As a tourist, how long does it take you to “know” a city? Seeing the main tourist attractions is one thing but getting a “vibe” of the unique character of the city may take much longer. Is it possible to get to know a city in a week or a few days?
The alternative title for the article is “Glasgow I hardly knew ya…” Let me set the scene. Recovering from food poisoning with my innards rumbling like Vesuvius I arrive at Central Station in Glasgow. Methinks I’m on a movie set! Very Harry Potter. It’s a Railway Station! It’s all beautiful wood paneling and an arched roof, flower sellers and neatly dressed railway staff. It’s pouring with rain and freezing cold..but I’m getting used to this Scottish spring weather. There’s a taxi rank outside and I leap into the cab with all my luggage and ask the driver to take me to Motel One, my accommodation in Glasgow (which sounds like some seedy- highway 61 type- 1970’s- murders happen here type of motel!)
The driver rants in some indecipherable language (English/ Glaswegian) and points in the distance. Puffing myself up to my assertive best, I repeat my requirement for him to take me immediately to Motel One…again he rants and waves his hands around..What’s happening here?..He leaps out of the cab..I think he’s swearing. He opens my door and starts to remove my suitcases..” Hey what’s going on?..You can’t do that…I’m a sick old woman.. your Scottish haddock gave me food poisoning……etc etc.” I look up to see a brightly lit neon sign and a rather plush looking hotel, MOTEL ONE…it’s my hotel staring at me. Oh! Lots of sorries later I arrive in the foyer.
Motel One is a very well designed funky hotel and part of a German chain across Europe. Rooms are small but everything is really DESIGNED and so every crevasse of space is utilised. The foyer is full of e-business types doing deals over 90 varieties of single origin organic coffee. The cocktail bar sits empty but polished, sofas preening and cushions half chopped ready for the 6pm crowd. But its 2pm and time to adventure.
Still pouring with rain, I head out to take the hop-on/ hop off bus – except this lady ain’t hopping off in the torrential down-pour. We head down to the river Clyde and immediately it’s clear that this river and the ship building industry shaped this city and its people. Buildings on the river are uninspiring….modern impressions – The museum and science centre and car parks clothed in silver foil look alike. The graffiti and street art is more interesting and wall sized images of Billy Connolly give the city edge. The comedian is a legend in this city and the pub where he first performed is a landmark.
We weave our way through historic streets and beautiful buildings come into view. Glasgow Cathedral, The University of Glasgow and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. All are simply stunning examples of Victorian architecture and lovingly preserved. The art gallery has 22 different galleries and you can easily spend a day there. But I was on a mission and very selective in what I came to see. Charles Rennie Macintosh is a designer I studied many years ago and this city is his heartland. The Glasgow School of Art was one of his masterpieces but it is undergoing extensive renovation after fire tore through the building some years ago.
The collection of his furniture and other design items was surprisingly small in the huge Kelvingrove Art gallery. I did run between showers to the Macintosh house nearby but alas it was closed. I love saying his name..Charles Rennie Macintosh… such a flow and rhythm to his name! He was actually born in the UK in 1868 and died there in 1928, but he studied design in Glasgow and went on to become a famous architect, artist and designer who contributed many wonderful buildings to Glasgow. His furniture design is also flowing and shapely and reflects his passion for symbolism and Art Nouveau.
That evening I walked past a pub near the hotel and had that “Will I- Wont I” moment when I heard great Scottish music being played inside. I did go inside and snuggled my way into a corner and ordered barley vegetable soup and bread. Delicious! The music was fantastic. Guitars, fiddles and an array of percussion and the voices were finely crafted. The 2 male voices could be roguish and bawdy and then sweet and haunting when the song called. The crowd was friendly and very funny….even in this big city its clear this was their “local” There’s a real Scottish appetite and skill in banter, joking and satire. It’s an art form and very, very funny. Around me were a chatty group who adopted this Aussie traveler and we had a lovely time laughing and singing. I drank tea while they tried to convince me that whisky was a cure all for any stomach ills. In the spirit of “What the hell…” I hugged a glass of the golden stuff and sipped slowly. By 9pm the whisky and tiredness sent me home to my cosy room and I slept very well!
Next morning I felt great. (Whisky Therapy?) The showers had stopped and I was hungry…off to a Pret a Manger for porridge! Walking my way around Glasgow that day I discovered Glasgow Cathedral, St George’s Square and the wonderful Buchanan Street. Buskers and flower sellers dotted the mall that is Buchanan Street. Everywhere in Glasgow are these wonderful pink posters “PEOPLE MAKE GLASGOW.” They are on the sides of building sites and hanging from flag poles and I just loved their sentiment.
Sauchiehall Street is a 2.5 k treat with its shopping, bookshops, cafes and bars. I people – watched and simply soaked in the city…a favourite past time. Before long it was time to head back as the rain gathered pace again.
This city is intriguing. I want to return and scratch beneath the surface. Glasgow’s skin is tough, its hands are workers hands and they’ve known a struggle or two. There’s a gritty vibe and a toughness but also a proud and kind heart. It’s not a show piece city like Edinburgh. You have to work harder here and dig beneath but there is a richness, laughter and soul in this place. A vitality and beauty. Glasgow…..A glimpse is all I had…I scarcely knew ya…..but your memory is in my heart.