It wasn't until a year ago that I realized just how special it can be to live in this great city. A friend of mine visited Pittsburgh from Philadelphia.
"I'm on vacation!" she said excitedly.
She had no plans where to go or what to do. I thought to myself, "Who doesn't make plans and just comes to Pittsburgh for the fun of it?" That day, in those 10 hours, she showed me more about this town than I ever knew.
Meeting at my place, we drove to North Park Lounge for lunch. I suggested we spend the afternoon walking around North Park or go shopping at Ross Park Mall. "I'm on vacation!" she exclaimed again with a huge and eager smile. "We're going Downtown!"
"I don't know much about the city, other than some baseball games and a few theater productions I went to on Penn Avenue years ago."
"It doesn't matter, we're going to the Strip!"
Maybe it was because she drives around downtown Philadelphia, or maybe she remembered it from her college days when she attended the University of Pittsburgh in Oakland, but this girl maneuvered our streets better than most Pittsburghers.
It was crazy. It's like she had the city mapped out in her head. I was impressed, not to mention a little intimidated. After all, this was my city now.
The streets of the Strip District were bustling. Traffic was a nightmare, but we managed to find a space after several runs around the block. As I opened the car door, the smell of freshly grilled kabobs, the aroma of Mancini's bread and the unmistakable fragrance of imported cheeses coming from the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co. made my mouth water.
This is 20 minutes from my home? I couldn't believe it. Brightly colored saris draped the walkways of the street with Egyptian blues, Tuscan reds, Persian plums and saffron yellows. They swayed gently in the small breeze as the silky cloth brushed against my cheek.
The number of vendors selling T-shirts printed with the Pittsburghese dictionary and supporting our hometown teams boggled my mind. The variety of cultures that converged to make the Strip District filled me with excitement. It was all here -- art, artisanal foods, music, fine wines, breweries and even pottery. I was caught up in my friend's vacation.
Sadly, it was nearing 5 o'clock. The storekeepers were closing their doors and I knew my eye-opening day was coming to an end. What I didn't know was the best was yet to come.
We met another one of our friends after he got off work. He lived two blocks from Allegheny Commons Park on the North Side. We walked from his house on Suismon Street into the park, past the soccer fields, watched a pickup game of basketball and came upon a small, man-made pond where kayakers gracefully flowed through the water.
The pure serenity of my surroundings went against everything I thought of the North Side. We walked under the newly built subway track, across the busy streets and reached the Del Monte building. As we came through an archway between two buildings, our friend shouted, "Welcome to the waterfront, ladies!"
I nearly fainted. It was the most beautiful Pittsburgh sight I had ever seen. We walked onto a pier that jetted out over the Allegheny River. I was in awe.
You could see the Fort Duquesne Bridge in all its majestic and architectural wonder. Skyscrapers rose to the heavens. You could feel the iron and steel that built this city standing tall, stretching out, reaching its arms to pull you in.
It was in this moment that I understood why I chose to live here and why people choose to vacation here. Our city feels warm and friendly. It pulls people in from everywhere. The pure beauty of her skyline moves me.
Visiting here as a young child with my family and even now, my heart beats a little faster every time I exit the Fort Pitt Tunnel or drive up to Mount Washington. My eyes twinkle a little brighter and I smile a little wider at the sight of our city.
I'm not native to Pittsburgh, but it doesn't matter. She accepts everyone, and that's why I have to say, "I Heart Pittsburgh," and you should too.
Carisa J. Burrows of Shaler, a Johnstown native who moved to Pittsburgh 15 years ago, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com ; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published March 2, 2012 5:00 AM