Sunday, 4 August 2013

Leaving Pittsburgh...

I woke up to rain and grey skies, but it seems to have stopped and I know from watching the weather forecast on TV last night that things will hot up next week. It's been good while I've been here: very hot and plenty of blue skies both in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Room 2318 of the Cleveland Marriott – too many pillows, too many beds.
Today I start the long journey home. First a taxi from here to Pittsburgh airport, then a flight to Chicago O'Hare and from there a flight to London, arriving at just gone 7am in the morning on Sunday. I'll be glad to get home.

On Friday night I found an Asian restaurant in the Oakland area of town where I'm staying. I was driven down there in the hotel shuttle bus and the woman driving told me she'd never been to London, but had been to Manchester and, for some reason, Kingsbridge in Devon, a place that holds a few bad memories for me.

Room 606, Quality Inn, Pittsburgh. No bulbs in those lamps, by the way.
The meal was good – a spicy Thai dish and a couple of cold beers – but I hate dining alone as you can't win either way: you're a sad man if you just sit there (as I did) and you're even sadder if you bring out a book and start reading. I was surrounded by couples and groups of friends as this was a Friday night, but once I'd finished my meal, feeling a little sad and lonely, I got the bill and walked home while it was still daylight, up the main street and then left past the Magee Women's Hospital and into the Quality Inn (which has been 'home' for the last couple days).

While I might have cast a few aspersions on the old Quality Inn, it's actually been very good. It takes me a day or two to acclimatise to some hotels – I had similar low views of the El Tropicana in San Antonio, but eventually warmed to it – and now I really like this place too. The shuttle driver was a pleasant, homely woman, born and bred in Pittsburgh; the service, generally, has been friendly and the room, while a little basic, was fine. I prefer a bit of plain-speaking decor: lamps, plugs, a desk and a bed, a TV set and a bathroom. What else do you want? Alright, bulbs in the bedside lamps would have been nice, but you can't have everything.

View from room 606 Quality Inn, Pittsburgh – note 'Cathedral of Learning',
the tall building, which is part of the University of Pittsburgh.
It's odd being in America again. I always feel, as I wander the streets, that I'm not really a human being, but some kind of bit player in the video game Grand Theft Auto. Perhaps I am. GTA's Liberty City could be any American city and that's possibly why, as I wandered around Cleveland and Pittsburgh they both seemed a little familiar to me; not that I spend my time playing GTA – I think I've tried it once or twice – but there you go. Having said that, as I wandered the streets, I occasionally felt as if I should have been trying car doors to see if they were open and, if not, smash them open with my elbow and then drive around the city, just like in GTA. I hasten to add that I never did any such thing – who said video games can be a bad influence?

I put off having to pack up and check out. I hate checking out of hotels, even if it is a little easier than it used to be, especially when my room has invariably been pre-paid. I just pay for my extras and that's only a couple of international phone calls. I had to check out by 11am and I left my bags with the concierge, not that The Quality Inn had a concierge, it's just a phrase that means they'll keep them in a store room until I return. The plan was to wander around, probably not very far, certainly not downtown as it's too far to go, so probably around the streets or down to Oakland's downtown, but I've been there before and there's little to see bar a few low-end stores and a handful of restaurants.

I decided to head to downtown Oakland where I sat in a Starbucks reading the New York Times and enjoying tea and lemon drizzle cake. Then I wandered into a few shops and eventually had lunch in Mad Mex, a Mexican restaurant along one of the back streets. Not sure if I like Mexican food. It's all very samey, but Mad Mex was pretty cool and I enjoyed a couple of vanilla stouts and a chicken burrito before heading back to the hotel to pack things up and head for the airport.

The flight home was a little touch and go in terms of making the connection to London. The Pittsburgh to Chicago flight was delayed by about 20 minutes, and when I reached O'Hare I had to leg it to gate K12 to catch the flight home. It wasn't as good as the BA flight coming out – inferior food – but otherwise it was a pretty cool flight. I had seat 21J, by a bulkhead and a window, meaning a little more leg room than normal. It was a smooth, seven-hour flight to London and I spent a lot of it reading Graham Greene's Stamboul Train. I managed to get about an hour or so of sleep and, when I arrived at Heathrow, I felt alright.

The Heathrow Express took me to Paddington where I took the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus, changed on to the Victoria Line and then, at Victoria, took a train home. I was picked up at the railway station and we went to see mum for lunch; and then had a much-needed kip, followed by a shower and dinner and now, here I am finishing off a blogpost I started yesterday in Pittsburgh.

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