After a brief, but lovely visit to Ireland during last year’s vacances de Noël, I made my way over to Scotland, the land of bagpipes, Scottish kilts, and haggis (which I actually tried while there, but more on that later!). In total, I spent about five days there, hitting the main cities of the Lowlands (Glasgow and Edinburgh) while also making a day trip over to the Highlands.
That said, I’ll start off with my visit to Glasgow, considered Scotland’s art hub with its numerous, well-reputed museums and modern-city atmosphere to it. I took my flight over from Cork in the afternoon, arriving around 16h30 in Glasgow.
At the airport, I ran into some money problems, since I needed cash to take the shuttle bus into the city center and I needed pounds to do so (Ireland uses the euro, so I was fine until then). However, my French credit card didn’t work with the ATMs, since I’d completely forgotten to let my bank know that I would be traveling outside of France during the holidays- how stupid of me! I tried my American credit card instead, but just like with my French one, it didn’t work either. Panicking, I ended up calling my American bank to activate my travel notification whilst in the UK (and subsequently getting charged for my international call, but then again, I was desperate), and finally was able to use my American credit card to withdraw some money from the ATM. Crisis averted!
I took the shuttle bus into the city center, getting off at the Buchanan bus station where my Couchsurfing host picked me up and took me over to his flat, located about five minutes away. Along the way, we made some small talk, getting to know each other a bit: my host was actually from London, and had moved to Glasgow a few years before for work. Our conversation was a bit awkward at first, since we were just getting to warm up to each other.
We arrived at his flat (quite spacious) where I dropped my belongings off inside, and we went out again to get dinner. He took me to some vegetarian/vegan-hipster café across the city, of which its vibes reminded me of those back home (Los Angeles has the reputation of being health-conscious, which is quite true with its many innovative vegan joints all over the city. Glasgow, from what I’ve heard, is similar in that respect with its progressive, artsy scene). I ordered what was called a “to-fish and chips,” which is essentially fish and chips, but the former’s made from tofu. A bit strange, but it tasted hearty and good; it also came with mushy peas, which I actually like! Also, gotta love the dish pun…
After dinner, we returned to his flat, where I ended up meeting his flatmate (a Londoner like him) and his flatmate’s brother, who was visiting for the holidays. Having been out and about for the whole day (first visiting Blarney Castle back in Ireland then taking the flight over to Glasgow), I was exhausted and ready for bed.
However, I had a disagreement with my host on where I could sleep. At first, I had the impression that I would take his bedroom, and that he would sleep on one of the couches in the living room (as he had said on his Couchsurfing profile). Or that I could sleep on one of the couches while his flatmate’s brother took the other one; either way, I didn’t mind. But my host kept insisting that we share his bed together, since it wouldn’t be polite for me to take the couch while the flatmate’s brother was there. When he said that, I was immediately skeptical- and based on the fact that we were still in that awkward, “don’t-quite-know-you” phase, I was uncomfortable sharing the bed with him. Eventually, I accepted his decision, and while nothing happened that night, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I couldn’t just have a bed (or a couch) to myself, especially when they were available for me. Whatever.
My Couchsurfing host worked early, so he didn’t have time to show me around the city the next day. However, he was kind enough beforehand to give me a list of places that I could visit while in Glasgow, which I appreciated. That said, I spent the whole day exploring the city, quite big and rich in different things to see.
I left the flat around 8h00 and started the day in the east part of town, visiting the Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow dating back to the 15th century, before passing through the Glasgow Cathedral (unfortunately, there was service that day, so outsiders weren’t allowed in. I didn’t know that beforehand and had just walked right in before getting scolded by one of the workers and had to leave. Still, I managed to capture this magnificently-Christmas photo of the nave!).
My host also suggested that I visited the Necropolis, a cemetery with distinctive, decorative tombstones of people who had died in the two World Wars and those of other Scottish personalities. It’s also located on top of a hill, overlooking the city. Although it was too dark for me to take a good photo of the views, nevertheless walking through the tens of thousands of graves was quite tranquil, even beautiful, however morbid that sounds.
Afterwards, I headed back into the city center, back into the hustle and bustle of people and tourists exploring, eating, and shopping for last-minute Christmas gifts. Since Glasgow is known for its art scene, I checked out the Gallery of Modern Art, one of the three museums that I ended up visiting that day. As the name suggests, the museum is dedicated to contemporary art, and it’s distinctive for its statue outside of the building, of the Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone on his head. I was told that some years ago, some people had placed it as a joke, but since then hasn’t been removed! Today, it remains, and is even factored into the postcards for the city!
Admission was free at the GoMA, and so I spent an hour or so wandering the exhibits, some of which displayed light-hearted, whimsical pieces while others were quite deep in their exploration of feminism, war, and technology. In essence, it was a lot of abstract art and while it’s not usually my thing, I found myself quite fascinating by the subjects each piece had to offer.
I left the GoMA and proceeded to make my way to The Lighthouse, a building designed by Scottish architect Charles Mackintosh back in the late 19th century and is dedicated to architectural design. Personally, I wasn’t there to visit its exhibits (in fact, many of them were closed due to construction), but rather climb to the top to get views of the city (as pictured in the beginning of this post). Which was exactly what I did; after climbing the spiral staircase up to the top, I was rewarded with fantastically-clear views of Glasgow. Also helped that it was a bright and sunny day!
After the Lighthouse, I left the city center to return to the outskirts, taking the long road down Argyle Street (bustling with shoppers and tourists) to get to the People’s Palace, located in southeast Glasgow. Formally known as the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens, it is a museum dedicated to Glaswegian social history, aka museum for the “common people,” from the 18th century to present day. It was also free admission, and so I spent some time in there checking out the exhibits on Glasgow during World War II, a model of its first-ever supermarket, and even on the Scottish drinking culture! There was also an entire exhibit on Billy Connolly, the famous comedian-singer who is a native Glaswegian.
Now, while I was enjoying my time at the People’s Palace, I received a message from my Couchsurfing host, saying that he got last-minute plans to spend a few nights in Edinburgh with his friends and said that he would have to cut my stay short or, in other words, kick me out before my three nights were over.
At first, I was surprised at the abruptness of it, but at the same time knew that last-minute things are to come up and the host has priority over it. However, he went on to give me mixed signals, saying that if I wasn’t comfortable with it, he would choose to forgo the trip and have me finish out the three nights with him. Which not only confused me, but also irritated me, because I had a notion that he was just saying it to make me feel less bad about leaving anyway; either case, I think he wanted to go to Edinburgh all the same and for me to shorten the stay in Glasgow.
Definitely soured my mood, especially when I was still out in town and nowhere near the flat. But I told him that we could discuss it later when I returned later that day and continued on with my visit. I left the People’s Palace and proceeded to take a lengthy, 45-minute walk all the way from the east to the west of Glasgow, going along the quay to reach the Science Center, which is distinctive for its geometric, shell-like shape. Eventually, I made it over, but only saw it from across the harbor, since I was a bit pressed for time. I ended up just taking a photo of it before heading north to the Kelvingrove Museum, my last stop for the day.
Located in the west of Glasgow, the Kelvingrove Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Scotland. Essentially, it is an art, life science, and cultural museum rolled into one and, just like the other museums I’d visited that day, it was free admission! I spent a bit longer in there, since there was so much to take in: from the Glasgow Boys paintings to the natural history gallery with fossils and bones, the Kelvingrove has it all!
By 16h30, it was already dark and I, already tired, decided to head back to my host’s flat and call it a day. Made my way back, and after talking with my host a bit, decided that I would leave the next morning since he was leaving that evening for Edinburgh. Still wasn’t happy about the inconvenience, but I had no choice, really. My host cooked dinner for us that night and after some more conversations (along with video games from his flatmate), we went to bed. I woke up early the next morning, leaving my host’s flat to catch my tour bus for a day trip to the Scottish Highlands, which I’ll write about it the next post.
Overall, I though Glasgow was quite nice. It surprised me by being modern, but also retaining some elements of medieval and 19th-century architecture with its Provand’s Lordship and the Lighthouse buildings, respectively. I did enjoy all of the art museums that it had to offer, although I would say that, after visiting three of them in one day, I was kind of done with museums- at least until my next destination! Indeed, Glasgow is a larger city, at least compared with Edinburgh. I would love to have visited the Burrell Collection, which has a good collection of Asian and Islamic art, but unfortunately it’s closed for renovations until 2020. Another time then!
As for my Couchsurfing experience, I really don’t know what to make of it. My host seemed to be a nice man, but definitely had this distant, aloof manner that I couldn’t quite get comfortable with. And the incidents with the bed-sharing and leaving last-minute for Edinburgh were definitely inconvenient. It’s interesting, because all of his references on Couchsurfing were nothing but positive and personally when it came for me to write a reference for him, I couldn’t completely say the same thing like everyone else. I ended up giving him a “Neutral” reference, although with a constructive, detailed paragraph as to why. Funny enough, he messaged me later when he saw my reference, saying that he “didn’t appreciate” it, and went on to say that I also made him uncomfortable while staying over. Definitely was a weird experience, but not crazy enough to merit a “crazy travel story” for this blog! Anyway, you live, you learn…
More on Scotland soon! We’re moving on to the Scottish Highlands next!