05 June 2019

Unimagined Heights: St. Paul’s Cathedral

Our first up-close with the cathedral
For our second day in London, we activated our 6-day London Pass, a pay-once-for-multiple-attractions digital ticket, which we decided to buy because of the attractive 20% off rates we found before our departure. The morning was so beautiful that we decided to start with St. Paul’s Cathedral to make the most of the views. Our plan also had the compensating advantage of providing us a serious cardio workout before our fairly sedentary evening watching a play,

But first, breakfast.  We stopped in at a place called VQ, and perhaps in retrospect we would not have selected it if we’d known (a) it has multiple locations around London and (b) it’s open 24/7.  Trying to embrace the local food tradition I ordered bubble and squeak.  Color me unimpressed.  Michael had better luck ordering a simple breakfast sandwich.  At least it was quick and the espresso was delicious!

I made this photo before realizing that photography
was not allowed.
We took the tube to the St. Paul’s stop and found that the station basically stands in the shadow of the cathedral.  Only a few people were lingering on the steps outside when we went in.  Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed inside, so I only made one picture of the side of the nave before seeing the sign.  The space is large and impressive and that early in the morning there were fewer tourists inside.

View from the Stone Gallery
I’d heard about the Whispering Gallery, so I was disappointed to discover that it was closed the day we were there (I’ve since been horrified to learn that it closed a month before our visit because somebody had died), but the Stone Gallery and the Golden Gallery were both open.  At 257 and 376 steps up, respectively, the galleries can only be reached by visitors via spiral staircases. Girding my loins, we began the slow ascent and I’m happy to report that the views at the top were absolutely worth the risk of cardiac arrest.

Millennium Bridge 
The round white building in the foreground
is Shakespeare’s Globe theatre

The views from the Golden Gallery weren’t substantially better, and the sense of vertigo I got from looking over the parapet was palpable, but I still felt a real sense of accomplishment for climbing all that way.  At one point, there’s a small circle in the floor near the top of the stairs positioned exactly in the middle above the dome where you can look down into the cathedral, spying the chairs assembled far below.

Those brown specks are chairs in the nave. (Michael’s photo, not mine)
After getting our fill of fresh air and views, we began our descent to ground level. By the time we reached the nave, it had filled up quite a bit more with tourists so we were glad to have arrived as early as we had.  We took a seat o rest our jelly-legs from our vertical exertions as much as to take in the grandeur of the dome from the inside.  It was here, I’m somewhat ashamed to say, that I made a few surreptitious photos. 

See that tiny speck of light in the lower part of the innermost circle?
That’s the “peephole” we looked down from on our climb to the Golden Gallery

After a brief detour down to the crypts, we went back upstairs for the 12:30 service that was starting. We both agreed that it was especially fitting to be in that space to experience the purpose it was created for. It was a spoken service, not a musical one, which made me wish we could be there one day for a proper mass. The service over, we checked out the gift shop and purchased some sodas to fortify ourselves before heading out to explore more of London. It was also astonishing for us to see, as we walked towards the Millennium Bridge, just how far up we had been.

Even more refreshing than a turn about the room
Until next time, St. Paul’s...
See where those tiny people are? That’s where we were!
Yup, for comparison purposes so you can see the
Golden Gallery vis a vis the rest of the dome
Once we’d crossed the river Thames, it was time to consider lunch. We originally had made reservations for afternoon tea at the intriguing-looking Momo, but it wasn’t anywhere near where we were and we were getting hungry.  Borrowing some free wifi from the Starbucks, we canceled the reservation and instead walked into The Swan, adjacent to Shakespeare’s Globe, for afternoon tea instead.

This delighted me to no end, since I had been longing to do their Midsummer Night’s Dream-themed afternoon tea in conjunction with our tickets to see the matinee of Henry V, but the timing simply didn’t work out.  It hadn’t occurred to me before the trip that we could manage to get to the Globe on a different day from seeing the play! Michael had never before experienced afternoon tea, and I myself had only had it one time prior in Ireland, and this one lived up to all of the anticipation.

For a few additional pounds, you could enjoy a special gin, blackberry, & prosecco cocktail, so obviously I took advantage of that.  Because gin.  The Swan also offers two types of tea: a traditional one and a “gentleman” one, so we ordered one of each and shared everything.  The gentleman’s tea is heartier and frankly I would not have been able to finish one by myself, but I’m glad that it gave me the opportunity to try yet another traditional food, the Scotch egg. It also had the best grilled ham & cheese I’ve ever had, but they call it by the fancier name of Berkshire ham croque monsieur.

The bespoke china used for tea at the Swan

Gentleman’s tea 
Traditional tea
Our server was kind enough to bring us two more scones and extra clotted cream because they were so yummy that I wanted to eat both of them and this way we each got two. My Moroccan mint tea and Michael’s white pear & ginger tea both resulted in two very happy customers.

And since this seems like quite enough to be getting on with, I’ll conclude Wednesday’s report here and simply add my thoughts about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to Thursday. 

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