After horse back riding and searching for food in Oban, I begin driving down to Glasgow along the A82. Loch Lomond quietly extends its long length on my left flanked by sloping hills. Around the bends of the road, my car speeds hugging the curves but eventually slows to a crawl. I’m closer to the city and traffic hogs the road on this early Saturday evening.
Once I arrive, I make my way to the West End to my hotel. I choose this neighborhood because (allegedly) Sam Heughan lives around here but it doesn’t hurt that it’s like the “West Village” of Glasgow. Yes I chose this place because of the small tiny chance I might run into Sam Heughan but my plan doesn’t matter anyway because guess what? Outlander is shooting in South Africa for a few months. My dreams of meeting him and whisking me away into the Highlands to stay at a verra nice hotel vanish like fairy dust.
Though it’s my second time visiting the city on this trip, it is my first time parking here. I find my hotel and begin searching for a spot. While driving around for the past five days, I notice that in Scotland (UK in general?) you can park in the opposite direction of traffic. This can be quite disorienting when taking a turn onto a street and the first parked car you see is facing you! The first time it happened, I was already worried about driving on the opposite side of the road so seeing that made me instantly think I was on the wrong side and had to swallow my sudden panic. This time after driving around I notice a spot on the opposite side of the street and grin.
“I’m just gonna pull up and park right there,” I confide to Snowflake (my car rental) getting into position.
Success! I didn’t kill any pedestrians or damage anything. Also there is SO much space. I am not in New York City.
A block or two away is the Argyll Hotel where I’ll be staying. It’s a budget hotel, a little bit older, but in fine shape although I wish they had told me about the narrow flight of stairs which I have to awkwardly maneuver my large suitcase down. The navy blue carpeted stairs creak and groan under the weight and, at the end of the hall, I enter my room. Plopping my things down, the double room is spacious with a sitting area and two desks which is perfect since a friend will be arriving the following day.
Suddenly as I settle and change out of clothes with faint whiffs of horse stuck to them, I look up on the wall. Framed with museum-quality care is an illustration of a castle, a small square of black and white tartan, and information about Clan Menzies.
Yes! Just as the framed documentation attests the Menzies have Scottish roots. Full disclosure: As much as I want to run into Sam Heughan in the West End, I really prefer Tobias Menzies who plays both Frank and Black Jack Randall in Outlander.
There I said it.
His immense chameleon talent, rich velvety British voice, handsome features and tall physique make this American lass quiver. So I take this room as serendipity – I’m in the right place! Of all the Scottish clans in all the hotel rooms, Clan Menzies hung in mine.
I tweeted it to Mr. Menzies. No response. Defeated sigh.
It’s time for dinner! Dal Pizzaiolo on Argyle St has good pizza which is saying something since I live in New York City. They also have desserts that shine like gold in a glass case. My quattro fromaggi pizza is individual size and the arancino spinachi—a fried rice ball stuffed with spinach—sends me over the edge. I pass out after my wild Saturday night filled with pizza, soda, and the BBC.
A Sunday in Glasgow
The next morning, my friend Christina from New York City arrives in town. Just as my trip nears its end, hers is just beginning. She uses Glasgow as a jump-off for her ten day trip between London and Paris. After much of my scolding, she concedes that it probably wasn’t the best idea. Over lattes and a square sausage sandwich at Seb & Mili, I regale her of all my adventures from the past ten days and how beautiful Scotland is and how I went to Castle Leoch and Lallybroch and how you can’t possibly see everything in two weeks and and…I think I make my point clear.
After breakfast, we venture out into the wilds of the city. We’re near George Square and I have to take her to the location where Frank and Claire got married…again. I discovered it on my first day in the city so why not return? Like any true Outlander fan, I converted Christina to the Church of a Kilted Heughan, Steamy Unrealistic Love Affairs, and Dramatic Scottish Landscapes. She’s happy to see the location but not nearly as much as me. Womp.
Next, we bus it over to Glasgow Cathedral and the Necropolis. Admission is free and they accept donations. The Cathedral is another Outlander location! It was L’Hôpital des’Anges when Claire works at the hospital in France during Season 2.
Built in the 1100s, the Cathedral’s history is an emblem of Scottish pride and a treasure trove of history! Outlander shot in the crypt where you can also see the tomb of St.Kentigern aka St.Mungo who founded the cathedral’s location. The Necropolis, behind the Cathedral and up a steep hill, was created in the Victorian Age for the wealthy to emphasize their high rank in society with their monoliths and tombs. The view of the city is lovely on this clear sunny day.
What a surprise that the Victorians would pick the peak of this hill to look down on the lesser city folk even in death.
Christina and I have a beer at the Cathedral House’s beer garden which is also a restaurant and (haunted) hotel. Built in 1896, this beautiful Victorian building used to house the just-released prisoners from nearby. The sun shines on us as we look over the menu printed on vinyl sleeves. Posters of bands from every decade hang on the walls inside the bar – The Stone Roses, Jimi Hendrix, Sonic Youth, Joy Division.
“What have you wanted to do since you’ve been here but haven’t been able?” Christina asks.
I ponder for a moment. “I’d like to listen to Scottish folk music at a pub!”
Correct me if I’m wrong but between Edinburgh and Glasgow, the latter has a larger folk music scene. Grab the “Gig Guide” at a nearby pub like I do and you’ll see listings for where to listen to folk, rock, and everything in between. Luckily, there is a place playing music that night right around the corner from where we’re staying. Sunday night Scottish folk music? Check!
Why does that guy look so familiar?
In the early evening, Christina and I head over to Ben Nevis in the West End. The crowd is thin and people huddle around a few tables. We go to the bar and our eyes slowly look up to take in the exalted wall of liquor right to where it hits the ceiling. Bottles shine under the hot spot lights and the caramel browns and light toffee colored liquors wait on the shelves. The dark oak wood accents along the bar encourage us to linger as we decide what to try in the warm cocoon-like atmosphere. A fireplace crackles below the mumbled chatter and clink of glasses.
I begin pointing out to Christina some of the Speyside whiskies I’ve tried on my trip, explaining that I prefer them because they’re less peaty than Talisker or the lowland whiskies.
“Hmm,” Christina says as she listens but then turns to the bartender. “Excuse me could you tell me which whisky you can recommend?”
Uhmmm…I’m on day 12 of my trip to Scotland, trying whiskies along the way and you completely ignore my opinions to ask the bartender…??? Fine.
Later in the evening, we move to a corner and sit at a narrow table. Next to us, the folk band is jamming!
As the music fiddles on, two drunk Scottish guys walk into the bar.
No that is not a set up for a joke or an inherently obvious circumstance being in Scotland and all but it is a set up for a good story:
They sit next to us. Christina and I can already tell it’s been a long evening for these two. One looks kinda familiar but I get distracted. Small talk ensues.
“Where are ye from?” They ask us and we say New York City. Many Americans or Canadians come to Scotland to research their genealogy. Do we have Scottish roots?
Christina shouts over the music, “No. My family is from the Great Lakes.”
“It’s lochs!” They correct her.
She laughs sweetly but nervously. I begin to giggle.
“Say it!” They order. The imbibed alcohol coloring their throats and making their voices scratch like sandpaper. “Say lochs!”
“I can’t say it the way you do,” she pleads.
“Say it!” They yell blearily.
I watch all of this grinning. The interplay of these drunken Scots vainly flirting with the American girls is providing great entertainment on this already wild trip.
Finally with as much conviction as she can muster, Christina manages to say, “My parents are from the Great Lochs!”
The guys cheer, she chuckles, and I laugh upon hearing “lochs” come out of the back of her throat in the best exaggerated imitation of the local brogue she can do.
The conversation ebbs and one of them leaves the table to wobble away towards the bathroom. Christina goes to chat with the band during their break and I’m left with the second Scot, my whisky, and his beer. The room is full of chatter.
I’ll never remember exactly how the conversation began but I know where it ended up. All I remember is it going something like this:
“So what do you do?”
“I’m an actor.”
“Oh what have you been in recently?”
Mumble mumble and then “…I just came back from South Africa. I was shooting a show you’ve probably never heard of called ‘Outlander’…”
At this point, I wonder where and how many hidden cameras are in the pub. Am I being punked?
With my mind racing I eventually stammer, “D-d-do you know why I’m here?”
His eyebrows raise and he asks, “Do you know the show?”
“Do I know it?!” How does an Outlander fan who has come to Scotland simply because of the show, then reads the books, then creates a blog about the show and books, answer that question asked by an actor in the show (who plays a character in the third book)?
James McAnerney is shocked that I know exactly what he’s talking about. “No one I mention the show to knows it! I can’t believe you know it!”
“I can’t believe I met you at this bar!” I say flabbergasted. “That’s why you looked familiar!”
I recognize his face from Twitter when he was cast months before. Thank you Twitter.
In disbelief he says, “I can’t believe I met you!”
James has been in South Africa for several weeks shooting the third season. He will play Kenneth MacIver who, rumor has it, will have a bigger TV role than what’s in the books. Only two days before did he just arrive back to Scotland. To prove it, he has a picture of himself and Sam Heughan on his phone. As he reaches for it, he realizes that it died (Yes. I know. I can’t believe it had to die either at this most critical moment.)
I tell him that I never would have come to Scotland if I never watched the show and fell down its rabbit hole.
The bar closes and we bid farewell to James. According to the band that played, Christina tells me that Sam Heughan frequents this bar. I am so close!
After getting a late night snack, we get back to the hotel. I’m supposed to meet Àdhamh ó Broin (closest pronounciation: Ah-gith) the next day for a tour of Argyll. I haven’t heard from him and it’s one in the morning. Finally he texts me back and says we’re still a go for 9:00am. Time to get some sleep under my serendipitous Clan Menzies frame for my last full day in Scotland.
Places to Eat and Drink in Glasgow
Seb & Mili Argyle Street, West End, Glasgow – delightful café with delicious coffee, a wall of bread and other baked goods to snack on including sandwiches. They have an upstairs as well.
Dal Pizzaiolo Argyle Street, West End, Glasgow – delicious pizza and they also do brunch and lunch.
Cathedral House Cathedral Square, Glasgow – Stop by after the Necropolis and Glasgow Cathedral for a casual drink, some bar food, and check out the rock band posters. Stay in one of their rooms at your own risk.
Ben Nevis, Argyle Street, West End, Glasgow – One of the best bars in the city for a fine selection of whiskies (and beer), pop in for live folk music, or chill by the fire while you sip.
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