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St. Paul's Cathedral

One memory that will stay with me for a long time is hearing the bell of St. Paul’s Cathedral resonate through the gray morning.

The streets were fairly empty since the morning rush hour was still a couple hours away. I maneuvered my tripod into position to capture the cathedral against its backdrop of an overcast sky when the bell struck.

It was a comforting sound that felt uniquely London.

The previous day, Corie and I spent nearly five hours in St. Paul’s Cathedral, a small fraction of the time one would need to fully appreciate the architectural, artistic, and historical treasures housed within.

We had originally planned on taking the Underground from our hotel to the cathedral but decided the 40-minute walk would be worth it to see more of London. (I should note this was the first trip Corie and I took together where we didn’t end up very lost, wandering for several hours trying to get unlost.)

Along the way, we passed by Lincoln’s Inn Chapel where a kilt-clad groundskeeper was all too happy to take a break from his work and give us a brief history of the grounds, including a suggestion that we visit a nearby dining hall for dessert and a cup of coffee to admire the room’s vaulted ceiling.

Any other day, Corie and I would have welcomed the chance to dine under historic architecture, but we were on a mission to take in a much bigger ceiling. There wasn’t time to stop, especially knowing the likelihood of me stopping every twenty feet or so to take photos along the way.

The cathedral seemed to appear suddenly when the street curved to the right. It was originally built on a hill, a fact the surrounding modern skyscrapers obscure. But the surrounding buildings do little to diminish the grand scale of the cathedral itself.

As we were planning our trip, Corie and I worried about our choice of going to London in January. While we missed out on the city’s gardens at their finest, we also avoided the crowds that come with the high tourist season. While we had bought our tickets to St. Paul’s in advance, we didn’t need to. It also meant the tours were more intimate, giving us the chance to take in the cathedral without feeling like we were part of a herd.

A retired volunteer named Adam gave us a brief overview of the church and pointed out details we would have missed on our own. The most significant, and what should have been the most obvious detail, is half of the cathedral’s interior walls are white and half decorated in glimmering mosaics.

Adam told our group of four that the cathedral’s architect, Sir Christopher Wren wanted everyone’s focus to be on God and worship, so he insisted on unadorned walls and clear glass for his cathedral. However, our second guide told us that Wren wanted people’s attention to be on his architecture. Knowing creative people, I’m guessing the second tour guide’s statement was closer to the truth.

When Queen Victoria visited the church, she thought it was too plain, and when the queen says something’s too plain, you know what must happen. The work on increasing the requisite flair commenced until everyone realized the queen probably wasn’t going to return to the church, so the work stopped.

Now please understand I am relating this story to you as an American. Our English tour guides described the events with much more elegance than I can muster.

Corie insisted on one thing during our trip: the cathedral’s Triforium Tour, an hour-long journey in the building’s “attic.”

Once again, we were happy we visited in the off season as there were only six people on the Triforium Tour, giving us a more one-on-one experience.

An elderly gentleman accompanied our triforium tour guide, unlocking doors along the way. Along a wall of cataloged stones from the previous churches on the site, he quietly remarked to me, “the history behind these is astounding.”

I knew he had been to the rooms several times, but he still experienced gratitude in being with the artifacts. I envied him.

I suspect many people don’t bother with the Triforium Tour, but I’m glad Corie insisted on it. The best view of the nave from above the main doorway is on the tour, and you get to see the Geometric Staircase.

Since we had to ascend 140 steps to get to the triforium, Corie and I decided we were probably close to the halfway point to the dome, so we continued working our way up after the tour.

The dome is perfect for anyone who wants to burn 50,000 calories to take in an amazing view of London and the perfect way to envision our upcoming adventures.

As you probably know by now, I’m always a fan of wandering. I did my fair share during our days in London, and I hope you’ll join me next week for the first of my two-part photo journey around the city!


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