St Paul's Cathedral

Today I decided to go to St Paul's Cathedral, one of the most recognizable churches in the city. It's the burial place of some major historical figures (wow, a Bill and Ted moment there!) such as Horatio Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, two notable Napoleonic War era folks.

The place is absolutely beautiful from the outside, and the tell-tale dome is world renowned. Alas, as with other such places, photography was not allowed inside. I've got some pictures uploading as I type this, but they're all exterior shots and shots from up high.

Ah, up high... for the unaware, which among others was me not long ago, St Paul's offers the chance for viewers to climb stairwells to the top. Well, the top ain't such an easy place to reach (especially for chaps my height; the climb is not for the claustrophobic to be sure). There's the ground floor, which has the main chapel, a number of monuments to various figures and military types. There's the crypt, housing the tombs of the Nelson and a memorial to Florence Nightingale. Then there's the rest.

The first vertical level is called the Whispering Gallery. It's (pretty much) a perfect circle (save doorways cocking things up) where you can sit on one side, whisper at the wall, and someone clear across the other side can hear what you say thanks to the acoustics carrying the words around the gallery. It also offers a nice view of part of the chapel below. The Whispering Gallery is reached by ascending 163 (!!!!) steps, many narrow of course given the centuries-old nature of the building. The climb was... well, pretty damned tiring I must say. I'm not in the best of shape by any means, and I started to get winded about 3/4 of the way up but I made it without having a heart attack. I got up there and thought perhaps this is as high as I want to go.

Except things didn't turn out that way. My friend Jean-Paul, who previously visited the Cathedral in 1995 (and who told me they allowed photos back then) said he never made it all the way to the top of the place. I thought, well, I'll have to at least give it a try, right?

On to the next level. Called the Stone Gallery, you climb another 119 steps, which takes you to an observation deck of sorts roughly around the base of the dome. The place is heavily fenced off to prevent accidents, and it's fairly hard to see through the narrow apertures and observe the surroundings. Nevertheless I finagled some pics from this level and figured I might as well carry onward and upward - because no, that's not the top.

The Golden Gallery - a further 152 steps upward, chiefly on iron circular staircases, certainly not a place for those afraid of heights - is the top-most level one can reach at the Cathedral. A staggering 111 metres above the ground, there's not much of a fence around the very narrow pathway (one attendant at the Whispering Gallery cautioned someone the fence was about chest-high; on me, of course, that was barely above waist-high) but the view is breathtaking.

You can see more of London from here than in a lot of places given you've got 360 degree access around the top. Although I'm not uploading every shot I took, I pretty much went crazy with the camera and shot dozens of photos from up there. Partly because (despite a bit of greyness in the air) it was just so amazing to see what one can see up there, and partly because I don't think I'd ever climb back up there even on a bet. One lady who made the trek up commented she was very afraid of heights, but like a trooper she made her way around to enjoy the view.

So, 450-odd steps downward and I was back on the ground. I almost felt like falling to my knees and kissing the ground after being up as high as I was with what amounted to minimal protection. Thankfully going DOWN the steps is far easier than going up, although I did have some issues navigating some of the narrower passageways and steps. When I was in the Whispering Gallery I asked that previously-noted attendant if someone my size would have issues getting to the Golden Gallery and he said pretty much no. I disagreed with him by the time I got to the top, however. Still, I got up and got down so all was well.

After leaving St Paul's I headed south toward the Millennium Bridge. A very, very ugly structure in my opinion, it's a very busy footbridge across the Thames toward Tate gallery and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. One can take tours around the Globe but after the two hours and change at St Paul's I didn't feel like taking that tour. I tooled around a bit on the south bank and then went back north across the bridge and headed toward the Museum of London.

The Museum of London chronicles the history of the city, back some 2000 years when it was called Londinium and settled by the Romans. The main display, near the entrance, was about the Great Fire in 1666, and the rest of the small (well, small compared to other museums I've been to here) museum was dedicated to medieval London up to the 17th century. The remainder of the history of the city, from where it currently ends to the present, is set to open some time in 2009. I was glad the place was free though... it had some neat bits of course, but overall wasn't as interesting as I'd hoped.

On the way back to the tube I walked around a bit and found a Curry's store (an electronics/computer-focused version of the store) and picked up some electronics I'd been meaning to get for a while now, chiefly a power bar, power adapter for my external hard drive, and a battery charger. After a quick stop at McDonald's for a burger I headed back to the flat and that's pretty much my day.

After a bit of TV and resting up a bit I'll sort out some dinner in a couple hours.

Tomorrow the plan is to go to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guard and to see what I can see. Tours of the Palace stop in late September so I presumably can't look around inside, so we'll see what's what tomorrow.



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