Glasgow – not so great – but I’m glad I visited

In thinking back on it – There was no way that Glasgow was going to compete with Edinburgh. Our new friends from last night had told us that we were going from ‘culture’ to ‘clutter’ – and they were of course correct.

Our Glasgow Air BnB is at best adaquate – and totally loses when compared to the palace that is Isaac’s and Derek’s pad in Edinburgh. It’s a tiny 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom flat in a forgetable building above a store that sells wall paper in an industrial part of Glasgow. The living/dining/kitchen space is tiny, and the only table is hogged by our host Neil’s computer. To add insult to injury, he’s ironing when we arrive – so there’s his laundry everywhere. I’ll give him credit for asking what food to buy for our breakfast, but he’s also clear that we are on our own. He works evenings into the night, and won’t be up in the morning. He also has no maps to give us, and can’t even make suggestions on places to visit. Still, he welcomes us warmly, and that’s a good start.

Our room is basic – a bed, a window, a tiny desk, and the best part – an en-suite bathroom. That and the location near the city center are the best parts of Neil’s place. Oh well – this is our 6th Air BnB in 30 days – I guess one had to be 4 star. And after Isaac and Derek’s place – I’m not sure what would be needed to be 5 star.

Surprisingly – Neil tells us that he’s fully booked – and the income from Air BnB pays his rent. Hmm.

Anyway – we make our selves comfy. After he leaves for work, we move the computer off the dining table, fold away the ironing board, and basically create a space we can at least enjoy dinner in! We walk up to a nearby grocery store, get the makings of a nice dinner – and decide to tour Glasgow in the morning. We’re done for today.

The next morning – our one and only day in Glasgow – we opt to start by finding me a place for coffee – and then decide to check out the Cathedral. After that – well – we’ll go from there.

Unlike all of our other locations, this one is mostly industrial and shopping – so no upscale coffee shop to be seen. We hike up hill towards the Cathedral, going thru the ‘university’ section – I’m thinking there is bound to be coffee for the students. And I’m right – there it is! A cute coffee shop, with take-away latte. Color me happy.

The tour of the Cathedral is wonderful. The guide (where do they find these people) is super knowledgable, and very easy to listen to, and the history is very neat. Our fellow tourists are a german choir – and at one point they ask to test the acoustics. Lovely – totally lovely.

We then walk across to the St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art. Seriously – St. Mungo’s of Harry Potter Fame. St. Mungo was a real guy – and he’s the patron saint of Glasgow. The Museum is well worth a visit. There’s a fairly large section devoted to different religions, comparing how various religions treat the same ‘life’ events – birth, death, marriage, coming of age, etc. It’s fascinating. They do lump some religions into big groups – Jewish and Christian are just two groups, there’s no effort to distinquish between variances in these groups, and probably justifably. There is a lot more difference between Christian and Sikh say.

We then stroll thru the University Campus, and wend our way towards downtown Glasgow. We check out the bronze of the Young Queen Victoria in George’s Square, admire some of the truly incredible building designs – and we grind to a total stop to admire one building that features an absolutely huge abstract metal peacock running the entire city block. Naturally, we also visit the Lighthouse – Glasgow’s center for Architecture.

Soon enough, we’re back at our overly cozy pad for dinner, relaxing, and bed. Tomorrow we begin the long – and since I’m writing this after the fact – thankfully uneventful trip back home.

So ends our 31 days in the UK.

We visited at least 28 museums, stayed in 6 Air BnB’s, visited 7 cities (London, Oxford, Birmingham, Morecambe, York, Edinburgh, and Glasgow), met some amazingly interesting people, ate glorious meals, learned a lot of history, rode the tube, took the train, traveled on buses and even managed one uber taxi.

And we did it all UNDER our $3000 Canadian per person including all travel budget.

The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady rock another trip!

Signing off until the next time there’s something to report – The Soup Lady and her sidekick – The Intrepid Traveler.

Getting down and dirty in Birmingham

Birmingham is definitely not on most tourists hot lists. In fact – when we’ve told folks we were headed this way after our visit to Oxford – they were either surprised, stunned, or bewildered. Why would anyone want to visit dirty old Birmingham? It’s not known for anything really – except being the center of Industry for the UK.

But we’re museum buffs – and there are two noteworthy museums in Birmingham. The National Trust Back to Back Houses were on the very tip top of our list of places to see – and the reviews of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery with it’s huge collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings sounded intriguing. So we planned to hop a bus from Oxford and spend 1 day, 2 nights in this under visited part of the UK.

But first we must start at Lovely Lucy’s in Oxford. Our charming hostess bids us good morning and runs out leaving us to fend for ourselves. Breakfast finished, bags packed, and Lucy’s doors locked and the keys put in her post slot – we are off to repeat the walk back to the bus station in Oxford. It goes much much easier this time – there is simply nothing like knowing your way around to make dragging suitcases easier.

I pop in for a quick coffee at a lovely shop called Coco Loco. It’s claim to fame is it’s view of Christ Church Collage – and a lovely view it is too. Suitably coffee’d up – we drag ourselves to the bus station, guided by ‘Maps’ on my iphone. Surprisingly – it directs us into a square that has been taken over by a lively silver market – and while The Intrepid Traveler stays with the luggage – I do a quick round of shopping – finding a delightful buy in a Salt, Pepper and Mustard Silver Plated Service set. Perfect. I have little time to haggle – the bus is leaving – so I make the gal an offer – she accepts – and the service is mine.

Back to Jill who is patiently waiting by the bus driver who has already loaded up our suitcases! I have time to sit down – and we’re off. Our bus quickly gets out of the traffic jam that is Oxford – and soon enough we are driving hell-bent for leather thru the lovely British country-side.

I’m going to tell you now that there is apparently no auto-route from Oxford to Birmingham – at least no auto-route that we North Americans would consider an auto-route. We drove thru village after village – even passing quickly thru Stratford-upon-Avon – on our way. Green fields with sheep dotted on the hillsides like musical scores rolling by, puncuated by traditional british farmsteds. Nary a high-rise, nor glass enclosed modern structure to be seen.

So my first question – do they have rules about what kinds of houses can be built? Or does no one here like ‘modern’ design outside of the big cities – where modern is the go to option? But rules or no rules – there were no modern houses.

And not that much traffic either! Perhaps that’s why our driver chose back roads, but it did make for a very British riding experience.

Eventually we arrived in Birmingham, and at first look the concerns of all the folks we chatted with seemed very valid. The bus station was lovely and modern, but once you crossed that threshold you were plunged into the Bull Ring Market. There’s been a market on this site since Medieval days – and they have the archeology to prove it. The Market was a buzz of activity – one section devoted to fruits, vegetables, eggs of all sizes and to meat, another to the giant ‘Rag Market’ – which sold all kinds of objects – not just ‘rags’, although the cloth merchants were in great number.

What surprised us most was the very different look of the folks wandering the market. In London it was rare to see a hijab, let alone a woman in a Burka. But here – it was almost the norm. And they were young ladies pushing strollers, tugging on the hands of toddlers, and using cell phones. I was reminded – in a good way – of Istanbul. Anything goes, but modesty prevails.

And the street meat prices were so much lower! We enjoyed a lamb kabab, 3 skewers with salad and Nan for just 4 GBP. Definitely on our budget.

Refreshed, we tried to find our lodgings. Birmingham is a city of layers – there are under roadways and upper roadways – and the map you get for free at the tourist bureau doesn’t really have a chance of making this spaghetti easy to naviagate. In fact – they even call this area ‘Spaghetti’. Fortunately – there are traffic folks easily visible, and one of them took time to slowly explain exactly how to get where we were going.

She just forgot to mention one tiny thing. It was up a Steep Hill.

We dragged ourselves past industrial buildings, closed and deserted storefronts, and the occasional homeless asleep on the street to Holloway Circus. This is a giant round-about – under construction. So detour signs for drivers and pedestrians abounded. We navigated this hurdle, and slowly make our way up, and up, and up till we found the “Peace Garden”. This is a garden built on the remains of a church bombed out during WWII, and where our lodging was located.

Relying on the kindness of strangers, we find the conceirge, get the key – and examine our new lodging.

It’s designer minimalist. A two bedroom, two bathroom flat we’ll be sharing with out host – furnished with a combination of Ikea functionality and high design. The airplane coffee table is not terribly useful – but as our host expalins – reflects his passion for high adrenaline sports – from skydiving to road racing.

Floor to Ceiling windows form all the walls on the ‘view’ side of the condo – there are no windows on the other 3 walls. But the view is spectacular. We’re on the 6th floor – overlooking the “Peace Garden” and the city scape. At night, with the city lights aglow – it’s a stunner.

Our host, Sameer, is a charming young man (ok – not so young – probably in his mid thirties) who works for Jaguar in the marketing department, owns 5 fancy cars, another flat in London, and land in India. He’s elegant, well spoken, and fascinating. In our conversation – I ask him why he’d want BnB guests – and he admits – it’s for the chance to meet interesting people. Isnt’ that sweet? We chat over wine and dinner before he annouces that he must work tonight. He works, we sleep – tomorrow will be a busy day.

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

London to Oxford – Big City to University Town

It’s time to move on – we’ve spent 14 days in London, toured 12 Museums, saw 3 amazing plays, rode buses from East London to West London, attended Services in Cathedrals and local parish churches, worked at an Organic Wine Fair, even enjoyed a gourmet meal at “House” at the National Theatre. So – London done – we’re on to Oxford.

Oxford – town of 38 colleges that together make up one University – the University of Oxford. Not surprisingly – there sure are a lot of students here. And with all that youth comes plenty of coffee shops, lots of walking tours – and the 2nd largest library in the UK after the British Library in London.

The Bodleian Library has well over 153 miles (230 KM) of shelving, and adds 1000 books and 2000 periodicals a WEEK. It’s huge. And housed in bits and pieces, all connected by underground tramways, throughout all of Oxford, plus the new huge facility outside of Oxford in the town of South Marston for less used books. Clearly it’s a must do tour – and being the budget travelers we are – we opted for the lowest cost option – an audio tour that allowed us in to see only one small part – the Divinity College. And really only one tiny part of that – but a very nice part it was. For a bit more you can take a guided tour of the Humphrey Library – which is featured in Harry Potter when they are searching the ‘reserved’ section. But we were content with the Audio Guide and simply looking around.

Best part of the tour – and it was free to everyone – were the two special Exhibitions in the ‘new’ Weston Library (First built in 1937 as the ‘New Bodleian’ and extensively renovated and re-opened to the public in 2015 – it’s beautiful). The first was on Volcanos, and featured books dating from 1430 onward that had drawings of the supposed inner workings of Volcanos. Incredible to think that this library has kept these books safe for so very long. The 2nd exhibition, entitied Treasures of the Bodlian Library, is a revolving exhibition of rare finds. The version we saw featured contrasting items – in one case there was an original copy of the Magna Carta from the 13th century, complete with rodent chewed holes where the document had been folded for storage – and not properly stored at that. In the same case, the contrasting item was a book so small that it was shown chained to a life sized mouse – who could have easily dragged it around.

Other remarkable treasures – one of the First Folios of Shakespeare (not such a big deal as per the easy to read description – there are 233 known copies), and most impressive to me – a copy of Tycho Brahe’s “Astronomiae instauratae mechanica” dated 1598. This is the data collection that allowed his assistant, Johannes Kepler to formulate the laws of planetary motion. 1598. Imagine.

We then wandered over to the Oxford Museum of Natural History, known best for it’s outstanding glass topped building and wonderful displays of strange things – including the bones of the last Dodo. Famously, this is the spot known to have been visited by Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson), the author of “Alice in Wonderland”. The best section was a new exhibit hidden high up on a balcony and dedicated to new research on the brain. This very intriguing exhibit focused on the growth and development of the brain, carefully tracing it’s changes from pre-birth to old age. So interesting.

The day before we’d ‘done’ the Ashmolean. This huge museum has literally something for everyone, and then some. Our favorite section was on the challenges related to conservation, including detecting frauds, using UV to check for repair work, and a series of displays on making the decision to repair vs leave it as it is. Clearly being a museum curator isn’t as easy as one might imagine!

Naturally – I had to visit the Harry Potter ‘sights’ – including catching a glimpse into the courtyard used for learning to use your broomstick at New College (New in 1379). We also checked out Blackwell’s – billed as one of the worlds largest book stores with 7 km of shelving – and winding under Trinity college from a tiny and easily missed door front on Broad Street.

Our visit culimated in Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral in Christ Church College. It is ‘song’ nightly, sometimes by the church choir, sometimes by visiting choirs, sometimes by just male voices. We lucked into the male voice version – and it was glorious. Mostly done without organ music (A Cappalla) – the 14 choir members filled the huge space with wonderful sound.

What did we miss? We didn’t get into the Pitt River Collection – so we didn’t get to gawk at the shrunken heads. It was closed for a university function. We did wander into the Covered Market, but didn’t think it so remarkable. We checked out the college quads that were easily visible thru their wrought iron gates, and spent time chatting up a guide in St. Mary’s Parish Church – the official Church of the University of Oxford, with sections going back to the Medevial history of Oxford.

We skipped most of the modern part of Oxford, and sadly didn’t get to go into a pub. But lovely Lucy’s lodging, that we found thru Air BnB, was right on the river – so we did get to admire the boats on the water.

All in All – it was a great visit – but we need to get on – and Birmingham is our next stop. First thing tomorrow we will pack out bags and head on out to the bus station.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.