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Good weather means we are going out

Every morning this week was rainy and drab, but Saturday suddenly turned out sunny and not especially cold. We took our time until noon to get out of the house, but still jumped on a train and went to the City.

Setting out that late left us with only a few hours of sunlight, and we utilized even that quite inefficiently.

The destination of the day was St Paul’s cathedral, one of the most famous of London’s landmarks. It is an imposing structure, with the second largest dome among Christian cathedrals. While the interior decorations are far from lavish, the ceilings are quite amazing. Instead of frescoes, depicting biblical scenes, they are covered in inwrought colorful gilded mosaic patterns.

There are three gallery levels in the dome, and getting there means a lot of steps, between 450 and 530, depending on which sign you believe (Becky counted 444). Kimmy was very reluctant to undertake the ascent, and then was not exactly thrilled with it during the climb. But the first level – Whispering Gallery – delighted both her and us with the sound effect which gave it its name. The gallery sits at the widest point under the dome, 32 meters in diameter. If one person whispers something into the wall, another person on the other side of the gallery with her ear to the wall can hear the words perfectly well. We had several silly discussions between the four of us in this fashion, no doubt annoying everybody else who were trying to test the effect. Not sure how to explain the unusual acoustics phenomenon – must be the combination of wall curvature and sound-conducting properties of the material.

The second gallery level allows views over London through stone barriers – it must be there that I ended my own climb six years ago, since my recollection of it was along “not-worth-it” lines. But then, there is the highest gallery, at the base of the lantern, which provides great unobstructed views of the city. The platform is rather small and gets congested, but the views are definitely worth the ascent.

The steps, by the way, are mostly spiral and often very narrow. I remember how a hefty woman literally got stuck ahead of me on my previous attempt, unable to squeeze in between the walls. This time around, we were spared such ordeal, but Becky remarked that two of her would not have fit in some openings.

Being out on that highest platform was the only proper use of the pleasant weather, as we obviously spent almost two hours inside the cathedral itself, and then another hour plus in a nearby pub. We then planned to go to Kensington Gardens and spend some time at a playground there, but by the time we got out of the tube and reached the destination, it was after 4pm, almost dark, and the playground was closed.

We took a walk in the park instead, but the temperature was quickly getting lower and we did not linger. With one small exception. The lake in the park is teeming with ducks and geese. We happened to take a piece of bread away from the pub (having some food at hand, be it apples, tangerines, or simple bread, is paramount for maintaining peaceful travel with a certain 6-year-old member of our company). That bread came in very handy. Once the geese realized that they were being fed, they literally encircled us and rather aggressively expected further handouts. At some point, Becky broke away and a small battalion of ducks chased her, as she literally marked her way with crumbs. Overall, we held our ground and the disappointed game had to get back to forlorn swimming once the bread was no more.

Our kids, by the way, have by now adapted to our schedule of weekend getaways. Becky, who read a couple of books on London’s attractions, even provides suggestions as to where to go. Last weekend, as you might recall, we followed hers, and today’s destination, St Paul, was also on her to-see list.

On the life-as-usual front, the kids are participating in Christmas-related activities in school. The idea of separation of church and state is quite different here from the American one, but schools are mostly non-denominational. Yet, all over the country, the schools are putting up Nativity plays with the lower-graders. Kimmy is an innkeeper in her play, responsible for letting in Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus. The role is non-speaking, which bothers me a lot. I am going to teach her to improvise “Happy Hanukkah” at a key point.

Senior grades are holding simple talent shows, with kids choosing their own numbers. Becky and a friend were going to sing a song (something about “Santa, baby, come down the chimney tonight”), but then got conscripted into a Romeo & Juliet play. Becky is Juliet’s wacky cousin Rosaline, who hates Juliet and strongly expresses that to Lady Capulet. The point of that is beyond me. Is that in the original script?

We ordered a new camera. Once it arrives, I will unveil our choice and we will resume posting occasional photos.

Posted in Chronicles, In London