When we were planning our Scottish excursion, my mother asked me if Glasgow really had to be on our list. After all, the city is not often discussed in mainstream travel conversations, perhaps there is a reason for it. Additionally, a friend of hers had just returned from Scotland and said that Glasgow was nothing special in comparison to Edinburgh. I stubbornly insisted that yes, we did need to go to Glasgow. Why would you go all the way to Scotland and not see its largest city? In order to get around her trepidation, we decided to visit Glasgow before Edinburgh. That way, if we were going to be disappointed in the former, it wouldn’t be an additional disappointment as we came down from the Edinburgh high.
Oh, dear readers, how wrong we were. I enjoyed Glasgow so much more than I did Edinburgh (which was also fine, but…it was no Glasgow!). It’s another addition in the many examples I have where I enjoyed the less popular destination more than the place tourists flock.
We took the nine hour train ride up from London to Glasgow. We had flown from JFK two days prior, and that plane ride was shorter than this train! I was so utterly bored and bemused by the fact that a 3,000 mile trip was faster than a 400 mile journey. As I have mentioned in other posts, the UK’s infrastructure is lagging behind other European countries. However, at least I was somewhat less bored than I would have been, because this was the first day ever having a smart phone. Yes, this was September 2016, and yes, it was my first smart phone – I had spent the last five years either broke or in Senegal, what can ya do. I had activated the phone in London the day prior, and spent the long journey north tinkering with the settings and being amazed that I now had a mini computer that could access the internet whenever I wanted.
We pulled into Glasgow Central Station in mid-afternoon (it had been an early train out of London), left the station, turned right, walked a minute, and arrived at the Jury’s Inn Glasgow. After a quick de-compressing few minutes, we headed back out into the dreary September afternoon. Just a few feet from both the hotel and the train station was Argyle Street. It is the longest street in the city center, and is a pedestrian street for the first ½ mile. It was a classic gray, drizzling afternoon, but we didn’t let that get us down. Indeed, it almost made it better – we were in Scotland, after all. It’s a gray land!
Mom has bad knees, so we’ve taken to doing Hop-On, Hop-Off tours in various cities as a way to see the sights and get around. We did the same here, with City Sightseeing Glasgow. We bought the two-day ticket for £15 each (a grand total of £1 more than the single-day ticket), and hopped on the bus. The tour was interesting enough – highlights included the very modern looking SEC Armadillo, an auditorium that looks, well, like an armadillo. This was where Susan Boyle auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent and taught us all to not be so judgmental. Next to it was the equally architecturally interesting SSE Hydro, one of the world’s busiest venues (fun fact: three of the top four busiest venues are in the UK, the other being Madison Square Garden). We also saw the Tolbooth Steeple (see photo below), somehow one of the oldest buildings in the city even though it’s only 400 years old. During the 17th century, this steeple was part of the building which contained the town hall, court, and jail. Fun fact (well, fun for us): back then, criminals were nailed to the steeple by their ears. One final spot of mention was Douglas Street, which has been the shooting location for several movies that take place in San Francisco, due to the steepness of the street.
We hopped off the bus at George Square, so named after the very same king that my own country of America had a revolution to get away from (hilariously, there was supposed to be a statue of him in the square, but after the economy went downhill during the American Revolution, opinions on him soured and thus there was never a statue). The most interesting building that flanks the square is the lovely 19th century city chambers. We didn't go inside, but I've seen pictures and wow. Go in if you can.
We headed back to the hotel soon after that. It had been a tiring day, and I, the spry 27 year old, was still battling jet lag. Mid-50 somethings Mom and my stepdad Ray, meanwhile, left me behind at the hotel to eat and drink at the local pub. Oye.
The next morning, after a nice, long sleep-in, Ray headed off on a distillery tour while Mom and I used the second day of our bus pass to head to the Kelvingrove Art Museum. Admittedly, we didn’t spend much time there other than to admire the absolutely stunning interior (and exterior) architecture. It was a beautiful day outside, and we wanted to head a few minutes away to the University of Glasgow. In order to get there, we walked along Kelvin Street, though the lovely Kelvingrove Park. Between Mom’s knees and the beautiful late summer’s weather, this was a leisurely walk, but who can complain about leisurely walks through lovely parks?
Upon arrival at the University of Glasgow, Gilmorehill campus, both of our inner-architecture nerds came out. Ok, so she’s much more of a technical nerd that I am, but I’m more into photography, so we evened out in terms of our “OH MY GOD LOOK AT THIS!!” reaction. This place looked like Hogwarts. It is Britain’s second-largest building that was done in the Gothic Revival style, and is an absolutely joy to explore. It was especially nice for us because it was only the first week of September and students had not returned from break, so we had the entire place to ourselves. Our highlight was a visit to the cloisters, because who doesn’t love cloisters?
The university is not simply eye-candy; there are also several museums inside. We especially enjoyed the Hunterian Museum, which was a bit of a hodge-podge of things, most interestingly various preserved body parts from centuries past. Nothing like seeing a fetus (or a plaster of a fetus, is probably more likely) from 200 years ago!
We then got back on the hop-on, hop-off bus and headed back to the center of town. We wound up at a Starbucks behind St. George’s Tron Church, which we did not go inside but enjoyed looking at while we ate our mediocre Starbucks food. Soon afterwards, Ray re-joined us.
At this point, we were hungry for an actual dinner and not simply a Starbucks brownie. And it was then that we noticed the absurd number of Italian restaurants in the area. It was either pub food or pasta, it seemed. We chose Zizzi, a basic British chain that, like any chain, isn’t amazing but will do the trick.
Afterwards, we headed to The Crystal Palace, the Wetherspoons (a nation-wide, cheap pub) next to our hotel for a (several…) nightcaps. The night prior, my parents had gone and said there had been a Beatles tribute band. I was hoping they would be there again, but alas, no. We had a few pints anyways, because obviously. Ray was absolutely tickled with this place, because they sold Budweiser at a higher cost than the local beer. It makes sense economically, as Bud was an import, but also Bud is horrendous and no American would ever be able to understand why a decent Scottish ale would be cheaper than that horse piss.
The next morning, we had to catch a train to Edinburgh. We had just enough time to grab a full English breakfast at The Crystal Palace, where we discussed how much we had enjoyed Glasgow and Glaswegians (the tour guide on the hop-on, hop-off bus taught me that Glasgow citizens are called that, and to this day I am amused by it. It just seems like such a deviation from “Glasgow”. Of all the words to go with!). Perhaps it was the lack of expectation, but I am so glad I convinced my parents that we did indeed have to go to Glasgow.