Wednesday, August 21, 2019

St. Paul's Cathedral, London, England

One of the highlights of our trip to London was a visit to St. Paul's Cathedral. Truth be told, the only reason I even knew about St. Paul's was because I watched Mary Poppins many times as a kid. "Feed the Birds" was one of my all time favorite musical numbers and I sang it more times than I care to remember. (I sang a lot of My Fair Lady songs too.) 

Anyway, St. Paul's has a magical place in my memories so it was a natural spot to visit. I had no idea when it was built or why or really anything else about it. I also didn't know they would let you climb the spiraling staircases all the way to the top of the dome. There's a narrow, circular balcony you might be able to make out in the first picture, between the top of the dome and the base of the structure on top.

The entire structure is pretty massive and I had a hard time getting a picture of the entire thing from the street. Here's the front.

You enter the door behind the small, white tent on the left. The giant door in the center weighs a ton and has a special mechanism to operate it. They only open it on special occasions, like royal weddings. We just barely missed the last tour for awhile when we got there, so some of the docents-in-training took us on a tour to practice on us. I think there were three or four of them, which was fun, but also a little crazy because they were all throwing out interesting facts and tid bits about the church. 

One of the most amazing stories that stuck with me was how civilians were stationed on the roof during the air raids in WW II to put out fires so the whole structure didn't go up in flames. There's also a chapel in the end of the church dedicated to the Americans that gave their lives in WW II. The British definitely haven't forgotten those terrible days.

The current cathedral is the last of four constructed on this site, which dates from 604 AD. The one before burned down in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The docents told us about how the Anglican church was purposefully designed without a lot of colors, so that it stood out from the Catholic Westminster Cathedral. Christopher Wren's plans were accepted in 1675 and construction lasted until 1710. The colors inside the dome were added years later. It's apparently the second largest dome in the world.

The docents are also told us about the staircase to the top of the dome. The famous "whispering gallery" was closed, but visitors are still allowed to climb the stairs and look out over the city. It's 530 steps up there. The stairs start off OK, fairly wide and solid concrete, but the further you go, the narrower and narrower it gets. And then you get to the metal spiral staircases. The kind with holes in the steps so you can see through just how high up you are. I lost count how many of those we did: staircase, landing, staircase, landing. Finally you make it to the very top and step outside. The view on the very clear day we were there was spectacular.

 Looking down on St. Paul's matching bell towers and the Thames River

We could have spent a lot more time at St. Paul's and I wish we could have, but we were off to see the Tower of London and the Crown Jewels that afternoon. There's way too much to see in London and it would probably take you an entire lifetime to see it all. So glad we got to see it on this trip~

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