Glasgow – coming into the light

It would not be unusual to think of Scotland – and Glasgow in particular – as a very dark and gloomy place, covered with the soot of the Industrial Revolution it helped lead, and weighed down by ages of oppression and generally bad weather.

We are happy to report that there is a new Glasgow, where spirits seem to have been lifted, buildings cleaned, global brands are flourishing, and the food is a lot more edible.

Having lots of Starbucks locations doesn’t make you a better city, but it does show that people have money to spend on small luxuries, tourists are in abundance, and optimism is rising. Strolling down Buchanan street and looking at the shops, we could feel very upbeat about this new Glasgow, where the sun may not be shining, but Christmas is in the air and the streets are bustling.

We had to stop at one of the Willow Tea Rooms, known by all fans of Charles Rennie Mackintosh for their iconic design and stylish interiors. The ones on Buchanan Street are reproductions, but very faithful ones. Plus, they serve a nice tea break for ladies – and gentlemen, just as they did in the beginning of the last century. On the floor above us was the Chinese Tea Room, also lovely and inviting. (Okay, the chairs aren’t really that comfy, but aren’t they striking?)

The City Chambers area contains several statues always expected in a Scottish city. We speak of Robbie Burns, of course, along with his all-important colleague, Sir Walter Scott. They are joined by Robert Peal, Queen Victoria (in her slim youth), Prince Albert, and assorted dignitaries.

When you see a statue of Lord Wellington in front of the Modern Art Gallery with a traffic cone on his head, you might assume that last night’s Guy Fawkes’ celebrations got a bit out of hand. We did. But when you realize that the traffic cone is a permanent adornment, you begin to grasp the wit of Glasgow.

There are so many massive buildings from the past now nicely fit into today’s scene, many newly cleaned and all very impressive. Lots of construction going on, and lots of investment evident.

We did some exploring around the University of Glasgow, which has been very spruced up. More to be done tomorrow. Highlights were the reproduction of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s home, and the gates to the University showing off famous alumni – including James II. A very nice neighborhood.

(A bit of a laugh: I was waiting by the reception desk for the Mackintosh home part of the Hunter Museum when three men of the English persuasion approached the receptionist. “We want free tickets for the Mackintosh house,” one said forcefully. “Oh, I’m sorry, sir. We have to charge for admission,” was her response. “Okay. I want free tickets,” he said again. This went on for a few more rounds, until the man, in great frustration, began pointing at his companions, saying, “FREE TICKETS!!! One, two, free!!!!” Three tickets were then bought and paid for. We were once again divided by a common language.)

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