- The Washington Times - Friday, August 29, 2003

Our plan, like those of countless American families, was to take our offspring to the old country — to the gene pool’s edge, where she might glimpse her reflection in the language, landscape, history and culture of her Scots-Irish ancestors.

We were awash in good advice, from articles and guidebooks to the tireless Travel Channel. Even the Smithsonian Folklife Festival complied, featuring Appalachian and Scottish culture, by which time we had booked air travel, auto rental, accommodations and restaurant reservations all via the traveler’s indispensable tool — the Internet.

Glasgow, the Clyde River Valley and environs is our destination, with an initial stop in Ireland and eventual departure from Edinburgh. The Emerald Isle’s myriad charms, to say nothing of Dublin’s 800 pubs, need more time than we have to give them, but we do our best during our two-day layover. Then it’s off to fair Caledonia.

Our Ryanair morning flight to Glasgow Prestwick Airport is short and inexpensive, as is our train trip into the city. Provisioning in one of Glasgow’s immaculate Central Station shops, we first hear in a rich Scottish brogue what is to become the trip’s constant refrain.

“Aye, now, what might I fetch for the wee one?” Henceforth, Maggie, 7, would answer to and respond in the voice of the Wee One.

A friendly and informative taxi driver delivers us to our accommodations in the West End. The White House Apartments on Cleveden Crescent are superbly located in a residential neighborhood but just a walk from the Botanical Gardens, Glasgow University and many fine shops and restaurants off the Great Western Road. All rooms have kitchens and laundry privileges and can be rented for up to six months.

We unpack and then lunch at Stravaigin 2 on Ruthven Lane, a restaurant tucked into an alley not far from campus. The menu states, “think global, eat local,” and the food is adventuresome and quite good — regional cuisine infused with Asian and Middle Eastern influences. The portions are so generous we can’t clean our plates of West Coast mussels in basil cream sauce, seared Scottish fishes in Thai broth and, for Maggie, a cheeseburger (choice of Aberdeen Angus or Berwickshire ostrich). “Will the wee one be having dessert?” the waitress asks.

“Jelly pieces, please,” she orders without knowing they are deep-fried jelly sandwiches served over ice cream. (We observe a moment of silence for Elvis.) The Scots may not be as over-the-top as the Italians when it comes to other people’s children, but everywhere we go, they are effusively solicitous, genuinely engaging and charmed, as is the Wee One in return.

Next, we stroll over to Glasgow University, which opened for business in 1410. The soaring Gothic architecture and rambling courtyards speak to centuries of scholarship. The Wee One is enchanted: “I feel like I’m at Hogwart’s with Harry Potter.”

The university’s Hunterian Art Gallery is second only to Washington’s Freer Gallery in works by James McNeill Whistler in its collection. The Whistler Centenary exhibition and the Charles Rennie Mackintosh House, now part of the gallery, alone are worth the trip — for the grown-ups at least.

Glasgow is rich in the architecture of Mackintosh and his underappreciated wife and collaborator, Margaret Macdonald. The Lighthouse Centre for Architecture and Design turns out to be a fine place to begin one’s introduction to this remarkable pair. Hill House, Glasgow School of Art, Willow Tea Rooms and Queen’s Cross Church are but a few sites open to the public.

The jewel in the crown, though, is House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park. Built in the late 1990s from designs submitted for an architectural competition in 1901, the house, garden and restaurant are elegant and accessible and transport one to a more graceful and optimistic time. Still under construction is Mackintosh’s design for a child’s folly, with burned forts, climbing towers and tunneled mounds. The Wee One pines to play in it but settles for a frolic about the garden instead.

The Merchant City district is to Glasgow what Soho was to Manhattan. This long-neglected mercantile center near the River Clyde is rising like an architectural phoenix with new construction and renovation. Artist lofts, galleries, trendy shops and restaurants thrive alongside old-line establishments such as the Tollbooth Pub.

At Cafe Gandolfi on Albion Street, one can order traditional Scottish fare such as fresh salmon, black pudding (blood sausage) and cullen skink, a kind of Scottish bouillabaisse whose taste defies the sound of its name.

Arisaig is one of the area’s more adventurous and upscale bar-restaurants. Its menu features deep-fried haggis fritters with Drambuie sauce, and lavender lentil loaf with fresh leaf-spinach mash. This Scottish fusion cuisine comes with an interesting wine list and encyclopedic selection of single-malt scotch. When the Wee One takes but a whiff of her father’s Glenmorangie, her facial contortions elicit laughter all-around.

“I think my face is stuck like this,” she winces. Thankfully, it isn’t.

Our most Soho-like experience is a visit to the loft of Russian emigre artists Eduard Bersudsky and Tatyana Jakovskaya. Their Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery and Theatre is home to a dazzling array of narrative, found-object sculpture with titles such as “Tower of Babel,” “Dreamer in the Kremlin” and “Time of the Rats.”

As impressive as these works are standing still, when the lights go out and their kinetic function cuts in, the profound sense of delight and amusement is matched only by the imagination, artistry and technical skill on display. Glasgow has opened its heart to this exceptional couple, and it’s just like the Scots to do so. As we leave, we agree to visit their collaborative and monumental Millennium Clock in Edinburgh’s Royal Scottish Museum.

The Clyde River Valley Tourist Bureau touts Glasgow as a compelling cosmopolitan city that is, for the umpteenth time, reinventing itself. About 625,000 Glaswegians live in this clean, modern metropolis with its medieval, mercantile, shipbuilding and coal-mining past still in evidence but well behind it. Glasgow is a destination for international tourism, conventions and education.

The city’s greatest asset remains a population that can face its often painful past, bright future and Scottish weather with a sly wink and clever retort. These good-natured Glaswegians are ever ready to pommel the pompous, as evidenced by the orange traffic cone that sits more or less permanently atop the Duke of Wellington’s stately equestrian statue in front of the Gallery of Modern Art.

Next day, we visit the Burrell Collection and spend an afternoon in the country without leaving the city. Pollok Country Park is a 1,000-acre estate that has been in the Maxwell Macdonald family since the 13th century. Sir William Burrell’s eclectic collection of about 9,000 objects has belonged to the city since 1944, but it was not until 1983 that its contemporary home opened to the public, as per Sir Williams’ request, in a “rural setting.”

The Burrell collection stretches chronologically from ancient Egypt to 19th-century European impressionism, with exceptional Chinese and Islamic material to boot. We are drawn to a heartbreakingly beautiful self-portrait by the young Rembrandt (about 1632) and other 17th-century Dutch masters. Nearby, in a child-friendly space, “wee ones” interact with art puzzles, watch a restorer at work and embellish a Renaissance reproduction of the Madonna and Child. They also don costumes and pose a la Frans Hals inside gilded frames.

Museums at best can test the patience of the young, so we find the art experience greatly reinforced by a trip to the gift shop, where a meager purchase can solidify and recollect the spiritual gains of the museum visit. At the Burrell Collection, Maggie selects a stuffed hedgehog, which she duly names Hodge-Podge. It will be her constant companion throughout the remainder of the trip. We take this opportunity to discuss the diverse ecosystem of Great Britain’s hedgerows. So much for high art.

On the short walk to the Pollok Manor House, we pass long-maned Highland cattle grazing in a meadow. Recently restored, this 1747 Georgian manor reflects the tastes of a number of Lords Pollok. In 1939, the 11th Baronet, Sir John Stirling Maxwell, secured “for the benefit of the citizens of Glasgow the nether Pollok estate.”

As we enter the front door, the Wee One is presented with a clipboard and pencil and challenged with a game of I Spy. Off she sets, in search of paintings and furniture with the promise of a prize if she finds them all. We explore the delights of this exquisite estate, its views, gardens and exceptional collection of Spanish art. Ahhh, to have Velasquez, Goya and El Greco in your sitting room.

Back in the city, our day is far from done. Darkness comes late of a summer eve, a fact the Glasgow Shakespeare Repertory Company uses to advantage when staging the Bard in the Botanics series. Curious as to how “Henry V” would play outdoors, we turn up at 8 p.m. at the Botanical Gardens. We are given portable stools and marched off to the arboretum to witness a most ingenuously staged, inspired and energetic theatrical performance.

The cast is uniformed in World War I attire. King Henry and his happy few bound over hill and dale delivering their lines with aplomb. The Queen of France enters in a vintage chauffeur-driven Citroen while her herald clears us from the roadway announcing, “Excuse moi. Excuse moi.” The audience must move from one scene to the next, and our Wee One is in the vanguard, heaving stool to shoulder and dashing off to the next battle. Near midnight, our plea to leave after the Agincourt speech is rebuffed.

“No. I want to see how it ends,” she says. Don’t we all?

A couple nights later, a lovely rendition of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” turns up on the BBC. The Wee One is enthralled and watches it well past her bedtime. The following day, we stumble across two works by Scottish painter Sir Joseph Noel Paton — “The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania” (1847) and “The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania” (1849). Maggie delights in identifying Puck, Bottom, Oberon and the horde of fairies.

So for us, the summer of ‘03 will be remembered as when the Wee One fell under the spell of the Earl of Oxford, Shakespeare, or whoever he was.

Sadly, the Glasgow leg of our trip is coming to an end. We are expected for dinner above Loch Lomond overlooking the Kyles of Bute, so we pick up a rental car to go north eventually, then drive south — in search of the tiny village of Dunlop.

Situated on the cusp of the Clyde River watershed, the region is known for its cheese as well as the considerable portion of its population that decamped for the New World, taking as surnames some variation of Dunlop.

It’s drizzling when we enter the town and stop for coffee and a meat pie. We are identified immediately by the storekeeper. “Lots of Dunlops from the States come through here.” There’s a fine church, or kirk, with a Norman tower in Dunlop.

The Wee One and Hodge-Podge dart around the kirkyard in the mist, posing next to tombstones of long dead and gone namesakes. Loaded with cheese and lore, we are off for our Highland fling and then home.

In the airport, we push our luggage cart toward the gate with an exhausted Maggie onboard. At passport control, the Scottish lass in charge asks, “Where’s the wee one?” Maggie jumps up and presents herself.

“You’ve grown a bit since this photo,” observes the agent. “Did you like your stay in Scotland?”

“Like it?,” declares the Wee One. “I loved it.”

As did we all.

Discovering Glasgow’s highlights

The United Kingdom’s international country code is 44, followed by the city code for Glasgow, 141.

Where to stay

The White House Apartments, 11-13 Cleveden Crescent, phone 141/339-9375, www.whitehouse-apartments.com. One-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. All with kitchens and use of a laundry, starting at $45 per night.

Where to eat

• Stravaigin 2, 8 Ruthven Lane, 141/334-7165, www.stravaigin2.com. Starters $ 4.75 to 8.50, main courses $15.50 to $26, lunch $4.75 to $14

• Arisaig, 24 Candleriggs, 141/552-4251, www.arisaig.5pm.co.uk. Starters $4.95 to $9.50, main courses $16 to $27.50.

• House for an Art Lover, 10 Dumbreck Road, Bellahouston Park, 141/353-4770, www.houseforanartlover.co.uk. Lunch menu: starters $ 7.50, main courses $12 to 14.

What to see

• Sharmanka Kinetic Gallery and Theatre, 14 King St., 141/522-7080, www.sharmanka.co.uk. (By appointment.)

• The Burrell Collection, 2060 Pollkshaws Road, Pollok Country Park, 141/287-2550, www.glasgow.gov.uk/cls.

• Pollok House, 2060 Pollkshaws Road, Pollok Country Park, 141/616-6410, www.glasgow.gov.uk/pollok.html.

• Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, 141/330-4221, www.hunterian.gla.ac.uk.

More information

Clyde River Valley Tourist Bureau (www.seeglasgow.com).

Travel tips from the Wee One

• Bring comfortable shoes; you have to walk a lot.

• Bring paper to draw on and lots of books to read on the plane. (Paperbacks are best because they don’t weigh much.)

• Don’t bring anything that needs electricity. The plugs don’t work over there.

• Bring a jacket. Sometimes it rains; sometimes it’s cool.

• Ride every double-decker bus you can and sit on top. It’s lots of fun.

• Bring a camera and take lots of pictures. It’s fun to look at them when you get home.

• Museums are sometimes fun, sometimes boring. Always make sure your parents let you buy something in the gift shop. If they say no, tell them it’s educational.

• The Shakespeare play in the park is a lot of fun. I liked running from place to place with my stool to watch the play.

• If they play music on the street, dance and tip the musicians.

• At restaurants, don’t be afraid to try new things. Sometimes they’re really good.

• If you see a carousel, ride it.

• Wear plaid if you can.

• The Scottish children’s drink IrnBru is really good. It makes your tongue orange. Ginger beer is good, too.

That’s all I can think of for now.


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