Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Exploring Glasgow: Burrel Collection, Cathedral, Necropolis, St. Mungo's Museum

Saturday, September 10, 2016

     After the incessant rain of yesterday, Glasgow presented us with a beautiful day—it was cool but sunny—a perfect day for exploration of the city. Having made friends the previous evening with one of my roomies, Rayann from Canada, we decided that we would spend the day together as we had exactly the same agenda in mind. One of our roomies awoke at 6.00 am to leave for an early appointment—this woke me up but it was just as well as I had time for a shower and to pack up my belongings to carry off with me as I would be boarding a coach back to London in the evening and did not want to return to the hostel to pick it up. Rayann was doing the exact same thing as she too had a train to Liverpool to catch that evening. Accordingly, we checked out, carried our backpacks with us and walked out into the quiet of a Saturday morning in one of Glasgow’s most affluent neighborhoods with their gracious terraced manors overlooking the park.

Breakfast at the Willow Tea Rooms:

     One of the great artists of Glasgow is Charles Rennie Mackintosh who, together with his wife Margaret, created a new aesthetic for the city. Based on Art Deco, he advocated clean lines and non-fussy designs, much in the manner of America’s Frank Llolyd Wright and other artists of the Prairie School of Design. He is best known for designing a series of Tea Rooms for Kate Cranston who ran them in Glasgow. Thus, a trip to Glasgow is not complete without a visit to one of them—right now, only the one on Buchanan Street is open as the one on Sauchiehall Street that Llew and I had visited is undergoing renovation.

     Rayann and I boarded a local bus at the bottom of the hill that took us to the City Center in about ten minutes. From there, it was a short two-block walk to The Willow Tea Room—we were one of the first customers as we arrived just after 9.00 am. Our idea was to have breakfast together and while I chose their fruit scones with cream and jam and a bowl of muesli with berries, Rayann had the French Toast with maple syrup. The surroundings were as pretty as I remembered with Mackintosh’s touch evident in every aspect of them—from the chairs to the lamps to the napkins, he designed everything with his signature touch. Our breakfasts were delicious and very graciously served by sweet Scotswomen. It gave Rayann and me a chance to get to know each other and to bond—something we did quite effortlessly as she is a most outgoing person with a lovely friendly personality.

    Right after breakfast, we walked the few blocks to Glasgow Central Station where we left our bags in the Left Luggage lockers with the intention of picking them up later in the evening.

Off to Pollock Park to see the Burrel Collection:

     It was about half an hour later that we boarded a bus to take us to Pollock Park, located about a twenty minute ride from the city. I had made plans to meet yet another Tweep I follow called Fiona who had often tweeted about taking her dogs for a walk in Pollock Park. Knowing that she lived close by, I wondered if she would like to meet and when she agreed, I was quite excited. She too seemed like such a nice person on Twitter that it made sense to try to make personal contact.

     The bus ride took us to Pollock Park quite speedily and, as arranged, Fiona met us at the entrance. She arrived with her husband Andrew and dog Bella who was so happy to meet us. A few greetings and photographs later, we walked into a most unusual museum building to see the collection that was amassed by one man, Sir William Burrel, a Glaswegian shipping magnate who is described as a ‘millionaire magpie’. He devoted himself to buying anything that took his fancy, so that his collection is highly eclectic. There is everything here from the Medieval to the Modern, from Western paintings to Islamic ceramics.

     Fiona gave us a very brief introduction to the museum and suggested the order in which we should view it. We started with the Grand Atrium, bright and tree-filled, that contains a medieval bust of a woman and several sculptures by Rodin. We then went into the ‘castle rooms’—reconstructions of Burrel's home at Hutton Castle where his family had lived in a place filled with furnishings from the medieval past—very similar, I thought, to William Randolph Hurst who created his home, Casa Grande in San Simeon on the California coast which we had recently visited, in much the same fashion. It is like entering the sets of a medieval film—everything pertains to that period—and while I find it interesting to see such places as a visitor, I could never imagine myself living so far in the past.

     We then moved on to the rest of the work. What is marvelous about the museum is its very design—elements of the collection—porticoes, doorways—have been incorporated into the building in very clever ways. This allows the viewer to see stained glass from the Middle Ages with sunshine flowing right through them or to view sculpture and tapestry (a really wonderful collection of them) in dark rooms (as they would have been seen when first created). There is also a great desire to blend indoor and outdoor spaces really effectively so that you see Egyptian and Asian objects d’art through the backdrop of the leafy woods outside in the park where an occasional dog-walker passes. It was really lovely. We took a bit of a rest in the auditorium where we watched a long film on Burrel, his Collection and the making of the museum before we set out again. As the Museum is to close shortly for long-term renovation, I felt really fortunate to see it all especially the paintings from Bellini to Bourdin which are now nicely amassed in one huge gallery to make viewing really effortless. Some of them were truly lovely Impressionist works and using the Lonely Planet guide that provided a list of must-see highlights as well as the museum’s own brochure, we did a really thorough job of our visit and felt deeply pleased by it all.

     Fiona then suggested we take a walk in Pollock Park which is also a truly wonderful place in which to get lost. She led us towards Pollock House (which is run by the National Trust) which we saw from the outside before we entered the Italianate Garden at the back filled with late season roses and herbs. Fiona told us that much of the TV series Outlander with which I am unfamiliar was shot in this park and she particularly pointed out an old curved stone bridge over the river Card that is used as a setting in the series. About half an hour later, she led us to the bus stop from where we rode back to the city after bidding her goodbye and thanking her for a very interesting visit indeed.   

Off to St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Art and Life:

     Glasgow is filled with important and very significant museums and since I had seen the Hunterian Museum on a previous visit and Rayann had seen it the previous day, we both decided to make St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Art and Life our next port of call. We found out which bus from the City Center would take us there and in about fifteen minutes, we were at the site and making our way into it. It is a most unusual museum because it is an attempt to bring integration between various religions through themes such as birth, death, ceremonies, etc. There are some large-scale exhibits that are arresting such as the largest Shiva as Nataraja that I have ever seen as well as a marble Buddha. There is also a large room crammed with all sorts of objects from every religion on the planet including Bahai which is so little known. Had we the time and the energy, we could have spent an entire day there but we were headed next door to the Cathedral.

Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis:

              Glasgow Cathedral takes you back to the Middle Ages. It is one of the few cathedrals in the UK that remained intact despite the destruction of the Reformation and one that has seen absolutely no refurbishment since then. As a result, you enter into a long dark space and gaze at a soaring nave with walls that seem to go on forever in three tiers. These walls are so blackened by candle soot that you feel immediately as if you are in a space that is thousands of years old. The carved stone choir screen is just stunning and one of the few original ones left in the land. It leads you towards the main altar that is wonderfully evocative of medieval religious practice. Downstairs in the crypt is the tomb of St. Mungo (under the altar) and any number of niches and chapels for quiet prayer. It is an amazing place: in no cathedral (not even in Canterbury which is probably just as old) did I feel the weight of time settle on my shoulders as I did in this space.

     Outside there was still bright sunlight as we walked towards the heights of the Necropolis, a vast Victorian burial ground on a hill.  This is also a big tourist attraction with its mortuary sculpture and burial vaults overlooking the city. Rayann and I chose not to climb the hill and enter the cemetery. Instead, we hoped to get into Provand’s Lordship, a small cottage-like structure that is retained inside exactly as it was in the 15th century with original fitments. However, it was closed although it was much before 5.00 pm.

     We boarded a bus back to the City Center and since we were both pretty tired from our day’s exertions, we got off and went straight to the railway station as Rayann had a ticket to Liverpool to purchase. We also got ourselves a late meal: a Cornish pasty and large mocha for me which we ate while people-watching. Glasgow on a Saturday night provided ample opportunity to do just that as we found ourselves confronted by a hugely fashion-conscious city and inhabitants who were out for a night on the town. Everyone was impeccably attired in fashion’s current favorites and mile-high heeled shoes as they strode through the station towards their restaurants for drinks and dinner. We were enthralled. There was also a very big football match on that evening: the Rangers against the Celtics, and since team rivalry is close to rabid in the city, there was much rowdiness mingled with the style as well.

Saying Goodbye to Rayann and to Glasgow:

     Rayann left a little later to board her train to Liverpool. I stayed at the station for a while until I realized that the bus I needed to take me to the Coach station would not run after 8.00 pm. I picked up my bag from the Left Luggage locker and found the bus that took me to the Buchanan Bus Station where I sat for a couple of hours to wait for my coach. I was glad to be inside a warm and safe space as the temperature dropped rapidly and the football fans had begun to take over the streets. It was not long before my coach came along and I boarded it with the rest of the passengers. I made myself as comfortable as I could for the night and as we sped along southwards through the backbone of England, I looked forward to arriving in London once again after a very fruitful but brief visit to Scotland.

     Until tomorrow, cheerio…         

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