by David Cohen

MANCHESTER
Britain's second city is also one of its most dynamic and cosmopolitan. Once a heavily industrial city, Manchester is now at the forefront of modern British life. 
The city has a vibrant gay community, probably the largest and certainly the most visible outside London. The familiar atmosphere of Manchester is where "Queer As Folk" was born. With a diverse range of bars, pubs and clubs, Manchester's gay community leads the country.
The Gay Village, radiating from Canal Street, offers a great sense of community and belonging, while the fantastic architecture and open-minded attitudes of the city reveal the cutting-edge spirit that makes Manchester a must-see gay destination. For Manchester, a city packed with LGBT inhabitants and clubbing opportunities, there really is something for everyone. 
Via Fossa, a large, multi-level bar with an eclectic interior, is one of the most popular clubs on the Canal. Try Essential, replete with three floors of contemporary urban clubbing, with go-go boys, a hi-tech sound system, and the best dance music in town. Vanilla is a hot club for lesbians. Nightlife takes place not only in the bars, but outside by the Canal, where people congregate on the streets. 
Every August, Gay Pride in Manchester is a three-day festival, featuring one of the best Pride Parades in Europe – Ian McKellen was last year’s Grand Marshall. Visitors from all over Britain and Europe enjoy the entertainment, artists, and the abundant party life. The festivities go on all evening, then after midnight the circuit crowd goes dancing at the Manchester Arena. 
Culturally, Manchester has a lot to offer. The Manchester Art Gallery houses one of the UK's finest art collections in spectacular surroundings. Over 1,300 artworks are displayed, including ceramics, glass, metalwork, furniture, textiles, and armor.
Manchester is the shopping capital of the Northwest, and with its unique mix of chain stores, exclusive fashion shops and individual boutiques, locals claim that Manchester offers the best shopping experience in the UK. 
But luxury doesn’t end there. We stayed at the 5-star Lowry Hotel, on the banks of the River Irwell. The main commercial, business, shopping and entertainment areas can be reached within a few minutes by the landmark Trinity footbridge. The Lowry’s rooms are amply sized and boast floor-to-ceiling windows, with pared down modern furnishings. The River Room Restaurant features sumptuous cuisine, and provides a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Manchester offers the most exciting gay nightlife in the U.K., outside London. Direct flights from Chicago are available from BMI, which offers an upgraded economy class with many of the conveniences of business class at a lower rate.

NEWCASTLE
Mention "Newcastle" to most people and they’ll either give you a blank look or identify it as a coal town. "Carrying coals to Newcastle" long stood as a common expression for a redundant activity. In reality, coal mining has been gone from this region for over ten years. In the wake of its smoke-stack industrial past, this small city in northeast England has been reborn as an avant-garde culture and arts center and as another vibrant point on the UK’s "pink triangle." 
Must-sees include: the towering Angel of the North sculpture, a northern hemisphere echo of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Christ the Redeemer; the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, the world’s first tilting bridge; and the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, one of the largest and most ambitious museums of its kind in Europe. 
The Gateshead Millennium Bridge has won many awards, including the UK’s top architecture award. The BALTIC is more than a museum; it’s an "Art Factory" where artists come to work. Exhibits include striking visual, audio, and video creations.
Visitors can walk the bustling city center within a day, or take a relaxing stroll along the quayside and drop into a café. The manageable size of the city rewards even short visits, leaving lots of time for the lively gay bar scene. 
The gay village is located in the western part of the city, a short walk from the main rail station. While gays outnumber lesbians by a fair margin, the two groups form a single social community. Even Sunday and Monday nights find a crush of partygoers in local favorites The Baron and Baronet or nearby The Yard and Twist.

GLASGOW
Glasgow is one of the liveliest destinations in Europe. A center of style and vitality set against a backdrop of outstanding Victorian architecture, Glasgow boasts world famous art collections and the most vibrant nightlife in Scotland. From mind-blowing shopping to funky bars, restaurants and cafés, Glasgow is a perfect weekend getaway.
Gay Glasgow centers around the elegant Merchant City quarter, where you’ll find not only the majority of the scene bars, clubs and shops, but also some of the best of the designer stores, top restaurants, trendy bars, plus stunning architecture from the 17th to 21st centuries.
Art and culture are important in Glasgow life where galleries and museums are in abundance; the choice includes: the world's first Museum of Religion, the renowned Burrell Collection, and the contemporary Gallery of Modern Art. The City of Glasgow owns one of the richest collections in Europe, displayed in 13 museums across the city. 
Glasgow’s nighttime calendar is teeming with music and theatre festivals year-round. Each November, the city is also home to Britain’s largest multi-art gay and lesbian festival, Glasgay.
Don’t miss the Art Nouveau splendor of Scotland's best known architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose inimitable style adorns attractions such as The Lighthouse, House for an Art Lover, and the Glasgow School of Art.
The Glasgow School of Art was one of the leading art academies in Europe, and its reputation in architecture and the decorative arts reached an all time high in the late 1800s. In 1896, Mackintosh designed a new addition to the School of Art building, now world famous for its unique and innovative style. 
In addition to the Glasgow School of Art building, Mackintosh designed a series of Glasgow tearoom interiors. Some of his greatest designs include large private houses in Scotland. 
A century on, Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art is seen as an important architectural monument. With an ever-increasing interest being shown in the work of Mackintosh himself and Glasgow in general, the building has become a favorite destination for a growing number of cultural tourists.
Stylish, upbeat and cultural, Glasgow has reinvented itself in the 21st century as one of Europe’s top arts and party capitals, with traditional Scotland right on its doorstep.


For more information, call 877-UK-RAINBOW, or visit www.gaybritain.org. For air and rail travel, visit flybmi.com or britrail.com.
Photos courtesy of Marketing Manchester, Greater Glasgow & Clyde Valley Tourist Board, Newcastle Gateshead Initiative and David Cohen.

 
 
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by David cohen

Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain is a supremely successful work, both artistically and economically. Its high-profile introduction into a capable but economically depressed locale has led the tremendous revival of this Spanish city.

The Guggenheim Bilbao opened to much fanfare and acclaim in October 1997. The striking silhouette of the building and the world-class art collection were an enormous draw. By one year later, attendance had far outstripped projections, as over 1.3 million people had passed through its doors. Expectations that the museum would deliver a wave of new visitors (and ancillary tourism money) to the city have been realized: A survey in 1998 found that 79% of all visitors traveled to Bilbao expressly to see the museum. By the end of 2000, 3.6 million visitors had seen the museum. According to surveys, 83% of those people came to Bilbao because of the museum.

Conceiving the Rebirth:
Bilbao is the sixth largest city in Spain, with a metropolitan area numbering about one million people. It is located in the heart of the Basque country: seven provinces gripping the border between Spain and France, draped across the Western Pyrenees Mountains. Three of the four Basque provinces in Spain comprise the Basque Autonomous Community, which has been the local governmental authority since 1978.

For centuries, Bilbao has been a commercial and industrial center because of its location on the Nervión River and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. The area is rich in iron ore, which fueled a large iron and steel industry. Shipbuilding is also a major industry. Wealthy shipping magnates and industrialists populated the town.

Unfortunately, in the 1970’s the area experienced a major economic recession. Many shipyards and steelworks closed down. Much of the steel business was lost to Asia. In order to revive the economy, the Basque government started formulating a plan in the 1980’s and 90’s to redevelop Bilbao and the Basque region.

Although Bilbao had never been known as a tourist destination, the government determined to change that with an ambitious plan that included bringing a high-profile art museum to the city. The plan also included developing the riverbank alongside the museum, building a new conference center, renovating the airport and creating a new public transportation system. To support a major source of income for the city, the plan also included enlarging and modernizing the city’s shipping port.

The Basque authorities pitched the idea for a new museum to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation of New York, which had already established an objective to expand its collections into Europe. The Basque government would provide the financing and political clout to get the project approved, and the Guggenheim would provide its art collection and expertise in running museums. An agreement was struck, and in 1992 Frank O. Gehry was chosen to design the museum complex. To the delight of officials and the public, the project was completed early and below budget.

The Man and the Museum:
Frank Gehry is a Los Angeles-based architect whose career has soared in the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first. In 1989, a few years before his commission for the Guggenheim, he received the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, the most prestigious award in the field. His adventurous work on such buildings as Santa Monica Place (Santa Monica, CA), Chiat/Day Offices (Venice, CA) and the Loyola University Law School (Los Angeles) earned him this award. Another significant work was the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, completed in 1993.

Since his success with the Bilbao museum, accolades have poured in for his designs of Seattle’s Experience Music Project (completed 2000), the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles (completed 2003), and the Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge in Chicago’s Millennium Park (completed 2004). [See companion article Built for the Arts.]. Last fall, Gehry was selected to design the performing arts complex at the World Trade Center site.

I have seen a lot of Gehry’s work and, in my opinion, Bilbao is his best — his signature project. It is a powerful design. You can see the man’s genius by looking at the building from every angle. The towering, irregularly shaped structure commands the riverfront. Monolithic blocks of limestone contrast with glistening curves of metal. The thin “fish-scale” titanium panels encasing the structure cause it to change color throughout the day, based on the reflections of the sunlight and the river.

Perhaps in acknowledgement of one of Bilbao’s traditional strengths, Gehry designed part of the building to jut out like the prow of a mighty ship. Enormous glass curtain walls draw light inside. One of the focal points of the interior is the atrium, lighted by a skylight in the ceiling 55 meters above the floor.

The museum houses a wide selection of modern and contemporary masterpieces. By a unique arrangement, the collections of three museums — the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum in New York City, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and the Guggenheim Bilbao — are shared among the three locations. The NYC collection includes such luminaries as Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Constantin Brancusi, Joan Miró and Jackson Pollack. The Peggy Guggenheim collection contributes Surrealist and Dadaist art from Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and others. Bilbao’s own collection features works by Yves Klein, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. In a nod to the spectacular setting — a work of art in its own right — the Guggenheim commissioned several works specifically for the museum. In addition, Bilbao’s collection features some leading Basque and Spanish artists like Txomin Badiola, Cristina Iglesias and Prudencio Irazabal.

Seeing this magnificent building in photographs doesn’t do justice to its enormous presence. To truly appreciate Gehry’s masterpiece, go to Bilbao and stand beside it or across the river from it, or on the hill high above it. From every angle and viewpoint you will discover something new about this amazing work.

When you go:
The huge uptick in tourism has led to the construction of new hotels, including the strikingly modern Sheraton Bilbao, designed by architect Ricardo Legorreta and located very near the Guggenheim Bilbao. The Sheraton (www.sheraton.com/bilbao) boasts luxurious rooms appointed with technological touches such as wireless internet access and, in the suites, plasma tv’s.

I found that Bilbao’s gay nightlife scene is pretty much dead Monday through Thursday, only coming alive on weekends. So if you’re there during the week, you'll have to content yourself with a broad range of restaurants and several performing arts venues.

If you’re traveling to Bilbao and the Basque region, we recommend that you take a side trip to Donostia-San Sebastián. This resort town is about an hour from Bilbao and has plenty to recommend it, including beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine and internationally known Jazz and Film Festivals.
To plan your trip, visit www.bilbao.net or www.basquecountrytourism.net, or call the Tourist Offices of Spain at 312-642-1992.