A Tale of Two Cities: The Case for Glasgow

Leaving Edinburgh is like entering a whole new world. You know what they say about capitals not representing the true soul of a country? It’s true. Don’t get me wrong, Edinburgh is a fantastic city, but it’s where EVERYONE goes. And that gives it a great international feel, but you’re here to visit Scotland, so it might be a good idea to step outside of those figurative city gates. Enter Glasgow.

Glasgow Cathedral as seen from the Necropolis

Before I delve into our short stop in this cultural hub I should mention that we did not have an easy time getting here. Guys, double check the operator on your ticket before you hop on board, even if you’re afraid your train is leaving without you. We hopped aboard an Edinburgh to Glasgow train that arrived a few minutes “early”. Turns out we actually got on a train that went just a little bit faster than the one on our ticket and wound up having to pay all over again on board for that little mistake. What can I say, train stations are high stakes environments and sometimes these things happen. The good news is we sat next to three generations of friendly British ladies (the littlest of whom had a high fashion Barbie manicure going on) that gave us candies and told us we had lovely accents. Worth the extra cash I’d say.

Arriving in Glasgow I immediately noticed a change in atmosphere. Compared to Edinburgh, Glasgow felt like a city that marched to it’s own beat and had better things to do than pander to tourists the way I’d gotten used to in Edinburgh. Glasgow is known as the national cultural hub, and for good reason. There’s the Scottish Opera, the Ballet, the National Theatre, and not to mention a plethora of street art, museums, and a thriving music and arts scene. Of course, it could also be known for it’s notoriously difficult-to-understand local accent and equally difficult-to-climb streets.

Imagine getting your horse and buggy up this bad boy back in the day.

See exhibit A. We lugged our packs up this hill on our poor, short little legs and survived. But just barely. Edinburgh may be the king of stairs, but Glasgow is a master of the incline.

After we recuperated in our hotel, a budget friendly and only slightly smelly place called The Victorian House (hey, a free breakfast makes up for all questionable odors), we made our way out for an early dinner at Hillhead Bookclub. Get this, you can eat, drink, and play ping pong here. I’m imagining the kind of fun we’d have had with that if we hadn’t showed up around 7 PM on a Monday. It was pretty quiet to say the least (or maybe everyone was just in Edinburgh basking in the afterglow of Festival Fringe), but we still enjoyed our vegan seitan tacos and the comfort of the over-sized worn leather booth. You could probably just chill out here for hours and enjoy the boozy library vibe and the soothing sound of bouncing ping pong balls.

Feel free to bring your own housecoat and wooden pipe, just remember those pesky modern smoking laws still apply.

And what else is there to do in Glasgow on a weekday night? We had absolutely no idea. So we went for a brisk nighttime walk in search of a movie theater, one place that is actually best when completely devoid of people. During our hunt we stumbled across University of Glasgow’s campus, which features a stunning display of Victorian architecture and made for quite the pleasant evening stroll.

The Gilbert Scott Building

Shortly after our campus tour we gave up and called a cab to get us to the nearest theater. We were in dire need of popcorn and reclining pleather seats. Ironically, the movie we chose to see in Glasgow was Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Not a bad way to spend a Monday night, but this isn’t a movie review. If you get the chance do explore at night, the city is still buzzing with evening joggers, commuters, and students, so it’s the perfect opportunity to take it all in by the glow of the city lights.

Clyde Arc

The real highlight of our day and a half in Glasgow was departing early the next morning to visit Camglen Radio station. While not technically in Glasgow, it was just a short train ride away in Rutherglen. It was here that my traveling companion got to go on air and talk about her Fringe experience with musician John McMustard – who very quickly and unexpectedly became our personal Glasgow tour guide. Without him, we definitely would never have learned so much about Glasgow and I would have very little to write about. Also we may never have found the train station again to pick up our rental car. So big shout out to him and his indie rock stylings in Colonel Mustard & The Dijon 5. Witness my friends on the airwaves with your own ears right here.

Immediately after the interview, we rode over to Glasgow Cathedral, the oldest cathedral on mainland Scotland. This place has some serious history. It was built in the 1200’s, making it the only medieval cathedral that survived the Protestant Reformation of 1560. The significance of the ground it was built on is much older though, dating all the way back to the burial of St. Mungo, the first bishop of Strathclyde, in 612 AD.

This cathedral is impressive, to say the least. If you don’t believe me, listen to Pope Nicholas V, who said a pilgrimage to Glasgow Cathedral equaled that of one to Rome. You can’t really get higher praise than that. You can take a guided tour from one of the volunteers, or just explore the crypts, chapels, and well-preserved stained glass windows on your own. It’s free to visit, but a donation is suggested if you opt for a tour.

Religious or not, it’s bound to be a highlight in any Glasgow visit. If you read Rob Roy in high school then you probably already had an introduction to Glasgow Cathedral without even realizing it. Sir Walter Scott included a colorful depiction of the building and necropolis when the hero of the novel travels to Glasgow to save his father’s fortune. Appreciators of history, politics, architecture, theology, and literature can all find a reason to equal reason to love this stop on a Glasgow itinerary.

The best way to take in the enormity of this beautiful building is to climb up the hill to the Victorian Necropolis, a park turned graveyard after a newspaper competition announced cash prizes for the best cemetery conversion plans. In the end the necropolis was actually created by a landscape gardener, George Mylne.

The Necropolis is home to 3,500 tombs, and there are 50,000 people buried here, all of whom have been meticulously recorded. You can peruse the records of the deceased at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Among the graves you will find many notable figures, beautiful sculptures and memorials, and even some Freemason conspiracies, if you know what to look for.

After the Necropolis it was time to wind our way back through the city streets to pick up our rental car for the impending road trip north. On the way we had the chance to appreciate the work of talented Australian artist Smug (AKA Sam bates).

These images both depict the patron saint of the city, Saint Mungo. The first image shows St. Mungo’s mother Teneu, revered as a saint herself, breastfeeding her infant son. The second is a modern St. Mungo restoring life to the pet robin of Saint Serf after it was killed by his classmates. It’s well worth a stroll down High Street to have a look at these impressive murals that give a glimpse of Glasgow’s rich history.

As for icing on the cake, along the way we found a famous blue police box. Glasgow is somewhat known for these. In fact, you can take part in the police box walk, the perfect self-guided tour for Doctor Who fanatics.

We wrapped up our Glasgow tour with a stop at GOMA, the Gallery of Modern Art and a super cheap pizza and Italian ice cream float before heading to our first road trip destination – Trossachs National Park. But that’s a story for another time.

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