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Return to Glasgow

With my last minute plans to leave Amsterdam a day early, I threw my family for a bit of a loop, but thankfully they were still able to pick me up from the airport when I flew into Glasgow in the late afternoon. It had been over 2 years since I’d last seen them, but it took no time at all to slip back into the usual family dynamics as my dad drove us home through the rush hour traffic. My visit home last September was over 12 years after I’d moved away from the city and although I will always think of Glasgow as my home town, it is almost as foreign to me now as any other city I visit. The Glasgow that I remember from my student days has continued to morph and grow in my absence, and as such I love to play tourist every time I return.

On my previous visit in 2016, I spent 6 weeks gallivanting around Scotland and Iceland and although I had a fantastic time, by the end of it I felt that I hadn’t spent enough time with my family. So this time round, with just 2 weeks in the country, I went with no plans at all in order to have quality time with them, and especially to get to know my nephew who had spent the entirety of my last visit in NICU, completely oblivious to my presence. Emigrating to the other side of the World has meant sacrificing being present in my family’s lives and I have often felt jealous hearing about their time spent together and especially missing out on my nephew growing up. But meeting my nephew properly for the first time would have to wait as my unexpected early arrival meant he had plans the day after I arrived.

In 2016, I had a cracking day in Glasgow walking the Mural Trail, and there had been some new additions to the route since then, so I headed into the city on my first full day at home to take a wander around. I wasn’t so lucky with the weather this time unfortunately, but it could have been worse, so I spent the day making use of my legs and walking everywhere. I headed first to George Square which is surrounded by some iconic buildings, and was busy with people taking breaks from their work day. The distinctive pink banners stating ‘People Make Glasgow’ adorned the many lampposts surrounding the square and nearby the entire facade of a building had been turned pink with the same statement emblazoned on it. East of here was the beautiful mural painted by artist Smug of St Mungo as a baby. It ties in with Smug’s other portrait of St Mungo which I’d seen on my last visit to the city.


From George Street onto Duke Street I found myself at the Tennent’s Brewery. I’m not really a lager fan, and was just here for some more mural spotting, but on a whim (partly because some rain was threatening) I decided to sign into a brewery tour. A small group of us got shown round the various parts of the site before being taken back to a bar for a tasting session. My pint of Tennent’s lager was presented with a much more acceptable head than the Heineken I’d received in Amsterdam a few days prior, and we also got to taste some specialty brews including some much stronger ales. Suffice to say I was a little tipsy by the time I headed back out on the streets, cutting down the east-end streets of Glasgow to reach Glasgow Green, a place I hadn’t been to for an incredibly long time.


I found myself at the large Doulton fountain which was framed by the People’s Palace, one of the city’s museums. The sun was trying desperately to break through the clouds again, and after circling round the fountain to look at the ornate depictions on its circumference, I headed into the People’s Palace to look around. I’m a bit of a museum snob: I’m easily disappointed by them, with only a handful rating highly in my mind, so I wasn’t really fussed spending much time looking at the displays. I circled through only glancing at them, heading to the conservatory to wander around the plants before stopping for a late lunch in the cafe. I was excited to find they served coronation chicken sandwiches, one of those things that despite loving, had forgotten even existed. I’ve never seen it anywhere other than Scotland, so was quick to order and shovel one down when it came.


I had meant to wander through Glasgow Green to see the monument that had been erected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games but forgot about it, so instead of cutting through the Green, I headed back up to the main road to head west back into the city. On route, I found a couple more murals that I hadn’t seen including 1 of 3 that depicts Billy Connolly, or the Big Yin, one of Scotland’s most famous comedians and personalities. This first one I didn’t actually like, and the paint that had been used was too reflective so it was actually difficult to photograph. The rain had arrived by now, so I didn’t linger long, continuing on to the Merchant City.


Whilst Edinburgh is often lauded over by many foreign visitors, Glasgow has so many beautiful buildings and is brimming with statues and monuments. At the start of the Merchant City is the turreted clock tower which is faced by a mix of old and new style buildings. Whilst the Trongate at eye level looks like a collection of pubs and shops, a simple raising of the eye to the top half of the buildings reveals some stunning architecture. Heading along the Trongate towards Argyle Street brought back many memories of shopping trips with my mum when I was a kid, as I used to get brought to this part of the city to get clothes for the new school year.


Nearby was another Billy Connolly mural, my favourite of the three, and past here I headed into the St Enoch Centre shopping mall which had been revamped since I’d last been there, which was when I used to still live in Glasgow. Out the other side was the final Billy Connolly mural, overlooking the beer garden of a nearby pub. Unfortunately the rain returned with a vengeance, and after taking some photographs, it was time to make a hasty retreat so I headed into some shops to wait out the rain. Eventually though, the sun returned and I found the last of the murals I’d wanted to see, down an alleyway of Argyle Street, before heading up Buchanan Street, one of the city’s main shopping thoroughfares, and another street with some beautiful buildings if you look up.


When I’d played tourist back in 2016, I had gone to the Lighthouse and headed up to an indoor observation room. I’d discovered later that I had completely missed a higher outdoor observation deck, so this time I headed back to the museum again to suss it out. Unlike the indoor viewing area which can be reached via elevator, the outdoor area involves climbing a spiral staircase and the outer area is quite cramped. But boy is it worth it for the view overlooking the rooftops of the city. Again, I’m totally biased when it comes to my love for Glasgow architecture, and although there are some modern buildings juxtaposed against the old, there is so much history evident looking across the older buildings that disappear into the distance, with domes and turrets poking up at regular intervals. From this vantage point, the bright pink facade of the ‘People Make Glasgow’ building could be seen once more behind Strathclyde University.


Finally, back in the rain, I headed to my favourite statue in the city, the Duke of Wellington, which stands proudly outside the Gallery of Modern Art on Queen Street. Famous for its permanent attire of a traffic cone, this statue sums up Glaswegians for me as well as showing that people really do make Glasgow. Edinburgh is a great city, but I will always love Glasgow more and I always wander it struggling to hide the grin that the sound of a Glaswegian accent puts on my face. Sometimes I can feel quite sad about the fact I don’t have a Glaswegian accent. It’s gone in my favour whilst abroad as people can usually understand me very well, but when I hear the Weegie patter spilling out Weegie banter, my little heart swells with pride like it does to the sound of bagpipes, and secretly I wish I sounded like I belong there.


Glasgow’s Miles Better

When I was a kid growing up in the 80s in the suburbs of Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, there was a well known advertising campaign to promote the city as a tourist and commerce destination. Featuring Mr Happy (from the Mr Men) and the slogan ‘Glasgow’s Miles Better’ it epitomises the feeling of many residents when it comes to comparing themselves to that other city in the central belt – you know the one: the capital city that is Edinburgh. If you speak to the people of Edinburgh, they protest having no such superiority against Glasgow, but speak to any Glaswegian and most of them will jokingly wit about Edinburgh’s shortcomings and all the things that make Glasgow so much better. I’m a proud Glaswegian, born and raised, and have spent many a trip abroad regaling to people why they need to step away from the enticing vista of Edinburgh’s Castle and Princess Street Gardens, and come explore Glasgow and further afield. It seems from speaking to a lot of travellers, that Scotland draws many people to the capital city and Loch Ness (home of the mythical monster), and little else, which is a constant frustration.

I lived, grew up and studied in Glasgow until an employment opportunity took me away in my 20s. It is now 10 years since I have lived there, but I’m still a Glaswegian at heart and was excited at the prospect of playing tourist in my home city on my return there at the end of May. Armed with a walking tour outline on my phone, and hitting it off with the weather, I set off to see some spots I’d not visited before, as well as revisit some old haunts from my youth.

Arriving by bus into Buchanan bus station, I found my way to the top of Buchanan Street where a busker was playing the bagpipes, which immediately made my heart swell. It doesn’t matter where I am in the world, I always feel immensely patriotic and emotional when I hear the bagpipes. The sound of even badly played pipes, always takes me to a place where I feel at home and connected to my past. I sat for a while on the steps of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall which sits at the top of the street, and from here there is a view both down the slope of Buchanan Street and along Sauchiehall Street, 2 of Glasgow’s shopping streets. I had all day and was in no hurry, and having been devoid of one of my favourite clothes shops for many years, it was only right to do a little bit of shopping in H&M. Who knows when I’ll be in one again.


In part following the Mural Trail, and adapting it for sightseeing purposes, I passed George Square, the large expanse in front of the City Chambers, which is often used for seasonal events. The sun was out, and so were the pigeons and people enjoying a morning coffee and catch-up on what was a public holiday. Past the University of Strathclyde, I followed High Street, passing my favourite mural of a man with a bird on his hand, and continuing up to Glasgow Cathedral, a building I’d never visited before. Free to enter, there were a lot of tourists milling around, and I took my time admiring the stained glass windows, something which I always love to look at inside churches. It’s a beautiful cathedral inside and out, and sits next to the entrance to the Necropolis.


The Glasgow Necropolis is reached by crossing over the bridge behind the cathedral and then picking a route up the hill. It has a reputation for an area of crime, with people being robbed and beaten here, but on such a sunny day on a public holiday, it was full of locals and tourists alike sunning themselves on picnic rugs or wandering around the gravestones. It is a green space within the city and known as a deer-spotting location, as well as being elevated enough to act as a natural viewing spot for a panorama over the city and suburbs beyond. I felt perfectly safe wandering around, absorbing the sun’s rays and soaking in the view. Behind the Cathedral, the large Royal Infirmary nestled beside it, and in the far distance, the hills beyond the southern suburbs with their windmills atop were evident through the haze on the horizon.


I meandered around for a while, looking at the various prominent and distinct headstones and monuments, before heading back to the Cathedral. Opposite here is the St Mungo Museum and adorning the immediate area is the symbol of Glasgow from the city’s coat of arms: ‘Here’s the bird that never flew, here’s the bell that never rang, here’s the tree that never grew, here’s the fish that never swam’. Not far from here there is a juxtaposition between the old buildings of Glasgow and modern architecture, particularly around Strathclyde University.


The Merchant City is a well known area for socialising, rife with bars, cafes and restaurants. It is a popular part of the city but an area that I rarely frequented when I lived there. I went to university in the west end, and lived in a suburb to the south, so there was little reason to go there. I wandered through it, admiring the buildings, but didn’t linger long. While searching for a mural down an alley way, I stumbled across an old fashioned sweet shop which sold many of my favourites from my childhood. I stocked up on soor plooms, cola cubes, rhubarb rock and more, and continued on my happy way.


Wandering along the Clyde walkway, the good weather had brought many people out to the riverside. It’s not the prettiest of rivers, being rather discoloured and often the river banks are littered with rubbish and trolleys, but turning a blind eye to all that, there was much to see from bridges and churches to buildings and murals, and now, the walkway extends all the way to the relatively new transport museum further down the Clyde.


After a while, I left the river behind and cut north back into the city, finding myself at the Lighthouse on Mitchel Lane. Another one of the city’s free attractions, I’d never been here before and decided to head in to go to the viewing platform. A centre for design and architecture, it acts as an exhibition and gallery space and was originally designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I was starving by this point, not satiated by sugary treats, and stopped in the cafe for lunch. I had followed the signs to the viewing platform on the sixth floor, accessible only via lift. Indoors, it was a small space, a little cramped with the amount of people there, but it was an interesting view over the city rooftops that isn’t normally seen. I noticed some people in another outdoor viewing platform another floor up in an older looking building, but didn’t know how they’d gotten there. I later discovered that it was another part of the Lighthouse, and was a little annoyed that I’d missed out on this.


Back outside in the glorious sunshine, I made a convoluted path back to the Clyde walkway, passing the beautiful exterior of Central Station, a familiar site from my many years of commuting in and out of the city during my late teens and early twenties. I was sidetracked by some strange colourful blobs outside of the BT offices, before I found myself at a bridge that had appeared in the years after I had left the city and was living to the north in Aberdeen. The promenade felt lively and inviting, and was decorated with bright pink banners declaring ‘People Make Glasgow’. I felt Glaswegian and I felt like I was at home.


Heading up to Sauchiehall Street and on to Cowcaddens underground to complete the mural trail, I hopped on the underground to head west. The underground had been upgraded since I last was on it, and I had a brief moment of feeling stupid as I couldn’t work out what to do with my ticket at the barrier, whilst the staff in the booth waved frantically at me trying to give me silent direction. Embarrassed, I breathed a sigh of relief when it let me through, and I headed to Hillhead, another regular haunt from my youth. I crossed University Avenue, looking up towards the tower of the building where many of my exams were held, and continued down the hill past the restaurant I ate with my family on the day of my graduation, and round the corner, crossing the River Kelvin, and onto Argyle Street, sidling through the crowds to reach Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery.


This was a place where I’d last visited as a kid with my mum and my brother. Since then it had been closed down, completely renovated and reopened a few years ago. Yet another free attraction in Glasgow, I’d heard good things about it, and was particularly keen to see the ‘Heads’ installation. Like many museums, it has its set exhibits and a changing exhibit, but there are a few key pieces that the museum is famous for, including an Asian elephant and a spitfire. I was quite hot and just a little sunburnt by this point in the day, so I wasn’t really fussed about spending a lot of time here. I just wanted an overview, so wandered round admiring and looking at the displays, but didn’t particularly spend much time reading the information or descriptions that went with them. I particularly liked a painting in one of the galleries that contained every known stereotype or classically Scottish object within the one image. As the guide who was there commented, you could look at the piece multiple times and still see something new each time, the picture was just so immense.


Round the corner from the museum lies Kelvingrove Park which was unbelievably busy given it being a public holiday and such cracking weather. From the skate park to the fountain and everything in between, there was barely an inch of grass free to sit on with families and friends everywhere making the most of the cracking summer weather. I was overjoyed to spot an ice cream van and joined the long queue to wait patiently for my ’99’, and boy did it taste good. I people watched for a while, before taking a trip down memory lane by walking to Glasgow University. Here, it was eerily deserted, being outwith term time. CLasses were over, exams were in swing and graduations awaited in a couple of weeks’ time. I watched a grey squirrel cry out in the trees as I walked below the high tower of the main building, cutting through the arches into the quadrangles and round to the entrance gate before heading past my old student union where a hundred memories flashed through my head. It felt a lifetime ago since I’d last been there, and it might as well have been, for all that has occurred in the 11 years since I left the university life behind. It felt almost strange being there, and I headed through the busy Ashton Lane, all the pubs spilling out onto the cobbled street, and back to Hillhead underground.


Back at Buchanan Street underground station, I got stuck again trying to exit the barriers. It wouldn’t accept my ticket and with the ticket office at the far end of the floor, I was left on my own, jumping up and down and waving like an idiot trying to grab their attention. Several commuters looked at me strangely on passing, assuming I didn’t know where to put my ticket, yelling instructions at me in a tone that suggested I was stupid. Eventually a more sympathetic commuter saw my plight and went over to the ticket office to point me out to the staff. Like Cowcaddens before, they gesticulated from a distance where to put my ticket, not realising this wasn’t my problem. It felt like the longest time before eventually they pressed a button and all the barriers released, finally letting me escape. It seemed the underground did not want to be my friend that day.

Back out in the sunshine, I had one last place to go on my trip down memory lane. Heading down Buchanan Street briefly and cutting through Exchange Place, I rounded the side of the Gallery of Modern Art (another free attraction) to find one of my favourite and most iconic statues in the city: the Duke of Wellington atop his horse, standing oh-so-proudly… with a traffic cone on his head. Originally started as a joke in the 80s, it has become so iconic that it now features on souvenirs and in guidebooks for the city. The city council has tried many tactics to discourage and stop the practice, removing the cone repeatedly, only to have it replaced within hours or days, and attempts to implement more extreme measures to stop the practice have been met with petitions from locals and celebrities alike. There are few Glaswegians who even know what it looks like without its cone, and having passed it so many times when I was younger, I felt it was about time I actually took a photograph of it as a memento. There was something warming about seeing it in the flesh again after all these years.


Cutting past George Square once more, I retraced my steps from the morning back to the Royal Concert Hall, picking up a much needed iced tea for the bus ride home. It drove through suburbs of familiarity as I headed to my parent’s house, pleased with my day as a tourist in the sun. It might not have the visual draw of Edinburgh’s Castle, but Glasgow still has my heart and certainly has plenty to offer. My day tour had merely touched the surface of things to see in the city, but it had been immense fun playing tourist in my home town.

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