Monday, October 18, 2010

Arts & Crafts in Glasgow

After that lovely day in the Irish countryside, we decided to do city sights at our next stop in Scotland. Glasgow was the birthplace of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, architect, designer, painter and sculptor, a leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Art Nouveau. When I was a graphic designer in the 1990's, one of my favorite fonts was inspired by Mackintosh's meticulous hand lettering, and it is still available today from ITC fonts.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh showed talent for architecture right out of the gate, winning competitions for building design in his early 20's. While in Glasgow, we visited two of his early works: the Lighthouse, which now houses a Mackintosh museum of his drawings, models, and designed objects, and the nearby Willow Tea Room. Alas, Mackintosh got into architecture just as the country was falling on hard times economically, forcing many architectural firms to close. He migrated to watercolor painting, then fabric design, often struggling to make ends meet. Sadly, he died of throat cancer at the age of 60. His work has become much more celebrated in recent years; there was a sort of Macintosh revival in the 1990's. We noted many similarities in his life and work to that of Frank Lloyd Wright in the U.S.

After our little Mackintosh fest, we decided to tour the streets of Glasgow to get a feel for the city. Many cities in Europe have these convenient "hop-on, hop-off" double decker buses, where you purchase a ticket for the day and are then entitled to board these special buses at any of their stops, getting off and spending time where you like, then re-boarding. It's a handly, inexpensive way to get around, and allows you to be somewhat spontaneous if you see something along the route that you'd like to explore in more detail. We hopped on at George Square, a main public area in the heart of the city, and rode around until we reached the Glasgow University area where we hopped off for our next adventure.

It was lunchtime, and although we rarely eat fried food, we had promised ourselves we would have a real fish and chips meal sometime during this trip. When we got off the bus, we were clearly in a student area—dozens of coffee and tea shops and Thai restaurants populating the street. But there, on a corner, we saw Tennants, a classic looking Scottish pub, and decided to poke our heads inside to see what they had to offer.

The interior was everything you might expect in an older pub; the menu claims it has been in this location since the 1500's. Tables were populated with older men, fixtures with their newspapers, swapping stories and downing pints, all of them characters. We sat down; I was longing to pull out my camera and take some photos but didn't want to jeopardize our position with the locals. We ordered lunch, and had the best fish and chips ever for less than the cost of a mediocre burger in the states. Outstanding!

Fortified by our substantial lunch, we walked on until we reached the fabulous Botanical Gardens, and could not resist going in for a visit. The conservatory was quite large and beautiful; the grounds even more so. We spent most of the afternoon there, then walked to another bus stop to catch our ride back to the heart of town. A short train ride back to the ship, and we were off to our next port in Scotland.

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