We Need To Talk About Glasgow

When I finished cleaning out my older posts about Scotland, I had a brief moment of satisfaction as I patted myself on the back for my accomplishment. I had completed my housekeeping goal of eliminating extraneous content and retaining only that which brought me joy. Marie Kondo would be proud. As I prepared to permanently archive the old posts, I made one final scroll, indulging in a bit of nostalgia before saying goodbye. And that’s when I realized that I had completely overlooked something. In my excitement over sharing my adventures around Scotland, I am embarrassed to admit that I’ve treated one city in particular as a middle child, neglecting to give it the attention it deserves. And, so, I offer an apology.

Glasgow, I’m sorry. I allowed the rugged beauty of the Highlands, the historic charm of Edinburgh, and all that whisky in Islay to distract me from your appeal. When I first arrived in town and tried to make my way out of Queen Street station, the construction in the area made a less than ideal first impression. I immediately suspected I wasn’t going to like you as much as Edinburgh. And yet, as I look over my pictures and stories, I realize that you’re actually much more interesting than I first thought. Reflecting on three experiences in particular helped me see you in a new light.

While planning my last trip to Scotland, I learned about Glasgow Music City Tours through a blogger I follow and signed up for their music tour of Edinburgh. When my trip was canceled due to the British Airways pilot strike, I rescheduled my travel for the following month. But the Edinburgh tour was not offered in October, so I decided to take a day trip to Glasgow for the music tour there. It’s an easy forty minute train ride between the two cities. I knew Scotland was the birthplace of some of my favorite singers and bands, but I had no idea how many great artists had passed through Glasgow.

The first stop on the tour was the Britannia Panopticon, the world’s oldest surviving music hall. Opened in 1857, the Panopticon was where Stan Laurel got his start in entertainment. When we arrived, an orchestra was rehearsing for an afternoon performance of Peter and the Wolf, creating an atmosphere that made it seem entirely plausible that we had just stepped back in time.

As the tour continued through the Merchant City neighborhood of Glasgow, I remembered how this area had intimidated me on my previous trip to the city. I wasn’t sure if there was anything for a solo tourist to see there, so I explored elsewhere. The music tour taught me that I was so wrong. Merchant City has a fascinating history. And had Fiona, our tour guide and a music journalist, not pointed it out, I would have walked right past the Transmission Gallery without knowing that this was the place referenced in the Franz Ferdinand song “Do You Want To?”

The tour concluded at the iconic Barrowland Ballroom, one of those venues where you can’t claim to be a rock star unless you’ve played there. Across the street is a small park where the Barrowland Park Album Pathway lists the name and date of every performance since 1983. After the tour I stayed and read the entire list. It was a literal stroll down memory lane for me, as certain bands recalled particular moments in my life. Returning to Edinburgh later in the day, I thought about how lucky I was that my plans had changed and I ended up going to Glasgow for the tour. I realized that there was more to the city than meets the eye.

When I signed up for the music tour, I was grateful to see that I knew exactly where it began. I had been to the Clutha Bar, the starting point, while on my previous visit to Glasgow. The Clutha Bar is featured on the mural tour of Glasgow, a tour I discovered just as I was on the cusp of writing off Glasgow as a been-there-done-that destination. With a tour to Skye departing the next morning, I was looking for something to do on a beautiful, sunny afternoon in Glasgow. Stepping into a tourist office on Buchanan Street, I found a map for a self-guided tour of the city’s famous murals. I didn’t know about the murals until I arrived in Glasgow, but after seeing a few around town, I found them fascinating. The tour seemed like the perfect way to explore Glasgow and take advantage of the sunshine. While I didn’t get to all of the murals, I found most of them. One turned out to be in a hidden alley near my hotel. In fact, most of the murals were in places I never would have ventured to on my own. Locating them was a fun adventure, almost as if I were on an episode of The Amazing Race. While I know incredible murals are not unique to Glasgow, in this case, discovering the mural tour was exactly what I needed to find the appeal of Glasgow at a point when I was about to give up on it.

And then there was the reason I went to Glasgow in the first place. As with all my experiences in Scotland, it started with Outlander. A friend I made while on my initial Outlander tour of Scotland had continued on to Glasgow after the tour, and the pictures she posted of The Cloisters at the University of Glasgow intrigued me. When my return visit to Scotland came after season three, parts of which were filmed in Glasgow as a stand-in for a 1960s-era Boston, I couldn’t help but to sign up for another Outlander tour. It was fun to see the city not just as Glasgow, but also as “Boston”. The city also provided locations for other seasons, notably the Glasgow Cathedral, which in the show was the French hospital in season two. The tour concluded at the Kelvingrove Museum, where I learned about the Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, then was inspired to visit The Mackintosh House, his former home turned into a museum. One thing led to another led to another.

That’s what I came to realize about Glasgow. One thing leads to another. There are a lot of hidden, and not so hidden, gems. It was never the primary destination for me, always a place in between something else. And yet, it has a lot to offer. I’m sorry it took me so long to recognize this. Can I compare it to Edinburgh, or rank it against other parts of Scotland? No, it’s impossible. Much like with children, each has its own unique value. Glasgow, I may have overlooked you, but I hope you can forgive me. You’re actually pretty cool.

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