Thursday, December 27, 2012

Getting Lost in Glasgow

I'm staying in the Glasgow Youth Hostel at the top of a hill overlooking Kelvingrove Park, in one of a long curved terraced row of tall-ceilinged homes with ornate carvings and old worn wooden staircases. Although it's been carved up into dozens of separate bunk-bed-filled rooms, there are still remnants of its former beauty. There's also a nice upstairs/downstairs feel as the dining area is tucked away underneath the stairs, on the other side of the kitchens. I opted for the continental breakfast this morning, but tomorrow I'm going to go down to a little restaurant in the park, the An Clachan Cafe, to get a more substantial meal. I'd found the name on a suggestion of where to find gluten-free options in Glasgow, and was pleased to find the restaurant itself just down the stairs from the hostel.

The rain held off for the day, but it was still chilly, and I was glad for my Farquharson plaid scarf. After I checked to see when the cafe opens tomorrow morning, I turned around and spotted an intriguing-looking tower towards the west. "What's that?" I wondered. "Oooh, let's go find out!" I replied. Yes, I talk to myself when I'm traveling and there's no one else to talk to, my precious. I like the freedom to wander wherever my fancy takes me without bothering with anyone else's wishes, but I miss sharing things with companions.

Turns out that the tower belongs to the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, a part of a large complex of buildings that make up the University of Glasgow. It's closed for the holidays, but will reopen on the 3rd, and they have three interesting exhibits going right now: on the Antonine Wall, a Roman relic; on the Runciman brothers, 18th-century Scottish artists; and on the history of medicine in Glasgow, including information on the first X-rays. And probably a lot more to look at as well. Definitely on my to-do list next week.

Another interesting building that I'll have to look into later.

I have a map of Glasgow, so I never really got lost per se, but I did end up getting turned around several times and retracing my steps. I needed to go to the bus station to pick up my tickets for my trip to Edinburgh on Monday, and I thought I'd stop in at any place that seemed to have inexpensive boots on sale, but other than that I had no real agenda. I did find a shoe store, but didn't feel like spending time trying any on. I seem to have found a way to lace my hiking shoes so that the left one doesn't bang my big toe any more, and there's no snow in the forecast for this week, so I might postpone that purchase again. I found a used book store and got a silly book for meals and bus rides, and I enjoyed looking around at the stores and buildings and people, listening to English conversations that I barely understood. I never have to spell my last name out to people here.

I lost track of time while I was roaming the streets, but my now-non-queasy stomach was telling me that it was definitely getting to be time to eat. Yesterday was not fun, stomach-wise, and required a purchase of anti-nausea medication at the airport before I left Paris (and even then things were iffy). After my bland bowl of rice last night, which I didn't even finish, I went to bed immediately, at about 6pm. I'd bought a t-shirt to sleep in - they were getting rid of the 2012 versions of the "Glasgow Youth Hostel" shirts for half price - and the guy at the front desk kindly gave me a towel, so I tottered up the stairs and spent about half an hour trying to get my bed in order. Took me ages to get the cover on the duvet, and I had to lie down and catch my breath halfway through. I curled up under the covers and put the towel over my face and drifted in and out of sleep as the other women came in to the room; luckily only five of us in all, and no one took the bunk above my bed, so there was minimal noise. A young woman named Meng was there when I arrived, hunched gloomily over her iPhone. She said that she'd come to Glasgow to see what a big city was like over Christmas but didn't realize that all of the public buildings would be closed. She left for England this morning, but as she didn't seem to want to talk much, I didn't find out where she was going, and if this was a side trip in a year abroad, or a seriously disappointing trip all the way from China. Travel karma was not the greatest yesterday here in the Glasgow Youth Hostel.

However, I woke up this morning feeling much better, and found out from a posting on Facebook by my roommate Seb that I actually got off rather lightly. He and his father and brother-in-law, all of whom shared in la grande bouffe over Christmas, spent a significant amount of time yesterday becoming more closely acquainted with their toilet facilities. I consider myself lucky.

I'd looked up several restaurants where gluten-free food might be available, and one that caught my eye is The Ubiquitous Chip. I'd forgotten to take the address with me, so just kept an eye out for it as I walked around the main part of downtown Glasgow, but when I didn't see it, I asked the clerks at the used book store for directions. They pointed me back towards the Charing Cross area, which was headed back towards the hostel, but when I got there I still didn't see the restaurant. I went into an organic food store (on my mental list of places to go back to, if I need more gluten-free supplies) and the clerk there knew where the restaurant was - on the other side of the hill and park, off Byres Road. Fortunately I was near a subway stop, and could get a ride there, with only a little more back-and-forthing trying to find the hidden alley where the restaurant is.

In a nice bit of cross-cultural journeying, I spent an hour or two eating gluten-free fish and chips (a tender lemon sole) in a Scottish restaurant while reading a book in French which was originally written in English by and about a Japanese woman (Geisha: A Life, the inspiration for Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha). The fish was very tasty, the chips hot and salty, the cider smooth and refreshing, and the ambiance interesting, a sort of cross between a barn and a New York City bistro. There are window-width aquariums along one side of the upstairs seating area hosting a handful of bored fish, and the rooms filled with louder and louder people as the hour got later. Two women at the table in front of me were having an intense discussion over a bottle of wine, an old man with a limp and a cane had a cup of coffee after walking over to another table and borrowing a newspaper from a younger guy who was just finishing his cup, and the number of customers going between the bar and the toilets eventually formed a near-continuous parade down the middle of the room.

I stopped at a Tesco's near the subway station and picked up some supplies for breakfasts and late light dinners: gluten-free Nairn's oatcakes and digestive biscuits, nut-and-fruit bars, vanilla soy pudding, and even gluten-free crumpets that I can toast and spread with jam and honey the next time I get the continental breakfast here.

1 comment:

  1. I don't recall Glasgow in December as being particularly cheery, but I do remember that the subway cars were a very jaunty orange and that it is lots of fun to say "Strathclyde"