Page last updated at 17:30 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 18:30 UK

Royal farewell to Eastern Europe

By Peter Hunt
Royal correspondent, BBC News

The Queen spots Peter Hunt and his cameraman, perched on a table

The Queen has completed an eventful tour of Slovenia and Slovakia - but a royal viewing of my legs wasn't on the official programme.

Her Majesty had come to Slovenia and Slovakia to meet their people - not to encounter Phil, my cameraman, and me perched perilously on a table.

We had chosen this vantage point in a crowded room to film the Queen.

In our haste, we hadn't realised we were obscuring a wall covered with children's pictures, which were on display for her to look at.

We shuffled along the table, until we could shuffle no more. We were pinned against the wall, as the Queen walked past, admiring first the drawings, and then our legs.

It was a reminder that for a woman who thrives on routine, the unexpected can momentarily delight. To the relief of her aides, this was the only unscheduled occasion on an otherwise carefully planned overseas tour.

As on all visits, she received gifts.

The Queen performs a ceremonial face-off

In Slovenia, she was given one of the world famous Lipizzaner horses.

She did not have to worry, though, about her excess baggage allowance. The now royal prize stallion is staying put in its Slovene stable.

It would not have troubled her if she'd had to take it home. Down the years her family has been given an elephant, a baby crocodile, beavers and two lovebirds, who lived at Buckingham Palace, called Annie and Davey.

The gift giving, the official welcomes, the state banquets and the endless handshakes are familiar ingredients when the Queen packs her bags and heads off to fly the flag.

The collapse of communism has provided an ageing monarch with new stamping grounds to promote her country.

This was the first time she had visited Slovenia and Slovakia. Both are fledgling states who have embraced the EU and Nato.

In amongst the familiar, there are always moments which stand out.

She met a modest and very remarkable 99-year-old man. Sir Nicholas Winton saved hundreds of Jewish children from certain death by smuggling them out in trains from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia to foster families in Britain.

He told me it was "gratifyingly nice to know something one did in one's life was successful".

'Gift of life'

Sir Nicholas met up with some of those he saved - "Winton's children", as they are known.

He gave them the gift of life. Most of their parents were not so fortunate. One of those he rescued, Vera Gissing, spoke of how her mother and her father took her to the station.

Queen Elizabeth II
A beaming monarch enjoyed a rock star welcome to an ice hockey match
She can still recall "the anguish in their faces" as the train left. It was the last she saw of them.

As well as honouring the sacrifices in their past, the Queen's hosts always like to promote the aspects of their country they are most proud of.

So it was that the Queen took to the mountains in Slovakia. In doing so, she notched up a first - a pretty impressive achievement for someone who has been to so many places in her long and eventful reign.

When she set foot in the Tatras, it was the first time ever she had been to a ski resort.

The mountain view was impressive, though the absence of snow was a pretty crucial missing ingredient for an octogenarian who has never sampled apres-ski.

Once off the mountain, she was in only slightly more familiar territory.

Her destination was an ice hockey stadium. When she entered, the crowd roared, the players banged their sticks and the Queen beamed.

She does not normally do beaming. She leaves that to the politicians.

But it's amazing the psychological impact of a rock star welcome on the recipient. She was there to drop the puck between two opposing players.

She proved a dab hand, having performed a ceremonial face-off once before in Canada. The red carpet rolled out onto the ice ensured there were no regal mishaps.

And with that, she was off.

Back home to unpack and walk the corgis, until the next time her government asks her to represent their interests elsewhere.

When the time comes, I'll make sure my legs are well and truly on terra firma.


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