Monday, July 9, 2007 – Glasgow (Greenock), Scotland
My baby turned 13 today! OMG, how can I be old enough to have a TEENAGER? I demand a recount.
We docked in Greenock at 8am, and after a nice birthday breakfast, we went ashore. Just past the gangway (after a quick port picture by the ship’s photographer, naturally) we were led through a tented area filled with tourism guides handing out free maps (make sure you take one, they’re very detailed) and offering to answer questions about the port. There were also several vendors selling souvenirs, so we made a mental note to shop there on our way back to the ship. NOTE: No credit cards! They only accept CASH at these tent-side vendors, preferably in Pounds (although I did hear one vendor say later that he’d accept Euros, or in a pinch, American dollars, but I have no idea what kind of conversion rates he’d been offering).
MONEY-SAVING ALERT: Make sure you get a copy of the Glasgow Leading Attractions map from the Tourism officials in the tent. On the back, there are discount vouchers you can use in the museum gift shops, as well as admission price discounts for many of the city’s attractions. You can also print out a map and additional discount vouchers ahead of time by visiting their website, www.visitgla.com.
Once we got through the tent, we headed for the taxi stand area to grab a taxi to the train station. We were told the Greenock station was only a 15-minute walk, but since we were anxious to get started (and had no idea how to get to the train from there) we decided to hop in a taxi to get there. The guy at the taxi stand was a charming fellow—he definitely had the gift of gab—and he did his best to talk us into booking a taxi for a full day private tour. We very nicely held firm, that we only needed a ride to the train station, and he simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders, saying, “Aye, well, you know it’s my job to try!” With that, he called us a cab big enough for all 5 of us, and for £2.80 we were whisked off to the train.
NOTE: I made sure to pay attention to the route along the way so that we’d be able to walk back from the train station later in the afternoon. There are no cabs available for the return trip from the station unless you specifically call and request one.
We purchased a Family Day Tripper train pass for £15, which was cheaper than buying individual fares for the 5 of us. The train ride was quick, and we got to see some lambs and cows out the window along the way, which is always fun. (Mooooo……baaaaaa…..never gets old for kids, does it?)
NOTE: We were told during the port talk that the Tour Office and/or Purser’s Office would have copies of the train schedule available, but they didn’t. Fortunately, Rich had printed out a timetable ahead of time and brought it with him. You can check the Outward Journey and Return Journey times at www.firstscotrail.trainsfares.co.uk.
Unlike other cities like Dublin and Edinburgh, the attractions in Glasgow are not all clustered together, so to do the complete route for the Hop on/Hop off City Sightseeing bus takes about 1 hour 15 minutes. I had a list of attractions I wanted to see, but the one that I was really looking forward to was the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art, because according to the guide books I read, that was the museum that houses Salvador Dali’s breathtaking painting, Christ of St. John of the Cross. (Keep reading, though: we eventually learned that the guidebooks were incorrect!)
After exiting Central Station, we walked over to the Radisson Hotel to wait for the bus there. Unlike the other cities we’d visited thus far, however, it took FOREVER for the bus to come! We waited about 40 minutes for it to show up, wasting valuable touring time. The price for the bus is £9 for adults and £3 for children, but we opted once again for the cost-saving Family Fare of £20 for 2 adults & up to 4 children.
We took the bus to stop #16, to visit the Museum of Transport and the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. (You can learn more about these and other Glasgow museums at www.glasgowmuseums.com.)
The Museum of Transport is a great place to visit if you’ve got kids, or if you’re a train and antique car buff. They have displays of old steam trains, trams, horse & buggy carriages, and antique cars (including a model that is just like the flying car featured in the Harry Potter movies). On the upper level, there are all variety of bicycles, as well as scale models of many of the great ships in history, many of which were built right in Glasgow, including the QE2. The bathrooms are decent if you need a pit stop. The gift shop is small and has mostly generic plastic things, but they had a nice selection of Corgi cars and trains, so we picked one up for my brother-in-law’s collection.
The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum was an unexpected treat. We absolutely loved it! The landscaped grounds are picturesque, and the wide variety of artwork and exhibits offered something for everyone in our family. The kids were fascinated by the Natural History displays on the lower level (Sir Roger the Elephant was a big hit), and we were all impressed by the Impressionist works in the French Art gallery (gorgeous works by Cassatt, VanGogh, Monet, and Matisse). There were also paintings by Rembrandt, Baldan, and Mackintosh, but the biggest surprise was on the West side of Level 1: Salvador Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross! What the? Yup…I guess they moved it from the St. Mungo museum, because there it was.
NOTE FOR INTERNET ADDICTS or BORED TEENAGERS: If you’re itching for an internet fix or are suffering from email withdrawl, there’s FREE internet access available at the computers in the Reading Room on Level 1.
After touring the museum, we figured we’d hop back on the bus for a quick picture stop at St. George’s Square, grab some lunch, then head to the Glasgow Cathedral. Unfortunately, it took nearly half an hour for the bus to come, and by the time we got on, we were pretty hungry, and time was running out. We had a limited amount of touring time because 1) the train ride from Glasgow to Greenock is about 40-45 minutes, plus the 15 minute walk back to the ship, and 2) it was my daughter’s birthday, and the one thing she really wanted to do that day was SHOP, so we promised her some retail therapy. Oh, and did I mention, the skies were getting darker and darker, with heavy rain clouds on the horizon?
Another wrench in the works: due to construction, they had to alter the bus route a bit, and stop at Glasgow Cathedral first, then St. George’s Square. Fortunately, the bus we were on had a live tour guide, and when we asked her for a restaurant recommendation near the Cathedral, she confided that there really ISN’T anyplace close by there to have a bite to eat. So, we made the executive decision to simply hop off for just a second, snap a quick picture of the Cathedral from the outside, and then hop right back on. We took some more pictures at St. George’s Square, and then proceed to Merchant Square to grab some lunch before we all keeled over. We ate at a chic restaurant named Metropolitan. The food was very good, although there was no kids menu to speak of, so getting some simple pasta with butter for the 7-year-old wasn’t easy. At least the bathrooms were super-clean, so after a quick freshen up, we ventured out into the still-pouring rain towards St. Enoch’s Shopping Center.
NOTE: There is a food court at St. Enoch’s, but it was crowded and noisy, so I was glad we didn’t go there for lunch. It was much nicer “re-fueling” in the quieter, relaxed atmosphere of a restaurant. Another downside of the mall: would you believe the toilets there cost 20 pence apiece? They have turnstiles, so you can’t get in without $$, and the change machines were broken. Yikes.
The good news is, my brand new teenager found two pairs of to-die-for shoes at a great price at Barratt’s (a discount shoe store on the lower level), along with some makeup purchases and a few little things at Clare’s. Another notable purchase: she found a Nintendo DS game she’d been looking for called Nintendogz: Labrador & Friends. The cool thing about buying the game in Glasgow was that it was the UK version, so the money amounts are all in Pounds Sterling, and the date on the game is listed differently from her other Nintendo DS games (day first, then month, then year, like they do it in Europe). Before we knew it, it was time for the short walk to Central Station to catch the train back to Greenock. We checked the board, headed for Platform 11, and were on our way back to the ship.
The walk back from the train station wasn’t bad—it took about 15 minutes, and the rain held off until just before we got to the tents. There were no taxis at the station, so walking was the really the only option. Take the steps to cross over to the other side of the platform, then a few more steps to get to street level. Cross to the other side of the big street and start following the signs that say, “Waterfront.” The Waterfront is a big indoor waterpark that is located just before the port area, so by the time you reach it, you’ll be able to see the Grand Princess in the distance and follow the fencing around to get back to the tent. We shopped for a few more souvenirs at the vendors (cash only) and headed back to our staterooms.
Since we’d gotten back a bit earlier than most people, I decided to try and do a quick load of laundry. I headed to the laundry room on my floor, but all of the machines were already in use. I tried a couple of other floors, and it was the same story. Just so that my wanderings wouldn’t be a total waste, and since I had brought some American money with me, I decided to try getting some quarters while I was on each floor. Unfortunately, the change machines on the wall didn’t work on ANY of the floors. Lovely. I trudged back to my room, dirty laundry in tow, and made a mental note to stop at the Purser’s office for some quarters later.
Sail away from Greenock harbor was beautiful, and afforded some lovely views of the Scottish countryside. Rich got some great pictures of the lush homes along the waterfront, as well as the peaceful farmlands beyond.
NOTE: If I had it to do over again, I probably would have tried hiring one of those taxi drivers for the day after all. Even though it would have been a lot more expensive than taking the train, we would have been able to see a lot more of the city’s attractions because we wouldn’t have wasted so much time waiting for the hop on/hop off bus. Glasgow itself is not what I would call a “picturesque” city—it’s a post-industrial area that is still evolving into a Tourist spot—but as a Native New Yorker, I felt right at home there. There was some beautiful architecture in Glasgow, but it also had its fair share of crumbling, decaying buildings and eye-sore scaffolding/construction sites. We didn’t get to see many of the items on my list (Glasgow School of Art, House for an Art Lover, Willow Tea Room) but I enjoyed our tour of the city nevertheless. Most importantly, Christina thoroughly enjoyed her birthday visit to Glasgow.
Before dinner that evening, the photographers were taking Casual portraits in the atrium area. We decided to skip those (we’d gotten plenty of great shots during the formal night shoot), but we saw the pictures that other passengers had taken, and they came out great.
When we got to our table in the dining room, Christina found a bouquet of red roses waiting for her (yes, Rich strikes again), which made her feel very special. Once again, our waitress and her assistant brought over a chocolate cake (with 5 candles in it this time) and sang Happy Birthday at the end of the meal.
NOTE (If you’re squeamish, please skip this part): Dinner was lovely, as usual, although when I ordered the sugar-free carrot cake for dessert, I found a big hunk of some sort of nut shell (I think it was walnut) in my cake that I nearly broke a tooth on, and there were two tiny bugs (like small fruit flies) crawling on my plate. I didn’t flip out because my nature-loving kids are always asking me to save some spider or slug every other day, so having a little crawly or two visit me on my dessert plate just wasn’t that big a deal. I discreetly handed the plate over to our waitress, and she quietly took it over to the Maitre ‘D. He said nothing to us about it afterwards, so I’m hoping they let the kitchen know.
The 10:30 show that evening featured singer Phillipa Healey, billed as having “The Voice of an Angel.” She did have a beautiful, classically-trained voice, but the crowd was tepid that night (I think lots of folks were tired from covering so much ground in Glasgow) and we saw many people get up and leave before the show was over.
I stopped at the Purser’s desk for some quarters, and was told curtly, “We’re all out.” Excuse me? “We only have $50 worth of quarters in the drawer. Once it’s gone, that’s it. I can’t open a new drawer.” Since the next day was an At Sea day, I asked how long I’d have to wait to get some quarters. The gal behind the desk gave me an impatient eye-roll and said, “Uh, come back tomorrow morning. Maybe then.” Gee, thanks.
I decided to try the casino to see if I could get some quarters there. I went over to a 25-cent machine and put in some bills, and within a few moments, a casino worker came over and said, “Excuse me, I need to check the machine for a second.” This was my second time in the casino all cruise, and the second time that happened to me! I stepped aside, he opened the machine, fiddled with some stuff, and closed it back up again (with difficulty…took him a few tries). I played for a few minutes, and when I went to cash out, a bunch of Princess tokens came out instead of quarters. I took them to the cashier, and asked if I could have a few quarters, and she said, “No, I don’t have any.” Looks like they share the same drawer with the Purser’s office.
I headed to bed, quarterless and looking forward to a much-needed At Sea day.
all photos by RichYak copyright 2007
Coming up: The $64,000 question: will I ever be able to use that darn Laundromat?