Well, we’ll begin at the beginning, back at Pearson in Toronto. We flew out in the evening, and so Andrew had the poor fortune of driving us to the airport during mid-to-late afternoon on the Friday of the May 24 long weekend. Whee!
Couple fun things happened at the airport. First, I got a phone call shortly after we arrived, which turned out to be the HR lady from the company Sherry was interviewing with, wanting to chat with me as one of her references. I was in no hurry to call her back, so left her a voicemail after we had dinner and went to the gate, with Sherry sitting right there, no less. And really, when you happen to know Sherry is leaving on vacation, and you get a voicemail from a reference saying you, too, are leaving on vacation, it’s not terribly hard to put two and two together, I don’t think.
Next, the woman in front of us going through security clearly wasn’t a frequent flyer. Her backpack got x-rayed twice, then searched… revealing that she was carrying, amongst Lord knows what else, a Tupperware container of fruit salad, a plastic container of store-bought garden salad, a can of Sprite… and a full-size bottle of ranch dressing. Amazingly, they let her keep the salads. And honestly, had they let her keep the dressing, how many hours was that going to be unrefrigerated?
Our flight was with Air Transat via Thomas Cook, and surprisingly comfortable. Sherry indulged in her odd habit of squirreling away snacks, saving some of one of the meals from the flight until I can only imagine it was ground to powder. Neither of us are great plane sleepers, but we managed to cobble together a few hours of shut eye. Good thing, too, since our flight landed shortly after 8am, local time.
We arrived to a bright, sunny day, which turned into quite a warm day, somewhere around 27C. Which is nice, though a bit much when you’ve got a big pack strapped to you or are climbing stairs or hills. (Given the first two days were inching toward 30C, I was a bit worried, having brought only two t-shirts and one pair of lighter pants.) Getting the bus from the airport was easy, and we only had a couple wrong turns before finding our hotel, managing to stumble across the Orange walk in the process. (Really, more of an opportunity to hang out with the lads and tip a few than anything else these days.)
After freshening up and shedding some layers, we headed out and oriented ourselves, stopping by the Tourist Info Centre on George Square and availing ourselves of the Hop On/Hop Off tour. I am a fan of those, though apparently no one told the tourists it wasn’t the high season yet, as the buses were surprisingly busy through the day. I also started to notice at that point that the UK (and, apparently, Europe in general), has nowhere near the wifi coverage we know and love here in North America. My iPhone remained largely useless for the trip.
Our first hop off was at Glasgow Cathedral (St. Mungo’s), though I’d initially planned to hop off near Strathclyde University to get a picture for Andrew, since his dad went there. Except it turned out that Strathclyde is really ugly and somewhat modern, and not some photogenic and elegant sandstone landmark.
The cathedral is one of the few to survive the Reformation intact, due to sheer bloody-mindedness of the locals, it sounds like. (In Glasgow??? The hell you say!) and is located next to the celebrated Infirmary where many a great medical mind has been trained (though it was unfortunately swathed in scaffolding) and the Necropolis. We wandered through both the main and lower levels of the cathedral, enjoying both the gorgeous effects of the bright sunlight coming through the windows upstairs, and the antiquity of the knight’s tombs and various nooks and crannies downstairs to the sides of Blackadder Aisle.
After that we headed back to the Necropolis, which is both sprawling and still in use. I’m coming to learn that the dead get some of the finest real estate and most enviable views in many cities. Some very impressive monuments, decay, and interesting stories, ranging from men of vast distinction to families whose children seemed to die off in appalling numbers. I saw my co-worker’s name (James Stewart) well represented, and even the grave of one James Lyall (same name as Andrew’s stepbrother) and his wives, both named Eliza.
Got an impromptu history lesson from a passing elderly gent (history prof, perhaps) about the Rev. Duncan MacFarlan, who was apparently an exceedingly important gent in his day, distinguishing himself both within the church and academe, meeting Queen Victoria twice, and garnering the tallest spire in the Necropolis.
After having a bit of fun with the local TARDIS, we hopped back on the bus and continued through the city, passing, for a second time, the equestrian statue of Wellington on Queen Street out front of the Gallery of Modern Art. Per tradition, this imposing statue was fashionably topped with a traffic cone. We can only imagine the jaunty orange and white striped pattern with a green band around the bottom was in honour of the Orange walk. Apparently sometimes both Wellington AND his horse are wearing cones. Which, you must admit, is pretty awesome.
When we next disembarked, after some serious jetlag-and-sunshine-induced head bobs (we declined to get off to check out the tall ship) at Glasgow University, we enjoyed seeing quite a number of kilted gents (looked like there was a wedding), and took a tour of the Mackintosh House, which they seem to have picked up and moved wholesale from wherever its original location was in the city. No pictures inside, but much oohing and ahhing over the furnishings and interiors. There was also plenty of bare, pasty flesh on display, as days like we got are anything but the norm in that town. Unsurprisingly, we saw more than one sunburn by day’s end.
After that, we were pretty much wiped and famished, so we grabbed sandwiches for a late lunch and headed back to the hotel for a spot of relaxing and freshening up before heading out to hunt down dinner. We also stopped to buy water, and I picked up a can of Irn-Bru to try it, receiving a bonus limited edition glass with it. I was expecting it to taste orangey, probably because it looks a fair bit like MacDonalds’ classic orange drink, but in fact it tasted to me like bubble gum and aspartame. Not a winner, but apparently great stuff for hangovers.
Despite the apparent blanketing of the entire country with pizzerias (and, to a slightly lesser degree, Italian restaurants in general), we settled on City Merchant, in the Merchant City area for dinner. It’s quite a good seafood place, and I dove in to local foodstuffs with the West Coast Fish and Shellfish dinner (which included my first langoustines) and a pint of Belhaven (my first, but not my last). Sherry had the sea bass special and a Chilean merlot.
I started my sticky toffee pudding adventures (with a cappuccino) for dessert, and Sherry started her whisky (UK spelling) adventures with a new one: Caol Ila, recommended by the server to go well with her clootie dumpling. (Most. Scottish, Dessert Combo. Evar.) There may be less petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico than there is in that scotch, I tells ya.
After that we headed back to the hotel for an early-ish evening, passing many a weekend reveler, which left me wondering how anyone tells the difference between the hookers and the mere party girls. Heading to our beds, we became familiar with two sleep-related trends that followed us the whole trip: bloody hard mattresses with very flat pillows, and waking up way too early. (Because it’s summer and they’re more north than we are here in Ontario, sunrise is some time around 4am, and sunset is not til around 10pm.)
The next morning saw us off on our first tour, to Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond, and the Glengoyne Distillery!