London readies for royal wedding with sun, souvenirs

With just four days to go until the royal wedding, London feels like a city with lots of possibility. Andrea Lee-Greenberg files the first of a five-day series entitled 'Postcards from London.'
Tourists fill the mall in front of Buckingham Palace on Monday, just four days before the royal wedding. (Andrea Lee-Greenberg/CBC)

London feels like a city with lots of possibility.

For starters, an early spring means the weather is gorgeous — a warm 24 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. The grass in the parks is green and lush, and all about St. James's Park, across from Buckingham Palace, perennials and shrubs add bursts of vivid colour to the day.

It being Easter Monday, it's also a bank holiday. There's a sense of freedom to the place, the kind that comes from the freedom of having nowhere to be.

Or maybe it's the royal wedding, and Londoners, at least in the downtown core, are picking up on the excitement that some of us have had for weeks.

It's that excitement that got me out of bed early this morning despite a late arrival last night and a sleep cut short by jet lag.

After a quick breakfast of egg on toast, I walked down Regent Street to Buckingham Palace, to see where the CBC is set up for its broadcast.

Tourists crowd Buckingham Palace

If you want proof that something big is about to happen, a visit to the media area is all you need. Trucks and trailers are parked bumper to bumper, with metres of thick cables snaking across the ground. Some of the trailers, like NBC's, look bigger than my one-bedroom apartment!

CBC News: Morning host Heather Hiscox sends updates from her post in the CBC's live broadcast booth, located across from Buckingham Palace and up the street from Clarence House. (Andrea Lee-Greenberg/CBC)

It's in this maze that I tracked down my colleagues from television up in their broadcast booth. Those of you who watched Heather Hiscox on CBC News: Morning today will know we have a fantastic spot, right across from the palace with a view over the Queen Victoria Memorial.

Ann MacMillan and Susan Ormiston, our London correspondents, were there, as was our Royals correspondent, Ciara Hunt. In a trailer out back, producers hurried to make sure everything was in place for going on-air.

After grabbing a tea, I headed to Green Park, a large park to the north of Buckingham Palace. It was 10 a.m., and already the deck chairs (available by the hour — just £1.50!) were being scooped up by tourists and locals hoping to flop about and soak in the sun.

Tourists streamed down the park's paths towards the palace, cameras around their necks and jackets over their arms — like me, many seemed to have dressed too warmly for the weather. Elsewhere in the park, children slid down the Canada Memorial, ignoring a subtle plaque asking visitors "as a mark of respect [to] please keep off the monument." Lots of people were eating ice cream cones, too, which is really only something you can get away with that early in the day if a) it's a beautiful one and/or b) you're on holiday.

Crowds were thick around the gates of Buckingham Palace, as if people hoped for a glimpse of some member of the royal family. The mall was closed to traffic; I was told it's because of the large number of tourists. "The Queen loves the tourists!" a traffic monitor informed me. (As long as they stay outside the gate, I guess.)

Will and Kate tea towel sells large

Then it was off to Westminster Abbey, where the actual ceremony will be taking place. Along the way, in Trafalgar Square, hundreds crowded around the National Gallery, not to get in but to watch a man bound in chains break free, like magic.

Booths like this one near Trafalgar Square are a common sight on London's busy streets. (Andrea Lee-Greenberg/CBC)

"If you give me five pounds, I'll like you," he told the crowd. "If you give me 10, I'll love you!" (I would have taken a picture, but couldn't break through the crowd. Besides, what if he'd asked me for five pounds?)

I walked down Whitehall, past the Horse Guards and 10 Downing Street, where tourists snapped pictures of a Mercedes pulling out of the gate. I saw a street vendor hawking souvenirs: key chains, magnets, scarves, flags, underwear. He told me the William and Kate tea towel was his hot seller. A Polish family happened by and bought a plastic bobby hat and T-shirt, then also a bag. And then a key chain.

Finally, I got to Westminster Abbey, and oh my, what a line. I've never seen so many people waiting to get into a church, even if it is Easter. One of two long lines stretched from the front door of the abbey all the way to Victoria Street, at least 30 metres.

A BBC cameraman I met told me the crowds are "unusually large" for a long weekend, and speculated that it must be loads of tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of the venue where the ceremony will take place. Or maybe they just want to stand in the spot where kings and queens for centuries have stood — and where a future princess will stand come Friday.