Wanderthirst: if London is a smile, Glasgow is a warm hug
Priya Raj returns home to Scotland to show her friends what makes Glasgow so quietly special.
Admittedly, I’ve never really loved where I’m from. I suppose it’s the ‘grass is always greener’ dilemma. And Glasgow probably isn’t the first destination on the lists of many holiday-goers when it comes to deciding a UK vacation spot. Though it is fast becoming a must-see for tourists from outside the UK, after the Commonwealth Games were hosted there in 2014, and more recently, COP26 in November 2021, Glasgow is most definitely being talked about.
Glasgow exudes a sense of belonging like no other, whether it be people like me, born and brought up there, or people like my father who found his home there, over 5,000 miles away from his birthplace in India. ‘People make Glasgow’ is a familiar phrase with us Glaswegians and it hits the nail on the head. Earlier in the year, the news was flooded with images of the Southside community surrounding an immigration van where two Indian men had been detained during the time of Eid al-Fitr, as a community with all colours, religions and backgrounds came together to ensure these two men were released.
The story starts in London, and I bloody love London. I think growing up, I always knew I would somehow end up here. In fact, I chased the idea of London for so long that when it became my reality and I moved to London for university, it felt like living in a daydream. But I suppose Dorothy’s words ring true, and there really is no place like home. If London is a smile, Glasgow is a warm hug. London made me the person I am, but Glasgow kept me whole.
“There is an unabashed innocence in Glasgow, a warmth that can’t be replicated”
After a few years of living in London, it was time to show my friends where I was from. It was February 2019, uni work hadn’t quite piled up for the term yet, and although it can get unimaginably cold, there was not a more perfect time to visit my home city. We booked our trains for the weekend, using my handy 18-25 railcard (for 30% discount), and off we went. My friends had always nudged the idea of me taking them to Scotland, so it was more a trip for them than for me – though retrospectively, perhaps not.
There is an unabashed innocence in Glasgow, a warmth that can’t be replicated. It is not disguised by fancy restaurants with overpriced menus or opulent looking streets – honestly, it’s quite the opposite. If first impressions are a dealbreaker, then maybe it’s not the city for you. Glasgow is as complex as it is simple, and it takes peeling back some layers to see the real magic.
The area surrounding Glasgow Central train station isn’t the most picturesque – in fact, it looks like a post-Soviet scene from the pages of an Orwell novel. Even so, I’m always overwhelmed with nostalgia. Touching the station is the hotel where my high school prom was held, seven whole years ago. I suppose that’s the beauty in visiting where you’ve grown up, sharing these tales with the friends you’ve met after the fact, in the hopes that it helps them understand you better.
The city centre of Glasgow at first glance looks much like the city centre of any major UK city. It also houses the most bougie area of Glasgow – Merchant City. In the 1700s, this was occupied by wealthy merchants. Now it houses our few designer shops; Cruise (owned by the wider known, Flannels), Mulberry, Armani and Belstaff to name a few, as well as our fancy eateries. Here you’ll also find Paesano, which holds the title for the thirteenth best pizza in Europe!
We made our first stop at one of the best brunch spots in the city (and I’ve tried them all) in a quaint setting called Wilson Street Pantry. They have an all-day brunch menu which is essentially just anything on sourdough. My choice (now and always) is a fried egg on avocado sourdough toast with lemon oil dressing. It’s super laid-back and casual and speaks to the vibe of the city. To liken Glasgow to elsewhere, the energy is quite comparable to Berlin. It’s fashionable, but not in a showy way – a unicorn in the new age of flexing for the gram. Extremely fitting considering the national animal of Scotland is the unicorn.
“Glasgow is not a very indulgent city. But it’s good and it’s honest, and what could be better than that?”
Glasgow is a melting pot of people from every part of the world, and it’s reflected on every street and corner. The city is somewhat segmented, each part with its own story. Where I grew up, the West End is full to the brim with independent restaurants, bars and shops. The air feels uplifting, like meeting an old friend. It shares its streets with those of Glasgow University – so the hustle and bustle feels frantic and yet familiar. The cobbled avenue of Ashton Lane is a firm favourite among the young and restless.
Even with no set plans, a day in the West End is sure to be a memorable one. On the lesser-known of the two main lanes, Ruthven Lane is a Scottish-owned Indian/Irani restaurant – Chaakoo. Its menu and interiors are designed to emulate those of a 1950s Bombay Cafe and will have you feeling transported to another continent, and was even approved by my guest who is a ‘Bombayite’ themselves. The larger of the two branches of Chaakoo is in the city centre, and if you do visit, be sure to bring along your business card! In an ode to the old Bombay Cafes, which served as networking hotspots back in the day, guests are encouraged to pin their own cards on the wall to continue the tradition.
On our final day, I treated my friends to some Glasgow institutions wrapped in sentimentality and all a stone’s throw from my old secondary school. Glasgow is truly a foodie’s playground. We lined our stomachs with coffee at Offshore, the self-proclaimed ‘no-fuss’ quintessentially Glaswegian hang-out. It’s minimal and simple and that’s the beauty of it.
This was followed by an overindulgent lunch at Eusebi’s Deli, a family-run deli that started out as a delicatessen 40 years ago and is now a right of passage for anyone with good taste. You’ll still find some Italian classics, as well as their deli classics like fresh pasta and breads, which can be bought in-store and enjoyed at home. Their speciality is yesterday’s lasagne – working with the theory that some dishes taste even better the next day, they prepare this dish a day in advance before it’s served to patrons. And though stuffed to the brim, I presented my friends with a true Glaswegian delight, and a personal favourite – the macaroni pie.
We then ventured through the Botanic Gardens on the pretence of digesting our feast, so we could go for round two later in the day. The two main streets in the West End are Byres Road and Great Western Road, and where these roads meet, you’ll find the Botanic Gardens. It’s an oasis within the city. The most fascinating part is the Glasshouse, in which each room is temperature and humidity controlled to house plants from different environments. My favourite is the Palm Room, which is hot and humid – an escape from the crisp cold I’m used to. The park brings back the fondest memories. It was my after-school spot every day in the warmer months and somehow I never tire of it, even now.
Glasgow is not a very indulgent city. But it’s good and it’s honest, and what could be better than that?
- Old Salty’s – A special mention for the macaroni pie – it is *chefs kiss*
- Eusebi’s – try the octopus caponata and “yesterday’s lasagne” – your life will be changed.
- GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) – it’s free entry and there’s always a new exhibition on.
- Wilson Street Pantry
- Caffe Parma – a hidden gem attached to a racquet club, it’s the perfect summer sundowner spot.
- Ka Pao –a Glasgow south-east Asian restaurant, the portions are best for sharing so order as you go!
- The Corinthian Club – a former High Court, now a firm favourite for drinks, brunch, afternoon tea and everything in between.
- Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – a great opportunity to see a Salvador Dali and a Van Gogh in the flesh.
- The Òran Mór – a converted church and now restaurant, bar and venue. The pièce de résistance is the Candlelight concerts!
- Paesano, which holds the title for the 13th best pizza in Europe!
- The underground is the best form of transport and is really user friendly – the map is a circle so no matter which train you get on, you will get to your stop.
- Uber isn’t always hugely reliable outside the main city centre so always have the number of a private taxi service to hand.
- If travelling from elsewhere in the UK, trains will put you right in the centre of town whereas the airport is about a 25-30 minute car journey. It doesn’t have any underground links nearby but there is a bus service which will get you to the city centre in 15 minutes.
When the weather is a bit more palatable, we have our own version of Boris bikes, NextBikes, available all over the city.