4 In London/ Travel

London: Saint Paul’s Cathedral


I’m going back to London some day, and when I do I am going straight to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The beautiful mosaics, the glorious arches and dome, and the incredible view of the city just makes this place truly extraordinary.


I hopped on a double-decker bus from Trafalgar Square and was thrilled to find the front row seat empty. It was my first experience riding a double-decker bus and I was happy to get the best view from it. It was nice to have an elevated view of the streets of London and I was pretty excited when I started to see Saint Paul’s Cathedral down the road. The streets were much narrower in London than I had ever expected. I had supposed that a metropolis like London would have large busy streets, but it felt rather snug and cozy. The traffic lights weren’t strung or fixed directly above the streets like they have in the U.S. or Korea. Instead, they simply had traffic lights on poles in the middle of the street. The most noticeable difference however, was that traffic was on the left side of the street and that drivers were on the right! I can’t imagine being able to drive in the UK. I mean, the whole system is entirely the opposite!


This was one of the very few single story buses in London. I had thought the double-decker was a sort of touristy thing, so I was surprised and rather amused to find that it was harder to spot single story buses in London. It also felt like a natural solution to the smaller streets of the city. The bus drivers reminded me of the bus drivers in Washington, where traffic is relatively easy-going. By Washington I mean Washington State on the west coast, not Washington D.C. on the east coast. I’m not sure whose bright idea it was to have an overlapping name for a state and the capital of the country. It always confuses outsiders and there are always a few packages and shipments that were supposed to go to Washington D.C. that end up coming to Washington State.


In any case, I wholeheartedly recommend taking a bus to get to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Reason being is that you see it from afar and can be all excited about it, and then gradually become engulfed by the grand architecture. I felt rather small once I landed in front of it! This is also when I started desperately wishing I had a better camera and a better lens to capture this incredible place.The exterior of the building is amazing and leaves the most remarkable impression but the interior holds a beauty that I can’t seem to begin to put together with words.  Of course, I almost cried when I learned that photography is not allowed within the building. Why why why?! I can completely understand not wanting flash photography but why ban photography altogether? Well, I just found that their answer in the Q&A section of their website:

Even outside of service times St Paul’s is a place where visitors can seek solace and comfort. Photography can be very distracting, especially when you take into consideration the large number of visitors that come into the building on a daily basis. In the past St Paul’s has, as an experiment, relaxed the photography rule. However, the combination of camera flashes and groups queuing up to pose for photographs under the dome led to the conclusion that allowing photography would greatly detract from the spiritual life of the Cathedral.

It makes sense and I understand their reasoning for it. Still, I wish that they would allow perhaps an hour at the end of the day where non-flash photography was allowed.  For me, photography is a big part of traveling, experiencing, and observing the world. Memories fade and the first to go with it are the intricate details. That is what makes photography so powerful. I see the photo that I have taken and it brings back that moment; what I saw, how it felt, it all comes rushing back to me. The photos inside the pamphlet aren’t that bad, but they’re not the way that I experienced and perceived it.


Look at the details! Look at the pillars? Have I told you about my love of pillars and the ornamented pillar capitals?


The west front largely reminded me of Greek architecture, but the spacing of the pillars were a bit interesting. I also wonder why there is a clock on one tower but an empty hole in the other. Perhaps it’s for the practical reason that there is no need to have two clocks, but it’s uneven for a building that mainly appears to be symmetrical on each side. It doesn’t look bad or anything; I’m just curious as to what the hole could mean and why the architect opted for a hole rather than some other decorative element.

As a side note, I have a theory that the summers in Seattle are nice to trick visitors into thinking that Seattle is quite a nice place to live. Not that Seattle is a bad place to live, but let’s face it, it’s either cloudy or raining the rest of the seasons. If it doesn’t rain at least once a week they call it a drought. London must have been planning to do the same to me, because the skies were clear and it didn’t rain once while I was there. It made for some pretty  nice photo backdrops. I do wonder if my impression of London would have been any different if it had been cold and rainy while I was there. Though, I must say that while living in Seattle I probably built up an immune system against gloomy weather.


After exploring inside of St. Paul’s cathedral and the crypt, I started on the 528 step journey to see the view of the city. You see these steps? They have holes! Holes!! Which means if you look down at the steps you’ll see how far up you are from the ground. What’s that you say? Don’t look down? Well these steps don’t have risers! So in order not to over step and trip on the staircase and bring it all tumbling down to my sure death, I had to look down to make sure I was placing my foot firmly in the right part of the tread. As you can see, I have a completely irrational fear of heights. I had a death grip on the railing and anything else I could hold on to and probably left a million fingerprints in that stairwell.


This photo adequately expresses how I felt on that terrifying staircase.


On the way up, there were some people crowded around something on the platform, so I waited patiently to see what it was. To my dismay, I found that it was a peephole down to the first floor of the cathedral. Once I recognized the floor pattern and the pews surrounding it my legs started feeling shaky. They should assign a priest to that landing; confession seemed like a pretty good idea at the time. My fear was playing out all sort of disaster scenarios in my head; mostly ending with a long fall to my death. How did I keep going? Well, there was a kind old gentleman behind me that was also taking a look, and when we finished looking down the peephole of doom we saw that some people had opted to skip the peephole and had taken our place in line. I didn’t mind so much as I wasn’t in a hurry to be climbing further up, but the gentleman firmly announced that there was a queue and wouldn’t take no for an answer. So he took his place in queue and made sure I was in my place in front of him which happened to be the foot of the next staircase. It was one of those times where I had to smile and say thank you when I was really crying on the inside. I climbed those stairs like I’d been sentenced to my death.

Once I was finally outside though, I felt perfectly fine. I was able to enjoy the breeze and the wonderful view of the city. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t feel the least bit afraid once I was outside, seeing I was still very high up. Perhaps I have a sort of climacophobia, which is a fear of climbing stairs, rather than a fear of heights. In any case, it was completely worth it! I’ve been up my fair share of city viewpoints and this was one of my favorites!  You can see the Tower Bridge on the left, and the Shard on the right. Apparently the Shard is one of the tallest buildings in Europe! No wonder Tower Bridge looks so tiny in comparison. Of course, you go near Tower Bridge and you’ll see that it’s not so tiny at all.


The clock and a hole of the west towers continue on the backside. I wonder if that’s where all the birds go when it rains or when it’s time for bed. I hadn’t realized until a couple days ago that the Mary Poppins song “Feed the Birds” took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’ll have to re-watch the movie one of these days! I don’t recall seeing any birds on the steps, just a crowd of tourists.


I think it’d be interesting to climb up to the bell tower and see the bells inside, but I don’t think that part of the cathedral is open to the general public. I know the golden object at the top is a pineapple, but I’m not quite sure what those smaller golden objects are.


What I really like about the London view from St Paul’s Cathedral is that you can recognize major landmarks without having to look too hard. Many of the buildings have a unique look and fun nicknames to go with it! I rather liked the bullet shaped building. It’s the 30 St Mary Axe building and it’s nickname is The Gherkin. I had no idea what gherkin was supposed to mean or how it’s supposed to be pronounced, but apparently it is a type of pickled cucumber. The one to the right is the Leadenhall building and it’s called The Cheesegrater! Whoever came up with that nickname is absolutely brilliant!


The Millennium Bridge with Tate Modern on the other side. I wasn’t able to fit Tate Modern into my visit, but I did get to cross the Millennium Bridge when I was running to the Shard. I thought it was rather nice having a pedestrian only bridge over the Thames. I liked that I could run to the other side of the bridge without having to get to a cross walk and lookout for cars.


Of course it is easy to recognize London Eye in the distance, but I’m not sure what the building on the right is. It looks like it has quite a number of pillars, and has an interesting shape to it. It reminds me of Greek and Roman architecture, although it is difficult to really tell what style it is just from this photo.


After the descent, I went across the street to the roof terrace of the One New Change shopping center. There is no charge for going up to the roof terrace and it has a great view of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a perfect way to say good-bye to St Paul’s and think about what an amazing experience it had been on so many levels. I look forward to visiting again someday! Maybe there is a photo spot for the western entrance where the west towers are. I’d like to get a nice shot from that angle.

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