07 JUN 2012: Now that Scotland’s hit the streets with its Year of Creative Scotland 2012 campaign, there seems to be more verve, more vigour, and dare I say more of that famous Glasgow swagger percolating from the old Merchant City.


Ever since Glasgow was awarded the European City of Culture in 1990, there’s been a bold exciting confidence in its festival scene including architecture and design, not to mention a hotbed for Scotland’s arts and crafts (think Rennie Mackintosh). So there has never been a more exciting time to visit this muscular creative city. Here’s what I discovered on my latest visit.

Bellissima


Okay, the Italians have Italian art. But so does The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which is showcasing a rare temporary exhibition dubbed, The Essence of Beauty: 500 years of Italian Art now on until August 12.

What’s cool about this must-see installation is this extraordinary collection of 150 Italian paintings reveals the prolific wealth these Glaswegians had. They loved art. One of the biggest donors was a coach builder named Archibald McLellan who bequeathed his entire collection to Glasgow in 1854.

Among these masterpieces is a painting by Titian titled, “The Adulteress Brought Before Christ,” which is considered one of the most important works in Glasgow’s collection. Inside this masterpiece was a single portrait, a separate image. There is speculation over this “Head of a Man” which some believe is the self portrait of the genius himself. See the photo. Let me know what you think.

Besides showcasing the most comprehensive collection held by a civic museum in the UK this collection’s extraordinary Italian pieces date from the late 14th century to the late 19th centuries. Get your Bellini, Titian, and Guardi freak on there.

Inventory


Since Glasgow will be home turf for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, the city is not standing idly by watching the grass grow. Nearly 1,000 hotel rooms and luxury service type apartments have been built.

How’s this possible?

According to the Glasgow Tourism Office the city has put a bunch of measures in place to help developers choose Glasgow as an investment opportunity. The fruits of these deals are evident. Building cranes are plenty across the city.

In March 2012, Glasgow’s newest budget hotel, the 125-room easyHotel Glasgow City opened. Meanwhile last May, the 30-room Grasshoppers Hotel opened in the city centre near the Central Station. Folks might recall the flagship Grand Central Hotel. This historic beauty underwent a massive 20-million renovation which has transformed the once long-in-the-tooth Grand Dame into a chic old bird with pedigree. Suite interiors have ultra plush decor, black leather headboards, king size beds, wall-to-wall carpet, flat screen TVs, bathrooms with rain shower heads, and deep soaker bathtubs and topped off with ceilings that are as tall as the sky.

Local charm

Glasgow has a definite ‘can do’ attitude. Its friendly witty people are one of the city’s greatest assets. I got so much more from my journey just talking to the locals.

We met a total stranger Marcella 20 minutes into our arrival at an Italian coffee shop inside Central Station.

“I’m shurrre I hearrrrd Canadian accents,” she grinned as she hunched over our cappuccinos and politely asked if she could join us for a wee chat. Turns out this Weegee (Glasgow local) toured Expo 67, visited our nation’s capital, and worked briefly at the old Dixie Cup HQ in Quebec - but the whole cherry on the top was her exit: “Don’t have anyone tell yah that you came to Glass-guu and never spoke to a Weegee.”

Hampden Park

Richard McBrearty, the curator at the Scottish Football Association Museum in Hampden Park, was pumped on showing us the football temple. The 52,000 seat venue has seen more than a few legendary matches. It’s the home of the Scotland team, a neutral venue for semi-finals and finals, not to mention hosting massive concerts. “We continue to get memorabilia from our fans,” he explained pointing out one of the latest finds, a wee archival photo of the Escoces team from Spain shot in the 1800s.

“I’ve been looking for a photo on this team for years and one day there it was in my email sent to me. It can’t get any grander than that.”

The museum is open seven days a week and a stadium tour is a must-see for any football fan. Then there’s the most talked about Scottish Cup Final ever known! “It is the first final involving the two main Edinburgh teams since 1896 and seems to have captured the public's imagination,” says Richard.

The Edinburgh Hearts beat their rival the Hibs 5-1 in a stunning victory on May 19.

The soccer parties have just begun. Now Hampden Park is set to host some of the Olympic soccer games for the London Summer Olympics only weeks away. The Hampden Park games are scheduled between July 25 and August 3.

The authorized ticket reseller for Canada is a company called CoSport. They can be contacted via phone toll-free 877-457-4647 or 1-908-326-2660 www.cosport.com

The Riverside Museum


Volunteer tour guide Bob James is a kid at heart, who loves showing visitors his favourite artifacts at this monumental museum on transport and travel. Bob doesn’t come out right away either discussing his former occupation as he two steps by Scotland’s huge inventions: the steam engine, the bicycle, and a huge car collection that would turn an avid collector like Jay Leno green with envy. The vast vintage automobile collection is displayed to look like dinky toys hanging on a massive wall.

But it’s by the antique streetcar used in the 1800s that Bob begins to hint at his first love.

Once we passed the model ship collections with hi-tech simulators, we veered around the corner to see a shiny fire engine. “This is the tool box on wheels I used. After basic training I came out looking like an Adonis, I have never been so fit in my life,” says the retired Leyland Firemaster, a glimmer in his eyes recounting his early days as a rookie firefighter.

Hundreds of volunteers all specialists in their own fields take visitors on this free whirlwind journey of discovery at Glasgow’s newest museum. Designed by architect Zaha Hadid the modern structure located on the River Clyde (www.clydewaterfrontheritage.com) is one of many new buildings along the ancient river.

Transport


For those who want to explore but don’t want to walk much, the red Double Deck Glasgow Sightseeing Tour Bus is a fabulous alternative to taxis. Not only do you get an audio guide narrated by historian and TV host Neil Oliver but the pass is valid for 48 consecutive hours, which means you can hop on and hop off at your leisure at the 24 stops. The tour itself lasts about two hours.

Another discovery is Clockwork Orange, Glasgow’s often forgotten subway line. The stations themselves don’t really head to key landmarks but it’s still worth exploring the third oldest subway system in the world.

Then there’s the Glasgow Airport (www.glasgow-airport-guide.co.uk/) which was deemed Britain’s best airport in October 2010. This airport has the regular retail experiences, money exchange houses, and is home to some of the leading air carriers.

Thankfully more Canadian charters like Sunwing, Canadian Affair and Air Transat have discovered this alternative route.

I flew aboard Air Transat’s hassle-free six hour direct route from YYZ to GLA. The cabin crew on my trip were some of the friendliest, helpful flight attendants I have come across in a long while. And the food and bevvie were just grand!

For more info visit

http://visit-glasgow.info/ or http://www.seeglasgow.com/




Images by Stephen Smith

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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