My thoughts on Glasgow after travelling the world

When I set off from Glasgow, Scotland to travel around the world aged 23, I thought I would end up living in Australia. Or Canada. Or New Zealand. A place with permanent sunshine. A place where people worked to live, not lived to work. A place with barbecues and al fresco drinking. A place that offered that elusive “better quality of life.”

Aged 33 I’m back living in Glasgow. I work full time in an office. It rains a lot. You can drink al fresco and have barbecues maybe three days a year. But I’m content. Because what all my travelling and living overseas affirmed to me was this: I really like the city where I am from.

Glasgow

In the middle of my trip around the world in 2008 I spent six months living and working in Sydney, Australia. It was an incredible experience and one I am very glad I had. But let me let you in on a secret: if you don’t love the outdoors and the beach and dining in expensive restaurants, Sydney is a wee bit boring. The harbour is spectacular but I wasn’t going to spend six months standing looking at it. I was looking for pubs, vibrant nightlife, culture. And in all those things I found Sydney lacking and Glasgow miles better. Yes, Glasgow, a meagre city of 600,000 people had better nightlife and culture than one of the most iconic cities in the world.

This pattern emerged throughout my trips to other countries and experiences living overseas. Being away from a familiar place gives you context and enables you to look at it objectively. Rather than haranguing over what Glasgow didn’t have, it highlighted what it did.

Throughout my travels I have encountered many “hipster” neighbourhoods of cities, Isola in Milan, Exarchia in Athens, and Praga in Warsaw being examples. The common feature I found in all “cool” “next big thing” area of cities is that they were dodgy and run down before the artists and creatives moved in and started spray painting the walls with street art and propping up pop ups. Using that logic, Glasgow is like one big hipster neighbourhood. Associated with images of industry, poverty, grit and crime, a stereotype it still hasn’t managed to shake off, as often happens in post industrial predominantly working class cities, an undercurrent of creativity thrives.

In Glasgow you could walk past a grimy door in ramshackle Jamaica Street without realising it leads to what is widely considered to be one of the best clubs in the world (Sub Club). You could walk past Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian or Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai without realising they front bands that sell out venues around the world. There’s tons of art galleries and one of the best live music scenes I’ve encountered anywhere. It’s a city of contrasts – a city of greasy chip shops and terrible heart disease rates that was recently voted the best for vegans in the UK. A city that hosts both the one of the fiercest football rivalries in the world and a literature festival.

While travelling, it was a constant source of frustration to me that most people I’d met who had been to Scotland had visited Edinburgh and ignored Glasgow. This is understandable as Edinburgh is spectacularly beautiful with lots of tourist sights. Glasgow is used to being overshadowed by its neighbour 45 minutes east on the train. But while Edinburgh is the Beyonce, Glasgow is the Solange. Not quite as in your face beautiful or impressive but when you look beyond the surface, definitely more interesting. Edinburgh may have a castle but Glasgow has an irreverence and authenticity I believe is lacking in the capital.

Glasgow is beautiful too but you just have to look a bit more carefully to notice it. There’s a theory Glaswegians don’t look up and therefore miss the abundance of incredible architectural detail in their city; the rows of bay windowed tenements, the geometric patterns of Alexander Greek Thomson, the inimitable Charles Rennie Mackintosh. In my opinion Glasgow University is still the most beautiful university I’ve ever seen, and I’ve visited many university campuses around the world, including Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge.

Enough of the waxing lyrical. I’m not saying Glasgow is the best city in the world. Of course it can’t compete with the Londons, New Yorks and Berlins, only 600,000 people live here. But for a fairly small city, it punches well above its weight. I might live somewhere else in my lifetime. I hope I do. But for now, I’m in Glasgow. For many people who travel and live abroad, ending up back where you came from can feel like a failure, like settling back into your comfort zone. I don’t feel that way. But then again, maybe those other people came from somewhere not that great. I didn’t. 

P.S. Why Now Is The Best Time To Be Living In Glasgow’s South Side and My Glasgow Photography Prints Shop

8 thoughts on “My thoughts on Glasgow after travelling the world

  1. Well said Maureen. I’m from Glasgow (well OK, Paisley) and spent 27 years overseas. It’s great to be back in Glasgow, and specifically the south side. Love the patter and friendliness in the bars & cafes. After all these years I still get a thrill getting off the train at Glasgow Central. You know you’re arriving in a city with attitude.

    1. Very true! Being away from Glasgow really makes you realise how much it has to offer. P.S. Paisley is good too!!!

  2. Hi Mo. What a great series of blogs! I’m a 71-year-old Australian male, and came across it accidentally after my wife and I had spent some days in Seoul, returning from Sicily to our home in Brisbane – which, by the way, is much preferable climatically and culturally, to Sydney. My Dad came from Edinburgh in 1927 as a boy, and my Mum’s father (a coal miner) came from Glasgow early in the twentieth century – haven’t determined exactly when. My wife is originally Dutch, and we have travelled a lot. Our favourite country is Scotland, and it was also the favourite of two of our girls when we visited with them in 1995 – after a comprehensive European trip including Switzerland and other very beautiful possibilities. Glasgow was our choice when we again visited in more recent times – I agree it’s more interesting, and we’re not all that into bars, etc. Great for even a couple of oldies to explore! My wife does blogs on each of our trips but currently has to re-enter the data as her site closed down. I was a teacher, and went to China many times as I co-ordinated a program for Education Queensland, in which we operated 5 ‘sister-schools’ there, designed to prepare students for the last two years of secondary school in Queensland. So, I identify with many of your observations as an English teacher in an Asian country. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Bob! Thanks so much for your comment! I am thrilled my blog has attracted attention all the way over in Australia! There is such a strong connection between Scotland and Australia – when I worked in a shop in Sydney I constantly had customers telling me all about their Scottish roots and I know lots of Scottish people who have emigrated to Australia recently. I’m glad you and your family love Scotland and I am always delighted when I hear about people visiting Glasgow. It is so often overlooked! Inspired to hear of you and your wife’s most recent travels and wishing you lots of enjoyment for the future ones!

  3. Loved reading this! I have worked and travelled a lot as well, but there is nothing better than returning back to sunny Glasgow!, its doesn’t matter if it is raining as it always shines in this beautiful city!

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