My first visit to Scotland was a whim; I decided to take a week off before starting a seminar tour through Denmark and wanted to go somewhere new. I settled on Dublin and either Edinburgh or Glasgow. Everyone told me to go to Edinburgh. So off I went to Glasgow. (Contrary? Me?) I did finally get to Edinburgh two years later, which makes me wonder; am I the only person on the planet who likes Glasgow better?
The college I attended has a long if not terribly significant history. (Although founded in 1829, RIT's degree programs weren't accredited until some time in the 1960s.) And the campus has no history at all, having been newly constructed on 1300 acres of swamp just a couple of years before I arrived. Which leads me to wonder what it must be like for students at a prestigious pile like Glasgow University; to wander through halls that once saw Alan Turing, mathematician and inventor of the Turing Machine and the Turing Test and founder of the Turing Institute. Or Lord Kelvin, physicist and inventor of the kind of extreme cold that RIT students know so well. What was it like before the Kelvin scale, when -40 seemed cold? Somehow it doesn't seem right to shiver when the thermometer reads a balmy 233 degrees.
This falls under the heading of "Don't judge a book by its cover". I
walked by the front of this building a couple of times without
particularly noticing it. Then I walked down the street behind it and
noticed the smiling fellow on the right. What I had discovered was
Glasgow's brand new Gallery of Modern Art, a place filled with bright
colors, sound and motion. (You mean there's a kind of multimedia that
doesn't involve a computer screen?) The gallery is a classic
example of reusing an old structure for a new purpose and making it
work. It's also a lot of fun, and far less stuffy than San
Francisco's proud new addition.
Edinburgh Castle sits on an extinct volcano where the city began. Bits of the castle go back a thousand years, although they've found signs of settlement on the hill that are two thousand years older. The castle is impressive for its architecture, its furnishings (gotta love those crown jewels) and its location. It's a monument to the history and ferocity of the Scottish military. (Hey, if you made me fight in plaid pants I'd be fierce too!)
An Edinburgh tradition involves firing off a cannon every day at one
PM. (Economics; if they did it at noon they'd have to use so many
more cartridges!) They use a modern howitzer, rather than the more
picturesque cannon provided by Queen Victoria. Those guns have never
been fired; something about the combination of a front-loading gun and
a thirty foot drop seems to have discouraged their use.
The Royal Mile extends downhill from the entrance to the castle.
It's full of tourist destinations like the Scotch Whisky Heritage
Center (I guess only Americans and Irish know the correct spelling of
whiskey), the Camera Obscura (a pinhole camera that gives you a view
over the city and which must have amazed them back in the 19th
century) and more kilt and curio shops than you'd believe. This is
the Old Town, much of which dates back three or four centuries. At
the far end of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Palace, the Queen's local
residence, which started out as an abbey in the 12th century before
being turned to more secular purposes.
One surprise I had walking around Edinburgh was to see so many bridges
and hills without once finding a river. I'm told that there used to
be a loch at the foot of the castle that separated Old Town from the
19th century New Town, although the water was diverted long ago. Now
the former lake is home to a rather nice park and the hiding place of
the main train station and a modern shopping mall. Maybe that's why I
liked Glasgow and Dublin better; their riverbeds had rivers in them.
I just knew there had to be water around here somewhere.
According to the map it was only a couple of miles from the east side
of town to Leith, a seaport on the Firth of Forth. (Don't you
love that name?) I stopped along the way at Calton Hill to capture
this shot of New Town. Calton Hill is home to the National Monument
to those lost in the Napoleonic Wars. It was supposed to be a
duplicate of the Parthenon. Money ran out after twelve of the
forty-two pillars were completed, leading to its local name:
Scotland's Disgrace. I did finally make it all the way to Leith, a
quiet place on a Sunday. But at least I did see some water!
This statue of Sherlock Holmes marks the birthplace of Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle, which used to reside where the traffic circle stands in
the picture above. Fittingly, there's a Conan Doyle pub on an
adjacent corner. The city is proud of its own; there's a plaque
marking the childhood home of Robert Louis Stevenson on Heriot Row.
But why no statue of his most famous creations, Dr. Jekyll
and Mr. Hyde? Or even of the real life Edinburgh murderer who
inspired the tale? I guess the city is prouder of some citizens than
Sometimes my irony radar just goes a little crazy. Here's an example I found in a tourist shop on the Royal Mile. It's a computer font based on the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow's answer to Frank Lloyd Wright. (No disrespect intended by the comparison; I spent several pleasant hours admiring Mackintosh's work in various museums in Glasgow.) But does anyone else find it odd or upsetting that the shop only carries the Windows version of a Mackintosh font? Is there no justice in the universe?
(Apparently there is; the maker of this font does offer a
Macintosh version. (Or at least they did; their website seems to have
gone the way of the Great Auk.) They aren't the only ones to be
inspired by his work;
typeface grande dame ITC has a font called
Mackintosh that attempts to recreate his distinctive style.)
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California