Scotland looks just like you imagine it will. Flying over and catching a train through the country, it's all cliffs and crags, with windmills lost in the low-lying clouds. Fields are either green with grass or white with snow. There are lots of rocks, and even more churches: most towns I went through had at least three steeples visible from the train station. Glasgow has many of them, but I'm told most of them aren't churches any more. One is now a really awesome bar and live venue, and another is a block of flats where I stayed. Woo! And I didn't burst into flames as I crossed the threshold! I stayed with my friends Michael and Callum, who I have been talking to online since I was in high school, and this was the first time we met. They were lovely and hospitable, and made me laugh harder than I have in ages. Good times. Although it was another of those bizarre travel moments: who would've thought, when chatting to Michael in my school uniform nearly a decade ago, that I'd one day be sleeping on his couch?
So Michael and Callum showed me around Glasgow, and what a nice city it is. A quick stroll through the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery (which was built back to front, a man on the bus helpfully told us - this is true, but the man also told us that the architect killed himself as a result, and this appears to be less true) and the surrounding gardens preceded a cafe stop. GLASGOW HAS PROPER CAFES. After six months of living in London, where the only decent cafes are a handful in Soho run by antipodeans, this was very exciting for me. Despite Scotland's reputation for terrible and unhealthy food, all the meals I had were creative, flavourful and fresh. Although I didn't get around to trying pizza cruch, which is deep-fried pizza. Callum also showed me through his old university, and when I say "old", I mean "OLD". More than twice the age of white civilisation in Australia. And beautiful, too, all turrets and arches and courtyards.
The west end was also a delightful neighbourhood, full of quirky bars and cafes that stopped just short of being pretentious (for example, a bar called Radio with old casette tapes glues to the walls). The city centre was nice, too: it had a "big city" feel with none of the manic horror of London. Just a short walk from there was Glasgow's cathedral, one of the most impressive of its kind I've seen (and y'all know what a fan of big old buildings I am) built next to an enormous necropolis. Bleak and gorgeous. Glasgow's nightlife, as I saw it, was great fun, too, featuring non-stop amazing pop hits. I struggled keeping up with what everyone was saying at some points (Michael is English and Callum live in America until he was seven, so their accents are not frighteningly dense) but, with my mastery of the important travl skills of nodding and smiling, I soldiered on and had a great night.
Finally, a trip into twon and, after bidding Michael and Callum farewell, met up with Anna, who you may remember from Stockholm. Good times. We went to another of Glasgow's excellent eateries (two of them, actually: one for lunch and one for dessert) before I caught a train to the airport. And there begins the dram: the train timetable was incorrect, so I had to wait an extra half hour for a train. Then, when I landed in England, my coach to London was delayed and, when I arrived in London, my tube line was closed. Ugh. All in all, it took me about seven hours to get home, whereas a direct train would have taken about five. Now I've learned a lesson.
I'll certainly be back in Glasgow at some point. It had a nice feel to it, and I could see myself living there.
Sunday, January 3, 2010
I keep forgetting to update my blog, and I figure I should do it quickly before I forget my most recent adventure. I went to Ireland for Christmas, and it was so lovely. I was staying with my high school friend Jo and her family, who were unbelievably generous. Jo, in fact, gave me her bedroom and stayed with her aunt around the corner. They live in a lovely town called Ratoath about half an hour outside of Dublin. It was icy. I slipped walking to Christmas Eve mass. (Speaking of which, I expected the Irish Catholics to be all about the midnight vigil, but they totally babied out and went for a 9.00 evening service.) To get to the road, I squatted down and literally slid my way down the driveway. It wasn't frost, just a sheet of sheer ice over the sidewalk. So, I technically had my first white Christmas, but it was just frost clinging to the lawn instead of proper snow.
Christmas itself was so relaxing. After a slow morning, Jo, her boyfriend and her aunt came around, and we exchanged gifts. My gifts were well-received (Hooray! I was shitting myself, especially as I hadn't seen Jo's brother since he was about twelve, so had no idea what kind of teenager he'd grown into. To those who know him, you'll be glad to know he's just lovely. And the height of a small office block.) and I received some lovely ones in return: an Irish lambswool scarf, a pair of Guinness cufflinks, and my mother posted over a package that arrived on Christmas Eve. Aww. I ate and drank so much: cosmopolitans, Irish and Scotch whiskey, turkey and stuffing, carrot and parsnip mash (a new favourite), Christmas pudding, mince pies, brandy custard, oh yeah. It was a far cry from the Christmas gatherings I'm used to: forty-odd (and odd) people gathering in the summer heat. Instead, I had a picture book Christmas: tea and boardgames by the fire, dozing off on the couch. Boxing Day (called St Stephen's Day in Ireland) passed in a similar fashion, although we decided to head down to the pub in the late evening. It's true what my father says: Guinness does taste better in Ireland.
The next day, Jo and I drove up to the seaside town of Carlingford. I can barely describe how beautiful it was. Desolate and gorgeous at the same time. We climbed the ruins of King John's Castle (so-called because the eponymous king slept there for a totaly of three nights) and ate in a cafe opposite an abandoned medieval coin mint. Although I learned that there's a reason for Irish jokes. The road signs were either ludicrously inaccurate or totally non-existent, and everybody on the road drives like they're having their first driving lesson.
The next day, I finally made it into Dublin! It was a flying visit, as we had a late start because Jo was feeling rather unwell. We visited the Gresham Hotel, where my grandfather lived for a while in the 1980s while he was constructing a factory in Dublin, and Trinity College, and Dublin's many beautiful churches, before reaching the Guinness Storehouse. Hell yeah. Learning about beer is still learning! The tour ends in a bar looking out all around Dublin. It's a pretty grey city.
We went from there to meet Jo's delightful Australian boyfriend for dinner before heading to the theatre. The play, The Seafarer, was excellent. Very bleak and very funny, about a man playing cards with the devil for his soul on Christmas Eve. (The devil was, of course, played by an Englishman.) We retired to Jo's boyfriend's place, and I got up early the next morning to catch a taxi to the ferry station. The ferry trip over the Irish Sea was quite fun. There was a cinema (with two screens!) on board, so I went to see Up. Such a cute movie, and it made me cry! Now, excepting a few months when I was twenty in which I spiralled in and out of depression, I haven't cried since my grandfather died when I was eighteen. So I was either very tired or I am getting old and tragic. I ventured out on deck a couple of times. Holy shit, I have never experienced wind so strong. It very nearly threw me into the railing and over the edge.
From the ferry station at Holyhead, I caught a train through Wales. What a fucking beautiful part of the world. I need to go back soon and explore it. Castles everywhere, mountains and oceans, and their delightful vowel-avoiding language.
So the trip was ace. Really relaxing (although I did contract conjunctivitis - gross), and most excellent to catch up with Jo. She and I are planning a road trip through Ireland around April or May.