Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Wee Dram

Peter picked us up at 9:15am in his Ford C-Max. It was a beautiful, sunny day and Glasgow looked lovely. On our way out of town we stopped along the River Clyde, where there is new development going on – including the home of BBC Scotland and the Glasgow Science Center and Imax Theater.

Our first stop of the day was at Hill House in Helensburg, along the Clyde. While the outside of the house was unimposing from the street entrance, once you stepped inside you were surrounded by the masterwork of Charles Rennie Macintosh.

Hill House is owned and operated by the National Trust of Scotland and was controversial when acquired (it is 20th century and not a castle). The third floor is still let out as a “holiday let” through Landmarktrust.com if anyone is interested. But hurry – when the lease expires, the Trust will reclaim it. We were fortunate it was a sunny day, because the light streaming in through the windows highlighted several of the architectural details of the building as well as the furniture – just as CRM intended. From the outside, the house from the garden revealed more of the Mackintosh style.

It was a great drive in the countryside to Loch Lomond. We stopped in the town of Luss along the loch, and went to a café called the Coach House Coffee Shop for lunch. They are known for their quirky teapots, but the onion soup with bread was delicious. We walked around the town for a bit taking pictures. It was very chilly (downright cold) and it was nice to climb back into the car for the next leg of our trip.

Next stop was a distillery. We signed up for the tour at Glengoyne Distillery, makers of “the finest Highlands single malt as determined by a panel of distinguished European experts.” They gave us a wee dram to sample, and we all actually liked it!

None of us drink scotch whiskey, but this one had a taste that was smooth and mellow. Peter took our picture with the distillery's waterfall in the background. An inexplicable and nearly uncontrollable laughing fit took hold of all of us, and it was wonderful to see Peter guffawing as loudly as we were (he tends to be very serious and often looks more bemused than amused - we finally got you, eh Peter??!! :)

After the obligatory orientation video, we all trooped into the malting shed. The next 45 minutes were filled with interesting information on the distilling process (which I did not completely follow) and even more interesting sights and smells. Like with any self-respecting tour we ended up in the gift shop for a flurry of purchasing, mostly for the husbands and family members (although Anna got a really cool fleece jacket with the distillery logo).

The drive back to Glasgow wound through quaint villages, sheep-filled pastures and vistas of purple and green mountains in the distance. Peter promised us an "eye-opening experience" for the evening! We freshened up at the hotel while Peter stopped by his office briefly to try to catch up from the day spent with us. He met us later at the hotel and headed out through the twinkling streets of Glasgow -- literally twinkling with canopies of white lights strung over the streets. It was quite magical.

We stopped off at one of Peter’s “must sees” - the Horseshoe Bar. It had an equestrian theme and the huge long bar was in the shape of a horseshoe (as were the fireplace mantles, fixtures, etc.). We had quite a good chat, then headed off for dinner at the Metropolitan, another “must see.” Pumpkin soup and roasted salmon - yum! Peter and Anna were more adventurous and ordered the Thai Pork Belly (which I had to admit looked good - just couldn’t get past the name).

Back at the hotel, and it was sadly time to say goodbye to Peter. Peter - as you read this (and I know you will!) - thank you, thank you, thank you for a marvelous two and a half days. You opened our eyes to glamorous, exciting, yet marvelously historical Glasgow. We salute you, Monsieur le Chevalier!!!!

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!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Of Closes and Clothes

We slept late. The time changed overnight and we set our clocks back an hour. Except Anna. Apparently, she really enjoys time travel because hers got set back two hours. After she did not show up for breakfast we got very concerned, and went to check - oops! We grabbed a cab - and why does it seem that every cabbie we talk to has a very definite opinion about current American politics. He left us at Waverly Station, and we left him with a campaign sticker.

After storing our luggage at the train station - 6 !@#$% pounds a bag!!!! (so about $20 each) -we set out for Royal Mile once again. At this point in our trip, we felt a real need for retail therapy and besides - we have made so many friends here we felt the need to contribute to the local economy. Which we did. In spades. Husbands - disregard this section.

Oh my, I got the most incredible tweed jacket. Anna got the "coolest hat ever", Tracy is going to be stylin' in a beautiful Buchanan plaid shawl, and Audrey cleaned out the stores of various Scottish things for her friends and relatives.

Our museum experience for the day was the underground tour of Mary King's Close. A close is an alleyway, and closes regularly branch off of the High Street (Royal Mile) and descend from the ridge to the streets below. It was a fun tour underground, with a costumed interpreter describing what the Close had been like before it had been sealed over for the building of the Merchants Exchange building and giving us the stories of the people who had inhabited the area. It was interesting for us, and we kept inspecting the lighting effects, traffic patterns, risk management for touring a group in dark spaces on uneven flooring, how they stage-managed the "effects" - in other words, being thorough museum geeks. The Plague was a big part of the interpretation.

We did also try to get into the Edinburgh Castle, open once again. The sun was out - then rain - then sun - then rain - then sun and rain. The lines once we got into the castle, however, were Disneyesque and we had only a couple of hours before we needed to head back to the train station. Discretion being the better part of valor, we opted to hit the castle shop and move on.
Just a block down the street from the Castle was a restaurant recommended in my "10
Best of Everything in Scotland." The Wtchery was down a narrow close, and then you stepped down below street level into a thoroughly bewitching dining room filled with lilies and roses, linen tablecloths and silver cutlery. There was dark paneling on the walls and a large demon head in one of the window bays (we could see the feet of people walking by on the street above). It was obvious that we were in a NICE restaurant (read pricey), but we decided we deserved it. We have tried to be frugal in our choice of eating establishments, and this would be our splurge. So I ordered a bottle of champagne and we toasted VAM, our colleagues, and our friends both new and old in the UK.

After eating a delicious meal we made our way to the train station. The train to Glasgow was modern, clean and comfortable - and the journey quick. Our hotel, the Millennium Hotel, is just next to the station. Our good friend Peter Trowles from the Glasgow School of Art (you all may remember him from the past two VAM conferences) met us at the hotel. His brother Tony (from Westminster Abbey) had told us of his award from the French government in arts and culture, giving him the title of Chevalier. As you can imagine, we bowed and scraped as he entered the hotel lobby and generally made a fuss. Peter is every bit as dashing and handsome as his brother!

He took us on a nightime tour of Glasgow city center. We ate dinner at the Babbty & Bowser, reputedly the 0ldest pub. The brave ones in our group had haggis (that would be Tracy and Anna). The weinies (Audrey and I) had stovies - a dish of minced meat and potatoes. We met two elderly reknowned archtects who happened to be in the pub. Andy McMillan and Isi Metzein (they are very well respectd) were charming and Andy tried to get us to go bar hopping. They had recently given their entire architectural practice archives to the Glasgow School of Art.

Peter did take us on a lightening tour of pubs, and we stuck our noses into half a dozen before returning to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

By the way, is anyone reading this? We haven't seen any comments. Let us know what you think!

Royal Mile After Mile, After Mile.....

5:30am came way too early. We dragged down to the lobby and checked out, leaving 4 bags of various papers, booklets, and other stuff we had collected along the way for our friend Jill (from the Cathedral) to mail home for us. THANK YOU JILL!!!! The only pounds we want to carry are the British ones! The taxi arrived to take us to the airport for our flight to Edinburgh. Actually, it was more of a mini-taxi and the driver swore he could never get all of us and our luggage in. Where there’s a will there’s a way, and we did not have time to get another taxi. So we all wedged in with bags and one suitcase on our laps.

Norwich airport is very nice, very efficient, well-run – when we come back, we are definitely flying through there (stops in Amsterdam) rather than Heathrow! We walked out onto the tarmac and boarded the propeller plane for a short but tempestuous ride to Edinburgh. It was cold, blustery and rainy when we landed and stayed that way all day. Tracy and I were tempted to kneel down and kiss the tarmac when we landed – we had been planning this trip for a year and are both big fans of Scotland and all things Scottish.

We are staying in the Clarendon Hotel, a modest place but just a 10 minute walk to the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain and very blustery. In fac, the Castle was closed due to the high winds - they did not want people blown off the ramparts. So we took a picture in front of the castle and moved on.

We spent the whole day, from 9:30am until 6pm, walking the Mile, dodging into shops (where we contributed to the local economy) and pubs to get out of the torrential rain and wind from time to time. We stopped in St. Giles cathedral, on Mercat Square halfway down the Mile. It was dark and rather grim (I thought, but Anna says gorgeous). Lots of WWI memorials - Royal Scots Fusilliers and all that - and this nice little old lady who came up and informed us we needed "photo badges" - a sticker with a camera you need to take photos. We got square with the Ladies Auxillary.

While Audrey, Tracy and I toured Holyrood Palace (home of Mary, Queen of Scots) and the Museum of Edinburgh, Anna was reunited with her friends Cathy and Gustav and their wee one Oskar. After that, she visited The Fruitmarket Gallery and the wonderful photographic show Close Up featuring Bunuel, Dali and more despite the 55 mph winds! The amazing architecture –towering ancient buildings along narrow, winding streets – is truly magical. It’s no wonder J.K.Rowling wrote the first installment of Harry Potter here. We spent a quiet evening in the hotel’s lounge, which had the feeling of someone’s living room. Our wonderful barkeeper Marcin was kind enough to change the TV channel to CNN so that we could catch up with US news and politics. We even caught the last half of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show!

The clocks turn back tonight, and we are all looking forward to an extra hour of sleep. It’s nice to be warm and dry and we are all thoroughly exhausted but very happy to be here. Our taxi driver said it best – “we’ve experienced four seasons in one day!”

Friday, October 24, 2008

Adam and Evensong

Second day of the conference, and today focused more on carbon reductiion, climate change and how museums can be more in tune with environmental concerns. As we settled into our seats , Tracy gasped and ponted at the moderator. Vanessa Trevelyan, Head of the Norwich Museums and Archaeology service and also Pres of the British Museums Association (like our AAM) - and Bill's boss - was wearing an Obama/Biden button on her lapel! I will not name names, but at least one of the members of our intrepid crew has been actively distributing buttons, bumper stickers and other items of similar ilk.

The conference is set up differently than VAM in that we have a series of keynote or plenary speakers and then break into discussion groups to wrangle over what has been said. It was actually very interesting. But, the real treat was when Bill whisked us away during tea break to show us the ramparts of the castle and the dungeons. Seriously - REAL dungeons with chains, gibbets, the works! From the ramparts we could see the entire city of Norwich and beyond to the green fields and forests of the countryside.

At the close of the conference, we bid farewell to our new friends (who were spreading a rumor that we had closed a pub the night before - when in fact we were not the last to leave :) - ) and rushed off to meet Jill Napier (one of the Brits who visited Virginia) for Evensong at the Norwich Cathedral. As the boy's choir voices filled the nave, we felt transported back in time. It was dark outside, and inside the cathedra was lit by low lamps and candles. After service Jill gave us a quick tour of the cathedral before the Verger ushered us out.

How better to follow a religious experience than a visit to the nearby pub Adam and Eve, which is most likely the oldest pub in Norwich. Legend has it that the workmen who built the cathedral in 1097 and the next fifty years popped into the A & E for a pint now and then. Just to show that we value both the sacred and the profane, we followed suit.

Switchng gears and palates, Jill suggested we go for a nice curry and off we went, walking along th river to a small but very Indian restaurant, where we had prawn vindaloo, chicken marsala, and vegetable thali. Hoochi mama! That stuff is hot.
Anna and I made the huge sacrifice to volunteer to do the blog from the hotel pub, which also claims to be the oldest pub in Norwich. We can't claim to be able to settle the argument, however they were both cute as a button and had great beer.

We will leave you now, as we must get up tomorrow morning at 5am to catch our fligh to Edinburgh. As the moon rises over Norwich, we bid a fond farewell to all of our friends - old and new - in Norwich!!!