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Pittsburgh Day 2: Robots, Burgers and Hockey!

On our second day in Pittsburgh we were picked up early in the morning by Xander’s colleague, Tim, who took us out for breakfast.  Before we went to the states, Xander said that he wanted to have proper pancakes, so I went online and looked up “Best pancakes in Pittsburgh” and the results were unanimous – Pamela’s!  It just so happened that it was the same place Tim had already planned to take us for breakfast…

Pamela's Diner

I can safely say, the reviews weren’t wrong. The food was delicious!  It was funny, though, I ordered a short stack, with this image in my head of this tiny pile of fluffy American pancakes, but I got a pannenkoek!  It was still delicious, mind you, with some fresh strawberries and syrup… but I laugh a little inside.  At least I know that when we move, I’ll still be able to get a really good pannenkoek when I’m in the mood for one!   Xander got some sort of deadly looking stuffed pancakes that were the eyes roll back into your head kind of good, so he was pleased!

After breakfast we went for a walk around Squirrel Hill so we could see some more of the area and walk off the incredibly full feeling from breakfast.  Personally, I was about to bust.

Squirrel Hill

I fell completely and utterly in love with these tree lined streets and the houses with the front porches.  I had stopped here to take a photo of a little squirrel that was running around (no luck) but I did get a photo of these houses.  It was such a beautiful area!  My head is still filled with daydreams of coffee on a comfy chair on a front porch somewhere on a beautiful tree lined street.

Before heading out, we stopped at a coffee shop, and look what I saw!

Stroopwafel

Right there next to the register – stroopwafels!  Well, Amsterdam wafels, because you know… nowhere else in the Netherlands may as well exist outside of the Netherlands.  According to the rest of the world, we all just live in Amsterdam! haha  Anyway, I was seriously amused and had to get a photo.  Considering I had about 10 kilos of stroopwafels in my suitcase coming over,  I was surprised to see them so readily available.  They aren’t as common in Canada, though, so I didn’t mind taking them home for family and friends.

NREC (National Robotics Engineering Center)

For our next stop, Tim took us for a tour of the company’s two offices.  First up was the location at the NREC (National Robotics Engineering Center), which is a part of Carnegie Mellon University (which I learned is said “Car-nay-gee” rather than “Car-nuh-gee” like I thought!).

NREC

I’m just going to say it, straight up, I expected to be bored of out my wits!  A lot of Xander’s robot talk goes over my head, but it was fascinating!  They are doing so many cool things in there and Tim did a great job of explaining it all.  Different groups from the university are working on all these different projects for agriculture, military and well, pretty much everyone.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of some of the projects, there are strictly no cameras allowed.  I know, it hurt… but I did get to take a few in the lobby.

NREC

Tim knew pretty much everything there was to know about the different robots in there, which was great because Xander wanted to know everything, he was absolutely fascinated by it all.  I was too, to be honest. It was so much more interesting than I expected it to be!

NREC

Xander was so happy. He’d been waiting for so long to get to see all of this and was so excited at the thought that he may finally be able to make the hobby he is so passionate about into his career.  I could just feel the happy and excited vibes coming off him.  He was in his element, for sure!

By the way, has anyone else noticed that my husband has the same pose in every photo I take of him?  Toes out, arms straight, head tilted.  We’re going to have to work on that.

NREC

I don’t remember what this robot was for. It was in the lobby outside the bathrooms and I think it used to be used for some sort of information for visitors?  I may be wrong.  All I could think about when I looked at it was the maid from The Jetsons!

CHIMP!

This was my favorite bit!  CHIMP!  He wasn’t even on when we were there and I was amazed by him. I’m hoping that sometime once we are living there we may get to see him live in action. They had a whole set of stuff set up to test different rescue challenges like moving boards and other things he’d need to handle in a disaster setting.  He was created for a competition which is being put on by DARPA.  Here’s some info:

The DARPA Robotics Challenge

During the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident, robots weren’t able to inspect the facility, assess damage, and fix problems. DARPA wants to change this.

The DARPA Robotics Challenge intends to jump-start development of robots that can respond to disasters – both man-made and natural. Robots that compete in the DRC are designed to work in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments. They must open doors, turn valves, and connect a hose. They must use hand tools to cut through a panel. They must drive a vehicle, clear debris, and climb a stair ladder. It’s all part of a disaster response scenario that the robots must complete during the challenge.

These tasks are relatively easy for humans, but very difficult for robots. Performing them requires significant advances in perception, supervised autonomy, decision-making, mobility, dexterity, strength, and endurance. At stake is a $2 million grand prize and bragging rights as the most capable robot on the planet.

DARPA will hold the Robotics Challenge Finals on June 5-6, 2015 at the Fairplex in Pomona, CA. Tartan Rescue will compete with ten other teams from the trials, plus additional teams that enter through a qualifier that DARPA will hold in early 2015.

How cool… and we got to see him up close!  You can also see some videos of him in action here.  So yeah, he was by far my favorite part of the NREC tour!

Office Tour

After that we went to their other office location, where we got to see some of the people from the BBQ the night before as well as a few we hadn’t met already.  I sat and took advantage of their wireless while Xander chatted away enthusiastically with one of the guys.  We’d only been there a day, he wasn’t even officially hired yet, and they already had big plans!

It was really great for him to get an idea of where he’d be working after the move, who he’d be working with, what the environment is like and all that other fun stuff.  He was really happy.

Then it was lunch time.  Oh baby!  I already have a favorite burger joint and I only went to one.  I can’t really imagine finding anywhere better, to be honest.  If there is a better burger place in Pittsburgh, don’t tell me because I never want to go there.  It’d be too dangerous.  After being deprived of really great burgers for 15 years in the Netherlands (*see note below), it’d just be too much for me to handle.

Burgatory

If the fact that Burgatory had tiny Tammy sized burgers wasn’t enough, they also have POUTINE.  Oh, give me strength!  Moving anywhere near this place is going to be a serious test of willpower because we did order the poutine to share and it was so freaking delicious.  Deadly, sinful and delicious.  The staff were super friendly, the food was great, the atmosphere was comfortable and casual.  Loved it!  Tim knew what he was doing.  The way to any man, woman, or future employee is through their stomach!

We were there for a quite a while just eating and chatting, then Tim drove us around the city a bit more, showing us different areas like Highland Park, Shadyside and other areas that are a bit of a blur now.  Then he dropped us off at our hotel so that we could freshen up, change and be picked up again in a few hours.  We had big plans for that evening… a Penguins game!  I was crazy excited about going to a “proper” hockey game.  Obviously, being Canadian, I’ve been to loads… but never a real NHL game.  It was still pre-season but very exciting for us, nonetheless.

Consol Energy Center

The Consol Energy Center  is right in Downtown Pittsburgh, so after being picked up by Tim and his wife, Erin, we learned that the whole parking downtown issue isn’t going to really be any better than it is here in Rotterdam. I guess no matter where you live, if you are in a city, parking will always be a total bitch.  It gave us an opportunity to walk a little downtown and see a bit of the buildings and stuff.

It is so different from here in Rotterdam.  I forgot how the downtown areas in North American cities are mostly business, with a lot of the shopping more spread out throughout the outskirts of the city.  I think that as much as I will love the American shopping experiences with large stores and huge FREE parking lots, I am absolutely going to miss the European city center experience… but anyway, back to the game.

Penguins Game

Tim and Erin explained a lot about the Penguins and their fans.  They are pretty big fans themselves so that made it even more fun.  We were meeting another colleague, Jesse, and his wife Kelsey at our seats, but first… food and photos!

Penguins Game

Obligatory tourist photo!

Penguins Game

Penguins Game

The arena was huge.  The photos don’t do it justice.  It must be a great venue for concerts too!  There really isn’t a bad seat in the place, I don’t think.

I don’t have any photos of our food, because we were too busy eating it, but they have absolutely everything in that place.  When Tim said we’d get dinner at the game, I am not sure what I was expecting, but wow… when I said they had everything, I’m not exaggerating.  They even had a BURGATORY!  Omg.  We went for the old faithful of hockey food though – hot dogs!

Penguins Game

… and a beer for Xander!  This was his first ever hockey game (I KNOW!) and I think the fact that there was beer helped win him over.  That’s Jesse and Kelsey in the background.  You can’t tell but she was really pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl just a few weeks after our visit!

Penguins Game

This caramel corn that Tim and Erin shared with us won me over.  I’m not a lover of beer, but give me caramel corn anyday!

The game itself was awesome!  It was so fast paced and exciting and this was just a pre-season game.  It must be insane to be at one of the games that really matter.  Good news is the game itself won Xander over too, so I think we’ll be going to games pretty regularly once we move.  He’s a big fan of live hockey now.  Aww, my little Canadian-by-proxy.

Penguins Game
This was my favorite part, the Human Bowling!  During one of the breaks they had this mini blimp flying around the crowd dropping prizes and stuff, while on the ice they did the Human Bowling.  They basically put one of the fans in an enormous slingshot and fling them across the ice.  I don’t remember what the person wins or if they get anything for however many pins they get down, all I could think of is how much fun it’d be to go flying across the ice.  I must add Human Bowling to my 101-List!

Penguins Game

They were playing the Detroit Redwings and lost, but that’s ok.  It was still a great game!

It was the perfect ending to a really great day.  We were learning more about the city and what it had to offer as well as getting to know the people from the company better.  It was so much fun!  By the time we got back to the apartment we were absolutely shattered, fell into bed and pretty much died the minute our heads hit the pillows.

There was still lots of fun to come the next day!

* For fairness sake, I have to say that we did recently discover a place in Rotterdam (Pickles, in the new Markthal) that has fantastic burgers. Not as good as Burgatory, but still good. So there are good burgers to be had here, it just took way too long for me to find it. Most Dutch burgers have some weird spice (nutmeg, maybe?) that is also in a lot of other meat products, and I hate it with a passion. It ruins their burgers for me.

About Tammy

A Canadian living in France with her Dutch hubby after 17 years in the Netherlands. A total TV and movie junkie who is never not knitting. She also enjoys other crafts, nail art, cuddling her dogs and general geekery. Otherwise just working on getting by and making a life for herself in her 'new' country.

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2 comments

  1. So when is the move?? :)

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