Days 8-10: Glasgow
After being cut off from the rest of the world for a few days, coming back to people was kind of nice. My first day there didn’t consist of much, as it had taken most of the day to hike out from Rowardennan to Balloch, and from there I still had to make it to Glasgow. So by the time I arrived and found the guesthouse, I had time for a walk around the neighborhood, a bite to eat at a tiny noodle hut recommended by my trusty Lonely Planet book, and then a session of general conference at an internet cafe down the street before turning in early. If I only had one day to see Glasgow, I was going to start early.
The guesthouse where I stayed had a lot of character; unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of character one usually hopes for. While the definition of a guesthouse changes in different parts of the world, in Scotland it was something like a bed-and-breakfast, but the rooms are tiny and there’s a common bathroom shared by five or six rooms. What really made McClay’s Guest house interesting, though, was the house itself. Old and creaky, it felt like something out of an old horror movie. The hall with yellowing wallpaper and thick brick-red carpets seemed like the perfect setting for some phantom figure to appear and glide silently in and out of the bedrooms which had doors so old that the locks on them are the kind that have an actual key hole you can see through. But it wasn’t much, and it was only for a night, so I can’t complain too much, just fantasize about the supernatural potential of the place.
Mondays in Glasgow, many of the museums are closed. They stay open on Sundays for weekend travelers, and then use Monday as their cleaning day instead, which means I struck out when it came to visiting a lot of things. However, I was able to do quite a bit of sightseeing on foot and then (when it began to pour) on bus. While I’m sure the insides of the museums were fascinating as well, I found just the architecture of the outsides of buildings pretty incredible. One of the places I found most interesting was George Square, which is boxed in by, among other things, the City Chambers and the Gallery of Modern Art. Both these buildings were really cool, and the Gallery of Modern Art was particularly interesting because in front of it was a tall statue of a man riding a horse… with a traffic cone on his head! The story behind it is that the artist didn’t originally put it there; it wasn’t supposed to be part of the sculpture. But one day, someone did (I’m not sure who), and then people just took a liking to it, and now sometimes the cone is there, and other times it isn’t. It just depends on what the museum or the artist or somebody else is feeling like, I suppose. I think it’s kind of a funny concept, that a finished piece of artwork can just change day by day depending on someone’s mood, but perhaps it’s a statement about how art is never finished. I honestly don’t know.
Another funny factoid about George Square: it was named for King George III, but there are no statues of him there. There are lots of statues of others, but none of King George. Apparently, they were going to erect a statue in his honor; then he lost the American colonies. Nobody liked him much after that. They kept the name, but cancelled the plans to put in a statue.
What I did have an opportunity to actually go inside and visit was Glasgow Cathedral, which is the only cathedral in Scotland which survived the bloodbath of the Scottish protestant reformation. Right next door to it was a particularly large graveyard on a hill called the Necropolis, in which John Knox was buried. John Knox was one of the key instigators in the Scottish protestant reformation, and a huge pillar and statue of him was erected on his grave site, overlooking the Glasgow Cathedral. I couldn’t help but wonder if anybody else saw any irony in this. I found the Necropolis to be quite cool, and all the dark catacombs and ornate mausoleums there gave me a better understanding of why Bram Stoker and H.P. Lovecraft and so many other Gothic authors that I’ve been reading seemed to be fascinated with them. I also found it interesting to see what people put on their gravestones–what message they chose to impart to others when they left the world. I found that about 80% of the people had one of the same two or three scriptures engraved. Personally, I decided that this was silly, and that if I ever have a say on what goes on my headstone, I’m going to have it be something original, not something that people passing by have already read fourteen times by the time they reach my grave.
After the very Gothic outing in the graveyard and old cathedral, I decided to lighten things up a bit by heading over to the Botanic Gardens (which were pretty cool–there were some awesome orchids there for my friends who are into plants), and then the Riverside Museum, which was home to “The Tall Ship” (basically, a cool and old ship that Glasgow used to manufacture and send all over the world) and a historical museum of Glasgow. The museum had a “street” set up indoors which had tiny “shops” that you could go into to see artifacts and videos from the day (a pawn shop, an ice cream parlor, a seamstress, ect), and my favorite was rather surprising, at least to me. They had a saddler’s shop, where they had all the tools used to make saddles for horses, and demonstrations on how to cure, cut, and sew the leather into the end result which I was intrigued by.
At this point, it was late afternoon and I stopped for a much needed lunch/dinner on the west end which was pretty incredible. Glasgow is the cuisine capitol of Scotland, and at the heart of culinary excellence is the west end. Because of the time of day, the restaurant I was in was very quiet, with only one other couple in there, and it was nice to sit and watch the people go by outside. Apparently, Californians have a very distinct accent, for at one point the waiter (who was Hungarian and accented himself) came over and asked “Pardon me, but are you from California? The couple over there were asking me; we thought you were but aren’t sure.” I should have lied and foiled their careful deductive work, but I didn’t and let them have the satisfaction of knowing they had figured it out just by hearing me order my food. After lunch, I left to explore the campus of Glasgow University on my own (which was a VERY cool campus), and then had to head back to the bus station where I’d left my horn and luggage in a locker for the day and make my way over to the airport.
The plan from the airport was to fly from Glasgow to London, and then from London to Barcelona, to meet up with a friend. Unfortunately, my plane was delayed by three hours, and then cancelled until the next day. This meant that I didn’t make my flight to Barcelona, and as a result came back to Brighton a day early. At first, this was pretty disappointing, as I’d anxiously anticipated seeing this familiar face from home, but when I realized that there was really nothing I could do about it, I just got over it instead. It made for an interesting learning experience, however….
In John Steinbeck’s novel, Travels with Charlie, Steinbeck travels across America in an attempt to learn more about his country. At one point, he talks about the tendency of Americans all over to love to hate the Russians, simply because of the association we draw (even today) between them and communism, and goodness knows, there’s nothing that arouses more anger or indigence than the idea of communism in the land of the free. But he goes on to say that Russians are really just a scapegoat, an outlet, for something else, and that “Maybe everybody needs Russians. I’ll bet even in Russia they need Russians. Maybe they call it Americans.” Well, in England, they need Russians. And they call them the French. I’ve noticed this before during my time here; it’s nothing new. The comments I’ve heard from locals about the French range from comedic-but-sad (i.e. “They say that history is written by the victors–why is there French history?”) to melodramatic (“Those French, they’re ALWAYS getting in the way”) to downright appalling (“Ugh–the French. Don’t they know that nobody wants them?”). While I personally still think France is cool, I don’t say much to counter when I hear others around me harp on them, knowing that it isn’t really the French. It’s the perceived need of a “Russian”. When it was announced that our flight was being cancelled, within minutes, I heard the other passengers around me begin speculating about the reasons behind the cancellation, and every single one of them said “I heard it had to do with the French.” Despite the fact that, at this point, it was 1:00am and I was stuck indefinitely in an airport, knowing I wasn’t going to get to Barcelona after all, I found what I observed going on around me hilarious. They didn’t even have to have a reason of why it was the French–it was just the French’s fault. End of story.
I don’t think I’ve ever been that bad about a communist, or really anybody, really. (At least, I really hope not). But it was an interesting and good learning experience about how rash we can be to judge difference in a way that, looked at objectively, really makes no sense at all. So no, I’m not horribly disappointed about missing out on Barcelona; I made a new and different discovery instead (and I’ll be going to Spain for a proper trip in three weeks anyway).
Now, I’m back and just trying to make it through those last weeks of class and finals. Break was pretty productive–three out of six of my final essays are completed now, and I’m going to be in good shape to finish well. It’s so strange to think that I’m almost finished with class, and even stranger to think I’m on the last half of my time here, now. It’s gone fast, but when June 22nd comes, I’ll be ready.