Today is a Bank Holiday, and also, for future historical reference, the day I finally got around to seeing St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The last of the great destinations. St. Paul's is absolutely beautiful. You can tell that this church takes pride in being the religious heart of the city, and works hard to be modern and approachable--as opposed to Westminster Abbey, which I think I still prefer. St. Paul's is clean and open, with wide spaces to walk around, and not nearly as many dead people as Westminster. Another difference is that one does not "visit" St. Pauls, one "climbs" St. Pauls, as the greatest treat lies at the top of the dome. I went with my friend Lisa, and we found a diary from another expedition on the stairs:
12:30: Arrived at the base camp and after arming ourselves with oxygen tanks and sherpas, set out to conquer the Dome of St. Pauls.
12:45: Not even halfway there and already fatigue is sapping our expedition of strength and stamina. Jenkins has begun to see things, but this may be due to the thin air.
1:07: We had to leave much of our gear behind as it proved too heavy to carry. Jenkins' frostbite became infected and we were forced to amputate his leg.
1:14: Our loyal sherpa "Benjy" has died. Due to lack of supplies, we were forced to eat him.
1:38: We reached the "Whispering Gallery" of the Dome but left quickly after Jenkins began reciting "The Jabberwocky" at the top of his lungs.
1:52: We finally reached the Stone Gallery. From here we could see all the other peaks of London, including Mt. Globe, Mt. Tate Modern, Mt. Charing Cross and Mt. London Eye. Had to forcibly restrain Jenkins who wanted to "fly" to nearby Mt. St. Pub.
2:03: I have finally made it to the top, but at what price? Jenkins was captured and eaten by a Sasquatch. My loyal sherpa "Minjy" disappeared into an icy crevasse. I have no food left. I fear that this is the end for me.
This was found, as I said, on the stairs as we were pushing our way skyward, lungs and legs burning. Although, when we finally did emerge, gasping and wheezing into the blistering wind, the view of the city was amazing. Who needs a gym when all of your city is a Stairmaster?
Approximately seven thousand stairs down later, Lisa and I hit the crypt, which is where Nelson is buried. I say "buried" I mean "stuck up on a pedestal in a huge coffin." I think it's funny that on the maps they have little symbols "Nelson's tomb here!" because it's kind of hard to miss. I mean, talk about your place of honor. Interesting historical note, however: Nelson's coffin was originally made for Cardinal Wolsey, but when he fell out with King Henry VIII, it was taken away from him and stored at Windsor Castle. When Nelson died (two centuries later) they knocked the cardinal's hat off it, replaced it with a viscount's coronet and used it for the admiral. The Duke of Wellington is also buried here--he has a smaller tomb, but a HUUUUUGE MONUMENT up in the nave.
I liked reading about how St. Paul's was preserved during the Blitz by a group of volunteeers called the St. Paul's Fire Watch who would patrol the building putting out fires. St. Paul's was also hit by a bomb that knocked a hole in the roof--luckily it didn't cause structural damage. I put this in my play because that kind of dedication is fasinating.
Today is also, for my American readers, Memorial Day, a day when we are supposed to pause and reflect on the soldiers and warriors who gave us and protect our freedom. I may not be pro-current-war, but I do have a profound respect for people who fight in our armed forces, as well as the soldiers who have gone before. It seemed fitting that I found myself in the American Memorial Chapel at St. Paul's, looking at the names of American soldiers who died during WWII, and when the dean of the church called for it's visitors to stop for a moment of private reflection, I reflected on our service men and women. To all you who have given me the freedoms I now enjoy, I thank you and will not forget.