The Queen is dead. Long live the King.
The Queen’s death this week has left me nostalgic. The fact that I returned from a cruise to the British Isles three days before her death, has me reflecting on everything that I saw and learned.
As a child and young adult, I waved at Her Majesty on her visits to Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I woke up early to see Royal weddings. She accompanied me on every major life decision I made involving money, whether on paper or polymer bills, buying cars and houses, or when deciding which candies to buy with the coins given to me while I was knee-high to a grasshopper. There weren’t a lot of women in power and there she was reigning over so many, for so long. She’s always been a part of my life.
I didn’t think that our summer vacation would be so poignant on so many levels, but I’m glad that we chose the British Isles. We started out in Amsterdam and Belgium, then the Isles tour continued in Scotland, including Edinburgh, Inverness, and the Orkney Isles. We didn’t make it to Balmoral Castle, in Scotland, where the Queen died, as it’s not open to the public in August when the Royal family are in residence. Then, it was on to Belfast in Northern Ireland, Liverpool, Dublin, Portland, and then we debarked in Southampton.
I knew that England and Scotland were countries, but I used “England,” “Britain,” and “the United Kingdom” incorrectly interchangeably. I learned on our trip that the official name of the U.K. is actually: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is considered a sovereign country, made up by the countries of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales. I didn’t know that Northern Ireland nor Wales were countries, but this wonderful news brought my total number of countries to 68 visited.
It seemed fitting to me that I was learning so much more about the British Isles during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, celebrating her 70-year reign. While in a taxi, the radio announcer mentioned that they hoped that she would live two more years to become the longest reigning monarch in all of history, but Thursday’s news means she didn’t surpass French King Louis XIV, who took the throne at four years old and died in 1715, 72 years later. Queen Elizabeth II, does hold the record for longest reigning British monarch, having surpassed her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
Our visit to London city sights before heading to London Heathrow airport on Sept. 5 was made even more interesting because we happened to be there the day that the new prime minister, Liz Truss, was announced. Downing Street had a press scrum in front when we passed by around 10 in the morning. The police standing guard said that the announcement would be made at half twelve.
We stopped at Buckingham Palace, unaware that the Queen would never be in residence there again. We passed Big Ben and Parliament where she would have given her blessing for the new prime minister. We saw Westminster Abbey where her funeral will take place (though she’ll be laid to rest at St. George’s Chapel, on the grounds of Windsor Castle). We drove the roundabout at Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus noting the streets proudly displaying flags, banners, streamers, and bunting of Union Jacks. Double-decker buses celebrated the Queen’s platinum jubilee with purple paint and advertisements for jubilee activities that are now being cancelled.
At the Tower of London, we were granted free admission to Superbloom, becoming part of the only visitors to be able to walk through the moat, where according to the website: “Over 20 million flower seeds were sown in the moat earlier this year.” Their website now notes that all six jubilee sites including Superbloom at the Tower of London “closed on Friday 9 September and ticket sales are currently suspended.” After gleefully riding down the slide at Superbloom, the woman at the bottom said: “You are part of history today.” She was foreshadowing so much more than she or we realized at the time.
My mother was born in England, and before the trip I’d started the process to get my British citizenship and passport, unrelated to our upcoming trip. I already had a tie to England, but the Norwegian Cruise Lines British Isles cruise afforded me the chance to bond with my teens, learn about the geography and history of the region, and unknowingly become part of history, with the prime minister’s announcement, and celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee before it was cut short. I wonder if the banners and streamers and bunting will still be up, now that flags are at half-staff. If they are still prominent, will they feel the same as they did earlier this week?
The Queen is dead. Long live the King.