership to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and their kids Maya, 10, and Kai, 8, were anxious to see the newly renovated dinosaur exhibit.

The last time I’d been to that museum was with my daughter Maya a few years ago. She loved the dinosaurs although some of them were too scary, and the Egyptian exhibit, and the Native American. I was glad that everyone wanted to see those exhibits again because they’re my favorites too. It’s really a fabulous museum. The kids even enjoyed seeing a lot of the art, which they normally skip, according to Ellen.

We met Steffi back at the house in the evening. She used to be a university professor in art & digital design for years, but recently switched back to union work. She loves her job with the United Steelworkers, riding her bike 6 miles there and back, which keeps her young and fit.

Ellen and family went out for dinner before their 1.5 hour drive back home. Meanwhile, we packed up the car for our 2-hour drive to the house on the Allegheny River. Steffi’s husband Larry beat us there, and was relaxing by a campfire. He’s going to take a 2-week vacation from his construction job, so he can work on his own house for a change. He’s painting and installing siding on the house.

The last time I was at the river with Steffi and Larry was the day they got married in 2000. They had just bought the land, so they invited 200 family and friends to celebrate. Some people camped (and fought the bugs), but Maya and I stayed with other relatives in the closest motel, 20 miles away.

Andre and I enjoyed our time at the river. The two-story house that Larry is building is spacious, with river views, and will be fabulous when it’s done. They have satellite TV, so we watched U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps win his record-breaking 8th gold medal. There’s no internet at the river (how could we survive?), but I was able to keep up with email with my iPhone. We ate delicious meals, prepared by Steffi over a campfire grill.

On Saturday, Larry dropped the three of us off 12 miles upriver, with two kayaks and a canoe. Steffi paddles often and knows the river, so she was our fearless leader. Andre, who had only paddled a kayak once in his life, on Christmas day at my cousin Zack’s in southern Chile, looked like a pro. But me, still nursing a sore thumb, lagged behind the whole way, but still enjoyed the gorgeous scenery on the Allegheny. The sandwiches Steffi packed tasted like heaven when we stopped for a break on a small island where Maya and I had camped with Steffi, Larry, daughter Alex (now off in the Middle East studying Arabic), and friends, in the summer of 1999.

Sunday morning we had a lazy day of biking and walking along the endless path along the river, which was once the train line. It’s so sad for me to see the loss of train tracks. Where is the hope for comfortable, efficient public transportation in the future? At least I read that my hometown Santa Cruz is closer to buying our scenic train route from Southern Pacific. The plan is to combine light rail with a bike/pedestrian path beside it. That will be so cool!

On Monday, our last day in Pennsylvania, Steffi entrusted me with her Prius and navigator, to go to AAA for maps, the Pittsburgh Zoo, and our silly city tour called, “Just Ducky Tours,” where they take you around in a WWII amphibious bus/boat and expect you to yell “Quack, quack, quack" at passersby. Everything went “just ducky” and our timing was perfect, until I missed one turn over a bridge, and the navigation system went berserk with all the construction in downtown Pittsburgh. It tried to direct me through roadblocks, the wrong way on 1-way streets, into detour signs. Totally frazzled, we finally arrived two minutes late to our non-refundable tour. They were loading the duck bus and would not wait for us. Our consolation was to be rescheduled for the 7 p.m. tour.

Much to my relief, Steffi volunteered to drive us back downtown when she got back from work. As it turned out, the evening was ideal, with glowing light. The tour were sold out, so Steffi read her book and waited for us to return an hour later. We bought some gyro sandwiches and ate along the river, watching the nightlights come on. I love when disasters turn out fine in the end.

Overall, we enjoyed our time in Pennsylvania very much. The weather was perfect, and we saw and did and ate a lot.

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