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By Jane Cassie

It feels like we're heaven-bound while trekking up the stone stairwell that spirals from the base of St Paul's Cathedral to its glittery cupola dome. And although we're only halfway there, I'm ready to throw in the towel. Sure, I was forewarned to lace up my Rockports when exploring London's tourist trail, but I didn't think to bring along cross trainers.

"Only a hundred more stairs before we reach the Whispering Gallery," encourages Brent, my Olympian-fit husband, as he jaunts by like a loping gazelle. In spite of my drum-rolling heartbeat and burning thighs, I plod onward and upward. After all, doesn't slow and steady win the race?

The reward is to be had by all who ascend the 259 steps to this pivotal hushed spot. Immediately after emerging from the claustrophobic staircase, an awestruck "wow" escapes from my breathless lungs. At the midpoint of this open rotunda, we have a bird's eye view of the 18th century architectural masterpiece. The cathedral has been constructed in the shape of a cross, and intersecting the two arms is a bejewelled dome that now hovers over our dizzy heads. Light flows in through leaded panes onto Roman pillars, intricately etched archways and theological statues. The scenes depict the life of St Paul and shimmer in gilded glory.

We discover that the acclaimed Brit architect, Sir Christopher Wren, is the mastermind behind this baroque beauty. Although he was confronted with political pressures along the way, after thirty-five years of sweat and toil, he proudly unveiled his finished product. It still stuns us today! As well as scheduled services the cathedral has been the resplendent venue for many celebrations and funerals. Farewells to leaders like Lord Nelson and Sir Winston Churchill have been integrated with royal birthdays and memorable weddings. I recall the countless photos taken of Lady Diana Spencer as her train trailed down the aisle of this enormous nave.

Although St Paul's Cathedral was likely Wren's pièce de résistance, there was certainly no moss growing on this English chap. As well as designing fifty-one London churches, his creative endeavours were spread far and wide.

On our first day to this vibrant metropolis we had admired his work at Hampton Court, a stately palace, which had been home to a number of past monarchs, the most notorious being Henry VIII. Wren was actually hired by William III in 1689, to give the place a total face-lift. Unfortunately even kings have budgets, and the cost of Wren's project was too big for His Highness's britches. Instead of remodelling its entirety, his work was restricted to the royal apartments.

We had also checked out Wren's embellished décor at Kensington Palace, and strolled by his steeple-like Monument at Fish Street Hill. The 65-meter fluted column commemorates the Great Fire that devastated London in September 1666. It provides a great panorama if you want to hoof up the three 340-plus stairs to the pinnacle. Needless to say, I had kept on walking.

Now, visiting St. Paul's Cathedral, I'm in awe of his talents once again. The Whispering Gallery circles just beneath the dome's interior, and due to its ingenious construction, a quiet whisper can be audible from the opposite side -hence the name. On embedded stone seats I rest here to normalize my heart rate and take time to reflect on this creative genius.

"Do you know where the stairwell is to the observatory?" Brent asks. I'm jarred out of my daydream by the question. "There are more stairs?" I say, feeling content to remain on duff beneath the glittery dome. "As well as the Stone Gallery," he explains, "there's an upper Golden Gallery and an awesome city view." From out of the corner of my eye, I can see Brent gathering up his camera equipment. He's preparing for the next two 271 steps that lay ahead. And all I can think is, "legs don't fail me now!"


Official London Website

Official Britain website

Where to stay:

MS Tours & Travels LTD
Regent House
24-25 Nutford Place, Marble Arch
London W1H 5YN
Tel No: +44 207 569 3280
Fax: +44 207 569 3282

Photos by Brent Cassie:
1. St Paul's Cathedral, Wren's well-known masterpiece
2. Bird's eye view of London
3. We enjoy a panorama from the Golden Gallery lookout
4. Trekking the stone spiral staircase
5. Hampton Court garden view

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