Tourism

St. Paul's Cathedral

St Paul’s Cathedral is easily one of the most well-known and also most recognizable sights in the historic city of London and for almost three hundred years it dominated the city’s skyline as the city’s tallest structure.

With a history dating back more than fourteen centuries, the cathedral has played a significant role in British history and has become an important symbol with regard to the national identity of the English people.

St. Paul’s is not only home to the seat of the Bishop of London and is the mother church of the diocese of London but (similar to Westminster Abbey) often finds itself as the host of some of England’s most important events.

Some of which have in recent years included royal weddings and the funerals of important figures like Sir Winston Churchill and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Even though St. Paul’s time as being the tallest building in the city is clearly over, it is said that the majority of the visitors who visit the popular observation deck of the nearby Shard skyscraper spend most of their time taking photos of the beautiful cathedral which is located just across the Thames.

Today the cathedral serves not only as a fully functional church that holds daily services but also as one of London’s most popular tourist attractions with more than two million people visiting each year.

History

St. Paul’s Cathedral has a history that dates back to AD 604 but don’t let that history fool you, the cathedral that we can see today is no where near that old. Historical records indicate that a church was built somewhere on the site over fourteen hundred years ago, but there is actually little evidence to prove such claims.

The cathedral known as “Old St. Paul’s” was constructed on site by the Normans between 1087 and 1240 and was a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles constructed using both stone and wood.

London however has had a bit of bad luck when it comes to fire and the city has been ravaged on more than a few occasions, the most well-known of which is probably the Great Fire of 1666.

The devastating fire destroyed 13,200 houses, 88 parish churches and forced the displacement of around 70-80,000 of the city’s inhabitants. Most notably the original St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was then one of London’s largest and most important buildings was also destroyed.

While Londoners went about rebuilding their lives, the office of famed British architect Sir Christopher Wren was selected and given the honour of overseeing the design and construction of over fifty churches to replace those that were destroyed, including that of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The name Sir Christopher Wren may not be a household name for a lot of people outside of England, but the man was a legendary genius who was not only England’s most highly acclaimed architects but was also an anatomist, astronomer, geometry and mathematician-physicist.

While its often overlooked, Wren had a tremendous influence on intellectual affairs in 17th and 18th century Britain as President of the Royal Society making tremendous contributions to scientific thought and discovery.

Today he is most well-known for having a hand in the design and construction of some of London’s most well-known buildings with his work on St. Paul’s Cathedral being considered the masterpiece of his architectural genius.

In 1668 the Archbishop of Canterbury, with support from the Bishops of London and Oxford charged Wren with the responsibility of designing a new cathedral to replace the old St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Wren was given the instructions that the new cathedral should be “handsome and noble to all ends of it and to the reputation of the city and the nation” meaning that whatever he came up with had to be so grand in design that nothing else could compare.

Construction on the cathedral started in the summer of 1675 and was opened to the public twenty-two years later in 1697.

The finished version of Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral would be the tallest building in London, the second largest church in Britain and had a dome that was considered the finest in the whole world.

The building, which was financed by a tax on coal cost £1,095,556, which is equivalent to around $200 million US dollars today.

During the Second World War the cathedral was damaged during the German Blitz of London but was saved from outright destruction due to the efforts of civil defence brigades to protect it.

Churchill believed that the destruction of the cathedral would do irreparable damage to the morale of the nation, so he ensured that every effort was made to protect it from harm.

Still, one of the most iconic images of the Blitz depicts the dome of the cathedral shrouded in smoke with the buildings in the foreground engulfed in flames.

The image was thought to describe the resolve of the British people which was “proud”, “glorious” and “indomitable” and helped to push the British and the allies to ultimate victory over the Germans.

Sir Christopher Wren passed away in 1723, a few years after the completion of the cathedral.

It was only fitting that his tomb be constructed in the crypts of his architectural masterpiece. Today people can not only visit the church but pay their respects to one of English history’s greatest figures.

The inscription on his tomb reads: “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice” or “Reader, if you seek his memorial, look around you” which is a fitting tribute to the man and his accomplishments.

Design

When Christopher Wren was charged with the design and construction of a new St. Paul’s Cathedral, his office was already busy designing and constructing fifty other parish churches.

Designing a new version of St. Paul’s however was a project unlike any of the others - Wren’s task was to create a cathedral more grand than the original as well as a building that would serve as a landmark.

He also had to satisfy the stringent requirements of the Church of England, rich benefactors and try to stay true to and respect the mediaeval traditions of English church building.

Wren came up with five different designs for the cathedral which were inspired by the design of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and a combination of English medieval architecture with contemporary Renaissance trends - most notably the Baroque style.

The design that was approved combined neoclassical, gothic and baroque elements which symbolized the ideals of the English restoration with the construction techniques of the time.

Wren was given artistic licence to make minor changes during construction which he used to make modifications based on elements of some of the other designs he had submitted.

The finished cathedral actually ended up being considerably different than originally planned.

As for the specifics of the architectural design, I’m admittedly not an expert, so for a more in-depth description of the design of the interior and exterior of the cathedral, I recommend checking out the links below.

St. Paul’s Cathedral (Wiki)

Designing St. Paul’s Cathedral (Google Arts & Culture)

What I will go into a bit of detail about with regards to design is that of the dome - Which is said to be one of the finest in the world.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit the dome’s at both St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and St. Paul’s in London and can easily say that St. Paul’s is the clear winner in terms of beauty.

When you stand under the dome looking up, the beauty of Wren’s design will captivate anyone who sees it. If you then climb to the base of the dome on the roof and gaze at the floor below, you’ll be even more amazed.

Oh, and I suppose the beautiful views of the London cityscape from the top of the dome aren’t too shabby as well!

The dome is composed of three different shells - The outer dome, a concealed brick cone (for structural support) and an inner dome. The main internal space of the cathedral is located under the central dome which is supported from floor-level by pendentives that rise up in the form of eight arches that surround the dome.

The genius of Wren’s design supports the dome from ground level while leaving the area under it completely open with no visible supports. The dome, which is said to weigh over 850 tons was also designed in a way that its weight is supported and lightened through the three shells.

You’re not supposed to take photos in the cathedral, but it would be a shame to go to such a beautiful place and not sneak a few. I took a few from floor level, a few from the first platform and of course more from the outside viewing platform.

Visiting the dome makes the price of admission fee well worth the trip and is probably going to be the highlight of your day if you visit.

Getting There / Visiting

Like Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral is one of London’s most popular tourist attractions.

A visit to St. Paul’s however is a bit more relaxing as guests are able to enjoy the spectacular interior and exterior of the building with a little more freedom.

In addition to checking out the historic building, guests are also able to climb to the different levels of the dome which on the inside gives amazing views of the cathedral’s interior and its architecture while the higher exterior level allows for spectacular panoramic views of the city.

To gain entry to the cathedral you will have to purchase a ticket which you can either buy online or when you arrive.

If you want to save a bit of time and money I recommend purchasing your tickets online so that you don’t end up waiting in a long line. If you decide to purchase your ticket when you arrive the general admission costs £18 for adults (tickets are cheaper for students, children and seniors).

Link: St. Paul’s Cathedral - Tickets

The cathedral is open for sightseeing from Monday to Saturday from 8:30am - 4:30pm and it should be noted that most people spend more than two hours on their visit, so make sure to arrive a bit early in the day.

You should also be aware that before you gain entry to the cathedral that you’ll have to pass through an airport style security check where guards will be checking bags.

If you want to ensure that you pass through quickly, try not to carry too much with you. They won’t let you in with anything larger than a backpack and there aren’t any lockers available to store your things.

It’s also important to note that photography and the usage of tripods within the cathedral is prohibited, so you probably won’t want to bother bringing too much gear with you if you’re a photographer.

Make sure to bring a camera though because the views from the top of the dome are amazing!

 

St. Paul's Churchyard, London EC4M 8AD, United Kingdom

There are a number of public transport options that will get you to the cathedral:

If you are using the London Underground, it is only a two minute walk from St. Paul’s Station but you can also easily walk there in under five minutes rom Mansion House, Blackfriars or Bank stations.

If you are taking the bus you can get to the cathedral via routes 4, 8, 11, 15, 17, 23, 25, 26, 56, 100, 172, 242 and 521.

If you are travelling by train City Thameslink, Cannon Street and Liverpool Street stations are a short walk away.

In retrospect, my visit to England was a learning experience in the legend that is Wren - I visited several of the buildings that he designed as well as his former home and the trip culminated in a visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral, his masterpiece and his final resting place.

None of this was actually intended, but my trip was made even better because of it.

I enjoyed visiting Westminster Abbey, but can honestly say that if I were to choose between the two for a second visit, without a second thought I’d be visiting St. Paul’s Cathedral again.

If you are visiting London, this is a destination that you’re not going to want to miss.


Sanjiaopu Mountain (三角埔頂山)

A few years ago I posted a blog about the beautiful Silver Grass (芒花) that appears during the Autumn and Winter months in Taiwan turning the country’s lush green mountains white.

I might have been a bit ahead of the curve as the blog post was the only English-language resource available at the time that introduced the beautiful weeds.

Since then ‘Silver Grass tourism’ has sort of become ‘thing’ around here and people are flocking to mountains all over the country taking photos of the tall grass.

I’d like to think my humble blog post played a small role in that.

Actually no, I jest.

The sudden popularity of Silver Grass-related tourism as of late is probably thanks to what I’ve started to refer to as ‘Insta-tourism.’

To put it simply, trends in domestic tourism in Taiwan these days is almost completely driven by trends on Instagram and Social Media - Think Pokemon Go, but instead of catching a monster, you get to take photos.

In the the west we’ve taken to referring to those people who earn a living from their Instagram following as ‘influencers’ while here in Taiwan they are known as “Internet Beauties” (網美) or “Internet Celebrities” (網紅).

In Taiwan these so-called influencers play a lot of the same advertising roles that they do in other countries but are also very much engaged in driving new trends and introducing new photo locations to their followers.

A single photo from one of these people has the ability to turn what was once a quiet destination (enjoyed mostly by locals) into a social-media sensation.

As an avid hiker, I’ve found that I’ve always been able to climb mountains on weekends and never really had to deal with traffic jams on the trails. Now though, you have to be very selective of what mountains you are climbing as some of them have become popular spots for Instagrammers to roam around.

As I’ve mentioned before, Jinmian Mountain (金面山), Kite Mountain (鷹山), the Sacred Mother Peak (聖母山步道), Yuanzui Mountain (鳶嘴山) and the Pingxi Crags were all hiking trails that were pretty much only frequented by hiking groups. Today they are all filled with people looking not for a good day of exercise but to increase their follower counts.

Whether or not this kind of tourism is a good thing remains to be seen.

As Silver Grass tourism became a popular trends over the past few years, the mountains where it grows in abundance have been filling up with visitors.

Traditionally, the most popular locations to go and check it out has always been on Taipei’s Yangming Mountain (陽明山), Cixing Mountain (七星山), Datun Mountain (大屯山) or on the historic Caoling Trail (草嶺古道).

This year however there was a new contender for the most popular spot thanks to Instagram.

Like many other mountains in Taiwan as of late, what was once a quiet hiking trail frequented only by locals, Sanjiaopu Mountain (三角埔頂山) has became yet another internet sensation thanks to the power of social media.

The mountain which sits on the border of Taoyuan and New Taipei City was once most well-known for its panoramic cityscape views of the Taipei basin. These days however not many people really care about those beautiful views as Silver Grass tourism has completely taken over.

Interestingly enough, despite the local government having constructed a well-maintained hiking path on the mountain, it was never really that popular as most people stayed away due to the fact that the mountain is also home to a cemetery - which in Taiwan automatically means there are ghosts!

Rising only 285 meters above sea-level, Sanjiaopu Mountain isn’t a very big one and doesn’t actually require much hiking. You can drive your car or scooter almost all the way to the top where there is a parking area at the trailhead.

From the trailhead you only really need to walk about five minutes to reach the peak.

Not really a day trip if that’s what you’re looking for. 

There are however several trails on the mountain that allow visitors to walk around the perimeter where you’ll get different panoramic views of the cityscape.

On a clear day you’ll be able to see as far as Guanyin Mountain (觀音山) to the north and Datun Mountain (大屯山) and pretty much all of Taipei City to the east.

The views on top of this mountain are ideal for landscape or cityscape photographers.

While most people enjoy the views of Taipei City from Elephant Mountain (象山), this mountain provides a completely different perspective than what most are used to seeing and is justifiably very popular after dark for unparalleled night views of the city.

These days however its all about the Silver Grass.

Silver Grass (芒花)

Silver grass or ‘Miscanthus Sinensis’ is a species of flowering plant that is endemic to East Asia growing in Taiwan, Korea, Japan and China. In both Taiwan and Japan, the plant is widely respected and when it is in bloom people will flock to the mountains and hillsides to see it.

Coincidentally in North America attitudes toward the plant are the polar opposite as it is considered an invasive species and is usually destroyed to control its growth.

It's interesting that the so-called “weed” is reviled in one area and highly respected in another.

Between the months of October and December you can pretty much see wild silver grass growing all over Taiwan - Its literally everywhere you find a patch of grass.

If you want to see it growing in abundance, or you want to get some photos of yourself in a field full of it - you're going to have to head to the mountains where it grows without impediment.

Check out my blog post from a few years ago where I posted photos of the beautiful Silver Grass from the top of Datun Mountain in Taipei.

Getting There

 

As I mentioned above, Datun Mountain and Yangming Mountain in Taipei have always been most popular thanks to their accessibility when it comes to public transportation.

Unfortunately for the ‘influencers’ of the world, if you want to visit this one, you’re not going to be able to rely on public transportation to get there.

I mean, you could take a bus from Shulin (樹林) to Taoyuan (桃園) and get off somewhere in the middle and then walk a few kilometres up the paved mountain road.

But thats not really the best idea if you want to enjoy your time on the mountain.

If you do insist on using public transportation it’d be best to first take a train to Shulin Train Station (樹林車站) and from there take bus 701, 843, 985 or Orange 26. While on the bus watch for the “New Village” bus stop (新村站) where you’ll get off and begin your 2km walk up the mountain.

On the other hand, if you have your own means of transportation you’ll want to take Provincial Highway #1 (省道台一線) from either Taoyuan (桃園) or Xinzhuang (新莊) and turn off at the Dadong Bridge (大棟橋) where you’ll be transported behind some factories and up the mountain.

The mountain has quite a few side roads though and its easy to get lost, so its probably a better idea to input the words “三角埔頂山“ into Google Maps, which will guide you up the mountain where you’ll be able to park.

I realize that by (purposely) posting this blog well-after the Silver Grass season has ended won’t really help you out very much - especially if you’re an Instagrammer looking for a cool new spot to take photos - You’ll have to wait until next year for that.

This mountain however is a great spot all year long, so if you’re looking for somewhere to take cityscape photos that are going to turn out different than everyone else’s - you’ll definitely want to consider visiting this mountain!

Likewise, if you’re reading this blog just in time for Silver Grass season make sure to visit for the Silver Grass but remember to stay for the cityscape photos - especially at night!