Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cold and wet in Glasgow

Friday 27 March 2009
Seems that the computer clock and the real world are an hour out of synch. So if I don't get the blog saved before 11:00 pm here, then it is recorded as the following day - damn!

Today is windy and cold with intermittent rain. Despite the real working class nature of Glasgow city, there is quite a lot to see - albeit none of it as old as the things we have seen over the last couple of days. Catching the local No 20 bus from the suburb of Rutherglen where we are staying, we see some of the 'real' Glasgow that visitors would normally not see.

Everything has a tired feel - even the newer tenement housing blocks. There is an enormous amount of re-development going on and new road building. At times, it makes moving through the City and seeing things a little hard, but for us it is a minor inconvenience - can only imagine how frustrated the locals are.

All through our travels it has been amazing to see the amount of new building and re-building happening throughout Europe at the moment. But in Glasgow it is mind blowing. Whole suburbs are being torn down to be re-constructed and where once there was a flourishing heavy machining and fabrication industry there is now re-development to house growing financial and educational sectors. Glasgow has always been an important city in the development of the United Kingdom and for much of its past it held it's head high with ship and train building empires. In fact our tour guide tells us that in the 19th century there were 23,000 steam engines built here - I can't even picture that many engines!

We have taken the Red Bus tour of Glasgow. Just as well as the rain, although intermittent, is being pushed by a fierce wind and so at times comes in horizontally! These Red Bus (or open topped tours) are a great way to get the feel of a city with the support of local knowledge from the guides. Glasgow as a city does not have as long a history as some of the areas we have seen, and we are told that now has only half the population as it did at its peak when more than 100,000 people were employed by the shipyards. Nowadays, with three universities there are about that number of students.

Most of the historic buildings are still covered in a coat of soot - a legacy of those heavy engineering days. The guide tells us that where once Glasgow was coloured black and three shades of grey, but a cleaning program is discovering that it is really two coloured - honey and pink sandstone! And in those places where the cleaning has taken place I must say it is a much prettier area! The city proudly remembers just about anyone with any link with a statue - there are literally hundreds of them - industrialists, soldiers, politicans, poets, academics, inventors, oh, and the odd royalty!

There was (and I suspect still is) a very distinct line between the haves and have nots here. There are some areas we pass through near the River Clyde that demonstrate this - they are not so nice and the people in the streets are less well-dressed. There are a lot of young people that are grouped around corners and street seats - and they do not look like scholarly types - even the more bohemian sorts. And there are the kids with kids pushing newish prams while exchanging loud interjections with the mates and adversaries. Sad really.

However, in the southern suburb of Rutherglen where we are staying, there is the beautiful Kings Park across the road and surrounding it a residential suburb that shows the signs that people enjoy the area - it is well cared for with nice yards and many people walking dogs etc in the park that displays NO grafitti. And within the inner city area there are palatial mansions and rows of georgian terraces built for the wealthy, then converted to office spaces and now being rediscovered as desirable living spaces.

Admist the grey, Glasgow is a green city - quite literally with hundreds of parks. But with weather like what we are experiencing today ("this is Glasgow" one of the morning waiters at the hotel tells us!), we won't be seeing too many of them close up. And so we continue to dodge the building sites, taking detours around the roadworks as we are shown the best of Glasgow old and new. Along with a rapidly growing financial sector comes the need for meeting areas and so part of the new Glasgow is an increasing building of convention and meeting spaces. In fact, one of their new building nicknamed The Armadillo bears more than a passing resemblence to that thing of beauty called the Sydney Opera House!! Glasgow in a couple of words? Buses, more buses, statues, more statues, cool bars.

As the day continues wet and wild and with not too many options with some buildings not open, we opt to get off at the last stop on re-joining the tour after we visit the Cathedral to go to the Cineplex and see a movie. We had missed Gran Torino , directed, produced and starring one of our favourite stars Clint Eastwood and so were thrilled that it was still playing here. And we are not disappointed. If you haven't seen it and have the chance, it is well worth watching. A comment on changing society and how people can make a difference - but gritty, well played and not at all a drag. At the theatre we meet an English couple who start chatting to us and who tell us about their trips through the WWI war sites in France - including giving us the name of a B&B near Ypres. So, more to investigate. One thing that travelling is showing us is how willing people are to share their experiences.

It is 7:30 pm when we emerge and we are now starving! We might have a cooked breakfast - but when that is at 8:30 am, 7:30 pm is a long way off. Glasgow is jumping and many of the restaurants are full and do not have space for the casual diner without a reservation. We find a little Thai restaurant that can feed us and boy are we in luck!!

The Thai Lemongrass is one of those places that exudes a confidence in their establishment as soon as you open the door. We are greeted by Doreen and shown to their only available table - just inside the door. We are handed menus and asked if we would like a drink while we select our meals. This is balanced by the ample supply of spicy prawn chips on the table. The menu is extensive and you would have to have the most difficult of palates if you couldn't find something to tempt you in it. But not too diverse or big - just the perfect selection. And while we could have had a banquet, it seemed a little on the unadventurous side. So we embarked on a process of drooling and negotiation with each other so that we could try some different dishes. We ended up with the following ...
We share a Thai Sampler plate consisting of Chicken Satay, Fish Cakes, Grilled Pork Neck, Spring Rolls and Prawn Cakes in Seaweed Wrapper. All came with their own sauce on a beautifully decorated plate of carved vegetables.
Pla Ka Pong Mung Ma Nao (Steamed whole Sea Bass with fresh ginger, lemongrass and lime juice)
Nema 'sirloin' Yang Nam Jim Jaew (Grilled Sirloin Steak with kaffir lime, shallot and tamarind juice)
Kaoshan (Fragrant Rice)
Phad Rak Ruam - Mitr(Stir fried mixed vegetables in Oyster Sauce)
We had not realised just how much we are missing food that is subtley spiced and that has a 'fresh' taste. Both the mains were magnificent individually and complemented each other better than we could have planned - but the Bass was voted the best - just. The rice, delicious on its own, allowed both to be enjoyed down to the last bit of sauce being soaked and the vegetables were fresh, crisp and oh so nice.

Didn't feel like ruining the most sublime meal with what sounded like quite ordinary desserts - I suspect that 'dessert' as we know it is not eaten much in Thailand.

Doreen and her co-workers had been as solicitious as anyone could want them to be, without being intrusive. It appeared that all the wait staff were trusted to greet and seat customers - which was nice. It meant that no-one waited for more than a moment or two when entering. And all the wait staff waited on all the diners allowing customers to be moved through more quickly and new diners to be seated. It was obvious that they were not all related, but they all worked together as if a big happy family.

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