Tag Archives: architecture

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

On a recent trip up north, we pulled into beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia – to pay a visit to the fabled home of American founding father Thomas Jefferson.

He was waiting in the parking lot to greet us.

Thomas Jefferson bronze statue Monticello

A shuttle bus collected us from the Visitor’s Center and rumbled up the hill where we got our first glimpse of Monticello.

TJ designed and began building this place in 1769 – at the ripe old age of 26 years old, after inheriting 3,000 acres of plantation land from his father.

Monticello landscape wooded green

Monticello front entrance portico

It’s a truly graceful design. And the views from the top of the mountain aren’t bad either…

Monticello brick path view

Monticello side profile

Monticello deck side view2

I love the side decks branching out from each side of the house. I found TJ’s lime tree, close at hand for those sunset gin & tonics on the terrace I presume.

Monticello deck lime tree

Monticello deck sundial

Exploring the greenhouse piazza

Exploring the greenhouse piazza

Monticello deck sunroom porch window

Monticello kitchen

The Monticello foundation is refreshingly frank about the role that enslaved people played in everyday life. Jefferson owned more than 600 slaves over the course of his lifetime. They laboured on the plantation as field workers, gardeners, carpenters, textile weavers, blacksmiths, and household servants.

It’s astounding that with all that free labour, Jefferson still managed to die with over $2 million in debt. In his will, he bequeathed freedom to only five men – a great hypocrisy in regards to his belief that “slavery [was] contrary to the laws of nature” and that everyone had a right to personal liberty.

Monticello kitchen shelves

I can’t reconcile how Jefferson could advocate the abolishment of slavery, and even eventual emancipation of slaves, but still be a part of society that was growing more and more entrenched in the proliferation of slavery. The sad truth is that he is partly responsible for instilling in white American culture the notion that blacks were inferior. America is still grappling with the wounds of slavery and racism to this very day.

Log cabin dwelling for slaves

Log cabin dwelling for slaves

Monticello back lawn

It was a gorgeous day to stroll the grounds and explore the gardens, which symbolise the pioneering spirit of life in colonial America.

Monticello gardens hill landscape

Monticello gardens tree

Monticello gardens corn

Monticello gardens rosemary

Monticello gardens coupolla view

I could have spent all afternoon in this little brick pavilion with its double sash windows and extraordinary views across the rolling Piedmont countryside.

We wandered down the hill behind the house upon the family cemetery, to reflect on the obelisk marker of Jefferson’s grave.

Monticello grave fence emblym

Isn’t it surprising he didn’t mention being the third President of the United States as one of his accomplishments? Instead, he wanted to be remembered for his writings and for founding the University of Virginia.

Monticello gravestone

And how romantic that he died on the Fourth of July, fifty years to the day after signing the Declaration of Independence! Fellow signer and American revolutionary, John Adams would die on the same day, just four hours later.

Monticello gravestone gates

For all America’s complicated and dissonant history, this place is certainly a part of it.

Back at the Monticello discovery center, we tinkered around with some of Jefferson’s inventions, including a replica of his letter copying device.

Monticello letter copier demo

Monticello letter copier demo discovery

With our heads full of ideas and information, we stopped off at the Michie Tavern to debrief and reflect on our Monticello visit – over a mug of tavern ale!

Mitchie tavern sign

Mitchie tavern

Mitchie Tavern beer

Mitchie Tavern tavern ale

Mitchie Tavern beer sip

I’m so glad we had the chance to spend a day at Monticello and learn a little bit about the life of Thomas Jefferson.

In the words of the man himself, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”

Hello, Charleston!

The time finally came to pack up our remaining belongings and head down the east coast to our new home – Charleston, South Carolina!

Penske Moving Truck

Driving this bad boy was a bit tricky at times, but we enjoyed the most beautiful drive through the Shenandoah Valley, watching spring blossom more and more with each passing mile.

By the time we reached Charleston, everything was in full bloom!

King Street Walking Tour English Flag

We couldn’t wait for our feet to touch the ground and stretch our stiff legs – we immediately set off on a stroll around town.

Charleston King Street Runner Leafy Spring

Charleston Morgan Driveway

Charleston Architecture

Charleston King Street 19 Architecture Home

Charleston King Street Palm Tree Building Plaque

Charleston Peninsula Striped Cabbages and Roses Knit Sweater Dress

Charleston Peninsula Park Walk Trees

We instantly fell in love with our new city! The charming streets, the regal antebellum architecture, the way everyone you pass on the sidewalk smiles and says hello. We both breathed a sigh of relief that it seems we’ve picked the perfect spot for our new adventure.

Then we realised we were famished from our exceptionally long journey! In Charleston, we will be spoiled for choice because the foodie scene is exploding here. We thought since we’re new in town, we better just start with some local Southern classics. So we popped in to Hominy Grill on Rutledge Avenue.

Charleston Hominy Grill Exterior Wall Sign

First thing they did, was plonk down a basket of boiled peanuts. I’d only ever heard of them once before, when I saw Francis Underwood chomping on some in an episode of House of Cards. Well, they are a pretty big deal in the South. Boiled in the shell, in salty water (for hours!) until they are nice and soft. Once you get over the mushy consistency, it’s still just a tasty peanut! And I have to admit, it didn’t take long to start to enjoy them!

Boiled Peanuts

Boiled Peanuts

Another curious taste of the south is the cherry-flavoured soda pop called Cheerwine. I had my first taste of it in the form of a Cheerwine Negroni. Ruby red in colour and sweetened with cane sugar, it’s a retro favourite in Charleston. I’ll be honest, I probably won’t be stocking up on it anytime soon – it’s a little too sweet for me. But it was worth a try!

Cheerwine Negroni: Aperol, Boodles gin, sweet vermouth and cheerwine

Cheerwine Negroni: Aperol, Boodles gin, sweet vermouth and Cheerwine

Fried Chicken Basket with pickles and pepper relish

Fried Chicken Basket with pickles and pepper relish

She Crab Soup with sherry

She Crab Soup with sherry

There was only one dish under consideration for my first meal in Charleston, and that was a heaping serving of classic Southern shrimp and grits. So many restaurants have their own version of it, and there’s always fierce competition for best shrimp and grits in town. But, boy, I think I picked a good ‘un.

Shrimp & Grits: sautéd shrimp, mushrooms, scallions and bacon over cheese grits

Shrimp & Grits: sautéed shrimp, mushrooms, scallions and bacon over cheese grits

This plate is a basically just a cheesy amalgamation of all of my favourite foods – mushrooms, shrimp, cheese, spring onions and, of course, bacon!

The catch of the day was soft shell crab, which had just come into season. Just a naked little crab, lightly sesame fried, with greens and a scoop of macaroni and cheese.

Sesame Fried Soft Shell Crab with house tartar sauce and two sides

Sesame Fried Soft Shell Crab with house tartar sauce and two sides

There was hardly room for dessert, but we had to share a slice of buttermilk pie. Who would have known it was originally an English recipe, which has now been adopted by the American South! The UK might want to ask for it back – it’s downright delicious!

Buttermilk Pie

Buttermilk Pie

Hominy Grill Interior Dark Outside Tables

Charleston Hominy Grill Shades Table

Our first meal in Charleston knocked our socks off. And the way things are looking, there’s no end in sight of good eating in this town.

Fallingwater

About a three-hour drive from Washington, DC in the rural foothills of Pennsylvania is American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. It was recently voted the single most important building in the United States by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). It makes for a great field trip if you’re in the area; so with snacks for the road, we drove up to Bear Run for a tour.

Pennsylvania Barn Mail Pouch Tobacco

Fallingwater Snacks Cheetos

Fallingwater was designed in 1935 as a summer home for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh. The family had a successful department store in the city, and this was to be their wooded weekend retreat.

Fallingwater Drive

Fallingwater Side

The design of the house is a series of reinforced concrete terraces cantilevered out over the Bear Run river.

Fallingwater Pose Outside

From every room inside the house, you can hear the crashing waterfalls and feel as if you are part of the natural world around you. It’s the house that defined the philosophy of ‘organic architecture’ – a sense of harmony between nature and the built environment. The central living space inside Fallingwater is open and light, with the use of natural materials, including waxed river stones for the floor.

Fallingwater inside

Fallingwater Fireplace River Stones Boulder

Every room was filled with incredibly thoughtful architectural details. But sadly the organisation that runs the property, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, is letting the site fall into a state of appalling disrepair. I saw cracks in the plaster, mold growing on the terraces, and paper kitchen towel stuffed in cracks in the rock walls to plug water leaks. The conservancy is under-funded, inexperienced, and most probably mismanaged. It’s such a shame, because I imagine this property in the hands of the National Parks or Smithsonian where it could really be taken care of properly and wow its visitors even more! I hope this national treasure is around to inspire future generations and the next chapter of architecture students for years to come.

Fallingwater View

Fallingwater me

After leaving Fallingwater, we stopped for lunch at the historic Casselman Inn in Grantsville, Maryland. Operated by Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish owners, the restaurant is known for its selection of homemade breads, cakes, and pies. It’s also where I fell off the gluten-free wagon!

Casselman Sign

Casselman Inn Front Exterior

Casselton Dining Hours

Casselman Restaurant Table

Casselman Bread Basket

I resisted the yeasty sweetness of the warm, freshly baked bread. And I refused to give in to even a bite of Eddie’s honey-dipped fried chicken.

Casselman Fried Chicken Chips Fries

My fall from grace came at the hands of this monster iced maple cinnamon roll.

Casselman Maple Sticky Bun

I have never tasted such sweet, soft, maple-y perfection. And, for my figure’s sake, I hope I don’t for a long time to come! (It was so worth it though).

Casselman Maple Bun

Just around the corner from the inn is Castleman’s River Bridge, a historic national landmark. Its 80-foot span was the largest stone arch in America at the time it was built in 1813.

Castleman Bridge

Castlemans Bridge

I love driving though America and discovering little out-of-the-way spots with their own tiny history. Surely, there will be many more to come!

Hyde Park & Serpentine Pavilion

It was the summer bank holiday weekend and the forecast was favorable – so those still left in London (mostly tourists and the few students who weren’t getting plastered at the Notting Hill Carnival) turned out for an afternoon in Hyde Park.

Bright deck chairs are available to lounge along the perimeter of Round Pond. But I’m a traditionalist – nothing better than plonking down on a picnic blanket in the grass with Kensington Palace in the background (and a wee bottle of chablis)!

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Albert Memorial, with Royal Albert Hall behind

Albert Memorial, with Royal Albert Hall behind

The Serpentine Gallery is known for hosting dreadful contemporary art exhibits (for example, the tangle of lightbulbs now on display, below) patrolled by haggard unpaid volunteers dressed head-to-toe in threadbare rags. Attendance figures are vastly exaggerated thanks to its status as the most popular public toilet in Kensington Gardens. It does have a charming little bookshop, stocked to the rafters with old Phaidon publications – well worth a browse.

The recently commissioned pavilion designed by Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto warrants a passing glance. The delicate jungle gym constructed of white steel rods explores the boundaries between nature and the built environment. Meant to resemble a geometric cloud (or nest?) the structure encourages audience engagement; hyperactive kids who’ve momentarily escaped their guardian’s attention can clamber raucously until they are shouted down by a frazzled intern invigilating the space. Fortnum & Mason is there doling out very expensive coffees from their pop-up cafe inside the pavilion – which you can enjoy on one of the translucent stepped terraces.

The Serpentine Gallery

The Serpentine Gallery

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Pavilion, by Sou Fujimoto

Pavilion, by Sou Fujimoto

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What more could you ask of a sunny public holiday spent in a Royal park?