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Window on Glasgow

Hey, big bird! Get away from my car!

Mention Glasgow and many people immediately think of shipbuilding, grim, grey tenements, and unmemorable food. 

However, in a recent trip, we discovered a different Glasgow - one with an artistic side, and more than a little playful humour as this street art shows (above) - and this (below).

The opportunity for a 'wee laugh' turns up in unexpected places such as this statue of the Duke of Wellington outside the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) which acquired its traffic cone 'hat' decades ago in a late-night student (aka drunken) prank.

Every time it was taken down, so that the Duke's dignity could be restored, the cone mysteriously reappeared. Finally it became a keeper, and is now a city landmark (an impromptu installation art exhibit, if you like) with its own postcards and memorabilia.

Don't take this gallery lightly, though. It is known for a thought-provoking program of exhibitions featuring cutting-edge contemporary work.

To see as much as possible in our short time in town we hopped on a bus. But not just any old bus. The City Sightseeing commentary was fun and informative and very quickly we could note the places we wanted to visit later, and spend more time. Sure, we could have hopped on and off as we went, but we had a tight timeframe and this was the fastest way for us to get an overview in around an hour and twenty minutes.

Glasgow is a grand old town.

In the early 19th century, Glasgow's population was more than Edinburgh's, (Greater Glasgow's population is now around two million) and by the end of the century it was known as the Second City of the Empire, due to its excellence in technology and production. At that time, it was responsible for producing more than half Britain's tonnage of shipping, and a quarter of all locomotives in the world.

Central Station was opened in 1879 and the locals often call this glass-walled bridge over Argyle Street, the Hielanman's Umbrella, or Highlandman's Umbrella because it once was an easily recognised landmark for country people visiting the city, and a good place to wait under shelter.

Whisky, the lifeblood of any Scot, in The Piper Bar. Could you get any more Scottish than this?

Some people think of Glasgow as comedian Billy Connelly's home town. Billy, though, has been quoted as wryly saying that 'when you come from Glasgow, everything else is a bonus'.

He may have had good reason for saying that, as when he was growing up here in the 1950s and 60s, this was a hardworking place. His home ground - pointed out to us by the guide on our city tour bus - was then a tough corner of an already rough and tumble town.

WATCH THIS VIDEO  to see for yourself....

So, what happened in the past 50 years? People happened, it seemed - hence this year's slogan writ large and pink in banners everywhere. People Make Glasgow.

There certainly are plenty of people, as the busy Buchanan Street shopping mall shows on a Saturday morning. Glasgow's shopping is said to be second only to London.

We asked a man in the street what he thought. 'What's it like to live in Glasgow?' He had been cycling down the footpath and was shackling his bike to a pole, and had no ready answer. Although he had moved here from somewhere else, he knew he loved this city, and for every angle we asked him, he had no specific answer. 'It's me home," was all he could tell us.

And perhaps that is answer enough.

It is a good city for cycling too, and these bikes, available for hire throughout the city make getting around easier.

Pubs have always been a gathering place for locals to sing, swap stories - and of course drink. Billy Connelly's earliest gigs in the late 1960s were riverside, in The Scotia Bar, near the St Enoch Shopping Centre now. A decade later Elvis Costello drew his fans close by, to The Clutha Bar

Just thirty years later, in 1990, Glasgow was named European Capital of Culture. Today the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall shares a building with a shopping centre, showing its mainstream integration into the community.

Another recent major event was the hosting of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, established in 1847 is also highly regarded and has a thousand students. It is ranked sixth best in the world for performing arts.

Catering to this evolution of culture in Glasgow, wine bars are springing up throughout town, particularly in the trendier areas such as Finnieston, west of Central Station.

Others prefer a more continental angle, like Sarti in Bath Street near the CBD.

As you would expect we were on coffee-alert and this place, sighted from the bus in West Nile Street on the edge of the shopping CBD, had us returning for an excellent double-shot flat white.

It seems this Aussie style of coffee has taken over the UK and we found it almost everywhere, and made properly too - not a quasi-latte. Only once did we see it explained on a menu as an 'alien latte'.

If you get a chance check out another good cafe strip around Byres Road in the north-west of the city.

And then there is fish and chips, of course, just as popular here as it is throughout the rest of Britain. How could you resist a shopfront like this?

However, there is competition, and this place just up the road had its selling point too.

To help you find your way around the city's eating spots, pick up a copy of the Glasgow Larder for good information on where to buy foodstuffs, where to eat, and the various food districts.

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We stayed in the 88-room Hampton by Hilton hotel which was walking distance from the Buchanan Street shops and many other landmarks and services. 

Our room had a good view over the western side of the city as it awoke on a misty summer morning.

A sensibly no-frills hotel, it is ideal for business traveller or families on a budget. And it had something I had not seen before or used in a hotel breakfast buffet. What a treat, to be able to make your own waffles!

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 There are many gracious reminders of Glasgow's past, too. This is the City Chambers, in George Square, with a cenotaph in front. 

Completed in 1888, this motto in mosaic at the entrance seems to have now come true.

More than 1.5 million tiles were laid by hand in the vaulted ceilings and domes. Nothing was spared in making this the most elegant building in town, a fitting symbol of the city's past dignity and future success. 

There are free guided, public tours of the Chambers on weekdays at 10.30 & 14.30, lasting 45 minutes. No booking is required

The Pavilion Theatre is worth visiting too. Begun as a Music Hall over a hundred years ago, it still operates as a family-style theatre with music, comedy and variety shows, and seats almost 1500.

Its ornate decor is described as 'pure Louis XV', featuring Rococo plasterwork across the proscenium arch and boxes, as well as terrazzo flooring, leadlight glazing and rich mahogany wood finishing. And, rumour has it there is a ghost who sometimes bounces around the stalls during a performance. Watch out for her!

Ventilation was initially ensured by an electrically-operated sliding roof panel above the auditorium. The facade was designed in the French Renaissance style and finished using glazed buff coloured terracotta. 

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But what about Glasgow's dining scene?

Read on. You'll soon find it is progressing light-years ahead of its  former reputation.

This is Finnieston, an area worth strolling through, day or evening, full of cafes, bars and restaurants. We dined at The Gannet, for 2017 once again awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand (an award to restaurants offering 'exceptional good food at moderate prices').

The restaurant is located in a Grade II listed 108-year-old former tenement building and the chefs make sure that all ingredients come from sustainable sources.

And if you think this might mean it is a bit too fancy for your style of dining, you should know that The Gannet bills its fare as 'fine dining without the faff' - meaning they let the food speak for itself without a lot of unnecessary fuss.

Take a look at the menu outside, and notice the raindrops. Yes, Glasgow's weather includes a fair amount of rain - but just imitate the locals. Take a coat and an umbrella and get on with whatever you were planning to do.

Delicate, and an ideal starter, these mouthfuls of sturgeon and onion mousse on a peppery nasturtium leaf and wafer thin cracker, are topped with a single petal.

There is a relaxed feel to The Gannet: corrugated iron on the bar front, dim lighting and a happy buzz that gives and energy to the surroundings without being too noisy.

There were several courses that night, but this crisp rabbit confit and seared loin with carrot, radish and a piccililli emulsion, should have your mouth watering enough to encourage you to plan a meal here on your visit to Glasgow. The rabbit was rich and meltingly tender inside its crust, and the accompaniments gave texture and a little bite.

Other carefully selected ingredients include 'stalked' venison (as opposed to farmed) from the island of Arran, and rare breed pork and duck eggs. The Gannet won the coveted AA Scottish Restaurant of the Year award for 2015/16.

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Next day....

One of the main reasons we had come to Glasgow at this time of year was because we wanted to visit this annual food festival that has gathered quite a reputation over the last couple of years that it has been running.

We spoke to key organiser, chef Colin Clydesdale, about it and on the video (below) you can watch him explain the unique concept and how it has become so successful.

WATCH THIS INTERVIEW to understand the background to this great annual food event......

Ubiquitous Chip was begun by Colin Clydesdale's father in Glasgow's West End over forty years ago and is still family-owned and run. It has always featured a melting pot of ideas and people.

Stravaigin, also owned by Chef Colin Clydesdale (see video above) has received a Michelin Bib Gourmand every year since 2012, and yet again for 2017. Since its opening in 1994, Stravaigin has strived to encourage and promote culinary curiosity. In the downstairs restaurant you will find an Exotically Scottish menu that meanders the world exploring different cuisines, whilst remaining true to Scottish produce. 

 

Another supporter of Let's Eat Glasgow is Ox & Finch which also received the honour of Bib Gourmand for 2017. This just shows the calibre of chef and restaurant that gives time and effort to make this event such a success. They are 'the good guys' as Chef Clydesdale calls them in his video interview (above).

Let's Eat is held at SWG3 next to a railway overpass. It's an urban environment, but at the entrance, suddenly it turns rural, becoming temporarily all about produce and provenance. 

A dozen or more restaurant stalls are set out around an open space. They represent some of the cream of Glaswegian restaurants and chefs. 

Long tables set up in the centre allow many people to be seated, but the popularity of this one-weekend event is so high that many wander between the 'restaurants' with their plates.

Payment is by £2.50 tokens, bought at the gate, and meals start from a very reasonable £5 each. I can personally vouch for the porchetta bap here as being excellent. This fusion of ethnic dishes, local produce and heritage recipes is one of the hallmarks of this event.

And as you can see, it's a wonderful family-friendly event.

Again, from this menu the effect recent decades of migration has had on Scotland is obvious, and underlines the richness it has added to even mainstream Scottish food outlets.

All drinks are sold at the bar-tent to one side of the enclosure, representing a variety of local brewers, as well as non-alcoholic drinks.

What's more, preserving the environment is another key factor in the catering. Note the sign on the cup.

Across a laneway, we encounter the adjoining Slow Food markets, a separate yet compatible addition to Let's Eat. Most visitors to the festival could not resist visiting the many stalls, buying goodies to take home for dinner, and of course sampling the many tastes on offer.

If only the internet had a way of transmitting aromas as well as pictures! Just look at the steam rising from this roast lamb, and those juices! It made our mouths water. Shellfield Farm prides itself on the fine Argyll salt marsh and hill farm lambs it raises.

What more appropriate food to sell at a Scottish food stall than these? Of course all the ingredients are the best and purest conforming to Slow Food standards.

A key reason for displays such as this is that children can learn just how some foods are made - in this case by thousands of tiny willing workers. Not all visitors realise, either, that beeswax candles are a by-product of delicious honey.

Sustainability is an important part of the ethos of Slow Food, and community farms and gardens are as vital for growers as they are for people who buy their products. 

This heeland koo (Highland cow) had come for the day as well. He seems content with a bundle of hay, and the admiration of every child (and many adults) who passed. That tether is just a loose loop to keep him safely in his trailer if he should startle from too much attention or a loud noise.

 

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For some reason the Scots have a reputation for being dour. Certainly some of their history has been tough and the climate can be bleak at times, but spend time with locals and you'll soon realise they like a joke - and a good drink - as much as anyone else.

There are surprising artistic flourishes to find all over the city. Like this car-park, which has been jazzed up with iron sculptures....

...or massive creations like the futuristic SECC (Scottish Exhibiton and Conference Centre) nicknamed the Armadillo, for obvious reasons. Susan Boyle auditioned here for her inclusion on Britain's Got Talent.

The West End is just a 20-minute walk from the city centre. It is a cosmopolitan area with a significant highlander population, a Sikh temple, and a school where Gallic is taught. FYI Gallic (pronounced like garlic)is the Scottish native tongue. Gaelic is Irish, we were firmly told by our bus commentator. There are pubs in the area, too, where songs are sung in Gallic, and it is spoken by the locals.

Top marks if you know what the round red-brick building on the left of the picture (above) is. It is one of two Rotundas - one on each side of the Clyde – which marked the entry via a lift to a tunnel under the Clyde. The tunnel had been built between 1890 and 1896, and it allowed people to pass through quickly with their goods, without waiting for barges to transport them. It was closed in 1980. Read more....

Or of course these landmarks are on the City Sightseeing route as well.

The Clyde Arc in Finnieston, is the proper name for this bridge over the Clyde, but the locals call it Squinty Bridge. An engineering beauty by day, and stunning when seen at night.

Just a little further along is the Riverside Museum, with something for everyone. It was named European Museum of the Year in 2013. Children obviously love the variety of transport exhibits as well as those honouring the rich industrial heritage of the Clyde area.

Bicycles and cars at roof level, buses on the floor, and.....

..berthed on the river at the back of the museum, the Glenlee, a beautifully rigged tall ship that you can explore. 

Built in 1896, she has circumnavigated the globe four times. Read more....

Here you can see the ship reflected in the tall windows at the riverside end of the museum.

Glasgow offers so much to visitors. Glasgow Universityseen here in the distance, is the fourth-oldest university in the English-speaking world. Beneath it the neo-Gothic cloisters are a must-visit.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum has been ranked among the top 15 most-visited museums in the world, with 22 themed state of the art galleries and 8000 objects.

Turn a corner in Glasgow, and you will find even more art - of a different kind. While trying to catch a glimpse of the Tour of Britain bike race passing through the city on our last morning, we came across this stunning embellishment of an otherwise very ordinary commercial street.

Glasgow has a vibrant art scene. There are festivals, exhibitions, galleries, art walks and trails - and of course plenty of high-calibre street art, as you can see.

Around the next corner we found heritage St Andrews cathedral dating from 1816. Overlooking the river, it is reflected in an adjoining modern glass structure. 

Inside, provides a quiet retreat from the city traffic outside.

Back to the street, finally to be on our way leaving lovely Glasgow behind, and we discover a kitten playing chicken with parked cars! The perfect send-off, it seems. A smile to-go - and dozens of happy memories to keep.

Ah, Glasgow! Billy Connelly was only half right. There are plenty of bonuses - but they are right here, in this great old town.

More information.....

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Words and photos: ©Sally Hammond

Video: ©Gordon Hammond

Sally & Gordon Hammond visited Glasgow with assistance from Glasgow City Market Bureau.

 
 

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