Geek Weekend: Glasgow
Welcome to the third part of our Geek Weekend series at Pocket-lint. Every 2 weeks we've been bringing you a guide to a UK city designed specially for the discerning geek traveller and today is the turn of that titan of the Clyde that is Glasgow. So, if you're headed north of the border any time soon, you might want to keep this page here bookmarked. Big thanks to Duncan MacDonald for some top tips.
Founded originally from a medieval Bishopric garden, Glasgow bloomed as a city in its own right with the opening of its university in the 15th century. For that reason it became a major centre of academic enlightenment and later added another string to its bow when it was established as a trade port with the Americas and became known as the second city of the British Empire.
With the industrial revolution came a tradition of heavy engineering and shipbuilding and despite the decline in activity at the docks, Glasgow has flourished as cultural centre of the arts and is home to around 41 per cent of the population of Scotland. But what's there to do in this great city for the geek traveller? Let's take a look...
Places to stay
You won't find much in the way of fully kitted gadget hotels in Glasgow. There's more of an emphasis on the architecture and classic plushness but, all the same, there are a couple of recommendations where you can pick up that all important geek hotel resource that is free in-room Wi-Fi.
On the west side of town and right on the Clyde, you'll find the UK's favourite place to stay for the geek traveller that is the City Inn Hotel. Every room has an iMac, free Wi-Fi and a full Sky subscription, so you'll have no need to worry about filling up your SD cards, checking your e-mails, Skype chats to the folks back home or just kicking back to some quality TV.
A City Double or Twin room will cost in the region of £100/night and, if you call up to make your booking, you might be able to wangle river views looking out over that armadillo-esque Clyde Auditorium the Science Centre as well.
The rooms at the Radisson Blu in Glasgow aren't wildly interesting to look at, but what's worth staying for lies a little more hidden. At roughly the same price as the City Inn, it's located closer to the centre of town - sadly without the river views and the iMacs - but it does still have free Wi-Fi access for each room as well as the tech treat of a mini-bar that uses RFID to charge you when you've taken something out of it. Cut a hole in the back and you might be in business.
Glasgow Science Centre
On the south bank of the Clyde in the regenerated waterfront area lies the city's Science Centre. The main part of it is the titanium-clad Science Mall which houses 250 interactive exhibits and a planetarium featuring a Zeiss optics projection system and regular shows for star gazing fans.
Beyond the mall there's also an IMAX theatre, with shows that are well worth catching in 2D and 3D, as well as the tallest building in Scotland which is the Glasgow Tower. A 2.5-minute lift journey will take the brave up to the top of the 127m structure where you get typically mind-blowing views of the city and countryside around, so long as you're there on one of the few days that the weather is clear enough. Be warned though, when the wind is too bad, the tower will be closed, so do check before you make the journey.
Museum of Transport
Before you get too excited do be warned that the Museum of Transport will be closed until 2011 after it's relocated from Kelvin Hall to the north bank of the Clyde, half a mile or so beyond the auditorium. For those that are there in time for the opening, you'll be treated to exhibits such as the oldest surviving pedal cycle, some Scottish-made cars - yes apparently that used to happen - as well as some early American vehicles, steam engine locomotives, fire engines, caravans and models of ships like the QE2. If that kind of action floats your boat, pun intended, then it's well worth a trip down there. 1 million visitors a year can't be too wrong.
Street Level Photoworks
Attention all camera geeks! You must go to Street Level Photoworks. It's a space for both artists and the public to enjoy the fine art of the gadget form that is photography. There's exhibitions with work from the bizarre to the political but, best of all, there's also encouragement to learn about how to take pictures for the regular punters. From June 2010, there'll be courses and classes you can sign up and drop into and it's well worth looking ahead when planning your visit to get involved and pick up some expert tips.
There's bags of more refined and less techie attractions in Glasgow but sadly they don't belong in a geeks' guide - not, that is, unless you see them on the Cosy Bike tour. The Cosy Bike is one of the sillier contraptions you could ever see/get on. It's a seven-seater vehicle with everyone providing the pedal-power but only one person doing the actual steering.
You can tour all the other galleries and museums in town as well as the parks and botanic gardens. Rides are £50 total for a 30 minute tour - it doesn't sound like much but how long do you really want to be pedalling for - and you can get them from Glasgow Green and Pollok and Kelvingrove Parks. Worth a giggle.
Location55.851324,-4.239693, 55.868906,-4.284754 & 55.832915,-4.306812
Glasgow's ElectronClub has to be the most geeky facet of any city that we ever have or ever will cover on the Geek Weekend. It's a group that meets in the Centre for Contemporary Arts and discusses things like free open source software, circuit bending, hardware hacking, computer recycling, streaming, audio and video editing, green technologies and amateur radio. They meet up, use equipment, and share and disseminate their skills and ideas. What's more, all are welcome to come along.
Recent events have included OpenStreetMap mapping parties and soldering classes and, if you check out the ElectronClub calendar you'll find there's something on most days. This is the absolute geek central of Glasgow and, ElectonClub, we salute you.
Centre for Contemporary Arts
As well as housing all sorts of art exhibitions, the CCA provides an alternative source of evenings entertainment for the more cultured film geek. This isn't the place to come to see Avatar or Iron Man 12, but you can find a wealth of art house, foreign and forgotten works that ever made it to celluloid. It's also an interesting place to hang out and grab a cup of tea in the cafe or something stronger at the Terrace Bar.
At the other end of the spectrum, of course, you might prefer some explosions, 3D and mind blowing sound in which case it's back to the IMAX at the Science Centre for you. The more educational films of the daytime become the box office smashes by evening. You might want to take some of your own snacks from town or you'll be at the mercy of whatever the more tourist-located merchants are offering. Remember, Butterkist from a newsagents beats cinema popcorn.
Even if you're not necessarily a petrol head, the Glasgow Speedway at Ashfield Stadium in the north of the city is a cracking Sunday afternoon or night out. There's not many places where you can watch motorbikes in perma-skid up this close in comfort and with good access to the snacks and bars. Better still, if your partner needs any persuading, kids under 12 go free, 12-16 are a fiver and adults are £15. Make sure to get down there early to avoid the queues and remember to shout loudest for the team called the Tigers.
To list the Mitchell as a POI is to do it an injustice given what an excellent resource of research it is and the beautiful building that houses the collection. If you're into genealogy or old manuscripts, then this is the place to come. Unfortunately, we're not. So, it's the library's stacks of PCs and free Wi-Fi for the geek tourist to use that we're interested in. The cafe also happens to be very good and they'll even let you play games on the computers.
Location: 55.865108, -4.272008
Lord Kelvin's Statue
He was born in Belfast but it was at Glasgow University where Lord Kelvin did his work on maths, physics and engineering. So come and pay your respects to the coolest geek out there - the man who invented absolute zero.
James Watt's Statue
Inventor, mechanical engineer and steam engine geek, James Watt's memorial is well worth a visit to stand in the bronzed presence of a guy who powered the industrial revolution with the notion of a separate steam condenser. A Scot who researched at Glasgow University, it's of little surprise to find him in the city's great George Square smack in the middle of town.
Thomas Graham's Statue
Chemist with notable work on the diffusion of gases but, more importantly, pioneer of dialysis, Thomas Graham has a statue of his very own you can give the nod to as well. Fortunately, it also happens to be in George Square, so no excuses for not visiting both him and Watt, now. What now?
Merchant City Cameras
The only truly independent camera shop you'll find in Glasgow, Merchant City Cameras - formerly known as Quiggs - has excellent staff on hand at all times to give you excellent advice whether you're a beginner or an expert and will never treat anyone like an idiot. Sales as well as refurbishment and worth a stop even if you're not in the market.
A1 is bright, friendly and helpful as comic book stores go. They've a decent stock of all the usuals, plus games and action figures all the way up to full life size. Not the kind of place to get comic-book-guy attitude and certainly an alternative option to...
...Forbidden Planet which seems to have taken over the world somewhat. All the same it's an excellent megashop of all things comic geek and you'll be quite happy whiling away your hours in here.
The Bose shop is a great place to come and tease yourself with all sorts of audio and home cinema kit that you can't afford. Pretend that you're interested in buying and they might even start giving you some demos in their test rooms.
Next door to the famous Guitar Guitar is Scotland's first store dedicated purely to digital music and all the instruments that make it. GG Digital is a mecca for those who spend hours on a sampler and a great place to pick up everything you need, including all sorts of obscure Roland and Korg items and sound recording gadgets as well. A real find.
It seems every big city has one these and Glasgow is no exception. So whether you just want a play or you're in need of a cable or two, you know where to come.
Bang & Olufsen
They might not be so keen to give you a demo at the Bang & Olufsen shop but you will actually get to touch these things. Other than that, just treat the items as something in an art gallery and you might appreciate it more.
Eating & Drinking
Sadly, there's no gadget themed restaurants in Glasgow but these are a few you should try for the simple reason that they do good food. What more could you ask for?
Fantastic hands-on, shell-cracking seafood. Don't miss out on the obvious speciality.
It wouldn't be fair to say that Japanese cuisine is geek food but for some strange reason it is liked by an unusually large per centage of the technology-loving public. Whether that's because it's like mini gadgets or just because it comes from Japan is irrelevant here. The fact is that if you want the good stuff in Glasgow, head to Nanakusa.
If you're looking for a good old burn-your-face-off British curry house, then don't come to Mother India. Freshness and quality are the watch words of this place and the end result is something like an organic-type take on Indian cuisine for the West. Lovely flavours, lovely place. There's also a cafe and a deli if you want to take something home too.
Glasgow Coma Scale (Android/iPhone)
This app isn't actually going to help you much as a tourist but you might meet a few people up there a little worse for wear on the streets. In case you're worried as to whether it's brain damage or just the booze, answer a few questions on their behalf on this app and you might get a better idea.
The accent in Glasgow can be as tough as some of the residents and you might have a little bother trying to decipher what's being said. Chavdroid is an excellent and amusing phrase book to help you blend in and not get too confused by the "neds".
The true geekiest sights and sounds are often the hardest to find and there's no way that, in a city like Glasgow, this guide can have covered them all. So, whether you're a local or someone back from a visit, do let us know your tips and ideas in the comments of how to get techie in town.
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