Concatenation's Glasgow - for visiting SF folk

A Worldcon needs many things. Thousands of SF authors, fans and personalities, great hotels, good international access and, of course, a wonderful city in which to hold it. Here is a low-down...

This article is the second in an infrequent series on Worldcon host cities. The first was on Toronto. The 2005 Worldcon is also the 2005 Eurocon.

All prices herein are in UK Pounds sterling (2005). - If coming to the 2005 Worldcon then you may want to print this out for reference especially if arriving early you need this Glasgow information before registration.

 

Glasgow (Glaschu, Gaelic for 'green glen') is Scotland's second city to its capital Edinburgh.   It is an old city. There has been a settlement on the Glasgow site for well over 2,000 years, and indeed the Romans had one nearby (just to the present city's north) before Emperor Hadrian built a wall across northern Britain separating Scotland. This Roman pre-cursor aside, the first settlement on where Glasgow itself stands was allegedly founded sometime around 550 AD by Saint Kentigern, or Mungo (the latter meaning 'dear one'). In reality there was a settlement already on the Clyde when Mungo was consecrated Bishop of Strathclyde by an Irish bishop. You can visit the fourth church built now standing on the site of Mungo's original wooden church. The present structure is a little more grand than that it being Glasgow Cathedral. (This can be found down Cathedral street to the east-by-northeast of Glasgow City Centre, 15 minutes walk away from Central station.)   There is also a another church nearby dedicated to St Mungo.

Next to the Cathedral is St Mungo's Museum of Religious Life and Art, Britain's only museum of religion which covers many of the World's leading faiths and features a number of religious artefacts and paintings including Salvador Dali's Christ of St John the Cross. Admission is free, and it is open daily between 11.00 and 17.00 including Sundays.

From an historical perspective, Glasgow represents the heart of the Scottish industrial revolution and in the 18th century was one of Britain's gateways to the Americas (along with Bristol and Liverpool).   At that time the Clyde was dredged so enabling it to become a deep water port. Indeed from then through to the first half of the twentieth centuries, Glasgow had a flourishing - World class - ship building industry along the River Clyde.   This inspired one Gene Rodenberry to have as the starship Enterprise's chief engineer a Scot who literally (if recent student engineer surveys are to be believed) was one of the inspirational factors for a generation of late 20th century engineers.   However Glasgow's connection with science and the arts goes back way before this the city is home to Scotland's second oldest university (founded 1415) and fourth oldest in the UK.   Today Glasgow retains much of its cultural heritage and is a centre for present commerce being the largest concentration of retail outlets in Great Britain outside of London.   If you are short on consumables during your stay, and need a one-hit shopping area, then head for the St Enoch Shopping Centre, St Enoch Square.   It is a couple of blocks southeast of the entrance to Central Station and just off (south of) Argyle Street and two blocks west-southwest of Argyle Street station which itself is just three stations on the line east from the exhibition centre. St Enoch is open each day of the week between 11.00 and 17.30 and Mon-Sat from 09.00. It features Europe's largest glass structure and houses 85 shops and has the slogan 'chill out, shop in'.

If you are coming to Scotland for a Worldcon (or any other trip), and especially if you are coming from afar, it is worth spending a day or two exploring Glasgow, if not even additional time exploring the nearby countryside.   Even if you just want a break for a few hours from the five-day Worldcon, Glasgow has much to offer. Finally, because Glasgow was one of the 'gateways' to the America's, Americans (or even other nationals) whose descent is Scottish, rather than English, Welsh or Irish, will find a number of genealogical resources in Glasgow which might help in ascertaining their possible clan and tartan.

There is simply too much to do and see in Glasgow to explain here, so this brief introduction is mainly focussed on the area around the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) which is the only place large enough in Scotland to host a Worldcon (and one of just two possible venues in the UK).

The closest site of interest to hard SF fans is just across the Clyde from the SECC. Fortunately there is now the Bell's foot bridge so you wont get wet and you will find Glasgow's Science Centre in the grounds of the gardens there. It is open from 10.00am to 6.00pm and has a n admission charge of a few pounds. It is well worth a visit even if your leanings in SF are more towards fantasy as the centre showcases Glasgow as well as science and technology. It features interactive exhibits, demo-theatres and a planetarium as well as an IMAX cinema.

On your way to the Science Centre, across the Clyde you may see to the east one of the giant Clyde-side cranes. There used to be literally scores of these in the Clyde's ship building days.

Those Worldcon go-ers with a more fantasy bent may find the tourist site of greatest interest to them even closer to the Exhibition Centre with the Tall Ship at Glasgow Harbour. This is your chance to explore one of the last Clydebuilt sailing ships, the s.v. Glenlee. (Though of course the Clyde went on to excel at building steam ships for many years since the Glenlee's time.) There is a small admission fee but it is open seven days a week 11.00-16.00 (and an hour earlier and later in the summer).

For steampunk fans, 15 minutes north-northwest of the Scottish Exhibition Centre or close to a half hour walk from the city centre, on Argyle Street (its western leg) is the Kelvin Hall Museum of Transport.   This sports a fine collection of stream locos, Glasgow tram cars and an outstanding fleet of model ships. There is even a reconstruction of a 1938 city street scene. Admission is free and it is open each day 11.00-17.00.

For book fans there is the Mitchell Library. Founded in 1874, this is Western Europe's largest civic library containing over 1.5 million volumes. (and so rivals London's British Library). It can be found on North Street by the Kent Road near the city centre, under ten minutes walk to the north west from the Central Station. Entrance is free and it is open 09.00-20.00 Mon-Thurs and 09.00-17.00 Fri-Sat. The Mitchell Theatre is next door.

For those into history and who want an historical backdrop to holiday photos of yourself then a stop at George Square may be just the place. In the city centre, just 5 minutes walk northeast of Central Station, George Square is named after King George III (1760-1820), the one who had a little bother with colonies across the Pond during a period of ill health. George Square has a statue to him and others including Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert, the poet and songwriter Robert Burns, steam engine designer James Watt, the successful tactician (though it did not help the trans-Atlantic colonies) Sir John Moore, the former Prime Minister Gladstone, the founder of the Britain's oldest police force Robert Peel, and the chemist who studied how gases and liquids moved Dr Thomas Graham (who invented dialysis).

Food
Eating out in Glasgow is either very easy or problematic depending on your outlook. Easy, because there is so much to choose from. Problematic, because, well, there is so much to choose from.   The city centre offers: American, Asian, Cajun, Cantonese, Chinese, dairy free, European, French, fusion (various), gluten free, Greek, halal, Indian, Italian, Japanese, kosher, Mediterranean, Mexican, Moroccan, 'natural' cooking (whatever that oxymoron is), organic, Pakistani, Russian, Scottish beef, Scottish seafood, Spanish, tearooms, Thai, vegan and of course vegetarian. Because there is so much it is worth exploring.   However if you are stuck for time the selection below (which have not been quality tested by the author in the past four years) are all in the very centre of Glasgow but slightly towards the Scottish Exhibition Centre.

Bella, 15 St Vincent Street (which runs east-west and you will hit this road one block due north of Central Station). Not quite as cheap as Pizzaland but with more variety and still reasonably priced. Italian with both pasta and non-pasta options.

Di Maggios City Centre, 21 Royal Exchange Square (head east along Gordon Street from Central Station a couple of blocks and you'll hit the Royal Exchange Square). An Italian-American restaurant that does vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and dairy free options.

Molly Malones, 244 Hope Street (which runs north-south along the western edge and beyond of the Central Station). A traditional bar restaurant (open till midnight (with last food orders presumably shortly after 10.30).

The Opus, 150 St Vincent Street (which runs east-west and you will hit this road one block due north of Central Station). General menu.

La Lanterna Ristorante, 35 Hope Street (which runs north-south along the western edge and beyond of the Central Station). Established family run Italian restaurant specialising in Mediterranean, Scottish and of course Italian. Has vegetarian options.

Rab Ha's, 83 Hutcheson Street (go east from Central Station along Gordon Street and keep going east across/around the Royal Exchange Square, keep going east down Ingram Street and Hutcheson Street is five or six on your right (leading south)). Two in one with a bar and good bar food upstairs for a slightly young crowd, while there is a restaurant downstairs. With stonework and oak panels this is a cross between a Scottish castle room and a city dive. This is the furthest from the Central we will take you. Recommended. (Stop Press: Its website at the time this article was written became dead in 2015.)

Rogano, 11 Exchange Place (off Exchange Square, head east along Gordon Street from the Central Station a couple of blocks and you'll hit the Royal Exchange Square). With an Art Deco inside dating from 1935 (the time when the Queen Mary liner was being built on the Clyde) this is a Scottish restaurant with some seafood specialty.

TGI Fridays, 113 Buchanan Street (which runs north-south and you'll hit the road just two blocks east of Central Station). American restaurant and bar.

As stated, the above selection are all the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre side of the centre of Glasgow (Rab Ha's excepted). This list is not exhaustive within this area and indeed there are even more restaurants beyond. Many of these will no doubt be listed in the 2005 Worldcon 'Read Me' programme timetable booklet.

Arriving at Glasgow
If arriving by train from England or continental Europe then you will find yourself at Central Station. This station also sports a hotel which was one of those used for the 1994 Worldcon, the Quality Hotel Glasgow (formerly The Central) - see the section on accommodation below).

The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre where the Worldcon will be held is just under a mile west-southwest from Central Station and the Glasgow Moat, City Inn and Camponile Hotels (see section below). The Hilton (the convention's night-time party hotel) and Marriott are less than half a mile due west.   The Quality Hotel is actually part of Central Station (its northern side with an entrance by the northeast corner of the platform conference, and to get your bearings the railway you just travelled on came from the south. Honest!).

If arriving by plane from abroad then most likely you will land at Glasgow International Airport. You will find just beyond 'arrivals' on the ground floor a bus link to the centre of the city.   The city centre is eight miles (13 km) to the east. A return ticket costs about 5 (well it did in 2003 when I last made the trip) and buses leave every half hour or so. These take half an hour to get to the city centre. It has stops near the major hotels including the Central Hotel but I can't recall how close it gets to the Scottish Exhibition Centre (though you can see it as you pass along the M8 crossing the Clyde (on your left as you arrive)). However get off at the Hilton and there is Anderston station nearby with the Exhibition Centre (Finneston Station) one stop due east.

2005 Worldcon Accommodation
The Glasgow Moat House hotel is the 2005 Worldcon's HQ hotel and is located on site with the Scottish Exhibition Centre where the convention will be during the day and into the early evening. It will have some of the day programming including, we understand, some films and other media SF. There will also be socialising space during the convention in this hotel. Only twins and double rooms are available and these are for 105 a night inclusive of breakfast.   Similarly priced is the nearby Glasgow City Inn which again has only doubles or twins. Also nearby and very close to the Scottish Exhibition Centre is the Campanile Hotel. It is a very basic hotel without the facilities of either the Moat House or Glasgow City Inn. However the cost for a double or twin is under 70 a night (with breakfast) but the double rooms come with a sofa bed as well as a double bed.

The Hilton Glasgow is the 2005 Worldcons official party hotel on the edge of the city centre (and its restaurants) from the Scottish Exhibition Centre (15 minutes walk). Whereas European SF fans tend to spend more time socialising in large bars, the Americans have large room parties, so European Worldcons have both. (See, allopatric speciation has its benefits.) The room rates for a double or twin are 100 a night (breakfast not included).

The Glasgow Marriott is a cheaper option for those wishing to be close to the parties at the Hilton with doubles and twins costing 99 but with breakfast included. Both the Hilton and Marriott are near Anderston rail station which is one stop away from Finneston station and the Scottish Exhibition Centre and the convention during the day. So if you really hate walking, or it is pouring with rain, and you like night parties then these two hotels could be for you.

Alternatively, the Quality Hotel (formerly the Central Hotel) is located just off of the Central Station (and even has an entrance to the station's platform/ticket concourse). It has had good times and its vagaries, so it is worth checking out contemporary reviews to see whether it meets your requirements be they luxury, functionality, convenience or whatever. The Quality Hotel is a good mile east of the Scottish Exhibition Centre (a five to ten minute cab ride) or a twenty-five minute walk. On the other hand it is marginally closer to the evening parties in the Hilton than the Scottish Exhibition Centre is to the Hilton. It is also in the heart of a good restaurant district (see above) and close to the city centre for central site-seeing (again see above) and the bar used to stock an exceptional range of whiskies. Finally it is very handy for the train to/from England and Continental Europe. Come off the train, book into the hotel and dump your bags. Doubles and twins are 70 a night with breakfast included. (You should have no problems (having personally stayed there four or five times over 20 years) but, to be safe, if your room is on the station side ensure your window is securely locked when you are away. Cat burglars have (rarely) been known to scramble up the grid work and use the station roof as access. Every hotel Worldwide has their weak security points.).

The Jurys Inn is nearby the Quality Hotel (one minute from Central Station) 70 a night for a single and 75 for a double or twin both per night and with breakfast included.

Budget accommodation is available mainly in three places. The first two of these are close to each other and just a 15 minutes walk to the Scottish Exhibition Centre and the day-time convention, but half an hour's walk to the night time Hilton party hotel. University Cairncross charges 30.20p a night for single rooms. It has shared bathroom facilities. Nearby Univeristy Kelvinhaugh Gate charges 26 for a single room a night (no breakfast included). These are all typical university student hall digs and the cheapest option if bringing your own picnic gear and using the kitchens (equipped with cookers, sinks and fridge only) to eat.

The other cheap option, in fact the cheapest option, is the Eurohostel fairly close to the Central Station (20 minutes walk to the Hilton evening party hotel and 25 minutes walk along the River Clyde to the day-time convention at the Scottish Exhibition Centre). Here a twin room for two people is 37 per person with breakfast. Quad rooms for four people are 74 inclusive of breakfast per night.

Note: Hotels space in Glasgow around the time of the Worldcon is likely to be tight, so you are advised to sort your accommodation requirements out as early as you can.

Personal safety
As with any large city you need to be careful, especially late at night. Having said that you need not be necessarily more careful than in most other large cities. According to the figures a good proportion of Glasgow crimes are either underworld related or domestic (so away from the city centre): tourists are rarely involved unless the crime is opportunistic, so do not give them the opportunity. So just be sensible.

Other notes:
The Scots (or Scot-Brits if you wish to view them as such, but do not use this term) are easy-going, friendly people and there is little you can do to upset them except mistake them for English (English-Brits) or refer to them as 'Scotch'. Scotch is a drink. Scottish, or the Scots, are people. Got it?
The Brits are fairly united (especially against external agents) but left to themselves the English-Scots-Welsh divides can surface. Britain has a long-history, especially by North American standards, and it goes back to well before Roman times (2,000 years ago). The disadvantage is that occasional visitors probably will not have the time to be able to get to grips with the nuances between the various kingdom nations, but the advantage is that you may do some tourism and visit really old sites, such as stone circles, dating from the Neolithic 4,000 years ago.

There are not too many words that are different between British English and American English, so you shouldn't have problems that way. But mind these:

'Beer' when ordering usually means what the locals call 'bitter' and is served at room (or far better cellar (basement)) temperature (unless it is a hot day when ideally it should be served a few degrees cooler than the ambient). 'Lager' is a lighter brew more like that served in America and is served chilled. 'Real ale' has a specific meaning in the UK for bitter brewed traditionally and served under gravity or hand pumps (not using a gas pressure pump). See CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). This is one bit of advice I regret giving, but if you are visiting the UK it is probably best to avoid trying 'real ale'. Though it is a bit of an acquired taste, it is possible for you to become quite accustomed to it over a Worldcon week. Here the downside is that real ale can hardly ever be found outside of the UK.
'Chips' are 'fries' (and not what the Brits call 'crisps').
'Crisps' are what in the US are called 'chips'.
An 'elevator' is referred to (and invariably signed) as a 'lift'.
A 'fag' is a cigarette (not a homosexual).
A 'haggis' is in effect an oatmeally type of large spherical sausage. Just as a sausage is chopped meat, bread crumbs and so forth all stuffed inside an intestine skin, so (traditionally) a haggis is oatmeal, onion and chopped liver, kidneys etc., stuffed into a stomach skin. Haggis is most commonly associated with Scotland, but was once quite common over much of northern Europe (which is appropriate for 2005 being a Eurocon-Worldcon). In Scotland it is traditionally served with neeps (turnips) but potatoes and gravy is an excellent alternative.
'Sidewalk' should be referred to as the 'pavement'.
'Scotch' whisky comes in two principal categories 'malt' and blend. Blends are a mix of a number of grain whiskeys (often barley and sometimes potatoes) and malts so as to provide a more standard, mass-market drink. (This compares with American bourbon which is distilled from fermented maize or rye.)
If you ask for Scotch with ice it is usual not use (hence spoil) a malt whiskey, so you are likely to be given a blend whiskey. If you do go for a 'malt whisky' then best to say whether you want a large or small malt as opposed to the more usual expression a single or double (which in America might be interpreted as the number of shots in a glass). A single malt comes from one (single) distillery. However a double brandy (or whatever else) still means a large brandy. One of the best (easiest) places to get a range of whiskies in Glasgow was at the old Central Hotel (now the Quality Hotel) upstairs main bar.
If you wish to be ecologically or environmentally aware then avoid island malts that use peat. (Yes they taste great, but too many distilleries are eroding this biome.) A good environmentally sound whiskey is a Speyside malt (with a slight sherry after taste), not that this being the Scotch of my ancestral home town has anything to do with this recommended replacement.
A 'trunk' should be referred to as a (car) 'boot' as its local meaning is a larger-than-suitcase container for luggage and other personal goods.

Enjoy!

Jonathan Cowie


Jonathan: 50% of Jonathan's genetic origins are Scottish, from Banffshire in the north-east, where he spent many a childhood summer. (For what it is worth the other 50% is 25% English and 25% Irish, so he is 75% Celt.) He also spent some time, including a year at Jordanhill primary school, in a western suburb of Glasgow. Jonathan attended the first Scottish SF conventions (Faircons) in the late 1970s and the early (UK national) Scottish Eastercons (1980 and 1986).

[Up: Article Index | Top: Concatenation]

[Updated: 05.4.15 | Contact | Copyright | Privacy]