Travel by Train, It Makes Sense

virginWhen traveling in another country, you may not have the luxury of taking a car and just going. Cars can be rented, but can be more costly in the UK and Europe to rent and run. Of course you can have fun driving on the left side of the road, or maybe find a place in Germany that rents American Muscle Cars and drive the Autobahn (always a bucket list item). Trouble is that renting a motorcar in the UK or Europe is very expensive and you may return from your trip with additional costs for a slight car ding ranging in the £€ 1,000.00 2,000.00 range. Yes, even if you buy insurance, there will be some additional costs, and petrol is very high in Europe. So often a train ride is a better option. And trains can be fun, especially if you can get on a historic one. Many of the train options are for diesel or electric and some are well cared for, and some are not. But you need to get where you are going, and travel bus is not for everyone.

Scotland

Hogwarts Express – Scotland The Jacobite Express First Class £ 59.00 £ 35.00 standard return.

http://www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/

This iconic train is booked well in advance as you can imagine. I couldn’t get it for my dates. If you are a train lover, start planning your vacation around the trains and trips months in advance. This train encompasses the Glenfinnan viaduct, Arisaig, Mallaig, Fort William areas and is a great trip across the Highlands and on a clear day you can see many of the islands from the shores. Their’s full tea service as well, and you know how fun it is to take tea on a classic train.

If you want to see Hogwart’s locations, head to University of Glasgow, and Edinburgh’s streets.

The Flying Scotsman

http://www.flyingscotsman.org.uk/ Site is very image intensive

To book, go to this site http://www.railwaytouring.net/

This train recently started touring again and has been quite a hit. However there was a performance safety issue this last season and you need to check if it is running again on the http://www.railwaytouring.net/ site. It’s a classic good run on a restored train, so keep an  eye out while you make your tour plans this season to see if you can catch a ride.

Scotrail

Luckily, Scotrail was not on strike action this season, like it had been the summer before. The trains had showed it and I had been rerouted by bus at least once on that trip. This trip, 2017, was smooth sailing, except when I was stranded in Kyle of Lochalsh due to rocks falling on the tracks for 2 hours with a cancelled train. The rest of the trip, the trains ran on time for the most part and were cleaner than the previous year. Of course going through the Highlands is always breathtaking so it was worth the trip. Great conversations with fellow travelers.

Virgin Trains The Highland Chieftain

On my final rail around the Highlands for the 2017 tour, I got a real sweet deal on Virgin Trains for a first class in the quiet car at just a few pounds more than 2nd class. A bump of £ 4.00 per seat got me on a single side seat facing the Eastern Coast of Scotland down to Edinburgh. Very smooth ride and great scenery of Stirling and all places in between. It was a bittersweet farewell to the Highlands, but a really fabulous experience. If you time your ticket right, in the middle of the week and mid to late morning, the price is fair. The only problem was one car had no WiFi working or any of the charging ports for phones and people kept coming into our car. It wasn’t really a problem as it was half full and you get to meet more people that way. Wait, it was supposed to be a quiet car, right? But most were pretty good about it. A very good trip all round on that one.

Ireland € 16.00 -30.00

Irish Rail http://www.irishrail.ie/

Traveling in Ireland this summer I spent time on some very clean trains that kept good time. I was lucky on the two trips I had to make, plenty of room and easy storage for my cases, cars were clean and comfortable. I had booked a month in advance and got very good pricing. It was under € 20.00 to get to Galway and the return trip on to Belfast was under € 30.00. Considering the high cost of being in Dublin for 4 days, it was helpful on the budget to get the tickets in advance and pick up at the kiosks. Smooth rides on both trips.

The trip to Galway was filled with amazing green fields, passing through Athlone, the true countryside of Ireland. And there is a reason it’s called the Emerald Isle, it’s amazingly green even in the high summer. It was a record high temperature week when I was there, but the trains were comfortable and clean. Conversation was good, and trains always provide an opportunity to talk with local people about where they live and what is going on in their lives. And the Irish love to talk about their lives and where they live, and great deal about politics

But Can the Train Get Me to Where I Want to Go?

In some cases, you can take trains to some of the national parks in countries, or take a link ride with a bus. Sadly this will cut into some of your travel time and limit some places you can get to. If you have a car you can tour the Highlands for better access, get closer to a Munro for that great climb. However cars make you take on big responsibilities in other countries. Please take the time to familiarize yourself with the country’s driving laws and customs for driving country roads. Many tourists do not get the right of way on one lanes in Scotland and the rest of the UK much to the chagrin of locals. When in doubt, always err on the side of letting others pass. Then there are the smaller roads like coffin roads on some of the isles. You can get really lost on an island. In many cases, such as Isle of Skye, too many tourists are renting cars and not parking with care. Skye is boggy and loamy right off the road and if you get in the mire, the car will sink. Getting it pulled is very costly.

Walking and Hiking Tours

Really want to tour the countries and get to know them? Then walking tours and climbing in parks may be your best bet. Many of these can be accessed by public transport and many back packers go this route. It can take a bit longer to get somewhere, but is well worth it. Try joining some of the hiking and walking boards for the country you are visiting. You can check on the best climbs for a novice or find out about roadworks and diversions for trails. Most large cities like Dublin and Glasgow have rail to bus link services, it will take more time but it can be done.

https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/

http://www.theirelandwalkingguide.com/

http://www.walkingbritain.co.uk/

Train Touring Companies

http://www.railwaytouring.net/

https://www.vacationsbyrail.com/europe/ireland

https://www.steamtrainsireland.com/whats-on

Irish Rail Strikes

http://www.irishmirror.ie/news/irish-news/every-public-transport-disruption-you-11419344

 

Over the Sea to Skye, by Rail and Bridge

skye1Over the Sea to Skye, by way of train, taxi, and a bridge. I had reached the halfway point of my travels this season, and was dead tired. The end of the Bonnie Prince Charlie Trail. Months of gym training and still you get wiped out by the travel. It doesn’t help that the two places I stayed in Glasgow had terrible bed accommodations. Mostly it is that pure exhaustion of trying to get so much out of your travels, that another train journey has occurred and this is a long one, and your brain just seems fried. I am traveling to Inverness, then to Kyle of Lochalsh, a journey of about  6 hours, winding through the Highlands. There’s nothing better than winding through the Highlands, though, whether it’s car, bike, or train. But eventually I will be on the Isle of Skye, a destination I could not get near on my last adventure. The destination is so popular that you have to book months in advance for a place to stay.

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I spent yesterday on a Rabbie’s Tour of Loch Ness and other Highland destinations, a round trip from Glasgow that encompassed a good 12 hours. It was an exhausting swing through of the area, but I had wanted to see some of the Highlands I could not see from the train ride. I was well rewarded. But the train rides are always fun, I found that this trip was just as rewarding with the views of rolling hills, then great Munros loom and you want to climb them. Realistically that will have to be the next trip, and another year of training at the gym and smaller mountains practice back home.

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It was truly a Scottish summer arrival, with rain, sun, wind and more rain. But luckily the day of the trip was a good clear sun filled day. I regretted not bringing the sunscreen. The tour was with Skye Tours, and was a small group tour in a van. We travelled the route but missed a few key spots I had hoped to see, namely the castle and the Fairy Pools. There was some event going on there, a rather big one as a local funeral was taking place for an island native, and we could not get near. The tour covered some places on the island and had a knowledgeable driver. We did cover The Storr, Neist Point, Quiraing, the Cuilins Black and Red and a few other areas. I was not happy that we could not get to some of the sites, and sadly part of that had to do with a great deal of tourists using hire cars and not being prepared for the terrain of Skye and it’s boggy wet. Many a car was sunk in the muck.

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All the bother aside, it was breathtaking to see some of the highest Munros in Scotland, walk around and just breath in the air of the magical island. I do recommend doing research and planning your visit well out, especially the accommodations. If I can make it back, I will be doing some training to do a hiking tour of the island instead, but must train and be with a group. I was told by locals that many people come and are not truly prepared and end up in great trouble with the bogs.

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Book for your stay a year ahead. Or stay in Inverness and take a day tour. It is not suggested to do hire car, and with good reason. Sadly the island gets too many people with cars who don’t understand the driving rules or where not to park. Accommodations can be good or really bad. Really read your reviews on accommodations, once you are booked you are stuck with your decision.

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https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/aug/09/skye-islanders-call-for-help-with-overcrowding-after-tourism-surge

http://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-40872328/does-the-isle-of-skye-have-too-many-tourists

Inverness; Touristination Place

 

 

Scotland in a Day – Revelling in a Scottish Road Trip — Travels with a Kilt

The Best of Scotland in a Day Don’t let the title confuse you. This is not a post about an – absolutely impossible – attempt to experience this fabulous wee country in 24 hours. Rather, it’s about capturing Scotland’s broad appeal in one day. The assets that have made it one of the top destinations…

via Scotland in a Day – Revelling in a Scottish Road Trip — Travels with a Kilt

Frank Quietly Exhibit at the Kelvingrove, Glasgow

quietlyExhibit: From Krypton to Kelvingrove, the Works of Frank Quietly And The Art  of Comics Until October 1, 2017

Looking for a great time with great artwork, look no further. Take your kids or the big kid that is you. A comic art exhibit is not to be missed. You’ve a few weeks left and if you are lucky to be in Glasgow this Fall, you will see the works of one of the comic greats, Frank Quietly. The artist known as Quietly, born in Glasgow in 1968, has been a penciller, cover artist, cover variant, colorist, artist and much more. He has worked on Batman: The Scottish Connection, Superman, Shimura (Judge Dredd Magazine) an outcast Judge in the Dredd universe, Aiko Inaba 1996, a female Samurai, 2000AD Judge Dredd, Sandman: Endless Nights, and the list goes on.

I was lucky to be able to take in the show while in Glasgow this summer. I spent several hours pouring over the artwork of this truly great artist. The exhibition rooms were small, but packed with all stages of design from many of his works. There were original artworks and scripts from Batman and Superman. There were featured works of Frank Miller and Charles Burns also in the exhibit.

I particularly enjoyed looking at the concept art for Batman: The Scottish Connection. Well, being in Scotland, it’s a must. Seeing Bruce in a kilt was fun of course. But the experience of seeing the concept art and thought process of the artist is always intriguing. To be lucky enough to see how the design process works for the story, is always a rare treat. The story was written by Alan Grant and published in 1998. The second room featured two comics I had not seen before, Shimura and Inaba. The female Samurai caught my attention and I then found myself in acquirement mode, checking Amazon and comic shops online for the series. The inking is incredible with this series and the subject matter superbly portrayed.

This exhibit is a must see and sits in the basement galleries at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, which is an amazing place the spend the rest of your morning or afternoon. There are other exhibits, such as Alphonse Mucha: The Quest for Beauty and the permanent collections that will be a time well spent with family and friends. After you finish, continue out into the West End or Glasgow University for more food and sights.

If you get the comic bug after the show, visit Glasgow’s great comic shops:

City Centre Comics

Geek Retreat Cafe and Comic Bookshop several locations

Geek Aboo

Unthank Comics 23 Burgh Hall Street (off Byres Road)Glasgow G11 6NY

The Last Outpost

Red Hot Comics

The Big Glasgow Comic Mart

Articles

http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/kelvingrove/exhibitions/Pages/Frank-Quitely-The-Art-of-Comics.aspx

About the Exhibit https://www.sundaypost.com/fp/collection-of-frank-quitely-comic-book-art-to-go-on-display-at-glasgows-kelvingrove/

 

 

A Edinburgh Fringe 2017 Survival

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Edinburgh. I came for three days. I somehow survived the maelstrom that was Fringe Festival 2017. It was the 70th anniversary year, so of course I ended up going, how could I pass that up? What an amazing 3 days spent. I am surprised I survived it. To think what the performers and artists do to survive it, there have been documentaries made on it I am sure, and if there aren’t any, they have probably been filmed this year. So much material, so many great performances, so little time. It’s the frenzy and fun of a festival and in a historic city. What an amazing combination.

I had been going non-stop through my tour of Ireland and Scotland for two weeks already when I rolled into Edinburgh. I had spoiled myself a bit and taken my first ride on a Virgin Train, I figured since it was the end of the highlands tour for me, I may as well go out in style.  

I had scheduled some days in between big cities to do touring and have some down time. I am glad that I did. Edinburgh on a regular tour, is a great capital city to visit. Big and filled with much to do. Twisty winding streets (Wynds) and closes, and too many people at times. Add the world’s largest and oldest Fringe festival and you have a massive sprawl that will take you along with it, like a storm rain flooding a river. It can be overwhelming and exciting at the same time. How do you survive 3 or 4 intensive days of plays, comedies, music, and any other creative expression in an already teeming city, with a population that can explode to 3 times the normal capacity for the city? You try to have a game plan and be ready to take things on the fly, change at the drop of a show card and impromptu is the theme.Coda

Planning

Before my trip, I had tried to book a few plays or comedy routines by ticket online. The online database of 3000+ shows got to be a bit much, and digging through them really daunting. Because I was not a UK resident, of course I did not know many of the  performers at the shows. It is an international festival and acts come from all over the world to perform there. However, after years and years of watching UK shows on rerun and late night cable, often 5 years out of date, I h ad a fairly good grasp on many of the bigger names performing. But that’s the excitement, the discovery of new talent you haven’t seen before while traveling, taking a gamble on a artist or musician. I was well rewarded.

CaltonLesson learned, book one to two paid shows in advance only. There will be other shows that you will want to see. Decide your show budget. While there are a lot of half price opportunities on certain days, you may not be there those days. Edinburgh is expensive, so maybe 3 shows a day and allowing for food and drink may fit into most budgets. Free shows are available, and great fun, but bring a few pound coins to drop into the hat. Edinburgh is one of the most expensive touring cities and the artists and performers have to pay to stay as well.

Not sure who to book because you usually only see US or Canadian acts? If you have some favorite UK stars, plug their names in the search on the main website. Some artists on Twitter or Facebook announce they may be doing Fringe. Many people give Fringe a whirl when they are new artists or actors and many stars came back this last year for the 70th. Look at the many play boards up. By the second week people review shows by plastering stars up on some of the playbills. Take a chance. There is no perfect way to do Fringe, so just be open and let most of it happen. That’s what’s so fun.

The Venues

Every spare space in Edinburgh becomes a stage during the month of August. Every church with a spare room, all music venues and clubs get divided up and reworked by some really amazing planning people. The organizers of this amazing event hopefully get to go on holidays themselves when they are done. They do a bang up job. That said, you survival depends on your mindset. For the Fringe is a twisty wild ride of a beast. And it happens outside Edinburgh Castle gates on down through the wynds. The main maelstrom is in the upper Royal Mile, and spills out both sides into Grassmarket, the pub mecca of Edinburgh. Arm yourself with a map that includes where the Closes are, the small streets that are really winding, sauntering stairs that run in between and across the main streets. These are your well welcomed escape routes. For the Fringe indeed a teeming beast, and after being in it for an hour or two, you will need to take a break and look at the rest of the city. I found that if I worked in 3 hour cycles of being in it, watching shows and performers, then retreated to closes or even hiked Arthur’s Seat, it helped keep my sanity a few times. The Fringe has a handy app that you can load and check for performances near where you are. I had a few glitchy moments with it, but it was dealing with over 3000 shows and GPS locating. Don’t worry, there is something around every corner that you can see or do, and so many you may just not make it to. Tough choices.RobertsonsClose

Acts for The Non UK Audience

If you go somewhere like the UK and try to watch their drama or comedy shows without it being trickled down from PBS or Hulu, there are a lot of actors, singers, musicians, and any other artist you can imagine that you haven’t had the luck to see in action. We get a very filtered exposure to the worlds talent. I like it raw and out there, beyond the big networks.  A whole different sense of humor than in America or Canada exists and it’s quite good. The culture in the UK is nothing like how we think in the US, and there are many very talented creatives we’ve never even heard of. That’s why going to festivals like this are so great, you can see what people in another country really find funny or entertaining and get a glimpse of culture that you would never see otherwise. I went to three planned shows, and found a few free shows that really surprised me. Here’s just a glimpse.

Jocky Wilson Said

Grant O’Roarke

This show was a one man extravaganza about a Scottish darts great, Jocky Wilson. It takes place in the late 70s with the man being stranded in the Nevada desert desperately trying to get to get to an exhibition match tournament. The show was a workout and Grant took us on a journey all in one night with insight into a competitive world of dart playing and why someone would pursue that dream.

Dropping The Soap

Gary Lamont

With a title like that and well, I knew I was at Fringe, may as well get out there with the humor. I decided to take the gamble, with a star that had just left Scotland’s long running soap, River City, Gary Lamont. This show was hilarious and gave me great insight to the UK humor centered around UK drama shows, what we call the soaps here. There were guest spots with some celebrities I knew, like Graham Norton, and a few references to East Enders and some other drama shows I had seen over the years. But for the most part there were references to things very Scottish or UK centric, many shows and politics. But that is what made it delicious. Hearing people talk and joke about their lives in this way, even with slang you may not get, helps you to understand the Scottishness of something, and I found that after being in the country before, I got a lot of the slang said and was just so excited about the freshness of it. It’s totally in your face and that is what is so great about it. Very talented performer and I wish him well on his future projects.

Happily Never After

The Maydays at the Just the Tonic Venue, The Caves

I walked up, there was a poster with some very Tim Burton overtones. I know, Fringe is plastered with crazy play bills, not to mention being plied with show cards everywhere you went in the city. But this one tugged at my brain. Why? Well an ensemble promising the influence of one of my favorite directors, Tim Burton. Quirky, bizarre and Gothy. You got me. The promise was fulfilled by a great troupe of actors taking a subject cue subject from the audience and building a hour impromptu storyline. This one grew out of someone’s relative working at the post office. Not boring at all, centered around a missive that goes amiss. Engaging and twistedly Burtonesque, think Edward Scissorhands meets Big Fish, and some Gothy Fringe humor tossed in. Absolutely wicked.

HighStreetPub

Sights

Edinburgh has some amazing sights to behold, and while it is difficult to get to some during such a festival, give it the chase. Edinburgh has many themed walking tours, including underground tours for the spooky at heart. It is also the inspiration for the Harry Potter novels by J.K Rowling, and now boasts some great Harry Potter themed shops. Two of which were open while I was there, but I could not get anywhere near the doors as the lines to get in were well up the block. I was truly saddened by the many hours wait to get in. I had peeked in before they had opened and was astounded at the HP gear available, but had tickets to a show. Hopefully I can manage to make it in my next visit.

Edinburgh is an amazing city with so much to offer any tourist. There are a great many free things to do, plenty of great shops, and it boasts some great vinyl stores. I strongly recommend if you go during the Fringe next year that you plan your venues in a certain area, with a few hours between shows to go out and take in the sights. If it starts to get to be a bit much, there are plenty of escapes off the Closes or nature parks along the Leith area. Survival means join in the fray, then repose in a cafe, pub, or eatery. Then with the added excursions, you will cover every inch of this great city.

DH

Glasgow Westend Summer 2017 Musings

ashtonI have just spent a few rare, mostly sunny days in Glasgow’s West End. What’s not to like about this festive and eclectic area in Glasgow. Situated right next to University of Glasgow, as in all great university towns, a great area hub of several very diverse communities on all sides of the university, each with it’s own flavor.

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It’s warm and happening here in the West End and Hillhead area of Glasgow. A rare, two warm sunny-ish days are indeed happening. I probably cursed us by wearing my sleeveless shirt for a while, sans jacket. Highly indulgent of me, I know. Feel the sunburn happening. Just walking the Byres Road area in the afternoon and the beach chairs are out near the  Hillhead Bookclub, an eclectically intense eatery that even has a clothing jumble sale on weekends upstairs. Great  vegan offerings along side traditional food. Had a sweet potato cake that was spicy indeed, and the plates are large portioned.  Just look for the dapper sea horse mural and you have found the spot.

 

Kelvinside and Botanic Gardens

This area boasts the enchanting Glasgow Botanic Gardens. In the summer you can see Bard in The Botanic, the local Shakespeare in the parks production. Places to eat and venues like the Oran Mor and Webster Theatre offer entertainment as well as good food and bar facilities.

Hillhead

Besides having a lot of student housing areas, with more being built as of this writing, this part of town has a vast array of restaurants that appeals to many cultural flavors and pricing is influenced by the student population. Therefore, great bargains can be had food wise here, and like most Uni areas, volume comes with the plate in many cases. Check out the other patrons plates to see if you can dine al fresco or if each plate can feed two to three people. There is also a lot of shopping to be done in the area at several brand name

DeCourcys

 as well as boutique stores. And don’t pass up the Oxfam and other local charity shops, you may just find a fun, hip article for a good cause.

West End

Just south of Kelvingrove Park is the area that is the eclectic and hipster area of West End and features Sauchiehall Street, Fitzroy Place, and Argyle street. There are a great number of bars and high end restaurants in the area, and plenty of places to do whisky tasting like the Ben Nevis. Other real notables are Ox and Finch, Mother India, The socialHidden Lane Tearoom, and Cubatas Tapas Bar, and the recently voted best place bar in West End, J. Sharpe Dispensary or The Drugstore Social . This was a great retreat one day from lang walks and the need to feed at lunch with a great glass of wine. The area features a few small boutiques for shopping fun. I recently ate at Ox and Finch, a small plates Tapas style eatery off Sauchiehall Street, after trying to have a sit in there for a few weeks. This restaurant is so popular you may have to book a few days in advance via their website like I did. It was worth the wait. The sommelier was very knowledgeable about both food and wine pairings, and helped with a Gluten Free adaptation of meals. The atmosphere was relaxing and a wonderful West End experience. Also after a good feed at the local, walking the Kelvin riverside walkways are a pleasant way to make room for a later whiskey tasting.

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Kelvinbridge

Two favorite places near where I was staying and just a convenient hop across the Western Road were Inn Deep at the Kelvinbridge, featuring a very twisty stairs down through the main door, or a bridge staircase down to the Kelvin walkway, which by the way is a

must river adventure. This foodie enclave features dog friendly spaces, riverside seating you will have to fight for or make friends over. Music tends towards the 70s and even some American Funk. But beware of being blasted with Fleetwood Mac and other golden oldies you may find yourself singing along to. Great hand cut fries, too.

Another dog friendly spot, and people too, is the The Belle on the Western Road. Quiet some nights, raucous talk the next. Good selection of drink options. 

 

InnDeep

 

Whiskey

Yes, national drink and all, most bars, pubs, and taverns will carry a very good selection of regional whiskey. If you have mostly had American or only a few Scottish varieties, you may want to go to a whiskey bar or even go on a whiskey walking tour where you can hit up a few specializing places. If you are in the West End, Ben Nevis Pub is a connoisseur spot but gets packed of an evening. If you don’t like a huge crowd and want to talk to the barkeep, try a late afternoon visit.

Hint: Kitchens can close early in Scotland, so if you are used to tavern food up until midnight, that may not be the thing in some parts of town. Sundays mean earlier closures for most restaurants.

Glasgow Art Walk July 2017

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I had been looking forward to revisiting the Glasgow Mural walk for some time and was not disappointed. This walk features a great many murals all over the city with many of them being situated in the City Centre and outlying areas. There is a map you can download and print out, as well as just keeping your eyes peeled as there are many other murals that just keep popping up and unless you are a local, would not be aware of them and where they are situated. Check in out of the way spaces like under the bridges and lots.

These colourful depictions of life and interpretation have become such a part of the landscape, it’s hard to notice that some are suffering the sad realisation that wind and elements are taking their toll. To my relief I had not seen any of the murals suffering from deliberately being altered, although some other tagging and art seemed to be butting up against some of them. Street art is highly respected by fellow artists, and street art has a huge fan base. Indeed, as in other great mural and street art works from around the world, the sides of buildings are slowing giving away and altering some of the murals. Some artists see this as part of the landscape, that the art itself will have to show time. Good news is more are being created, including some new ones dedicated to the comic Billy Connolly.

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 Artist:Vettriano Location Beer Garden at Hootenanny’s at St. Enochs

Start with the City Centre and follow the circuit. You will see a great many parts of the city and get a good healthy urban hike. Don’t forget to stop off at some great restaurants and pubs along the way. Wear sturdy walking shoes. Happy hunting.

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Hip Hop Marionettes by Rogue-One

Download the brochure here:
https://www.glasgow.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=19649&p=0

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Tiger by Klingatron

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Honey I Shrunk The Kids by Smug

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Panda by Klingatron

 

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