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Following a Fairy Tale, Part 2

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Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let your hair down. I may not have needed to make a ladder out of my golden locks for a young suitor to climb up a locked tower, but I learned to let my hair down nonetheless as I grew more comfortable in a foreign country.

I had taken a number of trains in the past, so I thought I was pretty familiar with this form of transportation. But this was another continent, and a whole new set of tracks. My next challenge: the Metro.

The London tube was, at first glance, unmercifully intimidating. No matter how long I stared at the green lines, the blue lines, or the red lines, they all seemed like one big mess of tangled wires on the map.

During my first few experiences on the underground tube, I failed to prevent fearful thoughts that I had boarded the wrong train. For what seemed (and probably was) every few seconds, I would glance at the map posted on the train’s ceiling, following the colored lines to double and triple check I was going in the right direction. In addition, my constant glancing out the windows to read the signs above the platforms at each of our stops emphasized my obsessive fear that I had missed my destination.

But as I discovered with every attempt to become familiar with a form of public transit, it takes practice, and I was determined to learn the ins and outs of the London underground. Soon, I could tell you how to get from King’s Cross to Piccadilly Circus to Knightsbridge, without so much as blinking (the metro doesn’t give you time to, anyway).

With the tube under my belt and a new-found confidence, I could better enjoy my week in London. One of my favorite things to do was tell my study abroad friends to ask me the time as we walked through the city. “OK, what time is it?” they would ask suspiciously, to which I would proudly reply, “According to Big Ben, it’s 2:14 …” I took advantage of the beautiful man-made structure—how many times in my life would I be able to read the time off Big Ben? Mastering my travel fears, I found, had many perks.

*****

“What? You actually saw me?!”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was already turning out to be one of the best days of my life. Not only was I celebrating my birthday in London, but I had just met Meredith Vieira as I stumbled upon the Today Show’s pre-coverage of the Royal Wedding in Trafalgar Square.

“Mom, you actually saw me?!” After asking my mom to turn on NBC to try to catch a glimpse of me on television, I never thought she actually would. “I finally got to see you!” she said. She must have been proud, seeing her grown-up daughter in the city she had always dreamed of being in and getting closer to witnessing a real prince marry his true love. I loved challenging her realist perspective, which had previously doubted my chances of seeing British royalty, and imagined her thinking, “Didn’t she used to be afraid of riding around the corner?”

American journalists from across the country were all in London for the same reason—to get that perfect picture of Will and Kate kissing on the balcony. The news anchors, photographers, and TV producers reported 24/7, building a massive green compound in front of Buckingham Palace. The journalists’ four-story structure grew almost as tall as the Queen’s home. Why did these professionals travel so many miles to report on a wedding that would have seemingly no affect on America? Weren’t there any important domestic issues that they should be focused on? Probably, but Americans were counting on them to film every moment of the wedding so they could stay up until 4 a.m. to watch it live.

What is it about Will and Kate that excites Americans so much? One theory suggests their fairy-tale story—a young handsome prince meets a beautiful commoner, and the two fall in love against all odds—fills a gap in American life. They can serve as an escape from the reality of the economic recession or other governmental hardships. Perhaps they are proof that true love still exists. I liked to think the latter is what drew me to their nuptials. They were my real-life Disney couple, and finding them, I discovered, also helped me find myself.

*****

Like a fish out of water, Ariel had trouble steadying her feet on land, but she soon became part of a new, exciting world. I too embraced my second home as an honorary Brit.

Signs of congratulations hung outside restaurants, and there were countless memorabilia stacked on the shelves of each souvenir shop. T-shirts, flags, and coasters, all displaying pictures of the happy couple, were plastered on every window. I had made it this far, and I was determined to make it to that wedding. There was no way I was going to return home with only seeing their faces on a mug.

It was here. The day they would say, “I do.” Rising at five a.m., I stepped out into the busy streets of London with my friend—who sent me the happy news of their nuptial date months before—walking briskly by Big Ben, which stood beautifully in the morning fog. I was confident as I walked through the streets of London, successfully shedding my tourist persona.

The security guards removed street lights in preparation for the royal procession, and I knew my Disney films were becoming reality. We found an ideal spot on Whitehall Road, home to Britain’s government offices, and were in prime position to see some royals. Red, white, and blue flashed everywhere, though not the kind I was used to seeing. Thousands lined the streets waving their Union Jacks, showing their support for the second-in-line to the throne and his soon-to-be bride.

*****

The coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II, the UK’s current monarch, was held on June 2, 1953 when she was just twenty-five years old, and she has reigned now for almost sixty years. I knew the country had a monarchy, but before my arrival in England, I never realized just how unique it was. The young princes were handsome and well known of course, but just what did Prince William and Prince Harry mean to Brits? They were, I discovered, not celebrities as I had seen them on the cover of Entertainment Weekly—they were the family England had grown up with. This is when I realized that when Prince William announced his engagement, every English man or woman could feel as though they were invited to the wedding—a phenomenon Americans have never experienced. Surely, when Jenna Bush, the elder daughter of former President George W. Bush, announced her engagement, millions of Americans did not plan to line up outside of the Crawford, Texas ranch in which she was married. In London, however, I found myself in the middle of thousands of eager attendants at five a.m., hoping to catch just a glimpse of the newlyweds.

A black car turned a corner, and I heard a scream. Then, a flash of red hair. After my initial disappointment of not being on the side of the road that William sat on, I realized who just waved out of the right car window. I just saw Prince Harry! I saw a member of the royal family!

The cheers continued as the royal guests made their way swiftly to Buckingham Palace for the nuptials. We then listened to William and Kate read their vows over the loud speakers set up along the sides of the road. Instead of watching the nuptials in the comfort of my couch in Lockport, NY, as I knew I would have had I decided to play it safe, I was there witnessing the historic moment.

There they were. The bride and groom. But not just any bride and groom. He, with his red tunic, and she, with her stunning white gloves, both of them smiling and waving to their beloved subjects. I could see Will and Kate, a real life prince and princess, and I didn’t need a remote to watch them.

Following the procession, I raced and meandered through a million spectators to catch a glimpse of the now traditional smooch on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. The planes, the metros, and the many miles on foot had all led me to where I was now standing. Thanks to each step I had taken, I could now say I was a part of history.

*****

A commoner no more. On April 29, 2011, Kate Middleton proved that an ordinary young woman does not need Disney to become a princess.

I smile now when I think I don’t have to open a magazine or newspaper to look at pictures from that historic day—I have my own. The young girl who had once been afraid to discover what was waiting around the street corner had now made it halfway around the world to witness something extraordinary. Being a world traveler has taught me that I can be the one in the driver’s seat. I want to take more pictures, make more memories. Yes, it is terrifying to take that first step onto a plane, or first jump onto a subway, but now, whenever I fear a new changeover, it helps to keep my final stop in mind. The more one fears the journey, the less one appreciates the destination. Now that I’ve let my feet take me outside the comfort of home, I’m excited to see where they’ll lead me next. Real princes and princesses do exist and, more importantly, so does real courage.

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