The Best Laid Schemes: Money Matters While Traveling

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It is with chagrin that I write this. It has been a few months since my Ireland and Scotland trip. And what I came back to certainly wasn’t fun. Last year I wrote about being careful while traveling, especially where money and safety is concerned. I had two incidents happen to me while traveling, even though I was vigilant and had planned well in advance, was always on guard. One of the big drawbacks of traveling alone, you don’t have a mate to watch your back. You spend a great deal of time watching every corner, when really you want to be watching the sights. How do you tour and enjoy sights while not being targeted is the big question. And even when you plan, you can still get swiped.

In my last article I wrote about how to carry your money, do money belts really work, how hard was it to travel with cash or money. This most recent trip I had gathered up and taken some cash from the UK and Ireland, Pounds and Euros. I kept a certain amount for both on or locked in safes in places I stayed. I only carried small amounts of cash and guarded my concealed chip card fiercely. I still had incidents. I didn’t want to have to access ATMS or anything that would be compromised unless I needed to. Best laid schemes and all.

Cash

Cash is always good to have, especially when you have a desire to not collect chip card fees. It is also a bit of a burden while traveling. You can keep large amounts of cash, but it’s not usually a good idea. Even with a lockable case, or if you are lucky, a hotel room with a safe, you shouldn’t have large amounts on your person as you are making yourself a target. So, I had to decide what the cash budget for a day would be, try to keep that very low, conceal it, stuff a fiver or a tenner in the key pocket of the Levis for cash items, the rest was prepaid travel card. I didn’t want to have to access foreign exchanges too often, there were always fees involved. Card use depended on using for food at restaurants mainly, and I tried to keep that down because fees may be charged again. They may seem minimal, but usage fees can total over £ 50.00 by the end of your trip, and if you are limited to currency because your card company won’t do two or more currencies to your card, you will get exchange fees. So budget £ 5-8.00 for a day if using one for the extra fees.

For the most part, money belts do work, especially if you get a low profile one that you can sling low and hide in jeans it’s not quite as obvious. Cloth money belt may be more desirable due to heat and moisture, but one with internal pockets.

I carried my cash from town to town and through airports using a money belt. Problem was they made me take it off and put in the bins during boarding. This was extremely nerve wracking as it was out of sight and I had to keep chasing down the bin and keep track of everything else as well. The money belt worked otherwise for the most part, I found it was better while traveling on trains. So, even though the belt was made to not trigger alarms at the airport, they still found it. Concealed card holders usually make it through if there is not a metal snap. Better to wait and get the cash there after you arrive.

Backpacks

Most of the cities you will tour are filled with students, and backpacks are the norm. You also want to be able to meet and greet locals and get a feel for a place. You should be able to just talk to anyone, right? But you always have to think the most affable could be sizing you up. Pickpockets have been in the trade for over a thousand years. And they have gotten more sophisticated than you think, think super spy.

If you are touring and doing serious backpacking with a kit and this is your mode for travel as well, you will probably want to take a smaller low profile version along for town day excursions. Back packs are magnets for a lift or slash. If you are touring and need to do several hours away from hotel or other lodging, purses and such are not a good thing. Too easy to slash and grab. You can buy modified purse/backpacks with reinforced straps, but the best thing to do is buy very small back packs with low profile or lockable zippers. While some thieves will still slash a bag, many are subtle and will unzip while standing next to you and you are distracted by the sights or your companions. Be wary of who is next to or near you.

I purchased a very low profile, small backpack that really sat against my body. It had hidden, recessed zippers and a compartment for my iPad. However, with careful planning I still was almost a victim. While in Dublin in large crowds, apparently someone went for my iPad. The recessed zippers hadn’t mattered. I had barely noticed the jostle and almost forgot it all together until two young girls came up and said that my pack was open and looked like a grab had happened. I checked everything and luckily the would be thief had not made off with the iPad, or any other valuable item like the passport. The girls said it happened a lot in the area. So, whenever possible, practice looking tragically hip while guarding your backpack, especially in the Temple Bar area.

Cash Card

I went with a cash card again on this trip. However, I did bring my ATM card as a backup if it got stolen. Big mistake. I had been really vigilant about getting cash. I was trying not to use the chip travel card to get cash, wasn’t sure how safe it would be. If I needed cash I went directly to accredited money exchangers after checking Yelp for reviews, and in some UK Post Offices you can use their exchange. I figured if you got a receipt and if they are a chain, you have some recompense if there is a problem. However, depending on remote locations, sometimes the card wouldn’t work for buying meals and such, being WiFi processing dependent. I was doing really well with managing the money, and really thought I had done okay until I got back to the US and found my checking account had been cleared out. The bank got me the records and after contacting Scotland Police by email, I began looking at a trail of how my account was cleared out. It appears the one time I got desperate for cash on a tour, I used a small stand alone ATM at a petrol station. Bad idea. A card skimmer had been attached and as I looked at records, I followed a parallel track to my travels, going through the Highlands and into Edinburgh, the same days I was there for Fringe Festival. Lesson learned, don’t bring anything attached to your bank account and use it to access funds.

Credit Cards

When traveling we often use our credit cards, they usually can be replaced when lost or stolen while traveling if your card is supported internationally. Just be prepared for the the foreign transaction fees. Check with your bank about their rates of exchange before you go. Always plan in your budget for the fees that will hit you when you return. Depending on your countries of travel, you may want to have a card that is with one of the major card companies, Visa or Master Card. Virgin Money is still only available in UK, Europe and Australia.However, the interest rates are terrible. Use credit card sparingly and use the prepaid card for food and expenses.

Large card companies will have the best infrastructure to wire money or replace card overnight in some countries. Travel cards that you preload can be advantageous, but will also accrue per use fees, and if you return and still have money on them, you may get charged monthly fees as well. Close out your cards when you return unless you plan to travel within a year. Contact your card holder for details. I went with Travelex again and for the most part they worked, but the cards were not the latest processing cards and some of the newer chip readers had trouble with them. If you bring your card, make sure you know about any emergency limits. If you have a medical issue in another country, your personal insurance will not cover most expenses. You should buy travel insurance for your trip, make sure that there are allowances for transport fees (ambulance) included. Your credit card will help get you in the door of a medical facility, and you will have to work with the travel insurance later. Pay as you go cards may not be accepted at Casualty rooms.

Travel Cards

I had a Travelex card which is a UK card. Coming from the US, I was told I could only purchase one currency. While in the UK and EU countries, there are cards that allow you multiple currencies on the card. Research this before you go as new card services are popping up, exchange rates will always accrue.

American Express is not accepted by most merchants, if any in the UK and Ireland.

Piece of Mind

There are no guarantees in travel. For the most part, if you have companions you can look out for one another. If you are the single traveler, you have to be even more prepared to be a target. Think about what you really need to do, and do you really need more money in cash. I didn’t want all my eggs in one basket. Even though the travel card was supposed to be the best option, I was concerned about if it got stolen, and considerations about tracking and stopping the old card going to get me refunded funds or were they truly lost. The company claimed it would refund me, but I had my doubts. So, when shopping for your travel cards, research well in advance and talk to them about all their policies. Look at their online interface and see if you think you will be able to access while abroad, or if they have an app for your smart phone. Research through articles and see which cards are performing the best, and in which countries. I found the online web interface really difficult to get to with Travelex. Their app was easy for daily monitoring and topping up.

Hotel Safes

You can shop for accommodations that have a room safe. While you are looking for accommodations on a travel website, contact the accommodation and see if they have room safes. These usually rely on a code that you set yourself, however there are a few locking types which means you have another key to keep track of. In days of old when you traveled, you could rely on a main hotel safe for passports, etc. Try to avoid them. You have no guarantee that the employees won’t skim your funds or access your passport.

UK and EU Travel Cards Information and Articles

https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/travel-credit-cards

https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/travel-money-options-cash-cards-and-travellers-cheques#using-pre-paid-cards-abroad

http://www.wisebread.com/travel-and-money-using-prepaid-travel-cards

UK Residents http://www.holidayextras.co.uk/travel-money-card.html

https://www.what-prepaid-card.co.uk

Cards

Travelex

Check if you can have multiple currencies https://www.travelex.com/travel-money-card

Visa Prepaids from Visa Partners https://usa.visa.com/pay-with-visa/cards/card-finder/prepaid-finder-page.html

Virgin https://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/travel-prepaid-card/index.jsp

The Gregory: Belfast Accommodations

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The Gregory Bed and Breakfast, Belfast Northern Ireland

30 Eglantine Avenue, Belfast, BT9 6DX, United Kingdom ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ £ £ £ Moderate

One of the best, most comfortable accommodations I had on this last trip was The Gregory in Belfast. I had a quick 48 hour stay and needed a safe place to stay and be able to walk or bus from where I was. I found a place in a great neighborhood by the university, and plenty of local entertainment, including The Cuckoo club around the corner, owned by a GOT alum (Nairn). IMG_0706

I was going on a great tour for one of my days on the trip, a Game of Thrones Tour that would encompass one whole day. I needed a safe, quiet space to rest from travel and get plenty of sleep the night before. This was just the place. Large, spacious room, good flooring and carpet. The decor was not too loud, fairly neutral. The bathroom was very good, plenty of room to turn around in. The heaters were great, yeah summer in Northern Ireland. The bed was very comfortable, one of the few I didn’t have to use the duvet as padding for. The meals in the restaurant were okay for breakfast, accommodating for early departures if you order the breakfast.

IMG_0707.jpgThe shower was well kept and the at the source heater worked well with a good flow. My room faced the back, with a side window that looked on a nice red brick next to the hotel with a good garden space. The restaurant was very accommodating in the am for early departure on tour.

Local food was very good, being by Queen’s University there were plenty of restaurants to choose from and since school was out for the summer, seating was quick. Remember student restaurants equals great foodie fun and portions. Not all are equal so check the local apps and Yelp.com for reviews. I ate at Molly’s Yard with a huge curry chips I could never finish.IMG_0708

Great price for the comfort, private and crashable after a day long tour. Would definitely stay again.

If you have more time, take the Art Walk Tours of the political murals and community murals in Belfast. Great insight to the wonderful city and it’s history.

Links

https://irishtourtickets.com/game-of-thrones-tour-from-belfast/

Belfast Blast: 48 Hours in Belfast, Northern Ireland

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Galway Tempest

On the second part of my Irish journey this summer, I decided to take in Galway, a medieval town on the Western coast. After three days of intense heat in Dublin, a city I never thought I would see such heat in, I took a tranquil train rides through to the West of Ireland and reached Galway city mid- morning. The ride had been filled with views of great fields of green and an interesting political conversation with an Irishman. Warning, if you start up any politics with the Irish, it will be a long conversation. Actually, most conversations, especially with men in Ireland, will be long and take a while to end. It was a wam, bam, 48 hours well spent and I wished it had been longer.

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The weather took a funny turn right after I arrived, I got off the train needing a good long walk, dropped cases at the bed and breakfast and took College down into the downtown area of Eyre Square, passing through the shopping mall that boasted one of the remaining walls of this great walled city of Ireland. I headed down into Quay and Spanish Arches area, chased the lanes around  for a couple of hours. It looked and smelled of rain, so I tried to cram in the sights as much as I could. Then came in the storm. I had been napping at the B&B and the whole place shook. Within 10 minutes and amazing wind storm with hail, thunder and tree bits blew in and was gone. That’s Galway for you.

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A Taste of Irish Feminism: Crestfall by Mark O’Rowe

One of the main reasons I was in Galway was to take in a play as the Arts Festival was in full swing. I had been trying to book plays from overseas and several had sold out but luckily I snagged a seat at the Druid for Crestfall, a play with three powerful women on a night and what their lives had culminated in for that one night. Deep and insightful to the psyche of womankind it gave a great snapshot of real life tragedy and life in a tiny compact stage. I was on the edge of my seat and drawn in, raging inside with the cast. The play ended up with few favorable reviews, but I think that is because the reviewers just could not handle the raw nature of the play. I was relieved to see a man could write about women, actually capture some of the guttural essence of single mothers and other women downtrodden by society. Directed by Annabelle Comyn, and starring Kate Stanley Brennan, Siobhán Cullen, and Amy McElhatton. Three very different women struggling in a dystopian Dublin.

Galway Arts Festival

If you get a chance to come in the month of July, this festival is a good kick off for festival travels. I managed three festivals this trip, and this was a great beginning. In the beautiful surroundings of the city and university, the big top is also filled with concerts and Trad musicians. If you are planning to go, book your accommodations early and try to get them near the river. Taxis can be rough during the festival and you will need to walk everywhere. But it’s a great little city for walking. Many big and small acts come to the festival, with some famous Irish musicians booking in because they like the festival. Keep an eye on the website as tickets sell out fast.

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Dress in layers, you are by the sea. There is a great many shops to keep you busy. I usually don’t do the tourist shops things, mainly stick to galleries of which there are plenty in this town. Plenty of buskers and jewelry and clothing stalls to pass the time with. Galway is one of the arts hubs of Ireland with creativity on every corner. And then of course Galway is a tourist hub, filled with tour buses and bus barns that amazingly manage to fit in such a small downtown area.

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Connemara

The west of Ireland has many magical places to visit, all lush and green. I had planned for months on my day two being a fantastic trip to the Aran Islands. The weather the following day got even worse, the ocean filled with darkness and wind, so I opted for a coach tour of Connemara National Park instead. What a ride; fjords, endless sheep and landscapes, all seen in the mostly rain filled summer’s day. If you can manage it, stay in the park either camping or at a nearby inn. There is so much to see and experience hiking it will take at least a full day. The highlight of the tour was the Kylemore Abbey and Victorian Gardens estate tour. This massive estate was once home to a very wealthy family, but now has been converted to an Benedictine Abbey. The grounds are lush and rambling, you are in for a good walk with many photo opportunities.

Ireland’s west coast and the Atlantic Way is filled with a great many treats for the senses, wear layers and bring your imagination. Two days was not enough, so if you can manage it try for three to four days to explore this beautiful area fully. This is one of the few places where doing a hire car with a group may be your best advantage so you can get to all of the sights around Galway. Just be patient if you drive into Galway, for the streets pack fast and it may be better to park at the outskirts and walk in.

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Spanish Arches

Abbey

Benedictine Abbey

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Connemara State Park

Victorian Walled Garden

Dreichy in Glasgow, You’ve Got Places to Go

IMG_0731I love visiting Glasgow. I have several times. I keep going back and finding new things, and of course revisiting some favorites. Scottish weather is lovingly joked about, just like San Francisco or Portland Oregon weather. The fact is, any country with changeable weather must be taken with amusement, how else can you survive when it really gets bad?

Rain, dreich, and more rain. We have that in Portland, other wise known as Puddleton. So when I keep traveling back to a land with the wets, people wonder why. The inhabitants are desperate to get to the Canary Island or Spain, Italy, anywhere with a mild climate. What, you live near California, why do you come here? Simple, love the place, can’t get enough. Lived in foggy, drippy port towns most of my life. Have that Viking ancestry and too pale of skin to go back to California, yeah pink in five seconds here. But mostly it’s places like Glasgow teaming with life and music, food, culture and close proximity to magical day trips to places like the Trossachs National Park that make it a great hub for exploration.

So what do you do when it is positively dripping, or worse, torrents. Most inhabitants bundle up inside and have tea, binge watch if not working, and some maybe while working. If you are one who gets restless when it pours, need to get out a bit, find whatever free entertainment you can for the best dreichy to drookit days. And it’s heading into the Hols, so you need to save money where you can, or shop for gifts that help the museum out.

Museums

Since my youth and living in San Francisco Bay Area, I found that museums were always a day well spent. In the US, most museums charge fees to get in and some of the attached galleries as well. In the UK and Ireland, admission to most museums are free of charge, with special exhibits having some fees. There is always something going on in the museums that will entertain you in the main exhibits areas.

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Kelvingrove Museum Argyle Street, Glasgow, Scotland

I keep coming back to this fabulous place. Recently I went the Frank Quietly Exhibit there, the hours were well spent. The rest of the galleries will keep you busy for hours, and a great way to keep the kids entertained for free. The museum is a classic museum layout with many floors and galleries and a good place to have a tea half way through. The Life Collection features natural history, human history and prehistory sections, with the taxidermy animals is a very good collection and I must admit a childhood favorite to peruse. The Egyptian interactives are a bit of fun. The best spot is the technology and sciences galleries, where I saw a actual Enigma machine putting something tangible on history for me.

In the Expressions Galleries, there are exhibits from painters and other artists. Monet, Gaugin and Renoir are featured. There are also many works from Scottish artists and The Glasgow Boys. This next year will be Charles Rennie Macintosh’s 150th birth year and an exhibition is being planned for that.

The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, Scotland

A great museum on an amazing campus. Plan to spend quite a few hours and not far from Kelvingrove. It’s a fabulous place with collections that should not be missed. James McNeill Whistler and Charles Rennie Macintosh have permanent collections there. The other collections feature art, archaeology, cultures, historical, coins and metal, fossils and a great medical exhibit. Check with the museum for hours of display and access since this is on the university campus.

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People’s Palace and Winter Gardens

Aptly named of course for a great indoor garden experience and galleries of local history. This great local exhibition place gets you in the feel for the history of Glasgow. From “Steamy” displays to local shops and other historical displays about everyday life. My favorite display was seeing Sir Billy Connolly’s famous Banana Boots. The sheer size of the Big Yin’s unique equipage was boggling. How did he walk in those things?

The Palace has a nice Victorian Glass House with a great botanics display and tea house. The line can get quite long for the tea. But well worth it after a few hours spent looking at displays.

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Hidden Lane Tearoom, Finnieston, Glasgow

My favorite place to go back to for tea. This hidden gem has a great alley space with a eclectic food menu and great relaxation spaces, mismatched tables and chairs, tea sets. Squeeze through the alley to get there, great to get off Sauchiehall Street bustle for a bit, although in summer the West End is pretty relaxed as many city residents are still working or out on holiday themselves. Their clotted cream is the best, the real deal. Cakes, biscuits, savories and soup.

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New/Used Bookstores

Ah, the very best thing to do when it rains and snows, brave the weather and find a book nook. Glasgow has many great new and used book stores. Problem is when you’re traveling you want to scoop an armful, but really can’t fit it in. Just grab one or two, read and leave at your B&Bs with notes about your reading thoughts. You’ll many dusty pages to chose from, Voltaire and Rousseau is quite a jumble to meander through, and that’s the fun. Don’t forget to look up Thistle Books as well, just in case you haven’t found everything imaginable to read.

Articles

Scottish Weather

http://www.scotsman.com/heritage/15-words-which-can-only-be-used-to-describe-scottish-weather-1-4104762

Hunterian https://www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian/collections/collectionsummaries/art/theglasgowboys/

Books Shops

http://visit-glasgow.info/shopping/top-ten-bookshops-in-glasgow/

Great Escapes From Glasgow

Frank Quietly Exhibit at the Kelvingrove, Glasgow

Glasgow Art Walk July 2017

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. 

 

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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.

© 2017 Photos by J. Canning

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 colorful 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 Sir Billy Connolly.

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

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© 2017 Photos by J. Canning