24 June 2012

23. June 2012: North Park

Yesterday, we went to North Park for the second time. We found the park as we were getting lost on our way to a bowling alley, and after seeing the lush scenery, we vowed to come back. The first time we went, we rented bicycles for six dollars each for one hour and rode around the park for a bit. During the ride, we discovered the lake, and returned the bicycles and visited the lake by car. We were able to park in a small lot and walked around. This walk convinced us to come back. Our second trip, yesterday, was for a picnic we had been planning.

These four are from our first visit. The last four are from yesterday's picnic.

For our picnic, we made turkey, cheddar, bacon, and cucumber sandwiches, and brought chips, cookies, a can of peaches, a plum, and some soda with us. We used a regular blanket that we had lying around the house. After parking the car in the park, we walked until we found a nice open space underneath some trees. Even after eating, we hung around on the blanket for another hour or so, relaxing, and enjoying the day as the sun set behind the trees that surrounded our site. Afterwards, we packed up and ended the day with some shaved ice. I had blue raspberry and Richard had Tiger's Blood, a mix of strawberry and coconut. We accidentally got these for free, as we tried to pay for these by card, only to discover that they only took cash. After checking our pockets for any change and finding we had none, the teenage girl that served us checked quickly behind her and quietly told us we could just have them. How wonderful!
The coolest thing about this park is that is has so much to offer. You can rent bicycles, paddle boats and kayaks, you can have parties and picnics, or just walk around. There are tennis courts, an ice skating rink, and both batting cages and driving ranges throughout the area. In addition to walking the paths paved by the park, there are little ones accessed just by crossing the grass, giving you a chance to just sit by the water for a little while.
This park cannot be fully experienced in one whole day. There's just too much to do, see, and explore. I suggest planning some days to just walk, as well as planning days to have picnics or other events.
Always be responsible! Take care of your own trash -- there are plenty of waste receptacles all over the park and there is no excuse for littering here.
Entering the park is entirely free, so coming here can be a completely spend-free event if you choose to make it so.
Aside from the pub and café on the edge of the park, and the restaurant on the far end, there are no food venues throughout. If you plan to have a meal there, be sure you know where these places are, or bring your own!
One of my favourite things about this park is that it's very quiet and comfortable for someone who grew up in the country and moved to the city. If you're in the 'burgh and missing some good old fashioned greenery, head up to North Park.
If you're not in the Pittsburgh area, or even close enough to North Park to enjoy it, check out the internet for a park near you. Remember, dates don't have to be indoors!

And that's it for our most recent visit to North Park! We hope you enjoyed reading, and can get some ideas about a visit to your local park.
As always, if you have any comments, concerns, or suggestions, leave them in the comments below.
Thanks for reading this week's adventure on Endorphin Walrus!

Welcome Committee

Welcome to the very first post of Endorphin Walrus. We will first begin by explaining to you what this blog is meant for, and then give you some details of our very first adventures, that did not have enough photos to make it to the E.Walrus.
So first, a short intro about us, that is, Richard and Andrea. Given from my side, this is what you should know about us: We starting dating early October 2011, and moved in together in the apartment I already had in Pittsburgh by the end of that December. As a couple, we have been having a fantastic time enjoying each other's company, finding fun things to do every week. We both work something like forty-hour weeks, and our only common day off is Saturday, so we use these days to spend together, going on adventures and having fun.
A few minutes before we left for a party in January
And that's what this blog is about: having fun. Yesterday, as we were having another one of our Saturday adventures, we got to talking about how many couples consider "dates" as going out to fancy restaurants, the "dinner and a movie" cliché, and how infrequently we actually do that. Not that doing those things aren't fantastic, but we thought it would be interesting if other couples (and even just groups of friends) could see the things we do on our weekly dates, and perhaps get some ideas for their activities.
And so that's what we'll do. Every week, we will have our fun, but we'll also take lots of photos and some videos and let you guys see what we've been up to with weekly updates. We'll tell you what was good and bad, and what we would suggest if you're planning something similar for yourself and your significant other, or are just looking for something fun to do with a friend. 
Some disclaimers: 
Please keep in mind that everyone has their own tastes, and something we thought could have been better about our date could be just the sort of thing you are looking for.
We do live in Pittsburgh, PA, so not all of the things we do may be available in your area. Some of your events may require more planning than a half hour drive.
Many of our dates involve spending as little money as possible. If you are looking for the next big, pricey thing to impress your significant other, you are in the wrong place.

So now, let's talk a little about some of our pre-E.Walrus dates.

First off, Asian Night:
       This is one of our Stay-At-Home date nights. Early in the evening, we went to various grocery stores, including an Asian market close to home, and purchased everything we wanted to make. Upon arriving home, we worked together to create the meal, and here's how it turned out:
We had tofu-veggie stir fry (bottom left and right), six total chicken teriyaki buns (upper left), homemade salmon sushi and sashimi (upper right), rice balls (upper left), buttery stir fried crab (centre) and saké (top middle).
   As far as dinners go, this one was huge. We had plenty of leftovers that could be enjoyed the next day. This kind of date was really significant for us, because we think one of the most romantic things a couple can do is to work together towards a common goal, in this case, dinner. We spent something like an hour in the kitchen, each having our own expertise in the dishes we were making, and it turned into something delicious that we could both lay claim to.
   We prefer Asian food when we're feeling ethnic, but your meal can be anything! Even the most American barbecue meal you can think of can turn into a date night meal if you plan it thoroughly. Try to be sure to divide up the work for the meal so that you are both actively working in the kitchen (or grill!). 
   One of my main suggestions is to try to select meal components that express both of your kitchen strengths. For example, one of you may be the master of baking, but the other is the champion of fried foods. Put together something that will express both of your flavours and personalities in the dishes you make. And don't be afraid to make extra!

Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium:
   This zoo sits on the top of a large hill near one edge of town, and you have to ride a huge escalator to get to the entrance! Here, they feature lions, tigers, leopards, and a couple of peacocks that free-roam the park, in addition to other animals. This zoo also holds the PPG Aquarium, where you can see penguins, fish, sharks, rays, and seahorses. At about eleven dollars per person, this visit was a pretty easy decision.


   One of the best parts about this date was that we had the opportunity to spend a ton of time there, and it was super cool to see all the animals! We even bought Painted Dog and Tiger Shark plush toys on our way out. One of the main issues I had, personally, was the large volume of other visitors. Since it was a sunny, warm Saturday, many parents brought their children. As a result, it was really difficult to get close enough to see many of the animals without waiting for ten or so minutes before parents convinced their children to move on. The children weren't too loud for the most part, so their presence didn't ruin things by any means. Another issue was the zoo food and dining areas. For me, the food was basically awful, and it was evident that the staff don't take care to keep the stations clean. Further, much of the floor and our table was sticky, and I felt uncomfortable letting my food near solid surfaces. 
   Depending on your stand on the presence of children, you may want to make this a weekday trip if possible. If you don't mind them, take a weekend. 
   I would suggest bringing bottles of water with you to drink, or to get one of the souvenir cups you can refill for cheap. Getting individual sodas or water can be expensive.
   Depending on whether or not you care about the state of the food at the zoo, I would suggest eating before you go, take some small snacks with you, and eat again on the way home. Obviously this is more difficult with young children, but if you worry that McDonalds burgers may contain more real beef than the ones at the zoo, this might be a better option.
   Always bring a camera to places like this. With the world's environment in its current state, we never know what may happen to these animals in our future. Further, being able to look back at these incredible animals is always a treat.
   Leave home with plenty of time to see the whole zoo. Rushing past animals to make sure you see everything prevents you from fully appreciating them!

The Waterfront:
   The Waterfront is an outdoor shopping centre on the southeast side of town. It contains stores from Macy's to Claire's to Dicks, and includes some unique restaurants throughout. There is also a frozen custard store that is family run and makes their own custard on site. Additionally, there is AMC Loews Waterfront theatre, which has twenty-two theatres, some of which are IMAX theatres. Further, a short walk over a bridge brings you to a path that cuddles the river. Many people use it for exercise so you see many runners, joggers, and cyclists on the path, but Richard and I just walked a bit when we found it.
   We've been to the Waterfront twice now, once to go to P.F. Chang's Chinese Bistro, and once to go to Yokoso!, a Japanese Hibachi restaurant.

Dessert at P.F. Chang's

   The Waterfront is a beautiful place, and should be visited at least once by everyone who lives in Pittsburgh. It has so much to see, and just to walk around is a real treat. As expected, the two meals we have enjoyed there so far were a little more expensive, so a dinner here has to be planned financially.
   I would suggest that anyone who visits take the time to see as much as they can. The Waterfront is large, but it's not impossible to walk around its entirety within a few hours. Definitely take some time AWAY from the Waterfront, too, and walk the path across the bridge. 

The Carnegie Science Centre:
   Another Pittsburgh-specific venue, but one worth mentioning. We came here one cloudy day and stayed for quite a while. The science centre has four floors of science to explore, ranging from physics to medical science, with a little bit of astrophysics and robotics peppered in. There are some shows to see, including laser shows and some IMAX movies. There is also a retired submarine open to public exploration and a separate building centered around activities that allow the younger crowd to explore how the body works. Unfortunately, we do not have a variety of photos that will give you a scope of this place, so here's the submarine:
   There is also a café and gift shop on site, but the biggest, coolest attraction of the whole place is the level of interaction patrons can have with the exhibits. Being a chemist, I wish there would have been more of a show from my field, but the liquid nitrogen show was cool!
   Take off the whole day for this place. It's so big, and if you want to have the time to see everything and explore all of the exhibits, you're going to need more than just a couple of hours. 
   For those of you closer to the Syracuse, NY area, check out the MOST in downtown Syracuse. It's a similar place, where interaction is key, AND it has a play area that adults are allowed on!
   For those not near Pittsburgh or Syracuse, see if a place near you has a similar venue. Even for those who are not science-oriented, it can be a lot of fun. And for those who are, there is the potential to learn some things from places like this.

Kennywood Amusement Park:
   This is the last location and activity I will be discussing in this post. Kennywood is the amusement park that is outside of town, out in West Mifflin. From our house, it took about thirty minutes to arrive to the park. We parked all the way at the top of the Free-Parking Hill, which was a distance from the park. Luckily for us, there was a chairlift to solve our problem. You can ride this right to the park's front gates, or you can take a shuttle if you feel more comfortable in a closed vehicle. For us, sitting in the chairlift, looking at the whole park, was mesmerizing and an exciting glance at what our day held.
We won a ninja Domo-kun at the arcade


   Again, since it was Saturday and gorgeous, there were a ton of people, so we didn't get to go on all that many rides, as they were all very crowded. My favourite, though, was the Phantom's Revenge roller coaster. Throughout the day, we enjoyed fresh-made lemonade, played arcade games that cost a quarter (including some very old ones that people of our generation and the one before us would appreciate), and went on some interesting rides (including a very special haunted house!). The night ended with Funnel Cake and one last chairlift ride to the car, with Applebee's for dinner.
   A ticket to Kennywood is $40 per person before five in the afternoon (and half price after five), so this is the kind of date that's a little more expensive and requires some planning. I would suggest making a plan to visit this park after the bills are paid, so you won't get stuck.
   As with all amusement parks, the food and related fare is expensive. Although we did not eat there beyond Funnel Cake, ice cream, and lemonade, we paid a decent price for it. If you plan to have a meal there, be prepared to pay.
   Depending on the day you go, try to plan your visit in a way that will allow you to experience as much of the park as possible. Although it wasn't a big deal for us not to go on so many rides, I know that some people may prefer to ride all of them, so be careful in your planning, and plan to wait.
   If you aren't near Pittsburgh, try to find an amusement park near you. Central New York has Darien Lake, for example. Lake George was a favourite vacation spot for my family when I was young, and the Great Escape still holds great memories for me.

And that's it for our very first post! We hope you enjoyed your read, and can get some great ideas. Please check back once a week and see what we've been up to! If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions for us to try, leave them in the comments below!
Thanks for reading the Endorphin Walrus!