A fun, alternative day in Glasgow, Scotland

Jumping forward about a week from Dan’s post about vegan food in Dublin, we finally arrived in Scotland. Glasgow is so beautiful it hurts. It’s what I imagine New York City looked like at the turn of the 20th Century. Our lovely hosts explained it to us this way; the old Medieval city was knocked down and a Victorian (mostly) gridded city was built in its place. So it is a nicely preserved Victorian city. In other words, it is freakin’ beautiful.

Beautiful victorian building in Glasgow

Beautiful Victorian building in Glasgow

But as long-term budget travelers, we can’t just see the main sites everyday. That would mean lots of money (though all of Glasgow’s major museums are free, a big plus) and lots of museums. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good museum, but my brain can only handle so much each day before it shuts off, so everyday cannot be filled with museums. What to do instead?

How about a day that few tourists replicate. It starts with one of the few places on the south side of Glasgow that tourists ever get to – the Burrell Collection. The Burrell Collection is located in a park called Pollok Park on the south side of Glasgow. Few tourists travel to the south side of Glasgow. Not for any scary reasons, just because there is enough to do in city center, which is on the north side of the River Clyde. We went to the Burrell Collection, where we desperately used the bathroom hand driers to dry out our socks and shoes which had been drenched in a rain shower earlier that morning. We also spent a while in the beautiful cafe warming up with tea, coffee, and vegan split pea soup!

 

Burrell Collection cafe

Burrell Collection cafe

After we had been adequately warmed up and seen all of the things Burrell collected (which was a lot of things!) we left the Burrell Collection and walked to the Pollok House (which is apparently Scotland’s answer to Downton Abbey. I think it looked too small to be comparable, but what do I know?). The park is obviously also named after the same Pollok. His house, however, is not free. But you can walk in and go downstairs and see the servants’ quarters. Those are free. I guess that makes sense… But it gave us a little peek at the house without having to pay to go into the upstairs rooms. Then after that we walked the grounds around the house and started our walk east through Pollok park, and then eventually, once we were out of the park, north towards city center. On our way east through the park, we saw this guy:

Highland cattle in all his/her adorable fuzziness. I wanted to pet this guy's nose, but Dan didn't think it would be a good idea...

Highland cattle in all his/her adorable fuzziness. I wanted to pet this guy’s nose, but Dan didn’t think it would be a good idea…

Highland cattle are kept in Pollok park. I’m going to take a wild guess here and say that they are native to the Highlands in Scotland (and Wikipedia confirms this theory). I think it is likely that they are in Pollok park for the human visitors’ amusement similar to how buffalo are kept in Golden Gate Park. But the Highland cattle seemed to be happily munching away, so hopefully no harm, no foul.

If you are planning on doing this walk yourself someday, exit the park onto Pollokshaws Road and take it north straight back into city center. Along the way you will pass beautiful neighborhoods:

Nice neighborhood on the south side of Glasgow

Nice neighborhood on the south side of Glasgow

Some sort of country club with people play whatever this sport is (bocce?):

Bocce (?) on the south side

Bocce (?) on the south side

You will pass Queens Park, which has a farmers market on Saturdays. It was across the street from the park that I found a hair cut place willing to give me a hair cut for a price I could actually afford!

Pre-hair cut:

Bye bye hair!

Bye bye hair!

Unfortunately, I don’t have a good after shot… Needless to say, it is now shoulder-length, not gross and fried at the ends, and much easier to manage! I’d say that it was the perfect 10 pound ($15) haircut!

After 15 minutes of walking past Queens Park the area gets a bit more industrial. But that’s in the home stretch! Plus you get to see insane things like this:

Bob the Builder tombstone??

Bob the Builder tombstone??

After this many hours of sun, Scotland was beginning to get confused by the weather so it drizzled a bit as we crossed the Clyde, hence the crazy dark picture below:

Crossing the Clyde

Crossing the Clyde

But without a drizzle, we couldn’t have had this!

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

We ended our walk with a much deserved dinner at one of Glasgow’s 5 (!!!) vegan restaurants, Stereo. The food was delicious and the venue was super-warm (too warm? Is that possible?). And as a bonus, free wifi! All of Glasgow’s vegan restaurants feature free wifi and lots of tables. I hear, after speaking to a waitress at one of the restaurants that they were all at least founded by the same guy which you can sort of tell as all of the vegan restaurants feature similar interior style. But each chef gets to do as he or she wants, so the food is different. At Stereo we got the dishes below to refuel after our long day out.

Vegan haggis pizza, salad and house coleslaw

Vegan haggis pizza, salad and house coleslaw

TLT with salad and chips

TLT with salad and chips

Assuming the weather is on your side, this was a fabulous day in Glasgow. I highly recommend going to the south side and seeing what few tourists get to see. You won’t be disappointed!

Affordable Activities in Dublin

So, I’m not claiming that Dan and I are Dublin experts, but we did spend 6 days in Dublin searching the nooks and crannies for affordable things to do.

The very first thing we did in Dublin was FREE. We actually came to Dublin to support my friend Sarah and her sister C.J. while they ran the Rock ‘n’ Roll Dublin half marathon.

That's Sarah in the middle. Go Sarah, go!

That’s Sarah in the middle of the picture, at the start of the race. Go Sarah, go!

Sarah is actually planning on running another half marathon right around Halloween this year to benefit the ASPCA! What a do-gooder! Help her out by supporting her and and the ASPCA HERE.

While they exerted themselves, we walked around a very quiet Dublin as this was relatively early on a bank holiday.

We went to St. Stevens Green which was right next to the race start, and like all of the parks in Dublin, free. We had breakfast while watching the birds.

This cutie sat next to us at St. Stevens Green. Looking for a snack, perhaps?

This cutie sat next to us at St. Stevens Green. Looking for a snack, perhaps?

According to our AirBnB hosts, Claudia and Kevin, Phoenix Park in Dublin has lots of cool animals to see including rabbits and deer! We didn’t have time to go check, but it is free and the biggest city park in Europe, so maybe you can go check for us. Also, while you are there you can go to the free Irish Museum of Modern Art, right nearby. We obviously didn’t get their either, but if we had had one more day, we would have gone to Phoenix Park and the art museum.

Now on to cheap and free things in Dublin that we actually did do. My number one recommendation would be Dublin Castle.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle

Don’t get over-excited, it isn’t really a castle. Well, it was at one point in history, but most of the castle part is now gone. It is, however, an extremely historic and important site in Irish history (and present). Every Irish president since the state became independent has been sworn in here.

Where every Irish President gets sworn in.

Where every Irish President gets sworn in.

Our guide was great. He answered all of my inane historical questions and entertained the group. The cost of the hour or so long tour of Dublin Castle is 4.50 Euros. Honestly, I was really under-informed about Ireland when I got to Dublin. This tour on my second day there helped me feel a little more knowledgeable and informed.

Two free things to do in the main tourist area in Dublin (at or right near Trinity College) are the Science Gallery, and the National Gallery of Ireland. There is currently an exhibit about illusion at the Science Gallery which was fun, and it’s free so you really have nothing to lose be spending some time there. The National Gallery had some lovely paintings by Irish painters, but it wasn’t my favorite national gallery ever. I did appreciate that it was well organized, though, and small enough that you didn’t feel guilty for only spending an hour there.

Also, all of the National Museums of Ireland (3 of the 4 are in Dublin) are free!

Finally, Dublin is home to many churches. Let me help you navigate which are worth the cost and which aren’t (in my opinion, obviously). Dublin’s two most famous churches are St. Patrick’s Catherdral and Christ Church Cathedral. St. Patrick’s is 5.50 Euros and Christ Church is 6 Euros. We reviewed the reviews on Trip Advisor (since I can see those without internet access. Again, I highly recommend the Trip Advisor app!) and took a peak into each church and decided that the church we were going to pay for was Christ Church. They both have fabulous history (and you can get into both for free for services), but Christ Church has a crypt full of cool things (and a cafe in the crypt. What??).

Christ Church interior

Christ Church interior

But then, as we were walking down the street from Christ Church, we spotted another church which looked mighty old. We walked down the steps of St. Audoen’s Church just to see what the deal was and it turns out it is run by the state and free to get into and view.

St. Audoen's Church

St. Audoen’s Church

We just walked around and read some of the info ourselves (we had had a long day at that point. I believe I told Dan that I was all read-out at some point), but apparently the staff will tour you for free if you ask. It really is a beautiful and interesting place.

St. Audoen's from the inside - kind of...

St. Audoen’s from the inside – kind of…

So, those are my recommendations. I’m sure I only touched on a few of the affordable things to do in Dublin (for instance, there is a ton of free outdoor stuff happening in the summertime in Dublin, plus it stays light out until after 9pm!), but I just wanted to give you a glimpse into the activities we chose to do on our limited budget. Did we miss anything big that you, dear reader, would recommend to future budget visitors?

London Eye Alternatives: Tower Bridge and ‘The Monument’

If you have ever visited (or have considered visiting) London, you have likely heard of the London Eye. If you haven’t heard of it, imagine a well-funded science project including a 27-story bicycle wheel with a line longer and more aggravating than LA freeway traffic. Or just look at the picture below.

London Eye

London Eye on a cloudy day 

It is beautiful to see the view of London from the top but the cost of £19.20 (about $30 US dollars – or a dollar a minute) may be too much for some.  Thankfully there are a number of alternatives that give you a similar experience with fewer tour groups.

Enter: The Monument to the Great Fire of London

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

The Monument to the Great Fire of London 1666

“The Monument” is the tallest free-standing column in the world.  This was enough of a draw for me and the gorgeous 360° view of the city was simply a bonus.

Buyer beware: there is no elevator. You will need to walk up the series of 311 stairs pictured below. It’s not so bad.  There are periodic windows along the way which make the trip slightly more interesting than the stairwell experience of your friends’ Manhattan walk-up apartment.

The Monument, Stairs

Molly climbing ‘The Monument’ stairs

When you do make it you should expect to see views similar to those pictures below.

** London skyline spoiler alert**

View from The Monument, "Walkie Talkie Building" under construction

View from The Monument, “Walkie Talkie Building” under construction

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

The Shard, third tallest building in Europe

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Monument view of Tower Bridge

Overall, The Monument is a unique experience which many tourists seem to be blissfully unaware of.  It only costs a few dollars (Adults £3; Student £2) and you can take your time and quietly enjoy the view.  We went early in the morning and there were only between 2 and 6 other patrons at the top while we were there.  Upon our exit there was a small line beginning to form.

Our next stop was the iconic and much-ballyhooed Tower Bridge Exhibition.

Tower Bridge, London

Tower Bridge, London

The Tower Bridge Exhibition includes a couple of interesting videos on its construction.  The exhibit also highlights the evolution of bridge construction techniques over time and has information on famous bridges from around the globe.  If structural engineering and bridge history don’t interest you, perhaps the scenery will.

** Another London skyline spoiler alert**

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Western view from Tower Bridge, London

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

Another view up the river, Tower of London in foreground

While notably more crowded than The Monument, the Tower Bridge was a lovely stop for beautiful views directly over the River Thames. At only £8.00 for regular admission it is a real bargain, since you can stay for as long as you like. As an added bonus, your admission grants you access to the engine rooms to the draw bridge.

Tower Bridge engine room

Tower Bridge engine room

Is the view of the city from either The Monument or the Tower Bridge better than the London Eye? You aren’t as high up and you are substantially farther East, but you still have an excellent vantage point.  Are the lines and price much better? Absolutely.  At either location you can ask about getting a ‘joint ticket’ which will allow you to visit both sights for a discount. It is well worth it to package both sites together.  They are within a short walk of one another and will take you directly past The Tower of London as you go from one to another.  Make sure you check out All Hallows by the Tower on your way. This is the oldest church in the City of London and has a a historic crypt and a number of historical artifacts. Admission is free and you might even get to hear the organ being played.

2013 Pricing Information for Tower Bridge and The Monument

The Monument and Tower Bridge joint tickets: Adults £9; Students £6.20

Monument Only: Adults £3; Student £2

Tower Bridge Only: Adults £8.00, Students £5.60  

Picture of the Day: Stairs from within the Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

The Tower Bridge stairs remind me of an MC Escher painting

How to save about $50 at Westminster Abbey

Now, this happened to Dan and I totally by accident today, and I’m not advocating cheating religious institutions out of their entry fee, but if you are a poor budget traveler like Dan and I are this can now happen to you on purpose!

Westminster Abbey - North Entrance

Westminster Abbey – North Entrance

Dan and I weren’t planning on visiting Westminster Abbey because it costs 18 GBP (or about $27) per person. We walked by today on our way to the House of Parliament. The plan was to go get a tour of the House of Parliament instead of Westminster Abbey (It is slightly cheaper, and more towards our interests). The East Entrance of the Abbey is where people line up to pay the big bucks and get into the Abbey. Dan and I walked past that madhouse, but as we went around the corner we spied the North Entrance. Anyone can attend church services at the Abbey for free. So at the North Entrance I spoke with a guard and Dan and I made a plan to go back to the Abbey for Evensong tomorrow night. (For some reason that I do not understand, Wednesday is the only weeknight that they have a spoken evening service instead of a sung one. We wanted to hear the choir if we could.)

We headed into a little court to the west of the North Entrance. Woops, dead end. But a beautiful dead end so we wandered around a bit. Then a church employee came over and handed us a flier. Do we have perfect timing or what? Today was one of the 6 Wednesday where Westminster Abbey’s College Garden hosts free Brass on the Grass concerts. And what time did it happen to be but 5 minutes before the start of the concert. So we headed toward the secret side entrance that the employee waved us toward and tell the guard that we are going the the concert. At this point I had every intention of going to that concert. Really people! But once we were inside we realized that we had full access to the Abbey! Well, not really as they don’t let you into the Abbey itself without tickets and the area we were in was post-Abbey (but still inside the complex. Sorry, it’s complicated…). But apparently once people were out of the Abbey itself and just walking the grounds, they were leaving their tickets everywhere. So Dan and I scooped up a couple and headed in.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

A ceiling in one of the chapels

A ceiling in one of the chapels

We may not have had the hand-held audio-guides that the people who actually paid to get in had, but most of Westminster Abbey is pretty self explanatory. Plus there is just so much to look at, I don’t feel like a guide is necessary. Some of our favorite highlights were the tombs of former kings and queens dating back as far as 1000 years ago, the Poet’s Corner, and the oldest door in Britain (also from about 1000 years ago).

Stained glass

Stained glass

We spent an hour or so walking around Westminster Abbey. I simply assumed that the brass concert would be over at that point. But Dan and I decided to go see anyway. Our luck continued as the Tilbury Brass Band had a few pieces left to perform. We walked in to the College Garden while they were playing the John Williams Jurassic Park theme song. Really funny and awesome.

An interior garden

Overall, I have to say that Westminster Abbey is amazing. Awesome enough to pay some money to see. But not over $50. Even if we hadn’t been able to see the Abbey and were just able to go to the Brass on the Grass concert, it would have been a lovely and special afternoon. Our little escapade into the Abbey, though, was awesome and I recommend trying it yourself if you ever get the chance. They have a donation jar near the Abbey entrance where you can assuage your guilt at having cheated to get into a house of god. Have fun!

Iceland: The Golden Circle

Molly and I wasted no time diving into Reykjavik and the surrounding countryside after a very uncomfortable and sleepless flight on Iceland Air.  We booked our tour through iCHighland and set out in a 16 passenger van (filled only by Molly, myself and three other Americans) on the highly recommended ‘Golden Circle’ tour.  iCHighland offers tours for around 10 USD cheaper than its competitors and other tours we encountered filled entire charter buses. Contrary to my initial misconceptions of the ‘Golden Circle Tour’ being a Chinese food entree, it is in fact a guided tour of some of Iceland’s most beautiful sights within a few hours’ drive from Reykjavik.

One of the many highlights of the tour was a stop at Golden Falls (if you are working on your Icelandic – ‘Gullfoss’).

Golden Falls – Gullfoss

With an average flow rate of 140 cubic meters per second (which from the looks of it, is a lot) it is an impressive sight to behold.  Such power churned up a chilly mist that helped to cool off an uncharacteristically hot and sunny 70 degree day.  The falls are made all the more impressive by the abundance of mountains that surround the site, containing immense glacier formations.

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Golden Circle – Glaciers

If glaciers don’t float your boat, perhaps geysers launching boiling water into unpredictable winds will do the trick.  The famed and reliable Strokkur geyser (which erupts regularly every 4-8 minutes) was a sight to behold and bephotoed.  I can confirm that the small dots at the bottom of this photo are in fact people.

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Golden Circle, Strokkur Geyser – Who put all of these sights so close together??

Departing the geysers, we ventured to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Þingvellir.  I Þlan to incorÞorate more ‘Þ’ characters into future Þosts. (If you are playing at home, the ‘Þ’ is actually pronounced ‘th’.)  I now understand why UNESCO made this worthy selection.

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Golden Circle – Þingvellir

In addition to being the sight of the first parliament in the history of man, Þingvellir is the home to naturally filtered glacier water with a clarity and cleanliness that would embarrass your kitchen sink.

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Golden Circle – Þingvellir (Yes, our feet are submerged in this photo)

Clean water and a monumental achievements of the human race are both great things.  However, continental plates are much bigger and it just so happens that the split between the Eurasian plate and North American plate run right through the middle of Þingvellir, and are moving apart at a rate of 2 cm per year.

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Golden Circle – Þingvellir (Eurasian and North American plate divide)

In closing, Iceland and its sights are built to last.  Mountains, continental plates, and great plains with hardly a tree in sight.  On our tour we visited a half dozen other sights along the way and each would easily be a  ‘crown jewel’ of tourism if located in most any other city or town worldwide.  The fact that so many of these sights exist so close together is astonishing.  The Golden Circle tour is a must if you find yourself in Iceland, even if it is at the top of your daily budget.

Stay tuned for tomorrow when Molly will break down some of the best vegan food options in Reykjavik!

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Golden Circle – Molly with Alaskan Lupine flowers that grow all over the countryside