dimanche, janvier 27, 2008


In my previous post, I recommended Stravaigin, a restaurant on Gibson Street, in the West End of Glasgow. You may also like to try its "subsidiary" on Ruthven Lane, off Byres Road. It's charming and picturesque, although it was closed on Boxing Day when I passed it last December.

Si vous avez aimé le haggis de Stravaigin, comme je vous l'ai recommandé dans mon post précédent, vous pouvez essayer son petit frère Stravaigin², dans Ruthven Lane, une ruelle donnant sur Byres Road. C'est pittoresque et charmant, avec ses murs de briques peints en blanc.

mardi, janvier 22, 2008

Tasty haggis at Stravaigin

The French purse their lips when they hear the word haggis, which for them translates as "panse de brebis farcie" or stuffed sheep's stomach. It's a bit of a cheek when you think they can eat snails or frog legs and still consider themselves gourmets.

Anyway, I hadn't had haggis for ages until I ordered the Scottish delicacy on my last visit to Scotland last December. It was no ordinary haggis mind, but the award-winning recipe served in the hip Glasgow West End restaurant Stravaigin. There's more to haggis than tripes bundled in a casing. It's like a very spicy black pudding, served with locally-grown neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes). You also get a vegetarian version with plenty of oats.

The best time to taste haggis is probably on Burns nights, the celebration of the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns on January 25th. Stravaigin holds a Burns night on Thursday 24th January with "piper, orator, live ceilidh music" not to forget the "obligatory dram of Inverarity whisky". Check it out !

Pour les Français, le mot haggis évoque un plat de tripes servi dans une panse de brebis. Mais c'est bien plus sophistiqué que cela. Surtout au restaurant Stravaigin de Glasgow, qui le cuisine comme un boudin très épicé avec une large portion de neeps and tatties, purées de pommes de terre et de navets. Mais non ce n'est pas dégoûtant, bande de mangeurs de grenouilles !

La meilleure occasion pour apprécier le haggis est la "Burns night", le 25 janvier, une nuit de célébration du poète national écossais Robert Burns. On y déclame des poèmes du barde dans une débauche de victuailles, de whisky et de musique. Vous m'en donnerez des nouvelles.

samedi, janvier 19, 2008

Apple store in Glasgow

There's a great Apple store in the centre of Glasgow, at the angle of Buchanan Street and Saint Vincent Street (I remember when it was a decoration shop called The Pier). I was never a big fan of the computer company. I find it arrogant, too marketing-driven and the hype surrounding the Ipod is ridiculous given the number of other, cheaper, more powerful MP3 players you could find on the market.

But I have to say the Iphone is amazing. There were several on display in the sleek store and I spent ages flicking through the files, enlarging photos and checking the weather. Shop assistants came asking if I needed help but there was no point : it's dead easy to use, even my 4-year-old son could work it out. I don't intend to buy it or anything, but all other PDAs look outdated next to it.

Un superbe magasin Apple a ouvert dans le centre de Glasgow l'année dernière. J'y ai passé près d'une heure à tester les iMacs et surtout l'Iphone, incroyablement simple d'utilisation. Il est beaucoup trop cher, mais tous les autres assistants personnels ont l'air ringards à côté. Et pourtant, je ne suis pas fan d'Apple !

mercredi, janvier 16, 2008

Another gem from Ian Rankin

Santa Claus was very generous with me this Christmas. As well as the aforementioned designer chocolates, earrings, a necklace and various other things, he brought me the latest Ian Rankin's novel, Exit Music (Orion Books). Ian Rankin is well-known for his crime stories set in Edinburgh, among them The Naming of the Dead, A Question of Blood, Set in Darkness, Dead Souls... It all sounds very gloomy, but don't give up just yet.

His main character is Inspector John Rebus, a rebellious cop with a no-nonsense approach to Scottish politics. His team-mate is Detective Siobhan Clarke, an English "expatriate" who thinks better of having an affair with him, despite their mutual attraction. Rebus's arch rival is gangster Big Ger Cafferty.

They all appear in the latest opus, but the best thing about the book is the political background (the story takes place in November 2006, in the run-up to the Scottish elections which the Scottish National Party went on to win). As the investigation on two murders unfolds, you read about the smoking ban, the obsession with security cameras, the baffling architecture of the Scottish parliament, the prospect of independence and the arrival of Russian investors in Scotland. The style is fluid, ladden with colloquialisms ("I used to go to the kirk", "Oh aye ?") and references to Scottish artists (Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Douglas Gordon)...

I might as well quote a few passages. If you want to know more about today's Scotland, it's the page-turner you need.

Page 43 : When smoking had been banned, back in March, Rebus had foreseen disaster for places like the Oxford Bar -traditional pubs catering to basic needs : a pint, a cigarette, horse-racing on TV and a hotline to the local turf accoutant. Yet most of its haunts had survived, albeit with reduced takings. True to form, however, the smokers had formed a stubborn little gang that would congregate outside, trading stories and gossip. Tonight, the talk was the usual mix : someone was giving his views on a recently opened tapas bar, while the woman alongside wanted to know what the quietest time was to visit Ikea ; a pipe-smoker was arguing for full-scale independence, while his English-sounding neighbour teased that the south would be glad of the break-up -"and no bloody alimony !"
"North Sea oil's the only alimony we'll need", the pipe-smoker said.
"It's already running out. Twenty years and you'll be back with the begging-bowl."
"In twenty years we'll be Norway."
"Either that or Albania."
"Thing is", another smoker interrupted, "if Labour lost its Scottish seats at Westminster, it'd never get elected again south of the border."
"Fair point", the Englishman said.
"Just after opening or just before closing?" the woman was asking.
"Bits of squid and tomato", her neighbour stated. "Not bad once you got the taste..."

Page 299 : Tourist were milling around, a few interested in the Parliament building but the majority keener on the Palace of Holyrood across the street. One or two seemed to be puzzling over the vertical bamboo bars across some of the Parliament's windows.
"Join the club", Rebus muttered, stubbing the cigarette and heading inside. As he emptied his pockets and prepared for the metal detector at security, he asked one of the guards about the bamboo.
"Search me", the man said.
"Isn't that supposed to be my line ?" Rebus replied.

Page 300 : Rebus still wasn't sure about this vast, echoing interior. If someone had told him he was in an airport, he might have believed them. He couldn't tell what sort of statement it was supposed to be making. One newspaper report from a few years back had stuck in his mind, the journalist speculating that the building was too elaborate for its actual purpose and was, in fact, "an independent parliament in waiting". Made sense when you remembered that the architect was Catalan.

Si vous voulez en savoir plus sur l'Ecosse actuelle, lisez le dernier roman de Ian Rankin, Exit Music. Cet auteur écossais situe toutes ses enquêtes policières à Edimbourg, avec pour héros l'inspecteur rebelle John Rebus. Dans ce dernier épisode en date, il est question des élections au Parlement écossais (l'histoire se passe quelques mois avant le scrutin de mai 2007), de l'éventuelle indépendance, de l'interdiction de fumer dans les pubs, de l'obsession locale pour les caméras de surveillance, et de l'arrivée en masse des investisseurs russes. Oh, et il y a aussi une enquête sur un double meurtre, mais c'est presque le moins intéressant.

dimanche, janvier 13, 2008

Kshocolât, a different taste of Glasgow

Among the many presents I found under the tree at Christmas, I got a mouth-watering box of rose and violet cream chocolates by cool Scottish brand Kshocolât. I had already heard about this Glasgow-based chocolatier reknowned for its minimalist packagings. I could judge for myself how refined it is. The design is by an other Glaswegian company, Third Eye Design. But it's not just about good looks either. The chocolates beat Thorntons any day.

An other reason to rejoice about Glasgow !

Encore une raison de se réjouir du dynanisme de Glasgow : on y trouve le chocolatier raffiné Kshocolât, vendu dans les épiceries fines du monde entier. Ses packagings minimalistes sont l'oeuvre d'une autre société réputée de Glasgow, l'agence de design Third Eye.

Mais non, on ne trouve pas que des deep fried Mars bars à Glasgow !

samedi, janvier 12, 2008

Easyjet vs Ryanair : who wins ?

When I visited Scotland over Christmas, it was the first time I travelled with Easyjet. The low cost airlines opened new routes from Paris to Glasgow and Edinburgh in 2007 and I was curious to see how it compared with Ryanair, of which I've been a regular user for ten years.

Photo : magpie1320

Ryanair was a revolution when it started operating to Glasgow Prestwick. First of all, it was so incredibly cheap compared to "full cost" airlines. I rarely paid more than 100 euros return per person. I even travelled free sometimes, they only charged taxes !

Then, as long as you tolerate the bus journey to Beauvais airport (in the early days you had to by the bus ticket at the bar of the James Joyce pub !), the flight is direct. How different from the incredible odysseys I experienced in the pre-Ryanair days : rushing through Brussels massive airport to catch a connection with KLM, travelling on a tiny propellor plane operated by an Air France affiliate, waiting long hours in Birmingham on a British Airways flight.

My best memory was when I wasn't allowed a seat on the Paris to London leg of my trip and I had to sit in the cockpit, between the (very friendly) pilot and copilot ! I'm usually rather fretful during take-off and landing but I really enjoyed it that day.

Anyway, judging from my last experience, I can say that it's very unlikely I'll use Ryanair again. With Easyjet :

-You take off from Charles de Gaulle airport. OK, it's terminal 3, the most inconvenient one. It looks like a warehouse and you have to take a bus to reach the aircraft. But you avoid the shuttle to Beauvais (1h40, 13 euros one way, pictured right).

-There's priority access for families. Ryanair has scrapped this years ago in favour of prebooking on the Internet.

-The flight doesn't sound like a bingo hall with constant invitations to buy a lottery ticket or duty free perfumes. The staff doesn't look bored.

-You arrive at Glasgow Airport (15 minutes from the city centre).

-You can compensate your carbon emissions online at the same time as your booking. For four persons we paid around 10 euros. I'm not entirely sure how the money is spent but it made me feel very righteous all the same.

-It's the same price as Ryanair. Even if you take a taxi to CDG, you save the trip on the bus to Beauvais, so all in all it's probably more economical.

Why bother ?
Besides I prefer orange to the blue-yellow Ryanair logo...

Si vous envisagez un prochain séjour à Glasgow ou Edimbourg, un conseil : prenez Easyjet. Pour le même prix que Ryanair, vous évitez le long trajet jusqu'à Beauvais, le personnel est souriant, vous arrivez à Glasgow Airport (à 15 minutes du centre-ville) au lieu de Prestwick (plus d'une heure)... Y a pas photo !

mercredi, janvier 09, 2008

Romance, tears, Atonement

Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, James McAvoy... Scotland has its fair share of gorgeous and talented actors. Glasgow-born McAvoy played the bemused Scottish doctor in front of Forrest Whitaker's larger-than-life performance in The Last King of Scotland. He's back as the heart-throb in the romantic Hollywood flick Atonement. His love interest is played by British phenomenom Keira Knightley, who tends to pout a bit too much for her own good but who's very pretty all the same.

If you loved The English Patient, you should shed a tear or two in front of this epic drama. Have your hankies at the ready !

The best thing about this film is the book is based on, Ian McEwan's Atonement. This is a very ambitious novel with the brightest of plots and probably his more accessible piece of work to date but I prefer his more twisted stories. Read The Child in Time, Enduring Love, The Comfort of Strangers, Amsterdam or Saturday and enjoy his sharp style and disturbing atmospheres.

Si vous avez aimé Le Patient Anglais et toutes les histoires d'amour contrariées, vous devriez verser une larme ou deux face à Atonement (Reviens-moi, titre cucul français), avec le charmant acteur écossais James McAvoy, vu dans Le dernier roi d'Ecosse, et Keira Knightley, alias Miss Planche-à-pain rapport à sa silhouette osseuse.

Lisez surtout le roman sur lequel lequel il est basé, Expiation de Ian McEwan. C'est un superbe exercice de relecture des grands romans épiques façon Hauts de Hurlevent mais j'ai une préférence pour ses histoires plus perturbantes comme Enduring Love (Délire d'amour), The Child in Time (L'enfant volé), The Comfort of Strangers (Etrange séduction), Amsterdam, Samedi... A lire en VO si possible !

Les grands auteurs britanniques ont le génie de mêler le quotidien et la grande Histoire : la Seconde guerre mondiale dans Expiation, le terrorisme dans Samedi. Et The Child in Time fait invariablement penser à la disparition de la petite Maddie...

mardi, janvier 08, 2008

Smoke-free Scotland

In France, people make a lot of fuss about the ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, enforced on Jan. 1st this year. In the news, you could hear grumpy cafe owners complaining about the potential loss of clientele.

Yet in Scotland where the ban has been in place since 2006, pubs and clubs are still buzzing with activity. Smokers gather outside and may socialize more than before the ban.

Believe me, if Scottish pub regulars accepted the law, there's no reason why the French wouldn't follow suit.

Des cafés sans fumée ? Cela semble impossible pour bien des patrons d'établissements en France, où l'interdiction de la cigarette dans tous les lieux publics vient d'entrer en vigueur le 1er janvier.

Pourtant l'Ecosse applique cette législation depuis presque deux ans sans conséquence sur la fréquentation des pubs. S'ils y sont arrivés, il n'y a pas de raison que les amateurs de petit blanc au comptoir ne fassent pas de même.

dimanche, janvier 06, 2008

Kelvingrove, Glasgow's pride and joy

Each time I go to Glasgow, I make sure I pay a visit to Kelvingrove Art Gallery. It's in one of the most pleasant parts of the city, in the West End.

The building is elegant both inside and outside (it stood for New York 's Grand Central station in the film The House of Mirth, based on the Edith Wharton's novel, with Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame). The collections are incredibly diverse, with paintings, sculptures, science, Scottish wildlife featured in the different floors... It's definitely designed for family, with lots of space, quizzes, displays you can touch...

A genuine art lover might call it entertainment rather than culture. But it's so refreshing compared to Parisian museums where you are often frowned upon when you turn up with kids. And it's free ! It's a truly popular, acessible, family-oriented museum and a great source of pride to Glaswegians.

The Kylie Minogue exhibition (the one that was shown in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London a few months ago) is still on for an other week, until January 13th. You have to be a huge fan of the Australian elf to really enjoy this collection of stage costumes. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed but there's glitter, ostrich feathers and plunging neckline galore.

Chaque fois que je retourne à Glasgow, je ne manque pas de visiter le musée de Kelvingrove. D'abord parce qu'il se situe dans le West End, l'un des quartiers les plus agréables de la ville.

Le bâtiment est élégant à l'extérieur comme à l'intérieur. Il a servi de décor au film The House of Mirth, adapté du roman d'Edith Wharton avec Gillian Anderson, en raison de sa ressemblance avec la gare de Grand Central à New York.

Les collections sont incroyablement diverses, avec des espaces consacrés à la peinture, au design, aux sciences, à la faune et la flore écossaise... Les enfants peuvent toucher certains objets, participer à des jeux, ont de la place pour circuler...

Pour un authentique amateur d'art, cet aspect ludique peut être un peu pénible. Mais c'est tellement différent des musées parisiens où les enfants doivent être tenus en laisse. Et de plus c'est gratuit ! C'est de la culture accessible, ouverte à tous, et un vrai motif de fierté pour les habitants de Glasgow.

Il reste encore une semaine pour visiter l'exposition Kylie Minogue, jusqu'au 13 janvier (elle était au programme du Victoria & Albert Museum de Londres il y a quelques mois). Pour le coup, ce n'est pas de la grande culture. Il faut vraiment être très fan de l'elfe australien pour apprécier cette collection de costumes de scène, tous plus kitsch les uns que les autres... Désolé, il faut y aller pour se faire une idée, les photos sont interdites sur place.

jeudi, janvier 03, 2008

Edinburgh is nice but give me Glasgow every time

I was a bit disappointed by my latest visit to Edinburgh (not only because it was pouring and I couldn't walk around as much as I wanted). At Christmas time, the city centre is transformed into a giant fun fair, with tacky attractions which reminded me of the Foire du Trône in Paris (I'm not talking about the German market that Mo presented on her blog and that I didn't have a chance to visit).

The Royal Mile, the main street in the Old town, looked like a Disneyland of Scottish folklore, with tartan shops, the requisite bagpiper playing Scotland the brave and guided tours involving ghosts and ghouls... It's all very well for tourists, but where were the real Scots ? In other parts of the city no doubt, or in Glasgow having a good time !

It's a shame, because Edinburgh is one of the most amazing cities in the world, with the two towns, Old and New, facing each other, the gardens in between and the castle on its rock. It's become a museum which is probably what the new SNP (Scottish National Party) government is after to attract more visitors. Glasgow may be less pretty but there's definitely more life there.

Prejudiced, me ? ;-) Prove me wrong if you know exciting places in the Scottish capital.

I did manage to spot some nice shop fronts.

If you want to grab a bite in one of the many eateries on the Royal Mile, I recommend Always Sunday. The food is simple with grilled vegetables on focaccia, soups or salads, the staff is friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed.

J'ai été un peu déçue par Edimbourg à la période de Noël. Le centre-ville est transformé en une gigantesque fête foraine avec des manèges tapageurs qui m'ont rappelé la Foire du Trône. Le Royal Mile, la grande artère de la vieille ville, ressemble à la Main Street de Disneyland, avec des boutiques de souvenirs partout, un joueur de cornemuse qui enchaîne les tubes et des visites guidées en compagnie de fantômes. Tout est pensé pour les touristes mais où sont les vrais Ecossais ? Probablement à Glasgow !

Edimbourg est une des plus belles villes du monde mais c'est un musée grandeur nature et le nouveau gouvernement SNP (Scottish National Party, indépendantiste) est trop heureux d'encourager ce folklore pour attirer les touristes. Glasgow est sans doute moins séduisant au premier abord mais au moins il y a de la vie !

J'ai tout de même repéré de jolies devantures et un restaurant sympa, Always Sunday.