Ever wanted to travel far from home without feeling like you have gone too far? Cue Scotland, a natural travel option due in part to its tinge of familiarity. Victorian-era buildings? A healthy drinking culture? Entertainment by the riverside? Sounds sort of like Virginia's historic yet quirky capital, doesn't it? Imagine Shockoe Bottom on a larger scale, but instead of hearing slight Southern drawls every which way, you hear thick brogues. This sense of belonging first struck me when I studied at the Glasgow School of Art during VCU’s Artist and Writer Workshop last summer. For five weeks, I breathed Glaswegian air and walked on Glaswegian ground, yet for all the crumbling brick and cobblestone, I almost thought I was trotting down Virginia Avenue.
If you're not a Richmonder, you might not know what we like about our city. Opinions vary, of course, but, time and time again, I hear Richmonders gush about First Fridays, the diverse architecture, the James River, the unique family businesses, and the city's overall friendliness. Richmond is charming in a classically Southern way—porches, sweet tea, and fried chicken—but isn’t afraid to show its edge. Most of us have heard of or even gone to The National, Fall-Out, RVA Revolution, Slaughterama, and Best Friends Day. Glasgow isn't exactly full-time “Brigadoon,” either.
Glaswegians admire many of the same things about their city. Like Richmond, Glasgow was once a major industrial city built alongside a river. Now it's full of artists, students, and its fair share of families looking for a more relaxed urban lifestyle than say, what London offers. Richmond is full of ex-Washingtonians and New Yorkers who wanted culture but a slower pace. Events like the VCU/UR French Film Festival or the Richmond Italian Street Festival help fulfill this desire, and the liveliness of VCU and UR brings variety to many folks’ schedules. (Personally, I’m a big fan of the Richmond ‘Zine Festival, which is a happening that would suit Glasgowians’ penchant for artsy get-togethers beautifully.)
Glasgow also boasts raging live music and gallery scenes. Architectural gems designed by the likes of Charles Rennie Mackintosh are scattered throughout the city. The River Clyde attracts nature and sports enthusiasts alike, but it's not even Glasgow's only river. The River Kelvin flows through the northern part of the city. And, just like Richmond, Glasgow has dozens of cute thrift shops throughout the city, and parks galore. (Richmond has its beloved Maymont and Glasgow has its scenic Kelvingrove). As for Southern hospitality? How about Scottish hospitality? In Scotland, strangers greet you with smiles and even invite you to share a pint.
Like Richmond, Glasgow is gritty but still possesses its pockets of “high-end” art. While Richmond has the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Glasgow has the Kelvingrove Museum and Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art. Instead of the Byrd Theatre, there's the Glasgow Film Theatre.
Don't get me wrong—these two cities are not twins. You'll probably experience a few culture shocks while in Glasgow. Their overwhelming fondness of spirits and soccer both bewildered and captivated me. When I volunteered at a local theatre, the other prop designers were startled that I hadn’t watched a soccer match all week. Shops, including supermarkets and convenience stores, generally close at 5 or 6 p.m. On several late night occasions, I found myself in the unfortunate position of craving ice cream but having no place to buy a big ol’ tub of it. If you don't know what haggis is yet, well, you'll soon find out, like I did during lunch one day with my sister. (For the sake of posterity and blackmail, she had to photograph the expression on my face after my first bite.)
More than anything, Glasgow's vibe conjures up Richmond's. And when you’re miles away from home, like I was, that can be a big comfort.