Scotland: Take Two

I surpassed a significant personal milestone this past week by planning and undertaking my first trip abroad- completely alone. From the very start of my Irish experience here, I knew I wanted to make this plunge. However, to say that all my fears and apprehensions of what could go wrong were immediately cast away would be a resounding lie. These hesitant moments were like hurdles: I either gathered the strength to overcome them, or rethought a better path.

So, this trip. The central event that formed my 36-hour Glasgow experience was the opportunity to see my favorite comedian of all time, Dara Ó Briain, live at his new show Crowd Tickler. I was ecstatic when I somehow managed to score a seat within 10 rows of the stage, and knew that I could work the commute over to Scotland’s largest city into a concentrated, self-guided tour. I did the vast majority of my research, admittedly, over Pinterest- a habit that has formed into quite an efficient way of gathering information about the cities I visit, their highlights, or best restaurants and then filing it away under its own board for later reference. As a slight tangent, I can highly recommend this strategy because it’s a brilliant way of hyping yourself up for the other side of that 7:15 AM flight!

I arrived in Glasgow just as the sun was fully rising, and camped out with my free 30 minutes of WIFI in an airport coffee shop to plan my day. I also got my hands on a box of these handy and delicious oat bars, which really saved me at times when I was only midway through a museum and felt hunger creeping its way in.

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I cannot find these in Irish Tesco stores, so before I left Scotland I bought another entire box- they were that good!

Speaking of museums- Glasgow has some of the neatest, smallest attractions of any city I have ever been to. Coming from a tourist town myself, I understand and am wary of how popular sites can become blown out of proportion until they are a letdown. It wasn’t the case here at all. During my airport coffee planning session I decided to split my sightseeing geographically; grouping what I wanted to see depending on if it were on the east side of Glasgow, or more towards the famous “West End”. Heading east, I found the Glasgow Cathedral that housed the supposed tomb of St. Mungo and some impressive stained glass windows. A short hike from the cathedral led to the somber and imposing Necropolis, which was the final resting place for the city’s many wealthy merchants. Winding down the hill, I spent another 2 hours in a museum of religion and religious life, which housed fabulous artifacts from not only Christianity, but Native American, African, and Eastern spirituality as well.

The Glasgow Cathedral seen from the top of the Necropolis.

The Glasgow Cathedral seen from the top of the Necropolis.

After working up a monstrous appetite that the oat bars could no longer subdue, I grabbed lunch at a strange little café called Where the Monkey Sleeps and checked into my youth hostel before eventually following an unexpectedly massive crowd to the comedy gig. Although no photos or video were allowed during the show, you must take my word for it: it was a BLAST, and completely worth every penny I’d spent.

My second day in Glasgow was dedicated to exploring the West End, and boy, did it deliver! I could have walked through the Botanic Gardens for several hours more than I allowed myself, simply breathing in the vibrant air and listening to the patter of rain on the greenhouse roofs. At one point that day the rain drove me inside a charity shop named Shelter, and I optimistically purchased an adorable sundress in thanks.

The sun finally came out above the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

The sun finally came out above the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

The hostel that I was staying at was situated atop a terraced hill, which was flanked on two sides by a sprawling public park- the likes of which I would have never expected in Scotland. Wherever I turned, a photo opportunity revealed itself before my eyes. By crossing through the park I arrived at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum- a massive brick structure housing both famous elephants and a Salvador Dalí painting- and spent every moment I could in there before security flushed me out for closing. My final hours in Glasgow were focused on the attainment of good food, which I found plenty of in both the Willow Tea Rooms (made famous by artist/architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh), and the Firebird restaurant on Argyle Street, which served up the most unexpectedly delicious butternut squash, goat cheese, and sage pizza I will probably ever have. Belly full, I returned to my apartment in Dublin that night.

This trip was just what I needed to unlock the door barring me from the world of solo travel. Like a shot of espresso, the adrenaline brought on in being in a new city with only my own wits to rely on was fuel to carry myself through those 2 days. I have absolutely no regrets, because I now know how much effort it takes to plan a vacation- even this tiny one- all by myself. My next solo trip is already in the works, and I hope experience will aid me in making it even better!

Colleen Boardman is a student at the University of Arkansas and an official API Student Blogger. Colleen is studying abroad with API in Dublin, Ireland.

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