Saturday, 30 July 2011

Indiana: Structures

On my way into Bloomington, and then again on my way to and from Yellowwood State Forest, I passed an incredible barn that I just had to go back and take a picture of. When I think of the Midwest, I think of red barns, and I absolutely love them. Since the barn of interest was on a fairly busy thoroughfare, I pulled over on a small country road nearby, and lo and behold, I discovered a second barn. Two for the price of one!

Now, I know that lots of people would look at this and say that it is just a dilapidated old piece of junk that should be torn down. I recognize that it is in serious disrepair, but for some reason that just makes me love these buildings even more.

One of the first good artistic photographs I ever took was of an old barn that was about to be torn down. I printed up the photo in black and white, and ever since then I have always looked out for other black-and-white-able barns to add to my collection.

This one had a strange serious of faux birdhouses along the side. They had little roofs and painted-on holes and real perches, but they didn't actually lead anywhere. Weird.

The barn I had initially set out to photograph was this one:

Too bad I couldn't get an angle without the telephone/electric wires in the way, but you can still see what good shape it was in; the red paint could have been applied just yesterday. I love it when people decorate their barns with rustic details like the two flags and the "Hoosiers" sign above the door here; during my trip to Bloomington, I also passed a couple barns with quilt patterns.

Back in town, I continued my structure-oriented photo spree with a trip to the local library, in front of which is a stone polar bear family consisting of Sunny (the dad), Luna (the mom), and Snowdrop (the cub). These were created out of Indiana limestone by local artist Karl Schiefer and donated by the Friends of the Libary in 1997. This means they were in town at the time of my last visit there, but for some reason I don't remember seeing them. I love how they so accurately mimic the style of Native American sculptures. In fact, Schiefer could actually be Native American, for all I know, but unfortunately I cannot find out anything about him online.

(Note the addition two local lovers have made to Sunny's shoulder.)

When I stepped inside a mall for lunch, imagine my surprise at finding a little piece of Britain right in downtown Bloomington, Indiana:

Before leaving town, I had to stop to take one last picture--a real sign of the times (or, in fact, lack thereof):

The next stop on my Midwestern tour was Madison, Indiana. One of the first things I saw when I arrived in town was this, sitting outside a chiropractor's office:

I understand what bones have to do with chiropractics, but I don't quite get the connection between the pig and the practice. And why is Hambone wearing a mask--is he a criminal? A superhero?

After dinner, I took a walk along the river and got a spectacular sunset view of the Lanier Mansion:

The mansion was designed by Francis Costigan and built in 1844 for the wealthy banker James Lanier, who only lived in the home for 7 years. It was donated to the Jefferson County Historical Society in 1917, then turned over to the state in 1925. Since that time it has been open to the public. If I recall my previous tour correctly, quite a bit of research went in to determining the original color of the mansion so that it could be repainted as accurately as possible. It appears that the eastern portion is currently under some additional renovations as I write. However, even a wall full of scaffolding doesn't diminish the beauty of this Greek Revival structure.

My last stop for the day was Jefferson Proving Grounds, a former military base that is now home to the Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge. The 56,000-acre facility still has unexploded ordnance hiding amidst the trees, which is why it is predominantly off-limits to the public. This provides the local wildlife with quite a lot of space to roam without too many worries, though fishermen are allowed to come in and use the pond. When I worked there in the summer of 2001, I saw coyotes for the very first time. There was still a security guard at the gate back then, but when I stopped by tonight the gatehouse was boarded up. For the first time, I noticed this sign out front:

It must have been there when I worked on the base 10 years ago, but I don't remember it at all--strange, given all the other things I remember so clearly. Between the Bloomington polar bears and the JPG commemoration sign, I am really starting to doubt my memory about my time in Indiana. This is particularly weird because (I think) I have very intense, detailed memories about my time here.

One thing I'm pretty sure of is that my hotel for the evening wasn't even built when I was here in 2001. It certainly seems pretty new. Either way, I have quite an impressive suite with yet another king-sized bed (why do I only ever get these when I am sleeping alone and have no need of all that space?). Even better than the bed is the en suite jacuzzi:

As I told the hostess at the front desk, I do know how to treat myself well.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Indiana: Yellowwood State Forest

Yesterday I visited Indiana's Yellowwood State Forest, a short drive from Bloomington and one of several forests, parks, and other nature areas to choose from in the vicinity. The park contains a decent-sized manmade lake, and on the way to the trailhead I passed some amazing homes--a strange mixture of lake house, log cabin, and functional farm house, often all rolled in to a single building. It seemed as though everyone had enormous, wooded yards with ponds out front. Yes, I was envious.

Apart from a few residents driving to and from their homes, I was pretty much the only person on the road, and I also seemed to be the only person in the forest--or, at least, mine was the only car parked anywhere near the trailhead. I chose to walk the 4-mile loop known as "Scarce O'Fat" trail. I can't imagine how it came by this name, as it wasn't so difficult that I came back from my walk emaciated, but I suppose this will go down as one of life's little mysteries. You often come by strange names in former frontier areas in the US, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

As I walked, I kept my eye peeled for interesting forest life and activity. Because it was so hot (97 degrees Fahrenheit!), the birds were not singing much and often my own footsteps were the only sound I could hear--until the cicadas started up, that is. I did eventually encounter some ovenbirds, the species whose song was the first I learned to identify many years ago, as well as some woodpeckers and Carolina wrens. I also bumped into a surprising number of rabbits, which I am not used to seeing in the middle of a forest. Invariably, I heard them before I saw them, since they tore off into the undergrowth after hearing my approach. It's amazing how bunnies can sound like a herd of antelope when they are moving quickly enough.

The real action was down on the forest floor, where I encountered several juvenile wood toads:

I kept having to tread very carefully to make sure I wasn't about to squish one underfoot. I reached down to catch this guy for a closer look, and of course the first thing he did was pee all over my hand. Toads and turtles--you always know what to expect. Speaking of turtles, I was on the lookout for some box turtles, as well as snakes, but these toads were the only herp that I managed to find.

I did, however, notice this brilliant green caterpillar being mobbed by yellowjackets:

I am by no means an expert in lepidopterans, so I have no idea what this is; all I know is, this is the sort of caterpillar that turns into a giant, fuzzy adult moth. Or would, if it weren't in this case about to be killed by wasps. If I weren't so terrified of being stung, I would have tried to rescue the caterpillar and place it somewhere safe, but it took all of my bravery just to get close enough for a photograph. I can't help but wonder why the yellowjackets are so mad at a caterpillar--maybe it accidentally crawled too close to their hive?

As the evening began to encroach, a new set of animals became active, and for the first time ever I ran into raccoons in the wild (e.g., not sorting through trash or begging for food in an anthropogenic environment):

One raccoon was halfway up a tree when I walked around a bend; its friend was still on the ground and dashed off to a hiding place once it saw me. For the briefest of moments, before the climber looked around the tree trunk and I could see its mask and white eyebrows clearly through the forest gloom, I worried that I was looking at a black bear cub whose mother was about to show up and read me the riot act. Then I realized I was in Indiana, and that was highly unlikely. Perhaps my paranoia stemmed from recently hearing in the news about the survival school students out west who were mauled by a female grizzly bear who was protecting her young. Luckily my raccoons were not nearly that aggressive.

Of course, the least aggressive of all is botanical wildlife, and I did have some good sightings. Best of all was several saplings of the sassafras tree, my all-time favorite plant. On the same childhood hike where I learned the ovenbird song, I also heard the myth about how the sassafras came by its three different leaf shapes, and I fell permanently in love. (Parents, let this be a lesson: Expose your children to nature early, and with the right guide, and they will love it forever.)

The first thing I found was a gall:

These are produced by plants, in this case a tree, reacting to infection by parasites, bacteria, fungi, etc. I believe this one may be a wasp gall, produced by host trees after female wasps lay their eggs on/in the plant. The larvae munch around as they develop, and then eventually hatch out, which is what causes desiccated galls like this to drop to the ground (I think--my understanding of all this insect and plant biology is a bit fuzzy, I admit). Galls always remind me of the botany treasure hunt I proctored in grad school; one of the items on the list was insect galls, and many students had never seen them before, and/or felt very uncomfortable picking them up, for fear that something nasty would pop out and attack them.

I also stumbled across a collection of the smallest mushrooms I have ever seen:

There must have been thousands of them covering the base of this tree. If I remember my botany correctly, this type of mushroom--with a cap--is in the phylum Basidiomycota. Both within the forest and at its edges, I passed by a familiar Midwestern wildflower: the touch-me-not, also colloquially known as the jewelweed:

The latter name stems, obviously, from the brightness of their coloration, which often practically seems to glow from amidst all the dark green leafiness around each flower. The former name is a result of the fact that these plants eject their seeds by a process known as "elastic dehiscence": in other words, they spew them out forcefully, all in one go. Passers-by can trigger this process with even the gentlest touch, sending the seeds as far as four feet through the air. The first time I remember seeing this wildflower was in my own yard, where I often encountered it during my childhood. We also had forget-me-nots, and the similarity between names caused me always to have trouble remembering which was which, even though they look very different (forget-me-nots are blue). Interestingly, the species pictured above is actually a member of the Impatiens family, and so is related to the many ornamental flowers planted elsewhere in my parents' yard.

Near the end of the trail, I discovered some rough-hewn forest furniture that someone must have made out of toppled trees:

Talk about making the best of a bad situation--you lose some lovely plants, but you make some seats from which to enjoy the view of what remains. It certainly was a nice view, too--very lush, despite the incredibly hot and dry summer that Indiana is having. Yellowwood was certainly worth the 1-hour drive, round trip, and my hike there was 2 hours well spent--definitely more fun than sitting through 2 more hours of conference talks!

Monday, 25 July 2011

Welcome Home

After living in the UK for almost 7 months--officially my longest amount of time in another country or on another continent--I returned this week to the US. What a fantastic country. In fact, I might even venture the opinion that it is the greatest country on earth, even if our government can't figure out a way to balance the budget.

Look at all the other things America has going for it. For instance, it is July, and it actually feels like July. How considerate of the nation to have a heat wave just in time for my arrival. I get to wear tank tops and shorts without worrying about getting cold, I can feel sun on my skin, and I might even break a little sweat when I walk outside. During storms, the rain is warm. Fantastic.

I went shopping the other day and felt delightfully overwhelmed by all the options available to me. I know Americans sometimes get criticized for being materialistic and wasteful, but it is wonderful to walk into a store and have so many options. I went to buy sunblock, and there were at least 10 different brands, each with multiple different strengths and consistencies, each in lotion and aerosol and pump-action spray. So much variety! In the produce department, many things actually come from within the country, or, if not, from very nearby. For obvious reasons, this differs from the UK, which not only does not have enough climate variate to grow all the different crops that are found in the US, but also just doesn't have enough space. When I made fresh salsa for my family, it tasted different than when I make it in the UK; I realized that the difference was the sweetness from the tomatoes and limes, which did not have as far to travel to the get to the grocery store.

Speaking of plants, another amazing thing is the greenery in the wild. Not that the UK isn't green, but so much of the landscape is trimmed or planned or managed in some way. But around here, it is not only bountifully verdant, but also wild and lush and a little unkempt (dare I say, not a bad metaphor for the American people themselves?). The trees appear to be swimming in vines and bushes and waist-high grasses If you look out into my parents' yard, you can see chipmunks and squirrels and groundhogs and birds and insects all zipping around doing their thing. It's all so wild and active and busy. And the space! Cornwall has to be one of the most spacious places in Britain, since you really get no sense of how densely packed the country is. But compared to where I've been spending my time here in the US, Cornwall is a giant, booming metropolis. There is so much distance here between houses and towns and from one side of the street to the other. I feel as though I've been let out of a cage (that I never even knew I was in).

(Some of the verdant growth in my grandparents' backyard.)

I've been seeing and hearing an awful lot of "old friends"--just this evening I encountered some eastern kingbirds, whom I immediately identified by sound. Earlier this morning I heard some white-eyed vireos in the undergrowth along the creek at my grandparents' house, and as soon as I arrived at my parents' house I watched ruby-throated hummingbirds visit their feeder. Britain has some spectacularly adorable bird life (you really can't get much cuter than European robins) but the American species are the ones I grew up with--the ones that first got me excited about birding, and the ones whose calls and songs made the soundtrack to all my early outdoor adventures.

I've also seen some fantastic historic buildings. Americans don't do "historic" quite the way the Europeans do--we don't have a long enough history to compete--but what we do have is amazing. The river town architecture is evocative of another era; you half expect to see Mark Twain come strolling out the front door of the best-preserved buildings. Then there are all the decorative mimosa trees out front--not native here, but such a quintessential part of the river town scene along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and their tributaries. The barns are also amazing--some with quilt-square murals and Mail Pouch Tobacco advertisements, others full of hay bales, and others with a strangely picturesque, "rural decay" caved-in look. Every now and then you pass an old cemetery in a seemingly random location, and you know you've either found an old homestead or a spot where early frontier travelers had to bury someone during their journey. It's hard not to feel a little awed and inspired when you travel across the US and think about the first Europeans who showed up and made their way across that immense and forbidding wilderness, often on foot, with only very primitive tools. It gives you some insight into why we can be so stubborn.

Speaking of incredible journeys, today my GPS unit had me cross from Ohio into Kentucky on one highway, then cross back over into Ohio on another highway, before finally leading me west into Indiana (where I was actually going). I forgave this ridiculous piece of navigation after it routed me through a town called "Gnaw Bone." In what other country on earth would you find a town with such a name? (Okay, I admit that I wouldn't be surprised if such a place existed in Australia). At a rest stop in the Hoosier State, I took a picture of the scenery just to capture the amazing colors. I didn't realize that Indiana had even more corn fields than Ohio:

After that break, I swapped out my overwhelmingly British playlist for some country and bluegrass music. Americana tunes just don't have the same appeal along Cornwall's rugged coastlines as they do in the middle of a landlocked US state. One of life's little pleasures is driving through the heartland, surrounded by corn fields and wide open skies, listening to country music. It just goes to show that you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest out of the girl.

There are many things I love about the UK, and many things that drive me crazy about the US, but no matter how long I live in Cornwall (or in any other place, for that matter) this place--Athens or Southern Ohio or the Midwest or Appalachia or all of the above--will always feel special. Some things will change, but because this place is practically in my DNA, I will feel relaxed here because I know what to expect. I know that you can find heavenly sweet corn at roadside stands in July. I know that "creek" and "wash" might be pronounced "crick" and "warsh." I know that there will be fireflies blinking on and off during hot summer nights. I know there will be US flags everywhere and license plates that say "In God We Trust." I know that Walmart will always have whatever I need, for the lowest price around. Some of those things are more enjoyable than others, but all of them are home.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

City Sightseeing: Glasgow, Scotland, Part II

When our sightseeing bus stopped at George Square, I hopped off in order to grab some nibbles while waiting for the new tour guide and driver to arrive. One block over was a massive pedestrian thoroughfare that was bordered on both sides by an endless variety of stores. I saw two Starbuck's shops diagonally positioned from each other across the street, and in a stately old building with a grand and beautiful facade, I saw an Apple store. In other words, it was practically like being back home in the US. I made the mistake of going into the closest store, Urban Outfitters. I have never been into an Urban Outfitters before, and I can safely say that I will never go in one again. I have never been surrounded by so much fakery and pretentiousness in all my life. Thus, it was with a sense of annoyance and disgust that I traipsed back to the bus, ready to cleanse my brain with a new barrage of Glasgow facts.

One of the first buildings we passed belonged to the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama which happened, on that very day, to be having its graduation ceremony. Grads were standing out front taking photos with their parents, and I saw more than one man dressed up in a kilt. Incidentally, my husband and I are going to a Scottish wedding this fall, and kilts are mandatory for all male guests. We investigated the possibility of buying, rather than renting, a kilt, since it's the kind of thing that can come in handy when you are in the UK and have lots of Scottish friends. It turns out that the skirt part alone costs at least 400 pounds, and the jacket--which is cut differently than a regular suit jacket--costs that much as well. Then you have to add in all the accoutrements, like the little garter and the dagger and the purse that hangs around the waist (flashes, sgian dhubs, and sporrans, if you prefer), as well as kilt pins, cuff links, a belt with a big manly buckle, a ruche tie, a Ghillie shirt, special kilt socks, and Ghillie brogues (shoes). Obviously, you don't have to purchase every last one of those, but most people have at least the first three. The bottom line is, kilt prices are outrageous. Speaking of "bottoms," men in kilts used to be banned from riding on the top level of open-air buses, because on windy days they were at risk of flashing all the other passengers (because, as everyone knows, you just don't wear undies with kilts).

The next part of our journey took us to the eastern part of the city, past the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, at which the first X-rays in the UK were taken in 1897, by John Mcintyre. Next up was the beautiful Glasgow Cathedral, which dates to the 13th century. At one point, the Scottish hero-outlaw Rob Roy was chased through the Cathedral by authorities; the building still bears "wounds" from stray musket balls.

(The Glasgow Cathedral. Thanks to for the image.)

Next to the cathedral is the Glasgow Necropolis, a large Victorian cemetery that looks more like a park that just happens to be filled with large stone monuments; it was modeled after a similar space in Paris. Although the Necropolis is next to a Christian cathedral, its first "addition" was actually Jewish--a tobacco merchant, like many of the other people buried in the cemetery.

At some point after leaving the Necropolis, we passed something that caused me to take copious notes about the first prime minister of Canada. I have no idea what that was, but I do know that Canada's first prime minister was Sir John Alexander Macdonald, who was born in Glasgow in 1815, immigrated to Canada, and served as prime minister from 1867-1873 and then again from 1878-1891. During his time in office, he oversaw the creation of the Mountees. Because he has such a magnificently 19th-century haircut, and because I have no picture of whatever it was that inspired me to jot down all this information on him, here is a portrait of the man himself:

(Sir John Alexander Macdonald, first PM of Canada, knighted for his efforts to bring about the Canadian Confederation. Thanks to for the image.)

At the southeast corner of the city (or, at least, at the southeast corner of our tour of the city) sits the People's Palace and Winter Gardens. This was opened in 1898 in order to provide a place of loveliness that all citizens could enjoy; its creation was in direct opposition to the crowded, dirty conditions that were becoming rampant in the new industrial era. The Winter Gardens are enclosed in the greenhouse behind the "palace." Supposedly, the shape of the greenhouse roof is an exact replica of the shape of the upside-down hull of Admiral Nelson's ship, the HMS Victory.

(The People's Palace and Winter Gardens, Glasgow. Thanks to for the image.)

Out in front of the Palace is the Doulton Fountain, also known as the Terracotta Fountain. It is not only the largest terracotta fountain in the world, but also the best-preserved example of that particular genre of structure. It was unveiled in 1888 at an exhibition in the aforementioned Kelvingrove Park (site of the Commonwealth bowling greens), then moved to its current location in Glasgow Green in 1890.

(Glasgow's Doulton, or Terracotta, Fountain, situated in the Glasgow Green along the River Clyde.)

Behind the fountain, you'll notice the spectacularly ornate facade of Templeton's Carpet Factory. At one point in time, there actually was a working carpet mill behind those beautiful walls, which look better suited for the residence of a shah. This magnificent building was under construction from 1888-1892. Templeton was quite prosperous; one of his many accomplishments was providing carpeting for the Titanic.

Glasgow is responsible, whether you realize it or not, for one of the most iconic animals in US television commercial history: Clydesdale horses, featured in many Budweiser ads. These working animals were once responsible for doing all the heavy lifting in many industrial settings. Three Clydesdales are in residence at Glasgow Green--Don, Ben, and Jack. Lucky for them, there are now alternatives to their kind of horsepower, so their main occupation these days is entertaining visitors.

On our way back to the western bit of the city, we passed the "Whistling Kirk," so named because singing was not allowed in churches, but if you were really desperate for some music, you could whistle a tune instead. As we approached a bridge that stretched from one side of the Clyde to the other, our tour guide informed us that a) actor Mickey Rooney's father was born in a house on the opposite side of the bank, near the base of the bridge, and b) one of the last hangings in the city had been carried out on the bridge, and the criminal--who had been convicted of "mothering" his wife--had been strung up facing the commemorative Admiral Nelson obelisk in Glasgow Green. This was the second time our tour guide had mentioned the crime of "mothering," and after quite a bit of thought I finally came to the conclusion that she must actually have been saying "murdering." However, the Scottish have a very distinctive way of pronouncing the word "murder," and it can't usually be confused with "mother." So perhaps she said "smother"? I may never know.

We were also informed that Glasgow had previously had a leper colony near here, in an area on the south bank of the Clyde called "The Gorbals." The lepers were allowed to come into the city only once a week in order to obtain supplies. Even once the colony was gone, the area maintained its reputation for being gritty and dangerous. Unsurprisingly, given the transformations one often finds in a bustling city, The Gorbals are now an increasingly prosperous suburb.

Close by was the Scotia Pub, originally founded in 1792, one on of the four original streets in town. Our tour guide stated that this is the oldest pub in Glasgow, but as I mentioned previously, there seemed to be one of those on every corner. We also drove past a statue of the Duke of Wellington sitting atop his horse, Copenhagen, in front of the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art:

It may surprise you to learn that this is not the Duke's first choice of headwear. However, there is a tradition among schoolkids to sneak the traffic cone atop his head each night, in response to which city officials remove it each morning (apparently they were a bit late on this day, given that it was about 2 PM by the time we drove past). Actually, I think the Duke probably appreciates the cone, as it prevents pigeons from sitting on, and pooing in, his hair--which they clearly have done in the past.

Again for no discernible reason, my notebook contains several comments about James Watt, the Glaswegian "instrument maker" who was responsible for developing the modern steam engine. He didn't actually invent the engine, but instead made alterations to an existing model (the Newcomen) in order to make it more efficient. Basically, he conceived of adding a separate condensation chamber so that steam could be condensed into water in such a way that only a minimal amount of heat was lost. Or something along those lines--engineering and physics aren't exactly my strong suits.

In the middle of the city, on Mitchell Street, we passed the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Lighthouse Building. That's a bit of an odd name, considering that Mackintosh was actually just an apprentice to the architect John Keppie, who actually designed the building. Also, the "lighthouse" doesn't actually function as such, but it does provide a high vantage point from which to survey the area. At one point, the facility provided space for the headquarters of the Glasgow Herald. It is now Scotland's Centre for Architecture, Design, and the City. This may sound a bit exclusive, but members of the public are welcome to swing by and walk up the spiral staircase in order to look out over Glasgow and the Clyde.

(The Lighthouse on Mitchell Street, Glasgow. Image courtesy of

The last couple stops on the tour were on the south side of the Clyde, in the neighborhood of our hotel and conference center. On our way, we passed under a massive underpass whose supporting pillars had been decorated by Australian artist Sam Bates in honor of the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Over a three-week period, using only spray-paint, he created several mini-murals and one giant mural featuring athletes performing in some of the sports that will be competed in the Games. The major mural is devoted mostly to water-based sports, and is so life-like that you feel as though your fingers would get wet if you reached out and touched it. Most impressive.

We crossed the river via the Clyde Arc, otherwise known as the "Squinty Bridge" because it goes across the river at an angle rather than taking the shortest route. Don't ask me how "diagonal" and "meandering" translate into "squinty." It must be a Scottish thing. Incidentally, Glaswegians (or perhaps the Scottish in general) appear to be very fond of nicknames. When we first arrived in the city, our driver also told us that the Clyde Auditorium, located next to our hotel, is known as The Armadillo; the IMAX theater portion of the Glasgow Science Centre is known as The Cocoon; and the BBC Scotland building across the river is known as The Biscuit Tin.

(The Squinty Bridge. The bridge-like structure at the near left is a pedestrian walkway that connects the two banks of the Clyde. However, in order to allow tall boats to pass, it can swing around like this to provide an open passage. This appears to occur particularly often on weekends, when personal craft and tour boats patrol the waters.)

(The Armadillo, as seen from our hotel room window.)

(The Cocoon, where my husband and I watched the third Transformers movie in 3D on the IMAX screen. The size of the theater was spectacular; the movie was not.)

(The Biscuit Tin. One night we were sitting in our hotel room watching the BBC evening news when we realized that the reporter was sitting in front of a backdrop featuring real-time footage shot from the Biscuit Tin. It showed the Squinty Bridge, the Clyde, a tiny bit of the conference center, and all the construction nearby.)

The Clyde is a 106-mile tidal river that rises 16 feet at high tide. On either side of the Squinty Bridge is a rotunda, one of which currently contains an Asian fusion restaurant. Back in the day, however, the purpose of the rotundas was to house the mechanics for lifts that lowered and raised horses and carts that needed to get across from one side of the Clyde to the other (obviously, this was before the Squinty Bridge was installed).

At the end of the tour, I got off the bus at the Glasgow Science Centre, rather than at my hotel, so that I could take the short walk home and collect some of the lovely photos featured above. I wanted to make sure I got a good shot of our accommodations, which were so posh that some of the guests there arrived by yacht:

(The Glasgow Crowne Plaza. I swear that neither the building nor I was tipping over when this photo was taken--that is just my strange vantage point from the foot bridge.)

I'd like to take this moment to mention that the food at both the hotel's bar and restaurant was absolutely fabulous. One night I ordered a lobster risotto starter with mango salsa that was so good I had to get it again the next night. We also had an incredible meal at the Ubiquitous Chip, an establishment near the University of Glasgow that had been recommended by a friend and was also featured in a guide book provided by our taxi driver. Everything was delicious, but the most memorable course was my oatmeal ice cream--which not only contained bits of oatmeal, but also came with an oatmeal crust. I swear, there is nothing that Scottish people can't do with oats--or, for that matter, seafood, which I ate nearly every night. I also have to recommend La Fiorentina, which I read about online. It is supposedly the best Italian restaurant in Glasgow. In a city filled with Italian restaurants (there is a large Italian community there), this is high praise. Our entire meal was delicious, from the minestrone and pomodoro e buffalo mozzarella salad starters to the panna cotta and strawberry mess desserts. Also, props to our waiter for sneaking a birthday candle into my husband's dessert and singing "Happy Birthday" while he delivered it.

Really, the only down side to our visit was the fact that we had to spend the whole time working. Also, it wasn't so great to have our flight home canceled; we had to spend an extra night...but at least we got free accommodations and a free meal. I've heard lots of people compare Glasgow unfavorably to Edinburgh, but I'm not so sure that's fair. I do love Edinburgh, but Glasgow has an awful lot going on. Even though it has a more industrial past, while Edinburgh's history is a bit more cerebral, many of the old buildings have been preserved or renovated beautifully, and the city is full of hidden gems. I bet it is a great place to explore; I could see where you might constantly be finding new and interesting places, people, and experiences. I definitely hope to go back someday and see it from a better vantage point than a bus seat.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

City Sightseeing: Glasgow, Scotland, Part I

Let's face it, there's nothing worse than really obviously looking like a tourist when you travel. People give you disgusted looks, honk their horns and ride your bumper when you drive around looking for your next turn, and roll their eyes behind your back every time you consult a map or whip out your camera or open your mouth and speak with an accent. At least, that's what I always do to tourists in my town, so I assume that other people do it elsewhere.

I always try my very hardest to fit in when I travel, to the point of hesitating to photograph things I really like, or taking a ridiculously long trip around the block rather than double back and go somewhere I accidentally passed, just because I can't bear to stand out as an out-of-towner. Well, last week I had to push all of those emotions aside so that I could do one of the absolute most tourist-y things possible: a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of a city--in this case, Glasgow.

In my defense, I had spent most of my time in Glasgow working very hard to meet a work deadline, and I just didn't have any time to explore the city until my last day in town. I didn't need to leave for the airport until 4:30 PM, and I couldn't think of any other way to cover that much of the city in the few hours I had. Plus, the bus had a stop right outside my hotel, so it practically seemed preordained. In the end, as cheesy as I felt doing the tour, I'm glad I swallowed my pride. The city was really beautiful and I learned a lot--partly because I whipped out my notebook and took notes the entire time, so that you, Dear Reader, could benefit from my new-found knowledge.

(Glasgow's Riverside Museum)

The first stop was the brand spanking new transportation museum, which was located just a short walk away from our hotel on the banks of the Clyde River. In the water next to the museum, you'll notice a tall ship that was originally built on the Clyde, shipped somewhere in mainland Europe, forgotten about, rediscovered, and then sent back to Glasgow. According to my tour guide, the museum staff have a stuffed "ship's cat" that they hide in a different place each day. The first visitor to find it every day receives a certificate and a lollipop. As we drove past the transport museum, I noticed two people dressed as gulls, running around in the outdoor seating area in order to scare off actual gulls that were attempting to steal food. What wouldn't I have given to have obtained a photo of that scene?

We then passed one of only 2 remaining shipyards in Glasgow, where work is currently underway on an aircraft carrier for the British Navy. Originally there had been plans to work on part of the ship in Glasgow and part somewhere in England. This was previously attempted on a submarine, which builders were unable to fit together because the different temperatures in the two cities had caused the ship parts to be different sizes. Thus, new plans need to be made for the aircraft carrier so it can avoid the same fate.

As we made our way into town, we passed one of the oldest bars in Glasgow (although, judging by comments form my two different tour guides, Glasgow is full of "oldest bars"). Supposedly, the person who invented square-toed shoes is from Glasgow, and frequented that bar; when asked why he thought that would be a good design for footwear, he replied that the square toes allowed him to get closer to the bar. There were several Indian restaurants on the street, prompting our tour guide to tell us about the invention of chicken tikka masala, the most popular dish in Britain. It was first made in Glasgow after a customer in an Indian restaurant asked for gravy to go with his tandoori chicken. The cook used what he had on hand, including a can of tomato soup and a handful of traditional Indian herbs and spices. Glasgow, like many other parts of Britain, has quite a bit of international flavor; while we sat at a stoplight, I looked over and saw a mosque on the corner, which is continues to be a bit of a surprise for me since I never saw any during the first, say, 20 years of my life.

Soon, we passed the University of Glasgow, which was founded in 1451 and is the fourth oldest university in the UK. The campus is really beautiful, partly because it is composed of lots of attractive old buildings set up on a hill and is surrounded by picturesque woodland. As we turned into the main campus, we passed a statue of Lord Kelvin, who invented the concept of absolute zero. Kelvin's name, and the name of many other noteworthy former students, was written on the university's memorial gate, which lists quite an honor roll of outstanding individuals.

(University of Glasgow. Thanks to for the photo.)

As we drove around the streets near the university, I couldn't help but notice patches of soot that were left on the old buildings where cleaners couldn't quite reach. They were remnants of the filth that covered Glasgow, and many other industrial cities, as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Seeing the buildup on these structures makes you wonder what it looked like inside of the residents' lungs. Another interesting architectural note concerns the materials out of which the buildings were made. The city is full of stately old buildings constructed from red stone, as well as more recent ones were made of white stone. The former is a type of stone created in the distant geological past, when Scotland was a desert. After supplies of this material ran out, the Scots had to switch to the latter, which was formed under water during an ice age, when the British Isles were forced into the ocean under the weight of the glaciers.

After leaving the University, we passed stops for the Glasgow subway, affectionately called the "Clockwork Orange." It is the third oldest subway in the world, after the London and Budapest lines. Pretty amazing to think that 19th-century builders were capable of such things without all the technological advances that aid construction today.

We also passed the beautiful Glasgow Botanic Gardens, which I would have loved to wander through on foot. Their original purpose was to provide a place to grow medicinal herbs, but now the gardens are full of all sorts of species.

(Greenhouse at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. Thanks to for the image.)

Not too far away was an old church that had been converted into a pub called Òran Mór’s. Here, you can pay a flat fee to indulge in "a play, a pie, and a pint" which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like--a steak pie to eat, a pint of beer to drink, and a play to watch while having dinner. Just down the road was the Curlers Rest, the oldest pub on Byres Road, one of the main thoroughfares in Glasgow. A tavern is reported to have stood in that location since the 17th century, before Glasgow was even a proper city. The current pub derives its name from the fact that a curling rink used to be located nearby, and after games, players would relax there and have a pint (or few).

Glasgow is famous for having an obscene number of city parks (90--more than any other city in Western Europe), which became a necessity with the advent of the tenement, a housing option that deprived residents of any personal garden space. In the park bordering the beautiful Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum, preparations are currently underway for the Commonwealth Games. The Games aren't until 2014, but gardeners have already been working on installing bowling greens for the past 9 months. Obviously, it takes quite a lot of time and TLC to create world class bowling greens.

After we passed by one of the many places in town in which a criminal had once been hanged, our tour guide told us the (supposed) origin of the expression "getting off Scot free." Apparently, the Scottish justice system has (or had; I'm not clear on the time line of this fact or, in fact, its veracity) three possible verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and not proven. Basically "not proven" means that everyone knows you are guilty, but there is not enough evidence to convict you. Thus, if you get off "Scot free," you have been given a verdict of "not proven" and have received no punishment despite your actual guilt. I don't know if that is accurate, but I like the story anyway.

As we made our way towards the center of town, we passed an old tenement building with a large clock facing the road. Evidently, its hands have always pointed to 12:00, so residents always assumed it was broken. However, during a recent restoration of the building it was discovered that the clock actually isn't a clock--there is no time-keeping mechanism at all, but simply a numbered face with hands. You have to wonder whether that was intentional, or a mistake made during the building's construction.

I noticed that there were many Art Deco buildings around Glasgow, including both hotels and theaters. I suppose that's not entirely surprising in a city filled with old, well-kept buildings, but for some reason Art Deco always seems hard to come by--I've only ever seen a couple original (though restored) examples of this particular style, which is a shame because it has a sleek, suave sort of feel. Several of the Art Deco buildings in Glasgow were theaters, and, in fact, there were many theaters, in general (both the cinema type and the kind use for live performances); our tour guide mentioned that at one point there were over a hundred operational in the city at a single time. One locale was "The Pavilion," which originally opened in 1904 and is currently being restored. The building has a sliding roof, which I gathered is now being returned to functionality, and the slogan of the theater was "If you want to see the stars, come to the Pavilion." Again, a pretty impressive building achievement given the era.

(The Beresford Hotel, Glasgow--just one example of many Art Deco buildings in town. Thanks to for the photo.)

Speaking of interesting constructions, we drove past the Buchanan Bus Station, outside of which is the famous Glasgow running clock:
(The running clock outside Buchanan Bus Station in Glasgow, Scotland. Thanks to for the photo and background info.)

The clock was commissioned by Radio Clyde in celebration of its 25th anniversary. Placing it outside the train station, which I'm sure has seen its share of rushing people, was an inspired choice.

Our next stop was George Square, named after the British King George III. Interestingly, none of the many statues there is of him. The area was laid out around the time that George lost the American colonies, and the Glaswegians absolutely hated him--their economy at the time was based almost exclusively on potato imports from Ireland and tobacco imports from the Americas. Thus, it was decided that while the square could bear his name, no further commemoration was necessary or appropriate.

(A turn-of-the-century photocrom print of George Square. Surprisingly, though this image is from the US Library of Congress, I found it via the Russian version of Wikipedia...and it pictures a place in Scotland. How bizarre.)

However, there are many other statues in the square, including Sir Walter Scott perched atop the obelisk (he's so popular in Scotland that he's prominently featured in both Edinburgh and Glasgow and, I'm sure, many other places, as well). Another statue pays tribute to the long-standing, and oldest (in age) British Prime Minister, William Ewert Gladstone. The statue shows Gladstone holding a book in one hand, seemingly keeping his place by sticking his finger between the pages. In reality, however, he was actually missing that figure (it had been blown off in a hunting accident when he was a boy), and this pose was suggested by the sculptor after Gladstone requested that his disfigurement be disguised. If our tour guide hadn't told us that, I would never have noticed. You kind of have to feel sorry for Gladstone that the very feature he was trying to hide is the thing that everyone discusses when they see his statue.

In the background of the print you can see the Victorian-era City Chambers, inside of which can be found the famous mosaic of the city's coat of arms. The Chambers were modeled after a famous Venetian building (I didn't catch the name and Wikipedia isn't helping me), and many different Italian architectural styles can be found at play on its exterior. Americans might notice a small statue of liberty atop the building, apparently even older than the one in New York. Even more exciting is the building located at the near end of the block on the right side of the picture. Its bottom floor houses Jamie Oliver's restaurant, jamie's italian. Oh, the things I could have eaten if only I'd had more time. And money.

Since this was the point in the trip when we paused to switch bus drivers and tour guides, it seems like a good time to have a pause in the virtual tour, as well. Tune in next time to find out about the terracotta fountain, the Clydesdale horses, the cathedral, and much more.