Last weekend Andrew and I took our first formal vacation together as a couple. Sure, he ventured to London when I was still living there, but we stayed in my dorm room and felt more like showing him my hometown rather than vacationing. Fast-forward three years and I’m finally edging closer to being fully recovered and I’ve been working a steady job for over a year. It felt high time we celebrated those accomplishments by initiating a new chapter in our relationship.
We chose Pittsburgh as our destination partly because it’s within easy driving distance and partly because neither of us has been there before. [ We also wanted to go to IKEA ] . Since we’re both very particular – me, even more so since my diet is so specific and regimented and because I need a place where I can exercise in the mornings – we spent two full days planning for a three day trip. But planning was half the fun! Here’s what we ended up doing:
We began our two-point-five hour road trip enjoying an audio book, a practice I developed during this past year thanks to my long commutes 3X a week. Longtime fans of the celebrated Studio Ghibli, we opted for the original Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne. I didn’t expect the novel to be so much fun; I’ve been so impressed by Hayao Miyazaki’s rendition I didn’t think the story behind the film would excite me. But as with any book-to-screen rendition, I loved learning more about the characters, their backstories, and their interactions within the central plot. Anyone who enjoys the Ghibli production of Howl should lend an ear to the full fairy tale version.
That day, Andrew and I drove straight into town, right to the Mattress Factory, a contemporary art museum due north of where the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers join forces. The museum, although a bit pricey for a venue on the small side ($20 each), is unique in that it features installation pieces made for the space in which it resides. Covering six levels both with permanent and rotating exhibitions, indoors and out, by artists like Yayoi Kusama [ whose work I also saw at a special Selfridges expo in London ] and her Infinity Dots Mirrored Room, and the incredible work by James Turrell [ I’m rarely as impressed or surprised by an art piece as I was by his work using colored light in dark spaces ], this little museum packs a whole lot in to a well-designed space; and we took a good chunk of time exploring each and every room, as well as its outdoor courtyard.
Afterward, we drove across town for what ended up being one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. While browsing Google street view, we’d stumbled on one of Pitt’s hidden gems: Dobra tea house. Surprisingly, it hadn’t come up in any of the vegan-inspired searches we’d done but everything they serve is vegetarian, and most of it is vegan. Dobra is a Bohemian-style tearoom, “something between a bar and a church; it is a place for relaxation and community”. At Dobra, tea is a lifestyle and they treat the tea drinking practice with the serenity of a monk, imbibing the experience with a sense of mindful meditation. Each tea setting is served in its own precise way, using traditional methods corresponding precisely to your drink of choice. Enjoy the tea with internationally compatible snacks, such as hearty miso soup, hummus and veg platters, stuffed grape leaves, or African crystalized ginger. We spent over two hours relaxing at a cushioned bench, sipping Japanese green tea and devouring a late lunch. Yes, I bought a bag of the tea we had and we went back the next day to buy some more loose leaf sleepy-time tea as a gift!
After relaxing at Dobra, we snuck into the National Aviary – the only one of its kind in the US – in the hour before it closed. The pictures speak for themselves.
Next we popped into our hotel to drop off our bags before heading out for a bit of shopping and a late night film. We spent our nights at the Kimpton Hotel Monaco in downtown Pitt. It’s a fairly upscale hotel with a modern-to-avant-garde appeal. Quirky paintings and brightly colored décor set off the mostly white interior.
We rounded out the evening with an impromptu Vietnamese meal in a tidy, modern little shop called Banh Mi & Ti [ though I brought my raw vegan pre-made bento so I could avoid too much gastric distress on this trip ] . It was just up the road from the Row House Cinema, a single-screen theater featuring themed movie weeks. We were lucky enough to catch the stop-motion film week, and saw ‘My Life as a Zucchini’ in its original French.
Stay tuned for Day 2!