Friday, March 29, 2013

The Suburb of Chiswick and its Historic Houses

Tuesday, March 19, 2013: On the Outskirts of London

A Daytrip Ahead:
I had devoted this day entirely to my new friend Raquel, a fairly-new American expatriate in London, and our plans to see some spots in Chiswick on the outskirts of the city. We have a mutual friend named Amy based in New York who brought up together in cyberspace. After my oatmeal breakfast and a shower at Amen Court, I intended to join up with Raquel but she called to inform me that she had an urgent doctor’s appointment and would be delayed.

Food Shopping and A Brief Visit to the National Gallery:
No problem, I thought. This lull in my unceasing activity would give me pause to get to the National Gallery which is one of my favorite places in London and where I always go, on every single visit, to say hello to my favorite canvasses. I would also be able to do some of my food shopping for I hadn’t accomplished much in that department thus far.

After 8 am, Mass, I took the bus and went directly to Sainsbury at Holborn to pick up masses of Bourbon Chocolate Biscuits and to Marks and Sparks for my Fruity Flapjack Biscuits. A quick nip into Waitrose at Holborn to buy Ainsley Herriot’s powdered packaged soups drew a blank—I realized I would need to get to a larger Waitrose for those. Back at Amen Court, I deposited my shopping and sped off by bus to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square where I spent the next couple of hours visiting my favorite works (Zurbaran’s haunting Portrait of St. Francis, Constable’s rustic Haywain, Stubbs' Whistlejacket, Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs, Andrews, Caravaggio’s Christ at Emmaus, Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire, the Execution of Lady Jane Grey by Paul DelaRoche, The Graham Children by William Hogarth, the room devoted entirely to works by Renaissance Italian artist Carlo Crivelli and finally my favorite work in the entire museum, Pieter de Hooch’s Courtyard of a House in Delft). I also spent a while in the museum shop looking for a particular bookmark—Rogier van der Weyden’s Magdalen Reading. What a bummer to discover that it is now out of stock! Oh well! At least I did see much-loved works and although I would have loved to stay longer, Raquel did call to tell me she was ready to keep our date.

Off to Chiswick House and Gardens:
I hopped on to the Tube at Charing Cross to get to Turnham Green Tube Station where Raquel and I planned to connect. What a coincidence to discover that we were on the same train! The plan of action was to get to Chiswick House, a grand Palladian manor in the town of the same name and to explore its fabulous gardens.

Only we discovered as we got out of the Tube station that there were snazzy shops galore to tempt us on Chiswick High Street and, before we knew it, we were dallying in and out of our favorite places—mainly the charity shops which I find endlessly fascinating. Raquel kept exclaiming at the opportunity to survey these shops for although she lives in Central London, she is nowhere close to the main shopping arcades.

Fifteen minutes of a brief walk later, we were skirting the vast acreage of Chiswick House and Gardens. Its dome and Palladian rotunda came into sight as we passed by smartly-attired suburbanites walking their dogs in the garden. Inspired by Andrea Palladio’s Villa La Capra near Vicenza in Italy, the house was built by Lord Burlington, an avid traveler and collector of Neo-Classical art. Sadly, when we got to the main entrance, we discovered that a Camellia Festival was on throughout the month of March which would leave the house open only at the weekends. I was frustrated and annoyed as this is the second time I have made the pricey journey to Chiswick House only to find entry prohibited—three years ago, I was there with my friend Amy and we had drawn a similar blank.

However, since Raquel and I were starving and the Chiswick Café is well reputed, we sat down to have lunch: Spinach Quiche with a Salad, a Fruit Scone with Butter and Strawberry Jam (how can you visit England and not eat a scone, right?) and a lovely Mixed Nut Tart washed down with Elderflower cordial—all of which were simply scrumptious. Over lunch, we got to know each other and discovered that we have so much in common. Don’t you just love it when you hit it off instantly with a new friend?

Lunch done, we strolled at leisure through Chiswick Gardens taking in the follies dotted all over it from ornate gateways designed by Inigo Jones to stone bridges over lilting streams filled with mallard life. While we explored, the sun actually came out to play peekaboo for just a few minutes—a sight that so lifted poor sun-deprived Raquel’s heart that she wished to sit put on a bench and simply bask in it! More photo ops were provided by obelisks and sculpture in the park and although the flowering bushes were still dormant, we had little doubt that summer would soon bring lush color to the space.

Hogarth’s House:
Knowing that the 18th century painter, William Hogarth, lived only a hop, skip and jump from Chiswick House, we asked for directions and used Raquel’s I-phone to find our way to the home of Hogarth along quiet suburban streets with the occasional passing car and giddy uniformed school girl getting home for tea. About fifteen minutes later, we found the spot and entered the brick-walled enclosed garden with its legendary 300 year old mulberry tree.

William Hogarth, one of the most merciless satirists of his time, lived in this late 17th century house from 1749 until his death in 1764. Entry to the house is free and we were also free to wander at will through the rooms that were filled with prints of his many series of engravings such as Marriage a la Mode, Gin Lake, The Rake’s Progress and Beer Street (the originals are in Sir John Soanes House in Holborn) and some items of 18th century domestic life.

A visit to Hogarth’s House would not be complete without a short walk to the church yard of St. Nicholas on the banks of the Thames where his grave might be visited. But Raquel was already exhausted and I had been there before (with Amy). We, therefore, elected to stroll back to the Tube station but not before dallying one more time in the enticing shops and stopping for a cuppa at Starbucks.

More Food Shopping at Waitrose:
Raquel and I parted company on the Tube at Earl’s Court where we needed to make our respective connections. I intended to get to Knightsbridge to pause for a bit at Harrods’s but when I alighted at Gloucester Road, I found myself outside a gigantic Waitrose that carried the Ainsley Herriot soups I’d coveted. So with many of those packets in my bags, I jumped on a bus headed to Ludgate Hill and reached home by 8.00 pm.

Dinner at Has Turkish Restaurant:
As it turned out, I was just in time to accept an invitation from Mark, a mutual friend, to join him and the Colcloughs for dinner. I was delighted as I had no other plans. With the Colclough sons, Aidan and Edward, we made our way towards Cheapside where we found the lovely Turkish restaurant called Has. At the recommendation of Cynthia and the boys, I opted for the Mixed Grill platter which contained grilled chicken, lamb and beef steak—all served with a piquant yoghurt sauce and flat bread. Cynthia’s decision to go for the Mixed Mezze platter was brilliant for she had a variety of offerings from which to nibble. However, my dessert, Kadefi, a sweet treat to which I had become introduced during my Middle Eastern travels in Jordan and Egypt was very good indeed. It was a great way to catch up with all the doings in the lives of my dear friends as well as to find out about Mark’s work in London (he was visiting from New York). By 10.00 pm, we were all back home and I could collect my thoughts and decide how I would spend my last few days in the city.

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