On the list of most relaxing places in the world, I’m fairly confident that most people would not put London on that list.
Technicolor double-decker buses trundled noisily past on Cannon Street, adding to the cacophony of foreign tongues. I may be a native English speaker, but in the heart of the English-speaking world, I was surrounded by other languages, other accents, other worldviews.
My eyes climbed slowly toward the apex. My focus scaling paired columns, glazing over aged windows framed in the Classical style. Up the grimy slopes of the dome to the Greek Cross atop, then sliding slowly back down to street-level. There is no elevator within St. Paul’s Cathedral, but if there had been, my eyes might have been following it through the limestone walls. Inhale, eyes move up to the top. Exhale, back down to the bustling street.
I hadn’t expected to find serenity on my first trip abroad to Europe. Adventures, new friends, unusual foods – these are all things you read about in travel blogs and guidebooks and hear stories about from more worldly, inspirational friends. Unadulterated peace, though, that seems to be harder to come by. Or perhaps just harder to recommend.
There is at least one moment like this on every trip if you stop to breathe it in. The world pauses, ever so briefly, in some strange, unexpected way. It’s the moment that the traveler holds out for, where you feel as peacefully as though you’ve just climbed into your own bed, that first sensation of warmth and coziness and familiar comfort after weeks abroad.
So here I found myself. Well into the third day of “hard touring” – those first few days in a new place where I push myself until the point of exhaustion simply because there is so much to see and do, and only so much time for vacation – and I was perched on a hard cement bench, oblivious to the world except for that building.
Nothing to say; no one to say it to.
Just St. Paul’s and me. A wordless old man and a speechless young woman.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is designed to be iconic and memorable. Designed to be indelible in the heart, the mind, and the soul. Something about that building touched me, marking me as one of London’s own. I’ve lived in many places since, but I never forget that first moment and place where the world stood still, my eyes climbed skyward, and I found inner peace in the center of a noisy city.
This post was originally published in November 2015, and was updated in November 2018.