Scotland 2016: Day 8, 9, and 10


On our eighth day in Glasgow, we walked out to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum again.  We started by crossing George Square, and up the pedestrian shops of Buchanan Street past this unusual statue.  I found out later it’s of Donald Dewar, the initial first minister of Scotland.   The walk took about an hour, across the high street of Sauchiehall, where I tried to find the loud man again who sat by the Pret a Manger.


We had lunch at Table 11, a nice restaurant on Argyle Street, not far from the museum.  We had a crab linguine with chili, prosciutto wrapped pigeon with confit potatoes, a laksa lobster dumpling, and roasted beets with salt.  It was really nice.


Later in the evening, Siobhan and I returned to the area to have dinner at the Gannet.  Dinner included sous vide cooked deer and a black pudding scotch egg.  While here in Scotland, we have managed to have black pudding, scotch eggs, fish and chips, and other Scottish delicacies.  However, we skipped deep fried Mars bars.

This photo was taken at night in front of the Kelvingrove Museum using a long exposure propping the camera up on a garbage can.  I end up taking one long exposure shot per trip, the first somewhere in Tokyo about eleven years ago.


Our ninth and tenth days were spent with family, where we walked across the River Clyde to see the Gorbals, an area where Siobhan’s family lived many years ago.  The area has gentrified and changed significantly with modern flats and townhomes where tenement houses were before.  The riverside view as we crossed over the bridge was bright and attractive that afternoon.


The morning of our tenth day, we went back to see the closed observation platform at the Lighthouse, where we could climb up and take a view in of Glasgow.  In the cool fall morning, the view was clear and we could see the beautiful old buildings of the city center, with the cranes of new construction stretching out in the distance.


Overall, our trip to Scotland was enjoyable and at a slightly different pace than previous travels.  Glasgow is a wonderful city with a number of sights not far off on day trips.  We had a great time and will likely return in the future to see other parts of Scotland.

Scotland 2016: Day 7


About 130 kilometers from Glasgow, the small village of Pitlochry sits on the edge of Loch Faskally.  This lake is nestled between ridges of mountains in ths distance, but is in fact a reservoir for a hydroelectric plant and dam built in 1951.  Today we took a train from Glasgow Queen Street Station to Pitlochry, taking about two hours on a single track railway towards Inverness to get to this somewhat remote town in the Highlands.


At the station, with its Victorian era iron work bridge and stone buildings, I noticed a small bookshop, run by volunteers for various charities.  Lined with a wide variety of authors and subjects and carefully organized (including an entire shelf about trains), in ten years they’ve raised over £170,000 for charities by selling used books.  This seems very common in the United Kingdom, where donations of used materials are sold at charity shops on the main street.  There were another three in the village itself, selling old shoes, coats, DVDs and toys.  I found a copy of Passchendaele for sale, which despite critical reviews saying otherwise, I actually quite liked when I saw it.


Pitlochry has a number of cafes, restaurants and shops, including a Christmas ornament shop, which reminded me it was less than 79 days to the holidays.  It is incredibly picturesque and visitors poke in and about the storefronts along the main road.  We took a walk around the village, then took the long route that encircles the lake.

Initially we took a path across to the Pitlochry Festival Theatre, over a bridge that spanned a river.  In the summer, the theatre presents various theatrical and musical performances and we could see staff busily sewing costumes in the windows.


The valley didn’t seem particularly interesting until we found ourselves at the foot of a hydroelectric dam, its concrete footings and industrial equipment at the top of a river.  Once we got up the stairs though, a beautiful vista appeared.



The path around the reservoir took us about two hours, paths cut into the banks and hills surrounding the lake.  In the background were the mountain peaks surrounded by clouds and mist. We eventually made it to the top of the lake, where a small cafe rented rowboats out and an area of the beach was labelled as a duck feeding area.  I thought it was charming their old sign included a telephone number which identified the exchange name and only three digits.

While our outing wasn’t the most adventurous, it was worth the train journey and the slice of lemon drizzle cake later at a cafe.

Scotland 2016: Day 6


Glasgow’s Museum of Transport is housed at the Riverside Museum, striking, modern structure designed by late architect Zaha Hadid.  Hadid passed away recently, which I was sad to hear.  About ten years ago, a friend suggested while I was in Cincinnati to see the Contemporary Arts Center, one of her first major works.  Though it seemed an unusual concrete shard in Cincinnati’s streetscape, I found the interior to be quite natural in its flow and progression between galleries.  So often modern designs which have obtuse angles on the outside make for difficult interiors, but the Center became my own benchmark for how successful a public building could be.  If I visited a gallery or museum, I’d judge, is this better or worse than that one in Cincinnati?


The Riverside Museum is similarly graceful in its flow: You enter by a jagged mouth of glass, framed by zinc metal siding, and follow around a curved path, meandering around exhibits of buses, trams, train engines and bicycles.  The interior is a strange institutional lavatory green, with perforated textures and soft radii in the ceilings.  The displays themselves are well curated:  The vehicles include small video players which have their owners or users discussing police car operation, velodrome cycling or even skateboarding.  The cultural context seems a little strange, with a display of dresses next to a Glaswegian tram, but make sense when interviews about youth attending dances through transit play alongside the period correct ads on the model itself.


At the other end of the building is a tall ship, which reflects off the glass in the sun.  It’s an unusual but fitting space.  You can’t please everyone though, while examining the scores of scale ship models, two older men complained there were no sailing ships, only those powered by engines.  You also can’t get up close with a lot of the motorcycle and car models, which are hung from structures above and on the sides of the gallery, though I didn’t think that was a problem since there were plenty of vehicles to look at on the floor already.


Hadid’s building is a successful one, especially given the contents inside.  If you compare it with the China Railway Museum, which is simply a storage shed with rails running across it, this one introduces a flow of visitors around the curves of a river, with exhibits along the banks and plenty of nice seating and gathering areas in the stream itself.

Scotland 2016: Day 5


The train service to Edinburgh from Glasgow is frequent and quick:  Trains seem to leave almost every fifteen minutes and only take about an hour to cross the Scottish countryside.  Like many European rail journeys, the urban tunnels give way to suburban platforms and railyards, then soon, rolling rural fields.


Leaving Edinburgh Waverly presents you with a steep facade of buildings, stepped back from the valley of station track and train shed.  Reaching into the sky are steeples and towers.



We took a walk along the Royal Mile, which stretches from the Queen’s palace in Scotland to Edinburgh Castle at the top of a hill.  The castle was bustling with tourists this morning, including selfie stick wielding phone photographers as well as a serious set of travelers on some sort of photographic tour.  The guide was explaining how to use exposure lock on the overcast skies of Scotland.



The Royal Mile is studded with souvenir shops, most of which seem to feature the kind of products you find at the British goods stores in Canada.  There’s also buskers, both stunt performers and musicians, most interesting of which was the bag piper who dutiously stood playing while tourists gathered around him for photos.


The National Museum of Scotland was a suggestion of our friends, who walked us over from the Grassmarket where we had lunch.  The aforementioned street also featured public executions in its past.  Inside the Museum’s Victorian iron and glass atrium were small but thoughtfully organized collections, including a really nice one featuring computing and communications.  Some of my favourites were represented including a French Minitel terminal, a BBC Electron, and Commodore PET alongside an Apple I.  Of course, every technical museum communication display needs a Strowger electromechanical phone switch as well as an early BT digital TDM switch, which apparently was installed in Scotland as a trial market first.

The works of Scots like John Logie Baird, inventor of mechanical television, were shown, as well as components of early MRI scanners developed at the University of Aberdeen.  Other galleries included fashion and design displays, in which I watched a glass blowing film over and over again.  I was pleasantly surprised with our time at the Museum.


We walked down the Mile towards the Scottish Parliament, which looks more like a modern university campus than the traditional buildings of government.  The friendly security guard invited us in, but the actual parliament was in session and I felt kind of silly visiting while they had important issues like the outfall of Brexit to discuss.  Instead, we took a few minutes to watch people climbing Arthur’s Seat, a group of mountains in Edinburgh, set in the background.


As subjects of the Queen, I figured we should take a look at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, but by the time we got there, it had closed.  The sun was setting against the buildings of Princes Street as we returned to the station, as well as the monuments on Calton Hill.




On most trips, I find myself trying the unusual selection of snack products available in each country.  This time I’ve purchased a number of cherry cola products and unique potato chips.  Here of course, they are called crisps:  I bought a haggis and pepper flavoured type and a cheddar and pickled onion one too.  But the most unusual is a cranberry and prosecco holiday special from Marks and Spencer, which has the slightly acidic while sweet flavour of sparking wine and has edible golden stars to round out the festive mood.  It’s like an entire Christmas party in a bowl.

Scotland 2016: Day 3 and 4

Yesterday, we visited the Lighthouse, a former newspaper office designed by Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh which has been renovated into an art space, design studio office and historical exhibit.  We’ll probably return in a few days to see the view from the observation tower which was unfortunately closed.


Today, we started the day at the Cup Tea Lounge which is built in an old bank building.  The space, which also hosts a bar at night offering 71 type of gin, has a beautiful ceiling with tiled original walls.


In the early afternoon, we visited the Tenement House Museum, an example of a tenement rental housing in Glasgow’s past.  The original apartment was rented by a woman who stayed there for more than fifty years from 1911 onwards.  When she passed away in 1975, the house was already left for ten years untouched and inside were all of her belongings, letters and ephemeria.  I didn’t know what to expect from this historic site, and didn’t think it would be that interesting.  However, it turned out to be really a delight, with its four room flat a curious look into the 20th century.  Upstairs, they’ve kept the home as close to original as possible, with coal fired kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and sitting room intact.  Inside you can smell the faint scent of coal gas being used to light the lamps.

I found the personal items archived to be particularly insightful: Miss Toward, the woman who lived there, wrote to a friend in 1945 that perhaps people might travel by airplane and see the world.  She kept her ration stamp book and gas mask from the Second World War, along with postcards from travel to British resorts.  The only item she purchased when converting the house to electricity was a radio, made of a caramel coloured bakelite.


Just down the street, on the steep hills west of Glasgow’s core, we took a tour of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibits at the Glasgow School of Art, an active campus of artists, designers and architects. As we were guided through the modern new building to see historic exhibits, students strode through with their portfolios and projects between classrooms and communal spaces.  Curved walls and light tunnels cut vertically through the space, with some walls covered in posters for student activities.  It probably takes a lot of work to design a poster at an art school.  No firing up Microsoft WordArt for these folks.


Across the street is the original school building, which was unfortunately closed due to a fire two years ago and is being renovated.


We walked back across Sauchiehall Street, and back down Buchanan Street to the Merchant City area of Glasgow.  Along the way,  I walked into an Argos location, which is a catalog order store.  It brought back memories of Consumers Distributing in the 1980’s in Canada, where stacks of paper catalogs were delivered to the public, and you ordered by visiting the retail location.  Sometimes, it was mail ordered in, though most of the time a local cache of items were in the back room.  An anxious few minutes were spent waiting for the clerk to take your order, written on a carbon copy slip of paper, and to check for inventory in the backroom.  Once it appeared in the counter window, you knew you were in luck.  Visiting Argos today really refreshed that childhood memory of Consumers.

Scotland 2016: Day 2


A giant sign plastered onto a building nearby says “People Make Glasgow” and indeed, on a Saturday night, they do.  People here seem to go out to bars and restaurants, their cheers and shouting echoing off the cavern of buildings around them.  I haven’t seen such revelry since Osaka in 2005 after the home baseball team won the playoffs.

This morning, the Great Scottish Run was in full force for a second day.  Yesterday seemed to be about fun runs, for kids and families.  Today, thousands filled the Glasgow streets, serious runners with their specialized shoes and watches, the camera crews and outside broadcast vans televising the event.  As we opened the door to the street, thousands were stretching in sync with a giant monitor on the back of a truck.


Today we took the train to Loch Lomond.  Thanks to our Grade 11 English teacher, Mr. Dutton, and his interpretation of Sting’s Synchronicity II, I actually know that Loch means lake.  We took the train from Glasgow Queen Street to Balloch, at the far end of the rail line.  An hour later, we disembarked onto a small station platform and walked towards the tourist information center across the street.


Apparently this weekend featured a festival in Balmaha, a village on the shores of Loch Lomond, so we took a ferry service there.  The lake is picturesque, though the surrounding forest isn’t far off from the cottage country of Ontario.  However, the rolling green hillsides, dotted with livestock of sheep and cows, are different, as are the mountains in the background, forming impressive valleys.


The ferry boat driver remarked “welcome to my office” which certainly was much prettier than our colour photocopier and our two bean bag chairs in Mississauga.


The festival was like the small fairs sometimes you see in Europe, with portable amusement rides that probably would be set up in a parking lot next to the Walmart in Canada.  The beautiful lake view was obscured by a giant trailered spinning contraption, loud eurodance music punctuated by an automated sample playing an attraction loop to encourage festival goers to ride “the Mexican”.


A small selection of local craft vendors set up shop in a nearby building, while a beer tent and a whisky and chocolate tasting event rounded out the festivities.  There was even a Lego building workshop and face painting bus.

In the field behind, a great Scottish tradition played out:  Drone racing.  A pair of quadcopters were raced through a course of PVC pipe hurdles, buzzing through the sky in wide arcs.  In the background, a real Robinson R22 helicopter sat in a field, presumably taking tours through the area.

I stood in queue, as they call it here, for halibut and chips.  The other options were a very British curry dish or a burger, which wasn’t doing as much business.  I was worried when the fellow behind the counter reminded his charges to season the fish, but in fact, it was really quite good, as it was run by the local inn restaurant.  I also got a dish of mac and cheese, which seems much like a winning entry on the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race, but it had nice roasted peppers and chorizo.


We returned on the Class 318 EMU to Glasgow, where we went to the Sainsbury, a supermarket chain.  The night before, I spent almost twenty minutes looking at the various salad options at the store, including talking to the store manager.  I’d never seen such a selection of pre-made fresh food before.  In Canada, often you have extended deli selections where people pay by weight, but I’m just not used to seeing an entire aisle of daily packaged food.  He said its proximity to a train station also meant many people stopped in to get something on the way home.

Scotland 2016: Day 1


Our first day in Glasgow, Scotland, had us arrive into the city early in the morning.  After transferring in Dublin, we landed and took a bus into town.  We stopped in at a cafe on Sauchiehall Street, a pedestrian lane of shops.  Outside, a man yelled “Is everybody happy now?!” out at no one in particular, as we sat down to have something to eat.  As patrons came in for their morning brews, students sitting down at the tables to review their papers and books, and the staff replenishing the shelves with new sandwiches and pastries, the man repeated “Is everybody happy now!?”.  And again, about every two minutes.  Soon, you could hear this refrain inside the store too, to which I thought he had come inside.  But in fact, it was the store staff, who had taken up repeating this call over and over, perhaps in parody or fraternity with the guy outside.


Today we walked around the streets of Glasgow, if only to get our bearings.  A Great Scottish Run, a half marathon, was starting up nearby, in the square across from the town hall.  Looking outside the window the night before, I spotted a crew dropping traffic cones on the ground, their impact reflecting off the stone walls of the buildings surrounding them.  The buildings here in the central part of the city are of another time, stone and brick, versus the steel and glass we see in Toronto.

One traffic cone sat on the head of the statue of Duke of Wellington, outside the Gallery of Modern Art.  I thought this was drunk revelers the night before who had grabbed a cone from the marathon setup and placed it up there, but apparently this is a tradition.


The runners, including kids and adults, rushed through the narrow streets, their families and friends cheering them on.  An announcer introduced an Olympian at the stands, while a TV crew broadcast the event to the rest of the country.


We walked down Buchanan Street, past tourists and shoppers looking at all the high street retailers, to St. Enoch Square, where musicians performed for amused passersby.  A man playing guitar had to contend with two kids prancing around making a Youtube video of themselves in front of his performance.  A young woman sang, solo at a microphone, looking out across the road to a Poundland dollar store.

One store, which I thought was crazy was an American candy store.  In, fact I saw two such stores within ten minutes of each other.  There is a completely opposite store in Scarborough Town Center, which sells British candies.  It’s like as if someone had the exact same idea and copied it to each location.


In the afternoon, we took the unusual Glasgow Subway, the third oldest in the world, to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in the city’s West End.  The subway is small in many ways:  Only fifteen stops, arranged in a ring.  It’s also very narrow, reminiscent of the rolling stock of London.  However, the ring has two concentric circles, inner and outer, which allow travelers to pick which direction they’d like to travel.  Like the Osaka Loop Line, if you stay on, eventually you’ll end up where you started.  I wonder if they have neverending parties on the subway.


Inside are a number of exhibits which we will return to later this week: A Supermarine Spitfire hung from the ceiling of a great hall, cannons stood proud from Glasgow’s history of manufacturing, and large animals on display stalked the tourists.

The Gallery and Museum is on the banks of the River Kelvin, which we walked along through a nearby park.  I was hoping the area was related to the measure of absolute temperature and I was not disappointed.  William Thomson, Baron Kelvin, was titled after this river nearby the University of Glasgow.  A lot of students in the park wore U of G sweatshirts and hoodies, enjoying the Saturday afternoon.


One person who wasn’t enjoying the afternoon was a Chinese fellow trying to fly a drone to take pictures.  As scenic as the rolling hills and lush foliage looked, the drone would not start, its little camera twitching and the control software refusing to fly.  Oh well.