Glasgow, Scotland

Saturday once again found me on a train heading north. As the summer (sadly) seems to be coming to an end, I thought I better get up to Scotland to see something of it, before the weather got too bad. I woke Saturday to an amazing day - sunny and clear - and of course I was going to spend much of it on a train. The train trip was almost identical to the trip I made last weekend to Sunderland - it followed the same route pretty much, then continued north into Scotland, heading to Glasgow via Edinburgh. While the rain ride was OK, it did make me appreciate the difference between first class and coach on the train. Thankfully my ticket for the return journey was for first class...

The train left Kings Cross station at 7:00 a.m., so it was an early start. I was a little early to the station, so I had a Harry Potter moment in the station. I wandered over towards platform 9, to try and see “Platform 9 3/4”. Seems that Harry Potter is enough of a phenomena that they’ve actually “built” Platform 9 3/4 into the wall - there’s a sign, and they’ve mounted a trolley half way into the wall. Pretty funny actually. I imagine they had so many people asking about it, they finally gave in and did this. I had  a bit of a chuckle then headed for my real train on platform 1. Not as much fun, but I was off to Glasgow. I got into Glasgow central close to 2:00 p.m., and the weekend began!

Sadly, the weather was not great - more clouds and grey skies. Not to be deterred, exploring was in order. In wandering around downtown, the first area that we came to was George Square. This seemed to be the central area of downtown, and was flanked on the east side of the square by the very impressive City Chambers. Having got a bearing, the plan was to head up towards Glasgow Cathedral, which in all the books was highlighted as being very impressive, and worth seeing. 

It was a fairly short walk up one of Glasgow’s many hills towards the area near the Cathedral. It took us through the University of Strathclyde, one of Glasgow’s main University’s. The Cathedral was very impressive - dating back to the 13th century, it’s been on that site for a long time. As it was pretty late in the day, the interior was not accessible, but we did get back to see that later.  Near the Cathedral is the Necropolis, a graveyard on the hill above the Cathedral, that houses all of Glasgow’s important families. It’s a very cool place, with old gravestones intermixed with fairly recent ones, and some of the most elaborate mausoleums I’ve seen. I would have preferred it be a bit more overgrown and wild; the city seems to be taking pretty good care of it. We spent a good hour or so walking around, before working our way back into the downtown area.

For dinner, we hopped in a taxi and headed up to the area near the University of Glasgow, which was pretty lively, and had a good selection of restaurants. We ended up finding a pretty cool little restaurant down a back alley, that put together a great meal. It was an excellent end to a good day. Bit of a long one, with the train ride and such, but well worth while, despite the less-than-perfect weather.

Sunday seemed a little more promising, as the skies were partly clear, and it seemed like it might stay nice. We started the day by taking a train out to Pollock Country Park, southwest of the city center. Our destination was In an art gallery, the Burrell Collection. Sir William Burrell and his wife had amassed an extensive art collection, which they donated to the City of Glasgow in the 1940s. Their catch, was that the city had to custom build a building for the collection, and it had to be in a park-like setting that met certain environmental conditions. Needless to say, it took a long time for the gallery to be built.

The Burrell Collection reminded me a lot of the gallery I went to in Lisbon in April. It’s a diverse collection - not huge, but covers a large range of art history, including painting, sculpture, tapestries, decorative art, pieces of buildings - you name it, it’s there! The really nice thing about this gallery is that having custom-built the building to host the collection, the presentation is amazing. While many galleries just try and put out as much stuff as possible, it’s obvious the Burrell Collection has thought through the placement of the pieces, and they are very often placed in displays that were designed to highlight the piece. That, and the excellent use of light and space in the design of the building make the experience a very enjoyable one. One of the most unique aspects of the collection was the “Hutton Rooms”, three rooms from the Burrell’s castle, that were recreated in the gallery as part of the bequeathment. While there were a lot of great pieces, a few of my favorites were the medieval arms and armor, the Impressionist collection (mostly the unique collection of pastel works from Degas, they were awesome), and the collection of tapestries. Finally, the special exhibition they were showing was amazing. It was an exploration of a specific type of embroidered wall hangings from Central Asia, known as suzanis. They came mainly from an area of modern day Uzbekistan, and the colors, patterns and overall beauty of the work was breath taking.

After spending most of the day strolling the galleries, we headed back into town on the train. From there we started wandering, with a general aim to head back towards the University of Glasgow. I really liked the area - lots of old town houses on quiet circles and old buildings. Plus the options for pubs and restaurants were quite good. Along the way, we passed the Glasgow School of Art, designed by one of Glasgow’s most famous architects, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I wasn’t a huge fan of the style, but I guess I can see the appeal.

The late afternoon was spent mostly wandering, but it was good. Sometime near 6:00 p.m., we hit up a pub in the area, an had a pretty typical (but tasty) dinner of pub grub and beer. The pub had an excellent selection of real ales, and there was some sampling, I’m not going to lie.  ;-) As the evening wore on, we headed back towards the hotel and called it a night.

Monday was a Bank Holiday in the UK, so this was a legitimate long weekend for me, and I was determined to enjoy all of it. Work is going to get crazy again very shortly, and so it was with some dismay that I woke up to hear the sound of rain against the windows. Sigh - more British “summer”. This meant more indoor activities for the last day. My train was scheduled for 6:00 p.m. (roughly), so there was the full day ahead. Despite the weather, we hopped on one of the “Hop On/Hop Off” bus tours of the city. Never a bad plan in a new city. The tour departed from George Square, and one of the first stops was the Cathedral. I had wanted to see the inside, and since it was raining, it seemed like a good time to do it. It turned out to be an excellent stop - the interior is far nicer and more interesting than the exterior.

The Cathedral is old, and was the only medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland to have survived the Reformation unscathed. Most were pulled apart - in whole or part. It’s an amazing, gothic building, with huge stained glass windows, and a high, arching ceiling. The part I like best was the “Lower Church”, a whole complex of smaller rooms below the main cathedral. The arches in this area were amazing, and gave it a very crypt-like feel. The tomb of St. Mungo, the Patron Saint of Glasgow is here as well. It all contributed to an amazing atmosphere. 

On leaving the Cathedral, we entered a complete downpour, and had to wait a bit for the next bus. The tour continued through both now-familiar areas of the city, as well as completely new ones. The People’s Palace looked interesting, but not enough so to stop and get off in the rain. After touring back through the downtown core, the tour went out along the edge of the river, past the newer additions to the city - the “Armadillo” (a performance venue, that looks a bit like a scaled down version of the Sydney Opera House), The Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour and some other attractions. 

The tour continued up towards the familiar grounds of the Glasgow University. We circled through Kelvingrove Park, and then wove our way through the University itself, getting some excellent views of the amazing buildings. The tour looped around back out front of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. As it was still raining, and not quite lunch time, this seemed mike an excellent place to stop for a while. 

As the name suggests, the Kelvingrove is part art gallery, part natural history museum.  And in fact, it did both parts pretty well. Spread over two floors of a building designed for an International Exhibition in the park in 1901, the collection includes the usual stuff animals, a small collection of dinosaurs, a nice Egyptian collection, and an interesting display on the wildlife of Scotland. There is also a pretty decent art collection. One of the pleasant surprises was the collection of the “Glasgow Boys”, a number of Impressionist-era painters from Glasgow and the surrounding area. I wasn’t expecting much, but they had some amazing pieces. Upstairs, they have a decent Renaissance collection that includes Botticelli’s Annunciation. They also have some nice pieces of arms and armor. Further along they have a decent Impressionist collection, Unfortunately, much of it was out on loan to a gallery in Edinburgh. And finally, their show piece, Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross, a spectacular work from the surrealist. I have to say, the works from the Glasgow Boys was the single biggest (pleasant) surprise for me.

Touring the Kelvingrove actually took up most of the day (including a stop for lunch), and it was pushing 4:00 when we hopped back on the bus. The tour wrapped up back downtown, and our lat stop was a pub they mentioned on the tour. It was distinctive in that the bar was over 100 feet long. It was oval-shaped, and went around the whole bar - pretty cool really. A last drink, and I needed to get to the train station for my 5:50 train. 

I’m not sure how to wrap up my thoughts on Glasgow. It’s an OK place - there’s enough to see/do for a long weekend, but I think I’d struggle for much beyond that. I’m glad I’ve seen it, and it would be a good base for exploring more of the northwest of Scotland (which I would love to do), but I don’t see myself going back any time soon.