A tough reputation.. a warm embrace.. and pretty bloody brilliant..
“Where you from?”, you ask the friendly guy you’ve just struck up a conversation with in the pub/train/toilet (ok, maybe not the last one). “Glasgow”, comes the reply. Pause. Breathe. Try not to give anything away. Because let’s face it, even after all these years, it’s still a word – a place – that strikes, if not fear, certainly a level of caution, trepidation, even nervousness, into what was up till then a perfectly nice – safe – conversation.
It’s a city with a reputation, that’s undeniable; football; drinking; ships; fights; art; music; Billy Connolly (for the latter deserves his own category). All true.. but what’s it actually like now though? What happens if you, say, decide to spend a weekend there? We thought we’d find out..
We were only there for two nights – so being bang in the centre of town was handy.. but maybe not too central; Malmaison fitted the bill perfectly and as an introduction to the city, it has a pretty good pedigree; it opened in September 1994, a month after the very first Malmaison arrived in arch-rival Edinburgh. It makes quite an impression – a striking building, the hotel is housed in a former Greek Orthodox Church dating back to 1838. The rooms are luxurious – on the right side of opulent; classy but also incredibly comfortable and welcoming; downstairs, their cocktails are a must (and there’s plenty of choice – the porn star martini was our favourite), and the restaurant specialises in grilled meat and seafood; we tried the fillet steak – easily one of the finest we’ve ever had. All in all, it’s the kind of hotel you don’t want to leave.. but you know you have to, because there’s so much more to see.
Top of our list was The Gallery of Modern Art – which has become a Glasgow institution, in no small part because of the statue of the Duke of Wellington, which sits right in front of the building; for the past 40 years, the Duke has rarely spent a night without a traffic cone on his head, due to this becoming a rite of passage for drunken revellers, despite the best efforts of the authorities to prevent such blatantly disrespectful behaviour. Inside, you’ll find an impressive sample of work from some of the best contemporary artists in Scotland, many of them graduates of the world-class Glasgow School of Art, located just a few streets away, and in the process of being rebuilt after a major fire.
Just as important is a stop at The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, possibly one of the most interesting and eclectic attractions you will ever visit, and a place which is hugely popular, and a source of pride, for ordinary Glaswegians; it’s a stunning building, in a beautiful Victorian-era park, right in the west-end of the city; here you will find ancient Egyptian mummies alongside incarnations of Elvis, stuffed elephants and Salvador Dali – a range you will struggle to find anywhere else in the world.
There’s no shortage of drinking holes in Glasgow.. but what is really notable is no matter where you go, you will feel welcome – and we don’t say this lightly; we visited two pubs, a short walk away from each other; the first, The Dolphin bar, in Partick – a proper old-school pub, by any description; the welcome, on a normal Saturday afternoon, couldn’t have been warmer – a room filled with chat and laughter, tv’s in the background, pictures of Celtic legends on the walls – a place that hasn’t changed for 50 years, and won’t for the next 50. And later, at Oran Mor, a former church converted into a bar and restaurant, was buzzing with excitement.
We’d heard good things about a relatively new restaurant, Ardnamurchan, which specialises in locally-sourced produce and celebrates the best Scotland has to offer food-wise, from the very best beef, to the finest seafood; Glasgow hasn’t really been seen as a place to go to for food, and these guys wanted to challenge that; well, on our experience, they nailed it; the Sea sharing platter, of freshly-caught monkfish, crayfish and mussels was outstanding.
And here’s a thing.. ‘Proper’ Scotland – and by that we mean lochs, mountains, pine forests – is only around half an hour away from Glasgow; we rented a car for a few hours and drove to The Loch Lomond Arms Hotel – situated in Luss, a stunning little village in the Loch Lomond National Park – and had an amazing lunch in what felt like the Highlands of Scotland. Not bad for weekend break; culture, classy food, warmth, history, stunning landscapes, and most importantly, laughter – we laughed a lot; turns out Glasgow’s pretty special; don’t tell anyone.