Family, friends and free trains

After a couple of days in Glasgow, we head to Oban to meet up with my mum and sister who have come up from Kent to Glasgow on the overnight sleeper train.  The plan was to arrive before them (yes, was…), get a few essentials for our cottage before meeting them at Oban station.  Anthony and I set off from Glasgow, the weather is not the best but not as wet as forecast again today.  We enjoy the lush green scenery for an hour before the train stops at Helensburgh.  People get on, then off again others get off and back on again.  There seems to be some confusion.  Apart from the bell sound as the intercom comes on, we can’t hear anything, we have a dud intercom in our carriage.  The couple who came on, then off, have now come on again but they are going to Glasgow.  What do they know we don’t yet?  Twenty minutes later and with another bell sound and no message, the train starts up again but goes backwards, obviously back to Glasgow.  A young lady beside us with internet access explains that the line ahead has been washed away and all trains NW of Glasgow have been cancelled.  We find out later that while the track is still there, a couple of feet of soil below it has been washed away – a suspended rail line if you will – and all trains are being replaced with coaches.

A tweeted photo of the track at Helensburgh

Just as the train pulls into Glasgow Queen Street railway station, a lady from Scotrail asks us where we are headed and adds 2 ticks to her Oban list.  We are in the last carriage and are the last ones to be asked.  No time for any explanation.

We all get off at Glasgow Queen Street, unsure as to where to go and get our replacement coach.  Glasgow station is the middle of refurbishments and is a bit of a zoo at the best of times.  But what do I notice?  My mum and sister talking to a guard, also trying to find out where to go next.  Well, that is not exactly how we had planned to meet.  Not the relaxed welcome but a scramble to somewhere.  The place is a zoo, no announcement, no one to direct us, but we eventually find someone who guides us to a bus and off we go. The 4 of us.

The journey to Oban is extremely scenic.  We are grateful for the calm and excellent coach driver as many places, and bends especially, are barely 2 cars wide.  

ScotRail must have lost lots of money around that time with all the delayed journeys:  30 minutes late and you get 50% of the cost of your ticket back, 60 minutes and more late, your journey is fully refunded.  Small recompense for the hassle.

Ominous skies in Oban…

The trip to Oban is part of my mum’s 90th birthday present and the plan for our the first full day in Oban is to take my mum to a place she has always wanted to go to: Staffa island.  Our tour today includes the following: ferry from Oban to the island of Mull,  a 1.5 hr coach ride across Mull, ferry to Iona, 2.5 hours on Iona exploring the chapel and abbey, ferry to Staffa with 1.5 hours on Staffa before doing the same journey back to Oban.   There are many tours out of Oban and we are impressed by the organisation of Staffatours and our brilliant bus driver Sheila in particular.

Heading out of Oban

With my mum, leaving Oban for Mull


Mull here we come

The weather magically clears perfectly for us and we are amazed how my mum, in her 90th year,  managed to climb up all those stairs on Staffa – truly remarkable and inspiring!!

Island of Mull

Island of Mull

Fun scarecrow competition, Island of Mull


Heading onto a ferry from Mull to Iona

Iona chapel and Abbey


Staffa lies 10 kms west of the island of Mull and is known for its vertical basalt columns and a cave said by Mendelssohn to have inspired his Hebrides Overture.  Sadly, due to renovations at the entrance of the cave, we were not able to enter the cave.  A long but magnificient day nonetheless. 


A special moment setting foot on Staffa

Staffa basalt columns

Made it to the top, my sister Diane, our mum and me, Staffa

Time to take it all in, Staffa

The ever patient Anthony

Mum and Anthony in the distance, Diane lying getting the perfect shot midway

Mendelssohn’s cave on Staffa

A couple more days in Oban for shorter day trips.

13th century Dunstaffnage castle

Walking to Dunstaffnage chapel

The magical forest around Dunstaffnage castle

Dunollie Castle, near Oban

The return trip to Kent 3 days later was nothing short of horrendous:  the train line was still closed for another few weeks, so buses are put on. We are refused access to the earlier stopping bus to the nearest train station, have to wait another hour, by which time the number of passengers is more than double the capacity of the single bus.  Although we manage to get on, one confused passenger gets the driver to make a short detour to drop her off at a small village – she thought that was where she was going to get onto the train, but that was the wrong village.  By the time we get to our destination, we have missed the train!  Our bus driver is not allowed to go all the way to Glasgow, just 61kms away.  An hour later, another coach, with 4 fewer seats arrives.  Another zoo… and another free train ticket.  (But not when they have busses…) But what amazing luck we had – we saw all we wanted under beautiful skies.  A very special trip with my mum and sister (and Anthony).

Scotland is calling me back already!…

After Scotland, we spend a few days catching up with our niece and a few old friends in Kent.  We really enjoyed a community movie night organised by Anthony’s old college friend.  The number of volunteers involved and the services they provide such as driving people who are unable to drive themselves, the inclusion of two shorts around the theme of the movie, Green Book, and historical documents explaining what the “Negro’s Green Book” was about made for an inspiring and very enjoyable evening. 

Rusthall Community Cinema volunteers, Kent

Interesting historic documents add to the movie experience

Me picking the main prize – and my own number!!

Enjoyed watching my niece Camilla play netball

Time for a trip see family and friends in France too.  More new sights, lots of live music, lots of long walks and way too much food!! 

Old friends from uni time in Lille, here in Jonsac

Église St-Gervais-St-Protais, Jonsac

12th century graffiti, Église de Moings

12th century graffiti, Église de Moings

Église St-Martin de Chadenac

Notice the vending machine outside the boulangerie

Bought my first fresh baguette out of this machine

Sunrise on l’ile d’Yeu

Ile d’Yeu must have the largest concentration of old French cars

With my dad

Typical beach carpark, Ile d’Yeu

“I can save a life – respect me”

Ile d’Yeu at siesta time

Ile d’Yeu siesta time

Ile d’Yeu

Now it is time to return to Iceland, and get rid of all those extra kilos.  Let’s hope our new gloves are waterproof and warm or better still, that the waterproofing feature is not tested too much…

– Anne

Glasgow: a surprise package

As our train pulls into Glasgow Queen Street High Level Station, I reflect that I know almost nothing about the city. My knowledge of Glasgow is limited to secondary school geography from the 1960’s and a quick scan of the web last week to find something of interest for Anne of a cultural nature in what was once a major industrial city. At least I now know that there is a high and a low level station, my knowledge is improving.

We walk out through the station, which is a construction site, and into a city that surprises me with its magnificent Victorian architecture. I am struck by the number of buildings that have survived from the Victorian/Edwardian eras that line both sides of the streets including the impressive Buchanan St which has been turned into a pedestrian mall lined with shops. Each building front has such detail: sculptures, columns, towers. The Industrial Revolution funded the work and architects Charles Mackintosh and Alexander Thomson were influential in shaping what we see today. We wander through the city sensing a vitality and energy from those around us. On our walk to our hotel we learn that it does have a hill and step streets in places!

Typical mix of architecture and magnificent buildings in Glasgow

1895 home, Glasgow

Glasgow’s cathedral

The 1938 Beresford Hotel, Glasgow’s first skyscraper

Lively Glasgow city centre

Cranston House leads to 1797 Sloan’s Bar, Argyle St

1873 Briggait hall now an artist exhibition space

We do notice a number of people sleeping rough and begging, empty shopfronts on some streets, rubbish in alleys. We are seeing a grittier edge to the city. Since this is our first European city we have visited for some time, we cannot judge it this is normal for cities or an aberration. It certainly is in contrast to the positive feel we have of the city in general.

Flower displays everywhere in Glasgow

More places are letting natural meadow flowers flourish

Merchant City, Glasgow

A horse tree?

Painted Lady butterflies have been prolific this summer – we saw 10 on this single bush

As you will have seen from Anne’s post on street art in Glasgow, the fourth in the series following those on Malaysia, Santiago and Reykjavik, there is an amazing variety of work on display across the centre of the city, as usual in so many odd and unexpected places. Our search is quite interesting as we do not know if the paintings we are looking for are one meter or 20 meters high. It does take our first day exploring to find both those on the offical lists and quite a few unexpected new additions.

Having come from Edinburgh where a number of the older buildings are still covered in grime from previous centuries, I am taken by the high number of ‘clean’ buildings revealing the greys, reds and whites of the original stone. I learn that the cleaning process was undertaken by spraying a latex solution on the building’s surface which, when pealed back 24 hours later, removed the black grit built up during the coal based industrial period. This was first trialed on the Kelvingrove building which is now the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which is home to a painting that Anne has loved for many years but had no idea of its home, neither did I.

Inside Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow

Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow, Spitfire flew with 602 Sqn City of Glasgow

“Christ of Saint John of the Cross” by Salvador Dali was purchased for Glasgow Corporation in 1952 by Tom Honeyman, then the Director of Glasgow Museums. It was a controversial purchase at the time with art students protesting that the money could be better spent on local artists. I am fairly certain their views would have changed today. As I have mentioned previously I love finding a single classic painting in a small collection such as “Luncheon of the Boating Party” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. which we saw in 2015 on RTW1.There is a great range of art and local history at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and kids are well catered for.

Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross, Glasgow

We have enjoyed our time here, enjoyed the vibrancy and humour, walked 10kms a day, but there is more to see so if we pass this way, we will visit Glasgow again and explore further. How many other underestimated cities are out there for us to find?

Glaswegian sense of humour: The coned Duke of Wellington statue outside GoMA, Glasgow

More Gaswegian humour

The things you do on your Buck’s night

Let’s ride the streets of Glasgow

Floating witch?

– Anthony

Street art in Glasgow

Part of the joy of discovering new places is to meander without any fixed itinerary, and taking the time to notice and enjoy the place’s smaller details that make up life there, taking in the atmosphere and talking to people. The beauty of street art is that you find it in the most unexpected places, often returning life to what were run down or dingy areas – it invariably puts a smile on my face due to either its message or humour, often both.

Glasgow has been a revelation to both of us but this post is solely about its street art which has been fun finding.

The most impressive mural to me is the one by Smug, Sam Bates, in what was once a delapidated car park, depecting all sorts of local ‘residents’ found in parks and green spaces, as if appearing through cracks in the wall, throughout the seasons. The longer I spent looking at it, the more detail I found, right down to the identical reflection of the church facing the wall in the squirrel and wolf’s eyes and the berry on the ground which the blue tit is eyeing.

Glasgow seasonal residents

Autumn residents, mural, Glasgow

Close up of Autumn

Winter residents, mural


Summer fright!

This fun one of a taxi floating at the end of a bunch of colourful balloons is so detailed, the artist, Rogue-One, even painted the bricks onto the brick wall! Thank you to all the drivers who stopped to give me space to step back and photograph this taxi in the narrow lane way.

Balloon Taxi mural by Rogue-One, Glasgow

Alleyways, underpasses, whole sides of buildings, Glasgow is rich in street art, commemorating famous but also every day people or activities.

Girl with magnifying glass, by Smug (Sam Bates)

Celebrating sustainable energy, by Rogue-One and Art-Pistol, 2014 – Glasgow

Celebrating sustainable energy, by Rogue-One and Art-Pistol, Glasgow

Cranston House entrance

Are Ye Dancing,, Cranston House, Glasgow

“Dr Connelly I presume”

Billy Connolly 75th birthday , by Rogue-One, Glasgow

Glasgow’s tiger by Klingatron and Art Pistol

The Clutha bar, Glasgow celebrating local patrons and Architect Charles Rennie Macintosh

Woman in black, Glasgow

Woman in black, Glasgow

Spaceman by Recoat and Ali Wylie, Glasgow

Badminton player Kieran Merrilees as part of the 2014 Commonwealth games

Part of the 2014 Commonwealth games, outside Partick train station, Glasgow

Glasgow Royal College of Science & Technology

Glasgow Royal College of Science & Technology

Glasgow Royal College of Science & Technology

Glasgow Royal College of Science & Technology

St Enoch cradling her beloved Mungo, by Smug, Glasgow

Close up of Mungo clutching his mother

Saint Mungo’s robin which he brought back to life

Saint Mungo, by Smug – 2016

Saint Mungo mural, Glasgow

A history of transport mural

Squirrel near Kelvin River

Hand shadow puppetry mural, Glasgow

Hand shadow puppetry mural, Glasgow

I always love looking back when visiting a place or travelling generally, as it gives a different perspective or at times reveals a new mural. I wonder which mural will turn out to be your favourite.

If you enjoy street art too, I wrote blog posts on street art in George Town – Malaysia, in Santiago – Chile and in Reykjavik – Iceland.

– Anne