St. Paul's is one of those London landmarks that still makes my head turn every time I see it - from any angle or vantage point. It looks particularly wonderful set against the backdrop of a blue, summer sky. When I was invited to take a private tour of the cathedral and dome with a handful of other bloggers and have afternoon tea in the restaurant and attend Evensong, well ... I tried to play it cool, but I'm pretty sure I failed spectacularly.
I can't remember the last time I was inside the actual church (admission fees are pricey!) and certainly not on an after-hours basis, so it was a privilege to experience the quiet peace that fell over the entire building when it emptied. And though you're not really allowed to take photographs inside the cathedral (I desperately wanted to snap some during Evensong!), we took some "subtle" shots here and there.
But before we climbed up the steps to the Whispering Gallery (where your whisper at one end of the dome can be heard on the other - really, we tried it!) and ascended to the Stone, then Golden Gallery, we were treated to afternoon tea at The Restaurant at St. Paul's, where we met Head Chef Chris Terry and sampled his delicious menu of cakes, scones, and sandwiches served on some of the prettiest china I've ever seen, before washing it all down with a glass of English sparkling wine with a touch of russet apple juice.
(Btw, this is what bloggers looks like at every food-related event.)
After consuming our weight in sweet treats, our earlier activities caught up with us and we sat back in a dazed, doze-y silence, before our wonderful guide Ed sat upright and said, "Right! Who's ready for Evensong?"
If you've never been to Evensong at St. Paul's before, I'd highly, highly recommend it. We were super spoiled and had seats reserved in the choir itself, but if you get there early and are prepared to wait in line, that's the best way to experience it. There's something about sung liturgy (even for someone who isn't religious) that's incredibly moving and uplifting. As the harmonies filled every corner of the church, it gave us all the perfect opportunity to contemplate the beauty and the history of the building; it's awesome - in every sense of the word.
With the booming pipes of the organ still ringing in our ears (literally - the organists continued to practice after everyone had left the building!), we headed over to St. Paul's most famous staircase, and continued our tour of the dome.
Fun fact: that staircase at Hogwarts in Harry Potter? Yep, this is it:
Not gonna lie: it was a little hard work getting to the top and it's not for the particularly claustrophobic, but the views once we got there were so very worth it.
I've stood on that roof terrace at One New Change so many times - admiring the view of St. Paul's across the way. Not too many people/tourists know about that particular vantage point, so it remains one of my favorite spots to visit. This time, however, it was difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that I was actually standing on the dome, looking at One New Change!
I've said it once, but I'll say it again: London looks so beautiful from above, doesn't it? All the different shapes and contrast between the old and new make for such an interesting skyline. Your eye never settles; rather, it's encouraged to wander, continually taking in an arch here or an unexpectedly sharp corner there.
Our visit to St. Paul's on Saturday was such a privilege - a truly a memorable afternoon, and one I won't be forgetting anytime soon.
Huge thanks to Ed Holmes of the Press & Communications Department at St. Paul's Cathedral for organizing this amazing afternoon at St. Paul's, and for being an excellent tour guide! Traditional Afternoon Tea at St. Paul's is currently priced at (a very affordable!) £15.95 per person (£21.25 with the English sparkling wine), which you can book here. Evensong begins at 5:00 p.m. and you can find more information about attending here.