We arrived at Heathrow and made our way through the Border. It was as busy as it had ever been and took forever. We got on the Tube. At Hatton Cross, a young woman got on with her pit bull mix. She sat down and patted the seat next to her. The pit bull jumped up and sat, appearing both pampered and protective. He kept looking at us with squinty eyes. The train became pretty crowded, but no one seemed very interested in sitting in the seat next to the pit bull
Our hotel this time, the Grange St. Paul’s, was about a block away from St. Paul’s Cathedral near the Blackfriars stop on the District or Circle line. I picked it partially because it in all the times we visited we had never made it into the Cathedral. Time wouldn’t allow, or the Cathedral was closed to tourists when we were free. Although I have seen and been inside many cathedrals, St. Paul’s was one I had always wanted to visit. The other reason I picked the hotel was that it was a 5-star hotel in our price range of $200/night. I haven’t stayed in many 5-star hotels, and I wanted to see what it was like.
Of all the places we’ve been in London, I would say that the Grange St. Paul’s was in probably the most touristy location. This is somewhat splitting hairs because of course all of central London offers much to tourists (and we have partaken of it!) But this, along with the hotel we visited last May, were closest to actual tours: bus, walking, and boat. Not only was the hotel very close to St. Paul’s Cathedral, it was also very close to the Thames and the Millennium bridge.
The Grange also turned out to be the only hotel we stayed in for which it was not possible to check in until the appointed 3 p.m. hour. This was a bit killer because I’ve never arrived in London feeling quite as fatigued as I was this time. I slept badly on the plane, following many night of bad sleep at home. I needed a nap to get through the day, more than I got on the Tube across from our friend, the pit bull.
All the Grange had to offer was a shower in the Spa, so we made our way to the Spa, hoping the waters were as restorative as a nap. They did help some, and we were helped more by some lunch at the Blackfriar pub, across from the tube stop. We had the London Pride ale. My husband had fish & chips, noted as being among the best he’d had in London (he’s had quite a bit!), and I had the British beef pie. Very delicious, and the pub was neat. Couldn’t tell if it was a very carefully kept, ancient pub, or a more modern pub made up to be historic. It is owned by a chain. My husband and I both struggled to remember anything about the order of Dominican brothers for whom that area of London is named, and of which the Blackfriar pub featured much imagery. They must have been quite well-behaved.
We returned to St. Paul’s Cathedral and went in for the tour. A fee of £18 pounds provides admission and an audio guide, very worthwhile. The Cathedral is in a baroque style designed by Sir Christopher Wren and unlike any I’d seen in London. The space is airy and light with beautiful ceilings, while the Quire was dark. Photos are not permitted inside, so I only have shots from the outside. Thousands of them. I couldn’t stop taking pictures. I won’t make you look at them all.
I sat down with my audio guide and promptly fell asleep. Woke up and tried a different talk on the audio guide; again I fell asleep. A priest turned up at the podium and gave a short, welcoming speech. He asked those present to participate in the Lord’s Prayer in their native language. When I bowed my head and closed my eyes, I swear I fell asleep again. My husband came and found me, asked me how much I’d actually been able to get through. I fibbed about it copiously (It would be hard to say how much, really) and then got up and went though the Jesus chapel, the chapel dedicated to the American soldiers who were stationed in England during World War II to protect the country.
When I returned, I couldn’t find my husband, so I went down to the crypt and toured through that a bit, before deciding he’d probably gone up into the dome. I didn’t see him in the Whispering Gallery (or coming down the 257 stairs I was going up), so I continued up 376 stairs to the Stone Gallery. I also did not see him there, so I continued up 578 stairs to the Golden Gallery, at the very top of St. Paul’s. Not there either. I did see gorgeous views of the city!
I made my way down all the stairs. I hadn’t noticed the extent to which the stairs were see-through, making the descent a little challenging for those of us with a fear of heights, i.e., me. I located my husband near the stand in the Crypt where you turn in your audio guide. He had never made it up into the galleries. I was careful not to mention how awesome they were.
We finally were able to check into our hotel room and grab umbrellas since it had started to rain. We took the Tube over into Shoreditch to have drinks at 5 p.m. with my London colleagues at a pub called the Angel. I’ve heard many things about the Angel and they were all lies. It’s a very nice pub with a lovely upper room where we sat for a long time chatting about work, football, Brexit, racism, travel, what it is to “be Northern,” our not-present colleagues. Although everyone swore at the end of the work day they were coming to the Angel “only for one,” many people stayed late, and nobody had a bite of food the whole time we were there.The party was just breaking up when I realized it was well after 9 p.m.
We were starving, and one of my kind colleagues directed my husband and me to a Thai restaurant called Busaba Eithai, where you sit communally with others. I was so hungry that when our food came–a yummy chicken Pad Thai, Curried squash dish with coconut rice, and a pretty drink made out of guava and lime juice and coconut water with a flavorful leaf inside (Mint? Basil? Something else entirely?)–I gobbled and gulped it all up with my husband, never taking a picture of any of it. It was lovely. And delicious. Take my word for it.
We had said that we were going to go elsewhere to get dessert, but on the Tube ride home, I concluded I was too tired to do anything but get to bed. We called both kids to say “hi” when we got back to the Grange and I fell into an amazing, long, deep sleep.
I remembered waking up in the night and thinking “where am I?” and then thinking “I might be in London.”
I fell promptly back to sleep.