Story and Photos by David Greitzer
The friendly rival between Edinburgh and Glasgow can be summed up in this little joke a man explained heading from Glasgow to Edinburgh recently by rail: “Do you know the difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow has a world-class city just 45 miles away.”
He also mentioned that the joke works just as well in reverse on the return trip.
It’s true that the two rival cities are just about an hour apart by car or rail but that hour separates two different worlds. Even in this technologically interconnected world these two completely different perspectives on Scottish life are evidence that the world wasn’t always so small.
Many consider Edinburgh the “touristy” of the two. While Edinburgh may seem to hold more historical sites in its more compact city center Glasgow dwarfs them in quantity of museums and sheer city size.
Edinburgh has the Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, Scott Monument, Holyrood, Princess Street, Forth Bridge.
Glasgow has the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Cathedral St. Mungo, George Square, Botanical Gardens, Bagpipe Museum, Glasgow School of Art and Mackintosh’s Art Academy.
This short list of city site attractions may hold little in–depth information to make a scientific conclusion about which of the two cities edges out the other for your time. Of course everyone will have a different recommendation depending on their expectations and experiences. Example: Joe likes a more pub-filled experience, Jane opts for checking off landmarks. More interestingly, both can have those needs met in either city. It’s the actual experience that matters.
For example: Imagine Joe goes to The Barony, a traditional pub in Edinburgh’s New Town, and the bartender tells him drinks are on the house because the bartender just won the lottery and tonight will be his last night working. Joe considers this a very good Edinburgh experience and shares pictures on social media and claims that Edinburgh is the best city in Scotland.
In a comparative example: Jane jumps off the hop on-hop off bus at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow and discovers at the door that museums in Glasgow are free. And, to top off her fantastic experience she meets her future husband while contemplating the Salvador Dali exhibit.
Who’s going to vote for Glasgow over Edinburgh so far?
How about Jane’s other Glasgow experience on Ashton Lane in the West End District? Jane, a normally mild keep-to-herself gal from St. Paul, Minnesota, makes this Saturday night, on this fun-time party strip, an epic pub crawl including making a gaggle of new Facebook friends. Her Air BnB host suggested she go there. It was just across the street from the Byres Road flat.
The Ashton Lane Night, as they agreed later to always refer to it, began with her meekly sipping a glass of Pinot Grigio alone at a street-side table in front of the Ubiquitous Chip, a “wee pub” which often gets mentioned as a must-see stop on any Glasgow night out. And, Ashton Lane is considered in the top ten of UK party destinations.
Perhaps taking pity or just being the normal friendly Glaswegian, Robert began a conversation with Jane. Pleasantries were exchanged. The top five subjects were quickly covered: where you from; the weather; funny dialects; difference in foods; the local drink.
Jane was offered a wee dram, the Scottish term for a one-eighth fluid ounce of whisky. It was explained to Jane by Richard, Robert’s partner, that that’s how one orders a shot of whisky in Scotland. It usually comes in a narrow glass and a side of water. No ice. The water, it was further explained, was to add to the whisky in tiny amounts, if necessary, to open up and release the flavor.
With her new-found friends Jane felt not only safe in this crowded party atmosphere but also as if she had been invited to the cool kid’s party. She was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the Ubiquitous Chip and several of the other bars on this narrow bar-laden street; The Lane, Vodka Wodka, Grosvenor, Cuffs & Buttons.
Robert pointed out the former mayor having a dram across the alley. There was something about a scandal involving money. He whispered more gossip in Jane’s ear about the owner of Jinty McGuinty’s who was standing out front just meters away talking to a muscle-bound swarthy character hatching, what could be considered, a shady plan.
As the night wore on Jane had had perhaps one too-many drams, beers and shwarma. Her memory of the evening’s events is spotty. Apparently they had wandered down the street to Tennent’s Bar which offers a boogie room in the basement and also a late-night shwarma stand nearby to fulfill that after-hours hunger craving.
Jane woke up in her flat with half the shwarma sandwich on her shirt, a Scottish flag draped over her and surprisingly little to no hangover. Robert would explain later that he and Richard had delivered her safely, fully-clothed, to her room. Apparently, she had been the center of attention dancing seductively for the crowd in the boogie room, posing for group pictures with total strangers and even beating the local foosball champ in a team match-up.
Forty five miles away, Joe discovered the Whiski Room, a restaurant and whisky bar in Edinburgh with over 300 malts to sample. Unbeknownst to the whisky tender was the fact that Joe had a medical condition that would counteract the effects of Single Malt Scotch whisky. While his whisky-tasting compadres were beginning to laugh and act foolish Joe, sober as a Scottish nun, noticed a sign above the bar. It read, “Free bottle of Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare if you can finish the full tasting.”
While Joe had several questions regarding the challenge the two most obvious were how many separate samples was in the full tasting and how much did a bottle of Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare go for. The answers were 300 and $75,000 respectively. He did the math and figured he’d be out about $1,500 if he paid for all 300 whiskies and accepted the challenge.
The owners of the Whiski Room had no intention of giving away a free bottle of Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare, price: $75,000, but the crowd that had soon gathered to see this miracle unfold would have turned on them like the villagers chasing Frankenstein if they hadn’t made good on their challenge prize.
Not being greedy, Joe agreed to a cash settlement of $37,500 (half) for his prize. And so, Joe, from that day forward, will undoubtedly, always choose Edinburgh over Glasgow.
Jane, now running to catch her Ryan Air flight to Dublin, forgot to account for the hour-long security check because she didn’t know Scotland and Ireland were two different countries. Thankfully Jane is also not too bright when it comes to the 24-hour clock and mistook 10 a.m. for 2200. With 12 extra hours in the airport she figures it’s time to message that guy, Clyde McSquint, whom she met back at the Dali exhibit.
Decades hence, the two would laugh at the retelling of their second meeting and subsequent marriage. Had it not been for Jane’s ignorance with telling time they might not have married.
Joe’s romantic prospects were fleeting for the remainder of his Edinburgh adventure; however, he did manage to open a new savings account at the Royal Bank of Scotland’s main office at 36 St Andrew Square with an initial deposit of £ 28,918.45.
He asked the teller only one question. And, it was not related to the money. He asked the teller what a “close” was. He’d seen a few on his way from the Whiski Room to the bank and made a point to ask about it. He slithered stealthily, clutching his winnings, through tiny narrow alleys with names like Advocate’s Close, Writer’s Close and Craig’s Close. He’d seen others like Fleshmarket Close, Mary King’s Close and Old Fishmarket Close.
The teller told Joe that a “close” is an entrance to a housing block, or tenement, which also may provide access to the rear of that building. In the old days there might have been a gate at the front entrance which was closed at night.
For travelers considering one city or the other, consider dividing your time and visit both. Although, one can’t guarantee duplicating the experiences of Jane or Joe, all of the places they visited do exist.
In Glasgow, Jane’s recommendations would include those mentioned and a stroll down Buchanan Street, feeding pigeons in George Square, a drink at Chinaski’s (a small bar celebrating writer Charles Bukowski), lunch at Hanoi Bike Shop (fresh, gourmet Vietnamese food), free lawn bowling at Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre (Scottish bocce), and dinner at the Butterfly and the Pig.
In Edinburgh, Joe would add these to his visit; breakfast at the Edinburgh Larder, coffee at Affogato, Castle Tour, pub grub and a beer at The Hanging Bat and Beer Café, a walk through the Royal Botanic Garden, one of the many haunted ghost tours, dinner at Michael Neave Restaurant and Whisky Bar.