I am on a lonely road and I am travelling, sang Joni Mitchell in a song I like very much. But her problem could be considered quite the opposite of mine: I’m in a melee and I’m going nowhere. So, the greenness of grass and all that, I’ve decided to try and create the conditions for, if not loneliness, aloneness and travelling, with a regular Artist Date.
Thus, on Monday, I used my free bus pass for only the second time since getting it (in April), and took a trip to Glasgow, with only myself for company.
I have both lived and worked in Glasgow, and it’s still the place I go when I need such things as stationery (it was the need to replace my dying pens that made me choose it for this trip), toiletries, clothes… It’s only a forty-five minute drive away, and we have many friends there. It’s one of my ‘home’ places, and I’ve known it for over thirty years. In the mid to late eighties and early nineties you could have found me in any one of its clubs, dancing into the small hours. All of which means I tend to go to the same spots in the city all the time, like a migrating elephant.
So, I thought, to make it new I’ll try visiting like a tourist.
Planning with Apps
Just as it took me years to switch from paper to electronic diaries, I’m still transitioning with regard apps. When it comes to planning a trip I tend to use a mix of books and Google. But, I decided, for this, I would rely on apps alone.
Thus, I used the Stagecoach app to find out when the buses run; the Culture Trip app to decide what touristy things to do; Apple Music for listens; and Apple Maps to navigate. I also kept an eye on the fitness app on my Apple Watch to ensure I met my physical health targets for the day.
Stagecoach, Ups and Downs
When we were in Pittsburgh a couple of years ago it was so hot and humid walking any distance was exhausting, so we tended to get around by bus. The kids sorted us out with passes and recommended we use the Pittsburgh Transit app (sadly now defunct). So we did. It not only gave us the bus times, it had a map that showed us the best route(s) for our needs, and it gave live updates. Thus, we knew exactly how long we’d have to wait for any bus. And we could see where we were on the map as we rode along. Which meant we knew at any one time exactly how many stops we had to go. This allowed for all sorts of last minute decision making, such as getting off a couple of stops early because we liked the look of the cakes in a baker’s window. We loved that app.
The Stagecoach app promises a similar experience, but, if my minimal use is anything to go by, it doesn’t deliver. It’s great as a timetable, and that was really all I needed, but the bus I chose was late, and the app continued to say it was on time, even after its arrival time had passed. I can see why it had a lot of negative reviews in the App Store, but for my needs it was great.
Culture Trip, What a Trip
I chose this particular app for no other reason than my brother had recommended it a few months earlier and I liked the way it organised its information: The 6 Best Kept Secrets of Glasgow; The Best Bakeries… Glasgow for Introverts, etc.
Although the main reason for the trip was the Artist’s Date, I had some sub-criteria: I was on a strict budget, so I needed cheap food (i.e. no sitting down to lunch in a café); I wanted to walk enough to close all my rings; and I wanted to go to places I’d never been before. So, I looked at the categories: ‘The Best Bakeries…’; ‘The Best Places to Buy Unique Souvenirs…’; ‘Free Things to Do…’; and ‘Top 10 Reasons Why Everyone Should Visit Glasgow.’
All that decided, I was able to work out which buses to take. While I wanted as much time as possible in the city, I know my limits. So I decided to leave on the 08:10, which would get me there at 09:40, and to return on the 16:15, which would have me home for supper. This gave me five and a half hours to explore, which felt like more than enough at the time of planning.
But as is the way with such excursions, things didn’t always go to plan, and I found myself rushing towards the end of the day.
What Went Right and What Went Not So Right
Having pondered every bakery listed under my chosen heading on the Culture Trip app, I chose Seb & Milli on St. Vincent St. On I trundled to number 192 to be met by nothing but office blocks and what looked like a rather seedy bar in a basement, currently closed. I checked the map app on my phone, it told me I was standing right outside the place. Confused, I walked along a bit further, and then a bit further still. Until I realised I’d gone too far to take in my chosen shop, or the mural at Charing Cross. ‘I’ll do them on the way back,’ I thought. Ha!
As my husband will happily tell you, I have little to no sense of direction. And I’ve never found using a map app on my phone much help, the direction of that little blue dot is always confusing, but in the absence of a human guide, I asked it to show me the way to The Riverside Museum. Luckily, at some point I noticed that my watch was showing a big arrow to turn left in so many meters. When that turning was upon me, a little voice interrupted the music playing through my headphones to tell me so. At one point the voice told me to ‘take the stairs,’ which led to a flyover; I got to the museum with no problem at all.
There are two and a half miles between the bus station which, according to the map app, should take about fifty minutes to walk. That is, if you don’t stop on the way. But I had a bit of shopping to do (pens; lip balm; lactase pills) before properly setting off. So, by the time I was half way there I’d been on my feet for a good couple of hours and was in need of a wee break.
Luckily, as St. Vincent St. merged into Argyle St., I came to a Roots & Fruits where I got a cup of coffee and a seditiously delicious brownie, which I was able to enjoy in a little green area at the top of Kelvinhaugh St.
You Have Arrived at Your Destination
It’s difficult to tell if anything will come of it, but my Artist-self enjoyed visiting this marvellous Zaha Hadid building. I had studied her work a little, years and years ago, and had always wanted to see it in the flesh.
Here are some photos:
After the Museum
I wanted to walk up Byres Rd and along Great Western Rd on the way to the bus station. So, when I left the museum I put Byres Rd into the map app and off I went.
The route took me through an underpass where real graffiti artists were working with massive spray guns. That is contender for most thrilling part of the trip!
But, there was also the Japanese food store I stopped in on Dumbarton Rd where an assistant spoke to me in Japanese. I must have looked like an old Japanese lady in my mask and blue utility jacket; she seemed quite surprised when I spoke to her in English, with my very English accent.
As I moved up the road, still thinking I’d walk to the bus station, I popped into a charity shop and found a big black, pashmina style scarf for three quid. As I paid for the scarf, and tried to squish it into my bag, the woman behind the counter and I chatted about how useful it would be in the coming months. I have a fondness for such mundane conversations, they are definitely the kinds of thing that find their way into my fiction, and my inner artist was very happy at that moment.
She (I!) was less happy when, on leaving the shop, she looked at the time and realized there was no way we’d* be able to walk and get to the bus station in time for the 16:15. I had two choices: get a later bus, or use the Clockwork Orange.
I chose the train. The only things I’d eaten all day were the bun I stuffed in my mouth as I left for the bus stop first thing; and the brownie I got from Roots & Fruits earlier. So I was getting hungry. Another 40 minute walk, I calculated, would make me even hungrier, and I couldn’t afford to go to a café. But there’s a supermarket near the bus station and getting the train allowed me to pick up a snack-pack of sushi and to eat it while watching all the comings and goings of a major transport hub. And still get the 16:15.
As a bonus, I wandered into a shoe shop beside the supermarket and there on a shelf I found the winter boots of my dreams. I didn’t buy them, I had a budget and I was sticking to it, but I hope to get them before next spring.
Every Day May Not be a School Day, but This One Was
Julia Cameron’s argument for the Artist’s Date is that they: ‘fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play.’ And this feeds one’s creativity.
I probably overdid it on this date, tried to fit in too much, over planned. But maybe this isn’t something you can get wrong: it’s all material, whether you make immdediate use of it or stash it for a later project. There’s an element of restocking the creative shelves, so when you make something you have real life experience to draw on. The ongoing pandemic situation has left my creative shelves somewhat bare thanks to not being able to do things in my usual spontaneous way. I’ve never been much of a planner. But now I’ve done it once, I hope to be better at it next time.
I did learn a few things: how to easily navigate using my watch; to take food with me, to be flexible within the plan framework, and not rely too heavily on the veracity of travel apps. I’m guessing that COVID has done for quite a few businesses in the last year and a half, and Culture Trip is a bit behind with its updates. I’ll try a different travel app next time and will check that places still exist before leaving the house, and see how it goes.
*I seem to be getting in a pickle with my pronouns!