Pittsburgh is a village, thought Sudhish kamath, before a trip taught him otherwise

“If New York is like Chennai, Pittsburgh is like the village near Madurai, warned a friend, a die-hard New Yorker. But, since I wasn’t going there for tourism but just to chill with my best friend from school, it sounded like the perfect holiday.

What I did not know then that Pittsburgh is rated by many as America’s Most Liveable City. Forbes had rated it “The 10th Cleanest City in the World” last year and “The 13th Best City for Professionals” in America this year. So, when the plane touched down in Pittsburgh after a brief spell of flying over mountains on September 11, I could see only trees below… Little did I know that in the next 48 hours, I would get a glimpse of the glorious glittering city skyline, a taste of the old-world European architecture, a huge university town home, and also got to eat the best non-American food in America, watch the Coen Brothers film ‘Burn After Reading’ on the day of the release and arm myself with a four-inch by four-inch ‘Dharma Initiative’ tattoo (You know what that means if you watch ‘Lost’ — otherwise, let’s just say it’s the logo of a mysterious organisation committed to saving the world).

My best friend and his wife live Downtown at the historic Penn Station building, built originally around 1898 and restored around 1980.

The railroad station continues to be one of the busiest in Pennsylvania. He first gives me a walking tour of Downtown as we walk to the farmers’ market along cobblestone pathways that haven’t been replaced or modernised, just to preserve the old-world feel of the city.

It is a village then, I joke. He soon takes me to his office located on the 43rd floor in the tallest building in Pittsburgh — the US Steel Tower stands 64 floors tall. “How many floors does LIC have again?” he asks as we walk in after the security check.

Considering there were no extra security checks at the airport to remind you what day it was, I soon find a sign outside a store that reads: “We will never forget 9/11.”

We then drive to Oakland that’s home to the University of Pittsburgh and find Indian students walking all around. It was about 14 years ago that my friend came here to study here after finishing school in Madras. You can see why he never left.

Scenic conflluence

We go to Mount Washington around sunset, and get the most beautiful view of the city’s skyline and the confluence of the three rivers of Pittsburgh — the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers (these two rivers seem like the part of the same stream) and the Ohio River. I have a field day with my camera.

After heading to Squirrel Hill for a delicious Thai dinner at the classy Bangkok Balcony, we decide to get back home as the rain plays spoilsport. I tell my friend I have plans of getting a tattoo done in Europe, for I would be backpacking across Ibiza, Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt during the next week.

Being an expert on tattoos (he has two elaborate tattoos on each arm that took him multiple three-hour sittings), he dissuades me from getting it done from strangers or people whose work I am not familiar with.

He promises to try getting an appointment the next day with the guy who did his tattoo or with Amy, whose work he had been impressed with, having seen it on his hair-designer’s arm.

The next day, we head to Shady Side, the upmarket neighbourhood that houses boutiques and designer brands, for a little shopping, grab a sandwich as takeaway and then drive to South Side, home to the student community, also known for its artists. The architecture reflects the Eastern European influence of the immigrants. Soon, we are at South Side Tattoo, just in time for our appointment with Amy.

Amy looks young and for a moment, I worry if she’s the one with all that experience. But soon, I see photographs of all those beautiful things she’s done to people. To cut a painful but happy story short, my Dharma tattoo was done in 45 minutes as Amy and my friends keep me entertained just to take my attention off all that bloody drilling around my arm.

After a disappointing ‘Burn After Reading’ matinee, we head to Riverfront for dinner at Bravo — possibly the best Italian food I’ve ever eaten (apparently, it was voted ‘Best Italian restaurant’ for seven years in a row by the local Indianapolis Magazine). My mouth waters as I think about the Fra Diavolo Campanelle (we ordered it minus the shrimp) pasta — the spicy tomato cream sauce may just convert vegetarians to cross over to the carnivorous side just to see how much better it tastes with shrimp.

Not in the mood to party after having eaten such exquisite food, I do a quick tour of the huge Barnes and Noble store at Riverfront to pick up the second season of ‘Heroes’ before we drive by the Strip District, Pittsburgh’s hottest clubbing destination.

So yeah, it wasn’t exactly a village, after all. But it was a holiday to cherish for a lifetime, thanks to Amy and the memento she left embossed on my arm.