Style and substance on Obama's European trip

Queen Elizabeth II, left, poses with President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in the Music Room of Buckingham Palace ahead of a State Banquet on May 24, 2011, in London.
Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images
Chris Jackson - WPA Pool/Getty Images

LONDON -- One moment he's in white tie and tails having dinner with Queen Elizabeth, the next, he's playing ping pong on a doubles team with the British Prime Minister.

One moment he's escorted into historic Westminster Hall to address both Houses of Parliament, a short time after flipping burgers and grilling sausages at a barbecue in the backyard of 10 Downing Street, the prime minister's office and residence.

President Obama's two days in London spanned the diplomatic gamut from fluff to war strategy. And in the background - a volcanic ash cloud from Iceland forced Mr. Obama to depart Ireland early to avoid being grounded.

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The stop in Ireland proved to be a Grand Slam on the diplomatic scoreboard. The president was embraced by the good folks of Moneygall as one of their own. Genealogists traced his lineage to a 19-year old shoemaker in the small Irish town who left for America in 1850. And Mr. Obama metaphorically embraced Falmouth Kearney as his great, great great grandfather on his mother's side.

It put the apostrophe in O'Bama, if only for the day, and the president toasted his new heritage as a son of the Emerald Isle, visiting Ollie's Pub in Moneygall for a pint of Guiness (video at left).

"My name is Barack Obama -- of the Moneygall Obamas," the president declared on returning to Dublin to address over 25,000 fellow Irishmen and women.

Pictures: Obamas in Ireland

The visit also gives him new street creds with the 40-million Americas of Irish heritage back home.

If only he had an Irish connection when he first ran for office back home in Chicago, which he called "the Irish capital of the Midwest."

"A city where it was once said you could stand on 79th Street and hear the brogue of every county in Ireland," said the president.

On the trip so far, the president and first lady also met newlyweds Prince William and wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. The Obamas weren't invited to their wedding, but there was not a whiff of hard feelings. And it turned out that the American First Couple spent the night in Buckingham Palace in the rooms used by William & Kate on their wedding night, sort of a Royal Honeymoon Suite.

It's all part of presidential foreign travel.

This is Mr. Obama's 18th foreign trip and his 9th to Europe. By the end of this six-day trip that also includes stops in France and Poland, he will have been to 30 nations as president, some of them a few times. His pace of foreign travel is exceeding his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, who at this same point in his presidency had made only 13 international forays to 23 nations. By the end of his eight years in office, President Bush had made 49 foreign trips to 75 countries. Many more than once.

The big secret about presidential travel is the cost. It's enormous and not something any White House has been willing to discuss in detail.

In 1999, the General Accounting Office tried to calculate the costs of a couple of foreign trips taken by President Clinton.

It calculated that 3 presidential trips he took to Africa, Chile and China cost taxpayers, $42.8 million, $10.5 million, and $18.8 million, respectively.

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The biggest cost is the 747 that serves as Air Force One and its twin that flies along as a backup aircraft. They bill out at over $100,000 per operating hour.

This trip, President Obama spends about 20 hours on Air Force One. Add to that the cost of the cargo planes that fly the president's limousines, support vehicles and helicopters to each and every stop. It adds up quickly.

Costs aside, foreign travel is as much a part of the American presidency as political fundraising - an endeavor that also costs taxpayers an unknown amount of money.

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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.