I arrived in London shortly after noon by train from Manchester, and had to make the critical decision about what to do with my last afternoon. I decided to combine two things that exist fairly close to each other: St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London.
As one docent put it, St. Paul’s claims the honor of being the people’s church. When great tragedy befalls England, people flock to the cathedral for solidarity, fellowship, and prayer. This version of the cathedral dates to just after the Great Fire of London in 1666, which took out most of the city proper. Redesigned by legendary architect Christopher Wren (who is interred there), building is constructed in the shape of a cross and contains the only dome of its kind.
The steps of St. Paul’s beckon to all (and are featured in Mary Poppins), and the day I was there, the space was reasonably crowded with visitors. Despite the crowd, the cathedral retains its status as a place of worship, as visitors are reminded on the hour with a moment of silence and prayers. I took the self-guided audio tour to learn about the art, architecture, and people of St. Paul’s, and I felt moved.
At the high altar, I lit a candle for those I have lost this year, including my mentor, Hazel Dicken-Garcia. I was moved to tears, and knelt in prayer until I calmed, before heading below to the crypt, cafe, and gift shop, to take a break.
Replenished, I walked up to the Museum of London. It’s a relatively short walk, though right at the site I got confused about where to go to get into the Museum itself. Finally, I figured out I had to go up, and that made all the difference. I found the escalator entrance that took me to the third level of the Museum, which built around the remnants of ancient city walls.
Inside, I wandered through exhibits that focused on the history of the city from its earliest roots. They feature artifacts from every period available, from the Neolithic to Roman, from Medieval to Victorian, and from Industrial to the present day. I think my favorite was the Victorian walk, set up to appear like a small neighborhood in Victorian London. I also enjoyed the current exhibition on women’s suffrage in London.
Finally, I wandered out along the old city wall path to get to Moorgate, the tube station that took me back to the train station for my left luggage. Utterly exhausted at this point, I opted not to take tube and train back out to Heathrow (near which I had hotel reservations) and chose instead to take the more expensive but less stressful taxi option. My driver was pleasant and the drive out went smoothly. Our route took us past the William Hogarth House and Chiswick Gardens, which I earmarked for my next trip.
Getting around: I chose to use public transportation for most of my trip. It’s relatively inexpensive (I spent about $50 on tube and bus fares over two weeks) and easy to figure out. Put your walking feet on, though. And if you have mobility issues, be aware that not all tube stations have handicapped accessibility. I took a lot of stairs, and that did take a toll on my aging knees. Still, it was overall a great experience.