The scary cities that aren't so scary

Bad reputations die hard. Just ask Shane Warne. You get some bad press and all of a sudden people get an idea about you cemented in their heads.

Travel destinations experience the same sort of thing. Once everyone has decided that a place is dangerous, or dirty, or boring, or just not worth visiting, it can be difficult to shake the reputation.

All it takes is a story in the paper, or a few pub tales from friends, and you think you know what's going on.

You might never have been to Nairobi, but it's dangerous and you shouldn't leave your hotel at night. You've probably never set foot in Bali, but it's full of Aussie bogans watching AFL games and drinking Bintang.

Those things might not be completely true, but that's the reputation, and that's what sticks.

So it's always nice to travel around a little and find places that don't stand up to the stereotype.

Like Glasgow. I'd never been to Glasgow, despite having worked in Edinburgh for three months a few years ago, and living up near Aberdeen a few years before that. You know why? Because it's scary.

People get stabbed in Glasgow. You wear the wrong colour football jersey in the wrong part of town and you'll get yourself a serious kicking. Or maybe there'll be no reason for it at all. Glasgow is a rough city, full of grimy dock-workers and unhinged football hooligans.

At least, that's what I'd heard. From Australia, and from the rest of Scotland.

(One of the funny things about Scotland is that its own citizens do as much to perpetrate false stereotypes as ignorant foreigners. I told a Glasgow cab driver that I'd be going to Edinburgh next. He shook his head: "There's some strange, strange people in Edinburgh." Then I told my friend in Edinburgh I'd just been in Glasgow. He shook his head, too: "Wouldnae go there if you paid me.")

What I'm trying to say is that I rolled up in Glasgow a few weeks ago expecting a rough town. It didn't put me off going, this reputation, but I was prepared to find a city that would keep me on edge, where things could possibly go wrong.

First night out I took all of the cards out of my wallet, hid some emergency cash in my backpack and spent my evening sticking to well-lit streets, constantly on the lookout for the stabbing that was inevitably coming my way. Thinking back on it now I feel faintly ridiculous.

I eventually figured out that it just wasn't going to happen. Glasgow's not like that.

Suddenly I was in Mexico City, another supposedly scary place that didn't turn out to be that frightening at all. Take a few precautions, don't do anything stupid and you're fine.

I was in Bogota, where you expect the worst but often find the best. You think you'll be shot but it never happens. There's no undercurrent of violence, no menace in the air.

I was in Buenos Aires, a city that for some reason has a reputation for danger, of people being mugged in taxis and bailed up in broad daylight. Really? Never happened to me, or anyone I met there.

And then I was back in Glasgow, which is not even on the same scale as those Latin American cities.

Glasgow's not just safe, it's friendly. Really friendly. Everyone wants a chat. They want to joke around, be your friend. The city's old reputation might have been something like Chopper Reid but in reality it's more like Heath Franklin, the fun, slightly eccentric caricature.

Where you might expect violence in Glasgow, there's actually culture. There are art galleries and museums and cool restaurants and music venues. There's a gig on every night; a great place to drink on most corners.

About the biggest danger is getting soaked by the rain, or not being able to get away from a cab driver who just wants to chat for a few minutes more.

Glasgow's reputation as a hard town was probably once justified. Now, however, it's like the city's old warehouses that have been gutted and converted into artists' residences – the shell of Glasgow remains, but the rough heart is gone.

Scary? Hardly.

Which "dangerous" cities have you been to that turned out to be not so dangerous? Post a comment below.

Email: bengroundwater@gmail.com

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

The story The scary cities that aren't so scary first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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