Pennsylvania – Day 3: Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning and Carnegie Museums

Brittany Swanson   October 30, 2015   Comments Off on Pennsylvania – Day 3: Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning and Carnegie Museums

Day three in Pennsylvania was much nicer than the previous two. Upon recommendation from a host I decided to start at the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. My host told me there were these nationality classrooms that were designed in the style of different cultures from around the world. It sounded pretty interesting, so I went.

Unfortunately, parking in Pittsburgh is nearly impossible. I drove around for a good fifteen minutes or so before finally finding a spot near a meter. Until this point, I’d mostly avoided paying for parking, since it seems like an unnecessary expense. In other cities I’d drive to a neighborhood and park on the street for free and then walk fifteen or twenty minutes to the city center. In Pittsburgh however, they have parking zones everywhere. Now, maybe I just don’t understand them correctly, but from what I gathered: each neighborhood is assigned a zone, and residents of that zone have to pay for a parking permit and can pay for a guest permit as well, but between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. only one hour of parking is allowed in the zones. Needless to say, an hour of parking wouldn’t be sufficient for my adventures, so I coughed up $8 to park on the street right across from the Cathedral of Learning for about two and a half hours. Eek.

The Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

The Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

The Cathedral was cool. Very large and impressive. I continued doing my “I totally know where I’m going” thing and followed a student to the elevators. Where I then panicked, remembering Yale and having to swipe a student ID to get in the elevator, so I kept walking and found a bathroom. In the bathroom I reasoned with myself that it didn’t seem like the girl had done anything other than push some buttons, so maybe it was just a fancy elevator system.

Turns out, it was just a fancy elevator system. I simply had to type in the floor I wanted to go to on the screen, which then told me which elevator bank to wait for. The keypad only had numbers 0-9, so I typed nine. Later I saw a girl type twenty-one, and thought, oh duh, there are way more than nine floors here. Oh well, I didn’t know how many floors there were anyway, so I’d have to figure it out once I got in the elevator. Then I could go all the way up to the top.

I probably waited at least five minutes for the elevator. Once in the elevator I learned there were thirty-two floors, so I pressed the button for the top floor, and waited another two minutes as we stopped on lower floors to drop people off. There was a lady at a desk right outside the elevator on the thirty-second floor and apparently I looked a little misplaced because she immediately asked if she could help me. I asked if I was allowed to look around if I was just visiting; she said yes, and that there were two windows I could look out of. So I did.

View from the top of the Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

View from the top of the Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

I wish I could’ve had access to the windows to the left of this one. From this angle I could kind of see Pittsburgh, but it looked like the closed room between this window and the other one would’ve had an excellent view of the city. Oh well.

I went back to the first floor to look for the nationality classrooms. They only give tours on weekends because the classrooms are functional during the school year. I found a help desk and asked if I was allowed to see the nationality rooms even though school was in session. She said yes, that any open room was fair game, and if a door was closed to look through the peephole to see if there was a class in there before entering. She also informed me that the rooms were on the first and third floors around the perimeter of the building. So I started on the first floor and wandered around, creeping on classes by looking through the peepholes into them.

Norwegian Nationality Room, Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

Norwegian Nationality Room, Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA.

The Norwegian room was one of the first empty open classes I came upon. My first thoughts were: Oy, I’m not sure I’d like to have class in here. It’s a cool looking room, but doesn’t seem very comfortable. I found a note on the podium that explained the rules for using the classroom: No smoking or food or drink of any kind, furniture cannot be moved for any reason, all litter must be removed, and no posting of signs or notices. As both a teacher and a student I feel like those rules would make learning in this room kind of blow. In college, sometimes eating in class was my only time to eat, and as most of us know it’s hard to pay attention when you’re hungry or thirsty. As a teacher, not having the ability to rearrange the room and actually use the space would drive me crazy. Also, I’m pretty sure a large portion of my teachers would be limited without being able to put anything on the walls. So much for all those group projects on large sticky white paper… Quite a few of the classrooms were in use though. A few had just one or two students hanging out in them, but I didn’t want to awkwardly interrupt them. I took a few pictures, but none of them turned out very well, so if you’re interested in learning more about the nationality rooms and seeing what they look like click here.

Across the street from the Cathedral of Learning are the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. After 3 p.m. tickets are half price so I rolled in around 3:01 p.m. with a student ID and my ticket was only $6. Pretty good deal since a regular adult ticket is $19.95, though if I had been there on a Thursday it would’ve been completely free. I also had to pay 50¢ for a locker to put my backpack in which was annoying.

The two museums are connected, so you get access to both when you buy a ticket. I chose to start with the Dinosaur exhibit because I love dinosaurs and it was closest to the lobby. I didn’t feel much like reading all the plaques so I just wandered around and looked at the fossils and models. I wasn’t really that into it, maybe because it was my third round of dinosaur exhibits in the last month. However, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History did have something the other museums lacked: a view into a Paleontologist’s day job. That was super interesting. There was a room behind a glass wall where Paleontologists were preparing real fossils. The setup reminded me of the Champlain Chocolate Factory Tour. I still think it’d be weird to work with people constantly gawking at you like you were an animal at the zoo, but I guess they do it. I watched this guy for about five minutes before I felt like a total creeper and moved on:

PaleoLab, where the Paleontologists do their thing, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA.

PaleoLab, where the Paleontologists do their thing, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA.

Similarly, I was only mildly interested in the Carnegie Museum of Art. It was more of the same artists from all the other art museums I’d been to lately. Not much else really caught my attention. I guess I never realized how prolific some of these artists were. I mean, most of them have more than one piece of art on display at nearly every museum I’ve been to so far. Either they have a crazy amount of pieces, or their work is just super saturated in the Northeast. The notable exception to my general lack of excitement was a display of Edward Hopper’s etchings. I didn’t even know he did etchings. I love etchings and these were fantastic. Unfortunately, they were in super reflective glass frames so it was impossible to get a decent picture. (Toward the bottom of this page and on the next you can see some of his etchings from the display I saw.)

The really cool thing about the Carnegie Museums was the Hall of Architecture. According to the plaque inside: “The Hall of Architecture is home to one of the world’s three largest collections of plaster architectural casts – that is, plaster replicas made from historic buildings.” This was probably the coolest thing I’ve yet encountered on my trip. I felt like I’d walked into Ancient Times. I felt so small and insignificant. I also once again got really excited about traveling to places beyond America’s borders. To give you an idea of the scale of this room, check out this picture of part of the facade of the Abbey Church of Saint-Gilles with a person next to it.

Abbey Church of Saint-GIlles, Hall of Architecture, Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA.

Abbey Church of Saint-GIlles, Hall of Architecture, Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA.

Overall, I had a pretty nice day in Pittsburgh. The weather was pleasant, though unfortunately I spent most of the day inside. I found some unique things to do and learned more about this interesting city.