Monday, September 29, 2014

The bonnie banks o' Loch Lomond and more Scottish awesomeness

Loch Lomond

While I am at work fast and straight forward with making decisions (I hope at least) I have a tendency to over-think things when it comes to myself. In this case I had booked a long weekend in Glasgow for the Medals show a while ago already, when I realized that I would for a couple of reasons come out of this summer without a decent holiday. Not good. Really not good. So what to do? Probably extending the stay in Scotland?
It was one of my best friends in the end who asked me what I was even waiting for and she was right. Once the decision was made I went on tour organizing mode and in half a day a short gig trip had turned into a full week of vacation. It was the best decision I made in a long time - my week in Scotland was pure magic. It was so magic, that it did not even rain. I had to put on sunscreen basically every day. In Scotland. In September. 



Edinburgh

My first stop was Edinburgh for the simple reason that my flight was arriving there very late in the evening and well ... why not having a look when there anyway? So instead of heading west immediately (it was too late for the last bus to Glasgow) I had booked a hotel in the center of Edinburgh just off the Royal Mile for the first night.
The next morning I was ready for my Scottish adventure and took a first careful look out of the window ... blue sky, some little white clouds ... sky in Saltire colors.
It was an absolutely wonderful morning I used for a walk around the city center. I knew I wanted to go the castle later but for now I just walked around random streets. In my amazing talent to turn weird corners I came into a small side street and ended in front for a very special shop ... a pipe maker. In the big shop window I could see an old gentleman handcrafting bagpipes. I did not take a picture - that would have been rude - but it was so lovely and impressing to watch him work.
After that little encounter I walked along the Royal Mile and climbed up to Edinburgh Castle. The castle is amazing and the view over the city is beautiful and I loved it up there, but good lord ... SO MANY PEOPLE. I wish I could go one day when pretty much nobody else is up there (not realistic though). When I was in the museum part it was so crowded that I got stuck in traffic squeezed in between dozens of Chinese tourists in the room about the Union with some voice from tape explaining it over and over again. If I would not have been in the YES camp for the Scottish independence already I surely would have been after that experience.
After lunch at the castle cafeteria where my American table neighbor declared me a specialist for the referendum - what I was clearly not, but I tried my best - and asked me thousand questions I walked back down the Royal Mile, hang around the Grassmarket area a bit, listened to Jim Murphy from the NO camp (he was screaming all time - very uncomfortable) and finally went to get my luggage and head to the main station. Off to Glasgow I was ... 

Hillhead, Glasgow

My first stop was the West End of Glasgow - an area that although it is looking differently felt like a mixture of Lawrenceville and Squirrel Hill (two really nice neighborhoods in Pittsburgh), which means I loved it. The West End has it all - shops, restaurants, cafés, record store and so on. Yes, it also has a bit of the Larryville hipster vibe, but I honestly do not mind.  


Botanic Garden, Glasgow

The first morning in Glasgow I went over to the beautiful Botanic Garden that is placed in a lovely park in the West End. Right there wandering from greenhouse to greenhouse passing playing kids and art students working hard to capture details of either the plants or the fantastic greenhouse architecture I felt for the first time the stress of the last couple of weeks ... months ... lifting a bit, but it should get significantly better than that not much later: 


Beach, Ayrshire

One of the biggest advantages of the Glasgow area is that within the radius of about an hour train ride from the city you can visit many lovely places. So when the sky started clearing up I took the train west to the coast to do what I was looking forward to the most: taking a long, long, long walk at the beach. In the sun. Barefeet in the water and the sand. Staring out into the sky and the open horizon.
Every human works differently, but for me this is the best thing ever. A couple of hours at the shore and I feel so so so much better. It's even nicer when - like in my case - the day at the beach ends with gorgeous beer and fun talks in the evening sun. Vacation life at its best. 



Loch Lomond

The day after the trip to the beach the sky was even brighter and I jumped on the train again to take the short ride out to Loch Lomond. The lake is called the "Gate to the Highlands" because the one end is still in the more flat Lowlands while the upper end is already in the mountains. The landscape is simply stunning.
I love doing boat rides and that is also kind of the obvious thing to do when you are at a loch and the sun is shining. I got a ticket for an hour long tour which theoretically could have been beautiful. I had a sunny first row seat on deck and sat next to an absolutely lovely Scottish lady who lives now in Glasgow in a retirement home but was originally from the Loch Lomond area. She was a darling and told me how her kids gave her a flight with the waterplane over the loch as birthday gift and how much she enjoyed the adventure. She also gave me lots of tips how to explore Glasgow and everything around on low budget. I would have enjoyed her company even more if the rest of the people on the boat would have not been a big pain in the ass.
Behind us we had a family with a small kid and that woman - the mother - did not shut the fuck (SORRY, but it was that horrible) up for one bloody second. She made me so incredibly stabby

But that was not all .. additionally we had another family from India aboard holding about a dozen people and every single one of them and then all of them again as a group and then all of them AGAIN in small groups of various combinations wanted to take a picture on the top deck of the boat where my Scottish lady and me were sitting. The procedure took an hour which equals the complete length of the boat trip. But ... that's not all ...still. At some point the boat trip got boring for kids in said family and the parents fixed the situation with passing on their cellphones to the kiddos who then started watching Bollywood dance music videos. Without earphones. I felt like cyring. Badly.
After 2/3 of the time I had scenes from "Natural Born Killers" in my head. You know the one with the glorious moment when Rage Against The Machine kicks in with "Killing in the name of"  ....
I looked at my little Scottish lady and excused myself for being rude and pulled out my cellphone and my earbuds. She just nodded approvingly and I am pretty sure she was quite jealous I could escape. I did what I always do in situations like that: I put on Sucioperro's "Fused" and with "River Of Blood" muting the cacophony of noise around me I calmed down and managed to kill no one. YAY!

Off the boat I still had time and decided walk towards the Loch Lomond shores and found myself a QUIET place to lay down in the grass (with my rain poncho as blanket ... that is all what it did in Scotland til now), put on some music and closed my eyes just blinking in the blue sky every now and then. I did not move for about 90 minutes. When it was time to get back to Glasgow, I stretched, got up and almost died of a heart attack because there in the shade - for me totally out of the blue - sat now an old gentleman grinning at me asking in the biggest Scottish accent if I had a good snooze. Yes, Sir, I surely did. 


Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow

With returning from Loch Lomond the (mostly) hermit part of my vacation ended because my lovely friend Villate had arrived from the US and the next day my friend Anita also arrived from Cologne and we explored the rest of the city together by bus and foot. George Square, Merchant City, the University of Glasgow, Barras and more .... all great sights and we barely scratched the surface. There is really a lot to do in Glasgow and the next couple of trips will be busy, too.
We of course had a bit of a special look around since we all are Biffy fans. With big interest we checked out the Hydro because there is no doubt that this is where we will queue for the album 7 arena tour one day and ..... we of course made embarrassing noises of excitement when passing by the Barrowland Ballroom. Great things will happen there very soon and at least Anita and me will be there.

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow

I think my favorite place of all the sightseeing things was Kelvingrove Museum. The exhibits are sorted after topics rather than clear historical contexts, but I love when things leave the theoretical order of logic and linear story telling and so the almost anarchic concept of the Kelvingrove totally rocked.
The museum features also the famous "Christ of Saint John of the Cross" by Dali, which is weird enough because it does not really fit the collection. The piece itself is amazing and hypnotizing. I loved it although I am despite my deep love for modern and contemporary art not a Dali fan usually.
I will be sure back to the Kelvingrove another time and have another run through. There are so many funny and weird and interesting things to see that you can go again and again.
It's also totally fascinating that the hall in the picture above looks SO MUCH like the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.
And while we speak about Pittsburgh and Carnegie: most of you might be aware anyway but just to point it out again ... good old Andrew Carnegie was a Scotsman and just like in Pittsburgh (and other places) he also paid in his old homeland for museums and libraries and such places which now sport his name. So if you run into an Andrew Carnegie Library in Scotland you did not make a space / time jump to Pennsylvania ... it's just the same thing at the other side of the world. 



Necropolis, Glasgow

My other favorite was the Necropolis - the Victorian garden graveyard by the cathedral that overlooks the city. The combination of the amazing view and the tombstones and monuments creates a very special atmosphere. I would definitely love to visit again on a more gloomy fall day - I bet it is amazing.

Finally it was very exciting to be in Scotland so shortly before the referendum for independence. In the streets of Glasgow you would have never guessed the NO camp even had a chance and in the end Glasgow indeed voted YES, but too many people in the country did not.
Nevertheless it was great to be around in this special time for Scotland and I know I can speak here for my friends as well - the spirit of it all made Scotland grow closer to our hearts even faster.

More pictures of the trip you find here and on my Instagram


The best thing about this week  though is not in the pictures ... it's the time spent with my "travel group" and all the great people we know / met in Glasgow. I loved all the talks and laughs and HUGS and it is pretty priceless to sit on a couch with an Irn Bru in your hand, the river Clyde right in front of your window while you are watching your very favorite Biffy interview on Youtube, which is the favorite simply because it is so hilarious, with everyone knowing all the words like when watching a classic Monty Python movie:

"It doesn't start like dah da da da dah or doooz it?"



And then there was THAT NIGHT this trip was all about in the very first place, but that's an extra blog post! 



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