The Monument review
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I climbed up The Monument yesterday -- never again. I'm done with stairs. I'm not climbing up any stairs ever again. I don't know exactly how many there are up to the top of the column, but I'm guessing it's about a million. After two minutes my heart was pounding loud enough to make a sound -- it was the drumming percussion to my shuffling huffs and puffs. My chest was thumping, my legs were shaking, my head was sweating... and they make you pay an entry fee as well!
The spiral stairs are quite tight -- it's like climbing up the centre of a hollowed-out candle. That wouldn't be so bad if it was all one-way traffic, but you frequently have to hug the stone wall to allow a descending stream of sightseers to squeeze past. And if they happen to be a bit on the chubby side (i.e., if they're Americans), then it can even be a little scary. As soon as they hear someone coming up they quickly hog the wide section of the spiral so you're forced to tiptoe gingerly around the narrow bit. And if you happen to stumble on the way past then down you'll go, like a marble in Kerplunk, bouncing down to the bottom of the column until you're just a skin bag full of dust.
Happily there are plenty of alcoves on the way up where you can have a sit down and catch your breath, but they get fewer and fewer as it tapers up towards the top. By the time you get to the top you will basically be dead.
Every time I wound around a corner I was met by three mountain climbers who wanted to squeeze past. I could hear a load of Italians a few floors up, laughing and joking like they were having fun.
It took me nine minutes to climb it -- and that was nine minutes of solid stair climbing, with only a couple of rest stops along the way (...okay, maybe more than a couple). But that was followed by ten minutes of me collapsed against a wall trying to think happy thoughts and slow my heart down.
Eventually I had recovered enough to look at the view. It's a very small space on the balcony (a lot smaller than it looks from the ground), and you're trapped inside a wire mesh. It's a bit like being a budgie in a birdcage. I seem to remember there being a couple of coin-operated telescopes in the corners, but they've disappeared now. And there are no plaques of the skyline to show you what's what, either. So it's basically just you and the howling wind. You and your laboured breath.
The Monument used to be one of the tallest things in The City for a few hundred years, but now it's just creeping up to the shoulders of the big buildings. They would have have to build some tip-toes on the bottom of the column for it to see above the rooftops.
See if you can spot these landmarks: I'm not giving you any points for Tower Bridge, because that's far too easy. But how about City Hall and the Tower of London? Southwark Cathedral is a bit more of a challenge. And how about the Golden Hinde? Greenwich is very difficult -- you will have to know what the power station looks like to find that.
You can't see Big Ben because it's hidden behind an office block (unless I'm going blind), but you can see the Victoria Tower at the other end of Parliament. If you can spot the top of Westminster Cathedral then you're a genius (and I do mean the cathedral -- not the Abbey!). The London Eye is easy peasy, and so is St. Paul's, but how about Cleopatra's Needle That is my final challenge to you -- I'm not letting you climb back down until you see the Needle.
When you finally stumble, half-dead, back down to the bottom the guy is waiting to give you a little certificate, just so you can prove to the world that you were dumb enough to climb it.
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