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Smooth Traveler:

Glasgow, Scotland, Experience the Spirit

By Ren�e S. Gordon

An old Scottish proverb states, "Twelve highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion." While this is not entirely accurate it is a huge indication of the character of the people. Their independence has shaped their character and pride in their shared culture, history and institutions, is visible everywhere and it is all laced with an ability to embrace life and laugh at it all. Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, is the ideal place to learn about and experience the real Scotland in all its manifestations.

Glascow's skyline
Glasgow ‘s origins are entwined with the life of St. Kertigern.  Legend has it that he was given to the monastery of St. Serf in Culross, to receive religious instruction for the priesthood, where he was known as Mungo or "dear friend." Upon completion of his training, around 550, he set out for the home of Fergus, a holy man who lived in Kernach. Fergus died on the night he arrived and Mungo placed his body in an ox-cart planning to bury him where the oxen stopped at a place ordained by God. The animals stopped at Cathures on the Molendinar Burn, a stream in central Scotland. Mungo buried Fergus in the "beloved green place," "Glasgu," and established a wooden church on the spot. He died in on January 13, 603, was canonized and made the patron saint of the city. His four miracles are depicted on Glasgow's coat of arms and on signposts throughout the city.

The centerpieces of Glasgow history are located in the Cathedral Square area. A stone church replaced the wooden structure in 1132 and was consecrated in 1136. A fire necessitated another reconstruction and consecration 61-years later. This church serves as the foundation of the current Gothic Glasgow Cathedral. In the 13th-century the upper and lower choirs were added as well as a tower in the 1400s. In the 1600s men came to destroy the church and citizens belonging to the 14 trade guilds rallied to save it. The cathedral is 285-ft long, 63-ft wide, and 105-ft high and is the only mainland Scottish medieval cathedral to remain after the 1560 Protestant Reformation. Tours of the interior can be self-guided but it is best to obtain a guide because there are many nooks and crannies that you will otherwise miss.

Begin in the vaulted lower church beneath the choir. St. Mungo's tomb is here, covered with a drape crafted from 2,400 pieces of silk. Located on the right side of the church are the former pilgrimage entrance and St. Mungo's Well. Pilgrim's arrived here in huge numbers because a visit to Glasgow Cathedral was equal to one to Rome. A series of chapels are dedicated to various individuals and of particular note are the embroidered chairs in the Nurses' Chapel and designs depicting medicinal herbs used throughout the ages. The stained glass windows are detailed, beautiful and each one tells a story. There are display cases showcasing the Munich Glass Windows that once graced the upper church but were removed because of anti-German sentiments.

In 1999 Princess Anne dedicated the three-lancet Millennium Window in the cathedral on the nave's north wall. It was created using traditional techniques, symbolizing the Trinity, taking "Growth" as its theme. There are numerous additional windows and memorials throughout the upper church on the tour route. Admission is free.

Once a chanonry, a residential area for the clergy, surrounded the cathedral. In the 1170s Glasgow was granted a charter and the church in Glasgow established a hospital for the sick. Provand's Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow, was constructed in 1471 for the Lord of Provan as part of the hospital. It was one of 42 such houses built in the Scottish domestic architectural style. This 3-floor gem is located one-block from the cathedral.

St. Patrick's Arm
Tours begin with an 8-minute orientation film. The first two floors are furnished with 17th-century Scottish furniture and portraits. One of the most intriguing portraits is that of Mary Queen of Scots. It is believed that she spent time in the house nursing her husband. Just outside is the cloistered St. Nicholas Garden. The garden is divided into two sections, a medicinal herbal garden and a 15th-century parterre replicating a Celtic design. A significant feature of the garden is a 1737 group of carved grotesque faces known as the Tontine Heads.

St Mungo's Museum of Religious Life and Art, adjacent to the cathedral, was constructed in Scottish baronial-style to reflect the area's history though it was built in 1989. The museum interprets the world's major religions thematically using artifacts and dioramas. The collection includes a replica of the reliquary containing St. Patrick's hand. The focal point of the museum's displays is "Crucifixion 2010" by Peter Howson. St. Mungo's also features Britain's first Zen Garden.

The 1833 "Bridge of Sighs," originally built over the Molendinar Burn, connects the Cathedral with the Victorian Glasgow Necropolis. More than 50,000 people are interred there in nearly 4,000 elaborate tombs and mausoleums. John Knox rests there and it is the site of famed architect Charles R. Mackintosh's Celtic cross on the grave of Alexander McCall. Organized tours are available when booked in advance.

The first documented international trade occurred in 1450 when William Elphinstone traded with France. 1601 the first wharf was built in Glasgow and within the few years it emerged as an important port. The first shipment of tobacco entered the port in 1674 establishing a lucrative trade with the American colonies and the West Indies and by 1740 Glasgow was the dominant player in the tobacco trade. This was largely due to the fact that the voyage from Glasgow to Virginia was 20-days shorter than to London.  Scottish merchants operated tobacco storage facilities in North America, using slave labor to work in the stores as well as on farms that grew food for the workers. Such extensive fortunes were made that many of the palatial homes in Glasgow's Merchant Square area were built with these profits and several streets have retained their names. The American Revolution ended this era.

During this time there was illegal slave trading but the Royal African Company's loss of its monopoly in 1698 and the 1707 Act of Union allowed Scotland to enter the trade. Only 70 slaves are documented as being held in Scotland in the 1700s and in 1778 private ownership of slaves was declared illegal. In 1807 Parliament abolished the slave trade. Slavery was not fully abolished until 1838.

As early as the 1600s a number of merchants owned island plantations and by the 1700s thirty-three percent of Jamaica's plantations were Scottish owned and it is estimated that the trade was generating $75-million annually by 1800. Robert Allason and his brothers were active participants in the triangle trade. His estate, Greenbank House, can be toured. The United Kingdom emancipated their slaves and made the trade in slaves illegal in 1833.

From August 1845 until April 1847 Frederick Douglass toured the U.K. and spent a substantial amount of time in Scotland seeking support for American abolition of slavery. He was particularly fond of Scotland and Glasgow in particular because several radical abolition groups were based there and the Glasgow Emancipation Society was more than 10-years old. He had chosen his last name because of his admiration for the Scottish protagonist in Scott's "Lady of the Lake." Douglass drew crowds as large as 2,000 in some of the same buildings in which the business of slavery had been conducted.

Riverside Musuem
Credit Culture and  Sport  Glasgow Museum
In a city renowned for its architecture it is no easy task to stun the onlooker but Architect Zaha Hadid has managed with her outstanding Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel. Showcased on the north bank of the River Clyde its roofline, a metallic spiky line, seems to represent the heartbeat of the city. The $119-million museum is destined to become a Glasgow icon.

Inside there are thousands of exhibits, from prams to trams, and 150 interactive story kiosks on two-levels. Highlights of the tour are the world's oldest bicycle, a recreated main street from 1895-1930 with period shop interiors and exteriors, and recreated subway stations.

Adjacent to the Riverside Museum on the Pointhouse Quay is the Tall Ship SV Glenlee, one of only five still in existence. Tours are available.      

The People's Palace Social History Museum is situated in one of the U.K.'s oldest parks, Glasgow Green, and the oldest public space in the city. The museum interprets the social history of Glasgow and Glaswegians from 1750 to the present in galleries on two floors. The display areas are thematic and are comprised of antiques, memorabilia, paintings, videos and storyboards. The entire museum is delightful but, as always, there are galleries that must not be missed.

The first section is devoted to Glasgow's early tobacco history and here you will find a painting of the Glassford Family circa 1760. Note the empty space on the left side of the work. Evidence points to there having been an African slave in that spot. The slave was later painted out.

"Crime and Punishment" introduces visitors to the "Cell Experience." Seated in a cell or looking through the bars you watch a 6-minute video tracing criminal history through the ages and ending with a detailed description of capital punishment as it was carried out prior to its abolition in 1965.

Additional galleries allow you to walk into a tenement, see an authentic drunk barrow used to remove drunks from city streets, and follow the timeline of Scottish protest movements including a speech in George Square by Nelson Mandela in the 1980s.

You can enter the 1898 Winter Gardens directly from the museum. Tropical plants and a caf� are housed inside a Victorian glasshouse that is open year round.

In front of the museum stands the 1887, 5-tier, Doulton Fountain, the world's largest terracotta fountain. It stands 46-ft. high and 70-ft. wide. Queen Victoria stands regally atop the fountain while figures representative of her empire, Australia, Canada, India and South Africa, surround the base.

One of the most beautiful buildings in Glasgow, the Templeton Carpet Factory, can be viewed from the vantage point of the museum. The city kept denying permission to build the factory because all submitted designs were not appealing. Finally William Leiper designed a building reminiscent of the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge's Palace in Venice. The fa�ade is colorful and makes extensive use of polychromatic bricks, enamel tiles and terracotta.

The best way to orient yourself in Glasgow is to take the narrated City Sightseeing Tour. Your ticket entitles you to hop on and off and is good for two days. There are 24 stops and we have only covered six of them. Needless to say we will cover the rest in part two.  Next week we'll discuss great places to dine, accommodations, architecture and the Philadelphia connection.

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, there are more than 70 parks and gardens, impressive architecture, unique dining venues, year round festivals, and the best shopping in the UK 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 center of the city. 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.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum
Brad Pitt's new zombie movie "World War Z," partially set in 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.

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 3-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, after a career with a menagerie was given to the zoo in 1897. 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 caf� and facilities.

The University of Glasgow is the UK's 4th 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.

Brad 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 1-day trail ticket gives unlimited access to transportation and admission to the Mackintosh attractions.

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-yds away, from 1906-14.The house and contents were donated to the university but, because of structural damage, it was torn down. The 4-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 2nd-floor studio with his black desk and her white one.

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 2-story Library and the janitor's room, a suspended  that looks from above like a Japanese lantern.

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.

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 7-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.

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 
Ashton Lane 
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.

Merchant City's newest caf� 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.

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. 

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.

The 4-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.

In case you are still in need of a reason to experience Glasgow I suggest you check out their festivals, the Glasgow Jazz Festival (, Celtic Connections ( and the World Piping Championships (, among others.

TripAdvisor named Glasgow the "#1 destination in the U.K." and all the tools you need to "Experience Glasgow" can be found online.