MistyNites

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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.

Rottnest Island

When I stepped outside to be greeted by a grey, overcast morning, I was a little disheartened. But with a ferry to catch there was no time to waste on disappointment, and so I hoofed it down to the Fremantle wharf near the mouth of the Swan River. It was a busy sailing with workers, locals and tourists all in the mix. In just 25mins, the Rottnest Express whisked us out onto the Indian Ocean and across to one of Western Australia’s gems: Rottnest Island. When I first read about it, I discovered that it was home to a marsupial creature that I hadn’t heard of prior: a quokka, and out on the island, they were effectively a guaranteed sighting. I’d booked a deal with the ferry company to get a day’s bike rental with my ferry ticket, and this opened up the whole island to explore at my leisure. I was certainly going to make the most of it, and it didn’t take long for the island’s charms to grasp me firmly. What followed was the highlight of my short but sweet Western Australia explorations.

Arriving into Thomson Bay, there was a flurry of activity as supplies for the island and bikes for the tourists were unloaded. After saddling up, my first port of call was the IGA food mart to get some edibles for the day. It wasn’t until I came outside that I realised I had walked right past a quokka, and having spotted one, I suddenly realised there were many others. Whilst I tried to remain casual about the whole thing, there were several people kneeling and lying down trying to get selfies and close ups with the inquisitive creatures, and it was hard to resist joining in. I succumbed eventually, as they were more than eager to come up close, and it left me feeling excited for the day ahead.

 

I cycled along the Thomson Bay foreshore towards Kingston Barracks. I had tried to book a night here but unfortunately they were closed for the season, and the other accommodation on the island was outwith my budget. So I was eager to cover as much distance as I could before the evening ferry back to the mainland. The barracks themselves didn’t hold my attention for long, but nearby there were more quokka nibbling on the verge, and further round there was a peaceful and deserted little beach.

 

There were plenty of other cyclists, but it never felt busy or overcrowded, and there were several routes and directions to choose from. Following the coastline, I reached Henrietta rocks where a walkway lead down to a rock-strewn beach and a shipwreck lay sticking out of the water a little off shore. I read that it was a good place to snorkel, and I had planned on going in for a nosy, however there was not another soul in sight, and with my track record of sea swimming, I was nervous about going on in my own with no witnesses. I had an internal argument for many minutes before eventually moving onwards.

 

Skirting along the expansive Porpoise Bay, I took a detour out to Parker’s Point where I nabbed a picnic bench to have a snack. There was a cute little beach down the steps from here, and I was excited to find a mother and baby quokka asleep in the bushes nearby. After watching them in silence for a while, I sat back on the bench and opened up some of the food I’d bought. Suddenly, one of the quokka that had been asleep, shot out of the bushes at the sound of the wrapper and not only came right up to me, but started trying to climb up my leg to get to my food. Clearly they’ve been fed in the past, and had a clear association of food and humans, but whilst I stood my ground and gave her none, it was an incredible experience to have her sit right by my feet and watch me intently. Eventually she realised that I wasn’t giving in, and with the food finished she wandered off.

 

Still hungry, I opened another packet of food and out shot a mother and baby to play the same game with me. I was busy trying to join in the game of quokka selfies, and failing badly when a couple from New South Wales joined me. We chatted for a while as they ate, the quokkas again paying them a lot of attention, and as I readied myself to move on after a while, two large king skinks were spotted near the verge.

 

It had been hard to leave that spot, but there was so much of the island to see. By now, the cloud was well on its way to burning off and it was actually turning out to be a gloriously hot and sunny day. As the road continued to follow the coast, there was a consistently beautiful outlook to be had. Round a few bends was Little Salmon Bay and then a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach that curved round Salmon Bay. Considering how beautiful a beach it was, there was only 1 family on it, the kids splashing around in the shallows. Had I had the benefit of more time, I would have lazed on this beach for some time, but with time marching on, I too had to move on.

 

A little further along the road, I took a turn-off onto one of the inland roads, back-tracking a little to take the road to Oliver Hill. Despite the road winding up the hill to the remants of the World War II battery, I was dismayed to see a sign at the bottom saying you couldn’t cycle up. I’m still not sure why this was the case, but I ignored it for half the distance, then dumped my bike in the bushes before marching up the rest of the way, sweating in the heat of the day. After rounding the bend, the slight gain in altitude provided a sweeping view across the large expanse of Serpentine Lake which stretches out towards the island’s airport.

 

At the battery itself, it is possible to do a guided tour into the tunnels, but I wasn’t really fussed about this, so just wandered around the hilltop and a nearby path to soak up the view. From here, there was a view across to the Wadjemup lighthouse and back towards Thomson Bay. Inside one of the guns there was a pair of swifts flitting in and out to a nest. Outside the gunnery, a little train stop marks the end of a railway line that takes people to the battery from the Kingston barracks.

 

Reunited with my bike, I cycled to the shore of Serpentine Lake before back-tracking to the coastal road I’d left before. At the next turn-off I headed towards the lighthouse. A pretty white-washed lighthouse, I parked my bike up and wandered up to the base to discover it was possible to pay a small fee to be taken up by a local guide. On such a beautiful day, I thought it would be worth it just for the view alone. The small group had to squeeze into the increasingly narrow space as we climbed the circular steps up towards the light itself, and a door led out onto a terrace where despite a bit of wind, there was a 360o view over the island. I was enjoying the view immensely until I looked down to see someone walking off with my bike, and then I couldn’t get back down the lighthouse fast enough. I was immensely relieved to discover that my bike was still there and I had confused my bike for a similar looking one.

 

The view from the lighthouse had made me realise how much ground I still had to cover, so I was quick to get back to the main coast road and pedal the distance to the Neck and onwards to the West End. There were a few more people around now, but even with the regular passing of other cyclists, it still didn’t feel overcrowded. There was so much choice of bays and beaches, that everyone seemed to be finding their own wee spot of paradise. At West End however, it was a little busier. On the bus route from Thomson Bay, there were people milling around waiting for the next one.

This was supposed to be a good location to see seals, but unfortunately there were none to spot whilst I was there. After taking a look down at the cliffs and bays that lined the coast here, I sat myself down at a seating area to have a late lunch whilst staring out to sea. Incredibly, I saw two passing humpback whales, which although quite far out from the coast, were still very recognisable, and after all my luck whale watching in Queensland, I couldn’t believe that I was seeing them again on the opposite side of the country.

 

It was quite a beautiful spot to hang out, but it was the busiest part of the island aside from the wharf, so eventually I pushed onwards. The peninsula had a few side-tracks that I took, winding my way back towards the Neck. I found a viewing spot overlooking Mable Cove and Eagle Bay which I had to myself, and then back at the Neck, I took my time passing the white sand of Rocky Bay. The beach here was long and expansive, covering a large section of the northern aspect of the peninsula and neck.

 

Once back on the main section of Rottnest Island, I took the road that headed round the northern coastline, and this brought me first to Stark Bay which was the far end of the same beachfront as Rocky Bay. As much as I was enjoying the sunshine, I was exceptionally hot and sweaty, something that makes suncream application a rather messy affair. Further along the northern coast, was a little turn-off to City of York Bay, and as I’d been at all of the beaches so far, I was tempted to go for a swim and hang around for a bit. There was simply too much choice, and not enough hours in the day.

 

After spotting another quokka mother and joey at the side of the road, the beautiful Catherine Bay was next and after this, I took a detour down to Parakeet Bay which was both stunning and absolutely deserted. A hot and sweaty mess, I decided that this would be the perfect spot for a swim, and took my shoes off to wade into the water. Luckily I did this before getting changed, because as it was September, the water was frigid and my hopes for a cooling dip were dashed. I paddled for a while then wandered across the sand looking at the quokka and seabird tracks that swept across the beach. The sand was a beautiful white colour and the beach was backed by a small dune, making it the perfect rest stop even without the swim.

 

After a while, I rejoined the northern coastal road, passing part of the large Lake Baghdad. The Wadjemup lighthouse stood proud on the hill at the far side, and before I knew it, I reached the settlement of Geordie Bay, a cute little place with holiday homes overlooking yet another gorgeous beach. There was a small store and cafe here, and I took the opportunity to grab refreshments before it closed. Beyond here was a loop leading around the Geordie Bay to Longreach Bay and an area known as the Basin where there were yet more quokkas.

 

Shadows were beginning to stretch across the ground as the sun lowered, and as sunset approached, I picked my way through the holiday park to Bathurst Lighthouse which overlooked Pinky Bay. This turned out to be a popular spot to watch the sunset, with people appearing on the beach and by the lighthouse, many with picnics and wine to watch the approach of dusk. It was yet another beautiful sunset, and I watched the sky change colours before returning to my bike in the growing darkness. Suddenly there were quokkas everywhere, and whilst the light was no longer amenable to photographing them, there was no shortage of them to look at as I meandered back to the wharf at Thomson Bay.

 

Everywhere was closed up for the night with the exception of the Rottnest Hotel. Being a Friday night, it was packed, and I had to forego getting a meal due to the long wait time, instead settling for a cider in the beer garden. It was amusing to watch the quokkas and their joeys move through the sea of feet in the beer garden, and I was immensely sad, though tired, when it was time to pedal back to the wharf to catch the ferry back to Fremantle in the darkness. I’d definitely covered as much of it as I could in one day, thanks to the bike hire, but with the World’s cutest marsupial and a plethora of beaches and bays, Rottnest Island definitely deserves far more time.

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