Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hometown Ohio

A very early Thursday morning (13th July) meant we were able to catch a 6:30am flight to Pittsburgh. This was an early enough flight for a commuter, let alone two young boys. Arriving at Pittsburgh international airport (Philadelphia), we were met by friend and Paul’s former employer, David, who was to drive us to Salem, Ohio

When we told people that we were flying to Ohio for the weekend, this was invariably met with a look of incredulity, a pause, then a hesitant “Well… have fun!” Then when met by David, he apologised profusely for making us meet up with him in Ohio. We started to sense that Ohio might not be the ‘hot-spot’ state of the USA. The belief that Luc only threw up in American cars was then shattered when he lost his stomach contents in a Volvo. There goes the European-car-steady-stomach theory. 

We arrived in Salem, checked into the Timberlanes Motel Inn and met up with Bernadette (David’s wife) and their children Aiden (8yo) and Mikayla (5yo). A quick lunch in the Hotel’s restaurant was followed by a walk to David’s parent’s house. The children had a great time hanging out together, playing on the swing, rolling on the lawn, watering the garden and generally being rambunctious. 

Salem is a beautiful old town with some very historic and grand buildings and homes. The land is gently undulating with many established parks and gardens. As is evident in many of the country’s older towns, gardens have no boundaries (fences) and there is a sense of houses sitting in an expansive parkland of lush green lawn with magnificent trees. The low density of housing has a major drawback: a heavy reliance on vehicle usage leading to a distinct lack of footpaths (sidewalks). This meant that a good proportion of our walk was actually on the road.

Salem residents have a strong German ancestry and the town has an evident Quaker heritage (named after Quaker settlement in New Jersey). The town has been a major manufacturing centre, particularly for porcelain and plastic products but has witnessed an economic decline in the past years, meaning a rise in unemployment and migration away. 

We attended some very ‘American’ institutions during our stay as we were there to witness Salem’s Bicentennial. These included the following: A Strawberry Festival dinner at the First United Methodist Church Hall, (menu consisting of: hotdogs, sloppy joes, sweet ham sandwiches, coleslaw, fresh apple sauce, cherry pie, ice-cream and strawberries). Although attended by all ages, a definite demographic became apparent when we walked in to see a sea of white hair. Saturday morning we attended the Frank A. Zamarelli Sr. Memorial Pancake Breakfast put on by the local Red Cross, this served several purposes including a local get-together, a fund-raiser and a means of enticing potential blood donors. We even partook in the wares from a ‘Lemonaid’ stand set up on the footpath outside someone’s house. 

We were a little too late to see some hot air balloons close-up, but these were very impressive when viewed en masse from a distance. We walked down the main street to see the wares of an OId Fashioned Sidewalk Sale, and visited the annual vintage and collectables Kiwianis Antique Show under the shade of some magnificent trees in beautiful Centennial Park. We had lunch with David’s parents at the Salem Golf Club followed by an afternoon of swimming in the Club’s pool. We even made it to the Wallaby’s Grille for a beer. The menu made me laugh with ‘Australian’ food items with a distinctive Cajun, Mexican and Hawaiian influence. Try ‘Tasmanian Wings’, ‘Dunk Island Pretzels’ ‘Oz Quesadilla’ ‘Mildura Ribs’ and lots of items with the title ‘Cobber’ or ‘Wally’. 

The piece-de-resistance was the Bicentennial Grande Parade on Saturday evening. EVERYONE attended this. Chairs had been placed in the prime viewing positions the day before. We sat near the end of the procession on the lawn of a friend of David’s parents.  All manner of local businesses and clubs took part, including the current festival queen and attendants, and those from 50 years ago! Abundant fire engines, services vehicles, marching bands and floats made for a colourful and vibrant procession. The copious candy flung from parade participants ensured that the interest of children was maintained.

Bernadette volunteered to drive us to Pittsburgh Saturday evening. We were so appreciative as it was a long drive there (and back) and we were all suitably exhausted (thank you so much Bernadette!) We had found a 4 star hotel in Pittsburgh through Hotwire, and although more expensive than we wanted to pay, we thought it was all worth it when we lay in our comfy beds (that didn’t try to ‘kill’ us as the Timberlane’s had tried to do to David), and were central enough to do some very fast tourist sight-seeing the next morning. This involved a walk through Pittsburgh’s theatre district to Point State Park (at the junction of the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio Rivers), and the site of the original Fort Pitt (after British Prime Minister Pitt and origin of Pittsburgh’s name) where we were able to view several Pittsburgh landmarks including the Carnegie Museum, Heinz Field (home of Steelers and Panthers football teams) and PNC Park (home of Pirates baseball team). 

It was such a shame that our plane was delayed by three hours as it would have meant the boys (and us) were not so bored hanging around the airport and would have enabled us to visit the Andy Warhol Museum, other Carnegie museums or the National Aviary – some must-sees of Pittsburgh – oh well, another time perhaps… 

We arrived home, eventually, in time for dinner, some unpacking, and ended up collapsing into bed. We had a wonderful weekend, great company, heaps to keep the kids entertained and some great memories.

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