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Cheshire native Hayley Samela arrived in London Thursday before the Royal Wedding and had a chance to see the sights, check in with the locals, and get a sense of how "wedding crazy" the city, and nation, had become:
I arrived in London Stansted Airport and the first thing everyone did, even before entering customs, was grab the free edition of London’s Daily Mail. On the cover were several stories related to the Royal Wedding Celebration, such as what Kate wore to the dress rehearsal and in which hotel her family would be staying the evening before the big day. You could just imagine how relieved and happy I was to pick up an English paper. I didn’t know much about the wedding but my train ride from the airport to the city center was certainly informative and entertaining.
Once I entered the city center through my connector train, I purchased an Oyster Card for London’s Underground and other various modes of city transportation. Typically, they are blue and have the Oyster logo on them but, for the Royal Wedding, they came out with limited edition ones that have William and Kate’s Engagement picture on them, as well as a little blurb that says, “To Commemorate the Marriage of Prince William of Wales and Miss Catherine Middleton 29 April 2011.” I was very excited. Oyster Cards are expensive (yet very necessary) and after paying too much money for transportation, I felt very special knowing that I had my first collector’s item from the wedding. I typically wouldn’t think anything of these limited edition Oyster Cards, but there were others around me who purchased Oyster Cards with the picture on them simply for their William and Kate collection!
I walked around the city on Thursday afternoon. I had visited London three years a go but I wanted to familiarize myself with the Wedding Route: the Mall, Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall, and Parliament Square. Already people were setting up for Friday. Close to Buckingham Palace in particular, people had their face paint on, celebratory hats and pins, fold-up chairs, sleeping bags, British flags waving, and mini campsites staked out. Also, right in front of Buckingham and next to the golden gates was the press. They had constructed a large green two story-building in which various news stations set up their cameras and crew. For only a temporary set up, it looked as if a real building had been constructed there. People gathered in front of the press in hopes of catching a glimpse of their favorite news channel and also in hopes of having their face shown on TV. The opportunity to be interviewed or featured on TV does not seem too difficult. Close by the palace and in front of the major hotels, there are journalists and News Channel Crews set up doing live takes and interviews with people who pass by and have the time to answer a few questions.
From Buckingham Palace, I walked towards Westminster Abbey. Typically, it takes between 5-10 minutes to walk there, but getting through all the tourists and traffic Thursday, it felt like forever. There were even times when people came to a standstill, and this was just on the sidewalk! People brought their children in strollers, everyone is spontaneously stopping to take a picture, traffic doesn’t slow down for pedestrians, and street vendors selling flags and souvenirs for the big day were everywhere. It wasn't even after 6 p.m. and yet it was already beginning to get chaotic. The entrance of the Abbey where everyone was taking photos was the Great West Door. This would be the location in which the Royal Family, Politicians and Diplomats, and the Wedding Party would make their entrance Friday morning. Directly in front of the Abbey was a small constructed box for press cameras and across the street, diagonally, was another big section constructed for the press so as to capture live footage and reporting.
Walking around London Thursday afternoon was probably the best thing I could have done with my time. I loved seeing restaurants and street corner pubs decked out in British flags and congratulatory signs towards the Royal family. Pictures of William and Kate are everywhere — stores, transportation, flags — and I don’t think I passed by one bar or pub that didn’t offer some kind of special deal on prices or a Royal happy hour for Friday. I also had the chance to meet with locals, as well as other travelers. In my conversations with people of various ages and from several different countries, I found that the main sentiments of everyone were of worldwide excitement. People see this wedding as a way for England to put behind some of it’s unfortunate events, recent mishaps, and political conflicts. Never has a wedding drawn so much attention, other than the late Princess Diana’s to Prince Charles. And when I say never, it is also more in the context that this wedding will be viewed by people on Youtube, TV (live or recorded), cellular devices, iPads, and heard about through newspapers, magazines, radio, podcasts, social networks, blogs, etc.
Overall, though, everyone is extremely excited to be in London right now. Some people from out of town have taken a week’s worth of vacation just to be here for the celebration. Hotels and hostels are packed and the streets of London are full of people. Everyone who is here for the wedding hopes to take part in some way, even if that is just by purchasing a William and Kate souvenir. As for me, I planned on being at Westminster Abbey Friday morning to see the extended Royal family, the Queen, Prince William and Prince Harry, Britain’s Prime Minister, and, of course, Kate Middleton!
Check back this weekend to get Hayley's account of the big event.