We saw the queue.
Yes. THE queue. That long line of people waiting to pay homage to Queen Elizabeth II. The queue that British subjects, admirers and the simply curious stood in for 20 hours to stand in front of the queen’s coffin and offer a prayer.
We didn’t plan to see the queue, but we went on what can only be described as an odyssey as we attempted to return our rental car at Waterloo Station this afternoon.
The day started with Grainne and I bidding farewell to the staff at the Forest Park Hotel in Brockenhurst. I can’t sing the praises of this hotel enough. At a time when many businesses are struggling to find and keep staff, the Forest Park has assembled a team that is friendly, customer-focused and willing to go beyond the call of duty. If you enjoy being treated like a prince or princess, then book a stay at this hotel!
We made it to central London in about two hours, where we met up with our sons Garrett and Finn. In no time, we had our luggage up in the apartment and headed out to return the rental car.
Now we knew that there were road closures throughout London, but Google Maps said it was adjusting our route to accommodate those changes.
Street after street was blocked by police barricades. I went down two-way streets that were barely wide enough for one car. At one point, we had to reverse the car down half a block to allow another car to squeeze past us.
My basic geography of London is pretty decent, but I’m hardly a London taxi driver with “the knowledge.” We went down side roads that I’ve never seen. That my wife, who was born in the London suburbs, had never come across. I’m pretty sure that Sherlock Holmes himself would have been scratching his head trying to navigate this route.
Finally, we approached Waterloo Station, where the Enterprise rental center was located. Except it wasn’t. We checked the address on the rental agreement, punched it into Google Maps once more. We were in the right place. Except that we weren’t.
Grainne called the rental counter. The lady said “Oh, just put ‘Enterprise Waterloo' into Google Maps and it will bring you to the right location.”
We did that, and Google took us to an address about three minutes away. No rental car center in sight.
Another call to the Enterprise lady. She told us to try “Enterprise Upper Marsh.”
We left her with the car and since it was 2:30pm, we decided we had better get some food. The boys were in the mood for pub grub, so we popped into the “Crown and Cushion.”
This particular public house is what I would call a real railway pub. It was, shall we say, rough and ready. Most of the patrons looked like they spent a few too many hours bending their elbows at the bar. But we noticed a food menu with a note saying that the restaurant was upstairs.
To our surprise, there was a Thai/Vietnamese/Lao restaurant upstairs. Decorated with Asian wallpaper and paintings. And serving pretty decent food. Green curry. Masaman Curry. Red Curry. Pho. PSV Cuisine for the win!
With Finn exhausted from his overnight flight, we decided to get back home on the London Underground. So walked across Westminster Bridge to near the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey - the heart of tomorrow’s funeral. The bridge was closed to cars and packed with pedestrians who were there to take in the moment.
I honestly don’t know how to describe the mood. Many people were smiling - especially as they posed for pictures. And yet, there was also this solemn tone, almost as if we all knew that this was an historic moment that we needed to let soak in.
We walked up the Embankment to Horse Guards Avenue and down Whitehall towards Trafalgar Square with thousands of other people. All just moving. Being part of this incredible time. Together.
We hopped on the tube and were in our apartment in no time. Finn had a nap while Garrett and I did a little grocery shopping in case everything is closed tomorrow for the funeral.
The itch for pub grub still needed to be scratched, so we decided to eat at one of Kensington locals - the Hoop and Toy. Meat pies for Grainne, Garrett and me, plus an order of bangers and mash for Finn. It was good but not the best pub food I’ve had. Still, it was affordable and tasty in the company of a lively crowd.
Looking for a change of pace and a stretch of the legs, I suggested that we walk up to the Royal Albert Hall. The nighttime temperatures were pleasant and rain was nowhere in sight, making for a beautiful walk past the flood-lit Natural History Museum, Imperial College London and the many mansions along the way. Tributes to Elizabeth were everywhere. In windows of restaurants. In reception areas of hotels. She is everywhere, all at once.
There was time for one last drink at the charming and appropriately named Queens Arms. For at this moment, it’s as if the queen herself has wrapped her arms around this nation, bringing it together in a way many thought impossible.