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I’ve Been to London to Visit the Queen

I’ve Been to London to Visit the Queen

I set aside one of my first days in London to visit the Queen, or at least the Queen’s home.  Buckingham Palace is Queen Elizabeth’s official residence, as well as her office.  In fact, it might just be the world’s largest home office.  Tourists can visit the Palace’s Royal Mews any time of the year to see the Queen’s coaches and horses.  They can visit the Queen’s Gallery year-round to see some of her priceless works of art.  But the only time they can go inside the palace itself is in August and September, when Queen Elizabeth is on her annual holiday in Scotland.

I was excited when I realized that my first week in London would overlap with the final week of the palace’s annual opening, and I booked a ticket before I left the States. The tour started in the palace quadrangle, a sweeping brick expanse where carriages deposit the Royal Family and their guests for official events.  The tour’s audiovisual guide included a video of the Queen arriving in the quadrangle in the Australian State Coach.  That helped me imagine what it would look like during special occasions, when the coaches are accompanied by a mounted horse guard and a marching band.

The tour then wound its way through fifteen State Rooms, each more opulent than the last.  These rooms are used for investitures, receptions, private audiences with the Royal Family, and visits by heads of state.  As the UK’s head of state, the Queen is the official host for all State visits.  Visiting dignitaries get to stay at the palace, although I’m sure she doesn’t have to worry about putting clean sheets on the beds when she has overnight guests.

The AV guide also included an official welcome from Prince Charles, and videos of palace employees discussing their work in the Royal Household.  The tour included exhibits showing how the palace prepares the china, silver, crystal, food, and wine for State dinners.  There was also an interesting exhibit on how the Queen’s dresses and jewelry are selected for different events.  There was so much to see that it took more than two hours to explore everything.  Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed, but I did buy some postcards featuring the lavish rooms.

The tour ended on the terrace overlooking the lawn where the Queen holds several garden parties a year.  Each party is attended by about 8,000 guests, so they’re big productions.  The terrace was covered with white marquees that created a celebratory atmosphere.  In fact it was so festive that it reminded me of the Wallace and Grommet episode “A Grand Day Out.”  I stopped at the café on the terrace for a sandwich and a mille feuille, which turned out to be a bit like a Napoleon.

Of course there was also a gift shop selling tasteful souvenirs, including expensive china and tins of “luxury” biscuits (cookies).  There were even items commemorating the Queen’s new status as the longest reigning English monarch.  Of course there was a whole section dedicated to the Queen’s famous corgis.  I couldn’t resist bringing home one of my own.  The visit ended with a half-mile walk through the grounds before visitors once again found themselves outside the palace walls.  All in all, my visit to the Queen was a grand day out!

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