We woke up bright and early for me to catch my flight from the Shannon to Gatwick airport in South London. I was quite exhausted but full of anticipation. If any of you have ever flown Ryanair, it is in every aspect a cattle car, but that didn’t damper my mood. I was headed to London and London has always felt like a second home to me. Just knowing I was traveling there did my heart good.
I was meeting my friend Tracy at her work in Holborn. It was a little after lunch and I was starving. I dropped my luggage at Tracy’s desk and was off to explore while she finished out her work day. My first stop was M&S. For those of you who don’t know M&S (Marks & Spencer) is a supermarket and sometimes department store, with great prepared foods. I picked up a salad, cheese and onion crisps (which for some reason you can’t get in the states) and a lemon cheesecake cup (I don’t know why I dream about these but I do) and headed toward St. Paul’s Cathedral.
In all my years of traveling to London I had never been to St. Paul’s, never even walked past it. I’ve always seen its dome from the distance while on the south bank at places like the Tate Modern but never ventured near it. It was a short walk from Tracy’s work and I stopped along the way and sat in the beautiful sunshine, which was very sparse in Ireland, and ate my lunch. I knew if I continued down Holborn I would hit the church, but nothing prepared me for its size. I’ve been to the Vatican and St. Patrick’s in New York but they seem to command their own spaces in those busy vibrant cities, especially the Vatican. St. Paul’s seemed to be trying to elbow its way for space. This monolith which dwarfed all other buildings around it seems to me to be a large person in a small airplane seat.
The cathedral itself is gorgeous. Fighting against the ravages of time it is as iconic a symbol of London as the red phone box, or Big Ben. The current structure was built by architect Christopher Wren, completed in 1710, after the original, mainly wood cathedral, was consumed in the Great Fire of 1697. I considered venturing inside and up into the dome but after learning that there is an entrance fee of £18, and not just a suggested donation, I contented myself with the view from outside, while I sipped my hot chocolate. Tip you can save £2 if you purchase your tickets online.
After I ventured down and over the Millennium bridge or as Tracy called it the swinging bridge. Built as a celebration of the new Millennium, this pedestrian only bridge, links the South and North banks, making it easy for commuters to cut from the financial district to Waterloo or London Bridge station. It also leads you to the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.
As I wandered I reveled in London. Just being there and strolling along the Thames made me happy. Before I knew it I had to be back at Tracy’s work so we could commute back to her house, by Hampton Court Palace. London is a great city, with an unending list of things to do and experience. Although it might be one of the most expensive cities in the world it doesn’t have to be. Make it what you want. Until next time.