We’re over two weeks into the trip now, and it’s day 16: the day I was almost got converted into a cult. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I did visit the Hare Krishnas by accident. I had seen Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold on a website months ago when planning this trip, and it seemed pretty interesting, but I didn’t really look much further into it. So I headed towards the palace which was in the absolute middle of nowhere West Virginia, and as soon as I came around one curve I was met by the sight of a massive, ornate building. You needed to have a tour guide to go in, so I merely walked to the doorway to peep in before going to the welcome center. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever felt more out of place in my life, but as soon as I entered the welcome center and talked to the woman there, everything felt…fine? She offered me tons of literature, invited me to one of their ceremonies, invited me to lunch, and even gave me a full on hard back book of my choosing. She was incredibly friendly.
When I started to explore the temple and read the literature that she gave me, I realized this wasn’t just any temple. Krishna is a Hindu god, but the Hare Krishna worship him as the only god, and they also worship the man that started this organization. The more I read and saw, I saw that this was more of a cult. Not long after telling my mom where I was at, she gave me a call asking me to leave. That’s completely unlike her, so I listened. I’ve done a bit of digging since, and I think that was probably a good call. There have been many negative accusations against the community at this temple in the past, but none of them were recent. While I don’t think anything negative would have come from me being there, and the negativity surrounding the community is long passed, It was probably better to distance myself since I had no intentions of pursuing them anyway.
After leaving, my next stop was Pittsburgh, PA, so I went ahead and made the drive. When I arrived it was still pretty early in the day, so I had plenty of time to get my bearings. The first sight of the city once I came through the Fort Pitt Tunnel was absolutely stunning. The bridges, buildings, and river just made for a fantastic first impression. I didn’t have a particular destination in mind, so I just spent a bit of time driving around which is what I tend to do in any new city. After a few minutes of confusing turns, bridges, and exits, I decided I should probably pick a destination and make things easier on myself. I plugged the Strip District into my GPS and went on my way.
Now what is the Strip District, you may ask? No, it’s not what you may think. It was completely PG. The Strip District is a street full of ethnic foods, bakeries, cafés, produce stands, vendors selling art, handmade goods, and knockoff souvenirs. I immediately made my way into a Japanese market and picked up some strawberry mochi to snack on as I explored the street. I continued down the strip wondering in and out of shops and trying not to give in to all of the incredible looking food. On the trip back to my car, however, I did end up giving in when I passed a Polish restaurant, S&D Polish Deli. I ordered pierogi with farmer’s cheese filling, haluszki (a pasta with butter, cabbage, and onions), and kielbasa (sausage). I don’t regret it at all, because every bite was incredible.
My next stop of the evening was Randyland. I hadn’t previously heard of Randyland until I was looking at things to do in Pittsburgh, and it seemed right up my alley. Randyland is a museum located near the Mexican War Streets in the North Side of Pittsburgh. It’s a public artistic expression by artist Randy Gilso where he painted his house in vibrant colors and created an eclectic array of sculptures filling his yard. It’s now open to the public to enjoy free of charge. When I arrived, I went to take a picture, and a woman asked me if I wanted her to move her car for a better photo. I declined, but we started talking. She was local to the area, so she had a ton of tips and recommendations to share. Her friend showed up soon after, and he specialized in finding the unique things to do in cities, and they were both kind enough to share what they knew with me. After a few minutes of talking, we parted ways, and I ventured into Randyland.
After exploring the colorful and eclectic art that Randyland had to offer, I decided to walk around the Mexican War Streets a bit more. The houses were beautifully manicured with each one having its own unique architecture and style. There was a beautiful park right on the other side of the main street filled with people jogging, reading, and taking their dogs out for walks. I made my way around a few different blocks checking out the layout of the place. It was getting pretty late, so I decided not to stick around too much, however, I did feel pretty safe in this part of town. It was pretty populated, and everyone I encountered was friendly. Once I made it back to my car I decided to go to Mellon Park Walled Garden and see the constellation light installation. It was placed there in memorial of a young girl who used to frequent the walled garden before her death. I spent a little while walking around the park and enjoying the fountain while making my nightly phone-call to Joseph. At this point it was getting pretty late, so I decided to go ahead and go to the gym for my ritual workout and shower.