I just don’t have nearly enough time here. London is huge and there are an incredible number of things to see and do. I’ve studiously avoided things I did during my last visit here, and I still haven’t even really begun to scratch the surface. And today is my only full day, because I leave tomorrow for Berlin.
I didn’t see my host this morning, but helped myself to yogurt before heading first to St. Paul’s Cathedral downtown. The underground took me right there, but I didn’t initally see the church. I walked down the street, debating whether or not I should check the map, when suddenly, down a walkway that stretched between buildings, I saw the dome rising gloriously into the sky.
As I approached the church, the music of Mary Poppins went through my head, but nobody was feeding any birds, and to be honest I doubt they could do so for tuppence a bag.
As it turns out the Anglican churches charge tourists for admission, which is a big difference from the Catholic churches. And the Anglican churches aren’t inexpensive either – today cost about 28 bucks. Now that’s an all inclusive ticket which covers the main floor, crypt, an audioguide, and the galleries. The Catholic approach is different. The main church is generally free (right now they are charging for Sagrada Familia, stating it is under construction), with charges potentially added for baptistry, crypt, sacristy, cupola, belltower, permission to photograph, roof, audioguide, etc. I prefer the Catholic approach.
Ah the audioguide … I have so many issues with audioguides. Too much information. Too little information. Difficult to navigate. The list goes on and on. This guide wasn’t bad. It was on an iPod touch, so it was easy to navigate and skip things that I didn’t want to hear. But the text itself was a bit heavier on the theology than I would have liked.
There were no photos permitted in this church, which is too bad. It is a very nice church. Very Catholic in its design, which I suspect the Anglicans would find rather frustrating.
As I mentioned, the ticket included access to the galleries. There was a big Russian school group, and I wanted to avoid them so started running up the 257 steps to the Whispering Gallery, which is at the base of the dome inside the cathedral. It turned out that running up the steps was useless, as they walked past me in the whispering gallery while I paused to catch my breath. They stopped there, while their guide spoke, so I continued on up another 119 steps to the Stone Gallery, which is at the base of the outer dome. One hundred fifty two steps higher and I was at the Golden Gallery (thats a total of 528 steps, not counting the steps up from the crypt).
As I climbed, the steps changed from broad wide steps, to narrow steep steps, to tight sprial staircases, to even tighter wrought iron spiral staircases that I held on to, white-knuckled, in an effort to keep from falling to the floor below.
A couple of observations from this climb. 1) I shouldn’t try to race 15 year olds up the stairs – it’s a losing battle. 2) Spiral staircases are inherently dangerous 3) none of these domes was designed to welcome hordes of tourists, but that doesn’t stop me.
It doesn’t stop me because the views are simply stunning, and I seem to have a big climb like this almost every time I travel in Europe. So my quota for this trip is done.
We could see the Gherkin.
And the Shard
And Shakespeare’s Globe theatre.
This occupied most of my morning. The walk down was easier, if no less hazardous, than the climb up. I then found lunch, and headed to the Tate Modern in the afternoon.
The Tate Modern features contemporary art from British and world artists, and they have an absolutely beautiful collection.
Look – you can see Butterblogger reflected in this one!
They have a room of 9 Rothko paintings that seems to get everybody’s attention.
After the museum, I went for a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater next door. The entire name is somewhat of a misnomer, as it is a modern rebuild in the style of Shakespeare’s original Globe Theater. It would be interesting, I think, to someday see a show there, as it a small, intimate, open-air venue, and the weather contributes a degree of unpredictability. Perhaps next time I am in London I will look into this.
Finally the afternoon was growing old and I was exhausted so I returned back across the Millenium Bridge wending my way back toward the flat.
We are near St. Pancras International train station, which is a recently restored Victorian station. And it is breathtaking from every angle, a hulking brick building with gables and spires and chimneys and a clocktower. I walk by her every day, gaping at her beauty, always seeing something new. If you come here, she is worth a visit. Spectacular.
Dinner was lamb stew in a local gastropub. It was good, but they didn’t offer condiments beyond salt and pepper. It was salty enough, but I think it could have used some vinegar. I ate it with a pint of cider. I’m drinking lots of cider here, and really should do so at home as well. After dinner I stopped on my way back, pausing for another look at St. Pancras in the failing light.
She is remarkable.