Category Archives: Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Geocaching

If you hang out with me long enough, particularly in a somewhat exotic location, eventually you’re going to hear about geocaching.  I started doing it some months ago when I was bored in Cleveland and have had a lot of fun with it- in short there are over a million hidden containers on all seven continents (like the one above), and you use GPS to find them.  Definitely a great way to get you out and about, and I love it because I love an excuse to wander and find all sorts of places I’d never have known about otherwise.

I’m not joking about the all over the world aspect by the way.  I shot this picture looking from a cache just a few meters away from the entrance to the Louvre museum, one of the busiest museums in the world!  Thinking back on my round the world trip, it sure would have been fun to get into the hobby then… Anyway, because I unfortunately don’t travel too far from home these days you’ll have to make do with me going over an adventure in Pennsylvania to get a feel for it-

To start with, we go to a park.  It’s kind of amazing how many parks seem to have caches these days to the point where I can’t think of any near me that don’t!  The one pictured here is Hartwood Acres north of Pittsburgh and not far from the house I grew up in there, which is so big it has several caches in the woods.  You select a cache from your trusty GPS (there’s a geocaching app for the iPhone but it’s not terribly accurate in the woods!), which will bring up a compass showing how far away you are and off you go!

An interesting tree I couldn’t resist snapping a picture of while on the hunt.  The guardian of the forest perhaps?

Anyway, eventually a BEEP! from the GPS lets us know we’re close to the cache site so it’s time to start looking for what’s out of place- sometimes the cache comes with a hint but that’s not something you can rely on!  The ends of tree logs are a pretty common hiding spot in the woods however, and such a search comes up with the log pretty quick-

You can spot the lid of this cache off on the right side of the picture, which is being guarded on the left by a GIANT SCARY SPIDER.  I’d argue that my time in South East Asia killed off any squealing I might have possessed regarding creepy-crawly things especially when they can’t kill you (and Africa was a refresher course in that), and I’m pretty sure one is safe in the woods of southwestern Pennsylvania.  Plus who would get pissed off at a spider for building his web in the woods at the end of a hollow log anyway?  After a gentle shake or two of the piece of wood in front he scampered, so I could finally get out the cache.

Finally woohoo, the contents of the cache!  Other than the logbook where you can sign your name and leave comments there are little trinkets in bigger caches that are up for trade.  One of the things people make a big deal about when they’re starting out is how caches contain swag items that you can trade for, but unfortunately they’re usually not that interesting as over time they end up being cheap little toys for kids and the like as few seem to strictly follow the “trade for something equal or better” mantra.  So I’ve only traded for a few things- a small water pistol, a watermelon chapstick still in its packaging, and a rubber duckie dressed as an astronaut come to mind- preferring instead to move along Travel Bugs whenever I come across one.

Travel bugs are little items that move from cache to cache and have a tracking number on the back so users can record each move.  The four above are ones I sent off into the wild a month ago actually with missions that they should travel to four of my favorite countries- left to right Thailand, New Zealand, Hungary, and South Africa– and no word on if or when they’ll make it but I’m optimistic!  Plus hey they’ve been out a month and while two are in Ohio the penguin’s made it to Maryland and the monkey was last spotted in Florida, and I’m optimistic about what sort of adventures they’ll have without me!

And that’s my little summary about my latest hobby.  You should try it as it’s quite fun- there’s an app for smartphones these days in case you don’t have a GPS already, or if I’m local just ask to go on a cache run as I’m usually up for one.  Just be sure to watch out for the spiders!

A Pittsburgh Pirates Game- Play Ball!

I was in Pittsburgh this past weekend hanging out with my brother Patrick and his friend from high school, Teddy, doing all sorts of Pittsburgh-y things.  Very fun but very exhausting!  But for starters, here’s the story of our adventures Saturday night at the old ball game-

The Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Houston Astros!  I know, I can hear your excitement too- the Pirates? The only thing we hold a record for is the most number of years of never going to the playoffs- 17 so far, and well on our way to #18.  Seeing as I’m 24 years old this is a fancy way of saying I just plain can’t remember a time when they were good, which is a shame because Pittsburgh is such a big sports town that we’d undoubtedly support our baseball team quite a bit if they had a chance of being good. (To be fair though they did win this game against Houston 12-6, so I guess I should be nice to them as they average 2 runs a game so they spent six games worth of runs on us.) Unfortunately the terrible management of the team combined with the way salaries aren’t capped in baseball are just too much for us- for example, the New York Yankees pay more on average to one player on their team than Pittsburgh pays to the entire team!

The crazy thing though is if you look at the picture the stadium is full despite the odds being less than 50% of seeing a win at home in PNC Park.  So why do Pittsburghers sell out the stadium even if the Buccos suck?  For the experience, of course, and to explain let’s start at the beginning by the river walk-

Here’s a little secret about Pittsburgh everyone who’s been knows and everyone who hasn’t is amazed at upon visiting- it’s actually insanely pretty.  Geography plays a huge role in it- downtown is built on a point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers combine to start the Ohio so downtown is as compact as a much larger city (most non-constrained cities sprawl so it’s not as dramatic- think Cleveland), surrounded by more bridges than Venice and surrounding hillsides.  I know many people think of the terrible pollution from the steel mills when they think of Pittsburgh, but the fact of the matter is they’ve been gone several decades now and I’ve only known my hometown as a place that often makes lists for the best skylines in the world.  And I might be biased, but after 35 countries I am convinced Pittsburgh is one of the prettiest ones.

Anyway, above are a few shots on the way to the stadiums along the river walk (we’re on the Allegheny shore here), where a lot of other people are enjoying the day along with us.  My only complaint is the beautiful large fountain at the point wasn’t running and Teddy told us it was because of budget cuts, and the thought that the city decided to get rid of such an icon was quite saddening.

Anyway, we’ve finally wandered over to the stadium and there’s a band outside playing Italian songs- it turns out it’s Italian Appreciation Night, which appears to be a fancy excuse for playing Italian-ish songs between innings that croon “when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza-pie…”  And here we touch on why the Pirates are a successful business model: it’s not about the game!  Rather it’s about the experience of having stuff like random Italian songs and fireworks and, I do not make this up, people running races in giant pirogi costumes.  Certainly an experience one can have fun with, and incidentally there’s a baseball game going on almost as background noise.

Once we find our seats in the park the stadium does reams to help the experience go on too!  PNC Park is the best ballpark in America- I’ve never heard someone with expertise say otherwise- starting with the awesome view of the city of course.  But then they have details like an awesome playground for little kids by the water and bars and other details like that so everyone’s guaranteed to have a good time even if we only sat in our seats for maybe half the innings!

Finally the piece de resistance at the end of the game, the fireworks!  There are several fireworks nights throughout the year (because odds are you’re not going to have a win, remember) that are a sight to behold and put the other fireworks shows I’ve seen this year to shame.  Most are shot off from the water but a few also go off the skyscrapers in the background, which all in all is an amazing sight.

The Cendes twins strike a pose at the end of the night, very happy.  And hey why shouldn’t we be?  We’re young, in a beautiful city, just had a great time at the ballgame and are about to head over to the new casino to watch the spectacle others parting with hundreds of dollars. (I love to watch roulette but can’t bring myself to play!) On a summer night with friends and family and the ever-beautiful skyline behind us, it’s hard not to love Pittsburgh.

A Pittsburgh Weekend (and Winery)

Going to Pittsburgh this weekend, the town I grew up in.  Always fun to visit of course but one of my favorite things this time of year is how green it is- our house is in a very leafy suburb, so not unusual to see sights like wild turkeys running across the lawn.

Plan is my brother will finish driving from North Carolina and we’ll have a dinner at a local winery of all things, called the Narcisi Winery about a 15 minute drive from our house.  I know what you’re thinking and I agree- a winery in Pittsburgh?!– but all the grapes are from Pennsylvania and the wine is passable.  And when you’re with good friends and there is good wine and food who cares where it’s from right?

From the front, with an obligatory Italian flag!

My sister Linda and her best friend from high school, Jackie, when we visited last month.

Anyway, have a good weekend guys and when I return I will have stories of things like Kennywood and the Pittsburgh Pirates- I’m told tomorrow is “Italian appreciation night” at the latter and when I asked who we’d be playing my brother responded “does it really matter? We’re going to lose anyway.” Gulp!