Travel review: Christmas in Glasgow
It is the city of my father’s ancestors and now a cultural mecca and booming shopping destination.
So I was well overdue a visit to Glasgow when I hopped on a train for the two hour Virgin Pendolino train dash from Preston - a bargain if you take advantage of their discounted shopper tickets in the run-up to Christmas.
The marketing campaign proclaims ‘Glasgow loves Christmas’ and fun events are staged for the family including bustling christmas markets and a buzzy, excitable series of events embracing art, leisure, shopping and foodie treats.
So after a rapid trip up to Glasgow, the journey aided by a cheeky white wine or two, we pitched up at Central station from where it was a mere taxi ride of minutes to our home from home for the weekend (we walked on the reverse journey) - the Citizen M hotel.
This is a concept, super modern hotel.
Reminiscent of cruise-ship cabins, our rooms were so technology-forward everything from the (multi-coloured mood)lighting to the blinds and TV were all operated from the same i-Pad, which on my arrival proclaimed ‘Welcome, Citizen Nicola’.
The room really would make an excellent set for a slightly more up to date Starship Enterprise. The king size double bed took up one whole end of the room, where you can lie gazing up at the huge TV or take use of the iPad and free WiFi, while everything from the soap dispensers to the cushions make interesting proclamations.
The soap claims it is ‘Designed to turn even the longest haul traveller into a sparklingly clean and nice-smelling human being again.’
But this room is not designed for lengthy stays - the rest of the hotel provides plenty of living space for that, a series of generous open-plan spaces with plenty of places to meet, work, lounge, watch TV and get online lying mid a plethora of modern art, books - and all in shouting distance of the bar.
The weekend was a whirlwind, with food for the mind and fuel for the stomach all with a festive helping of tinsel on top, the friendly Glaswegians all the time living up their slogan ‘People make Glasgow.’ So true.
We experience this time and time again over the weekend, the smiles of those we met quite putting aside the dour Scot clichés and shining through the frankly appalling mid-November weather.
All our foodie leanings were satisfied with quite exceptional meals.
A mouth-watering lunch at the new Ox and Finch on Sauchiehall Street, recently launched by the former head chef of the McLaren Formula One team and awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand, saw seasonal dishes served Tapas style in a cosy, bustling restaurant characterised by banks of wine racks and cosy booths and chic looking staff, who endeared themselves to me when they came running after me with my forgotten bobble hat.
By night we dined underground.
Alston Bar and Beef lies beneath the iconic Glasgow Central station and where as the name suggests they specialise in steak and gin.
The name Alston comes from ‘Alston Street’ a bustling thoroughfare that connected Argyle Street with Gordon Street until the mid-1870s when all the buildings were demolished to make way for Central Station.
On a Saturday night it was packed with the atmosphere of a select, private, underground club. We dined sumptuously - It was clear as soon as a took a sip of my started and soup of the day ‘butternut squash with chilli’ that we were in for an exceptional food experience. This was an extremely informative gin ‘tasting’ which left me extremely ‘ relaxed’ and with an newly formed expensive taste in spirits.
Make mine a Gin Mare.
It was morning when we visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
The magnificent building, rising out of the November rain, houses 22 themed galleries displaying around 8,000 objects, ranging from famous artworks to armour, natural history and objects of significance from across Scotland and the world from a Spitfire plane to the Christ of Saint John of the Cross by Salvador Dalí. Old masters are represented in the art galleries as well as impressionists including Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Vincent van Gogh and Mary Cassatt. But what is truly remarkable is that this fantastic place, with cafes and gifts shops and plenty of exhibits designed to work and stimulate old and young minds as well as curious tiny hands, is entirely free to the public. I could easily have returned day after day and certainly intend a trip back.
But we had not yet fulfilled our art appetites.
Next stops was ‘Tramways’ the Glasgow international art-space with the prestigious role of hosting 2015’s Turner Prize nominees outside their usual home at Tate Britain.
With the winner due to be formally announced in December, this is a chance for the public to see a representation of the artwork shortlisted and it truly is an experience. The work of the four shortlisted artist’s work -Nicole Wermers, Assemble, Janice Kerbel and Bonnie Camplin - could not be more different and whatever your take on modern visual art, it stimulates the mind and leaves you questioning the forms and everyday experiences of everyday life. While one exhibit features chairs with fur coats slung over the back, another is a series of short songs - some just seconds long.
Next on the agenda was a name that is now indelibly connected to Glasgow and Scotland - Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
the city’s most famous son, his style is apparent throughout Glasgow and his masterpiece - Glasgow School of Art - was voted by the Royal Institute of British Architects as the finest building designed by a British architect in the last 175 years.
Today, following a devastating fire which ripped through the building in May 2014, you can no longer access the interior while building work is ongoing. But student-lead tours are still very much available and we were impressed as we were taken through the basics of this architectural masterwork. All monies raised via the tours go to support the school. Afterwards we took ourselves to the Willow team room on nearby Sauchiehall Street, also designed by Mackintosh and still a cafe. You can see the doors, mirrors and windows all still in situ, while enjoying a cream tea or sandwich, allowing you to take in his fabulous work.
A fantastic festive weekend and I will be ensuring I walk again in my ancestors’ footsteps. You should too.
- Virgin Trains is offering discount ‘shopper’ tickets to Glasgow from the North West from November 28 until January 10 on Standard Off-Peak Day Return and First Off-Peak Return tickets.
- Tickets are discounted by up to 37 per cent and journey times from as little as one hour and 15 minutes from stations including Carlisle, Preston, Lancaster, Oxenholme and Penrith.
- Throughout December visitors to Glasgow city centre can benefit from late night shopping at more than 1,500 stores and a programme of fun events for all the family as part of Glasgow Loves Christmas; the city’s annual festive marketing campaign.
- Citizen M is located in the heart of Glasgow city centre and has 198 rooms each including a king size bed, ambient lighting, mood pad room control and free wi-fi. Situated at 60 Renfrew Street, Glasgow, G2 3BW, look it up at www.citizenm.com
- For Kelvingrove museum, situated at Argyle Street, look up www.glasgowmuseums.com
- Ox and Finch is at 920 Sauchiehall Street, G3 7TF. Tel: 0141 339 8627 www.oxandfinch.com
- Visit Turner prize nominee exhibition at Tramway 25 Albert Dr G41 2PE 0141 276 0950
- Alston Bar and Beef is downstairs in Glasgow Central Station, Gordon Street G1 3SL. 0141 221 7627 www.alstonglasgow.co.uk
- Mackintosh Visitor Centre is at 164 Renfrew Street, G3 6RF. Ring (0)141 353 4526 or look up www.gsa.ac.uk
- For further information on booking your trip to Glasgow visit www.peoplemakeglasgow.com