Tuesday, June 12, 2012

So you want to go to a Diamond Jubilee

the window of an eye glasses shop
Back at home, safe, sound, and drying out!  It rained a lot in London last week.  I returned home to azure blue skies and 90 degree temperatures.  I don't do jet lag well, especially when returning home.  I adapt easier to putting my watch ahead five hours. It is more difficult for me to turn the watch back five hours without the feeling of being exhausted.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that I ran myself ragged in the past week, thanks to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The British do pomp and circumstance better than anyone else.

The journey to London begins on the afternoon of May 30 when a friend picks me up at my office to drive me to National Airport.  I board a USAir flight to Philadelphia and then onto another plane for the overnight flight to Heathrow.  In Philadelphia, I change into comfy casual Washington Nationals clothes, and head for the airport sports bar for a snack and a cold beer.  The Phillies game is on TV, and  they are playing the Mets.  The Mets are my first love as I grew up at Shea Stadium.

The Washington Nationals are in first place in the National League East. The Phillies are in the same division, but they are in last place. Cheering for the Mets, while wearing Nats clothes in a Philadelphia airport sports bar .... ah, sweet satisfaction.  I believe the Mets won the game.

 I arrived at Heathrow at 10 a.m., on May 31.  After getting my suitcase, I make my way to the exit, where I spot a Jubilee welcome desk  I sign the guest book, and am handed a flag.  Afterward I head to the Heathrow Express to London to check in for one night at the Doubletree at Victoria Station.

After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I walk over to Buckingham Palace.  London is well-decorated with bunting and flags.  Many store windows on Kensington High Street and Oxford Street are decorated as well.
getting ready for the concert on the Victoria Memorial

The area around Buckingham Palace is a hive of activity as workmen are constructing the stage on Victoria Memorial for the concert on Sunday night.  I start walking down the Mall, looking for the right place for Monday night, when I plan to camp out to get a good space for Tuesday's procession. 

As I continue to walk, I notice a car with police outriders leaving the Palace and turning into Clarence House.  The Princess Royal is in the car.   Perhaps she is visiting her brother, the Prince of Wales, to ask him how much he wants to contribute to Mummy's gift. 

Decided to have dinner at the Shakespeare Pub near Victoria Station. The beer was good, so was the dessert, but do not try the Wiltshire ham.  The ham was definitely off.  The waitress told me the ham was fresh "yesterday."  Time to order another beer.  I did not get charged for the main dish.

Kensington Palace

the first nine descendants of Queen Victoria
Most of Friday was spent at Kensington Palace, which recently had undergone a major renovation, including new gardens, a new entrance, and a fab exhibit, Victoria Revealed, on the life of Queen Victoria.  This exhibit is permanent, but there is a also an exhibition on Victoria's Jubilee - Jubilee a View from the Crowd- which runs until November.


Visitors can now enter the Palace through the golden front gates.  This leads to the new visitors' entrance, gift shop and cafe.  The weather was still nice on Friday.  I enjoyed a nice cup of tea and a piece of chocolate cake before going back to see the Victoria exhibit for a second time before leaving to head back to the hotel, get my suitcase, and get the tube to Liverpool Street where I caught the train to Harlow.  I would spend the rest of my vacation with my dear friends, Paul and Toni, their daughter Sophie, and their pets, Mysty and Lucy.  Two good programs on Friday, one featuring the Prince of Wales honoring his mother (with footage seen for the first time), and Alan Titchmarsh's Elizabeth: Queen, Wife, Mother.

at the Hampton Court Garde Party .. I made the Crown

Grand Duchess Xenia as Queen Anne

Ah! Pimm's
I spent Saturday at Hampton Court Palace at the Jubilee Garden Party, held in the palace gardens.  The event was free, and the date for the party was June 3, 1953, the day after Elizabeth II's Coronation. (1952 was a year of mourning.)  People were encouraged to wear clothes from the 50s and bring a picnic basket.  I sampled some of the food for sale and drank several glasses of Pimm's. Lovely.

A band played throughout the day, and there were activities for families, including making your own bunting and crown.   One of the highlights was the Queens' pageant, where interpreters playing the residents of the Grace and Favour homes at Hampton Court, who, in turn, played the Queens from Mathilda to Queen Victoria.  One "resident" was cast as Britannia.

In other words: characters playing characters.  Lady Manning was cast as Lady Jane Gray.  Rosemary Kennedy played Victoria, and Grand Duchess Xenia of Russia portrayed Queen Anne.   Lady Baden-Powell, founder of the Girl Guides, inspected several Brownie troops.
Hampton Court

The Jubilee Garden Party was a wonderful way to kick off the Jubilee for me.

Up early on Sunday to come into London for the Flotilla.  I had ordered two tickets for the party at Battersea Park, but my friend could not go.  I made a young woman very happy when I gave her my extra ticket. 

Train to Liverpool Street. Tube to Victoria and another train (one stop) to Battersea Park.  70,000 tickets were sold for the event.  Not as well prepared as I would have thought.  Plenty of port-a-loos, but not enough food vendors.  People were standing in line for 90 minutes and longer just to get coffee. I had not brought any food, as I expected to be able to purchase something, but I changed my mind because I preferred not to lose my good viewing space by the wall to watch the flotilla.  Several kind people shared their sandwiches with me.  Lots of kind people that day.

It was amazing to watch the flotilla - and I stayed to the bitter end despite the rain.  Many people left after the queen passed by, and others started to leave when the rain started.   I was not going to leave until it was over, until the last boat, which featured the London Symphony Orchestra, passed by.  

I had hoped to get something to eat afterward, as the party at Battersea Park continued, but it was raining hard, and I decided it was time to leave and head back to Harlow.  A long queue to enter the Battersea Park station.  The woman behind me offered free sandwiches to those of us who might have been hungry. Thanks to the rain, her picnic ended early, so she decided to share her homemade sandwiches with others in the line  I was very grateful, and said thank you .. several times.

At Victoria Station, I bought a very large hot vanilla latte, which I drank very slowly.  Ah .. warmth.   Due to the number of people entering the station to get on the Tube,  police had to close down the entrance to the Tube for about 20 minutes, as people were allowed to get off the trains and leave the station.   A good way to maintain crowd control.  Eventually, I was able to get on the subway to Liverpool Street, and then a train home.

Monday was another early day.  Monday and Tuesday were bank holidays, which meant my friends were off from work.  They planned to watch the festivities on television.  Not me.  I was going to spend Monday night on the Mall ... and I did not expect to be alone. I had brought with me an inflatable floatie (for pools), emergency sleeping bag, and Mylar blankets.  My friends gave me a few few large garbage bags (bin liners) as well.  Paul drove me to the train for the 30 minute ride to London.  I headed first to Oxford Street to Marks & Spencer where I bought the cutest t-shirt: a corgi wearing a crown.  In the Food Halls, I stocked up on water, sandwiches, fruit, tea cakes (Mallomars) and a small bag of salted crisps (Chips). 

As Green Park was closed, we were directed to head toward St. James's Park via St. James's Place.  My bag was inspected as I entered the Mall, which was filling up fast.  I had not realized that there were television screens up and down the Mall, where people could watch the concert at Buckingham Palace.  I had not realized that this was going to happen ... a nice bonus for Monday night.  I found a nice space on the Mall across from Clarence House.  My neighbors were a nice mom and daughter, who were also spending the night.  They had an extra blanket which they offered for me to use.  I put it under the floatie. I shared my tea cakes with people around me.   Wish I had some right now.

Large screens were also set up in Hyde Park and in other cities around the United Kingdom.  I was about 500 feet away from the back end of the Victoria Memorial ... and Sir Paul McCartney.

Eventually, the police stopped admitting people to the Mall and to St. James' Park. As afternoon turned to dusk, the area took on an atmostophere of joy, happiness ... and let's party!   The British can match the Americans for flag waving, patriotism, and celebrating the red, white and blue!

I don't think anyone on the Mall sat down for the concert as we were all up and about, dancing to the music, and giving shouts when the hosts acknowledged the crowd on the Mall.  After the concert was over,  those who were staying the night were advised to move into St. James's Park.  A group of us, including my neighbors, the mom and her daughter, decided to move closer to Buckingham Palace .  We were now on the other side of Clarence House, still on the St. James's Park side.  We had to move away from the street as the double barriers were put up during the night.  At first the police would not allow us to move back closer to the barriers (so we could protect our turf to be in the front for the procession), but eventually, we were able to move toward the barrier.  All told, the police had us move about five times .. from the barriers to the park to the sidewalk, and finally were we wanted to be.

Many people had pitched tents in the park or on the sidewalk.  It was a bit cold, and I probably should have brought another blanket.  There was no way to get any sleep with all the noise going on as the television sets were taken down and removed.  Although all of the food vendors closed down after the concert, St. James's Park left open one of the park's cafes.  At four a.m., I walked down to use the loo (ah warmth) and get a cup of tea at the cafe.  Hot dogs were also available and other snacks.  I walked around the park, noticing that the London Eye was lit in red,white and blue.  St. James's Park is my favorite park, and I enjoyed the emerging daylight as more people were making their way to the barriers for the procession.

The food vendors also reopened in time for breakfast.  At the Fine Chicken vendor, I had a nice bacon butty for breakfast. We were right next to the BBC's area, and we were often asked to cheer on cue.  Seriously, the crowd did not need any encouragement when it came to cheering.  We cheered everyone from the terrorist police to the regular police to the pooper scoopers.  I was interviewed several times by the BBC (token American), and my body hidden underneath the blankets was filmed by ITN.

By the time the Queen left the palace (she was sitting on our side in the car), the crowd was about 20 deep and grew even larger in time for the procession.  More than one million people were on the Mall for the procession. 

The Service of Thanksgiving was played on an intercom system.  At the end of the service, when the National Anthem was played, we all stood up and sang along.   I know all the words to the first verse, too. 

Everyone commented on how fast the carriages past by us as the skies opened once again.  But no one was deterred by the rain.  After the Queen was in Buckingham Palace, the police led the crowd up the Mall and toward the front of the Palace.  We stood there in the rain, shouting "We Want the Queen,"  "God Save the Queen" was sung many times, and there were the usual calls of "Hip, Hip, Hooray."   

When the Queen stepped out onto the balcony, she was apparently taken back by the magnitude of the crowd.  The cheers and the singing grew ever louder.  I managed to get one good balcony shot.  My camera battery had died (thanks to spending the night outside), but thanks to a neat trick of keeping the battery in my bra, I was able to squeeze that one shot out of a dead battery!

The balcony appearance lasted for about twenty minutes, I think.  Eventually, the balcony doors closed, and it was time for the crowd to start going home.  I had hoped to get through Green Park, but it was still closed.  We were directed to walk up Constitution Hill to get to Victoria Station, which meant walking around the back of Buckingham Palace, turning left on Duke of Wellington Place and another left on Buckingham Palace Road toward Victoria Station.  

It was now after 4 p.m.  The rain continued to fall, and, suffice to say, my personality had morphed from mere grumpy to downright crabby.  All I wanted was a nice cup of coffee to perk me up as I had not slept in more than 24 hours. 

Eventually got on the train for Harlow, and I asked the person sitting across from me to make sure I got off at Harlow as I was soooooo ready to fall asleep.  A hot bath was my reward (and a yummy dinner) for surviving sleeping outside and the rain. 

It was back to work on Wednesday for my friends.  I slept until 9, and caught a local bus to the train station.  Picked up the papers to read on the train.  I decided to head to Greenwich, which meant catching the Central Line at Liverpool Station (one stop to Bank) and then catch the Docklands Light Railway to the Cutty Stark station in Greenwich.  I spent the morning at the National Maritime Museum where I saw a small exhibit on the Titanic (based on Walter Lord's book A Night to Remember) and the very fabulous Royal River Power, Pageantry & Thames exhibit.  This special exhibit costs £11.00, and runs through September 9.  


The rest of the museum is free.   I found a delightful pub, the Admiral Hardy, for lunch, where I had a superb jacketed potato (smothered in ham and cheese) and a good local beer. 

It rained for most of the day.  I headed back into Central London by catching the Jubilee Line at Canary Wharf.  Tea at Fortnum &Mason, followed by shopping and a nice walk.   In the evening, I met several friends for dinner at Bella Italia in Leicester Square.  My favorite place to eat in London.

I spent the last day in London, walking around and doing shopping.  Yes, it rained.  I got off the Tube at the Tower and walked around St. Katherine's Dock, where I saw the royal barge (Spirit of Chartwell).  The next stop is the National Portrait Gallery to view special exhibitions on Queen Elizabeth II and on Princess Charlotte of Wales and Queen Victoria.

After excursions to Piccadilly and Oxford Street, I got on the Jubilee line and headed to Stratford in East London.  I wanted to visit the Westfield Shopping Centre, the largest shopping mall in Europe, and the Official Shopping Centre of London 2012. 

The Olympic Stadium and several other venues are in Stratford.   There is a viewing area on the top floors of the John Lewis department store at the mall.  John Lewis is also one of the stores that sells the official Olympic merchandise. I bought a Team GB T-shirt.  The mall also features a Waitrose, Marks & Sparks, bowling alleys, a cinema, food courts and restaurants, and plenty of shops to browse!

I had hoped to catch a train to Harlow from Stratford Regional, but I would have had to wait more than an hour.  Discovered a train leaving for Hereford, with the first stop at Tottenham Hale, where I can catch plenty of trains to Harlow.

Paul brought home fish and chips for dinner.  Yum!  Watched a special on Prince William (who celebrates his 30th birthday on June 21) before making sure everything is in the suitcase. 

Up at 6 on Friday morning.  It's teeming with rain.  Paul drives me to Heathrow.  Plenty of traffic until Potters Bar, and then no problems.  Check in, go through security, get the latest Hello and the papers, a coffee and a yogurt at Cafe Nero, and the last stop before heading to the gate is Duty free where I buy two bottles of Pimms.   After going through Immigration at Philadelphia, I get my suitcase, which has to be checked in again.   Duty Free liquids must now go into the main suitcase before the suitcase is handed back to be rechecked in for the next flight.  (The bottles made it safely.)

Back through security and a long walk to the next terminal, where I will board a flight to D.C.  The sun is shining brightly.   Home by 7:30 p.m.  Buddy and Edison greet me right away.  Sienna gives me that "where's my pressie" look before walking out of the room, nose in the air.  Turn on TV, collapse on couch, and watch the Nationals beat the Red Sox.  By the time the game was over, all three cats were on the couch with me.


Abigail said...

Sounds like a fabulous trip!

Bob Turbyfill said...

What a great experience! Wish I had made the trip.

WandaSue said...

Thank you so much for sharing your royal holiday with us! I spent a terrific lunchbreak just now reading your "musings." You captured it all so beautifully for those of us who had to settle for bits and pieces of it on TV.

Love your blog!

Marlene Eilers Koenig said...

thanks WandaSue. Glad you like RM