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Palate cleanser: Glasgow
The Scottish are known for a few things: their witty storytelling, their fantastic rolling landscapes and their ability to make delicious haggis out of actual tripe. To me, the landscape is so appealing I caught myself thinking "If one were to live in or even visit beautiful, green Scotland, why on Earth would they want to be in a city?" Glasgow answers that question with Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
If scenery is your thing, you will never be disappointed with Glasgow. The Charles Rennie Mackintosh stamp is all over the place, both authentic and imitated, from churches to tea rooms. Add to that the River Clyde and museums like The Kelvingrove featuring some of Europe's finest art, and you'll find your need for beauty well-nourished. For big CRM fans (like me), you can actually take a tour of the Glasgow School of Art (below), which he attended and then designed -- his simple, elegant design featuring progressively growing wrought iron plants along the windows (swon him his alma mater's new building commission in 1896.
Another must-see is the mysterious Queen's Cross Church in Maryhill, Glasgow, which is a bit of a walk from the train but definitely rewarding. The church now serves as the headquarters of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. See the gallery for pictures.
When you're done with your sight-seeing and ready for a bite to eat, a couple places I'd recommend include:
The nightlife in Scotland can be a little ... intense. The Brits are famous for their clubbing tendencies, and gritty Glasgow is no exception. You'll find scantily, impossibly clad women young and old on the streets with men in shirts and jeans until well into the wee hours. Some of the bars and clubs are nice, one is called Nice n Sleazy. Good luck with that. Most of the best places are a little ways off the main drags like Buchanan Street, where all the mainstream shops are. One place I happen to like is a little champagne bar (and ristoranto) called Mediterraneo over on Ingram Street, and my very favorite bar in the entire world is Blue Dog at 151 West George Street (below). I'm not being hyperbolic; I visited Blue Dog for the first time the year it opened (at age 22) and decided it was the best bar I'd ever been to. I just went back, and not only was I proud of my 22-year-old taste, but the entire pack of journalists I was with loved it, too. It's loungey, with amazing cocktails and a singer/piano player hammering out Van Halen and Radiohead. The bartenders take unheard of amounts of time with each drink, making sure every one is perfect, so be patient -- and be sure to try some of the Saffron Gin.
Glasgow is really easy to get around by subway, and the rates aren't tricky like they are in London. Cabs are not hard to come by if you'd rather not go underground. If you're looking for a rock-bottom hotel price, consider the Euro Hostel, which I stayed in as a youngin' and totally survived. If you're a little older, I can safely recommend the ABode Hotel -- no frills, but the prices are decent and the rooms are clean and comfortable and have internet. I hear that the place to go if you've got the cash is the 5-star One Devonshire Gardens in the heart of the fashionable West End -- they have a spa, a gym, private walled gardens and award-winning food.
Whether you're heading to Glasgow for one of the many music festivals, to see the art, or are just looking for an Edinburgh alternative or a place to fly into on your pilgrimage to Loch Ness, it doesn't take much time to walk around and fall in love with Glasgow's gothic, yet easygoing charm. Be sure and chat up your bartenders and other locals you meet; you'll hear hilarious tales you'd never hear outside of Scotland.
This trip was paid for by VisitBritain, but the ideas and opinions expressed in the article above are 100% my own.