Thursday, April 27, 2017

London Vacacay, Outing 4: St. Paul's Cathedral, Tate Modern

Two venues: St. Paul's Cathedral and Tate Modern. St. Paul's was on purpose; Tate Modern was just convenient. :-)

St. Paul's Cathedral

The fourth outing began with St. Paul's Cathedral. We had originally planned to go to Westminster Abbey, but it was closed in preparation for a service where Prince William honored those that lost their lives on the Westminster bridge just before our visit.

We arrived early, wanting to ensure we could get in on the 90-minute tour. Considering we arrived well prior to opening, I was surprised and slightly disappointed that there was no bird woman to greet me.

Where will I spend my tuppence?

We were admitted and purchased our tickets for the tour. We were only able to toodle around a little bit before the tour actually started. They run a tight ship at St. Paul's. We were also informed that, as at Windsor Castle, photography of any kind was not allowed. I'll include a few fairly recent pictures from the Internet instead.

The cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who oversaw the construction in the late 1600s. His genius was apparent everywhere, including one of the first stops on the tour: the Geometric Staircase.

Geometric staircase, St. Paul's Cathedral
So winding a staircase I never did see!
Those steps are made of solid, heavy stone, and are held in place by relatively small dowels. The bulk of the weight is supported at the bottom of the staircase. This was one of the items for which Wren personally oversaw construction.

Note: you might recognize this staircase, especially if you've seen any of the Harry Potter movies!

At some point in the recent past (possibly during the stone cleaning project), they removed the choir screen and never put it back up. As such, you can now see all the way through the cathedral, giving you a sense of the grandeur and solemnity of the place at the same time.

St Paul's Cathedral Nave, London, UK - Diliff
Spit shined! So white!
The monument to the left in the above picture is the Wellington Monument, one of the very few that are actually in the cathedral. Apparently Wren made it a requirement: no monuments or tombs allowed in the cathedral. Instead, he designed a proper crypt, which you can see through the round gold grate in the floor in the picture. The result is, again, a feeling that the purpose of the building is worship of something greater than a collection of humanity.

The very center of the picture is the bottom of the dome. You can see the Whispering Gallery just below the windows there. Supposedly you can whisper anywhere in the gallery, and because of the acoustics, the whisper can be heard at any other point of the gallery provided your ear is up against the wall. We did NOT try this when we went up there (more on that later).

Here's the dome from directly below.

St Paul's Cathedral Interior Dome 3, London, UK - Diliff
St. Paul's Dome, or a kaleidoscope? YOU be the judge.
This perspective is pretty interesting, if you ask me. Even in three dimensions, it's hard to tell that this is anything more than a slightly concave surface.

The tour concluded with a trip through the crypt. You'd normally think that the crypt would be creepy, and you'd probably be right. Maybe that's why they put the tourist shop down there, but beyond the crypt gate. :-| The most notable memorial is Lord Nelson's.

Tomb of Horatio Nelson on Saint-Paul Cathedral
Very well lit for a crypt!
Lord Nelson was the badass that made the British Navy into the force it became, including kicking Napoleon's ass during the wars with France. The monument was well-earned.

After the tour, we took the stairs to the top of the dome. There are supposedly 528 steps, but I only counted 527. At 257 steps or so, you emerge onto the Whispering Gallery. Here's a picture from that level.

The Whispering Gallery at St Paul's. Photo courtesy of Grant Smith.
We lingered here for a bit, mainly because the staircase from here to the top of the dome is very narrow, and the ushers were only allowing people to go up in small batches. Apparently, people were somewhat smaller 450 years ago than they are now.

There are two spots that take you on the outside of the dome, where pictures are actually allowed! The first one had somewhat obscured views...

No idea what I'm pointing at...

Oh, it was the best spot for a selfie, obviously.
The second stop afforded FANTASTIC views!

Best view ever! Oh, and London in the background.

Rivers and bridges and buildings! Oh my!
Finally we made our way back down, and still didn't see the bird woman. However, some folks had shown up to feed the birds.

They spent their tuppence!

Leaving St. Paul's, we enjoyed a light lunch (remember how we ate ALL THE THINGS the day before?), and decided to spend the afternoon at the Tate Modern.

Tate Modern

The Tate Modern was actually not on our original list of places to visit. It was in the "nice if we can make it, but not essential" group. Since our original plan of going to Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's on the same day had already been altered, and since the Tate Modern is really close to St. Paul's, we decided to check it out.

I'm not sure what your opinion is of modern art, but if you like it, Tate Modern is a glorious place. It's huge, meandering, confusing, and full of modern art. I, personally, am mostly indifferent to modern art. I find some of it very interesting, but am of the opinion that if a piece of art has to be explained to me in the full context of the artist, and I STILL don't get it, I'm generally not going to enjoy it very much.

The building itself is a work of modern art. It was originally a power station, but was converted to a museum between 1995 and 2000. Since then, it's expanded even more. At this point, the display space is vast and only partially filled. Regardless of its content, the building itself was pretty cool.

There were a few VERY personally interesting pieces of art. They had a Picasso (of which we neglected to take a picture), and Salvador Dali's "Metamorphosis of Narcissus", shown here.

I'd pay to own this.

There was also a small series by Piet Mondrian, including a couple of the Composition works.

I didn't crop and straighten ON PURPOSE! Because ART!

There was also a plastic/metallic robot, with looping nutzo videos playing in its hands, face, chest, and thighs. I ALMOST understood this one, but failed at the last moment. I kept expecting Max Headroom to show up in the face and explain to me what was going on.

Still alive out there? Good!

What finally let me know that the day was done was our trip through the following room, the entirety of which is an exhibit.

Uh, wat?
Before I tell you what that is, I want you to take a moment to study it. REALLY study it. What is all that dark, stringy looking stuff? And the horizontal metallic bars? What does it say to you? What does it mean?

Alright, now that you're in the right state of mind, I'm going to tell you what's going on. What looks like thick strands of black yarn is, in fact, human hair. Thousands of meters of human hair woven together by hand, and then wrapped and tied around Fiat bumpers. It's supposed to represent the coexistence of ritual and superstition alongside urban and economic transformation, particularly in India. For more information, have a look at Behold.

As you might have guessed, I didn't understand it in the slightest. And as impressive as the effort must have been to do all of this, I couldn't imagine that it would have significance in the future. Let's say it were somehow miraculously preserved just as it is, and future archaeologists dug this up. Would they think it was art, or rubbish? You decide...

To end our excursion, we left the exhibits and went up to the observation deck. Now THAT was worth doing. Being high up in London, especially along the banks of the Thames, is always worth it. It was a good ending to an excellent outing.

There's some modern art for you!

Stay tuned for outing 5, where our trip took a dark turn at the Tower of London...

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