London Day One: Preservation and Piety

“I don’t know what London’s coming to — the higher the buildings the lower the morals.”
― Noël Coward, Collected Sketches and Lyrics

This week the Small Dog team brings you tales of travel, tips for tourists, personal recommendations, show reviews, and lots of pictures of food from our sojourn in London.  Today, our first day in town:

We arrived in the morning and determined to stay up all day, all the better to get on a new sleep cycle, my dear.  Luckily, J. lived just off the Piccadilly Line, which conveniently runs all the way to Heathrow airport, so when we arrived we just hopped on the tube.  After dropping everything off at his place, we jumped back on and headed into central London.

And I managed to take pictures, kittens!  No one is more surprised than me (although looking through them I’m realizing how many more I should have taken).  I’ll never be a photographer.

Our first stop was the Soane Museum which is mere minutes away from LSE and is just one of the hundreds of small, less well known museums in the city.  The entire thing is the private collection of Sir John Soane – one of those glorious Englishmen who stockpiled things that interested him!  Pictures were prohibited, alas, but if you’re ever in town, go and see it.  It’s completely free (but I encourage you to donate any spare change in your pockets to it’s maintenance, as it survives entirely on such charity and government grants), and they only let in small parties at a time.

The whole thing is a magnificent hodgepodge of antiquities: busts, chunks of Grecian reliefs, medieval figurines, the pure alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I, Hogarth’s original Rake’s Progress paintings, and (most hilariously of all), a mausoleum to his wife’s dog with the inscription, “Alas, poor Fanny!”

A print from 1864 showing the sarcophagus room surrounded by other antiquities, all of which are still in the exact same arrangement today.  Minus the people in the funny clothes (although it must be said that some tourists are upholding tradition on that account…)*

Our next stop was St. Paul’s Cathedral since J. had never been there.  There’s been a church on this site for over a thousand years, and this is only the latest incarnation.  Courtesy of Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire, it’s massive.  At J.’s insistence, we climbed to the top of thing (heavily jet lagged, please recall), going up more stairs and through narrow passages than I could count.  If you’re up to the physical challenge, it’s well worth the views – both of the surrounding city, and to the cathedral floor several hundred feet below.  J. smacked his head on a few low Restorationist ceilings, clearly not meant for six foot tourists, but other than that, no casualties.

He insisted on documenting me, sans makeup and heavily jetlagged. Jerk.

The views are incredible.  You can take in all the major tourist traps in one go if you walk all the way around the top of the dome:

The Houses of Parliament and the London Eye…
The Tower of London and Tower Bridge…
and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

After climbing the heights, we sunk to the depths and went through the crypts, which are equally interesting for any history nerd.  Both Wellington and Nelson are buried there, as well as many other great British figures.

St. Paul’s isn’t free if you’re doing the tourist bit: it’s £15 for an adult and £5 for a child (although if any of you are going to be in town for the summer, the Olympics seem to be causing a rate lowering!), but it’s well worth the money.  You get an audio/video guide with lots of information on the art, history, construction, and cool stories about the cathedral’s past.  It’s got Queen Victoria, surviving the London Blitz, and up through Charles and Di’s marriage, if that’s your cup of tea.  There are frequent guest performances from choirs that perform during the tourist hours free of charge, one was there when we were visiting, so we plunked down in some seats and enjoyed the show.

If you’d like to go for free, they don’t charge admission for worship services and you can enjoy Evensong for free as well, but you won’t get to wander around the church or see the sights when it’s functioning in its ecclesiastical capacities.  Which is as it should be, quite frankly.

After that, thoroughly exhausted, we stumbled home and collapsed into a single person bed – which made sleeping a ridiculous complicated affair, but hey, we like cuddling.

*The sarcophagus of Seti I at Sir John Soane’s Museum, Illustrated London News, 1864 (obtained from Wikipedia).
** All other photos are my own

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