Words: Jamie Tabberer; pictures: Provided
Imagine my face when, after decades longing to see the Peak District's storybook beauty, I discovered my train was hurtling straight through it - with me in a windowless seat.
It's a schoolboy error best avoided (luckily I was able to move) on The Great British Road Trip: a fun, motivating campaign by Marriott's affordable, youth-orientated Moxy Hotels brand.
The idea is to take in the length and breadth of the UK's great outdoors on a number of itinerary options, peppered with stays at one or more of the Moxy's now-sizeable UK portfolio, spanning 13 locations. 'The Big One', for example, starts in Southampton and ends in Aberdeen, taking in Birmingham, Chester, Edinburgh and more, over a recommended 7-10 days.
A road trip is the dream, but for this licenseless driver and lifetime Thomas the Tank Engine aficionado, 'The Choo Choo' train option was a 'too too' (apologies) convenient opportunity to pass up.
The Choo Choo's recommended four-to-five-day itinerary includes stops in London, York and Edinburgh; as I live in the former, I can absolutely vouch for some of Moxy's recommendations in its handy PDF 'route pack'. The trendy Bussey Rooftop Bar, for example, found atop Peckham's brutal Bussey Building, is my favourite spot for sunset views of the English capital's ugly-pretty skyline.
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As something of a jaded Londoner, I was enamoured by the comparative serenity of Glasgow. Most notably by the views from the exquisite Kelvingrove Park and the shockingly extra Glasgow Necropolis, or 'city of the dead'. (Imagine the Kardashians establishing a cementery in 1832: this would be it.)
Even my introduction to the city - Scotland's largest by population, at 612,040 - was relaxed, owing to the Moxy Glasgow Merchant City's enviable location. It's a simple, straightforward 15-minute walk from Glasgow Central Station.
As I made my way through the city's (I think) handsome streets - it recently stood in as Manhattan for an Indiana Jones film shoot, after all - it was only lightly drizzling. And the dampness felt... right.
On the Moxy Glasgow Merchant City itself
Affordable hoteling is usually one of two things. Either tiny, boutiquey places with oodles of charm and little in the way of comfort or security, or clinical chain hotels devoid of personality and so secure you could be in a futuristic prison.
The trendy Moxy brand upends such expectations from the off. The Glasgow Merchant City offers a free cocktail on arrival, in the huge bar-lobby hybrid on the ground floor. It's the property's most impressive space: all graffiti-covered walls, statement furniture and retro knick-knacks. (For guests of a certain generation, a 70s-style 746 telephone must appear a literal relic.)
That free drink, by the way, is the sort of simple touch that makes an outsized impression. I enjoyed my rum punch while flicking through a David Bailey photography book.
My queen-sized room was more neutral (not the case in the Moxy's NYC outposts, where even the sinks look like modern art) but nevertheless agreeable.
Again, unique touches abound. The automatic under-bed lighting, which lulls you awake as you get up in the night to use the toilet, was a revelation for me. It turned what is usually a chore - a perilous, suitcase-strewn chore - into a curiosity.
Indeed, the Moxy is proudly tech-savvy; the Wi-Fi is free and reliable, so I was sold. What's more, there are multiple USB ports beside the bed. It's the first time I've woken up with every device fully charged in months.
As for the huge smart TV, it was interesting how much sharper and easier to use it was than those at the handful of four and five stars I've stayed at recently. As well as swift accessibility to almost all conceivable entertainment platforms, it provides a layman's guide to digitally syncing your phone or tablet to the screen.
Elsewhere, the buffet-style free breakfast was extensive and mostly continental. In Covid times, the fresh fruit prepacked on-site proved appealing - will the standard, scoop-it-out-of-a communal-dish affair be a thing of the past now? I was also impressed by the availability of Alpro Soya yogurts; another sign of moving with times.
More positives: the staff were friendly and check in/check out effortless. My only quibble with the whole experience would be some of the recommendations on the aforementioned PDF route pack, which I found hit and miss. It doesn't, for example, list Barras Market's very limited operating hours. And in its dining suggestions, it's lacking in traditional Scottish cuisine yet spotlights two Mexican eateries.
Nevertheless, I had my obligatory steak experience at the Miller & Carter Glasgow steakhouse, and it was sensational. Then, as per the pack's suggestion, I had some very satisfying fried chicken at the aptly-named Asurd Bird, and tapas-style small plates at the hipstery Ox & Finch, which artfully fuses countless cuisines.
The St Mungo mural on High Street [below] is a few minutes' walk from the hotel. I learned about its fascinating history - and the fish, bird, tree, and bell backstory of Glasgow's coat of arms - on the following street tour...
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Walking Tours In... Scotland's comprehensive City Centre Tour will give you a great steer of the most significant sights and streets. (Glasgow Cathedral, eye-catchingly blackened with age, is an essential photo stop). I had the same excellent tour guide for the LGBTQ+ Walking Tour, on which I relived BBC Three's landmark drama Lip Service and the city's best queer watering holes, including...
Bonjour, a self-described 'profit-sharing, workers co-op queer bar' was full of bright young things living their best post-lockdown lives; my server was an eight-foot tall (in platforms) drag queen/possible supermodel. Later, I tried to get into Polo Lounge, a 'refined mezzanine lounge and basement dance floor' and a blockbuster name on Glasgow's nightlife scene, but the queue was literally around the block. That speaks volumes in 2021!
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Moxy is a playful, affordable, and stylish hotel brand designed to give guests everything they want and nothing they don’t. This summer, the hotel brand (part of Marriott Bonvoy) launched the Great British Road trip – a collection of ready-made routes encouraging people to get out and explore closer to home, in places such as Chester, York and Glasgow. The routes are available to book until the end of August at www.moxyhotelsroadtrip.com. Moxy room rates start from £54 per night.
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