Despite its grey, industrialised image, the biggest city in Scotland has everything going for it. The shopping is fabulous, particularly upmarket Buchanan Street, with its gorgeous Princes Centre mall. The city has always had a great nightlife, now updated by risqué clubs like Club Noir. If that’s not your cup of tea, take some time out for a Scottish scone in one of the Willow Tearooms inspired by the art nouveau style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. For dinner, check out the fantastic culinary legacy of the city’s Italian immigrants. There’s the home-cooked fare of trattoria Celino’s in the East End and the elaborate cuisine and cocktails of city centre Rogano’s. As for museums, you can’t beat the whimsical People’s Palace, complete with comedian Billy Connolly’s Big Banana boots.
A Trip Home
While Glasgow’s an enjoyable place for everyone, for me it’s a trip to my roots. Though family offer me accommodation, I like my own space, so I often stay at the central budget Eurohostel. At twenty quid a night for a single room, the hotel has everything I need, including wifi throughout. Yet the décor – or lack thereof – is unbearably garish and yes, there really IS carpeting on the wall.
On a recent trip, I got into the swing of the city right away. First there was the No Mean City brawl in the adjoining room on the night I arrived, but this was swiftly dealt with by the hotel staff, and in any case, the brawlers weren’t Glaswegian. The city is known for its nutters, of course, and I wasn’t to be disappointed. A drunk plonked himself behind me on a bus, growling the immortal, whisky breath conversation opener, “you a’right hen”? It was good to be home.
Home and Away
Not quite a tourist, yet no longer a resident, I ventured out in the freezing December air in heavy boots, coat and scarf to see family and friends. I caught all the old buses, though they’re now liveried in a multitude of colours: green and yellow, purple and fuschia. One night I sped past my East End childhood home and its nearby old parish church of St. Michael’s. An eerie, green light was seeping out from under its darkened windows. Was this pre-Christmas lighting? Or was it an ethereal threat to scare this erstwhile Catholic back to the chapel? A reminder to remain a Celtic supporter as long as I live?
Nowadays, most people worship consumer, rather than spiritual, wellbeing at the Forge shopping centre, named after the foundry that stood there. Regeneration will reach its apogee with the Commonwealth Games to be held in Glasgow’s East End in 2014. As I sped along London Road in a taxi, work on the sporting facilities seemed to be well advanced. For the most part, the urban blight I knew as a child has gone, attracting new immigrants. Even the Coop where I worked every weekend as a teenager is now called Nasz Sklep, “our shop” in Polish.
Back in the city centre, I discovered an attraction called The Lighthouse. Suited to tourists and Scots alike, and as the name suggests, it is an amazing construction set around a high, spiralling staircase. Glasgow is laid out in an almost 360º skyscene of industriousness, though the four school doggers huddled up there against the wind were more interested in what they were puffing on uncaught than the display of opportunity before them.
Though the Lighthouse rises, it also goes deep into the earth via a current exhibition dubbed The Foundation. I entered a dark, womb-like “Cube” with a screen on the floor. As the fifteen minute spectacle begins, fiery orange, geological time races past and Glasgow is forged out of the molten rock below her and built upon. Alone in the dark space, I had a lump in my throat. Glasgow has forged my values, my ideas and my temperament more than any other place on earth.
Bridge Over the River Clyde
The Eurohostel stands on the River Clyde a few yards from the Suspension Bridge. Now painted red, perhaps to evoke the radicalism of the Red Clydeside, the bridge has a different connotation for me. Some twenty years ago, half-way along that bridge, my Spanish boyfriend put a diamond solitaire on my finger. The bridge symbolised the joining of two people, two countries, two cultures, and that’s been our life together. But I had to leave my home, which occasionally makes me melancholy.
So that’s my big, beautiful, bustling city. Fifty shades of Glasgow and only one of them grey.
Photo Credit: baaker2009