(AP) Thousands of people waving British flags lined the streets of London on Monday to toast the athletes behind the country's unprecedented summer of sporting success.
Twenty-one floats carried members of the Olympic and Paralympic teams from St. Paul's Cathedral to Buckingham Palace, where the Royal Air Force's Red Arrows aerobatic team left a trail of red, white and blue smoke over The Mall.
"Unbelievable, to think that everyone's come out for all of us," said Zara Phillips, Queen Elizabeth II's granddaughter who won a silver medal in equestrian. "This is like the whole games though ... the crowd were unbelievable and we are so grateful to them."
London staged two trouble-free games that defied initial anxiety about security and inclement weather to provide a lift for the recession-hit nation. Britain's summer in the international spotlight began in May with festivities to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
"What a golden summer it has been for our country," Prime Minister David Cameron said. "I think it has given us a tremendous lift, I think it has brought the country together."
Cameron said there is also a lesson to draw from the Olympics, as countries across Europe struggle to deal with huge debts and sharp austerity programs.
"I think there is something else that we can take from this extraordinary period," he said outside Downing Street. "And that is for countries to succeed in this competitive and difficult world you need to have confidence that you can do big things and get them right.
"You need to have confidence that you can take on the best and beat the best, and I think the Olympic and Paralympics we've absolutely done that as a country."
At the Olympics last month, Britain finished third in the medal standings with 29 golds, 17 silvers and 19 bronzes to surpass its 2008 performance. The Paralympic team also finished third, with 120 medals, missing its target of coming second.
A rousing concert featuring Coldplay, Rihanna and Jay-Z signaled the end of the London's sporting summer on Sunday night.
The Paralympic closing ceremony was staged at the Olympic Stadium, the heart of the former east London industrial wasteland that was turned into a 226-hectare (560-acre) urban park in the seven years since London won the IOC vote.
There was little talk Monday as Britain grappled with the post-games comedown about the future use of the venues or the bill of more than $15 billion to stage the festival of sport.
Instead, it was just one final opportunity to celebrate the reawakening of a nation that had dominated the international stage for the past two months.
"It wasn't the finest summer of sport we have ever known: it was much better than that," Simon Barnes wrote on the front page of The Times of London on Monday. "It was the finest celebration of humanity in a quarter-of-a-million years of our existence. It was the best party in the history of the human race."
Rob Harris can be reached at http://twitter.com/RobHarris