Pictured: Inkwell Coffee House, a charming little cafe on Butler Street that has served as my writing room here in Pittsburgh.
In just a couple hours I'm going to be departing Pittsburgh and heading north to my aunt and uncle's house in the rolling hills of Upstate New York.
It's been an incredible, memorable week here. Increasingly, when I travel I like to spend a long time in a place and integrate myself as a local, rather than flittering about trying to do everything I can in a few short days. To me, the things to see when visiting cities aren't the places you're told about, but the places you discover when you're taking your time. It also happens that this way of traveling is much less expensive, since you're not bending to the demands of the tourism industry.
My absolute favorite way to see a new city is to go on an aimless walk. The French have a word for the kind of person who walks with no destination, detached from society but nonetheless observing it with intention: the flâneur.
Yesterday afternoon I decided to take a flâneuring walk of my own. First, I discovered this mural on a wall in the Bloomfield neighborhood, just up the hill from Lawrenceville:
I also passed this shop I peeked into the other day. It's unique in that it sells 35mm film that looks like it's from the 1990s—but it might have just been that Kodak hasn't updated their packaging in 30 years:
And I couldn't help but snap a photo of this street sign, whose street bears the name of the small town in Upstate New York in which I grew up:
Eventually, I found myself on Liberty Ave, the main arterial commercial street in Bloomfield. I was greeted by this ominous old church. It's a pretty terrible photo, but I loved how haunting this old brick beauty felt. I imagine it would be doubly so on a dreary winter day:
After I walked the length of Liberty Ave, I decided to find my way back down the hill, since it was getting awfully hot out in the afternoon sun. I noticed an entrance to a cemetary whose paths seemed to head northward. Being that I remembered seeing an entrance to a cemetary down the hill, I gambled on the possibility it was the same cemetary, and walked through the gate:
A few things struck me about the cemetary. For one, it was vast and expansive—the most expansive green space I'd found in Pittsburgh so far. Which got me to thinking: Aside from the waterfront path I walked on my way to the Warhol Museum, I hadn't really seen any parks at all in my time here!
As well, there were so many beautiful mausoleums in the cemetary. It appears that the cemetary dates back to 1844. It's humbling to feel the presence of so many generations of the deceased as you walk through:
I kept walking down every hill I could find, since I figured eventually I'd have to end up back in Lawrenceville if I was descending hills. And sure enough, I wound up back at the entrance on Butler Street.
My favorite thing about long walks through cities is that you end up discovering things you would have never seen if you were in a car. The slow pace means you have time to appreciate the things you pass and to take diversions if it suits you. And many of the most beautiful places in older cities aren't easily accessible by cars.
Once I got back to the apartment, I made sure to snap this picture of the gorgeous sidewalk and tree cover just outside, since I want to be able to remember the feeling of this neighborhood forever:
To me, memory is sacred. It's why I'm taking the time to capture my trip through journaling and photography. To hold onto moments, to be able to cherish them in the future—perhaps a future when you're incapable of experiencing them because of frailty or illness or poverty—is priceless.
For too many years I neglected the part of me that appreciates beauty and wonder, the part of me that craves adventure and uncertainty, all in the pursuit of material security. I wanted every situation and circumstance to be perfectly stable and secure. The thought of taking an open-ended, monthslong trip with no firm itinerary would have terrified me. And when I did travel, I would do it constantly aided by a smartphone and never truly disconnected from what I left behind.
Yes, this form of travel is more arduous. Yes, it's more stressful to not know where you'll sleep, to go to a neighborhood without reading every online review of every restaurant, to have to trust in the goodwill of strangers to offer you directions, and to have to write down addresses and directions so you can find your way later. But all of that is travel. It's all part of the profound experience of uncertainty and adventure. Too much certainty makes travel a bland extension of your domestic life at home. If we do not leave some of it to chance, we might as well just stay at home.
See y'all in the Finger Lakes.