Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Museums, Mackintosh, and the Merchant City

After struggling with the internet in the morning with the blog – and wishing I knew some choice Gaelic swear words – we took off with Peter for our tour of Glasgow museums. We started with breakfast at Caffe Nero, a Starbucks clone.

We took the subway, what Peter affectionately called the “Clockwork Orange Underground.” It was very small – almost like the subway version of one of those miniature railroads that are popular with kids. Poor Peter had to stand stooped over in the car. It was fast, and rocked from side to side. We came out near the University of Glasgow, and walked around campus and through the quad.

Our first museum of the day was the Hunterian Museum, named after Dr. William Hunter – a medical doctor and professor from the 19th century. His collection, bequeathed to the University and opened in 1807 (making it Scotland’s oldest museum), was a recently re-installed version of an old-fashioned curiosity cabinet – complete with strange medical oddities in bell jars - and it was intriguing.

We then went out onto a broad open space overlooking the valley where we could see the Kelvingrove Museum in the distance. Peter told us the history of Glasgow, and of the peak of its success, power and wealth around the turn of the 20th century, and the great exhibition of 1888. The Kelvngrove Art Gallery and Museum was built shortly thereafter with profits the city made from the exhibition. We walked down the hill and through one of the prettiest parks I’ve ever seen to the Museum.

It was a wonder. It is the second highest drawing attraction outside of London in the whole UK, and even though we were there on a Monday morning with school in session, the place was full of people – especially of families with small children. They have integrated all of their exhibits with children’s discovery activities, and even have a special Mini Museum for under 5s. I will talk more about this amazing museum in a separate blog after I return (a reason to stay tuned!).

Next stop the Museum of Transport. While Anna tried to video the entire model ship exhibit (occupied about a half a football field), we saw a reconstructed Glasgow street from the 1930’s, an exhibit of buses and trolleys, also one of motorcycles, bicycles, cars – every mode of transportation including prams and stroller!

We hailed a cab and headed for today’s real treat – lunch in the Willow Tea Rooms, designed by Charles Rennie Macintosh. Tracy, Audrey and I had he traditional high tea, with a tiered tray stacked with little strange sandwiches, delicious cakes and scones to die for with whipped cream and strawberry jam – and buttered shortbread, my piece of which is wrapped in a napkin and in my coat pocket.

Then Peter took us to see the Mackintosh designed building of the Glasgow School of Art. We spent several hours exploring this striking building, which is a very active art school with students engaged in their studio studies at every turn. Mackintosh also designed the furniture, signage, fixtures – all very reminiscent to this Illinois-bred girl of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Storage facilities seem to be the theme of our trip, and we were delighted when Peter took us to see his. We saw rolling storage racks that were pretty enough to have been Mackintosh designed themselves. A peek into several boxes revealed 3-D embroidery from the 17th century, an early 20th century tea cozy colorfully embroidered, and a 1910 dress with gorgeous appliqués.

Back at the hotel, we squeezed in a bit of a rest and blogging before Peter came to fetch us for dinner. He made reservations for us the Corinthian, a stunning late 19th century converted to an upscale (yet affordable at 16 GBP for a 3 course meal with a free splash of wine) restaurant on one side and a huge bar in the rotunda area. We talked and laughed into the night and returned to the hotel to say goodnight and tumble into bed. No sleep aids needed this night!


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Heather said...

I am tear-ing up reading this post. I miss Glasgow (the "great green place") so much and didn't realize it. I have been to all those places and would like to emphasize to anyone considering the trip after reading this blog post that it is WELL WORTH IT.