“…in Iceland, eating strange cheese” and Other Thoughts on Travel

As I write this, many of my friends and acquaintances are in Iceland, eating strange cheese and sleeping in hostels. Our wonderful Marla, who has allowed me the opportunity to write a guest blog here, is packing her things for the international adventure of a lifetime. My sister has just begun a summer job in Alaska.

This is the first time in several years that I haven’t taken a big, exciting trip in May. It feels strange not to be packing my essentials into a carry on, not to be arranging for someone to water my plants. I miss the exhilaration of travel, and even the exhaustion. Exploring places I haven’t been before energizes me. I love to learn how the roads are carved out through different cities, how erosion has shaped land on different continents. Travel teaches me more about the world, the people in it, and my place in it.

guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa move
(The author in Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo credit Gina Olszowski 2011)

In the absence of a big trip, I’m trying to take this time to more thoroughly explore where I can be: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I moved here for graduate school almost three years ago, and will be moving away again in a couple of months. Pittsburgh now feels so familiar, so comfortable, that it’s woven into me. I rarely have to think about where I’m going, because getting there is instinct. Before I leave the city, I want to actively find the things I don’t already know. I want to discover different neighborhoods, new coffee shops, and untrodden trails in the nearby park.

This morning I took the bus downtown to run an errand. I almost never venture into downtown Pittsburgh. I went to school in the East End, have lived in the East End, and work on Mount Washington, so downtown mostly pops up as a skyline in my life. As I walked along Smithfield Street, I realized how much there is here that’s still unfamiliar to me. I sometimes forget that Pittsburgh is an actual city. The parts I move through are so residential that it feels more like a large town. And yet, there it was, the reminder that this is also a place of buildings so tall that the streets feel like canyons.

guest post blog Traveling Marla South Africa move
(Smithfield Street, Pittsburgh. Photo credit Caroline Tanski 2013)

I have two months left in Pittsburgh, and I hope to uncover more secrets to take with me.

How long have you lived in your current town or city? Do you still find new places and experiences there?


About me (Caroline  of Currer and the Bells)
I’m a writer and editor from Maine, living in Pittsburgh. I miss the ocean. Currer and the Bells is what I’d name my indie folk band; it would be all girls in glasses, and the lyrics would be packed with words like “avuncular.”

Want more Caroline? Do like Marla does and go obsess over her blog for awhile: Currer and the Bells


Traveling Marla is unplugged for three weeks while she prepares for her move to South Africa. She put out a call for guest posts (see original request here), and is grateful to receive so much support! Please see the full list below.

Please support these writers by reading each of their guest posts and checking out their own blogs!

Thanks, as always for taking time to read my blog and comment. Although I’m offline right now, I will return in a few short weeks when we’re settled in South Africa and I promise to read all of your comments!

Love, Marla

Baz – The Landy (Out and About and Having Fun)
Brandon: my quirky, brilliant, dashing nephew
Dallas, of Crazy Train to Tinky Town
Caroline, of Currer and the Bells
Dakota Garilli
Trophos, of The Dancing Professor
Leo, of Doggy’s Style
Kayla, of Encounter Peru
Benjamin Prewitt – Expression of my life – An evolution of art
Kriscinda, of Heavy Metal Homesteading
Lynne, of Home Free Adventures
Jeff: my witty and hilarious ebberlubbinbrudder
Jody, of Human Triumphant
Julie of J-Bo.net
Ingrid, of Live Laugh RV
Ned Hickson of Ned’s Blog
Rose, of On the Go Fitness
Pierr Morgan
Leslie and Amanda, of Survival is Relative
Colin of Uber Beast Mode
Robyn, of You Think Too Much

15 thoughts on ““…in Iceland, eating strange cheese” and Other Thoughts on Travel

  1. I’m enjoying the guest blogs and visiting the guest blogger’s pages. You have a May Apple or Mayapple by your boyfriend’s hand and foot. I used to love to pick the “umbrellas” when I was a kid. Tried to post on your page but don’t know if I was successful.

  2. Wow. Such beautiful writing in this post, Caroline–especially the line about Pittsburgh being “so familiar, so comfortable, that it’s woven” into you. You really made me miss Pittsburgh and my old neighborhood, Mt. Wash! (My old apartment was located just around the corner from Autumn House.)

    Feel like I need to take this post as a hint to start exploring Lima again, too. I’ve grown a tad too comfortable here. Thanks for sharing this.


    1. Thanks, Kayla! I wish I could come to Lima and let you show me around, but for now I’ll just have to keep reading your wanderlust-inducing blog. One of my specific goals for the next couple of months is to explore other parts of Mt. Washington — I come to work and then go straight home, and never really stick around to find out what else goes on up here. It’s a fascinating neighborhood with a lot of history, though! Any recommendations?

      1. You’re right–it is historic, but unfortunately there are no museums on the Mt. that preserve that history (at least to my knowledge). Closest thing I can think of would be to visit the Duquesne Incline. It has some info on the history of inclined planes around the world.

        If you haven’t been to Grandview Park on Bailey, I’d recommend stopping there after work one day. Same cityscape views as Grandview Ave, but with some greenery and much less traffic. Good spot for reading.

        Chatham Village near Virginia Ave/Bigham Street is recognized as a well-preserved example of the “Garden City Movement” and is a nice place to take a stroll. There is a coffee shop (Cafe Cravings) located in Chatham Village as well. Only open during daytime hours though.

  3. Agreed! Travel helps us see ourselves more sharply as we’re thrown into relief against new backdrops. And as those backdrops become foregrounds, the people in them cease to be secondary or imaginary. And finding new people and places that matter opens one up — which can absolutely happen too when we look around our immediate world. Often even more rewarding. I’m exploring camping this summer as a way to adventure on the cheap while back in school and strapped for cash. Can’t get away for the big adventures either, but I’ve lived in southern California for twelve years now and have seen only one of the national parks here. I’m usually too busy boarding a plane. Pretty psyched about waking up to the woods. Enjoy the city!

    1. I’ve heard some great things about the camping in southern California, though I’ve never been myself. There’s nothing like waking up to the sounds and smells of a forest. Enjoy your exploring!

  4. We definitely need to hang out, Caroline… I love urban exploring! Have you seen the National Negro Opera House in the Homewood neighborhood? Or in Lawrenceville, there’s an old, expired bridge you can climb/walk onto with a great city view (I don’t know the legality of this, so we’ll say it’s only hypothetically accessible). In Hazelwood, there’s an amazing Hungarian restaurant called Jozef’s, which is used to be open and is now only by reservation only, where you’re literally eating in this guy’s living room with his tv pushed to the corner…the best Eastern European food! Gay bingo? Birthplace of Gertrude Stein? Allegheny Cemetery? When I worked the Census in 2010, it was absolutely perfect for me, because I know the streets very well, but discovering fun and exciting sites always piques my interest.

    1. Brandon, I didn’t know about most of these, and they all sound amazing. Let’s do it. Gay Bingo! Secret bridges! My dreams come true.

  5. If you haven’t already, I suggest spending some time in the cemeteries. People always look at me funny when I say that, but I always say, you want to get intimate with a city’s past? Visit its cemeteries. Here, you can get close to industry leaders like Frick, and way too many of those who died too young in his mill. You can follow family names through a cemetery, or go from one faith to another, one ethnicity to another. Seeing the various unpronounceable names—whole families who’ve rejoined each other over decades—really gives you a taste of Pittsburgh’s past (and still current, really) flavors. Furthermore, some of the monuments are incredible. Homewood and especially Allegheny really give London’s Highgate a run for its money. Calvary holds the remains of a 17-year-old circus contortionist from New Zealand who died downtown in the 19-teens. She’s commemorated with a marker that was donated by her circus compatriots. Every stone has a story. Plus, cemeteries very relaxing, and beautifully landscaped.

    1. I live a block away from the Homewood Cemetery, and it’s one of the things that sold me on the apartment. Mapping it out in my head has been one of my favorite pastimes in PIttsburgh. I’ve yet to visit the Allegheny, but it’s on my list. I love cemeteries, and in fact used to frequent the Cimetiere du Montparnasse of which you wrote for your guest post! We should talk headstones sometime.

      1. Montparnasse is lovely, right? I’ve been going to Homewood for…geez…20 years now. Definitely make a little time for Allegheny, at least. I *think* it’s the oldest big landscaped cemetery in the city. Bigger than Homewood and in various states of upkeep—there are some really worthwhile monuments there. Ahh, nice to have someone get it. =)

        1. I studied in Paris for a year, and took to wandering around the cemeteries because it was the only place people left me alone. There’s something really soothing about them. Have you ever been to the Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass? It was the first landscaped cemetery in the country, after which ones like Homewood and Allegheny were modeled. Gorgeous.

  6. Great post, Gina! It is really funny, isn’t it? We will put so much time and effort into planning for a trip half way around the globe, but rarely spend a weekend in our own backyard!!
    Hahaha…I have seriously spoke to “tourists” who know more of the history of my area than I do! “Grass is always greener…”

    1. Too true! It’s an interesting exercise to try to look at a place you know so well as if it’s your first time there. Always so much more to learn.


      1. Oops, sorry Caroline! But just ask my son Beryl, er I mean Brandon, if you know me well enough, you’d just nod and smile if I called you by nother name! It’s just those messy genes we were talking about yesterday. 😉

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