“Here’s tae us.
Wha’s like us?
And they’re a’deid.”
~ Traditional Scottish Toast
Sometimes the best trips happen on a whim – and that was precisely the case with my impromptu excursion to Scotland at the end of March. (I can’t believe it’s been that long already!) Here is my attempt at keeping things easier to read, so I’ve divided this post into 3 parts according to the different portions of my journey.
Navigate to the other posts here if you’ve read this one already:
As the Lent term began to draw to an end, I suddenly was hit with the realisation that I had not planned my spring break trip to Spain in a timely manner and was not willing to pay over £100 for a one way ticket. With my dreams crushed I tried to look for a silver lining, and just as quickly reminded myself of my new goal of visiting all parts of the UK before leaving London. So, of course Scotland came to mind – another trip that I had been dying to do for a while now (also my Shakespearean heart was beating out of my chest because, hello, this is Macbeth’s land!).
However, since I’m not a fan of traveling alone, I asked a bunch of friends if they would be interested – sadly, most couldn’t be bothered to visit Scotland or had already visited. With a deep sadness welling in me, I realized I might have to brave it out and go on my own. But the day was saved when my friend, Sean, who was planning a trip to the Highlands himself responded enthusiastically to my question:
As our planning wheels were turning, I got another friend of mine, Ayoung, to tag along as well. Though Sean and Ayoung would only be joining me for 2 days for the Highland part of the trip, it was a comfort in my mind knowing I would be in good company for at least a portion of my trip. Sean volunteered to drive during our trip, so as he was getting the car rental situation sorted, I was still being indecisive on when I would go to Scotland (my choices were to go a day early and explore solo, or leave the same night as Ayoung/Sean and head to the Highlands together). I ultimately decided the night before to leave the following day right after our study abroad group’s “End of Term” party – gutsy, I know (my stomach literally was churning, I was so anxious and excited).
PRE-DAY 1 – TO SCOTLAND:
After a glass of red wine and some munchies at the bar, I ran off to the library to print out my bus tickets and hostel information. I continued to pack my clothes into my good ol’ backpack and canvas tote till the very last moment (roughly 10:30 PM) before going to Victoria Coach Station to catch my 11:45 PM bus to Glasgow. I was initially going to walk (it’s only about 25 minutes from where my dorm is), but after almost forgetting to withdraw some cash, I was decided to take the tube over to save time (and thank goodness I did). My journey was about to begin once the bus pulled out of the coach station at a little past its stated departure, but I was officially off on my first solo trip to Scotland!
DAY 1 – GLASGOW & PAISLEY:
After several unanticipated delays and traffic coming into Glasgow, nearly 10 hours later I scurried off the bus and finally placed my feet on Scottish soil. The weather was cloudy and gray (FUN FACT: the Scots have a word in Gaelic for this – dreich) but my spirits were already lifted to be able to step out from London. Strangely enough, my dad who had completed a distance learning degree at the University of Paisley (now known as the University of the West of Scotland – Paisley Campus) arranged for me to meet one of his connections from UWS, Dr. Steve Gallagher. Steve was kind enough to wait early in the morning and meet me at Buchanan Coach Station. We stopped by an Italian cafe (it used to be an old bank!) for a quick breakfast before heading to Paisley – just a short train ride out from Glasgow.
Most people don’t know that Paisley is the town that gave the “paisley” pattern its Western name (it is also known as boteh/buta in Persian). Paisley, at its height, was a busy and robust textile manufacturing town. Though in modern times the because the industry died down, so did the rest of the community as work-life slowly deteriorated. What remains is the history and newly commercialised areas of the town. (Learn more about Paisley here and here.)
As Steve showed me around the town centre and across the UWS campus, I got
to learn a lot about Paisley, Glasgow, and Scotland in addition to the university, as well as getting to meet many great individuals at UWS. While making our way to the academic buildings and offices, Steve was telling me how a well-known Founding Father in America had ties to Paisley. I listened eagerly hoping that all my years of schooling on US history would ring bells, and it did! This individual was known as none other than John Witherspoon! Having grown up so close to Princeton, the name was a happy reminder of home. I quickly told Steve about the connection I just made and we got super excited – we even took a picture to commemorate it! (Ignore how exhausted I look – that’s what 10 hours on a bus will do to you… also learn more about Witherspoon here.)
We continued on through the campus and met with one of Steve’s co-workers, Allison, and had a nice chat over coffee about my trip plans, my study abroad experience so far, and about the differences between the UK and US education systems. It was great to learn more about both Scotland (and the Glaswegian accent which I valiantly attempted while I was with Sean and Ayoung the next day, but absolutely butchered) as well as the Scottish higher education system in comparison with the English (which is actually more similar to the US system of 4 years in university instead of 3 years which is notable in most of the UK). Afterwards, Steve introduced me to the resident sculptor at UWS (who also just so happens to be the Queen’s Sculptor Ordinary of Scotland!), Sandy Stoddart. This ended up being one of the highlights of my visit to Glasgow/Paisley and was such an honour to speak with him! (Read more about Sandy here.) It was amazing to just listen to Sandy talk about his work, thought processes, inspirations, and even his current project that he let me take a look at.
As we let Sandy continue on with his work, the afternoon was already in full swing and it was time for me to make my way back to Glasgow for the remainder of the day. Steve was kind enough to walk me back to the Gilmour Street Station and gave me some final reminders, tips, and directions for once I was back in Glasgow. I thanked him for his time and for being so willing to show me around UWS and Paisley at such short notice. We soon said our goodbyes and from then I was on my own for the rest of the day as I head back to Glasgow Central. (Side Note: Before I forget, let me just take a moment to give a shout out to everyone that made my last minute visit to Paisley possible. Thanks to my dad for reaching out to Steve, Steve for being so willing to show me around and for taking time out from your busy day, and Allison & Sandy for being so wonderful as well!)
Upon arriving back at Glasgow, I anxiously pulled out my phone to plug in directions to figure out how to get to my hostel (The Tartan Lodge – would recommend! Staff were friendly and helpful, and the beds/bathrooms were pretty decent for a short stay) so I could unload my stuff and wander the city with fewer things to worry about. With the directions in and set, I made the awful mistake of walking to the hostel. Having been under the assumption that it was a 20 minute walk slightly outside of the city centre, I – in typical fashion – got lost navigating and ended up almost walking in a loop. It didn’t help that it started raining as I was walking – thankfully it was light, but the whole time all I could think was, “This is pure dreich.”
Back sore from lifting many a things in my backpack, shirt thoroughly drenched in sweat, and hair matted to my face from the rain, I finally saw the hostel and trekked on over. As soon as I got my key to my room I flopped on my bed in utter exhaustion. I knew I didn’t have much time to explore around the city if I didn’t hurry back to the centre So I mustered up some strength, popped on a dry shirt, brushed my hair, and headed back out with my camera. This time around, I took the bus back into the city centre.
Studying the map that Steve had given me earlier, I tried to plot out a few main points-of-interest that I could look at. Being that I couldn’t go to many places now that it was around 3:30 PM (many things close in the UK around 5-6 PM), I decided to simply soak in the feel of the city by wandering around. I started at Buchanan Street and made my way down slowly. Buchanan Street is the central shopping district in Glasgow, fit with stores like House of Fraser and Nike, along with high-end brands like Massimo Dutti and Gucci. Buchanan Street is quite long and stretches from Sauchiehall to St. Enoch Square – definitely lots to see and a definite must if you’re looking to “shop ’til you drop”.
Continuing with fashion and shopping, as I made it to the end of Buchanan, I swung back to check out Argyle Street – yet another shopping area in Glasgow. According to Glasgow’s city website, Argyle Street is what “Americans know as a Main Street”. I would say that is quite an accurate definition. It is definitely where you’ll see more of the locals as the stores are less high-end and more local-/UK-based (think along the lines of Primark and Schuh). I later took a wrong turn towards the River Clyde and ended up wandering a bit trying to navigate back to Buchanan. It was a bit sketchy outside of the busy parts of Glasgow, but that might just be me and my over-active imagination pushing the panic button (don’t worry, I made it back to the people alive).
Since I couldn’t really explore much farther out of Glasgow (out to the west to Kelvingrove) I decided to wander parallel to Buchanan Street to the Royal Exchange Square where the Gallery of Modern Art is located. Tragically, the last admission time had just passed, so I simply admired the installations that decorated the exterior of the building. The most amusing thing I saw that made me love the Scots was this masterpiece of the Duke of Wellington donning, aye, none other than a traffic cone. Genius!
Other notable places that I visited in Glasgow:
Merchant City – the place to be for artisan goods/gifts and to really explore the history of Glasgow’s wealthy mercantilists. Unfortunately, because I was in Glasgow on a weekday, I wasn’t able to check out the Merchant Square craft stands that take place in the area on the weekends. All in all, seems that this district of Glasgow is an excellent place to go to really immerse yourself in Glaswegian culture. (Learn more about Merchant City here.)
Glasgow Cross – this is where the five main roads in Glasgow branch out from (High Street, Gallowgate, London Road, Trongate, & Saltmarket). Glasgow Cross used to be the central communications hub in the city as well as the locationwhere several government buildings (debtors’ prison, clerk’s office, etc.) were located several hundreds of years ago. Here you can see the iconic Tolbooth Steeple which marks the cross as well as the Trongate Clock Tower. (More info on Glasgow Cross, Tolbooth, and Trongate).
George Square (Glasgow City Chambers & the Cenotaph) – if I’m not mistaken, this is the heart of Glasgow – the centre of the centre. Again, timing was not on my side, so I missed out on going on a free guided tour of the City Chambers, which has been highly recommended by many tourists, guide books, and Glaswegians themselves. The general area is quite nice to walk around as well. (FUN FACT: the City Chambers was opened by Queen Victoria, whose statue is on the top of the building. Glaswegians have dubbed it as their very own “Statue of Liberty”!)
The Blue Lagoon – for whatever reason I did not expect the Scots to be big into fish ‘n’ chips but let me just say that they make a mean set of it. Also it is SO MUCH MORE AFFORDABLE compared to those in London. Upon calling it a day and in search for a filling dinner to munch on back at the hostel, I remembered seeing that the Blue Lagoon was a pretty well rated fish ‘n’ chips place. I decided to test my luck and get myself a full fish supper, complete with salt and vinegar, just as proper fish ‘n’ chips should be prepared. And guess what, it was a total of £5! Amazing. Also, it was some of the best fish ‘n’ chips that I had while in the UK. So if you’re ever in Glasgow, definitely give the Blue Lagoon a visit. (Alternate: I wanted try was the Chippy Doon the Lane which also had excellent reviews! In true Radhika fashion though, I got lost so I decided against roaming around for any longer.)
Police Boxes (aka: the TARDIS) – for all my Whovians (tragically, I have not had the time to throw myself into the Doctor Who universe, please don’t hate me) Glasgow – and Cardiff – are THE CITIES for you! As most may know, the TARDIS is actually what the British used back in the day as police boxes/stations in different cities. They started losing appeal and popularity over time, and what now remains are a total of 14 police boxes in all of the UK – 6 of which happen to be in Glasgow itself! I was lucky enough to spot 3 of the 6, but here is my best picture of the one on Buchanan Street.
So, there we go! That’s a wrap on my short excursion in Paisley and Glasgow. Stay tuned for my next two posts on the rest of my journey in Scotland through the Highlands and Edinburgh!