I went to St. Paul's Cathedral today and climbed all the way to the top (nearly), and i'm bloody knackered too -- they need to get a lift installed for lazy people like me. They should get Christopher Wren back to design a lift.
I did the whole audio guide thing just to make sure I got all the history but I ended up skipping most of it. The one at Westminster Abbey was too short but at least it was interesting. But this one had too much about religion and not enough about the bricks. It was like they were trying to convert you through the headphones. Westminster Abbey had stuff by Jeremy Irons, but this was full of big long passages by the priests, emploring you to sit down for a minute and revel in the glory of God.
The interior is a lot more impressive than the one at Westminster Abbey... but in a funny way it's not. It's very airy, open and white. There's lots and lots of room in the Cathedral, whereas the Abbey is crammed to the brim with every kind of memorial, almost brushing your nose as you walk past. But when you look up at the ceiling there is no contest because St. Paul's is plastered with golden mosaics everywhere you look, all the way down the nave. And the dome goes almost up to the sky with paintings all around. Westminster Abbey is just stone. I sat in the seats underneath, until I had neckache from bending it.
They've got a few chapels dotted around but none as impressive as the Abbey's. This place is all about peace and quiet and prayer time for the locals. They don't even let you take any flash photos in case it upsets the devoted. Presumably they don't mind the three thousand tourists walking around listening to their audio guides.
Once you've plucked up the courage you can head for the stairs and the half-hour traipse to the top of the dome. The first level you get to is the Whispering Gallery - a mere 257 steps which even I could do. It's not even one of those stone tunnels winding up and up either. The steps are wide and wood, and easy peasy (see photo). Once you get to the top you can look down onto the floor far below. You're supposed to be able to whisper to the wall and hear it clearly round the other side, but seeing as I was on my own and both of my ears were stuck to my head, I couldn't test that out. But you'd be hard pressed to hear it above the three hundred other people doing it anyway. You couldn't even hear a whisper if they said it two feet from your face.
After that you've got another 119 steps to the Stone Gallery. These ones are of the narrow little windy type, and I was pretty happy to get to the top. You come outside at the very bottom of the dome and get some decent views across London. These are the views that you can see in the photo, because I chickened out of the next bit.
If you're fitter than Sebastian Coe and have got balls of steel then you can climb another 150 steps to the Golden Gallery. This one takes you to the very top of the dome, with even better views of the city. But unfortunately there's no stone tunnel to climb. No wide wooden steps either. What you have to do is climb a twisty old rickety iron thing that goes straight up vertically, with fabulous views of the floor far, far below where you can plummet to your death. The steps are see-through too, which just makes it even worse. I reckon Christopher Wren must have been having a joke when he built those, because even Edmund Hilary would baulk at doing that.
Once you come back down there is one more place to go -- the Crypt. The best two tombs are for Nelson and the Duke of Wellington, but don't miss the chapel at the far end because they've got some famous names in there -- J.W. Turner, Millias, Blake, and a modest little slab for Christopher Wren himself.