ABOVE PHOTO: Kelvington Art Gallery and Museum.
By Renée S. Gordon
Glasgow is a city that invites you to touch history as well as experience all that it has to offer. Greater than 130 cultural events are offered weekly and there are more than 70 parks and gardens, impressive architecture, unique dining venues, year round festivals, and the best shopping in the United Kingdom outside of London. In August 2008, Glasgow was designated a UNESCO City of Music in recognition of its musical history, diversity and the ongoing vitality of its musical scene.
Public transit is available, the city is walkable and all the major attractions are on the route of the City Sightseeing Tour. A city bus services the airport making a car unnecessary and all city museums are free making Glasgow an extremely affordable destination.
The city tour departs from George Square in the city’s center. The square was originally marshy land over which townsfolk drove their cattle to pasture. The first documented owner, George Hutchinson, purchased the land in 1609. The square itself was laid out in 1781, named in honor of King George III, with surrounding residential structures. In 1842 the opening of Queen Street Station with its connection to Edinburgh it became a commercial area filled with Victorian buildings and 12 sculptures. The statues include Queen Victoria, the only woman, Prince Albert, Sir Walter Scott, William Gladstone and Robert Burns.
Brad Pitt’s new zombie movie “World War Z,” partially set on Philadelphia’s JFK Boulevard, was filmed in and around George Square. The attention to detail included the importation of Philly cabs and the inclusion of replica street signs, road signs, vending machines, lane markers and traffic signals. The streets looked so authentic that people had their pictures taken there. www.youtube.com/watch?v=slfrrjPndV4
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum recently underwent a multi-million dollar restoration and is now ranked one of the top 15 most visited museums worldwide. This beautiful structure should first be enjoyed from the exterior. It is red sandstone Spanish Baroque with a bronze sculpture of St. Mungo at the North Entrance between the female personifications of art and music.
The interior’s blonde sandstone houses a permanent collection of 8,000 objects, displayed over three-floors and 22 galleries. While the art and European armor collections are wonderful, the true gems here are the historic Scottish artifacts and relics creatively showcased on the upper level. “Scotland’s First People” begins with prehistoric archeological discoveries and continues with the story of Viking attacks on the Scottish coast. Great attention is given to early burial customs and living conditions.
Other featured displays include Salvador Dali’s “Christ of St. John of the Cross” on the South Balcony, a 1944 Spitfire LA198 flown by the City of Glasgow 602 Squadron suspended from the ceiling and Sir Roger the Elephant. Sir Roger, a male Indian elephant was given to the zoo in 1897 after a career with a menagerie. In 1900 he developed musth, an ailment that caused him to exhibit extreme aggression that led to his harming zoo workers. It became impossible to get near enough to feed him and it was decided to humanely put him down and soldiers killed him in December of 1900. His remains were given to the museum and he was mounted and is on display in the West Court.
Daily Kelvingrove Organ concerts are given at 1 PM. The organ was built in 1901 and has been designated a Grade One Historic Organ. There is a café and facilities. www.glasgowmuseums.com
The University of Glasgow is the UK’s fourth oldest university. A Papal Bull granted by St. Nicholas V established it in January of 1451. Originally classes were held at various sites including churches and houses, but in the early 1600s dedicated buildings were begun and completed in 1660. Many of the historic structures were demolished in the 1880s.
Pitt introduced his furniture collection last year giving much credit for his inspiration to Glasgow’s Charles Rennie MackIntosh (1864-1933), architect, designer and artist. Mackintosh is internationally acclaimed for his architecture and furniture/sculpture works that employ skillful use of light, color and design. He was a member of the Glasgow Four, a group of artists that included his wife artist Margaret Macdonald. She is most famous for her gesso works and her collaborative projects with her husband.
Glasgow’s Mackintosh Trail consists of 11 sites within the city and one, Hill House, in nearby Helensburgh. The one day trail ticket gives unlimited access to transportation and admission to the Mackintosh attractions. www.crmsociety.com/trailticket.aspx
Your first stop should be the Mackintosh House in the Hunterian Art Gallery of the University of Glasgow. The collection is comprised of the Mackintoshes’ Glasgow house and their artistic estate. The couple resided in the original house, located 100 yards away, from 1906-14.The house and contents were donated to the university but, because of structural damage, it was torn down. The four-story house was reconstructed based on measurements and photographs. Highlights of the guided tour are examples of the famous “Mackintosh Rose,” the foyer mirror, the high-backed dining room chairs and the second floor studio with his black desk and her white one. www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian
The Glasgow School of Art is considered Mackintosh’s masterpiece, begun in 1896 and completed in 1899. Guided tours are offered and give visitors an opportunity to closely examine his designs and their construction. Do not miss the 1909 two story Library and the janitor’s room, a suspended that looks from above like a Japanese lantern. www.gsa.ac.uk/tours
The Lighthouse, Scotland’s National Center for Architecture and Design, was originally the Glasgow Herald Newspaper Building designed by Mackintosh in 1895. Highlights of a tour here include a gallery of models of structures that Mackintosh designed but were never built, a Mackintosh timeline wall and “Foundation Glasgow: The History, the People, the Place.” The Foundation’s 15-minute video is shown on a 10-ft. screen and takes viewers from the Vikings to the present. www.thelighthouse.co.uk
No trip to Glasgow is complete without visiting at least one area distillery. Glengoyne Distillery, situated at the spot where the highlands and lowlands meet, is widely regarded to be the most beautiful distillery. Glengoyne received the first license to distill whiskey in 1833 though the family had been in business for at least two generations prior to that and the laws for making Scottish whiskey were created here. Tours begin with a seven minute video and proceed through the distillery following the process. An optional experience is a class in which visitors can blend and bottle their own whiskey. www.glengoyne.com
Dining in Glasgow is a gastronomic adventure. Restaurants, serving international cuisine, are located inside both modern and historic buildings in every section of the city.
Ashton Lane, in the West End, is a tiny passageway that was once lined with tram horse stables. These stables are now a collection of restaurants. In the evenings it is lit up with hundreds of tiny lights. My favorite is Brel. This cozy establishment has great food, wonderful ambiance and an amazing selection of Belgian beers. www.brelbarrestaurant.com
Merchant City’s newest café and deli is the Central Market, named in honor of the markets of the 19th-century. Their menu is comprised of fresh, seasonal produce and visitors can purchase breads and other artisan products. The portions are large and everything is delicious. www.centralmarketglasgow.com
If you are in a rush there is no better choice than Martha’s Fast Natural Food. There is always a line but the all healthy menu is worth it. You can eat in or take out. www.mymarthas.co.uk
The Red Onion in the City Center is an absolute must. Scottish cuisine is served here with a wonderful twist created by renowned Chef John Quigley, personal chef of such stars as Tina Turner, Whitney Houston, Sir Paul McCartney, MC Hammer, Bryan Adams, etc. The restaurant is listed in the 2013 “Good Food Guide” and reservations are recommended. Everything on the menu is appetizing but I suggest you forget what you have heard and try the chef’s spin on the traditional Scottish haggis. www.red-onion.co.uk
The four-star Blythswood Hotel offers perfect, luxury, accommodations for a trip to Glasgow. The building was formerly the headquarters of the Royal Scottish Automobile Club and the Monte Carlo Rally began outside the building.
The hotel has 93 spacious guest rooms with designer linens and amenities, Spanish marble baths, and state-of-the-art technology. Guests can avail themselves of 24-hour concierge service, a luxury spa and wellness center, the restaurant and the Rally Bar. Full breakfast is served in the restaurant with Scottish, Continental and American selections. High Tea is served daily from 12PM to 5PM. www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare
In case you are still in need of a reason to experience Glasgow I suggest you check out their festivals, the Glasgow Jazz Festival (www.jazzfest.co.uk), Celtic Connections (www.celticconnections.com) and the World Piping Championships (www.theworlds.co.uk), among others.
All the information you need to begin planning is available online. www.seeglasgow.com
I wish you smooth travels!
Sunday March 10th is Family Day at the internationally renowned Philadelphia Flower Show and your final opportunity to explore 10-acres of garden displays, 180 shops and the Einstein PHS Kids Zone. www.theflowershow.com