Glasgow, Scotland: Trip Report. (Hogwarts, Protests and a harrowing descent into Airport Psychosis)
After a great summer living in Edinburgh, I was home in Ireland and starting to miss Scotland. I was kicking myself for not visiting Glasgow when I had the chance, the commute being only 2 hours from Edinburgh. I got word that one of my favourite bands, Death Cab For Cutie, were touring. No Irish dates. There was a Glaswegian one, though. A quick check on Ryanair to make sure flights were cheap and it was decided. I was going. City by day, concert by night. Solo trip.
My return flight the next day was an early one and I decided early on in the planning not to get accommodation for the night I would be in Glasgow as it would be pointless. I would be late getting out of the concert and due too early at the airport to make it feasible. I hoped the airport would have benches where I could catch a few zzzs before my flight home.
I was flying out from Dublin Airport, 2.5 hours away from me. So, my first port of call was an inter-city bus.
I’ve taken this particular Dublin–>Galway bus dozens of times and without fail, whenever I get on with the intention of sleeping, the driver decides to have a rave. Sleep just never happens.
This time was no exception. The lady in front of me disobeyed the cardinal rule of bus etiquette. She reclined BOTH her seats. She was only occupying one of them but felt the need to box me in as much as humanly possible. To say I was squashed is an understatement. I have quite long legs and the effect was that of Jeremy Clarkson stuck in a Mini Cooper. I spent most of the trip watching the baby across from me enviously, coveting its puffy swaddling clothes. Never has a baby looked as comfortable as that one did as it slept blissfully. Her mother caught me looking at the luxuriously soft suit with a pained expression on my face and nodded. She too knew the allure of the swaddling.
The airport was weirdly quiet for the time of morning and because I wasn’t checking any bags and had gotten my boarding pass online, I flew through security in less than 5 minutes. I didn’t set off any alarms, which is a big deal for me. Despite ruthless preparation, I always set off the security alarm. I could waltz through the machine barefoot and wearing an outfit entirely made of hemp and it would still happen. Swanning through security without a hitch was a novelty and I celebrated on the inside. I got a sandwich for breakfast and went to wait at the gate.
You know you’re bored when you’re hoping against hope that the airport survey minions with their clipboards will come over and talk to you. I appreciated their interest in my life and they made me question some important life decisions. Such as: “Why, exactly, did you get the bus this morning”? My answers were worthy of Proust.
GETTING TO GLASGOW
The flight was comfortable and way underbooked. The middle seat was free on my row so my rowmate and I had lots of room to stretch out and enjoy the floor show that was the main stewardess barking out orders at people too slow to switch off their ipods for take-off and landing, scolding them like naughty schoolchildren.
It was when we landed that the fun really began. I had researched online the best way to get from Prestwick Airport to Glasgow City centre and had settled on the bus as the cheapest and easiest option. I was making my way out the front doors when I noticed that all the stands filled with “things to do” leaflets and brochures were filled with Edinburgh attractions and there were dozens of maps and signs saying “How to get to Edinburgh from here”. I know it’s the capital and all but it smacked of some kind of weird Glaswegian inferiority complex. You certainly don’t land in Shannon West airport to find nothing but information about Dublin. Understandably, Prestwick is not Glasgow and is not a mecca of exciting activities in comparison but it still struck me as strange.
The way out of the airport was unusual, a kind of overground tunnel system which eventually came out in a small railway station. Not wanting to get the train, I boarded the escalator. I assumed it would bring me to the front of the airport where some kind of shuttle bus would be waiting. Instead, in a weird Groundhog Day-esque scenario, the escalator dropped me off at the railway level I had just been at. Pretty confused, I spied a member of staff rushing out a side door so I followed him in the hope he could provide directions. We came out to what appeared to be a dual-carriageway, traffic rattling away beside us. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bus-stop. Even though its placement had me convinced this could not be the airport bus, I went to investigate it. It pays to be certain.
I stumbled upon a few Glaswegians who looked surprised to find themselves there. It seems almost everybody takes the train. They assured me this is where I was supposed to be. I comment on the strange and inconvenient spot for the bus-stop and they explain that ever since the 2007 terror attack at Glasgow International Airport (where a jeep loaded with fuel ploughed into the main doors of the airport), buses and cars are not allowed to drive in front of Prestwick Airport. Hence, the faraway bus-stop.
The bus journey into Glasgow was fine. £5, forty minutes and one staring competition with a young criminal-in-training (he had the “what are you looking at?” look down at the age of 9) later, I was getting dropped off at Central Rail Station. I had arranged to meet my former flatmate from Edinburgh at her train there but was too early so decided to get a half-decent street map and return there later to meet her after having a wander. Helpful signage pointed me in the direction of the Tourist Information office.
Of course, being me, helpful signage is often not helpful enough. I went in completely the opposite direction than I should have. I ended up in a small park where there were tents scattered higgeldy-piggeldy in the centre. There were “Occupy” protestors living there. I still can’t quite work out the reason they chose the park, as it seems to be in the middle of suburbia. The protestors sent me on my way and after passing through Nelson Mandela Place I reached the centre of the action, George Square.
The lights and excitement of Christmas were in the air, melding with the dignified older parts of the square. The tourist office yielded poor rewards. The maps were incomplete. They would have to do. I lingered in the square for a while watching the Christmas shoppers before returning to Central Station to meet my friend.
On my way back, I came across a large group of protestors I had passed on my ill-advised jaunt to Occupy Suburbia. The protest march was taking over the whole footpath, so I either had to step out into oncoming traffic or participate in the revelry myself. I chose the latter, despite still not being sure if they were British Unionists angry at Scotland’s bid for Independence, or of they were simply members of a workers‘ union. Please, folks: make your placards less ambiguous the next time you take on the man.
All protested out, I returned to Central Station. It turned out to be incredibly photogenic and I amused myself getting shots of the old signage and the airy ceiling while waiting for my friend’s train to arrive.
My ex-flatmate and I grabbed a quick and cheap lunch on the go and got a city bus to take us to Kelvingrove Gallery and Museum. We were in the mood to rock.
No, really. At the time of my visit, one of the most prominent exhibits was dedicated to AC/DC. Who said museums are boring? We had a great time reading old letters, watching rare performance footage on giant screens and trying out a guitar of our own (pictures too embarrassing to show). Without a doubt, the highlight of the exhibit was the little boy who had dressed in a stereotypical schoolboy uniform in an homage to Angus Young, the lead guitarist of the band.
The other exhibits we mosied around in throughout the Museum were also really interesting and the building is a nice place to spend a few hours. Admission is free but donations are appreciated.
Right next door to Kelvingrove (kind of), lies the University of Glasgow. Often touted as the building that inspired Hogwarts, we were eager to have a look around. On the way there, we passed another (bigger) Occupy Camp. I swear I wasn’t planning this.
The University building itself is stunning, even if the entrance was insanely hard to access from the path we took. Imposing, yet not intimidating. It was easy to see how one would begin to daydream of witchcraft and wizardry when gazing at this sight.
We came across a newly-married couple taking their photos outside the chapel in the courtyard. It was nice to see such a happy group of people, especially since the weather was getting cold at this stage. We admired the view the height of the university provided, before moving on and getting a bus back to the city centre. My flatmate left at this stage to return to Edinburgh, but not before mocking my tourist-info map’s shortcomings. She had wanted to plot the route I needed to take to get to the concert venue for me but the map ended before it got anywhere near it.
Luckily, my sense of direction is not that bad and I had no trouble finding my way to the o2 Academy, a nice and relatively small venue. After a lengthy wait, the crowd was let in. I had booked a standing ticket but soon realised I would never last the whole gig standing up (especially with the lack of sleep) so I chose a seat on one of the benches which hugged the walls and afforded a great view of the stage.
The gig was great. Death Cab for Cutie are one of those rare bands who are exponentially better live, and their recordings are pretty damn good as it is. The band once recorded a song, “Meet me at the Equinox”, for the Twilight films and there was an obvious teen contingent who were there because of that. No doubt they were horribly disappointed that they didn’t play it, instead reverting to some of their older and better stuff. I really can’t fault the gig or the venue except when it comes to the price of alcohol. Pints of draught were GBP4.50, which is pretty steep. I treated myself to a tour tshirt and made my way outside after the gig, a benefit of the smaller venue being that there was no big crush to get out when the gig was over.
There were a few stops that I could get the airbus on its way back to the airport, none of which were in areas I was familiar with. It was a long trek through clubby streets on a rowdy Friday night before, by some miracle, I came across Buchanan station. Sure, I had been aiming for another station…but this one would do too.
Of course, mixing an airbus and a nightbus service was never going to be the brightest idea in the world. Everyone on the bus besides me and a couple clutching their suitcases were in varying states of intoxication. The guy sitting next to me repeatedly said that he was going to be sick. I thought of the fact that I only had one pair of trousers and told him if he got sick on me I would murder him. The journey to the airport took a lot longer than the one earlier in the day, despite the lack of traffic. There were more stops to let people on and off in increasingly dodgy looking areas. This was driven home when a pair of shaved-headed young men got on the bus and proceeded to scream and punch each other for the entire duration of their journey.
At this point I was getting pretty fed up and feeling the tiredness after the comparative line of cocaine the concert had been for my energy levels. I arrived, finally, at the airport and thought the battle was won.
Upon consulting my notes at this point, I see that I have NINE PAGES written about my night spent at the airport. That’s more than for everything else on the trip combined. I won’t bore everyone into a coma with a transcript of my gradual descent into madness in Prestwick airport. I will, however, give you the bullet-points.
Disclaimer: I hadn’t slept in 36 hours while writing these observations. When that clock ticked over into 45 hours sans sleep, I believe there was genuine psychosis there.
- Upon my arrival at the airport, I was so relieved to get off the Bus of Vomit and Doom that I pretty much sprinted through the entrance doors…and straight onto the set of a horror film. Okay, not really. The airport was completely empty and silent and it freaked me out quite a bit. It’s hard to appreciate without being there but there’s something really un-nerving about being somewhere that’s normally a hive of activity and noise and seeing it dark and silent. I actually had to turn on lights at one point and started to worry that maybe I wasn’t supposed to be in the building.
- After wandering the empty airport for about 15 minutes without seeing a single soul, I scared myself half to death by suddenly coming across a small group of sleeping humans. They lay along the airport benches and were sleeping like babies. I attempted to join them and failed miserably. I lay down and thought what an excellent idea this had been. Before sleep could come, I was overwhelmed by coldness (when you’re without sleep for a while, fun stuff happens) and a sense of fear not helped by the occasional burst of disembodied psychotic childish laughter. I couldn’t figure out where the child was and was envisaging a Chucky-esque massacre so I went in search of the demon child. The laughter was emanating from an arcade machine in the games room and I couldn’t get it to stop.
- I lay down again and marvelled at everyone else’s ability to sleep in public. Every time one of them coughed, interrupting the eerie silence, I jumped out of my skin. I gave up on sleep. I amused myself by facebooking friends and taking pictures of the empty airport, hoping they’d be as disturbing as Pripyat.
- A few hours passed in this vein as I desperately avoided the somnambulators (who were scaring me for no apparent reason) when suddenly an airport announcement blared throughout the airport, at full volume. After the silence, it was deafening. The sounds from the games-room got worse. It appeared a boar was being murdered as “waaargh, waaaaaaaargh!” is all I heard for 15 minutes.
- A gaggle of thinly-veiled Malay girls, whose giggling would normally irritate me, arrived to wait for their flight. They woke some of the sleepers except one who slept completely face-down on the soft bench. Planking. I rejoiced at the noise.
- Things started to open up and I was finally able to buy some food. After going through security I entered the waiting lounge and was greeted by about two dozen neon pictures of Elvis and the sound of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers blasting away. I was throughly confused. It transpires that Elvis once passed through Prestwick airport in between flights and therefore it’s considered the only place he ever set foot in Scotland. For this reason, his face is everywhere.
- It was like My Little Pony vomited all over the departure lounge. Everything is neon pink and purple. I imagined a designer who couldn’t control themselves, like a 12-year old after discovering all the emoticons in Hotmail. I cursed at the airport’s slogan “Pure Dead Brilliant”. I had had enough of the madness.
The flight back to Dublin was comfortable, followed by a bus ride where I unashamedly sprawled across the back seat and proceeded to enter a coma-like sleep for the entire journey.
Hours without sleep: 45
Protests participated in: 1
Occupy Camps visited: 2
Number of Elvis sightings: 592
The chance to see a great band and a great city: priceless
Posted on January 27, 2012, in TRAVEL and tagged airport psychosis, central station, death cab for cutie, dublin, george sq, Glasgow, kelvingrove museum, occupy glasgow, prestwick airport, protest, pure dead brilliant, univeristy of glasgow. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.