Across the Pond to Scotland October, 8-24, 2019
Me: We’re going to take a trip this fall. Which country?
And so the hours of planning began, as we prepared for the travel across 9 time zones. Where to start—so many things to see. We wanted to go to the Highlands and possibly visit the Isle of Skye. We decided to fly into Glasgow. Wisely, we stopped in MI (4 time zones) to acclimate and visit family. On the way back we planned to stop in NY to visit grandson Max at Bard College. It’s a long way just to get out of Alaska so stops are a must.
Jim grumbled about the upcoming long, overnight flight. “It’s not quite like domestic travel, “ I told him. Indeed the seats were bigger, —Jim liked the hot towels, snacks, dinner and breakfast and Delta’s specialty—small movie screens for each passenger with many movies to choose from. Sleep escaped us both.
GLASGOW (“the dear green place” as it poetically translates from its Gaelic moniker)
The airplane landed and traveled for what seemed like miles to get to the terminal. The day was overcast but warm to us. We groggily collected our luggage and quickly cleared Customs. We found the taxi area, with helpful people and took a taxi to the center of Glasgow to the Abode Hotel, an elegant, old building. I had requested early check-in and they gave us into a room on the first floor as soon as we arrived. It seemed a bit noisy as we passed through the lobby, by the elegant, old gold elevator and a keyed fire door but as soon as we reached the rooms, silence greeted us. The thick walls of old buildings make the best rooms. I wanted to adhere to the recommended “out and about, sunshine and time zone acclimation”, but Jim was having none of that and jumped into bed with its cozy duvet. I soon followed and we slept for a few hours.
Glasgow is a rejuvenated city known for its shopping, entertainment and history. Not too long ago, it was a city with a high rate of knife attacks and rated one of the most dangerous. Kudos to an emergency doctor who had enough of it and implemented a successful deterrent program.
The City Centre surrounded us and we left to explore and find dinner. There are many colleges and universities in Glasgow and Saturday night was alive with students and others walking everywhere. There was a mix of very old buildings and many American brands as we walked the streets.
We settled for “Pie” for dinner, a pub attached to the hotel. It was still early and the Pub was about half filled. A waiter wearing tight plaid pants and a smallish handlebar mustache gladly waited on us. Known for their “pies”, e.g. Shepherds, I ordered a Shepherd’s pie while Jim ordered fish and chips.
The pie, small by American standards, was a perfect, size: hot, crusty and small. It came with (don’t cringe) nicely spiced mashed parsnips. The pub was filling up, the noise louder and so we climbed the stairs back to the street and into the hotel for the night. Thankfully, the thick walls stopped any revelry from reaching us
I awoke in the night, recognizing we were still so exhausted, our brains scattered, and wondered what I got us into. Poor Jim. I remembered his cancer treatment that included thrice weekly injections of chemo into his brain through a port in his head over a five month period, not to mention the other chemo and the stem cell transplant. Not to mention lingering effects of my brain injuries and brain tumor.I despaired. We’ll never do this again. It is hard for both of us to walk with his foot neuropathy and my caudal equine syndrome and numb feet. Finally I went back to sleep.
We felt better Sunday morning and went to breakfast. The restaurant was packed and two harried waitresses ran from table to table. The cold bar held beautiful pastries, fruit, cheese, ham, juices, yogurt jars and a broad mix of cereals to which you could any many dried fruits. We ordered breakfast, Jim the full Scottish, and I the vegetable frittata, and copious amounts of tea. Delicious.
GLASGOW CATHEDRAL, NECROPOLIS, THE INFIRMARY
Fueled with good food and sleep we set off to visit Glasgow Cathedral and The Necropolis Cemetery on the hill behind the cathedral. We passed beautiful building murals, interesting signs and a few people.
I stopped at a shop to buy Jim a soft, wool scarf to keep the chill off. I had requested no camo or baseball cap on this trip.
We passed The Royal Infirmary, a large, old imposing building finished in 1915 and known as a major trauma (casualty) Center in Scotland. One Emergency Room doctor said that it is one of the few cities in Europe where patients still came in with sword wounds.
The “Royal”, which has been operating since1794 made many contributions to world medicine. In addition, Mrs. Rebecca Strong introduced the world’s first systematic training for nurses.
We visited the Necropolis first. Like similar Victorian cemeteries, it was designed as a botanic and sculptural garden to “improve the morals and tastes of Glaswegians.” It is the resting place of 50,000 people.
One grave that caught my eye was the grave of William Miller who wrote Wee Willie Winkie. Of personal note, when I was six my mother dressed me as We Willie Winkie for Halloween for our small Canadian town’s community party and I won first prize.
I recited the poem for Jim but he wasn’t terribly impressed. The Bridge of Sighs, connecting the Cathedral and the Necropolis is described as a “separation between time and eternity.”
Originally Catholic, named for St. Mungros , the Glasgow Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th century, soon converted to a Scottish Christian religion. The imposing stone structure, known for its stunning stained glass windows, includes an outsized main room with many dedicated war memorials. As we entered the huge foyer, the massive pipe organs sounded a magnificent hymn that resonated through the massive cathedral signaling the ending of the service. Two men stood at the edge of a roped off area where the congregants would enjoy refreshments and conversations after the service, separated from the tourists. Many of them were well dressed, including spectacular hats on women and men in kilts. A sign near the cathedral entrance reminded men to remove their hats
We walked over to a nearby building, St. Mungro’s Museum of Religious Life and Art., It includes relics and information from the world’s major religions. It was also a chance to sit down in the cafe for a drink and snack. The cafe is known for its “simple, honest, British grub.” An interesting element was signs on certain tables that said, “if you welcome a chat, sit here so people will know to join you.”
When we went walking in Glasgow, the weather was balmy with clouds and an occasional sprinkle. We thought it to be lovely weather. At the Cathedral gift shop, the clerk, upon hearing we were on holiday from Alaska, apologized for the poor weather. I explained that being from Alaska, no country below the Arctic circle can outdo our weather. While here we experienced no volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, blizzards, -30F degrees, wildfires, horizontal, or freezing rain.
The Shetland Islands, the Northern most Scotland latitude, is at the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska, but we had no plans to go that far north.
THE STYLE MILE.
Of major interest to me was visiting various works of the architect Charles Rene Mackintosh who was born in Glasgow, The Lighhouse was on the way back to the hotel. To reach it, we walked through the pedestrian mall with its 200 stores, including a “One Pound” store and a “Refill” store. The street was filled with shoppers and we stopped at L’Occitane where I treated myself to a large bottom of verbena bath oil. Note: Scotland is very concerned about recycling and waste.
Many people were walking around as well as buskers—one on a tightrope playing the flute and another was a showcase of several mechanical animals. The shops, for the most part were tucked in old buildings that lined the streets.
We walked on to the Lighthouse, known as Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a young draughtsman in the architectural practice of Honeyman and Keppie when he designed the Mitchell Street building, which now houses The Lighthouse. The Herald Building was Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s first public commission. The building, designed in 1895, was a warehouse at the back of the printing office of the Glasgow Herald. Mackintosh designed the tower – a prominent feature of the building – to contain an 8,000-gallon water tank. It was to protect the building and all its contents from the risk of fire.
Alas, the viewing platform on top was closed but Jim walked up the circular staircase to the top while I excitedly examined some of MacKintosh’s designs in the “Mack Room” Interpretive Center. I wasn’t disappointed. Mackintosh drew his inspiration from natural forms and was a major influencer of the Art Nouveau Movement. Several quotes about his work are spread around the walls. Like many brilliant men, MacKintosh was autistic, but obviously completed major works and eventually left the City for the South of France where he focused on painting water colors with his wife.
We started back to the hotel. We had walked too far and our neuropathied feet protested while our tired brains wanted only rest. My mind was bursting with the stimulation of this city. Already we love Glasgow and Scotland’s kind and gentle people. Though it does seem a contrast to the mighty clan battles that took place here. While Jim took a nap, I thoroughly enjoyed a bath, with an indulgent amount of verbena bath oil.
The next morning, Monday, feeling better, we enjoyed a lovely breakfast again in a far less crowded room. Jim settled for scrambled eggs and bacon and a delicious pastry while I enjoyed an avocado toast with sprouts. And of course a pot of tea. Ahhhh so good to be back in Britain where tea is served with milk, and is always available. Ironically, in Scotland, coffee is also served with milk.
We needed to pack and head out to the car rental place. However, it was important to me to visit the Willow Tea Rooms, another Mackintosh architectural marvel. I left the hotel and walked down a block to a main pedestrian street that was just getting busy. Jim declined to come along and I had one hour before check out.
This area, Sauchiehall St, not far from our hotel, is a smaller version of the fancy pedestrian mall we walked down on Sunday. It was early and there weren’t too many people about. I heard the sound of a man singing before I saw him.
As I got closer, I wanted to hear more. I noticed an elderly man sitting and just enjoying the music. I dropped a donation in his box and noticed he had a CD for sale for a 5 pound donation and bought one.
It was a basic computer disk with a simple cover. His name or contact information was not on it I didn’t expect much from the CD but was delightfully surprised when I played it today. However, with no contact information, I can’t tell him that a woman from Alaska who lives in a log cabin near the end of the road is now enjoying his music.
I reached the Willow Tea Rooms and stood outside for a few minutes admiring the architecture. This was a highlight of Glasgow for me.
I went into the shop and entrance to the 4-floor exhibit, staffed by volunteers and immediately struck up a great conversation with one of the volunteers whose brogue I mostly understood. A new friend, but thousands of miles away. I slowly toured all the floors reading about the combined efforts of an extraordinary business woman, Miss Cranston, and MacKenzie. Mackenzie’s wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh also provided some of the art work. I immersed myself entirely in the details of the exhibit. I was even more impressed. I returned to the exhibit entrance and talked again to my new friend about all the details I had seen.
I decided I simply had to go into the Tearoom for a pot of tea and a scone. The hostess escorted me to a table with an interesting wooden hook at the side of it that held my walking stick and coat. Indeed I was sitting in a MacKenzie chair, admiring the decorations surrounding me and looking at many of the items I learned about in the exhibit. As I had learned, the higher you go in the tearoom, the fancier it is. I was content to sit on the first level, drinking my selected tea, Russian Caravan, a “smoky Lapsang blend that evokes the historic caravan travels” (with undertones of camel dung) and enjoying a scone with clotted cream and jam while watching the tearoom fill up as lunch neared. The lovely Burleigh Pottery used in the tea rooms is a replica of the one used by Miss Cranston in 1903. I purchased a small pitcher.
Finally, I finished and it was time to return to the hotel. I apologized to Jim when I arrived back at one o’clock not 11 o’clock as he was somewhat frantic afraid I had fallen. However, I thoroughly enjoyed soaking up the history of Mackintosh, this beautiful building and my time in the tearoom as if it were 1901. http://www.mackintoshatthewillow.com