By Carol Sorgen
Glasgow, often referred to as the less attractive but more interesting little sister to its big sis, the glitzier Edinburgh, is well worth more than a whirlwind 36 hours, but due to an overseas flight with a connection in Heathrow (do try to avoid that if possible!), resulting in a late-afternoon arrival in this once-gritty, industrial city, a little more than a full day was all we had. So, take a deep breath, and follow along as we dash through Glasgow—with hopes of a longer stay in the future.
As an architecture and design writer, I’ve always been intrigued by the city’s renown as the home of famed architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (who lived from 1868-1928), as well as its transformation from a shipbuilding center to a vibrant, youthful city where old and new coexist seamlessly. Pay attention on the ride into town from the Glasgow Airport and you’ll see what I mean.
First order of business: Checking in at our digs for our two nights at the ever-so-posh but still relaxed Blythswood Square Hotel. Blythswood Square itself was laid out between 1821 and 1823 and consists of four identical classical terraces facing a central garden. In 1910 The Royal Scottish Automobile Club bought up the row of houses on the eastern side of the square and had it remodeled as the club headquarters. The property was sold in 2002 and in 2009 Blythswood Square Hotel, part of The Town House Collection, was opened.
As with Glasgow itself, the hotel is a blend of old and new—from the classical exterior façade and elegant lobby to the contemporary bedrooms with all the “mod cons” you can ask for. There’s a spa with a “thermal experience” (ranging from saunas to whirlpools and more) that is free to guests from 7-9 am and 6-9 pm (if you happen to enter the elevator during those times and find yourself amidst a group of people garbed in white robes and slippers, just act like you’re the one that’s dressed inappropriately…because you are!). And the high-ceilinged dining room serves as a popular spot for both breakfast and dinner (there is no shortage of smoked salmon in Scotland, so if you’re a devotee, as I am, eat your fill!).
After a short rest to prop open our bleary eyes, we asked the concierge for a dinner recommendation and he pointed us to the nearby Two Fat Ladies, just down the street from the hotel. One of several locations in the city, this restaurant is known for its local fish and seafood and it did not disappoint. (My seared scallops were delicious, but don’t turn down the desserts either; in this case, chocolate pave with caramel and salted cream!)
It was then off to bed in order to deal with jet lag so we could pack a lot into our one full day. After a hearty breakfast buffet, we walked down to the city center and caught one of the city sightseeing buses (as a rule, I’m not a fan of sightseeing tours, preferring to explore on my own, but when time is limited, this is a great way to get an overview of a new town); if you can, choose a tour that has a live guide instead of an audiotape as you’ll get a much more personal tour and details that aren’t always on the tape.
After a ride that took us past the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis, the People’s Palace, the Riverside Museum (for transportation buffs), the Botanic Gardens, the West End, and the University of Glasgow, we got off at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the most visited collection in Scotland, with 8,000+ works of art and artifacts. We were lucky enough to stumble into the 1 p.m. organ recital in the main hall, which is well worth a stop and a listen, and then I headed straight for the Charles Rennie Mackintosh exhibit, which included “Miss Cranston’s Tearoom.” Between 1920 and 1921 Mackintosh was the designer for Catherine Cranston’s tearoom empire and this display is a treat, highlighting both his talent and the social scene of the day. Tearooms are still popular in Scotland, and other Mackintosh-designed tearooms, The Willow, are still open for business.
A quick stop in the gift shop (I confess to being a museum shop junkie) and lunch in the Kelvingrove Café (surprisingly good and inexpensive), and it was time to hop back on the sightseeing bus which was due to stop in front of the Museum. Only…it didn’t. We waited an hour, and finally, with the day getting away from us, we hailed a taxi, hoping to visit the Glasgow School of Art to see the most famous of the Mackintosh-designed buildings, only to be told by the taxi driver that there had been a fire the year before with significant damage (the school itself is still open but located in a contemporary building across the street). So, change of plans!
It was off to Buchanan Street, a pedestrian-only boulevard lined with shops, shoppers, and gawkers. For a classic example of, well, classicism and modernity, check out the Apple store. Yes, we have Apple stores here (well, there are Apple stores everywhere, I know), but this is the only one I’ve seen where you can browse the latest technology in a stone-walled, centuries-old building.
A browse through Buchanan Street, and a stop in my favorite UK bookstore, Waterstone’s, and it was back to the hotel where the concierge’s dinner recommendation was Fratelli Sarti, just a short walk from the hotel. One of three locations in the city, Fratelli’s is a popular, authentic Italian bistro. The food was delicious—I had seafood risotto and my friend osso bucco—and once again, dessert to swoon over—vanilla gelato with homemade Scottish tablet (a fudge-like Scottish candy) and caramel. Only quibble here—the service was interminably slow (I think there was actually a glitch with our order as other diners seemed to be getting their meals more quickly, but we could never even catch the waiter’s eye to ask what the problem was). Still, when it came, we had no complaints whatsoever about the food.
Unfortunately, by the time we finished dinner, it was back to the hotel because it was off to rent a car the next morning for our next stop–Perth. There is a lot more I’d like to see and do in Glasgow but it will have to wait for another trip. Still, if you only have a day, lace up your most comfy shoes and head out the door…the city is well worth whatever time you have.
If you go…
Blythswood Square Hotel, http://www.townhousecompany.com/blythswoodsquare/
Two Fat Ladies, http://twofatladiesrestaurant.com/
Fratelli Sarti, http://fratelli-sarti.co.uk/
City Sightseeing Tours, http://citysightseeingglasgow.co.uk/
Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum http://www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/kelvingrove/Pages/default.aspx