Part V: Glasgow Terminus
Making it down at last from Trossachs National Park, we said goodbye to our trusty-ish steed and settled in for four days in Glasgow.
I had high hopes for Glasgow. Modern city, seemed to have good public transport and millennial hipster comforts: craft beer, snobby coffee, and rock climbing.
We got a decent dose of the above, as well as our usual staples of parks, art museums, and getting somewhat lost as an excuse to point at architecture.
But something about the city didn’t totally click. It felt a bit too sprawling to be easily walkable, the metro surfaced at unhelpful places, and much of the areas we passed through had the nothing I want to do here vibe that Seattle’s downtown screams.01
Before coming, we read something that described Edinburgh as wearing its charm on its sleeve, but Glasgow as having character below the surface. I can easily see that being true, so I don’t wish to pass judgment. Especially as someone who spent only four days there, on foot, with no local guidance.
All that said, still plenty of buildings to look at, beer to drink, art to hmm at, etc.
We also finally paid or dues and went to a Scotch distillery. We ended up picking one that turned out to be lacking on the history front—they opened so recently they had only produced a single batch. I think the operation was the pet project of some guy who made his money elsewhere. But their tour had a museum portion with an extensive history of whisky’s evolution in Scotland—featuring various moguls, barkeeps, and distillers—so eh, tit for tat. I sure wish I liked whisky more.02
UK Domestic Design
There were just a couple funny funny bits of design I want to comment on.
The first is the faucets. Generally OK, sometimes maddening. Some appear to be designed by someone who has never used a faucet. E.g., these things pour the water less than an inch from the back.
All that wasted space. You end up slamming your hands into the porcelain constantly trying to rinse.
Then, there’s the truly comical separate-hot-and-cold situation.
Out of the left comes skin demolishing scalding water, and out of the right a frigid stream. There’s no way to mix to achieve warm water except, I don’t know, plugging the drain and filing up the sink? In practice you just use cold water all the time.
Another funny feature—which we’ve now seen mimicked in other UK-influenced03 places like Singapore and Malaysia—is the on/off switch per electrical outlet.
It’s kind of neat, and I imagine lets you save some power. But since basically every modern device comes with an on/off switch itself, caring about just-plugged-in power savings as always struck me as an exercise in obsessiveness. When you have bulky travel adapters like ours, it takes delicate positioning to plug them in and keep the outlet on.
One thing I will give the British plug shape in general, though, is the three rectangle design is super sturdy. Whenever I encounter a universal outlet, it’s my first choice of plug.
Finally, something cute: a road speed measurement sign that actually thanks you for obeying it.
It’s stupid, but I have always gotten irrationally annoyed at those speed monitor signs in the States.04 But this one I found delightful. Come on—the cheeky winking face? Of course it’s just a machine, it’s not really thanking you. But rewarding you for doing the right thing, rather than just punishing you when you do something bad, is like game design 101.05
Epilogue: Beware Scottish Currency
I am still in denial of this, but I think I need to accept it. I am out £65 (~$80) because the bills they give you in Scotland aren’t legal tender, not even in Scotland.
This sounds impossible, right? The UK is one of the most developed countries, with one of the strongest currencies, on the planet. There is no way that the Pound sterling, AKA British pound, is totally bogus when you happen to get them from an ATM in Scotland, right? Scotland, a place that is so hardcore part of the UK that no lists of countries I come across even count Scotland as its own country? Right?!
Wrong. No place I have been in the world since will accept the bills I got in Scotland. They tell me, “they’re Scottish pounds, not British pounds.” This especially gets me annoyed, because Scotland is half of Britain (sorry again, Wales). What they really mean is they’re Scottish-issued pounds, not English-issued pounds.
My bills, which I had absolutely no idea were any different than pounds you get anywhere else, have been universally rejected, from Serbia to Singapore.
Scottish banknotes are unusual, first because they are issued by retail banks, not government central banks, and second, because they are technically not legal tender anywhere in the United Kingdom – not even in Scotland, where in law no banknotes – even those issued by the Bank of England – are defined as legal tender.
It’s so bad that if you search online, you will find myriad stores of people in England refusing Scottish notes. Absolutely wild.
The one reliable way to turn these expensive pieces of paper into something anyone else in the world values is, apparently, to go to a Scottish bank and ask them for pounds from the Bank of England.
It just occurred to me that if you shift your perspective of what being scammed is to include things that are regulated but dysfunctional, I’ve actually been scammed out of more money in the UK (broken rental roadside service + fake currency) than any other country, even those for which people tell you beware of scams.
I didn’t want to end on such a negative note. We found a lot to love about Scotland: kind people, cheap groceries, lush nature, striking landscapes, and a universal willingness to sit outside pubs and drink huge glasses of beer in any weather except active rain.
It’s hard to justify returning soon after spending a month here, but I’m already looking forward to coming back.
Seattle’s downtown has other, uh, contributing factors to its vibe right now, but that’s a topic for another day. ↩︎
And I’ve really tried to like whisky. Back when No Man’s Sky came out and didn’t yet have any redeeming qualities, I bought a bottle of Macallan 12 and made a habit of sitting down to play it with a glass. I tried everything—neat, ice, drops of water—while suffering through maybe ¾ the bottle over a couple months. The peatier ones I can take even less. Combine that with probably a dozen or so flights / “you have to try this Scotch” encounters over the years, and I can still only barely smile through a splash. Gin, for example, I find far more drinkable. Probably the one bit of progress is I’m happy with whisky-based cocktails now. I haven’t given up, but it’s not looking promising. ↩︎
“Influenced” AKA “colonized” 😬 ↩︎
I have been known to present them with rude gestures when I pass by. ↩︎
I’m curious whether locals are fine with these signs or despise them like I despise those in my hometown. I could imagine them getting dystopian after a while, the wink being the smug false friendliness of big brother’s big British surveillance network. 🤷♂️ ↩︎