Haggis, Sheep and Whiskey in Glasgow, Scotland

March 12, 2012

My next international business trip found me spending ten days in the UK traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh to Manchester and finally to London. After a very long travel day of delayed flights, I arrived in beautiful, green Glasgow, Scotland at 6:30 a.m. I arrived on the same flight as our capital region USA delegation – Camila from Baltimore, Maryland and Susan from Annapolis, Maryland. We would meet up with Julia from Virginia later, as she had arrived the day before. Watch out UK – the ladies have arrived!

Mal Maison Hotel – Glasgow

We shared a cab from the airport to our hotel, the Mal Maison in Glasgow. We had the nicest, friendliest cab driver but I forget that they drive on the opposite side of the street here and the driver’s seat is in the passenger’s seat. I get a kick out of all these cars going by that look like no one is driving them!

Fortunately, we had an early check-in arranged so I went right to sleep the moment I got into my cute little boutique hotel room. The Mal Maison is an old church-turned-hotel (it even smells like an old church but in a good, nostalgic way). You can’t help but wonder if an old building like that is haunted. Especially since the restaurant of the hotel is located in the church’s former crypt. I had a quick lunch in the “crypt” before venturing out on my own to walk around downtown Glasgow. The hotel offered a pocket-sized map highlighting a good running/walking route around the city. I followed the route for quite a ways, having no idea where I was going, and ending up along a main shopping street called Sauchiehall. Only in Scotland can you find kilt-making shops. Love it!

A kilt-maker’s shop in Glasgow

I must’ve been so distracted by kilts that I suddenly found myself completely lost. I missed the turn for the street where the hotel was and went a bit too far. Then, I started to panic realizing I didn’t have my cell phone with me and I needed to be back in 20 minutes. I backtracked for a ways. I luckily found the street in time and decided that maybe it’s not a good idea to go exploring a foreign city on my own … at least on the first day.

I met up with our delegation and we enjoyed dinner at the Mal Brasserie (i.e. the crypt) at our hotel. Being the adventurous type, I always like to try new things, especially the native dishes of each country. Tonight I had smoked haddock with black pudding and scotch egg. The haddock was a salty fish, which had a few too many bones for my preference. I was nervous about the black pudding, which is a sausage made of pig’s blood and the scotch egg, which is like a tiny hard-boiled quail’s egg. I have to say that both were surprisingly tasty (as long as you don’t think about the fact that you are eating dried blood).

March 13, 2012

We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at the hotel and then prepared for our first media appointment. After a successful morning of pitching what’s new in each of our areas, we moved on to The Red Onion restaurant for a radio interview over lunch.

The Red Onion restaurant

Real Radio reaches about 750,000 people in Scotland. The host Cat Harvey thought it would be entertaining to record us Americans trying authentic Scottish dishes and commenting about what we thought. Before we even sat down to lunch, we were led to a private room where the staff proceeded to bring out haggis, the traditional national dish of Scotland. They wouldn’t tell us what it was until we tasted it. We tasted it, commented that it was okay – weird, but okay – and then they revealed that haggis is the liver, lungs, heart and other vital organs of a sheep and then boiled in a sheep’s stomach. Gulp.

We washed that down with Irn Bru, an orange, energy-like drink considered the hangover cure. We tasted, commented favorably and moved on to the third and final tasting: tea cakes.

These tea cakes look like miniature cakes wrapped in aluminum foil. After taking a bite, Cat held the microphone up to me and asked how I liked it. “Mmmm…these are so good. They taste just like American Ding Dongs!”

Cat laughed and then said, “dear, we have a slightly different meaning for ‘Ding Dong’ here in Scotland.” I blushed. A mere 750,000 people just heard me compare tea cakes to male anatomy (and oh so deliciously tasty like our American variety). Leave it to me to embarrass myself by saying something inappropriate on the radio. Egad.

Susan, Julia, Camila, Cat and me showcase tea cakes, haggis and Irn Bru while wearing stereotypical Scottish hats.

I redeemed myself that evening over cocktails with another writer at Blythswood Square (although from here on out, it became a good story to share with everyone on our journey). After our last appointment of the day, we enjoyed a delicious French dinner at Chef Brian Maule’s Chardon d’or Restaurant.

Chardon d’or Restaurant

March 14, 2012

After another delicious breakfast at our hotel, we were treated to some sightseeing of Glasgow this morning. Cat Harvey’s father, Bobbie, just happens to be an official tour guide of the city. And what an adorable man he is! With his Scottish accent and his skills on the fiddle, he was just such a pleasant addition to our experience. He met us at the hotel in a chauffeured van and we set off to see the sights:

The gang’s all here!

We were so excited to see sheep in the countryside during our tour. Aren’t sheep just so symbolic of Scotland?

As an added bonus, Bobbie agreed to take us to the nearest whiskey distillery just outside of Glasgow. We toured the Glengoyne distillery with a guide and had an in-depth lesson on how whiskey is made. Nevermind that we also learned how to drink whiskey and had to sample several different aged varieties.

Glengoyne distillery since 1833


Tasting whiskey in Scotland

Touring the distillery

We had to hurry back to Glasgow for an afternoon of media appointments. Here in Scotland, they don’t mind if you’ve had a little whiskey before you meet with them. Ha ha ha. Luckily, our journalist understood when we showed up at Two Fat Ladies a wee bit late. At least we were all in very happy moods!

Two Fat Ladies = excellent meal!

After a few afternoon media appointments, we had a free evening. The ladies and I decided to do some serious shopping along Buchanan Street. I found an amazing three-strand choker pearl necklace and some Scotland souvenirs.

Shopping on Buchanan Street

As an added bonus, Cat and Bobbie Harvey kindly offered us free tickets to Monty Python’s Spamalot at The King’s Theatre. We had a fabulous dinner at Cafe Antipasti before heading over to the historic theatre. It was the perfect ending to our stay in Glasgow.

Cafe Antipasti on Sauchiehall Street

Monty Python’s Spamalot at The King’s Theatre (and my first theatre experience outside of the US)

March 15, 2012

We depart Glasgow today to head to our next stop: Edinburgh. We checked out of the hotel and took a cab to Queen Street Station to take the train. In less than an hour, we’ll be in enchanting Edinburgh…stay tuned!

Catching the train at Queen Street Station

On to Edinburgh!