Saturday, June 14, 2014
A day long anticipated. The four chaperones (including YFNB) and twelve youth pilgrims successfully made our way to O'Hare in Chicago yesterday, experienced some concourse bonding via a game of cards on the carpeted floor, and boarded the 6:45 departure for London Heathrow on Virgin Atlantic. About eight hours after takeoff, we were clearing UK Border Control, and meeting our tour manager, Michael, and our bus driver, Simon. It has, of course, been challenging to stay awake, but they kept us mostly on our feet, so it was rather necessary. We were met by a local tour guide, Marian, at Westminster Abbey, and she led us on about as expert a run-through of that historic and maginificent building as could be accomplished in under an hour. We then walked into St James' Park, which is crowded enough under normal circumstances on a Saturday, but today happened to be the ceremonial birthday of the Queen, so there were tens of thousands of people on hand. Keeping an eye on Marian's polka dot umbrella, we were in front of Buckingham Palace in time for an impressive fly-by of a series of aircraft in formation--from vintage World War II planes, to the best (I surmise) of what the RAF has going presently. We missed seeing Her Majesty wave from the balcony, but found ourselves well-stationed to grab a glimpse of the Prince of Wales and his wife and their vehicle drove by. Later, from a distance of a couple of hundred yards, we thought we might have seen Prince William and his bride getting into a car, but we weren't sure. Then it was back to the Abbey area to obtain some local currency and enjoy lunch at a ubiquitous chain called Pret a Manger. By that time, back on our bus, we made our way up Whitehall past Trafalgar Square (slowly, on account of several hundred naked bicyclists engaged in some sort of protest ... and under police protection, it appeared!), to our hotel in the Mayfair neighborhood. We all checked in, got some rest, and gathered on the lower level for a catered dinner. We're all thinking we will sleep very well, but jetlag is an unpredictable animal.