On July 22, 2013 I was on my way home from a beautiful week in Portugal via a 4-hour layover in London. Any royal watcher knows the significance of this date: the birth date of HRH Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge. Admittedly, I am somewhat of a royal fanatic (and by saying somewhat I’m being kind to myself), so the fact that I’d be passing through London on this day wound up being quite serendipitous and truly a wonderful experience I’d never forget.
Upon landing at Heathrow Airport for my layover, the text alerts started coming in that the new heir to the throne had arrived. I felt like there was no way I could come so close and then just board another plane to New York, so I marched myself right over to the ticket counter to see if I could extend my layover. British Airways was so accommodating and it was easier to rebook my flight than it was ordering lunch on board some other airlines. They kept my bags since I still had no idea where I’d stay and I didn’t want to try and lug my suitcase around London while I figured it out. So it was just me, the clothes on my back, and my carry-on containing nothing that would be helpful to me that night.
I have to admit I didn’t get off on the best foot. I exchanged what was left of my Euros from Portugal to English Pounds, and anyone whose exchanged money at Heathrow before knows that the exchange rate leaves something to be desired. But I had enough money to catch the Heathrow Express train right into Central London. I also booked a hotel for the night. In retrospect I was completely ripped off by using the service at the airport, but for this occasion I didn’t want to spend my time in and around London looking for a hotel when there was so much more I wanted to squeeze into the short time I’d be there. Time was money at this point. But I wouldn’t recommend this service for any other reason – it’s a ripoff!
First stop was Buckingham Palace. I saw on the BBC at Heathrow that a formal birth announcement had been posted on an easel outside of the Palace, as was always done for the birth of an heir to the throne. I was all over it. I transferred at Paddington Station from the Heathrow Express to the tube and after another transfer got off at Green Park. As you approached Buckingham Palace from the Park, you could feel the excitement growing. On this day, it was easy to tell apart the people who did and did not give a shit about the Royal Family.
The line to view the announcement outside of the Palace wrapped around the block. There were media tents set up all around the Victoria Memorial and the Mall. If I squinted hard enough I could almost spot Matt Lauer.
Media tents surrounding Buckingham Palace
Yes, I was there for the jubilation of this day and was elated to be in the right place at the right time for this momentous occasion. BUT I’m still a New Yorker at heart, and there was no way in hell I was waiting in that line. So instead I got as close as the Bobbies would allow and got a few [very amateur] snaps. But I personally think my photos of the crowds are even better than the actual announcement itself:
After that, I walked around a bit hoping to buy some souvenirs proving I was in town for this special day, without realizing that they hadn’t even been printed yet. I’d be out of luck on that front. But I did collect some of the free newspapers distributed on the tube the next morning.
For the occasion, the BT Tower had proudly displayed a message of “It’s a Boy”, so I wanted to get a picture of that, hoping that might serve in place of some souvenirs. I walked back from Buckingham Palace to the Fitzrovia area, but it had gotten pretty cloudy and I couldn’t quite get a good enough vantage point. This is the best I could do (you’ll have to look very closely):
After this, I walked all the way down to the Embankment and strolled for a bit, taking in all the sights and sounds of the day. The London Eye was outfitted in Union Jack colors for the occasion:
Crisps were all I could afford for dinner. Since I also couldn’t afford a pint in a pub to join in the jubilation, I sat in the lobby of my hotel that night watching the recap of the World News that night. World news that I’d been lucky enough to take part in.
On my way back to Heathrow in the morning, I knew my stopover had been worth it. Beyond being able to experience a historical event firsthand, I was also proud of myself for finding a means to do it. I’d never been somewhere before without a suitcase, and it had been pretty liberating. Experiences like this helped to build my confidence to travel farther and wider, and I hope to keep building on that confidence in the future :)