Once in a lifetime
Today was a big day for us. Got up early to ensure a good spot for the "royal procession" of the Queen's Mother's casket from the Queen's Chapel at St. James Palace to Westminster Hall where she would lay in state. The procession route was about one mile. We arrived on the Mall at about 0900 to have front row viewing about 100 yards from the entrance to St. James Palace and next to a camera scaffold that provided shade. The official ceremony started at 1130.
The excitement started about 1000 with the street cleaners and their high power water hoses to clean every spot from the pavement. The local people around us remarked that they never saw the street so clean. The central road divider and street lights were already removed. Cloth material was hung on fences to obscure the Port-a-Loo (Port-a-John's). These Port-a-Loo's had warm water, soap and paper towels. Even the local people remarked about the "royal" johns.
We enjoyed talking with the people around us - three
ladies traveled from Surrey who arrived at 0530, an American student
from D.C. living in London for a year, an Australian college
student, and three more Americans from Iowa. Having all these people
to talk with made the time go fast. By the time of the procession
the crowd behind us was 10 people deep.
About 45 minutes before the procession the palace guard band and members from the different services started to line the parade route. At exactly 1130 the ceremony started with different regiments leading the way. Then the horse carriage with the Queen Mother's casket covered with her colors, a flower wreath, and her crown with jewels came by.
The casket was followed by the four children of Queen Elizabeth. Princess Anne needed special permission from the queen since only male family members are normally allowed in the procession. This made it a very special moment with all the queen's children marching in a single row. Behind them were their children including Princes William and Harry. It was an amazing site to see them all in-step with the drummer.
Queen Elizabeth and her husband were driven from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall to meet the casket. Also at 1130, the royal canons were being fired every minute of the procession in Green Park, just to the side of St. James Palace and across the street from Buckingham Palace.
British television estimated 400,000 people lining the one mile route. The procession took exactly 28 minutes.
After the procession, we could not cross any of the streets to leave the area. The police kept all the streets closed for about 30 more minutes. We walked from one end to the other trying to escape - no luck. But then as we wandered up towards Buckingham Palace to try and leave, we were surprised to see the Queen and her husband being driven back to the palace. After that we were allowed to leave the area.
Overall it was a great experience. It was wonderful talking to the local people and learning some interesting English history in the process.
The only remaining London attraction we wanted to see was Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and Planetarium. We must have waited about an hour in the queue to enter, but is was worth it. The wax figures are life-like and we could get right up close and take pictures. The planetarium show was included. After that we returned to the hotel to rest in preparation for the start of our British Isles tour the next day.