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Taking a break

Dealing with Donald's estate has been hard work—sometimes overwhelming work. If I had worked at it nonstop, I could probably have gotten through it in a couple of months, but I just don't have the stamina for that. I need a break once in awhile. Sometimes I'll take a day or two off and just stay home in Skylark, catching up with emails and reading an ebook. And twice I've been lucky enough to have friends come and visit.

Earlier this summer, my friend Rick Farmer was in town for a seminar, and I was able to have dinner with him and catch up on things. And in September, my old friends Gary and Linda Oliaro drove out from New Jersey for a couple of days in Pittsburgh.

Gary & Linda

I'd been meaning all summer to visit some of the city's museums, so we spent an afternoon touring the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which are conveniently located side by side. The art museum was nice enough, but I didn't see anything that really excited me. Actually, the one thing that caught my eye was not a painting or sculpture, but a grilled window with the sky showing through it.

CMA window

The guard chided me for taking photos in the museum, but relented when I explained that I'd only been photographing the window. He probably thought I was a little weird. (And he was probably right.)

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History, on the other hand, had excellent exhibits. One that I really loved was the "Stratavator," a simulated ride straight down—more than three miles down, through the geological strata underlying Pittsburgh. You enter a large elevator cab with a "window" at one end (actually a big flat-screen TV), and when you push a big red button to start the ride, a cheerfully sweaty hard-hatted operator on the screen hauls on a big lever to start you on your journey into the bowels of the earth. Quoting the Museum's website, "The Stratavator stops at the museum's basement storage rooms, a coal mine, a limestone cave, and other geological features. As the cab vibrates, rock strata whiz by between stops." The operator gives you a quick description of each level.

The Stratavator is fun, it's entertaining, it's educational... altogether an outstanding use of multimedia to teach geology. I don't have a photo, because a picture couldn't do it justice—you have to experience it for yourself. If you're ever in Pittsburgh, I highly recommend it.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Carnegie Museum of Natural History was a favorite hangout of Donald's in his childhood. Of course the exhibits were more traditional in those days... but they had dinosaurs, and lots of 'em. Today they have more than ever, thanks to a major recent expansion. I posed for this picture with one of the big, toothy ones. (Sorry, I didn't get his name.) Altogether, it was a very enjoyable afternoon.

Andy & dinosaur

Gary and Linda had booked a room at the Sheraton Station Square, which was absurdly expensive but had a great view. The day had started out rainy, and I was afraid that we'd have lousy weather for their brief visit. But it cleared up by evening, just in time to let us see a lovely rainbow from their hotel room's picture window:

Pittsburgh rainbow

We had planned things so that their hotel was near the Duquesne Incline, one of two cable-drawn funiculars that date back to the 1870s.

Duquesne Incline

For a few dollars you can ride one of the Incline's two bright red cable cars up to the aptly named Grandview Avenue, which affords a spectacular view of the city. One car goes up while the other goes down, so they balance each other.

The small image below doesn't really do the scene justice, but if you click on the picture, you'll get a much larger version that lets you see more detail. On the left is the Ohio River; on the right are the Allegheny (upper right) and Monongahela (lower right)... and of course the triangular area between them that holds downtown Pittsburgh. I'm not a big fan of cities, but I have to admit that Pittsburgh looked great in the golden late afternoon sun.

Afternoon pano

After taking each other's photos, we had a delicious dinner at the Grandview Saloon and watched the barges gliding up and down the rivers. By the time we finished, the daytime panorama had changed into a still more spectacular nighttime one. (This photo isn't as sharp, because I hadn't brought my monopod along, but it's still worth clicking on to see the big version!)

Nighttime pano

It was a breathtaking view, and I was very happy that Gary and Linda had gotten to see it.

As for me, spending time with my friends after all these months of working mostly by myself really lifted my spirits.

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