Jars of oddities and a pot of tea

One of the most tempting appeals of a university is the promise of variety. No matter what you may choose to study there, expect to find yourself learning some rather unexpected things. I am not currently a student so I recently got my university fix in a slightly different way, with a visit to the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum. The basis of the collection is the assembled artefacts of Dr William Hunter, and in my opinion the best thing about collections accumulated in this way, by one individual, is the sheer variety that you are often left with. All of these strange and wonderful items have been united, despite their differences, because of the intrigue that they piqued in one gentleman 200 years ago. The items are each a fascination in themselves of course, but there is also a lot of fun to be had in trying to figure out how they have all come together to belong in the beautiful university halls. I have selected a couple of my favourites to get you started, and then it’s up to you to go out searching on University Avenue.

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It’s probably a good thing that I can’t remember what the contents of these jars is… most were a little morbid to say the least.

The first few exhibitions largely contain equally creepy and fascinating organs, body parts, unidentified things in jars. It is slightly alarming how long you will find yourself staring at these. When you get further through the museum, you may just come across a mummy and her embalmed remains. It is rather fitting to think that 2000 years ago, humans put organs in jars to prepare for the afterlife, whereas 200 years ago we were putting them in jars to learn more about life itself. Or perhaps that was just me trying to distract my queasy self from all the body parts floating around… not to worry, the next lot of jars was possibly even more bewildering.

My favourite member of the taxidermy gang
My favourite member of the taxidermy gang

Onwards to the strangest taxidermy I have ever seen outside of this gloriously awful website. Again, I think the word I’d use would possibly have to be ‘morbid’, but I defy anyone not to spend a considerable amount of time contemplating the general weirdness of what you’re looking at. To Rome!

I'll be honest, I can't remember what this book was but it sure does look magical in this photo
I’ll be honest, I can’t remember what this book was but it sure does look magical in this photo

Or, at least, to the most Northerly conquest boasted by Rome when they made their way to Scotland for a brief invasion (as you do). The Antonine Wall exhibition was made much more accessible by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the friendly guide who popped up just as we reached this section. David (a student at the university) did a great job of explaining not just what we were looking at, but also what it really meant as far as the Romans were concerned. For example, the Pagan symbols on a Roman building would have demonstrated the Roman’s desire not only to conquer, but to do so in a way that kept the conquered peoples’ happy that their faith was still safe. He also did a good job of tactfully answering the questions posed by the youngest members of the tour group (approximately 5 years old), such as ‘What would happen if the glass on this display case broke?’ and ‘If these are the Roman’s shoes, why aren’t they wearing them?’

A relaxing place for a seat
A relaxing place for a seat

Of course, the museum’s collection contains far far more than what I’ve covered here. There are some real gems of artefacts to be discovered, as well as a nice walk around the university buildings which I am trying to appreciate more now that I haven’t got the excuse of 2pm lectures to visit every day. There is much more to be seen in the Art Gallery and Mackintosh House, but those are visits for another day because for now, I’m ready for a cuppa, and luckily some of the best tea in the West End can be found about ten minutes walk away. I’ll warn you now, it’s another one of those venues to be found down an unassuming alleyway…

If you come across this wee guardian, you know you're on the right track.
If you come across this wee guardian, you know you’re on the right track.

… and it is definitely worth the search. Tchai Ovna boasts one of the largest selections of tea that I have ever seen in such a tiny, ramshackle wee place. Seating ranges from sofas to rugs and cushions on a raised platform in the corner. The food is a vegetarian’s delight (we had houmous and dolmades and I was in a wee veggie heaven) and the tea must be tried to be believed (today we had Bombay Lemongrass Chai, a citrusy twist on the classic). One teapot between two tends to last hours on end and it is very easy to accidentally spend far too much time sitting in a dark corner, thinking of new topics of conversation in order to justify ordering another pot. Tchai Ovna’s forté seems to be creating a relaxing atmosphere, and after hours of deliberation, my friend Beth and I have determined that if warm were a scent, it’s what Tchai Ovna smells like. In which case, they must have known that chilly old Glasgow was the perfect location. Have I oversold it? Head down there for a cuppa first and then let me know if I’m wrong. Stay curious!

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Excellent tea awaits

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