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.|
|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, |
|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. :)|