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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – A Hidden Gem

*Editor’s note: Bailey is one of my closest friends from childhood, and when she asked me to take engagement photos of her and her fiance, I was a little apprehensive because I made a decision a long time ago to leave the wedding photography business. It just wasn’t for me. But I said yes because I had just moved back from New Zealand to the US and I wanted to spend some time with Bailey, not knowing when I would see her again. And what better place to do that then Bailey’s adopted home town of Pittsburgh. I was so glad I got to explore this city with two people who are so passionate about the area, and have watched the city grow, and have grown with it themselves.

Or Maybe a “Diamond in the rough…”

Lately it seems a lot of people have been talking about Pittsburgh. I see it everywhere, in lists about great cities for young professionals, best cities for food, and so on. It seems as though suddenly, all at once, the country has discovered a city that it forgot. This comes as no surprise to me. Pittsburgh is a city that sneaks up on you. Literally. You’ll be driving through middle of nowhere Pennsylvania on a highway that seems too long, when suddenly, you’ll round a bend, or enter a tunnel, and on the other side, as if sprouting from the rich river valley, is a city. It feels like it shouldn’t be there, or you shouldn’t be there, as if you’ve stumbled upon some well kept secret you weren’t supposed to find.

What could be across those bridges? What could be inside that glass castle tower? Ask someone who has never been here and they will tell you that all you’ll find is dirty air and hardened people. Those people could not be more wrong.

Pittsburgh - Hidden Gem

When I moved here in 2009, I was terrified. I transferred from a tiny college in a town with one stoplight, to a huge university in a city I didn’t know. I was unhappy, and impulsively transferred my college career, and my life, to Pittsburgh. When my mom moved me into my tiny studio apartment, she wept. I wept. I was alone. I thought I had made a dreadful mistake. The days and weeks went by and things got better. I made friends, found my favorite place to study, and slowly began to understand how to get around (truth be told, I still haven’t totally figured it out). As I explored this strange new place, the overwhelming personality of Pittsburgh began to emerge, and the more I learned about this storied city, the more I fell in love.

Pittsburgh - Hidden Gem

Now, if you ever find yourself in Pittsburgh, and I hope you do, there is one place I insist you go. It’s called the Strip District. It sounds weird, because it is. The strip is a place where Pittsburgh truly shows its colors (those colors are black and gold by the way). It’s an old shipping district where warehouses, and former steel mills give way to small pottery shops, and farmers markets (you’ll also find about 18 stores selling Pittsburgh sports paraphernalia). As great as these shops are, and amazing as the transformation has been, this is not why I love the strip so much. This is one place you’re guaranteed to find some of Pittsburgh’s true natives – the “Yinzers” as they’re called.

Just to think, there was a time I was scared of this city, that is, until I met its people. When you have a chance to meet a few true Pittsburghers (and try to understand the “Pittsburghese” they speak), you begin to realize that this isn’t a city at all. This is just a really big town, warm and familiar. The locals have always known their town was great. They cared for it, and they believed in it, until one day, a city reemerged. This is a proud place, and often I find, pride can be intimidating, and push people away, but so long as you don’t insult their sandwich or their sports teams, they will take you in and explain to you what the hell a “gumband” is and show you why “chipped ham” is the best thing this side of the deli counter.

I could wax poetic about the secret city I’ve found endlessly, but nothing could really do it the justice of being here. Those timeworn rumors of a soot-covered city with deadened people are laughably false. You can look up a video of entering the city through the Fort Pitt Tunnels, but I promise it’s better in person. You can listen to clips of people speaking Pittsburghese, but it sounds so much sweeter while tailgating a Pirates Buccos game. You can put french fries on your own sandwich, but it tastes better in the strip district. Welcome to the golden triangle, where three rivers meet, and from their riches, grew a city. There’s a reason people are talking about Pittsburgh. I suggest you come see why.

Pittsburgh - Hidden Gem
Pittsburgh - Hidden Gem

Words by Bailey Wiegel and photography of Bailey and her fiancé by Diana Eastman; for more from Bailey follow her on Instagram at @bailstheweewiggle.

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