Glasgow: of Respite and Runes
Quiet adventures in Scotland's largest city.
by Wincy Aquino Ong | September 16, 2015
Glasgow is a city reputed for a major role in art history by way of its celebrated architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. So yes, it’s a place that definitely appealed to my wife, a UP Fine Arts Major and graphic designer by profession. After all, It’s also home to the world’s biggest names in graphic design and The Glasgow School of Arts.
As for me, I nursed motives of a more pop culture bent. Glasgow was home to my favorite writer and personal hero: Grant Morrison—a living legend in the comic book industry. (I urge you to read his memoir Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants And A Sun God Can Teach Us About Being Human. I’ve re-read it countless of times that the pages are falling off the spine already.)
Aside from that, my wife and I were big fans of the band Belle & Sebastian, not to mention the independent movie based on their songs called God Help the Girl. We watched the movie multiple times, sometimes only to marvel at the twee production design.
The English Countryside Through The Window
And so it was one muggy Monday morning when we took a Black Taxi to the Virgin Trains station. We were heading up north to the hinterlands of Great Britain.
It was my first time to ride a cross-country train. While the ride was cramped and the first few hours stressful, I finally settled in my chair after a cheese panini breakfast.
As the train finally took off, I had to fight off my urge to nap. Outside the window was the English countryside whizzing past us! Rolling hills upon rolling hills. White blots of sheep. Windmills spinning. And get this…Rolled bales of hay!
When traveling, it’s the mundane things that make an impression on the brain. I’ve never seen a rolled bay of hay in my entire 33 years on this planet! It was like looking at those Ladybird Books of Nursery Rhymes when I was just a wee lad.
The Glasgow Central Station
After four hours that we didn’t notice, we finally arrived at The Glasgow Central Station. I stretched my atrophied back, collected our luggage and through the throng of passengers, hopped off the train.
What a beautiful train station! Fatigue left my body like an exorcised demon.
My wife wanted to take a cab immediately to our AirBnB accommodation. I, being a lover of all things trains, asked her if we could stay for a bit in the station and absorb the sights.
I made a beeline towards the restrooms–immaculate, spotless, so much unlike the roach-infested restrooms in our MRT stations. What caught my eye were shower stalls for rent—for GBP 5—where the weary traveller can freshen up a bit after a long ride. What a brilliant idea!
The Quiet And Quaint Scotland Streets
After buying some sushi and potato crisps at a Marks & Spencer Simply Food, we hailed a taxi towards Ferguson Drive, where our AirBnB host awaited for us.
Then, through the open windows, there it was right before my eyes: Bewitching Glasgow in the summer solstice. I’ve been to major cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, Vancouver and New York—but nothing looked like what I saw.
The buildings, the lampposts, the way-finding signs were of a design all its own—worlds different from the brick textures of London. The architecture, I later learned post-trip, was called “Glasgow style”—Art Nouveau tropes married with Celtic, Medieval, Moorish and Victorian mannerisms. Also, unlike the London that we had just left, the city had more a provincial flavor to it.
Earthy oxygen assailed our nostrils as we rode open-window through uphill streets. The place we were staying was on a corner of a university town—in this case, the school being the storied The University of Glasgow.
Our taxi stopped at our AirBnb accommodation—a quaint little apartment owned by former opera singer. She had a flower garden in her porch and grand piano in the living room. She was a lovely woman who helped us with our luggage and made us tea that afternoon.
Unlike our jam-packed London schedule, the next days consisted of quiet adventures.
A visit to the ancient university. A stroll through small museums. Coffee and Amaretti Biscuits at a neighborhood café. A trip to the comic book store. Walks through the labyrinths of Kelvingrove Park by the River Clyde. Evening chocolate runs to the nearby Tesco.
Though admittedly, I knew next to nothing about Scotland’s history—hey, understanding Great Britain requires hours of Wikipedia immersion—I more or less knew about modern-day Scotland.
In a nutshell, the city was an art-lover’s haven. Huge street art (or “public art”, if you’re politically correct) adorned the sides of old buildings. Posters for comic book conventions and pocket concerts were plastered on lampposts. While walking the streets, I even spied a knitting café—where a couple of middle-aged women gossiped over coffee and balls of yarn.
Life was quiet and simple in Glasgow. There wasn’t much of a nightlife culture. Day jobs ended at 5 o’clock. Bankers, advertising people, doctors were on the train by afternoon, well on their way home, where they spent their evenings tending to their respective hobbies.
I envied the pace of life in their city. In Manila, 5 o’clock meant staying at the office to let the rush hour subside.
On our last day, after a quick stop at the Glasgow Botanic Garden, I took photos of the streets and tried memorizing their textures in my head.
Glasgow was a dream—quiet, enchanted, calming.