2016 – the ones that nearly got away

30 years at the University of Glasgow
30 years at the University of Glasgow

A Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2017 will be good to us all. I’m trying to polish off 2016 by clearing out old photos and ideas for blog posts. Some will get an entry to themselves; this is a catch-up for the rest – the ones that nearly got away.

John

You’ll all be familiar with John, my partner in life and photographer-in-chief. He had a big birthday this year – can you guess which one from the pictures below? Not hard! He also had a presentation to mark 30 years of service at the University of Glasgow (top image), which means we’ve lived 30 years in Glasgow as we moved up from Yorkshire when he got his lectureship. That’s over half my life – in the first half I lived in 9 different towns or cities, so I think I can now call myself settled.

Mum

The other big family milestone last year was my Mum’s 90th birthday which I’ve already written about (here). Earlier in the year, she and I paid a visit to the village she grew up in, Kilmacolm. We’ve been before, many times, but this time we took some photographs where her home used to stand. The name of the building was Low Shells – now, there is only a grassy area and some benches but the name lives on.

Dams to Darnley

Dams to Darnley is a newish country park which sits between Barrhead, Darnley and Newton Mearns to the south of Glasgow. We found it almost by accident when we were looking for somewhere else and enjoyed a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll there. Centred on a series of reservoirs and bisected by a railway, it’s not particularly spectacular but I’ve included it because I’m impressed that two councils (it falls between Glasgow City and East Renfrewshire) have co-operated to make the most of limited green space and not build all over it.

Palacerigg

Palacerigg is another minor country park within half an hour of Glasgow. Again, the local council, North Lanarkshire this time, has made a big effort to introduce nature trails, birds and animals, particularly with children in mind. This was July, but I see I am wearing winter clothes. The joys of a Scottish summer!

Loch Leven

In December we had a couple of nights in Perth. I’ve started some posts about that, but I don’t think I’ll get round to writing about the lovely walk at Loch Leven we did on the way home. Here’s a slide-show of some of the best images. It was a stunningly crisp morning as you can see.

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2016 Stats

Finally, speaking of the ones that got away, whatever has happened to WordPress’s stats helper monkeys? You know, the ones that send you a report with fireworks that tells you how your blog did that year? Or is it just me they’ve decided not to visit? *Sulks*. Anyway, being a resourceful type, I’ve looked at the 2016 stats all by myself. They’re up by over 50% compared to 2015, which is lovely, and of the ten most read posts nine were about Scotland (one of my Yellowstone posts just scraped in at number ten). I guess you like reading about my home country! There will be much more of the same this year so I hope you will keep visiting. I’m grateful to everyone who has read, liked, commented or all three. As a TV series of my youth used to end “Thank you for coming to my little show. I love you all!” (Brownie points if you can identify which one….)

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The Glasgow Gallivanter

gallivant: to go around from one place to another in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment.

I think that might be a good description of what I do, no? When I started Anabel’s Travel Blog I had good reasons for choosing such a prosaic title which are no longer relevant. At first, it did what it said on the tin, but lately I’ve been writing a lot more about Glasgow and its surroundings. I’ve also found the title a bit restricting: I might want to write about something else occasionally and, indeed, I do on Adventures of a Retired Librarian which I now intend to – well, retire! Hence the change to The Glasgow Gallivanter.

So new year, new title – but before plunging into 2016, a quick look back at 2015. My page-views more than doubled, though I admit to suspicion about WordPress’s stats. I’ve had a few of those “Your stats are spiking” messages where investigation showed one post, or even one image, was getting multiple hits in a very short space of time. As an example, my top-read post in 2015 was apparently A visit to Cambridge. Huh? Written in July 2012, it has no likes and no comments – I hadn’t learned how to make friends yet – so how did that get there? Spam bots? I don’t know – but I’m happy to accept the upward trajectory even if I don’t believe the actual figures. I’ve posted more frequently and made more connections with all you lovely people reading this right now.

Thank you for your companionship in 2015. I look forward gallivanting with you in 2016.

 

2014: the best bits

Another good year! And yet – other years, a post of annual highlights has poured out of me, but this year I’m not sure what to write. Could it be because I’m blogging much more and I’ve already said it all? I’ve almost tripled the number of posts (89 as opposed to 32 in 2013) and, gratifyingly, page views have gone up by almost the same factor. I have one thing to thank for that: The A to Z Challenge, which encourages you to blog every day (except Sundays) in April and meet other bloggers doing the same thing. It certainly got me into the habit of writing more (last January, I had a queue of post ideas from 2013 still waiting to be written; this year I have only one.) I also made some good blogging friends whose posts I still follow and who still appear to read mine occasionally too!

Anyway, writing that paragraph and looking at my 89 posts has focused my thoughts and I now know what my two stars of the year are. Ta da! The first is – the weather! The sun has shone on us when it mattered this year (does that make us righteous?), even unseasonably when we didn’t expect it – Bruges (March/April) and Cornwall (September/October). This is not something I could say every year. The blob of pink in the first photo is me enjoying an al fresco lunch in Bruges, while on the right John enjoys coffee on the roof terrace of Tate St Ives.

My second star is Scotland. We had a momentous year politically, with the independence referendum decided in an exemplary display of democracy and with an unprecedented level of political engagement which shows no sign of going away. However, that’s not the main reason for my choice. I was amazed to find that, despite writing about lots of exotic places, particularly during the Challenge, my 5 most read posts of the year were all Scottish! They were:

  1. Jupiter Artland
  2. Great Tapestry of Scotland
  3. Kinneil and Bo’ness
  4. Costumes and quilts at Dalgarven Mill
  5. Celtic Connections 2014

By W. L. Tarbert (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By W. L. Tarbert (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Many of my blog visitors come from outwith Scotland and if it makes even one of them think about visiting the country I’ll be well-pleased. In the same vein, I also found myself listed as “the serial traveller” on Wow 24/7’s list of 10 essential Glasgow blogs, so hopefully that should reach a few more potential visitors too.

So what of 2015? I mean to keep up-to-date with current travels and carry on with the original purpose of this blog, to write a retrospective travel diary (for my own satisfaction) back to 1999! The A to Z Challenge helped a lot with that in 2014, so I have fewer gaps to fill in. I definitely intend to take part in the Challenge again – my theme is picked out and I’ve started collecting thoughts and pictures. And I hope to keep the friends I made in 2014 and maybe make some new ones.

So, finally, thanks to everyone who visited last year, to read or comment, or just to look at the pictures. I hope 2015 is good for you all – happy travelling!

2013: the best bits

Annual Review 2013

2013 was my first year of retirement so you would think that I would have had more time for blogging. Not so! I’m shocked to find that my last post here was back in October, and I am still no nearer my original aim of using this blog to write up past travel adventures. My excuse is that retirement has been very busy – I’m not going out to work everyday, but I have got involved in many new projects which take up my energies. I think some blogging resolutions for 2014 are called for, but in the meantime, here are my highlights of 2013.

Travel

Our spring holiday this year was to Amsterdam, our favourite city since we honeymooned there in 1981. In the summer we toured New England and, for the second year in a row, our autumn holiday was dictated by Leonard Cohen’s tour schedule: Dublin. You can see what I wrote about those (quite a lot) by following the links. At the beginning of the year, I was also good at writing up days out in Scotland; less so towards the end – I have a stack of photographs waiting to go on the blog. Resolution number 1: run through these in a short series of Scottish Snapshots. Resolution number 2: blog more regularly – it’s much easier to do when the memories are fresh.

Can I name a highlight for 2013? Difficult, but I did enjoy visiting Hildene in Vermont and would dearly love to have this view at the end of my garden.

Hildene, Manchester VT
Hildene, Manchester VT

Glasgow restaurants

In last year’s review, I toyed with the notion of reviewing restaurants, or at least writing a post on The Great Glasgow Curry. Hmm, given that I’m not keeping up with the travel posts I think I’ll abandon those ideas. However, I do like to emphasise what a great collection of restaurants Glasgow has – this year we ate out, by my calculations, 58 times in 38 different places. In 2011 and 2012, our most common choices of cuisine were Italian, Indian and Chinese but this year Chinese has been kicked out of the top three by “Modern Scottish”. I’m not sure how I would define that, and maybe some of the restaurants I classed that way wouldn’t agree, but I think it’s something like using local ingredients with influences from European (or beyond) cooking styles. (One of my favourites, which does proudly proclaim itself as Scottish, is Ingram Wynd.) Many other nationalities were also represented in our dining choices, including Greek, Turkish, French and Spanish – the latter including our find of the year, Malaga Tapas which knocks spots off the competition. It’s off our usual beaten track (West End and City Centre) but is worth going a bit further afield for. Curry’s still my favourite food though!

Culture

Not being tied to the 9-to-5 has its cultural advantages. A new pleasure this year has been attending A Play, a Pie and a Pint, which is exactly as described in the title and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours at lunchtime. In December, it morphs into A Play a Pie and a Panto, which follows all the pantomime traditions but is definitely not for children (too rude and sweary!) This year we attended the last performance, after which they auctioned off some of the props and costumes for charity. Is it significant for this year’s Independence Referendum that a cut-out figure of Alex Salmond raised about ten times more than one of Alistair Darling? And no-one in the room was prepared to bid for the mural of the royal family.

I also got to do lots of bookish things that I wouldn’t have time for previously such as volunteering at Aye Write! (Glasgow’s Book Festival), joining a book group and attending events at the wondrous Glasgow Women’s Library (where I also volunteer.)

Other than that, we have done the usual mix of exhibitions, theatre, film, dance and, above all, music. The classical highlight was the Dunedin Consort’s performance of The Messiah which took place in Kelvingrove Museum. We’ve been to concerts there before and it’s a great venue – the music just soars. Looking over the list of 15 or so gigs we went to, I’m struggling to find anything new – they were mostly old favourites such as Lene Lovich, last seen by me in Leeds University Union c1979, Alison Moyet, Nick Cave and Billy Bragg. However, in a year with a Leonard Cohen concert in it, there can only be one cultural highlight for me.

2014

So what of 2014? In last year’s review I made the following resolutions:

  • Keep active and find useful things to do, whether paid or voluntary. Yes, I’ve done that.
  • Keep writing in the hope of improving, and organising the presentation of that writing better. I planned to rationalise my online presence, but I still have four blogs and it’s still too many. I’ve already made a couple of resolutions above about writing more often. I’ll add to that – Resolution number 3: get back to the original purpose of this blog to record, mainly for my own benefit, previous travels – perhaps the A-Z Challenge in April would help with that? I’ll need to start soon though – lots of old photos to look out.
  • Keep travelling and enjoying myself! Goes without saying!

A happy 2014 to everyone.

2012: the best bits

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It’s been a funny old year. After working in the same place for two decades, I’ve now left two jobs within a few months of each other, experiencing both the sadness of closing down a much-loved library and the exhaustion of commuting to Edinburgh every day for a temporary contract at the Scottish Agricultural College. While I was there, SAC changed its name and I rather liked its new slogan, shown above. As 2013 dawns I’m not sure what the future will bring so I will hold to the idea of “pastures new”.

Travel

When I wrote last year’s review this blog had only been going since the summer: in 2012, all my holidays and days out have been lovingly preserved on it, so I’m not going to go over them all again here. I’ll cut straight to my best trip of 2012: Berlin. It was our second visit, and I think you always feel more relaxed when you already know a city and can mix familiar experiences with new ones. The hotel we picked, Circus, was excellent and in an area with lots of interesting cafés and restaurants, but the highlight, and the real reason we went, was seeing Leonard Cohen. The city was amazing, he was amazing – I won’t bore you any further because it’s all in my Berlin posts.

Glasgow restaurants

I don’t blog about restaurants in my home city as I go along, but I include a roundup in my annual review. Last year I had eaten in 35 different ones; this year that has gone up to 40. As before, my favourite cuisines turned out to be Italian (8 restaurants, 15 total visits), Indian (8/13) and Oriental (mainly Chinese but including Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese – also 8/13). The reason, apart from delicious food obviously, is that these three always offer me good vegetarian choices. Many other restaurants just have one or two dishes available and / or the chefs think that vegetarian = bland. The most fashionable dish at the moment seems to be risotto – some are very good, but if I never eat another one I won’t be sorry.

Can I choose a favourite restaurant? Not easy, but I’ll try. Of the Italians, the one I visited most (4 times) was last year’s favourite, Amarone which this year won two Glasgow Restaurant Awards. However, I discovered, thanks to a friend’s birthday celebration, Celino’s on Alexandra Parade. It’s a tiny restaurant and deli with great food, a great atmosphere and very friendly staff. I’m going to make it my Italian of 2012.

For Indian, I’m torn as usual, because there are so many good ones to choose from. I’ve had a blog post on the Great Glasgow Curry simmering in my head for a while, but it has never made it onto the page – yet. One I have already written about is KoolBa, which I reviewed a couple of years ago for Taste of Glasgow. It’s still one of my favourites, and I’ve been there 3 times this year, but, like my Italian, my Indian of 2013 is also a new discovery for me. Charcoals on Renfield Street was first recommended by a visitor to Glasgow, and I couldn’t believe I had missed it for so long. (The website is down at the moment so I’ve linked to its 5pm.co page.) It’s quite small and unprepossessing looking from the outside, but the food is very good and nothing is too much trouble for the staff. Charcoals was Best in Glasgow at this year’s Scottish Curry Awards, so I’m not alone in my opinion.

Finally, Chinese food. Strangely, I haven’t been to last year’s favourite, Dragon-I, at all. The most visited (4 times, including Hogmanay) was our local, Amber on Byres Road, which is a serviceable Cantonese restaurant – and doesn’t seem to have a website. This sort of place is being overtaken by a wave of more sophisticated restaurants, of which Dragon-I was a forerunner and my new favourite is the latest addition. Annoyingly, the website for Lychee Oriental is also inaccessible at the moment so I’ve again used a 5pm.co entry. I am writing this on my tablet, and all attempts at searching for the restaurant reach a trial site for mobiles with no way through to the proper site – why not guys? Still I won’t hold it against them. The food, the presentation and the staff are all lovely. Lychee Oriental won Best Newcomer at the Glasgow Restaurant Awards and was voted the Greatest Little Place in Glasgow on Facebook. It’s also my best Chinese and best overall Glasgow restaurant of 2012. Ta da!

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Culture

This is one area that my commute really affected in the latter part of the year. I was getting home too late to go to anything mid-week and I didn’t have the energy to plan for the weekend. We still managed 16 music events from classical to – oh well, I could go on with a list, but you know I’m not going to get past Leonard Cohen don’t you? He would be my gig of the year, any year. I’m surprised, though, at how little theatre we saw – which probably explains the lack of visits to Dragon-I too, because it’s right opposite the Theatre Royal. There was one outstanding dramatic event – Alan Cumming’s (almost) one-man version of Macbeth, set in a psychiatric unit with all the characters channelled through one patient. It was an awesome feat of memory, the best portrayal of vulnerability I have ever seen on stage and such a nuanced performance that it was never in doubt which character was being represented. If it wasn’t for Leonard, Alan Cumming would definitely be my cultural icon of the year, but he’s a close-run second.

2013

As I said at the beginning, my job has ended and I’m looking for pastures new. Perhaps I will have more time for travelling and blogging? I would like to use this blog for its original purpose, to write up holidays of the past as a record for myself, and maybe I should consider expanding its scope to cover restaurant reviews and similar? I enjoy writing and now have four blogs (the other three are all library or book-related in some way). Although there were good reasons at the time for starting them all individually, this is now too many. I’ve also diversified into Pinterest and Storify so I really need to simplify my online presence. I’ve made a start by gathering them all together at flavors.me but more needs to be done. So my resolutions for the year are:

Keep active and find useful things to do, whether paid or voluntary.
Keep writing in the hope of improving, and organising the presentation of that writing better.
Keep travelling and enjoying myself!

Happy New Year.

2011: the best bits

I started this blog mid-way through 2011, really as a travel diary for myself which I hoped to complete retrospectively, so that I had a record of the great holidays we have had. We have thousands of photographs which we never look at and I think if I blog the edited highlights I am much more likely to revisit past travels. It hasn’t really happened that way – I’ve only done one retrospective post! However, as well as blogging my main holiday, I have been writing up the days out we have had in Glasgow and around, which wasn’t my original intention, but it’s still travel, even if not very far, and I also hope that if other people stumble on this it might show them what a great place Scotland, and particularly Glasgow, is to visit. Although, I hope of course that many of them know that already!

So here are my highlights of 2011.

Travel: We spent three weeks in the summer touring Georgia, the Carolinas and a wee bit of Tennessee. That has all been chronicled here but, pre-blog, we also had a week in Amsterdam in the spring. Amsterdam is a very special place for us as we first went there on honeymoon in 1981. It doesn’t therefore take a mathematical genius to work out that we were back this time for our 30th anniversary. Instead of going to a hotel, as we have done in the past, we stayed in the Prinx Apartments which was an excellent decision – a lovely place and very handy for the Rijksmuseum. You can read my review on Trip Advisor if interested. Prinx is the middle building below and our apartment was behind the three windows on the first floor:

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We had four short UK breaks as well – I’ve written about the more recent ones, to Grasmere in the Lake District and to Fife, but Kelso and Moffat pre-dated the blog. The latter was lovely, the former less so – but that’s a whole other story! So what was my favourite travel destination for 2011? Has to be Amsterdam, I just love it.

Glasgow restaurants: As well as eating out on our travels, we also eat out in our home city A LOT! I’ve calculated that in 2011 we ate in 35 different Glasgow restaurants, some more than once. Of those, seven were Indian, seven were Italian and six were Chinese or oriental fusion. My favourite foods are therefore quite obvious, although the fact that all are veggie friendly probably influences the choices. As for favourite restaurants, that’s really hard. Glasgow has an excellent reputation for curries and has been UK Curry Capital several times, so it’s difficult to get a bad Indian meal. My favourite always seems to be the last one I visited, which at the moment is the Shish Mahal in Kelvinbridge where we had a delicious banquet to send off a friend who was emigrating. The Shish has been a legend since the 60s and was where, allegedly, chicken tikka masala was invented. For Italian, I like Amarone which is part of a chain, but doesn’t feel like it. We often go for a pre-theatre before the concert hall and their menu changes regularly which is good for veggies – it means I’m not stuck with the same choice all the time. The Chinese-style restaurant we go to most is Dragon-I, and for similar reasons – it’s very handy for the Theatre Royal. They don’t change their menu quite so often, but the food is delicious, the restaurant is extremely stylish and the staff are lovely. I’m going to leave it at that; I can’t possibly choose one favourite restaurant.

Concerts and gigs: We went to six classical concerts and sixteen gigs (four as part of Celtic Connections). Of the former, my top choice would be the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus performing Mozart’s Requiem, which made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I think my favourite gig was Jools Holland in Amsterdam – we’ve seen him at the Armadillo in Glasgow, which is quite a formal setting. The Paradiso (just round the corner from our apartment, another plus point for it) is much more intimate and we were able to stand very near the stage. All the usual suspects were with him, including the fabulous Ruby Turner, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It seems you either love Jools or hate him – I think he’s great, and that the rather bumbling persona he has on TV is a front. He seems much more in command live. Looking over the list of artists we saw at home, I am struck by how many strong, female performers are around just now. John’s highlight would undoubtedly be Tori Amos or PJ Harvey, but I can’t choose between Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Anna Calvi and Lisa Hannigan. All great. The venue we went to most often was Oran Mor, a converted church on Byres Road, which is small but perfectly formed – and best of all, about 10 minutes’ walk from our house! So I’m not picking a favourite artist, but I’ll make Oran Mor my favourite venue.

Other culture: What else can I think of? Many visits to museums and galleries, six ballet or dance events, three plays, three Aye Write! events. Not everything was in Glasgow – I think my favourite thing (whispers) was actually in Edinburgh: the Blackadder exhibition I wrote about three or four posts ago.

So that was my year. I have never done a review like this before, so it will be interesting to look back in future years and compare and contrast what we have been up to. And it’s all about to start up again – the Celtic Connections and Aye Write! Festivals are not too far off and, as I am writing this, John is attempting, not terribly successfully, to book flights for our summer holidays. Those pesky Olympics getting in the way!

Watch this space.