Friday, July 6, 2018

Taking the Low Road: Glasgow

After the long, memorable day exploring Shakespeare-land, I woke early again- 6:30.  I showered, but didn't have time for makeup, as my train left at 7:43 to Birmingham, Moor St.  The train started a little full, but by the time we reached Birmingham, the train was packed.  Well, it was rush hour!

At Birmingham, I not only had to change trains but also stations.  I followed the crowd for the short walk (maybe a quarter mile?) to the Birmingham New St station.  It was massive!  I looked to me like a large sports stadium crossed with a building from Logan's Run.  I grabbed a granola bar and a Coke Zero (with real sugar, not corn syrup) and went to platform 6 to wait for the train to Glasgow.  It was on time-ish, and I sat in a window seat (B4, if you must know.)

Birmingham New St. Station

I was pleasantly surprised by the multiple Pride flags hanging about the station.

For a time, I was alone, watching England roll by the mud spattered window (at 125 mph.)  My mind drifted back to my other trips to the UK.  They were when I worked for Games Workshop, and during that time, it was eat/sleep/breathe toy soldiers.  Management made sure that we saw UK through that lens. Yet, I remember while on bus rides, from Nottingham to London for example, looking at the small villages and thinking how dull life must be so far away from, well, anything, and wondering if anyone there dreamed of getting out.  I never thought "I wonder if anyone there plays GW games.'  Maybe that's why I don't work there now.

In any case, decades more life experience changed my outlook a bit.  I realized that some of these rural areas may be isolated, yes, but due to the UK's amazing and relatively inexpensive public transportation system, people could pretty much go anywhere if they wished.  The English didn't allow the commercial sprawl that we see here in the US, so, outside of the towns, seeing industrialization or commercialization was rare.  It was mostly farmland or grazing fields.  And, it was beautiful.

They are serious.  And stop calling... never mind.

I wasn't alone for most of the journey.  Seated next to me for a good part of it was a wonderful blonde woman named Fiona.  We chatted the entire time she was on the train.  She was headed north to Carlisle to proctor an exam of some sort.  She brought a book with her for the boring parts.  Anyway, she was a wonderful conversationalist.  She told me about her husband and two daughters (10 and 14) and I told her about my 10 year old.  We compared notes.  In many ways, raising daughters is different in the UK, but mostly still the same.  She asked me about my journey, why Glasgow and all that, and we talked about that.  I gave her a card, and she said she'd look at the blog.  And she did!  So, Hi Fiona!!!  I hope you're well.

The further north we travelled, the hillier the land became.  Not long after Fiona debarked at Carlisle, we crossed into lowland Scotland, where it started to rain (amazing how that worked.)   We passed through Lockerbie, Scotland, where Pan Am 103 crashed.  I said a silent prayer for the dead, among who were 35 students from Syracuse University.  As I was their age when it happened, it hit me hard.  "There but for the grace of God..."

Eventually, the train arrived in Glasgow; a few minutes late.  I rolled my heavy suitcase into the station, where I was greeted by, to me, a heartwarming sight.

The twin daughters of my cousin Anne were waiting for me- and they'd made a sign!  Lynsey and Stephanie were my hostesses and tour guides for this part of the trip.  I was totally shocked, and it took everything I had not to cry.

From the station, we walked about a bit. then took the subway to the station nearest to my cousin's flat.  From the station, it was a little more than three blocks.

Headed to the subway

Their flat had 2 bedrooms, and is bigger than the apartment Linda and I share, yet very much a student apartment in decor.  They put me in Lindsey's bedroom.  I then gave them their bags of Cheetos (they love them and can't get them there, apparently) and a bottle of Firebird.  They gave me a can of Irn Bru, which is the most popular soft drink in Scotland.  The twins wanted to know what I thought of it.  So we did a Facebook live where they drank the whiskey and I drank the soda.

The Twins had a full agenda for me.

The Irn Bru tasted like carbonated orange Gatorade.  I liked it.  What did the twins think?

Well, they both gasped and coughed... and drank more.

We then walked across the river and through Glasgow's shopping district, up a steep hill to the university where the twins attend school.  After dropping off whatever needed dropping off, we headed back down the hill.  We stopped at a pub called the Counting House, which was a converted bank.  We all had a Strongbow Dark Fruit, which I've never seen in the US.

Looking down the long hill

Interesting clock at the University

High End Mall

At the Counting House

We then went to the subway, then to a train to Gourock, where my Uncle John lives.  On the train, Stephanie asked to do my makeup, which was fun.  She did a good job, I think.

Made up by Stephanie

We arrived, and walked a couple of blocks to my Uncle's flat.  I hadn't seen him in decades, and this is the first time he met his niece.  I was nervous.  He met us outside, where he had been gardening.  We went inside briefly, then a taxi came to take us to dinner.  The Spinnaker Hotel is on the water, adjacent to the confluence of the Firth of Clyde, Loch Long, Holy Loch, and Gare Loch.

My Uncle was a fount of stories, about many things.  He told me a lot about my mum in her youth, my parents' courtship, and other stories.  After a pleasant dinner, we went back to Uncle John's flat.  The sun was setting over the water, and it took my breath away.  One of my cousins asked why I stopped to look, and I told them "you only get so many sunsets in your life."

We looked through some photo albums (from which the above left photo was reproduced.)  My Uncle also had a bag of gifts left behind by my cousin Anne (the mother of the twins.)  She was unable to get off work.  Thanks Anne!

We then took the train back to Glasgow, the twins' apartment.  I was very tired and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

Wednesday, May 16, I woke up a little late. Stephanie had a report to finish, so she stayed in to do that.  Lynsey and I took a train to the West end.  We were headed toward the University of Glasgow, boutique shopping, and a huge art museum.  We walked a bit, and saw what looked like a cathedral in the distance.

Kelingrove Art Gallery

University of Glasgow Chapel, as seen over the River Kelvin

It was built to look like a cathedral, but it was the Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which was built in 1901.  It has free admission, so we toured it.

Out in the sun

Why the long face?

Heads Up

I guess I otter stop these puns

There were amazing paintings and displays.  Amazing!  I could write a series of entries just on this.

Lynsey had to go to class, so she took her leave.  I walked up the steep hill to the University of Glasgow.  The campus was absolutely beautiful, and overlooked the city.  I walked into a huge "chapel," and a man asked me if I was there for the Organ recital.  I decided "why not?" and went in.  In the chapel, for whatever reason, was a small display of Glaswegian heroes of the Wars in the Air.  I looked at that for a few minutes, and took a seat.  An elderly couple near me pointed out a basket of Russian chocolates, and I had one.

I sat through a song, which was wonderful, then walked further onto campus.  There I found a class sitting outside discussing transgender rights, and sat in.  It became a discussion of US transgender rights vs UK transgender rights, and was a wonderful time.

View from the University

On Campus

From there, I walked to the shopping district.  Then from there, I took a subway to the other side of town.  A taxi ride after that, I was at Glasgow Cathedral.  It was incredible.  I bumped into a fellow American (from San Francisco) and she was kind enough to take a picture for me (as I did for her.)

We were both there for the same reason: we wanted to see the Glasgow Necropolis.

The necropolis is on a huge hill, and it was a Hot day.  Eventually, I made it to the top, which overlooks the cathedral and the city.  As I have a passion for cemeteries, I took a ton of pictures, but I won't bore you with those.  Just a couple of representative ones.  Oh, and I bumped into the San Franciscan while I was on my way back down.

The summit has a monument to John Pope, who isn't buried there.

Side path upwards

Charles Tennant is judging you

By then, I was sweaty and very hungry.  I took a taxi back to the town center, where I went to a place called "The Royal Scot."  (I worked at a place called the Royal Scot in the 1990s.)  I had a cider and lunch.  I then went back to my cousins' flat to take a nap.

Woke up, washed up, did my makeup.  Here I am in Scotland, and my cousins took me to... an Italian restaurant.  The food was good, but the service was really bad.  There were two incredibly hot twins... and me.  The waiter gave me a dirty look at the beginning, and disappeared.

After dinner, we met some of my cousins' friends at Katie's Bar, an LGBT friendly place.  These friends: Giovanna, Gianluca, and Joel (one of these names is not like the other) were absolutely wonderful!  I wish we lived closer to each other.  We drank and laughed together like we'd known each other forever.

There was also karaoke that night, hosted by Frans Gender.  I did one of my usuals: Friend of the Devil.  I was introduced by "This is an unusual song for karaoke, but let's try it."  By the end of my performance, I had people standing, clapping, and stomping.  Lynsey even jumped on stage for a quick dance.  (Stephanie had to leave early to go to work.)

Frans Gender at work

The blonde in the middle questioned the authenticity of my breasts

At Katies

Soon after that, I went to the bar, and a drunk blonde started dancing with me, then asked me if I was transgender.  I replied "Are you?"  After dancing, I reached the bar, and had my hands full of drinks when said drunk woman said "your boobs aren't real are they?"  I said that they were "all natural."  "No they're not!  There's no way they're natural!'  At gave her a look and said "They are real.  I'm very lucky."  Her friend then pulled her away, saying she was drunk and apologizing profusely.

And I made it to the table, carrying five drinks, without spilling a drop.  You can take the girl out of TGI Fridays, but you can't take TGI Fridays out of the girl!

After a few more drinks, we went to another bar, this one with a drag show.  We arrived as the show was ending.  I spoke briefly with the MC, then our group went to a place called Polo.  Polo had multiple floors.  Upstairs was a shabby classy, and downstairs was a typical dance club.  That floor was absolutely packed, sweaty, hot, and everyone was having a great time.

MC and dancing audience member


Giovanna, Joel, and Gianluca, Attorneys at Law

At that point, we had to catch the last train back to the flat.  So off we went, back into the sultry night.  I was very tired, and my feet were blistered by the time we returned to the flat.  I went to sleep almost instantly.

The next morning, I would be taking the train across Scotland to Edinburgh.

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