A friendly get-together

We first started our Visa application around New Year whilst staying on the island of Sark in the Channel Islands. As part of the application we required a permanent US address. Willow knew some people who she had met 7 years ago whilst staying in Brazil, and I knew a few people from Birmingham who had moved over the years. In the end I contacted Ross, an old friend I had known on my late teenage years but hadn’t seen in over ten years. Thankfully Ross returned my message and let us use his permanent address on our application.Fast forward to July, and a few more of our friends were planning on being in or around the area around the same time. Ross very kindly organised for us all to stay with him and his wife Jennifer and bought tickets for us to go and watch ska legends Streetlight Manifesto in Pittsburgh on a Saturday night.We arrived in Pittsburgh around midday, greeted by my good friend John, who had arrived at Ross and Jen’s the night before. Although we hadn’t been gone that long at this point, it was still strange to see a familiar face on this side of the Atlantic. Once settled inside, we were introduce to the house pets Leo, Jake and Aurora.Jennifer and Ross soon returned from work and we soon set about catching up over some beers. We were now just waiting on our good friends Rob and Chloe, who had spent the week in Toronto and we’re hiring a car to drive down for the ‘reunion’. A couple of hours after their expected arrival, we sudden received a message from them on our group chat. It turned out they had suffered a delay at the border crossing and had to deal with road works along the way. It also probably didn’t help that Ross and Jen had recently moved house and Ross had forgot to update Rob. Address details updated, they were finally with us, and for probably the first time since I was 18, we were all together again in the same place.

Like a fine wine

The next day, Ross and Jen took us out on a guided tour of the area. Our first stop… The Flight 93 memorial. I’m not gonna lie… I felt like death that morning. Clearly enjoyed one too many sherbets!For those of you who don’t know about Flight 93, it was one of the plane crashes on September 11th 2001. The passengers, once hearing about the other incidents and realising that the flight had been diverted towards Washington DC decided to take on the hijackers and brought the plane down in a field in Pennsylvania. The area has now been made a national park, with a monument and a museum to remember those who lost their lives.

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We visited the museum, were information about those onboard and artefacts from the crash site were on display. You could even listen to some voice messages of the passengers left to loved ones during the hijacking. I can still remember the day of the attacks and although it was upsetting, I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming emotional impact of being there.The site has been built to show you the actual flight path of the plane leading the the crash site which has been marked with a giant boulder.

View overlooking the crash site
A moment of silence
Wall around the impact site
Boulder marking the impact site

From the memorial park, we headed to Mount Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania.Here we climbed a giant tower that gave a few members of the group a dose of vertigo. It did offer amazing panoramic views over the region though.

A picture of trees

This was another perfect opportunity for Steve to grab some nice footage for our Youtube Channel.On the drive back down we stopped off at another view point offering a breathtaking view of a nearby lake.

View from Mount Davis

With the group starting to get peckish, we ended up at a country shop that made their own cheese. Here we binged on a variety of unusual cheeses. I have never tried coffee cheese before… But strangely it works!Sadly, the kitchen was closed, so we ventured Maccy D’s for a light snack before the evenings BBQ. The lack of vegetarian options was disappointing. Luckily, we were able to awkwardly watch Rob wait ages for his order. Although we kept prodding him to ask about his food, he was typically ‘British’ and waited ever so patiently. Don’t worry… He did eventually get his food!From McDonald’s we stopped off at a few shops for BBQ supplies and then headed back to Ross and Jen’s.That evening we were introduced to Ross and Jen’s friends. We bbqed, we drank some beer and we played the biggest game of Card against Humanity. It was harder for us Brit’s, although we could rest easy that we wouldn’t end up with a sentence involving Madeline Mccann!It was actually pretty cool to be hanging out with a large group of people for a change. Just like the previous night, we chatted through the night. As it started to get to the end of the night we were introduced to am interesting ritual played by a guy named Cornish. He would randomly walk up to things and place the top of his foot on the whilst striking a pose. I was luckily enough to be allowed to partake in the ritual and ‘corn footed’ a guy named Russ.The next day, we would be heading to Pittsburgh in the evening to watch Streetlight Manifesto. Ross had to go into work to make up for the time he had had with us, so me and Willow spent the day doing odd jobs. Rob and Chloe headed into Pittsburgh by themselves to do a bit of sightseeing. Rob had his eyes on a tour of the local bike museum.When Ross arrived back from work, we set off for our own quick tour of Pittsburgh. Our first stop was Mount Washington, which although was tricky to find parking, offered a phenomenal view over Pittsburgh.

We then headed for a bite to eat at a sandwich shop called Primanti Bros. Apparently these were a big thing in Pittsburgh. As it was their happy hour, we received a very big Coors Light for under $3. All of the sandwiches come served with fries in the actual sandwich and unlike our recent trip to McDonald’s, we had a few decent looking veggie options. We ordered a tuna sandwich and a bean burger sandwich with a portion of battered pickles.

The food portions were as always very generous and everyone struggled to eat more than a half of their sandwich. We took the remains to have as a snack later. From Primanti Bros, we headed to the venue to meet up with Rob and Chloe.As we arrived at the venue, the dark clouds that had been building finally decided to open and distant buildings were sudden lit up by lightning.

Thankful to be in the dry, our happiness was quickly dampened when we saw the drink prices. It didn’t look like we would be spending within our budget anytime soon.Dan Andriano from Alkaline Trio got the nigh started with a stripped back acoustic set, playing a mixture of his solo work alongside some Alkaline Trio hits.

Although I wasn’t too familiar with Dan’s choice of songs, he did a fantastic job winning me over, his solo work reminding me a lot of Colin Hay, the former singer of Men at Work.

With Dan’s set complete, Streetlight took to the stage about 30 minutes later. It has easily been over 10 years since I last saw them play, but in that time they haven’t lost any of the energy. All 7 band members each taking it in turns to steel the show with perfectly timed solo.

By the time the encore was over, they had been playing for over an hour and a half.After the gig, we were planning on heading to a bar local to Ross and Jen’s house, but Rob and Chloe needed to be up early to complete their long drive back up to Toronto the next day, and I think we were all starting to feel the last couple of nights socialising. So we had a quick final drink together and then hit the sack.

We early the next day to say our goodbyes. It would be over a year until we would see Rob and Chloe again, although a part of me hopes they may come over one more time before we have finished our journey.We started the day with a trip to a diner, to have a hearty breakfast that would see us through the day. They specialty here was oddly named a garbage dish. Not too be confused with the food in some English food chains where they serve you a generous portion of nachos on a garbage lid. Their take was more like a broken omelette, which you could have mixed with a variety of accompaniments.Refuelled, we quickly stopped off at a few stores to do a bit of browsing. We needed a breaker bar, as Willow had finally figured out the cause of a horrendous banging that would occur when driving over bumpy roads. To fix it though, we needed to tighten up some very rusty and stiff bolts.After the shops, Ross and Jen took us to Ohiopyle State Park.First they stopped off to show us the spot where they got married. A scenic viewpoint overlooking the Youghiogheny River. Whilst Jen was giving us some information about the river, a passerby came up to us and informed us that it is one of the only rivers in the world that flows both northernly and southernly! Apparently Youghiogheny is a Lenape word which means ‘a stream that flows in a contrary direction’.From the viewpoint, we headed down to the river, which was still high above sea level. Hee we visited the newly built visitor centre which offered information about how the area became popular, the local wild life and it also offered a view point to a small waterfall.For late September, the weather was unusually warm for what I am normally use to. It seemed a popular spot for the local bikes, with all sorts of bikes roaring through the winding roads.As it was Sunday, conversation turned to Sunday roasts. It had been a while since we hd sat down to a plate of veg, mash potatoe with heaps of gravy. It’s needless to say the idea of a Sunday roast spread like a wild fire and we were soon at a nearby Aldi, buying in some supplies.That evening, we dug in to heaps of mash, with lashings of veg on the side, soaked in gravy! We have the capability of cooking a Sunday dinner in the van, but it sure is a lot more practical in a large kitchen!(This was the second time today that I was too busy stuffing my face to remember to take a picture of the food!)By the time Monday morning arrived, we allowed ourselves an extra lie in. All this socialising was taking it’s toll!Ross was back at work, so Jen, John, Willow and I went to a mall for a bit of shopping. I was on the lookout for some new vests and a hat. 2 vests, 1 hat and another big hole in the daily budget, we left the mall and went for some grub, ending up in a small Mexican restaurant. We had a vegetarian combo with some beer. Once again I was to engrossed in eating the food to document it, so you will have to take my word that it was delicious. We are sure the guy serving us made a mistake, as our bill came to the grand total of $14, which seemed a lot less than we actually consumed.

Ross was working late and then had a band practise, so we spent the night chilling, catching up on blogs and our YouTube Channel.

Tuesday would be our last full day with the Hamilton’s. Unfortunately, both Ross and Jen were working and so we planned a day spending some quality time with John. John took over the reigns of travel guide, as he has previously been to Pennsylvania before.

He took us to Jumonville. A town high up in the mountain region around us, where a small Christian retreat built a giant cross on the highest peak.

The walk from Ruby up to the cross was crucifying (bad joke), but the view from the top was definitely worth the struggle.

From Jumonville, we headed back to the house. Birmingham were due to play Wigan, s me and John went back to watch the game on my laptop.

Unfortunately Birmingham lost 1-0, but it was still nice to watch a game overseas with a fellow fan.

We spent the rest of the evening chilling and making most of our last night.

Under the watchful eyes of this creepy feline!

We said our goodbyes that night, as John had to leave incredibly early the next morning. We used our time the next day to get one last warm shower in. You never know when your next shower will come whist living in a van.

From Connellsville, we had a few detours to make before heading to the Capital.

I can’t thank Ross and Jen enough for their hospitality. For making everyone feel so welcome in their home and spending all of their free time showing us around the local sights. I can’t wait to meet up again sometime!

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