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Glasgow: Food, Fun and Family on the Big 7

traffic cone hat on a statue, as they do in Glasgow

The main point of our UK adventure (which Robyn often reminded me) was to see our kids. To see where they live and how they live and play the role of helpful parents. A role we can't play as often in person, since we live an entire continent and ocean apart.

So when we boarded the express train from Edinburgh to Glasgow, our adventure began in earnest. The hour long train (which went through some beautiful country) took us to visit our son Ben and his partner Laura, who moved to Scotland in January so Ben could attend grad school.

Ben met us at Queen Street station, across from George Square and we walked a few blocks to the bus heading south. The square was bustling; it was the tail end of the first summer heat wave so the bars and restaurants around the square were full.

The contrast to Edinburgh was apparent immediately, shifting from royalty to the working class. Edinburgh's castle and Royal Mile was replaced with a statue wearing a traffic cone (a Glaswegian icon) and a building wrapped with a sign stating "People Make Glasgow". This was going to be fun.

Now, the Glasgow area is home to 1.7 million people, with 600,000 souls in the city centre, so to say we "saw Glasgow" is a stretch. We didn't see the entire city. Not even close.

The part that we spent time in is shaped like a big "7" with the River Clyde cutting across the vertical bit. Glasgow is split in half by the River Clyde. Downtown, with the train stations and major shops and cathedrals and museums and universities is north of the river. Stay north and go left and you get to the posh and trendy West End, home of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, Glasgow Botanic Gardens and the most lawn bowling greens I've ever seen, is also north of the Clyde, between the University of Glasgow campus to the east and Partick to the west. (Partick is home to Partick Thistle FC where you will find the best football mascot of all time.)

Glasgow botanic gardens

The grounds of the Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Ben lives in Shawlands, south of the river and a 20 minute bus ride from the centre. The long part of the '7'. He loves this neighbourhood and over the course of our week together we found out why. It's a working class neighbourhood that is in transition and you really get the best of all worlds. Cheaper rents than the West End, great food from a huge swath of cultures, good coffee and two huge parks nearby. Plus it's a straight shot to school and work on the bus. They live in an older two bedroom flat above two restaurants, with bus stops on all sides of their building. But even with all the hustle and bustle at street level (and there is always something going on) their flat is quieter than our place in Victoria. They're all set.

Ben worked evenings during the first few days of our visit (he serves drinks at a fancy bar near the train station) so we hung out close to home, exploring the shops along Pollockshaws Road, wandering about the large and lovely Queen's Park and skipping over to the Mount Florida neighbourhood for good measure. It's all the things I love about a proper city - quiet streets full of row houses and apartments with no building over four stories tall, and every few blocks a cluster of shops to supply the neighbourhood. I know, I know, Glasgow has a Costco and Primarks and freeways and all the modern, big city stuff too, but it's nice to know you can live quite well in the neighbourhood where you live.

One afternoon we walked a few blocks further south to Pollockshaws Park, a former private estate that in the British way, was turned into a public park with the cost of maintenance got too high. Fine by me, it was lovely. Rolling hills, tree lined walks and even a pasture full of Highland Cows aka "hairy coos." I can't help it, but Highland Cows look like moody teenagers to me, what with their hairy bangs covering their eyes in that unkempt but suave way that I can never pull off. Yes, the cows look cooler than me. I admit it. I love them. We spent an excessively long time watching them and convincing one cow to leave the shady trees and come closer to us so we could see her better.

A hairy coo

A hairy coo

Oh yes, there is a manor house, some well tended formal gardens, and even a museum and gallery in Pollockshaws Park, but it was all about the coos for us.

Merchants and Royals #

The contrast between Edinburgh and Glasgow is much like the contrast between London and Liverpool. Where the capitals are both about castles and royalty, the second cities of England and Scotland are built on commerce, colonization and exploration. This shows up clearer than ever in the Necropolis, a large hill on the edge of the city centre where the city's illustrious dead are buried. No lords and ladies here. No, it's the merchant class who are buried highest on the hill and with the largest headstones.

The necropolis beside Glasgow Cathedral

The necropolis beside Glasgow Cathedral

We walked around the cemetary, alternating between reading headstones and and taking in the views of Glasgow spreading in all directions. (The necropolis is situated up and away from the cathedral, established during a time when plagues were raging and folks wanted to build some distance between the dead and the living.) It was fascinating (and sobering) to see how many of the tombstones referenced the colonies, especially the Caribbean colonies like Trinidad and Jamaica. These folks made their fortunes in sugar and slavery.

Universities #

I can't fathom all the money that was coming into Britain from the colonies during the heights of coloniaism. But it certainly would've taken a lot of smart people to keep the engines of Empire running. Glasgow was, and is, a university town, with several universities all clustered in the centre of the city.

I'm used to one university per city, and possibly a technical school, but that's not the way they do it here. There are six universities in Glasgow (so be sure to send your cheque to the correct one!) I just assumed that Ben was attending the University of Glasgow, but he's actually at Glasgow Caledonian University next door.

Ben took us on a tour of his campus, which is modern and lovely, although he didn't have much nice to say about the cafeteria. That's one of the constants with universities the world over, I guess - College West in Regina wasn't exactly rocking it back in the '80s either.

I love universities. I loved my time as a student and always dreamed of either working at a university or going back for more classes. But I guess I've aged out of it; not so much the people walking around (who looked to be about 14 years old) but the names on the walls. We walked through the Sir Alex Ferguson Library and through the newly named Annie Lennox hall. Ben thought it was cool that the library was named after a famous football manager, but when I expressed my excited surprise at the hall being named after the wonderful singer from Eurythmics, he didn't know who I was talking about. "Her name's all over the place. I think she's the chancellor." Sigh.

Annie Lennox building, with the Sir Alex Ferguson library hiding behind.

Annie Lennox building, with the Sir Alex Ferguson library hiding behind.

Cindy and I spent some time a the University of Glasgow as well, with its tall spires and stone walls and its status as being one of the thousand alleged inspirations for Hogwarts or Diagon Alley or Gringots bank. It was lovely. We had lunch on a bench on the edge of one of the inner courtyards, while I gazed longingly at the entrance to the Geography department and imagined myself striding across the yard in dark robes, maps under my arm, headed for another day in the lecture hall. It was a lovely thought; not a care in the world other than learning things. Hmm...I wonder what they serve at the cafeteria...

One of two inner courtyards at the University of Glasgow

One of two inner courtyards at the University of Glasgow

Drinks, Appys and Warm Thoughts #

In addition to Physiotherapy school and working with the national lacrosse team, Ben works part time at The Anchor Line, a bar and restaurant near George Square. It's a fancy/casual place - lots of glass and brass and a massive bar, but Ben insists that you don't need to dress up to sit there. So when we rocked up on his day off for some drinks and appetizers, I was wearing my standard travel apparel - t-shirt and shorts. One look at the waiters and bartenders with ties and vests and I tucked deep, deep into corner of our booth.

The cocktails were excellent and the appetizers were very good as well. But the real reason I'm sharing this nugget is to brag about our boy. As we sat and visited and sampled the food, every single staff member found a reason to come by, check in, say hi to Ben and check out his wacky Canadian parents.

It was one of those proud parent moments that I have a lot, and yet I enjoy each one like it's the first one. Seeing Ben so happy, so comfortable, so clearly enjoying his friends, his school, his work and his new city, had my heart full to bursting. I forgot about my inappropriate dress. I forgot how much I miss having him near us. It was full on dad-pride. And I'm writing it here so, when I miss him too much, I'll remember how things are working out for him.

Cindy found a guy on Instagram who says motion shots look better. We put it to the test.

And hey, we only scratched the surface of Glasgow and barely made a dent in Scotland. We'll be back. Hopefully soon.

The Best We Found in Glasgow #

  • Deanston Bakery Just about missed them due to their summer holidays, but we paid a visit on our last morning in Glasgow. Stunning bread and pastries made out of a series of Rofco ovens. I don't know how they can produce so much out of their tiny kitchen, but I'm very grateful that they do.
  • Caesar's Pizza Best pizza of the trip, made out the back of a tiny bar only some of the time. He's looking for a permanent location but don't hesitate to pop in when he's popping up.
  • Julies Kopitiam Tiny Malaysian restaurant with simply amazing food and reasonably priced. Also the first Michelin listed restaurant we've ever eaten at. Lovely.
  • Phillies of Shawlands Fun bar and restaurant right beside Ben's flat. We had the crispy chicken bao and I'm still thinking about it.

Well Worth a Look #

  • Glasgow Botanical Gardens Massive Victorian glass greenhouses with what looks like a 'two of everything' collection from all over the globe. The tree ferns had me looking for dinosaurs, the hall of tropical foods was stellar and the outdoor garden had several plots of plants used in dye-making. I wish I could watch them turn the plants into dyes.
  • Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum We spent a short time here. Lovely building and an eclectic range of classic artwork, but we didn't stay long due to the incredible number of people, young and old, also taking it in during summer.
  • Glasgow Stamp Shop Oh wow. Ben found this classic stamp shop right downtown for me, with lots of tables to sit and browse and a huge stock of stamps, covers and postcards. I accidentally rang up on a day they were closed (vacation, eh? I never know what day it is), but they let me come take a look anyway and I'm very glad for the opportunity.