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Glasgow: For music, art and soul-satisfying food, it has to be Scotland's second city

Travel review by Claire Cromie

Published 20/02/2016

A piper entertains at The Gannet's Burn's Night supper. Pic The Gannet/Facebook
A piper entertains at The Gannet's Burn's Night supper. Pic The Gannet/Facebook
Glasgow School of Art
Glasgow's River Clyde Arc at night
Riverside Transport Museum
A sign in the window of Play it Again records, Glasgow
Ruthven Lane in Glasgow is a mecca for vintage shopping fans
A mural at the Clutha Vaults, the pub that was the scene of the tragic police helicopter crash in 2013
Drygate Brewery
Workers install a new exhibition at Kelvingrove Art Gallery

Edinburgh made my student years. A Six Nations clash at Murrayfield reeled me and my mates in. The bars, medieval streets and charming Scottish men kept us going back.

Glasgow, in those days, didn't compare. But I've grown up since then and here I am, returning at rush hour on a winter's morning to find that it too has changed.

Some things are warmly familiar, like the straight-talking Glaswegians and their pleasingly simple two-ring subway system.

But it's got taller, faster and more accessible (just 40 Flybe minutes from Belfast City Airport) than in the days of drunken ferry crossings to dingy pubs.

The grand Mackintosh architecture and Victorian statues are now surrounded by stylish boutiques, hipster bars and trendy restaurants. The Duke of Wellington still wears his traffic cone - but is now so popular he's featured on the wall of my Ibis Styles hotel room.

The old shipbuilding district of Finnieston has transformed from rough docks area to the trendiest neighbourhood in town; a change that's not a million miles away from Belfast's Cathedral Quarter.

This city's industrial past is suddenly in vogue. But here I detect the same effortless 'cool' as Scotland's Scandi neighbours across the North Sea.

THE FOOD

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The critics' choices include the Ubiquitous Chip, The Gannet and Brian Maule at Chardon d'Or. And for a good value, satisfying brunch it has to be The Butterfly And The Pig.

Glasgow has no Michelin stars but no one gives a damn. The fickle Belfastian I am, I will tell you that Ox and Finch is the restaurant most hotly tipped to attain that shiny little accolade that will bring Londoners prowling and send prices soaring.

It's run by the former chef to the McLaren Formula One racing team, but don't let that lure you into expectations of glitz and glamour.

A continuous stream of 'sharing plates' are plonked in front of our tour group in the fun, haphazard manner of Spanish tapas.

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Rich confit duck in a delicate Thai yellow curry. Braised ox cheek that melts in the mouth. And creamy buffalo mozzarella with salty prosciutto and tart figs.

I'm in food heaven and I don't want to leave.

So off I march to the vibrant West End to buy cheese from George Mewes.

THE SHOPPING

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Since I'm in bohemian Byers Road, a vintage shopping spree is called for in Ruthven Lane - a haven for those looking for anything from an authentic NYPD jacket to a thirties ball gown.

 

A ginger cat watches me cautiously from a cardboard box in the window of record shop, Play It Again. No luck finding Ziggy Stardust today, though - a sign forewarns 'No Bowie in stock'.

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I decide to walk the two-and-a-half miles back to my hotel in Merchant City, popping into craft shops, designer furniture stores (BoConcept - wow!) and coffee shops along Sauchiehall Street.

The biggest fashion brands can be found in Glasgow's Style Mile around Buchanan Street and Argyle Street, it's a shopaholic's paradise.

If, like me, you want to take home a selection of Scottish whiskies, The Whisky Shop in Buchanan Galleries has a wall full of miniatures and staff who are happy to un-complicate the seemingly complicated.

THE ARCHITECTURE

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This city was built over centuries, and every era's starchitect - from Charles Rennie Mackintosh to Zaha Hadid - has left an indelible influence on the landscape.

Tour the former's masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art, then gawp at Hadid's triumphant first major building in Britain - the Riverside Transport Museum (voted European Museum of the Year 2013).

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2016 is Scotland's Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, so there's never been a better time to get an education in Glasgow's impressive heritage of Victorian buildings and Art Nouveau.

THE ART HISTORY

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Don't even think of visiting Glasgow without an hour, minimum, in Kelvingrove Art Gallery.

The joy of visiting in winter is that you can stare at Salvador Dali's controversial Christ of Saint John of the Cross for as long as you like with little interruption.

It was purchased by Kelvingrove in the early 1950s in spite of protests over its unusual depiction of Jesus and the city's lack of public funds in the post-war era.

But now people flock from across the world to see it.

I wander into the next room, where rare Australian turtle posts stand next to an exhibition about the Scottish island of St Kilda's.

"The 'highbrow' don't like it. And as long as they don't like it, we'll keep doing it," says our tour guide.

Sounds like a good motto for the city as a whole.

THE BARD

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It's January and it's wet, so we take our leave from the hardly souls of Glasgow and seek out a warming Burn's Night supper at The Gannet.

Don't worry if you can't make the 25th - there are events all week long.

Glaswegians go full on for Robert Burns' birthday, with foot-stomping Celtic music and poetry readings so dramatic the actor must need more than a 'wee dram' to recover his voice afterwards.

This is the true Scottish experience and (another reason why Glasgow is better than Edinburgh) it's a lot more fun when you're not surrounded by Americans.

A piper 'addresses' the haggis before we devour it, washed down with Bruichladdich whisky.

But for me the Highland red deer loin with beetroot pithivier and game sauce is the star of the supper.

THE BOOZE

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The smell of hops wafts through Drygate Brewery, where 'bottle master' Chris Moriarty talks us through the brewing process at the UK's first experiential craft brewery.

The tour encompasses the history of brewing in Glasgow, a look round the inside of the brewery and a tutored tasting of the Drygate core range.

I'm not one for 'hoppy' beers but the Outaspace Apple Ale is a refreshing fusion of beer and cider; it shouldn't work, but it does.

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Pair award-winning craft brews with an impressive menu - whisky cured salmon, slow braised ox cheek, 'blue murder' venison - and you have the perfect afternoon out.

THE MUSIC

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National Geographic recommended Glasgow in its 'Best trips 2016' list for the "unrivaled music scene" - it's a designated Unesco City of Music.

We set off on a walking tour with Fiona Shepherd, a renowned music journalist for The Scotsman and a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge.

I expect rock stories from the 70s and 80s - Simple Minds, Primal Scream, Deacon Blue - and she does tell us as many as she can while we walk along the Barrowland Park artwork that honours the bands who have played the famous venue.

But what I get next is something quite unexpected.

We step into a time warp - the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall. Nicotine-stained wallpaper hangs off the walls of the oldest surviving music hall in the UK, where Stan Laurel made his debut here in 1906, aged 16.

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1,500 people would cram into the auditorium in the 19th century - a working class "merciless mob" who, according to director Judith Bowers, would pelt the acts on stage with shipyard rivets and horse manure.

It was so packed the men would pee where they stood rather than fight their way back out of the hall - and this, she believes, is "the only reason it didn't ignite; it was saturated with urine. All other music halls burnt down, this one didn't."

People suffocated because of the gas lighting and smoking. Prostitutes solicited business in the dark corners of the balcony, where over 300 fly buttons where found during the hall's restoration.

Judith tells us anecdote after awesome anecdote - I could listen all day and night...

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Take me there ...

Claire stayed in the Ibis Styles hotel at George Square in the city centre.

Flybe currently offers a choice of up to five flights daily from George Best Belfast City Airport to Glasgow Airport.

Departing at 07.00 and with the last returning flight at 20.25 allows for maximum time in Glasgow for a day trip or weekend away.

Lead-in fares for a single journey start at £27.99 including taxes and charges.

Located 8 miles from the city centre, airport buses run from the airport every 10 minutes, 24 hours a day and take approximately 25 minutes. 

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