I woke up at 6:30 today. I had no reason to and my alarm wasn't going to go off for another 2 and half hours. I guess the past 12 days had set my biological clock for me. And so, I rolled over and fell back asleep.
I woke up at 9 and by 10:30 I was walking out of my hotel. I walked to Pret A Manger again, and had exactly what I had last time I was in London -- a ham and egg bloomer, a bowl of fruit and a can or sparkling orange juice ("With Absolutely No Nasties"). It seems almost unreal how much has changed since I last ate here -- how much I saw, and did and learned, and the people I met and lived with for 2 weeks. It seems like it was all a dream. It almost seems like it never even happened.
Once my breakfast was over I took out my map and saw that I was just a 30 minute walk from St. Paul's Cathedral. Since last time I was in London I was unable to go to St. Paul's because two stupid flower ladies got £40 off me "for the children", I was going to make sure I got there today. As well, because I didn't get inside the "most beautiful church in Europe" while in Rome, I was more determined than ever to go to the 2nd most beautiful church!
As I walked towards it, I became conscious of the air-quality. Much like in Paris, London today also had smog. It bugged my eyes a bit but it wasn't nearly as bad as it was in Paris.
I arrived at St. Paul's and was shocked to see very few people around the church. Last time I was here, there were hundreds of small British children crawling all over the stairs and fountains. Today there was only the odd couple strolling past.
I took a few pictures of the church and then walked in through the main-door. Entry to the church is free if you want to pray, but if you want to take a tour it'll cost you £17. I thought that was a bit much, but I realized later that I had spent over 2 hours inside the church and that it was a pretty good deal for the amount of things to do in there.
At first glance, St. Paul's looks like many other massive cathedrals speckling Europe; gold, black oak and white marble, twisting and turning up to gorgeous stained-glass windows and beautiful mosaics of Jesus and Paul on the dome and walls.
However, with my entry ticket, I also got a complimentary electronic tour guide and realized that, along with being a beautiful church, St. Paul's is also the heart and love of the City of London and the United Kingdom as a whole. Ever since it's initial construction in 604 CE, the church has seen everything from plagues, small fires, the Great Fire, animal housing (it was once used as a barn), pollution cleansing, the German Blitz, a royal wedding, many royal funerals, a service for the victims of 9/11, a service for the 2005 subways bombings and several massive reconstructions. Also, although the church is Protestant, it openly welcomes Muslim preachers to teach there to promote a "unity of religions". They also welcome people from all different religions into their church, which is really neat, and I personally believe the way all churches should be.
Starting at the Baptismal Front, I walked up to the Nave (which is where the congregation sits) and then to the Dome. The Dome has paintings of St. Paul's life from when he was converted on the Road to Damascus by Jesus, to a few years later when he preached to the Romans about the Holy Spirit, and finally, when he died.
Beyond the Dome is the Quire. The Quire is where the choir sits. The seats here are made out of massive black oak that have been delicately carved. Above it are 3 paintings, each made of glass. They each show different scenes from Genesis. The first shows the creation of plants, the second for the creation of birds and fish, and the third for the creation of animals. His greatest creation -- man -- sits below them and sings to God and his creation, instead of to the congregation as most churches do.
If you go around the Quire, you have to pass through massive iron and gold gates. Beyond them is Jesus' Temple, where the pastor stands, facing away from everybody during the important masses. And, finally, behind that is a small, but very beautiful shrine. On it was a book for the Americans that helped the British during the Second World War. The book is filled with names of the soldiers, living and dead, and everyday somebody flips the pages so each name can be seen. (Another copy is available in the crypt of the church for people to find their specific relative if they so choose to.)
Around the whole church are statues of ancient peoples, Renaissance poets, converted disbelievers and of course, Mary. There are old statues, but also one odd-looking contemporary piece, which helps spread the message that God is with us throughout all ages, including the current one.
After I was done on the main-floor, I climbed the 257 stairs (which was nothing after the Eiffel Tower!) to the Whispering Gallery. They say if you place your face against the wall and whisper, your voice will travel all the way around the dome and return to somebody waiting on the other side, clearly audible. I had nobody to try that with, but I watched a mother and daughter try it and judging by their expressions, it apparently works.
I then climbed another 121 stairs to the Stone Gallery, where you could go outside and see London. The smog was still visible, but I could still make out Tower Bridge, Millennium Bridge and the London Eye from my location.
I then climbed 152 more stairs, and after squeezing through a very small doorway, I got to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral; the Golden Gallery. The sight from here was spectacular, even with the smog. Once I was done taking pictures, I had to head back down the 530 steps back down to the Cathedral Floor.
As I reached the bottom, the 12:30 service was going on and I sat down and watched it for a while. I then -- very quietly -- walked to the door and down into the Crypt.
The Crypt is the same size as the Cathedral and has the tombs of artists, architects, royalty, soldiers and "ordinary people" in it. It also had the Oculus in it, which was a massive theater where you could stand and watch 7 short films about the Cathedral's history. I watched all 7.
I then headed towards the food-court and had to hand in my virtual guide. I wasn't comfortable eating a sandwich surrounded by tombs and graves, so I just had a small orange juice and left.
I then walked down the street and crossed Millennium Bridge -- a foot-bridge that crosses the Thames -- and arrived at Shakespeare's Globe. I paid £11.50 to get in and got another tour -- this time by a real person -- of the Globe. I got told I could donate £300 to get my name engraved onto the stones surrounding the Globe, but I declined. We were then told that the Globe isn't the same as it was back in Shakespeare's day because the land where the original Globe stood now has condos on it. However, this is the closest possible location to where it once stood, and was built as identical as possible -- minus the dirt floor. This new Globe used to have a dirt floor, actually, but it got too dusty in the summer and too muddy in the winter. Also, this Globe holds about half the capacity of the original Globe.
I heard one tour guide tell his group that because there were American actors practicing inside, they weren't allowed to take pictures. Ours never told us that, however, so I snapped a dozen or two.
The tour ended at the gift-shop where we were told we could buy our own York skull if we wanted to. Instead, I bought an "Out damn spot, out I say!" tea-towel. It cost me £8, but I only had £7.26. I had to use my Visa then, which was one of the only three times I used it (once to enter the Vatican because they didn't take €50 bills, and once to buy some CHF in Lucerne). But, for some reason, my Visa didn't work. The man at the counter said their Visa had been acting funny all day so I told him I'd be right back and went and found an ATM a few blocks down. I withdrew £20, came back to the store and bought the tea-towel.
I then began my walk back home. While walking I remembered that the Contiki basement was now open, so I went there instead. Once there, I quizzed the woman working (who was also the same woman who came onto our coach the previous day and told us the basement was open) on how to get from Imperial Hotel to Gatwick airport tomorrow. She was very helpful and gave me a map with directions on it. As terrible as the accidental 2-hour ride around London was when I first arrived from Canada, it would be much more terrible if I happened to miss my plane home because of it.
Once back outside, I decided to go inside the Royal National and use the public computers there to check my Facebook. I paid £1 for 15 minutes and, about a minute in, I heard somebody call my name.
Just like in Lucerne and Paris when somebody called me, I immediately stopped what I was doing instantly and looked around. It was Emma and Hannah from my tour group. Both of them had gotten a Working Visa before they arrived in London and wanted to spend a few years here instead of back in Australia. They had just got back from applying for jobs. While I was talking to them, my old roommate Ralph also joined us. He asked if I wanted to join them for supper at Nando's again. His English wasn't the best, so I though he was inviting me out for supper with him, Emma and Hannah, but it was actually just him and I.
We got to Nanodo's and talked about the Europe trip and what kind of lives we were going back to when we got home. He said he was going back to school in Brazil. While there, I had a double chicken burger and he had a chicken wrap. Nando's only sells chicken.
We went back to the Royal National and say goodbye for the last time. We never did meet up with Emma or Hannah again.
It's 8:15 now and I may read until 9:30 or 10. I'll also pack sometime tonight for tomorrow. I'm leaving the hotel at 6 AM tomorrow. Let's hope my biological clock doesn't re-set itself and make me miss my plane!
This will (hopefully!) be my last entry from Europe. I hope you had fun reading this. I know I sure had fun living it!
Tomorrow will be a long day and in two days from now, I'll be back to my old life back home. It's hard to imagine that...
Goodnight now. Talk to you later!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.
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Nestled between the impressive Mount Royal and the majestic St. Lawrence River is Montreal, a city known for its festivals, abstract art, history and mosaic of countless cultures. Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, with a population floating around four million people. While the city is a dynamic mix of Canada's two primary cultures – French and English – there are areas of the city that are culturally specific, such as Little Italy, Greektown and Chinatown. Known for its artistic and liberal mindedness, Montreal also boasts the largest community of homosexuals in North America in their very own "Gay Village".
Being nearly 375 years old, Montreal was pivotal to the creation of New France and Canada and at a time held control over every waterway from the St. Lawrence down to the Gulf of Mexico. Having such incredible influence over the western part of the New World, Montreal hosted the "Great Peace of Montreal" in 1701, which started sixteen years of peace between the French and over 40 different First Nation tribes in North America.
Since its early days, Montreal has been one of the most influential cities in Canada. Montreal housed "internment camps" during World War I, became an ideal location for Americans looking for alcohol during Prohibition, and was the official residence of the Luxembourg royal family during World War II. Montreal held host to the incredible Expo 67, showcasing some of the most incredible architecture of that decade. The seventies saw serious political reformation in Montreal, with many Americans arriving, fleeing the Vietnam Draft. The late seventies paralyzed the city as a terrorist organization, the Front de libération du Québec, detonated explosives throughout the city and kidnapped and killed political figures. These actions forced the Prime Minster to enact the "War Measures Act" and deploy the military into the city to apprehend the terrorists. The eighties and nineties saw two referendums in the province of Quebec to separate from Canada, with Montreal playing a major role in both decisions. The last referendum in 1995 ended with 51% percent of Quebecers wanting to remain part of Canada and 49% wanting to separate.
I don't often take blog requests, but a friend approached me recently and asked about Venice. He's traveling to Italy for a wedding this summer and is stopping in Venice for few days. He asked me if I knew what he could do in the Floating City, so I racked up a list of ten things for him to see.
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if I missed anything, what your favorite thing to see in Venice was, or if you plan to go visit Venice after reading this!
About a year and a half ago I visited Kyiv, Ukraine. As I walked down the millennium old streets and gawked at the towering cathedrals, I saw the beginnings of a new country, one that was slowly rebuilding from a much darker time. The process of what I was seeing had a name. It was called decommunization.
Decommunization includes renaming architecture, changing laws and protocols, and even tearing down monuments. People's Friendship Arch in Kyiv, for example, which symbolised the friendship between the Communist East and the Capitalist West, was torn down. Some statues, like war memorials, are exempt, but there is still talk of making modifications to them. Anywhere you go throughout the former Soviet Union, the hammer and sickle are being removed – not from history, but from modern society.