Fast trains, steam trains, slow trains, mountain rack trains, commuter trains; during the past several weeks I’ve ridden variations of them all. I even had the chance to drive one of them. This wonderful opportunity came about through an extraordinary birthday gift from my brother Terry who arranged an entire railroad-themed tour for the two of us to Switzerland. I the train aficionado, and he the seasoned traveler who knows his way around Europe - were the definitive duo. Consequently readers - for the next several postings you’ll be riding the iron along with my brother and myself on a journey aboard most of Switzerland’s famous trains and a number of unique railways not so widely known.
However, since Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee celebrations just ended on Tuesday, I’d like to begin this blog at the end of our European journey. Much of what’s written is based on a daily blog I emailed to my wife Pat who was in Nanaimo instructing her dedicated class of piano students. Some were preparing to play in the BC Festival of the Arts, and others, their Royal Conservatory June Examinations and year-end recital.
Last Monday Terry and I arrived in London from Zurich. We had been in Switzerland for 15 days riding trains throughout the country. After being held in a holding pattern over London waiting for a slot to land at Heathrow, then proceeding through immigration and taking a train into London, it was after 3pm before we checked into the hotel at Paddington Station.
The Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations were in full swing with a concert programmed for the front of Buckingham Palace at 7:30 pm. We had tickets for the musical Billy Elliot this evening so we decided we’d better start figuring out how we were going to get to the West End theatre district through the massive crowds that had been gathering all afternoon in the city.
Boarding a bus at Paddington Station we managed to get close to the area and then walk in. On our way through St James Park we decided to see how close we could get to the Jubilee concert stage venue in front of Buckingham Palace. The crowds were enormous but great fun to be part of. People were dressed to the nines in British gear and dancing on the Mall leading down to the palace gates. Many had camped overnight to stake out an area in front of giant TV screens located throughout the park. Only those with tickets to the concert grandstand got beyond the police lines surrounding Buckingham Palace. Veteran British performers Elton John, Tom Jones, Paul McCartney and others unknown to me, had been announced as the headliners.
Photo: These ladies were high-stepping their way down the mall towards Buckingham Palace.
However, we managed to get fairly close to the palace before being turned back by the police lines. Steered along a treed pathway we wormed our way out into the West End Theatre district and located the Victoria Palace Theatre where Billy Elliot was playing. After picking up our tickets we still had an hour before curtain time so we hiked back to a side street alongside Buckingham Palace to see if we could see any celebrities show up. No luck there. The Billy Elliot musical started at the same time as the Queen’s Jubilation Concert so we had to leave before hearing any of the Buckingham Palace event. However, we can at least say we were onsite and one of thousands out to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilation that evening.
On Tuesday morning Terry and I watched the Queen’s thanksgiving service TV broadcast from St Paul’s Cathedral while we were having breakfast. We agreed right there and then that being in London during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a reigning monarch ride through London in an open coach. If at all possible, we must at least try to view the royal spectacle live.
So at 10:30 am we left the hotel and took the tube to Trafalgar Square. Emerging at street level we found the crowds massive but managed to maneuver into a position along the sidewalk where we would clearly see the royal parade. We didn’t know if we’d be able to physically remain standing in one location for over two hours, but we were darn sure going to try even with no washroom in sight. The crowd in our area got larger and larger as the hours ticked away. At one point we became a bit nervous about the crush of the crowd surging behind us. Leaving wasn’t an option as there was no way to get through the crowd. However, several policemen arrived and started steering latecomers back into side streets away from the parade route and wouldn’t let any more people enter the area. This helped and the crush eventually eased off.
Our patience was finally rewarded when a vehicle made its way down the street. It was the Queen being driven from St Paul’s Cathedral to her coach a few blocks away where she would initiate the parade. She passed only a few feet in front of us so we got a great view of her. Rain had been threatening for the last few hours so to everyone’s surprise the authorities bumped up the parade starting time by about 15 minutes to avoid the threatening storm.
Suddenly down Whitehall Street came the galloping Royal Household Cavalry followed by the Queen with Charles and Camilla in an open carriage. The Duke of Edinburgh was not with her as he had been admitted to hospital the day before with (the newspapers said) a bladder infection. Then came another open carriage carrying Prince William and Kate. His brother Prince Harry was sitting facing them. They were only a few feet in front of us as the carriages had to move to our side of the street in order to avoid colliding with a statue of General Haig that occupies the middle of the roadway. To record the event Terry and I decided to use our cell phone video features instead of still camera shots. Both videos turned out perfectly and the following still photos, I downloaded from the video clips on my iPhone.
Photo above: The Queen with Charles and Camilla in an open carriage.
Photo above: Following the Queen’s coach were Prince William, Kate and Prince Harry.
After a late lunch at a Noodle Shop alongside the Thames at the London Eye, we ducked into the Southbank Centre to get out of the rain that had thankfully held off until after the Royal Carriage Parade. The Royal Festival Hall Orchestra was performing an afternoon concert of British music in celebration of the Royal Jubilee. The program was well underway so we watched it on an HD TV set up in the lobby. We then hoofed about 8 blocks through the soggy narrow streets to the Cambridge Theatre where we had tickets to see a new musical called Matilda.
Like Billy Elliot, the musical had a large number of youngsters in lead roles. The story line is about a girl named Matilda who discovered a love of books and by the age of three taught herself to read. At four she has read all the children’s stories in the local library. However, Matilda has an unhappy home life. Her goofy parents wished she would watch television instead of reading books all the time. At school she becomes a heroine by organizing a rebellion against a headmistress who detests intelligent children. The role was played riotously by an actor in drag. Full of wonderful songs and high-energy choreography, in my opinion the jaw-dropping talents of these youngsters make the likes of those who appear on shows like American Idol and Glee pale in comparison. The musical ends with you not knowing whether to cry or cheer. It depends on how you feel about your own school days.
Next Blog: Lucerne – The City. The Lake. The Mountains
Following - Photos from the Queen’s Golden Jubilation concert night
Dressed up ready to cheer
Camping out on the mall
I couldn’t resist enjoying a supper of British fish & chips