Chargers Travel from University’s Tuscany Campus to London, Pay Respects to Queen Elizabeth II
When they learned Queen Elizabeth II had died, Brennig Johnson ’26 and Noah Iott ’25, who are studying abroad at the University’s campus in Italy, traveled to London. There, they connected with locals, learned about the history and culture of the United Kingdom, and said goodbye to the monarch who, they expect, will be the last queen to rule the country in their lifetime.
September 29, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Brennig Johnson ’26 and Noah Iott ’25 were in Florence, on an excursion as part of their semester studying at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy, when they heard gasps from the people around them. At first, they didn’t know what was happening, but then, a few minutes later, they received a notification on their phones: Queen Elizabeth II had died.
Iott immediately wanted to travel to the United Kingdom to pay his respects to the Queen. It was also important to him to be a part of a “historic and once-in-a-lifetime” event.
“We’re probably never going to see another queen again in our lifetime,” explains Iott, a business management major. “Considering how long she ruled, that we’re only in Prato for three months, and that she was in power for more than 800 months, it was a very small chance that we’d be in Prato when she died.”
‘Two of the people we met were former royal guards’
Iott and Johnson took a spontaneous trip to London when the Queen was lying in state. Not knowing how long they’d be there, they only booked a one-way flight, and booking a hotel proved challenging because they didn’t know how long they’d be waiting in line to get into Westminster Abbey. They heard they could expect to wait in line for more than 25 hours, but they were ready for it.
After leaving the airport, they boarded a train, then made the 45-minute walk to Westminster Abbey – with their baggage. They then learned they were not where they needed to be, as, they were told, the line started back at Tower Bridge, an hour’s walk in the direction from which they’d just come. On that walk, they saw just how many people were already waiting to say goodbye to the Queen.
“Memorial screens and posters of the queen were everywhere,” said Johnson, a music and sound recording major. “We saw street art of the Queen. Everyone took the time to show their appreciation.”
“There was definitely a sense of unity among the people there,” added Iott. “When we arrived, everyone was very polite and paying respect to the Queen. Lots of things were different – the London Eye lights were off in a show of respect.”
Johnson and Iott got in the back of the line. It was a cold, grey day in London. Although it didn’t rain, temperatures were only in the 50s. Because it was approximately 40 degrees colder than what they’d left in Italy, Johnson says he had to buy some new clothes. But any discomfort of being outside in the cold was mitigated by the people they met while waiting.
“We made some new friends, and they were very friendly,” said Johnson. “We connected with a group of people who gave us food and water, and they gave us history. Two of the people we met were former royal guards, and we got to hear what that was like and how that connected to the queen.”
‘It felt very personal’
Because their trip was so spontaneous, Johnson and Iott hadn’t packed enough provisions for a long wait outside. Fortunately, their new friends were prepared and happy to share what they’d brought. They gave them sandwiches, snacks, and water, having brought backpacks full of food.
“They definitely welcomed us with open arms,” said Iott. “They really took us under their wing, and we were very appreciative of that. We were walking along the river and seeing all the beautiful sites of London. Although we didn’t know the history of everything, we were standing with two previous royal guards in line. They served Queen Elizabeth, and they were telling us everything about the history of London, and that was a beautiful thing.”
After about nine hours, Johnson and Iott made it into Westminster Abbey. Because they had their baggage, security searched them, confiscating most of their toiletries. But they were then able to go inside and view the Queen lying in state, and they were both moved by everything they saw.
“I think after waiting all that time, for us to get into Westminster Abbey and then see the Queen, it was truly breathtaking,” said Iott. “With everyone showing their respect in their own way, it definitely made it more personal. Some would just stand there before the Queen without bowing, and you could almost feel the connection. Everyone had their own way of feeling connected to her.”
“It was absolutely silent in the hall, and I think that was the most interesting part,” said Johnson. “People would walk up, and they’d bow and keep walking. People bowed in different ways, which I thought was fascinating. Some put their hand over their heart. People were curtseying in their dresses. It felt very personal.”
‘Two very different experiences in one weekend’
Though they had waited in the cold for nine hours, Iott and Johnson said they were very fortunate to have timed their trip when they did. They’d later been told they could expect to wait for more than 30 hours, and they later learned many mourners had to wait much longer than they had. Some had to wait just to get in line, what Iott describes it as a “queue for the queue.”
After leaving Westminster Abbey, they realized they’d booked their hotel on the wrong date, and they didn’t have a room available. They said every place – except for the McDonald’s – was already closed, since they’d left Westminster Abbey after 2 a.m. While they did eventually find a hotel, they still didn’t have toiletries. But they took everything in stride.
“What I learned the most from the trip was how much you can learn when you use your independence and decide you have to figure everything out or it’s not going to work out,” said Johnson. “We had to figure out trains, buses, and planes, and I had to learn everything on the fly. It felt very much like a learning experience.”
Johnson and Iott spent the following day exploring London and restocking their supplies. They then took a short flight to Dublin, spending a full day there. With no itinerary, they had some time to relax and enjoy what the city had to offer. They were both struck by how different the atmosphere was from what they’d seen in London. They described loud music, lively and bustling pubs, and, even, a protest on the street.
“Ireland was much more relaxed,” explains Johnson. “We had two very different experiences in one weekend – one very stressful and also very rewarding, and one more relaxed and freer.”
“I think Ireland was the opposite of London,” added Iott. “In London you got that sense that this is a sad event, buildings were shut down, and you can understand and feel that this means a lot. No music was playing, and everything was melancholy and low. That was the big difference when we arrived in Ireland.”
‘I saw the only queen in my lifetime lying in state’
Now back at the University’s campus in Prato, Italy, where they are studying for the semester, Johnson and Iott are grateful for their experience in London. They are glad they were already in Europe and that they had the opportunity to take the trip. They are also grateful they could observe and be a part of an important moment in history.
“It taught me a lot about the culture in the United Kingdom,” said Iott. “Standing in line and talking to people who have lived there for their entire lives and to the royal guards who actually worked with her, there’s a lot of significance. The culture taught us so much. It was an amazing experience.”
“It’s definitely a story to tell, and whenever people hear it there’s that ‘wow’ factor at first,” added Johnson. “It’s a big thing to be a part of such a historical event. I think about down the road, telling my kids I saw the only queen in my lifetime lying in state, and that I saw the crown jewels. Seeing all that and taking in the culture of the people in line – everything made it the perfect trip.”