Monday, August 19, 2013

Two Days in Glasgow, Scotland

We had a great night sleep but still woke up early.  Our flight to Glasgow isn't until 10:00 am so we can relax a little this morning. Our room was so quiet last night you would never know you were at an airport, much less Heathrow.

View from our room
I took a peak out the window and realized we looked into an interior courtyard and not directly at the airport tarmac. No wonder it was so quiet!

It was great taking the day flight from Boston and arriving on the same day in the UK. I definitely recommend doing that if you can. The flying time was about 6 hours, we arrived around 7:25 pm, had dinner, went to bed and woke up refreshed with no jet lag whatsoever.

Since we were not in a hurry I decided to take a very nice long steamy shower. Afterward I let my hair air dry as I tried to configure my new Samsung Camcorder. I will be using it for the first time on this trip. I could have done the practical thing and set it up at home. However I kept finding excuses not to do it! No more procrastinating now or I won't have any videos to speak of. I did download the user guide to my iPad for easy reference. I flipped through the pages and after much trial and error I was finally able to set the date and time. I then inserted the memory card and formatted it. My mother was getting really annoyed at all the beeping noises the device was making so I abruptly had to stop and put it away.

I read that the breakfast at the Sofitel is very nice but it is also on the expensive side.  We decided to get something in the terminal instead. It was soon time to get our things together and checkout. It is one elevator down to reception followed by passing through the 4 corridors and then another elevator up one level to get to the terminal. It is still more convenient than taking a shuttle bus or having to change terminals. The Sofitel was wonderful and I would definitely stay there again but next time I will book directly with the hotel just in case they lose the reservation.

Once inside the terminal we found the area for the passport check. The automated barcode scanner for the boarding pass is pretty cool. Once you scan your boarding pass a green light flashes and the gate opens. At security everything had to be screened in a large plastic trays including the carry on luggage. There was hardly any line. This time Heathrow security was painless compared to last December when we flew to Shanghai and had to empty our bags entirely.  This time they hardly looked at anything and it only took 10 minutes.

Heathrow T5
The gate for Glasgow wasn't posted yet on the monitor so we decided to find a place to eat. We considered a couple different ones before sitting down at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant. However, the sun was shining so brightly through the huge floor to ceiling windows that it was blinding. There was no way to look up without having the glaring sun in your eyes. We left and ended up at Wagamama which faced differently. At Wagamama they take your order on a handheld device and scribble the order on your placemat.

I ordered peppermint tea and my mother had a latte which she said was delicious. The food took at least 25 minutes to prepare but was worth the wait.

Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake with shrimp, fish flakes and a savory sauce)
I had Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) and my mother had a egg white omelet. One of the fun things about eating Okonomiyaki is that you usually prepare it on a grill in front of you adding what you like, but that is not possible here. It was still really good!

Wagamama Egg White Omelet
Both of our meals were yummy. When we were done we still had plenty of time before our flight so I looked in the shops at overpriced expensive designerwear while mother rested in one of the lounge areas.

I went over to look at the monitor again and it said our gate would post at 9:30 am but it was taking longer than that. Finally the gate was listed and we were actually very close to Concourse A where our flight would depart from. It was only about a 7 minute walk.

Waiting at our gate for the flight to Glasgow
We are flying British Airways to Glasgow on an older Airbus 319. It is only an hour flight so I don't expect any inflight entertainment. The configuration is 3-3 and we again have the window and aisle. When I checked in last night there was no one sitting in between us. However, you don't have to pay for your seat on BA if you check in within 24 hours of departure. There is still a good chance we will have the row to ourselves.

Boarding commenced and we found our way to row 7. This was indeed an older looking plane and it had seen better days. There was plenty of leg room though. Just when I thought I could stretch out a bit, a woman made her way to our row and indicated she had the middle seat. The plane was completely full. There were lots of business people as many of them were dressed in suits.

We took off to hazy skies and climbed through the clouds. I looked out the window for a while until I couldn't see anymore and then decided to work on the settings for the Camcorder again.  I finally figured out that I was pressing the buttons instead of moving them from the outside edge.  After some more beeping I had the camcorder set for anti-shake and daytime landscape mode, or at least I hoped so!

Over Scotland
Time passed pretty quickly and we were soon descending toward Glasgow. We will be spending 2 nights there before going to Dover to board the Ocean Princess. If the cruise was longer than 8 days I would have boarded when the ship was berthed in Edinburgh the next day immediately after embarkation. Since we want to see as much of Scotland as possible we decided to visit Glasgow and the Scottish countryside prior to the cruise.

It took a surprising amount of time to exit the airport as we needed to take several different escalators and/or elevators. We grabbed a taxi for the 17 minute drive to downtown.  It was overcast and rain looked very likely for our walking tour of Glasgow. We were soon in the city center and arrived at the Indigo Hotel. I have never stayed at an Indigo Hotel before but they were rated #1 on Tripadvisor for Glasgow. Upon entering the hotel it looked a little more institutional than the photos on the their website. However, it was still suitable and the rate was reasonable. We were told that even though it was early our room was ready. We took the elevator to the third floor and found our room.directly across from the cavernous linen supply room. This room  stored soap, towels, robes, sundries. As the door was wide open we wondered if we should help ourselves?

Our room is an Executive Twin with two beds. The room is decorated in blues and greens with a desk and chair. I liked the wood floor but I was not sure what about it made it "executive". The room is actually much smaller than it appears in the photos on the website.

Executive Twin Room

The beds looked pretty comfortable and the bathroom was modern with a glass shower.

Twin Beds

Modern Bath
Glass Shower
On the plus side the hotel has free wifi and the breakfast is very reasonably priced. We have a very full day ahead so after using the facilities and getting our umbrellas and rain gear together we went downstairs to get a map. The reception provided excellent directions to Buchanan Street which is the main pedestrian shopping area in Glasgow. We planned to shop for about 45 minutes before heading to a historic house and a museum in the countryside. On the way back we planned to make a short stop at Glasgow University and then end the day with a pre-booked tour of the Glasgow School of Art. Our day was pretty jam packed.

As we exited the hotel it was drizzling but not drenching. My mother used her umbrella but I just put up the hood on my jacket. It was about a 10 minute walk to Buchanan Street. Along the way we passed the Central train station as well as some more modern buildings. The city is a nice combination of traditional and contemporary styles.

Glasgow, Scotland
Glasgow, Scotland
Glasgow is a former industrial city that at its zenith had a population of over 1 million people. From the 18th century it grew as one of the Great Britain's main hubs of transatlantic trade with North America. It soon became one of the world's pre-eminent centers of shipbuilding, chemicals, textiles and engineering. The city fell on hard times during the 20th century with the post World War 1 recession and later the Great Depression. Glasgow entered into a period of rapid economic decline leading to high unemployment and urban decay.

In the 1990's Glasgow started on an economic revival effort. With the addition of diversified businesses from insurance, banking, biosciences, healthcare to financial services, the city's former affluence has returned.

Glasgow is now the UK's second largest and most economically important retail sector after central London. There are 4 universities and the city is identified as an art and design center. Many of the red sandstone Georgian buildings were restored and you have to keep reminding yourself to look up to admire the fabulous architecture.

Buchanan Street in the rain
We arrived at Buchanan Street and it was indeed a shopper paradise. The buildings are quite beautiful and due to the absence of cars the whole area is easily walkable. We limited our time to window shopping but did pop into a few places to take a closer look.

Lots of shopping and beautiful flowers
We went inside Princes Square (a high end shopping mall) and the Argyll Arcade.

Argyll Arcade
The Argyll Arcade is one of Europe's oldest covered shopping arcades and Scotland's first indoor shopping mall. It was built in 1827 in the Parisian style. The arcade is known for its large collection of diamond jewelry and watches.

Interior Argyll Arcade
We looked in the windows at the diamonds and expensive watches and them moved on.

Princess Square is a beautiful building from the outside and has many retails shops and lots of restaurants. The inside though wasn't that appealing.

Princess Square
We walked along Buchanan Street in both directions and then took a turn down one of the side streets near the Modern Art Gallery in Royal Exchange Square.

Near Merchant City and the Modern Art Gallery
We spotted the Duke of Wellington statue.with the traffic cone. It was explained to us later that the city used to remove the cone only to have it return within 48 hours so they stopped doing it. The people of Glasgow think the cone on the statue shows their humorous side.

Duke of Wellington Statue
We walked a bit more before deciding it was time to depart to our next venue. With our retail therapy accomplished we started looking for a taxi to take us to Pollok Park which is about  a 15 minute drive on the outskirts of town. It didn't take long to spot a bright blue taxi.

Glasgow in the rain
The drive was very pleasant and your were now clearly in the countryside. Pollok Park also contains Pollok House and the Burrell Collection. The park has 3 Clydesdale horses in the stables which would be great to see if we have extra time.

Pollok House
Pollok House
Pollok House was built in 1752 and is the ancestral home of the Maxwell family. It was designed by renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam and gifted to the city of Glasgow in 1966. The house may be best known for its large collection of Spanish art with paintings by El Greco, Francisco Goya and Bartholome Murillo. There is also on display a collection of silverware, porcelain and antique furniture. Pollok House is managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

Once inside I realized this was only going to take about 20 minutes as the area accessible for viewing was tiny. The man selling the tickets (8 pounds ea) took a fancy to my mother and wanted to make sure she enjoyed her visit. He pointed out what she should see and said not to miss the servants area downstairs.

From the foyer area you can go one flight up to see the rooms. The house is nice and it depicts what living here was like in the 1930's. There is however not much to see. The Maxwell family still uses part of the house so perhaps if the entire structure was accessible that would make it more worthwhile.

The rooms we saw including the dining room, music room and library, did have some beautiful art and lovely antique furnishings.

Interior Pollok House

The furniture and paintings are original to the house.

Pollok House Paintings
After walking in the 4-5 rooms we could visit we headed to the basement and servants area. This area was reminiscent of the servants area in the Newport mansions where the staff worked and slept. The original kitchen for the house is now an adorable restaurant with little wood tables with blue and white tablecloths and copper pans on the wall. We thought about having a tea break but neither of us were hungry.

While I was using the restroom I was told the ticket man suddenly appeared and showed my mother the photo on the wall with the 200+ staff who ran the house in the early 1900's. This guy really likes my mother!

Pollok House Staff 1905
It is amazing so many servants were required to run the house properly. Our tour complete, we exited through the back and walked around the garden which is typically English.

Pollok House Garden
The grounds were lovely and the sun was now shining through the dispersed clouds. It was going to be a nice day after all.

Pollok House from the rear
We asked for directions to the Burrell Collection which is just up the road and were told it is only a 10 minute walk . The meadows and fields with the cows were lovely. It was a very nice relaxing walk but closer to 20 minutes since my mother is a bit slower.

Pollok Park walk to the Burrell Collection
Cows resting
We passed a couple of ladies walking in the opposite direction and were told it was only another 2-3 more minutes until we reached our destination.

The Burrell Collection buildings looks similar to a modern farmhouse. It is very understated but they have an impressive assortment of paintings and artifacts.

The Burrell Collection
The Burrell Collection comprises over 8000 objects. Sir William Burrell spent many years amassing his collection as a shipbuilding magnate. He gifted his collection to Glasgow in 1944 on the condition that the items be housed in a building 16 miles from Glasgow (due to air pollution) and not be loaned to other institutions. However, it took until 1967 to find a suitable site in Pollok Park which is 3 miles from the city center. The museum was opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1983.

Burrell Collection
They have been having a lot of structural problems with the building lately and will be closing at some point for repairs that will take 2 years. They seem a bit embarrassed about the poor condition of the building. However, walking around it the building appears just fine.

The sign explains problems with leaks 
The museum's items are quite impressive. They even have 3 rooms reconstructed from Burrell's home, Hutton Castle near Berwick-on-Tweed. You can see the dining room, drawing room and hall complete with their furnishings. It was fun to walk though this section.

They don't allow photos which is a shame since the museum is so interesting and very open with large windows. Burrell achieved quite an eclectic art collection including stained glass, tapestries, oak furniture, medieval weapons, armor, Islamic art, Chinese porcelain and Impressionist paintings with about 20 by Degas. I took one photo of the stained glass near the entrance. There are more than 700 of these panels from various periods in the collection.

Stained glass near the entrance
We spent a good 90 minutes in the museum taking in the artifacts. We enjoyed the special Impressionist exhibition too. When were about ready to leave I asked how to get a taxi and a man pointed across the way to the phone hanging on the wall. He said you just pick it up and it is directly connected to the taxi company and you don't dial anything. How ingenious! I went over to the phone and picked it up. A recording said to press 1 if you want a taxi now. I did that and a message said "you are number 27 and your taxi will arrive in 5 minutes". Amazing!

We went outside and tried to figure out the correct place to wait for the taxi. There is a sitting area right outside but then second sitting area across the road. We went closer to the road and this turned out to be the right spot. While we waited for the taxi I was watching a bird that also seemed to be keeping a close eye on me as well.

Pretty birdy
Our London style black cab soon arrived and we asked him to take us to Glasgow University. I was hoping to see Bute Hall. This is a beautiful room where student exams take place. It is not always open though.

Glasgow University
At the entrance to the university the taxi driver asked directions to Bute Hall and we preceded heading west. The university is on a hill and the view is gorgeous. Glasgow University is the 4th oldest university in the world after Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard.

Glasgow University

Entrance to the Cloisters and Bute Hall
We found the building for Bute Hall and our taxi driver waited as we walked inside. We entered from the Cloisters below.

Cloisters Glasgow University
As we walked inside I asked a smartly dressed man with an umbrella how to get to Bute Hall. He wasn't sure it was open but was very eager to help. So eager that we quickly climbed a two level beautiful blue and gold carpeted brass staircase to find the doors at the top locked! He wasn't giving up though! He had another plan to approach the room from the other end. As we were walking back down the staircase and then across the way to go up the other side I asked him if he is a professor. He said he used to teach physics but now he is a senior administrator for the university. I told him I was very grateful he was willing to help us. He said Glasgow University is his alma mater and it is no trouble at all. I later looked online and this gentleman is just one level below the president of the University!

We arrived at the other end to find it not only locked but barricaded with scaffolding. They were apparently doing renovations. You could peak in a bit but I couldn't make out much.

Outside Bute Hall
We then traded stories of visiting famous places that we couldn't see due to scaffolding. He regaled us with his visit to Barcelona in 2004 and trying to see the Sagrada Familia which at the time was completely covered and you couldn't see a thing. I told him it was a running theme with me from last spring when we couldn't see some structures in Bilbao, San Sebastian and Deauville.

I felt like at least we made the effort and met a very nice person at the university so all was not lost. Our taxi driver had no problem waiting for us. We explained why our visit took longer than expected and then I snapped a few photos of the exterior of the Kelvingrove Museum before we were on our way to the Glasgow School of Art.

Our taxi and the Kelvingrove Museum in the background

Kelvingrove Museum

It was only a short drive to reach the Glasgow School of Art on Renfrew Street.

The Glasgow School of Art
The Glasgow School of Art is Scotland's only independent art school offering university programs in architecture, fine art and design. In 1897 work started on the current building. The first half of the building was completed in 1899 and the second half in 1909.

The school has produced most of Scotland's contemporary artists, including since 2005, 29% of Turner Prize nominees and three recent Turner Prize winners.

Glasgow School of Art Entrance
The school is located on one of the city's famous hills. Why they decided to build it in such a challenging area is a mystery.

Rear of the building sloping down the hill
Our tour which I booked online was not until 5:00 pm but as it was only 3:30 pm I asked if we could take the one at 4:00 pm instead. They said that was fine and we waited in the gift shop where all the tours begin. While we waited we admired some of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish trained architect and was only 19 years old when he was chosen to design the new building for the Glasgow School of Art. He was born in Glasgow in 1868.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Mackintosh became best known for his blending of Art Nouveau with the simplicity of Japanese design. His style was a contrast of strong right angles and decorative floral motifs. In addition to architecture he also became interested with the furnishings for the buildings he designed. This was similar to his contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright. Mackintosh's greatest accomplishment was the Glasgow School of Art. In later life he became disillusioned with architecture and spent time in the Mediterranean as a watercolorist.

Glasgow School of Art (Mackintosh building)
It was not long before the tour began. There were about 25 people on the tour with a surprising majority of young men in their 20's. I think my mother was the oldest person in the group. There are about 200 stairs in total on the tour but I didn't share that info with my mother in advance for fear she would decline to participate.

GSA shop
Callum our tall and lanky tour leader is also a student at the school. He is very proud of it and is a great admirer of Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

The tour started off slowly with some facts about the building and how it was constructed. It quickly became apparent how amazing and unconventional the design was at that time. Callum discussed how Mackintosh married styles from art nouveau and Japanese aesthetics. He had never been to Japan but was fascinated with light and dark contrasts and incorporated those elements into his design. Part of the building looks like a Zen Buddhist temple while other parts are classical art nouveau.

Since this is a working school with artists no photos are allowed. However I was disappointed that no photos are available for purchase in the gift shop. That doesn't make sense to me. I noticed a couple of guys sneaking photos and I tried to do the same but the setting on my camera was messed up and I was unsuccessful. Because our group was so big there were several opportunities to take photos even if you weren't allowed to do so. In  the areas to sneak the photos there were absolutely no people or studios so I didn't see the point of banning all photos.

Interior GSA
My favorite part of the building was the walkway between the two galleries. I found a photo online of this area. You cannot tell in the photo but the windows are different sizes and hang over the side of the building. The archway is really interesting too.

GSA Walkway (courtesy of online photo)
The highlight of the tour is supposed to be the library. However, they have covered all the windows from the inside to work on them and the room doesn't have the same "Wow" factor. It was still worthwhile seeing though. Callum had tons of interesting information and was very enthusiastic. My mother and I really enjoyed the tour!

Glasgow School of Art from the front
By now we were getting tired from a long day and decided to head out early to the restaurant I booked for dinner. The restaurant, Two Fat Ladies at the Buttery, (love the name!) is sort of on the edge of town near Argyle Street.

When we arrived at 5:20 pm there were only 2 other tables seated. They had an early bird menu but we both ordered from the regular menu. We started with two well deserved glasses of wine (Merlot for mother and Rose for me). The rose wine is the smaller glass and was really dark!

Our wine
The restaurant is very cozy with pillows and upholstered banquets. The gentleman who took our order actually sat down next to us to write it down. He was quite distinguished and probably in his late 50's. He was very helpful in his suggestions from the menu.

Cozy Restaurant

Decoration behind our table

Pillows and bench cushion seating
Our starters arrived within about 10 minutes. My mother had the scallops and I had the baked brie with 3 different kinds of potatoes.

She said the scallops were very good. My brie was okay but nothing to write home about. The purple potatoes are what intrigued me!

Baked Brie with potatoes
The restaurant was very relaxing and the service was excellent. My mother ordered a second glass of wine. However, I was already starting to feel a bit sleepy!

The main courses arrived and were wonderful. My mother had the fish and I had the Chili Lime Prawns with mango pineapple salsa.

Sea Bass with Cherry Tomato and Mint Yogurt

Chili Lime Prawns
The restaurant had a few more diners by now but the room was still pretty quiet. Perhaps Monday nights are slow.

We weren't that hungry for dessert so we decided to share one. We ordered the homemade Brandy Basket with Trio of Ice Creams and Fruit Coulis. It was scrumptious!

Brandy Basket with Trio of Ice Cream
After our wonderful meal a taxi took us back to the Indigo Hotel. My mother watched TV but I immediately went to bed. Tomorrow we will have a tour of Loch Lomond and the Scottish countryside. I can't wait!

No comments:

Post a Comment