The spectacular Pittsburgh skyline is best viewed from Mount Washington. (TLOD)
Editor’s note: Tony Grossi is an analyst on the Cleveland Browns for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland.
(Throughout the Browns regular season, I join my travel partner, Delta Airlines, in giving our followers a feel for the cities we’ll visit in 2019.)
When I first started covering the Browns in the 1980s, I used to fly to Pittsburgh. Why? I’ve asked myself that question for years.
It made no sense dealing with two airports when the 130-mile drive from Cleveland is so seamless over the Ohio and Pennsylvania turnpikes – especially now that PA has caught up with Ohio in road construction and maintenance.
I mean, you can pretty much make that drive without turning the wheel one entire rotation.
Now, downtown Pittsburgh isn’t the easiest place to drive. Those bridges linking the main business district to Heinz Field and PNC Park across the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers get a little confusing. Which is partly why, when needing an overnight stay, I stop in Cranberry about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh and just off the turnpike.
And every time I’ve driven in on game day – whether from the airport through the Fort Hill tunnel, or from I-279 -- I’ve looked at that steep hill behind Heinz Field – in the same spot as old Three Rivers Stadium – and wondered what was up there.
So I decided to find out.
That big hill is Mount Washington and to climb it you need to ride the Duquesne Incline, which is one of the rare operational funiculars in the United States.
A funicular – a word I have never used -- is a small railway powered by a cable-pulley system used to traverse a steep hill. They are common in Europe but few exist in America. In fact, the two oldest in the United States are one mile apart in Pittsburgh – the Monongahela Incline, built in 1870, and the Duquesne, built in 1877.
These inclines have survived as historical landmarks through the efforts of preservation societies. They are more than tourist attractions; locals use them to scale the hill to the Mount Washington neighborhood on top.
Which is why you might wait in line for a half-hour or more to ride one of the two cars – one going up, one coming down.
The ride costs $5 round trip (cash only!) and each car has a capacity of 18. It takes about 2 ½ minutes to scale 400 feet elevation up Mount Washington at 6 mph.
You walk out of the station and into a whole new world – a beautiful neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s South Side with a spectacular vista of the Golden Triangle below.
A restaurant row of upscale dining spots line the edge of Mount Washington. I dined at Vue 412 (veal piccata over pasta with Caesar’s salad, of course) and from my table could see inside a mostly empty Heinz Field hosting a football clash of University of Pittsburgh against Boston College.
As you walk down Grandview Avenue there are several vantage points to view what is the essence of Pittsburgh today – the thriving North Shore development still springing up between Heinz Field and PNC Park offset to the right by the brilliant Pittsburgh skyline.
And in between them flows the Ohio River at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monangahela. This is where the souls of so many Browns football seasons have been drowned.
Continuing down Grandview Ave., you come across Saint Mary of the Mount, a glorious Catholic church built in 1891 that has survived massive population shifts due to the economic decline of a city steeped in the steel industry. On the night I visited, Saturday Mass was just letting out, affording me a peek inside to a magnificent sanctuary.
A few hundred yards' walk takes you to Shiloh Street, which has a collection of eateries, taverns, ice cream parlors and bakeries.
This is a side of Pittsburgh I’d never seen. It’s a side that Clevelanders trekking to Browns games should make a point of seeing.