Ireland/Britain 1998 day 20: Glasgow

In the morning, I stumbled down for breakfast in SYHA hostel. It was a crummy breakfast, but included in the price, and I was getting my money’s worth on 9 February 1998. In the breakfast room, the big, hairy Hells Angels type of guy who did most of the smoking and shouting the previous night sat down right across with me and tried to strike up a conversation. As if he had not been the most inconsiderate person in the world. As if he didn’t know that I loathed him with every fiber of my being. Luckily, I was too tired to speak my mind and responded only with non-committal grunts.

There actually is an independent hostel in Glasgow, their flyer posted to lampposts by the SYHA hostel as if they were freedom pamphlets for poor travelers stuck in overpriced rooms with brutish thugs. So I checked out of the SYHA hostel and checked into Globetrotters Hostel. I was shown to a funky room called the Death Star and assigned to a bunk called Darth Vader. In the kitchen, sesame bread with butter, jam and lemon curd was freely available. Much better.

Glasgow reminds me of Philadelphia, kind of grubby and rundown but with marvelous cultural institutions in unexpected places. I visited two museums this day, both of which were excellent. First I visited the St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art. The collection included well-interpreted and presented artifacts of religious traditions from throughout the world. I don’t think there’s any other museum I’ve ever seen quite like it. Next I visited The Burrell Collection, a spectacular modern building with a fantastic collection of stained glass and medieval tapestries among other things.

It was a good day for museums as the wind was so fierce that the rain fell sideways and I was completely soaked after waiting for the bus to the Burrell Collection. My umbrella was toast and I was down to my last pair of clean pants. That evening I attempted to catch up on my laundry, and went to a laundromat my guidebook claimed was open until 9 pm. The lights were on, the door was open, people were doing there laundry, and there were no hours or closed sign on the door. So I went and started filling a washing machine when the old woman who ran the place came over and yelled at me that the laundromat was closed. I steamed in rage as I stomped back to the hostel.

In the lounge I joined the other guests reading questions from Trivial Pursuit cards. My favorite question that came up that night: “What is the largest city in Scotland?” They were nice people but I didn’t really bond with them. As I wrote in my journal “they’re all Australians looking for work and I’m an American on holiday at a stupid time of the year.”

Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral reflects off the sodden square it shares with St. Mungo’s Museum.

Thinker & Otter

Art at the Burrell Colection: The Thinker by August Rodin, 1880, bronze. The Otter by K&M International, 1992, polyester fiber.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 19: Belfast and across the sea to Scotland

Another Sunday in Ireland, I start the day of 8 February 1998 with a long walk to view the murals and sites of West Belfast. I start at Milltown Cemetery where many Irish Republicans including those who died as a result of the 1981 hunger strike are buried. I walk along Falls Road where there are a great variety of political murals, some covering entire buildings such as the headquarters of Sinn Fein. Compared to Derry, the murals are a shoddy and uninspired. At least many of the newer looking ones portray visions of a peaceful future. This is less true in Sandy Row, an adjacent Protestant neighborhood where the murals depict calls for violent action and “No Surrender!”

Bummed out by all of this, and feeling like a “terrorism tourist,” I head to the more cheerful environs of the Belfast Botanic Gardens. I don’t know much about plants but I love botanical gardens and visit them in any city I encounter them. Belfast’s is quite lovely with a couple of large greenhouses dating back over 100 years. I refresh myself in the warm, misty, lush surroundings.

In the afternoon, I departed Belfast and Ireland for good, setting sail on the SeaCat ferry – aka the “vomit comet” – to Stranraer in Scotland. Sharing my passage are a large number of drunken Scotsmen in kilts returning from the Five Nations Rugby match in Dublin. Scotland won so at least they were happy drunken Scotsmen in kilts. As the ferry picked up speed and the seas got rough, they spilled more and more of their beer on the deck. They took advantage of this by turning the ferry into a giant slip and slide.

I saw a fellow tourist trying to take a picture of a drunken, dancing sliding Scotsman but before she could the picture he lifted his kilt and showed us that he was wearing nothing but what God gave him. I talked with the flashee and learned that she was Charlotte, a Canadian traveling with an evangelical group called Youth With a Mission. After docking in Stranraer, I followed about a dozen of the young missionaries to the train station where the train was waiting empty and unlocked. We all just dumped our bags on the train and headed into town to find a chip shop for supper. Back on the train, we took our seats and ate, after a long prayer of grace of course.

An hour later the train steamed off to Glasgow. I arrived tired and dopey and stumbled to the SYHA Glasgow Youth Hostel. I’d been staying in independent hostels and avoiding the overpriced, overregulated HI hostels, but my Let’s Go guidebook listed this as the only one in town. After being charged for a sleepsack even though I brought my own, I was put in a room with two ruffians who stayed up all night smoking and shouting with the lights on. This was the most awful night of my vacation but somehow I fell into a fitful sleep.

Belfast mural

This wacky mural on the Falls Road appears to have no political significance, but I like it very much.


The Irish Nationalist movement gains solidarity from people around the world involved in political struggles.

Botanic Garden

A moment of solace in the Botanic Garden.


One of the more sober kilted Scotsman on the SeaCat to Scotland.