Enriching My View of Richmond




Despite being well into the 21st century, the myth of “Merry Ole England” persists and continually captures the imagination of visitors who cannot help but equate England with idyllic countrysides and old-fashioned buildings. This was the very image I had in mind when traveling with my class to Richmond, a suburban area of London historically known as a royal residence but is now noted as a retreat for the wealthy. Even Kathryn Cusimano (FCLC ’09), an American expat who served as our tour guide for this trip, commented that she often saw Richmond as what she expected England to be like. She referenced the film entitled “The Hours,” in which the Virginia Woolf character says: “between Richmond and death, I choose death.” While this seemed to contradict the image I initially had of Richmond, I recognized the dark humor behind the quote and wondered how it would influence my own views.

Upon my arrival, I was taken aback by how contemporary the Quadrant and Kew Road, appeared. And how similar its layout was to the streets of Central London. Sure, there were certainly a few quaint restaurants and shops along the street, but they seemed out of place alongside the likes of Claire’s and McDonalds. I also immediately noticed how the streets were far less crowded here in Richmond.

As Kathryn led us away from the main streets through a secluded alleyway, I felt as if I had walked back in time. The Americanized shops soon gave way to the greenery enveloped St. Mary Magdalene, a church dating back as early as 1500. As we reached the church, Kathryn commented how Richmond “very obviously combines history with modern life”—the walk from the main street to the church that now stood before me certainly demonstrated this well.

Interior of St. Mary Magdalene’s Church (PHOTO COURTESY OF MARLESSA STIVALI)
Interior of St. Mary Magdalene’s Church. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MARLESSA STIVALA)

As we moved toward the church’s archway to explore the interior, an older (and clearly drunk) man took interest in us, informing us of a nearby grave’s description. He then continued to wonder if any of us were unmarried, prompting us to later joke whether or not this man would fulfill the common fantasy of falling in love with someone while abroad—we all agreed to keep looking for a younger, more sober Prince Charming.

Inside the church, two things struck me in particular: the memorials that lined the church’s floor and the overwhelming smell of flowers. Within the church, we encountered a church welcomer, a priest and a few young children accompanied by their mothers. The biggest surprise I had was how calm one of the mothers was as her child loudly cried. I wondered if this was more of a cultural difference between England and the United States or if the individual woman simply had remarkable patience; perhaps, time would tell.

Soon after we left, I remarked to Kathryn how Richmond seemed to have a great deal of mothers with their children. She replied that Richmond was indeed “a very stroller heavy place.” This affirmation made me wonder: Was Richmond less of a retreat for the wealthy and more of an ideal living spot for those who wished to escape Central London’s busy streets?

Veggie burger from Cricketer’s (PHOTO COURTESY OF MARLESSA STIVALA)
Veggie burger from The Cricketers (PHOTO COURTESY OF MARLESSA STIVALA)

The journey ultimately concluded with lunch at a pub called The Cricketers (a place I will fondly associate with having the best veggie burger I have ever eaten), but not before Kathryn shared more information about the area. She explained how Rincón, a tapas bar, was one of her favorite places to go, both for its atmosphere and its reasonably priced menu. She repeatedly encouraged us to visit the beautiful Richmond Park and  King Henry’s Mound with its breathtaking views of the skyline, which are both certainly visits I intend on making.

The journey back to the tube station included a walk along narrow alleyways that, believe it or not, were lined with high quality shops including an artisan ice cream and chocolate shop called Danieli on the Green. I am dying to go back and try it for myself.

Overlooking the Thames from Richmond (PHOTO COURTESY OF MARLESSA STIVALA)
Overlooking the Thames from Richmond (PHOTO COURTESY OF MARLESSA STIVALA)

While the portions of Richmond I explored were more modernized than I would have expected, the area certainly did not disappoint in natural beauty. Flowers and trees lined the streets, and revealed beautiful view of the Thames river. The Richmond Green, a recreational area often associated with cricket matches, was bustling with people relaxing, exercising in groups and playing with their dogs. Richmond was definitely worth the trip and I look forward to my next visit. Indeed, if I had been the character conversing with Virginia Woolf in The Hours, I would have certainly chosen Richmond!