england,  europe,  travel,  united kingdom

Stairway to the clouds


The morning began quietly, although we didn’t end up going to the British Library as usual. We puttered around the hotel, using the WiFi in the lounge and getting ourselves ready for the day. We headed out around noon via the tube to St. Paul’s station to visit the cathedral. We stopped in at a little café for a snack and an Americano before wandering through the churchyard to the entrance. It’s a large, imposing structure, and D commented that it looked much less ornate than the Gothic cathedrals. We headed in and soon discovered, much to my dismay, that no photographs were allowed inside. Disappointed yet still entranced by the elaborate mosaics on the ceiling and its massive painted dome, we wandered through the halls. It was truly an epic interior, with its sweeping columns and gold trim. We eventually decided to embark on the 257-step climb to the Whispering Gallery, located at the base of the dome. The wooden steps were quite shallow, but the staircase nonetheless felt never-ending. The Whispering Gallery (so named because apparently a whisper on one side of the dome could be heard 32 metres across on the other side of the dome) was essentially a narrow walkway at the base of the dome. It allowed you to see the details of the dome’s painting quite well, but I still much preferred looking up at everything from below. Still, D wanted to go up to the next gallery, so we laboured up another 119 considerably steeper steps. This led us to a broader walkway running around the outside of the dome with impressive views of the Thames and the city. The Golden Gallery, 152 steps of winding staircases, was a very narrow, windy walkway on the outside of the dome with even more spectacular views of the city. We gradually made our way back down to the cathedral floor and discovered that BBC 2 radio was holding some kind of performance or perhaps competition of young boy singers. We stopped to listen, and the first soloist had just an angelic voice, which resonated particularly given the epicness of the surroundings. After popping down to the crypt briefly and picking up a few souvenirs in the gift shop, we headed back to the tube station. Unfortunately, the line was closed due to a “person under train” incident, so we walked in the general direction of Covent Garden.

Upon realizing we were a relative hike from any tube station, we grabbed a taxi and were delivered directly to the Garden, funnily enough right in front of the Cross Keys pub, which we’d had a drink at a few days earlier. We were also just around the corner from Monmouth Coffee shop, so D popped in to have a latte. I was on a mission for black pumps to go with my fabulous black dress I would be wearing to dinner, so we searched the stores in the vicinity, but nothing struck my fancy/was comfortable. Ironically, I’d tried on a pair of shoes with my dress at the Ted Baker store the day before that were nice, but I thought I would look around first before committing to those. Happily, we came across a Ted Baker store in the Gardens, and I ran up to grab my shoes. Unfortunately, they didn’t have my size in the pair I had my eye on, but I ended up finding another pair that was also cute. Meanwhile, D came across a store called Campers and bought a rather amusing pair of shoes (essentially, they look like felt clogs). But they’re comfortable and useful for puttering around the department or the mall in.

We hopped back on the packed tube (yay rush hour) to return to the hotel and dolled ourselves up for our fancy dinner. The reservation was relatively early, 5 pm, as there’d been nothing else available all weekend. We thought that we might head down to the Tate Modern after, as it was open late until 11 pm. Dressed to impress, we were soon back at Covent Garden and at the French restaurant Clos Maggiore. It had a beautiful, if not unique, interior, lined with dark wood and what looked like hedges along the wall. Fine dining always makes me happy…the attentive service and attention to detail. We were given complimentary Kir to start, which was actually something I was able to drink. D went with their prix fixe menu, partridge to start and leg of suckling pig for his main. I couldn’t resist the foie gras and stuffed chicken wing for an appetizer and caramelized duck with beets and a side of mashed potatoes. Our meals were absolutely superb, and I can safely say that it was perhaps one of the best (if not the best) dinner out I’ve ever had. Everything was delicious—I even ate the green beans, they were so good! Their mashed potatoes, which are always a challenging thing for restaurants to get absolutely perfect, were divine, super creamy and flavourful. For dessert, the cheese board was a natural choice (and we got to choose 5 types). D indulged in a dram of whisky (10 year old Ardbeg from Islay), which he meditated on for some time. I was feeling increasingly stuffed, trying to finish the delicious cheese. Finally, we were defeated and waddled (dignifiedly) out into the brisk and crowded night. Feeling the soporiphic effects of dinner, we decided to postpone the Tate and head back to the hotel.

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