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August 27, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Pittsburgh, PA

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Greetings from Pennsylvania! After attending a public relations conference in Pittsburgh, then checking out a few sights and dining at a handful of restaurants in the city, I've come to a conclusion: Pittsburgh gets a bad rap that it just doesn't deserve. I've been to Pittsburgh many times in the summer and each visit, it just keeps getting better. If you want to learn why, then come along for the ride. After Pittsburgh, we're hopping on a bus and driving two hours north to Erie (yes, I took Greyhound). All aboard! Oh wait; that's Amtrak's slogan. This week, we also explore Washington Heights, a northern Manhattan neighborhood. You may just want to pay a visit the next time you're in the Big Apple.

The last time I watched as much Olympic coverage as I did these past two weeks, it was 1980 and I was 10 years old. I think everyone agrees that China did an incredible job as the host country (besides the suspected underage gymnasts, that is). I truly don't know if these Olympics can ever be topped. Hopefully, they opened the eyes of closed-minded, non-traveling Americans that China would be an amazing and affordable destination to visit. I, for one, can't wait to go back. My favorite sport to watch was the beach volleyball. If you concur, then you'll be happy to know that all the U.S. beach volleyball Olympians, including Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh, Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser, will be back in action at the granddaddy of all beach volleyball tournaments: The Manhattan Beach Open. It's the volleyball equivalent to Wimbledon and is taking place from September 19 to 21 in Manhattan Beach, CA. I will be there, too!

We left off last week just as I touched down in Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh airport is one of my favorite airports in America; it's basically a mall with over 100 shops (like Brooks Brothers, Gap Women, Godiva and Victoria's Secret) and places to eat (like T.G.I. Fridays, Sbarro, McDonald's, and Ben & Jerry's). The best part is that by law, the shops can't charge a penny more than they do at their regular retail stores. So no more getting gouged at the airport; it's all regulated by the BAA. I think it might be the only airport where you can buy a bottle of water for ... hold on to your hats, folks ... just $1.19!

FYI: The drive from the airport to downtown Pittsburgh without traffic takes about 20 minutes.

I was only in town for two nights so that I could attend a PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) conference. It's one of the best conferences at which to network with PR reps and hang out with my fellow travel writers. One of the most interesting is Charles Veley, the world's most traveled man. I selected his site, as Website of the Week earlier in the year and this was my first chance to meet him. He's a great guy and we have a lot in common; besides traveling, we are both originally from Connecticut and now live in California. But I must concede that Charles has me beat by a long shot when it comes to traveling so I have some catching up to do. But I'm younger.

One of the places where Charles and I chatted with the heads of Swiss Tourism, Netherlands and Great Britain was over dinner at ELEVEN. ELEVEN is an upscale restaurant near the Strip District. They serve innovative contemporary American dishes and I had the Heritage Farms chicken with braised leg, risotto and organic Swiss chard ($24). ELEVEN, 1150 Smallman Street Pittsburgh, PA, Tel: 412-201-5656.

The other restaurant I dined at was La Tavola Italiana. It's considered Pittsburgh's oldest Italian restaurant and my PR friends and I stumbled upon it when we were looking for a place to eat around 9pm. It turns out that a lot of downtown restaurants stop serving early but luckily the owner of La Tavola took us in. The salad and chicken parmigiana ($15.95) were good but my side dish of pasta was average at best. While we were waiting to see if the kitchen was open, I noticed all the celebrity pictures on the wall. Looks like every celebrity who has ever come through Pittsburgh has dined here. La Tavola Italiana, 1 Boggs Avenue Pittsburgh, PA, Tel: 412-481-3336.

The conference was held at The Westin, which is a nice hotel that I've stayed at before. But for those attending the conference, they charge a ridiculous amount of money to access the Internet ... get this: $6.95 for 15 minutes! One way around those crazy prices is to get your own wireless card. If you don't want to sign a two-year contract with Verizon or Sprint, then rent one from for as little as $5.99 a day.

My accommodations were down the street at the Hilton. It's a good seven LONG blocks away from the Westin (took about 12 minutes to walk) but it's centrally located. One of the reasons I stayed there was to check out the new Hilton meeting space. They first introduced it back in 2000 at Hilton hotels in Ireland and the United Kingdom but now select Hilton hotels in North America have it, too. The program targets business travelers who are looking for eco-friendly, more personalized small and medium meeting rooms and is tailored for groups of 50 guests or fewer. Business travelers can get a flexible multi-purpose room for small meetings. The smart room designs include local artwork to help stimulate creativity and advanced technology to keep guests plugged in. They also offer a digital easel that instantly records flipchart content. For more information or to book a meeting room, visit

Currently, the Hilton is undergoing renovations until after the New Year. So, I'd probably stay somewhere else unless they offer a good deal. I didn't hear any construction noise but it was definitely visible. The construction affects all guest floors and corridors. Meals are served out of a temporary restaurant and bar. A guest room serves as the temporary concierge lounge. The good news is that when it's all done, the place will be sweet. I scored one of the renovated rooms, which was huge with a cozy bed, flat screen TV, a comfortable work desk and a clean bathroom. It also had a good view of the famed Three Rivers. Hilton Pittsburgh, 600 Commonwealth Place, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tel: 412-391-4600.

To get up close and personal with the Three Rivers (The Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio River), go on a river cruise. One of the conference functions was a trip on one of the Gateway Clipper's boats. This company offers all kinds of cruises including lunch and dinner cruises and on a variety of boats. Ours was their largest as it had four levels and held 600 people. For more information, visit

DID YOU KNOW? Pittsburgh has 446 bridges.

In November, Pittsburgh will be celebrating its 250th birthday! There are all kinds of events and parties planned throughout the year. The city is known for its arts and sciences and for its quality of life. Did you know that Pittsburgh is regarded as one of America's most livable cities? According to a recent survey, the city has the lowest crime rate among U.S. metropolitan areas. The region's cost of living is 93% of the national average and housing costs are 43% below the country's median. On top of that, the average worker in Pittsburgh spends 25 minutes commuting which is far less than in other major cities. Who knew?

Unfortunately, I didn't have time to check out all the cool neighborhoods in the area or even see the Duquesne Incline (there's a funicular). However, two years ago my dad and I went to a game at PNC Park. The park opened in 2001 -- the same year as Heinz Field which is next door (they share a parking lot) and home to the 2005 Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers. We watched the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Atlanta Braves. If you can't make it to a game, at least go on a stadium tour ($6 for adults) which are available through September 19. For more information, click here, email, or call 412-325-4700 or 1-800-BUY-BUCS ext. 4700.

Traveling to Pittsburgh? Check out Moon Handbooks Pittsburgh. It’s written by my buddy Dan Eldridge and it was nominated for the 2008 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards in the category of "Best Guidebook." Here’s the description: "A unique approach to visiting or residing in Pittsburgh, Moon Handbooks Pittsburgh™ (Avalon Travel) offers readers a glimpse into can't-miss sights and attractions, suggestions on planning a perfect city experience, and the first-hand knowledge and unique perspective of author Dan Eldridge. Both Dan and Moon Handbooks are pleased to announce a number of special offers and exciting events to celebrate the unprecedented success of Moon Pittsburgh's release -- many of which are available exclusively to™ visitors, including discounted prices on autographed copies of the guide." It's available at Moon Pittsburgh or

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Pictures From

The Trip


jetBlue to PIT


Misty May In Berlin


Phil Dalhausser


Inside PIT Airport


Drive From Airport To Downtown


Charles Veley


Smores Dessert at ELEVEN


La Tavola Italiana


Chicken Parmigiana




Pittsburgh Hilton


My Bed




View From Room


River Cruise


Heinz Field



PNC Park




Pittsburgh Skyline


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