Wednesday, July 24, 2013

London Blog Pt. 14 - "An experience at St. Paul's Cathedral"

Today was quite an experience. I honestly don't think I even have words for it. But let me tell you this:

If you're ever in London, and consider yourself religious or spiritual in any way (or even if you don't), go to St. Paul's Cathedral. Seriously.

Words cannot express what I felt spiritually or emotionally as I walked through that space. Don't worry, I'm not going to get all "religious" on you guys all of a sudden. But my religious and Christian beliefs aside, the awe and peace I felt walking through St. Paul's, even with all the tourists and the audio guide talking in my ear, was astounding. St. Paul's is one of the few places that honestly deserves the descriptor awesome. It honestly inspires awe and is one of the few places where I looked around and could honestly believe there was something greater. And probably the only "manmade" place. Usually I get that feeling in nature, like when I visited the Grand Canyon. Some spaces just are awesome and powerful, St. Paul's is one of them.

Similar to the Grand Canyon (or at least my experience of it) St. Paul's is one of those places that the brain has trouble keeping up with the eyes and processing everything it sees. But as impressive as the space itself is, the story behind it is equally impressive. Since 604 AD there has been a cathedral on that site, with the current incarnation having been constructed between 1675 and 1710 after the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed the previous structure. For a detailed history of the cathedral check out the History page on St. Paul's website here. Make sure you click on the year ranges to get a more detailed history of the cathedral during those years.

When you visit, plan on at least 4 hours, if not more. The audio guide is included with the cost of admission and worth listening to but you'll also want time to just sit in the space. I also recommend waiting for a chance to stand on the gold medallion on the floor directly beneath the dome. Stand in the center and look all the way up. You might want to hold on to your sunglasses if you've got them perched on top of your head. :) It's pretty impressive to stare all the way up to the top.

You can climb the stairs to visit the Whispering Gallery, which is 30 meters up from the Cathedral Floor, the Stone Gallery (53 meters up) and the Golden Gallery (85 meters up). I didn't have the chance to do that, and I'm not sure I would have wanted to on such a hot day, but I will definitely try to do it next time. I also want to spend more time downstairs in the Crypt. When you go downstairs, check out the Oculus, which is a 270 degree perspective of the cathedral in a short film. After walking around upstairs it's a good place to sit down and rest for a bit before moving on to the rest of the Crypt.

They don't allow photography inside the cathedral, but if you'd like to see some of what it's like check out their Explore the Cathedral section of their site here. You can also click here to get to their main page. 

For me, one of the most moving parts of St. Paul's is the Jesus Chapel behind the High Alter that was dedicated to the American dead who were killed, "on their way to, or while stationed in, the UK during the Second World War" (St. Paul's Cathedral Guidebook). There were a few moments during my time in the cathedral that I got emotional, and that was definitely one of them.

I could go on, but to be honest it was a very personal experience, that I can't quite fully explain anyway. But trust me, it's worth a visit. St. Paul's is also a working church, so if you would like to attend a service check out their website (that I linked to above) to find schedules and times. The staff is very friendly and the services are very inclusive.

So that's my take on St. Paul's......

Then there was the afternoon.

I went to Harrods. :)

If the morning was for my spiritual soul then the afternoon was for my shopping soul. And yes, there is such a thing as a shopping soul. I don't think everyone has one though. Which is fine. But if you do, then Harrods is a pilgrimage worth making if you're ever in London. So is Selfridges. Just as in New York City I'm sure some of the grand old department stores there would be worth the trip. (But I've never been to NYC so I can't speak with any authority there.) But in London, Harrods is a "must do" for any shopping fanatic. The things you'll see inside!!! You won't be able to afford most of the stuff you'll see, but that's fine. It's all still worth looking at. 

I'll be doing a separate blog post of all my shopping expeditions and experiences. So for now, here's a photo recap of St. Paul's (from the outside) with a few pics at the end of Harrods.


A quick latte from Costa before going inside. We stopped in the rose garden to give Alex some food so we enjoyed a little treat as well.

Looking up through the trees to the dome.

This is looking out from the south side. There's a large door that goes onto a viewing platform. Straight ahead is the Millennium Bridge.

The main front door. They use the doors off to the side for tourists. But this is the main entrance during special events and services. Also the door that Charles and Diana emerged from during their wedding. :)

Looking down from the top of the front steps.

Panoramic shot from the top steps of the plaza below.

Close up of the detail above the door.

During Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee she didn't go inside, but rather listened to the service from her carriage, which stood on this spot.

Looking up at the front.

Statue of Queen Anne. I've always come here at night or on a cloudy day, so it was fun to see everything in bright sunlight. Even if it was nearly 90 degrees today.

Walking around to the north side of the building.

Archway leading to Paternoster Square.

Paternoster Square.

Fans of the BBC series Spooks/MI-5 might recognize this place. :) 

View of St. Paul's between two buildings, walking away from Paternoster Square towards St. Paul's Station.

The Underground just fascinates me. I'm a nerd, I know.

St. Paul's in the morning, Heaven Harrods in the afternoon.

If shopping were a religion, Harrods would be one of the great cathedrals. I might go to hell for saying that. :)

It was pretty hot by this point. Thank goodness for very efficient air con inside Harrods. :)

Back home, where I have 3G service, it's usually Twitter of Facebook that tells me this sort of thing. Here, it's catching the headline on the London Evening Standard. :)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

London Blog Pt. 13 - "A lovely day for a birthday picnic"

Today was a relatively relaxing and quiet day. Which you need sometimes during a long vacation like this. In a city like London it's easy to let yourself go, go, GO! all the time. But since I have to pretty much hit the ground running when I land back in Phoenix I'm trying to factor in as much relaxation as I can here in London. So, today was perfect.

After we were all ready and out of the flat we headed to the Tube to go out to Fulham. We decided to catch the Tube from Blackfriars Station since it had a lift for the stroller, so we enjoyed a nice walk over there, even if it was a bit muggy this morning.

We got off at Fulham Broadway and stopped at Sainsbury's for some stuff for the picnic and then went to meet Alicia's friends Christian and Sara in the park by their house where they were hosting a birthday picnic for their darling daughter Lizzie who's turning 1 year old. Alex had a blast seeing is friend and all the adults had fun too. I'm really started to love this whole "picnic" thing. :) It's nice to spend an afternoon just sitting outside in the shade, munching on good food and chatting with friends.

We stayed there for a few hours and then headed home. Once back at the flat I went back out for a short walk, just around Spitalfields and back. And I can't deny stopping at Patisserie Valerie for some take away desserts because I already posted the photographic evidence. :)

Once we had put Alex to bed and had our dinner, Alicia and I enjoyed our sweet treats while watching Sherlock on my computer. Like I said at the start, a nice, relaxing day.

There aren't a whole lot of photos, since I was too busy relaxing, but here's a few from the day:
Walking to Blackfriars we passed this building site that has also been an archaeological dig.

At the park. This is at the beginning. It filled up by the afternoon.

I loved all the old homes that lined the park.

Birthday cake and bubbly. Plus my Fanta. :)

Leaving the park, you can see there's still a bunch of people out enjoying the weather.

I loved this house on the end with its red door. 

More cool houses.

From later in the day, walking into Spitalfields Market. It was end of the day, so everyone was packing up. I still need to go back when everything is open.

The incredible treats at Patisserie Valerie.

Chocolatey awesomeness.

Monday, July 22, 2013

London Blog Pt. 12 - "Going to Hampton Court"

Today the weather really cooperated and we enjoyed a lovely, glorious day at Hampton Court. We got a slight reprieve from the 80 degree temps we've been having here. It started out a little bit cloudy during our train right to Hampton Court and upon our arrival, but by the time we'd arrived at the palace, picked up our tickets, and had lunch at the Tiltyard Cafe the sun was starting to come out.

While there we were able to see a special exhibition on the Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber. It was fascinating! Sadly photography was not allowed but you can find more information about the exhibition here. Seriously, check it out. I'll wait.......

...did you check the link? I mean it, check it out. Play around. They've got a cool site set up for it. Make sure you also click on some of the links in the blue bar to the left.

Ok. Good. Wasn't that fun?! And if you're in the area before the exhibition ends in November you should absolutely check it out.

My favorite part were the paper-like courtier costumes they made for a couple of the rooms. The work and manipulation of the material (they used a conservation material called Tyvek) was breathtaking and I nearly died of creative happiness. In case you missed that link when you were playing around above check out more about how they created those costumes here. Seriously, it's worth looking at.

Another nice thing was how friendly and accessible the palace and its staff were. We had little Alex in his stroller. We didn't think to look for a lift and when one of the staff members saw us carry the stroller upstairs she rerouted us so we could see the rooms in order and then another staff member showed us to the lift to get back down to the ground level, and the third staff member who took us down in the lift took the time at the bottom to point out where we were and how to get to where we wanted to go. I was very impressed with not only how polite and knowledgeable they were but also how kind there were.

It was a marvelous day and I will definitely go back next time I'm here as we'd barely scratched the surface of the gardens and didn't get to see all the rooms and apartments of the palace. But I was thoroughly mesmerized by the rooms that we did see. There is so much fascinating history. Below are just some of the photos I took during our trip with my commentary sprinkled throughout in the captions. 


Crossing the river to get to Hampton Court.

Arriving at the front gates.

First look at the front of the palace, this side dates to the Tudor period. Union flag flying at the top. Overall, at first glance it's pretty impressive.

Before heading into the palace we detoured into the Rose Garden and then the Tiltyard Garden and had lunch at the Tiltyard Cafe. So delicious! I had the fish and chips but I could have chosen any of the other amazing options, from simple sandwiches to roasted ham. And the cakes and desserts looked to die for!

In the Rose Garden.

Heading back out towards the main entrance for the palace.

Loved the Tudor gowns on these ladies!

Walking up to the front.

Inside the Base Court where we picked up our audio guides. They're included with the price of admission and definitely worth taking advantage of. The audio tour is easy to use, very entertaining, and super informative.

Some information on the important conservation work they're doing.

Entering into the Clock Court through Anne Boleyn's Gateway.

Exquisite detailing on the ceiling of Anne Boleyn's Gateway.

Inside the Clock Court. Here you see some of the baroque additions to the Tudor palace.

Looking up at the grand, nearly 500 year old Astronomical Clock.

Heading up to the royal apartments, I loved this silver sculpture hanging from the  impressively detailed ceiling.

Looking across from the landing.

Detailed ceilings in the Watching Chamber in Henry VIII's apartments.

Inside Henry VIII's Great Hall.

Can you imagine the dinner parties thrown by Henry VIII?!

These ceilings were incredible! 

Henry VIII in the middle pane. 

I've always been fascinated by Anne Boleyn. Ever since watching Anne of the Thousand Days.

If you look closely in the middle of this picture you'll see the AB that wasn't scratched out that the above photo was referencing.

These tapestries were amazing.

Radom photo of windows, because I thought they looked cool. :)

Fountain Court

Awesome trees in the Great Fountain Garden. Sadly we were running out of time for the day and still hadn't seen Henry VIII's kitchens. So we sat out in this garden for a short break and then headed back inside. A separate trip will have to happen next year to visit the gardens. I now know to plan to spend a whole day here. Morning inside, lunch at the cafe, afternoon in the gardens, tea at the cafe and then home. :) That will be the plan.

Mushroom trees and fluffy white clouds.

I loved this inscription.

Lots of people enjoying the fine weather.

Heading back into the palace.

Crossing back through Fountain Court.

Master Carpenters Court, heading to the kitchens.

So, they have the kitchens set up to look like they might have back in the time of King Henry VIII. They also have experimental food historians who come into the kitchens and cook meals with the same techniques, materials, and ingredients used during the Tudor period. Can you imagine?!

Fish Court. It was built narrowly, with the open space above so that it would be exposed to the elements and keep the temperature low throughout the year, with storerooms built off the side. Basically this is a massive refrigerator that you walk along to get to the next section of the kitchens.

Seriously though, can you imagine cooking in this thing? Unbelievable. 

Interesting fact (learned from the audio guide): These pies aren't actually pies. They are actually the pot to cook the meat in. During the Tudor period you would mix the flour and water to create the pie crust, cook your meal inside of it, and then treat it like a cooking dish. Cut open the top, eat the contents, and discard the rest. The "pie" was just the method for cooking the contents. Fascinating! I told you the audio guide was worth it. :)

Row of burners for more cooking.

It would have required massive amounts of wood to keep all these fires going! It's stacked everywhere throughout the kitchen.

The large roasting fireplace. It took a lot of effort to turn the roasting spits over this fire.

Room were clerks did the accounting for the kitchen.

It must have taken a lot of record keeping to keep the kitchens in order!

Replicas of pewter serving dishes. King Henry VIII would have needed a lot to handle his extravagant parties!

Here is where the finely dressed servants would pick up the food from the kitchen staff to carry upstairs.
These stairs would then take the servants up to the hall to serve dinner.

Serve up peacocks? Not a problem for King Henry.

King Henry's wine cellar.

The wine fountain. Pretty awesome.

Walking back towards the main entrance to make the ever important trip to the gift shop. :)

One last look at the palace. Until next time Hampton Court!

End of the day, crossing back over the river to get back to the train station.