Food Feature: Monarchy in the U.K.

Going to London to visit the Queen

In April, when the city was mourning the loss of the Queen Mum and preparing for her royal funeral, I squeezed in a short visit to London. In spite of all the sadness, all of England buzzed with plans for the Golden Jubilee to be observed this summer.

The Jubilee marks the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II's Accession to the throne. However, it's celebrated near the anniversary of her Coronation Day of June 2, 1953, because her Accession Day of Feb. 6 is also her father's death day — and the British think it unseemly to mix the two.

A truly historic event for the United Kingdom, it's only the fifth time in the last 1,000 years that the country has been able to celebrate a Monarch's 50-year reign. According to the Jubilee's official website, that milestone was achieved by only four earlier British monarchs: King Henry III, King Edward III, King George III and Queen Victoria. (For American royalty, all I uncovered was Pocahontas, the 17th-century Native American princess, and Hawaii's late Queen Liliuokalani, the woman who composed the island song "Aloha Oe." Not exactly comparable.)

This summer's celebration of the Queen is to be filled with the sort of pomp and circumstance that Brits and American Anglophiles love. Festivities include fireworks in the mall, an equestrian event at the Windsor Horse Show and a pop concert with Sir Paul McCartney and S Club 7. But the quirkiest scheme (how will they manage?) is for a coordinated U.K.-wide rendition of the Beatles' classic "All You Need Is Love."

A friend and I spent the weekend at the Ritz hotel, just around the corner from Buckingham Palace. A great location right on Piccadilly in the heart of London. Alluring for royal reasons, too: The Queen Mother used to take tea there. Built in 1906, the place is like a French country manor with quiet, gilded, tasseled rooms (some overlooking the Green Park), super-attentive porters, heavenly room service and that wonderful high tea room downstairs. For the Jubilee, the Ritz created a regal six-night stay that allows guests access to all sorts of private tours, and has them lunching at Windsor Castle and sipping cocktails with the Duke of Wellington. Best of all, those who can afford the £3,655 will view the Jubilee Procession June 4 from an elegant rooftop terrace while gnoshing a scrumptious picnic.

We haunted the edges of the Jubilee Processional route and made some discoveries. Down the street on nightsbridge, Harvey Nichols, London's it luxury department store, offers a view of the city from three fifth-floor eateries. The restaurant is tres francais and tres chic, but the revolving sushi bar and cafe are known for the dizzy fun of killer cocktails, great food and movie nights.

From there, we walked through Kensington Gardens, one of the royal parks established in the 17th century. Not far from the horse-riding path (the queen is an avid equestrian), we visited the Serpentine Gallery for the last day of a Stan Douglas show and hung out with a million other people to watch his conceptual double-image films. The most pedigreed exhibitions in town focused on inventive fashion and fast cars. At the Victoria & Albert Museum, named after one of Britain's most revered royal couples, Men In Skirts showed off traditional and contemporary designs for guys' skirts (the best were by Yohji Yamamoto). Across the street, the science museum féted the almost centennial of the Alfa Romeo with three floors of racy cars.

We followed the Jubilee Walkway along the Thames, legacy of the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977. Twenty-five years ago, the signature event of QE II's celebration was a royal river processional down the Thames from reenwich to Lambeth, emulating the ceremonial barge trips of Elizabeth I. Enjoying a more recent bit of history, we walked across the Millennium Bridge, known by locals as the "Wibbly Wobbly Bridge" on our way to the Tate Modern. Closed for redesign only hours after it opened in 2000 because it swayed, the beautiful but embarrassing "blade of light" links the Thames' north and south banks. Since the opening of the Tower Bridge in 1894, it's the first footbridge in a hundred years to cross the river.

The late Queen Mother topped the news during my visit — her photo everywhere, her story brimming over in the newspapers and on television, even affecting travel on the tube. When we went to buy our tickets to Westminster, where we planned to catch a boat tour, the cashier naturally figured we were going to pay our respects and advised us to ride to the Tower of London stop where the line of mourners ended. People were queued for up to 12 hours to visit her casket at estminster Hall.

Instead, we sat outdoors under the London Eye at river's edge. The Eye, touted as the world's highest observation wheel, offers a panoramic "tour" of the capital city on a 30-minute flight that soars to 450 feet above the Thames, in 32 transparent enclosed capsules. On a clear day, they say, you can see for 25 miles — as far as Heathrow Airport and Windsor Castle. Vertiginous and thirsty, we elected to hang out below, drinking pints of Foster's while watching the line of Queen Mum fans inch toward the hall. People brought chairs, picnics, dogs, babies, grandmothers. There was even a 5-year-old "princess" who withstood the wait with her parents and brother, clutching a handful of flowers.

Forget anarchy in the U.K., England absolutely and forever adores royalty. And the Jubilee intends to satisfy Queen Elizabeth II's most demanding subjects. Imagine the gowns, the crowns, the banquets, the endless glittering processional, the fireworks, the street parties — an enormous triumph for the age-old notion of royalty.??

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