Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Penny Starts a Row: Glasgow, 31 May to 3 June 2010

We had breakfast at the hotel in Belfast and took a cab to the ferry terminal.  As has been usual in Ireland, the driver was a friendly, talkative fellow.  There were no problems boarding the ferry, but if you have purchased your tickets on line, you will need first to exchange your print-out for the actual tickets in a separate line before passing through security and boarding the ship.  They check bags like at the airport, but unlike the airport, there are no claim checks or anything like that.   Because we had tickets for the rail connection to Glasgow, we received yellow adhesive labels to put on each bag that we checked.  We had no problem with lost luggage at the other end.

The ferry was quite comfortable.  About 100 middle-school aged kids were in the lounge.  They were quite well-behaved, and had a good time—which is to say that they talked a great deal!  The crossing was as smooth as glass.  The only topside place for taking pictures was a small enclosure at the stern, so I didn’t get much. 

After reclaiming our bags, we got on the two-coach train at Stranraer Station for the trip to Glasgow Central.  Counting backpacks and Penny’s purse, we had eleven items, and were able to get them stowed safely on board.  The problem came at Ayr, where we had to change trains.  The track normally used for the second train was out of service, and so we had to cross to a different track by a footbridge.  There wasn’t much time.  Fortunately for us, two young American men kindly helped us with the luggage.  We are traveling pretty light for long stays, but quick train changes will be a problem.   We will have to be careful with this on the trains from Rotterdam to Maastricht and from there to Paris in a couple of weeks.  After we leave Paris, we would like to leave some things there with Penny’s cousin while we head to Central and Eastern Europe and then get them back when we return to Paris to fly back to the US. 

Glasgow Central Station is a very Victorian era-looking place.  In fact, Glasgow is a very Victorian-period city throughout,  Like every airport terminal, inter-city bus station, or train station, this one teemed with people bustling here and there, each one with a story that we can only imagine.  We took a black cab to the Manor Park Hotel, a B&B in Balshagray Drive in western Glasgow.

Angus and Cathy MacDonald are the friendly proprietors and they run a great place.  The full Scottish breakfast looked very much like the full Irish and full English breakfasts that we have seen elsewhere, except that potato scones replaced baked beans in thin tomato sauce.  Potato scones remind one of pita breads in shape and consistency.  The breakfasts were quite nice!  Angus sent us up the road to a pub named The Three Caws for dinner.  One of these days, I may figure out how restaurants in Ireland and Britain ever manage to compete with pubs.  For now, that remains a mystery.

Kelvingrove Museum is the number one attraction in Scotland, attracting even more visitors than does Edinburgh Castle.  There is a wide range of educational exhibits, including one about Glasgow, its history, and its current problems.  We were surprised to learn that Glasgow has long had a large Irish population, and that there is a problem with sectarian strife.   Just like in Belfast, the Hibernian order and the Orange Order men have been at loggerheads, and the rivalry even extends to the city’s soccer teams.  Irish Catholics tend to follow the Celtics, and the Orangemen prefer a team called the Rangers.

 One exhibit highlighted abuse and mistreatment of women, and the scold’s branks (above) are simply horrifying.  Not to mention the twentieth century cartoons that imply they ought to be used again to silence women who challenged their forced subordination in society.

There are two hop-on, hop-off bus tours from which to choose.  The tickets cost about the same.   The blue bus ticket is valid for four days, and the red bus company’s ticket is for two days.  The red bus has multi-lingual commentary, and the busses look exactly like the red busses that we have seen in many other cities.  The routes and stops are almost identical.  We chose the blue bus. 

Glasgow has a small police museum, and also a museum of the city’s social history.  We planned to visit those on one of our days in the city.  We went to the police museum first.  It is a small place, run by a retired police inspector.  He was a very friendly and talkative fellow.  If you know Penny, then you can imagine what followed.  She is also a talkative extrovert, and as a San Diego deputy city attorney, she had a great deal of interaction with the officers of the San Diego Police Department.  We spent several enjoyable hours in a three-room museum!  The curator/inspector has been collecting police uniform items for almost forty years.  His collection of items is the basis of the whole museum!  He even had a North Korean policeman’s peaked cap!  Canadian Mounties’ red serge dress uniform, Colombian dress uniform, Chilean Carabinero blouse and cap, Hong Kong, etc. 

We went to the People’s Palace on the following day.  It is located in Glasgow Green, and has a greenhouse arboretum attached to it.  The displays were fascinating commentaries on the difficulties of life in an industrial city.  The strength of the labor movement through the years was evident throughout the museum, as were the cramped living conditions of the city.  Running water and electricity were often lacking well into the 1960s, and that reminded us of our visit to Irkutsk almost three years ago.  Many shipyard worker families lived in room-and-kitchen apartments.  These single rooms contained a small kitchen on one wall, one bed on another one, and everyone else went on the floor.  A “Steamie,” or common laundry facility, was reconstructed in another exhibit.   No wonder that Glasgow is a union town!

The Doulton Fountain in Glasgow Green contrasts sharply with the social-democratic themes of the Peoples’ Palace.  This statue celebrates British imperialism with stark, unmistakable symbolism.  At the top is Queen Victoria.  In the middle are three British Army soldiers and one Royal Navy sailor.  At the base of the fountain statue are statues of the colonized peoples of India, Australia, South Africa, and Canada.

We often had the same guide on the blue bus.  This gent comes from the Highlands, is a veteran of the British Army in Afghanistan, and we learned that he is also a Strathclyde Police special constable.  In U.S. terms, that would be a police reservist.  As we were using the blue bus for transportation around town, we chatted with him quite a bit.  While were waiting at the initial stop to go the People’s Palace,  Penny asked him about the Scottish independence issue.  He became quite animated in his criticism of the idea and of its proponents.   The bus driver and another guide were of a different mind, and a sharp exchange followed.  Now, I had tried to stop her from bringing this point up at all, figuring that their politics were their politics, but to no avail.  The driver showed us the pro-independence motto tattooed onto his arm.  Fortunately for all, the bus had a schedule to keep and so no brawl ensued!

Penny had posed the same question to the police inspector and another retired policeman who was working that day, telling them about our experience with the soccer fans on the train to Belfast.  They opined that separation would be impractical, and one said that sports fans are probably too stupid to consider such complicated things as that. 

It turns out that the strong reactions stem in some way from the currency of the issue.  The Scottish National Party last month won a majority of the seats in the Scottish Parliament, and the possibility of a referendum on independence in the near future is quite a real one.  Those whose lives are intertwined with British institutions seem quite threatened by the whole idea.  It will be interesting to watch the news on this issue over the next months.  And it was especially interesting to see how different persons derive their own senses of identity.   Those connected with Government, the British armed forces, or the Queen seem to feel particularly threatened.

Our enjoyable days in Glasgow went by very quickly, and we went to the Avis car rental to pick up the car which we will use during the rest of this month before we head to the European continent.  There were no surprises such as a big deposit like we had in Ireland. 

Penny navigated us out of Glasgow, past Loch Lomond to Fort William, by Loch Ness, and to Tomich in the highlands.   

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