Europe Train Travel-UK, Eurostar, Italy

Travelling by train all over the UK was on my husband’s bucket list so off we went in September 2022 after several years of Covid lockdown, his open-heart surgery and resulting lengthy recovery. It was great to get on the road again or should I say “rails”! We flew into London and then we were off to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Bath and then the Eurostar from London to Paris and finally several trips in Italy-all by train. Hopefully, I can help prepare you for your train travels. Remember, enjoy the journey!


We love travelling slow and looking out at bucolic grassy slopes of cow and sheep grazing on the green grass without the worry of driving in a foreign country. With good wifi, you can also get some work done (me) and catch on social media (my husband) along with the perks of a convenient café car and bathrooms. We sometimes bring along our own food and beverages and grab a table seat on the trains. In the UK, Pret and M & S Food are our go-to spots for readymade sandwiches, pastries, fruit and salads that make up an excellent train picnic! You’ll find these chain shops either in the train stations or nearby.

After a few days to enjoy London, we boarded our train to Edinburgh, a city I had been longing to see for awhile. I recommend you sit on the righthand side of the train for this trip to enjoy some coastal views along the way. Edinburgh was magical-see my blog on our visit there: Edinburgh – Travels with Melinda

As with any kind of travel, it’s best to be prepared for anything to happen. On our one hour scheduled trip from Edinburgh to Glasgow, we experienced having to exit two trains due to flooding on the tracks ahead on a very rainy (even for the UK) day. Finally, with no alternative, we quickly downloaded a local taxi app, booked a car and had them drive us the final 20 miles to Glasgow for $25GP rather than be stranded at the local train outpost standing outside during a thunderstorm. We were fortunate to be able to afford to do that but many of the fellow passengers were going to be forced to wait for another train or for the train company to get them a bus to transport them to their final destination, turning a one-hour ride into an all-day nightmare. So, while there are great pluses to train travel, stuff can happen. Be prepared. Technology is your friend. Use it.

Glasgow to Liverpool was a four-hour train trip. We saw mile after mile of sheep laying in the fields! Wind turbines are everywhere. With an energy crisis due to the Russian dependency, the UK will have to put up even more turbines to support their needs. At one stop, our driver must have exceeded his work shift, so we had to wait for his replacement to show up-about a 20-minute delay. Unlike airplanes, trains cannot make up time if they get delayed. You will just show up past the arrival time scheduled. Build in some time on your agenda for possible delays if you are making any connections.

Booking tickets can be confusing but take it one step at a time. Research going from Point A to Point B on a travel app like RometoRio, which is my favorite transportation app. There are many different train companies within a country. For our UK train travels, we used Linr (London Northeast Rail), ScotRail and GWR. When you book using their online platforms, the tickets will be accessible in your app and it’s a barcode or QR code. You scan this code on the machine to get into the platform. When you get to the train station (most don’t have a lot of seating so don’t go too early-30 minutes prior to departure is about right), go to the board listing all the train rides and, about 20 minutes prior to departure, your trip details will post with the platform #. As soon as the platform # is assigned, you can go to the entry, scan your ticket and board the train. Most of our rides had assigned seats. In the car, you’ll see red or green lights to indicate whether a seat has been booked in advance. If you want to change your seat, you can go to any seat that is green. Luggage is stored overhead (carry-on) or there are luggage racks in each car. We only travel with carry-on (even for a month-long trip!) so we keep ours in the overhead where we sit. I have heard of luggage being stolen so keep an eye on your possessions! Helpful UK links:

Trainline : Search, Compare & Buy Cheap Train Tickets (

LNER | London North Eastern Railway

Train Tickets | Times & Timetables | Fares in Scotland | ScotRail

Buy Cheap Train Tickets | Great Western Railway | First Great Western (


I always thought that taking the Eurostar would be totally cool and I was right! It’s fast and much more fun than flying from London to Paris. Hints on taking Eurostar from London to Paris:

You will leave from St. Pancras international terminal in London and travel 150 miles per hour (224km) for 2 hours and 17 minutes arriving at Paris Gare du Nord station. There is free WiFi on the train and outlets by seats (UK or EU adapters) to recharge your devices. There is a club car with food and beverages to purchase. Everyone has assigned seats-book here: Book Europe Train Tickets and Holidays |

Plan to arrive two hours before your departure. We had standard tickets but, in retrospect, we wish we had paid the extra and booked business class to skip the long lines and wait in the comfort of the business class lounges. Next time! Lots of restaurants and shops to check out at St. Pancras while you wait or buy food there and bring it with you on the train. No restrictions for bringing food and beverages on the train.

Boarding Process:

  1. 90 minutes before your departure time, you are able to queue and start to proceed to scan your ticket to enter the platform. Note: you can scan earlier if you want though the signs say otherwise but there is limited room to sit once you go through so best to just be in queue when they tell you.
  2. After scanning ticket to go through the gate, you then go through security. Everything goes in the trays. No need to take off shoes or separate liquids  Just backpack/purse/anything in your pockets in one tray and luggage in another. You will have to take off coat or jacket and put in try as well. Saw someone put their coffee cup in a tray as well.
  3. After security, then you go through passport control stations. First show passport (no need to show ticket) to UK control and then you have to show passport to EU control. Then, put away your passport. You won’t need to show again when you arrive in Paris.
  4. Try to find a seat to wait. Good luck-seats are limited! Your platform # will be announced 20 minutes prior to departure and the masses will all move to a moving sidewalk that goes up to the platform. Watch for people holding signs for where you go based on your seat.

For really in depth Eurostar details, check out this site:


Within Italy, we took the train from Florence to Venice for a weekend and also day trip to Lucca and finally train to Rome to end our trip. Please don’t think about driving in Italy. The roads are as narrow as the drivers are crazy. Just being a passenger in a car in Italy is stressful!

Arriving in Rome, the Roma Termini is a massive transportation hub. From there, you can use the metro system, buses and trams to get around the city or, even better, walk!

Pay a little more and get the Executive Club seats on the train. On our train from Florence to Rome, they even had private salons that had sliding doors to close for privacy. Great for families that need 4 seats. Make sure you know where the bathrooms are and don’t book a seat by them. Trust me. You do not want the toliet traffic or smell.

Also with Executive Club, you get to wait in the lounge. In Florence, this is really important because there is no place to sit for anyone and only pay public toliets. Now in Venice, the station has adequate seating especially in the upper food court  Florence needs to add a second floor! The lounge has a coffee machine and packages snacks and a nice water closet aka WC. Helpful Italy train links:

High speed train (we took from Florence to Rome): Italy high speed train tickets| – Official website

EN – Trenitalia

Senior Offer – Trenitalia

Can non-Italian residents get the Senior discount?

CartaFRECCIA (senior discount) member-If you do not have a domicile in ITALY you can ask for a CartaFRECCIA by sending an email to the e-mail address indicating name, surname, date of birth, place of birth (in case of birth in a foreign country indicate which) , an e-mail address and a telephone number and attaching a legible PDF copy of your valid passport.

Within 30 days you will receive your personal code, a password to access the dedicated online services and the CartaFRECCIA, immediately active, which will have to print and take you on your journeys when using trains operated by Trenitalia. Shipment of the CartaFRECCIA plastic card is not possible under any circumstances.

Getting Around London-Girls Trip 2022

London is a busy city where cars, double decker buses, taxis, Ubers, bikes, scooters and horses share the roads, and the Tube whisks you quickly under all this traffic chaos. Yes, I said horses. As in the Guards making their way to their daily shift at the Palace that we passed by one morning. Remember to follow these rules and you might just live: Stand on the Right; Mind the Gap; Look Left. Don’t be scared of getting around London-just read the details below, develop a plan and get out there and enjoy a truly amazing city!


Here’s my advice for any London trip-start with considering how you will travel from place to place and factor into your agenda realistic travel time. Traffic is terrible, as in most big cities, and going from one end of London to another can take well over an hour. We ended up cutting out experiences on our agenda just because it would mean spending hours in traffic going across town and our party opted out of the Tube during rush hour periods because it was just too packed. Even if you would like to get a taxi/Uber, there will be times such as rush hour or when it is raining that street traffic will be tremendously slow and expensive and/or unable to obtain. My cell service (AT&T) was spotty as well in London, making it sometimes hard to connect to an Uber or even use Google maps to find our way. Tip: just to be safe, while you have Wi-Fi, take a screenshot on your phone of the directions/map just in case. Have a backup plan too-in case you can’t get an Uber, can you grab a bus or walk? Is there a hotel nearby where you can get help from the doorman to get a taxi?

As you are grabbing your preferred form of transportation, remember that in London they drive on the right-hand side of the road so ALWAYS LOOK LEFT. I try to remember to always look both left and right before crossing any street in any country just to be safe. Bikes and scooters are prevalent and they tend to not always follow the suggested flow, i.e., they go up the one-way street any way they want. When getting onto the Tube, remember to MIND THE GAP between the platform and the train so you don’t fall onto the tracks. That would be bad. It happens. On the escalators getting out of the Tube, STAND ON THE RIGHT so that people who want to walk up the escalator can do so on the left. Got it?


If you have booked tickets and need to be somewhere at a specific time, leave plenty of time to get there and use travel apps like Rome2Rio or Citymapper to compare your options and see estimate of time each option will take. Walking will be faster than almost any ground transportation due to the traffic. Next best options are buses and the Tube (subway). If anyone in your party is physically challenged, walking thousands of steps a day may not be an option. Also, many Tube stations have lots of stairs. Go to this site (Transport accessibility – Transport for London ( to see which stations have elevators.

Bus/Tube (subway) For both the bus and Tube, download Apple Pay or Google Pay on your phone/smart watch to tap at the turnstiles to pay. Otherwise, you are fumbling for a credit card to tap, and you probably don’t want to have a credit card out and about with other people nearby who could snatch it (yes, it happens so be smart). You don’t buy paper tickets anymore-it’s all tap to pay here. Just know that even between rush hours, you will still be standing closely to others on the Tube. If that’s not your jam, then plan another form of transportation. We didn’t use the bus because it would be just as slow as a taxi/Uber using the street surface and you have to find the right bus stop and wait while hoping you’ll get a seat vs. standing up. 

Taxi/Uber If you really want a car ride, then go with Uber first and, as a last resort, a taxi. Why? Well, with Uber you have a fixed price when you input the pickup and drop off locations on the app on your phone. It is in the best interest of the Uber driver to get you there quickly. With the taxi, you are on a meter and the driver may or may not take a direct route. We tried both and always the Uber was cheaper by 20% or so. When using Uber, find a landmark like a hotel or restaurant and get the address to enter into the Uber app and make it easy for the driver to find you. Our average wait time for an Uber in London was 5-10 minutes.

Boat Another form of transportation is taking an Uber boat up and down the river. For under 10E, you jump on and off at various stops. Fast and fun!

London is a tourist town where clueless people wander down the middle of the streets, especially the smaller side ones after they have had a few pints. This does not mean the streets are car free so don’t follow suit unless you are positive that it is a pedestrian only area. Stay safe out there, walk the beautiful city streets and soak up the culture. Enjoy the journey!


Google maps

Citymapper or Rome2Rio-best transport apps. Shows you travel details, estimated time to get there and prices too.

GETT app to get taxi’s.

TfL Go for Tube travel. Shows map of various lines and reports cancellations. Tap on a Tube station on the map to see facilities like lifts and bathrooms.


London’s major airport is Heathrow (LHR) but close by is also Gatwick (LGW). Besides grabbing an Uber or taxi, both airports have public transportation options to get from the airport to the city. Get all the info here: Trains To & From London Heathrow Airport – Maps, Tickets | Rail Europe


Liquids that are in your carry-on luggage will need to be in a single (one bag per person only) transparent, resealable plastic bag into which you put your liquid containers which holds no more than a liter (anything that can be “smeared” is considered a liquid) and measures 20 cm x 20 cm (US quart size). You must take this bag out at screening point so make sure it is readily available to get.

Examples of items you may not think are “liquids” would be honey, jam, lipsticks/lip gloss, etc. This are considered “smearable” and must adhere to the restrictions. You can take liquid containers larger than 100ML through security if they are for essential medical purposes, special dietary requirements or contain baby food or baby milk. My friend tried taking a snowglobe through security and she almost had it confiscated but she persuaded them. I wouldn’t risk it.

London Eat and Drink-Girls Trip 2022

First night in London for Girls Trip 2022 and anxious to explore our Covent Garden neighborhood, we checked out the shops and cafes at Covent Market. After exploring and admiring the holiday decorations, we stumbled into Punch and Judy pub and luckily found some cozy inside seating. The pub had a “self-serve order at the bar” model, so I served as our waitress, clearing the table and ordering our food. We had to try the classic fish and chip with mushy peas, which we all shared, but the dessert was the star of the night-Sticky Toffee pudding with clotted cream. To. Die. For. Seriously, I need to return to London just to enjoy this again!

I’m not much of a foodie and when Thom and I travel, we eat on the run and rarely make reservations to dine. However, the ladies take their food seriously, so we researched and made reservations for each day. When in London, eat Italian? Sure! La Mia Momma-featured on Stanley Tucci’s show he did in London, which is where he lives, this Italian place in Chelsea was outstanding. Real Italian “mommas” take turns cooking and deciding on menu items from their local regions. Not sure which momma was cooking the night we were there, but my pistachio ravioli and pistachio Tiramisu were “lick the plate clean” good. We went to the Chelsea 257 Kings Road location, but they have several spots. Reservations are a must.

Next up for dinner the following evening was a London staple, the Ivy Mark Grill. Our location in Covent Garden was warm and inviting with delicious food and awesome service. “It’s the IVY, darling!” pronounced our waiter as he gave me a “look” and explained that they would NOT just “throw some vegetables together” on a plate for me for dinner as I had just asked because they had all arrived at the table on separate plates. He whisked away the offending plates and properly plated them for me, so they looked appropriately Ivy classy. All good!

Before the theater, we enjoyed an early dinner at Brown’s, an institution with all the classic British favorites right by our ARBNB. We enjoyed the warm paneling and attentive service. We all tasted from each other’s plates and, as we usually do and shared a fabulous dessert. Gin and tonics are a classic British cocktail. Patti had never tried gin so what better place than London to give it a taste. Gin and tonics all around the table. Cheers!

I would stay in Covent Garden again just for the delicious egg tarts at Pastel de Nata. Coming and going from various adventures, we would stop in and grab a few. You can watch them being made and eat them warm right out of the oven. This was my favorite food in Portugal and China (where KFC had the best!) but I’ve never been able to get them in the US. Yum!

Located just a few steps from the egg tart place was Mr. Foggs tavern where we enjoyed one of our most memorable evenings in London at the Cockney Sing-A-Long. To experience this very British version of karaoke, we reserved our table in advance and got our song sheets along with some cocktails and dessert when we arrived. Packed with patrons singing their hearts out, the friendly song leader with the amazing moustache went from table to table between songs to meet and greet and ask for any song requests. I would definitely go back to Mr. Foggs for a fun evening any time I am in London!

My sister is a hot chocolate connoisseur so on our Girls Trips, so we are always looking for the “best” hot chocolate. Close to Neal’s Yard, a charming colorful side street of shops and cafes, we walked by  Hotel Chocolat – Luxury Chocolates and Chocolate Gifts and gave it a try. Oh, lordy! It was liquid chocolate with whipped chocolate mousse topping. Becky was in heaven. We also picked up lots of their house made chocolates (including boozy ones) for Christmas gifts.

Our last night in London, we just wanted to stay close to the ARBNB and luckily one of the hidden culinary gems of London was literally right across the lane from us on Goodwins Court in Covent Garden. Giovanni’s, a family run Italian restaurant with cozy tables overseen by the charming owner, Pino Ragona. We admired the wall of pictures of celebrities who have enjoyed this place, trying to name them all, as we ate our pasta. A few steps home after our fabulous meal and we were off to pack. Perfect ending for Girls Trip 2022. I’m ready to start planning our next trip in 2023 to Paris.

I would recommend Pret a Manger (on every street corner it seems) for everyday food for breakfast or lunch. They have cold options like wraps-my favorite was a spicy chickpea veg option. They also have soups and sandwiches they can warm up. All for under $10 and very tasty. They always seem super busy with the locals queuing up to get takeaway, so the food is stocked daily and fresh. For breakfast, they have pastries galore, yogurts and coffee drinks. Taking a train trip? Stop at Pret for a takeaway lunch on the train so you don’t arrive at your destination hungry. Most trains don’t have food service. Pret is my go-to place in London!

Places I’ve researched and want to go to next trip:

  • The George by the Shard traditional British food and great service. Classy.
  • Café in the Crypt across the street from the National Gallery (Fish and chips/huge portions/apple crumble and custard for dessert).
  • Bertie Blossoms owned by Ed Sheeran on Portobello Road in Notting Hill.
  • Gordon’s Wine Bar-the oldest wine bar in the city (in summer snag an outside table along the Thames River) near Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden.
  • The Swan near Hyde Park. Pub and restaurant.
  • Cahoots Post-war theme speakeasy. Live music Friday-Sunday. Very popular-make reservations.

London is the perfect town for foodies to try everything from classic British fare to any type of cuisine you are looking for. Enjoy the journey!

London-Girls Trip 2022

Arriving on the train from Bath where we started our Girls Trip 2022, we got settled into our ARBNB in Goodwin’s Court. This lovely historic lane in Covent Garden was used by the Harry Potter set designers as one of their inspirations for Diagon Alley. The curved front windows of the townhomes and gas street lanterns illuminating the cobblestones is indeed lovely and very Harry Potteresque. We stay in ARBNBs for our Girl Trips so that we can each have a bedroom and a bath. However, next time maybe we won’t book a five-level townhouse. It was huge, fancy, and in a great location but way too many steep stairs we had to crawl up after busy days wandering around London!

We had timed our visit to occur in mid-November after London had turned on their spectacular Christmas lights. I’ve travelled all over the world but never have I ever seen a big city light up like London does for the holidays. Streets are strung with lights, entire building facades are decorated and don’t even get me started on the lavish decorations inside the classic huge department stores like Harrod’s. It is THE most wonderful time to visit London. Besides shopping and taking in theater performances (see my separate posts on those!), we planned out an agenda to include Parliament (we are political junkies), a private taxi tour (vs. taking the Hop On, Hop Off bus), a fabulous museum (only time for one this trip!) and grabbing a view at Sky Garden. London is an awesome city that requires multiple trips to even begin to see it all. For This first time visit to London for Becky and Patti, they got a great overview. I’ve been to London many times in the past for both business and pleasure and I always look forward to a return visit to see new things!


Our first morning in London, we journeyed across London to visit Parliament. The House of Commons and the House of Lords were both in session so there were no tours of the building going on because they were working. If you come when they are not in session, you can take a self-guided tour and see all the beautiful historic rooms, which I highly recommend. Thom and I did that a few months ago and loved it. But this time it was all about seeing Parliament debates. Ah, the political drama! After standing in the rain until the appointed time that we were told we could enter the great hall to get ready to go into the gallery, the security guards finally took pity on us and let us in about 30 minutes early. We checked out the great gift store (yes, they sell booze and lots of other cool stuff), used the facilities and waited while the docent warned us about the protocol involving the Speaker of the House Processional. About a hundred of us tourists lined up in the entry way to the House of Commons and stood at attention while all the pageantry took place. The Speaker walked right by me and said hello. Nice chap! Then, after he entered the Chambers, we all went up to the gallery after leaving our possessions (no cameras allowed) checked outside the gallery in the secure cloakroom. You sit above the action and can also watch on several monitors. The day we were there the representatives of the Treasury were discussing the energy crisis with members of Parliament and how they were going to help citizens stay warm this winter and pay their energy bills. We are political junkies so enjoyed seeing their government in action.


We arranged a two-hour private Black Taxi Tour instead of taking the Hop On Hop Off bus, which I often take on trips depending on how much time I have to see the top sites in the place I’m visiting. We had a week in London and wanted to see specific sites, so the personal tour worked well for us to get the lay of the land. We booked our tour through Viator and told our tour guide to meet us at St. Ermin’s hotel, which was close to Parliament. We walked over after our Parliament experience and had a quick bite and tea at the hotel before our tour, which ended up being in a bright green taxi not the classic black one. At least the other cars could see us coming to get out of the way!

The guide was anxious to tailor our trip to what we wanted to see and also guide us to the top sights in London. We requested Buckingham Palace (of course) and the Princess Diana memorial. We got to see all the sights, jump out quickly while the tour guide waited with the car so we could get pictures and walk around. It was a full two hours of the best of London. It didn’t cost much more per person than the hop on, hop off bus would have been, and it was just our party of 3 in the car. Our guide dropped us off in our neighborhood afterward. Fun day!


We could only work in one museum on this trip, but I hope in the future to see all of the London museums. Good reason to return! So many fine museums in London and the entrance is FREE! From the moment you walk up to the Victoria and Albert Museum V&A · The World’s Leading Museum Of Art And Design ( you are impressed. The building is majestic and beautiful. The thing that makes this museum so unique is that there is something for everyone. Tip: this museum (and others) are open late on Fridays and are less crowded then. Also, make sure you have lunch in the V & A café. Not only is the food good but it’s gorgeous-oldest museum cafe in operation in Europe. Also, shop in their gift store. I bought a few Christmas presents from the wide variety of jewelry collections they offered. They carry various European designer collections to choose from including my favorite from Italy, Angela Caputi.


The best view in town at Sky Garden – London’s Highest Public Garden is FREE. Just reserve timed entry tickets online in advance (released 30 days in advance) and show up, get in line with your tickets, and go through security. Then you are whisked up to the garden view. You can go outside on the balcony, but we enjoyed coffee and treats inside while getting some great pictures. I love the comfy couches that you can relax into and rest while enjoying the view. There are tiered levels, and they often have events on the upper level like yoga classes. Enjoy the journey!

London Theater-Girls Trip 2022

One of the many reasons that I love London is the theater scene. We try to go to NYC every year and always see a Broadway show. While some of the same shows are currently on stage in both places, there are some West End exclusives too. On this Girls Trip 2022, we checked out one London show exclusive and one classic musical available in many places.

The London theater district aka the West End is spread out over a larger area than the Broadway area in NYC. These theaters are lovely old buildings for the most part and rarely is there a bad seat. Usually, you want to arrive at least 30 minutes at least prior to the performance in order to find your seats and go to the bathrooms. I am always shocked at how few bathrooms they have at these venues for women so plan ahead! Some theaters allow you to buy beverages and bring them to your seats and others make you chug down your beverage in the lobby. Cheers!

First show on our trip was & Juliet, a “coming-of-age jukebox musical” that is a glorious eruption of dance and song. Shakespeare is introduced at the beginning and his wife suggests he change the ending to Romeo & Juliet, wondering what would have happened if Juliet did not kill herself.  At Romeo’s funeral, Juliet finds out that Romeo had many female AND male conquests besides her. Oops. Juliet takes a liberating road trip to Paris with friends and hilarity ensues especially when Romeo returns to pursue Juliet again. Winning many awards in the UK while playing at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, & Juliet will close in March 2023 and has already moved to Broadway in NYC. A very diverse cast sings cover tunes from the Backstreet Boys to Britney Spears. This show can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates music, dancing and an original story.

Our second show was the classic musical Mamma Mia. We all watched the movie prior to going to London to refresh our memory of the story and practice singing along! It was well staged, and, at the end, the talented cast all came back to the stage to lead a singalong of a few tunes from the show. We danced in our seats while we belted it out and loved every last minute of it. What a great way to spend your evening in London!

We only had time to check out two shows on this trip but on a previous trip, Thom and I went to the Globe Theater and saw a wonderful modern (goth punk style) rendition of Romeo and Juliet. Opening in 1997, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, is a replica of the original theater, set in an open-air space with capacity for 1,400 patrons. It is located on the banks of the River Thames, in the Bankside Cultural Quarter. If you want to interact with performers, get tickets to stand vs. sit. When we went, the show moved from the stage to the floor and back, all the while staying in character. So. Much. Fun. Their shows go on even if it is raining so come prepared with a poncho. If Shakespeare isn’t your jam, not to worry. They also put on modern plays, music concerts, film screenings, etc. Attend a show, take a tour of the theater, and experience what it might have been like in Shakespeare’s days. Located somewhat close to London Tower, a perfect day might be taking a tour of London Tower, lunch and shopping at Borough Market and then taking in a theater performance at the Globe. All within walking distance, if you like to walk!

No trip to London would be complete without diving into the theater scene. Enjoy the journey!

Buying tickets and theater manners

With regards to theater manners, I would suggest not standing to dance and sing with your favorite musical unless everyone around you is doing it. Otherwise, you’re “that person” who is ruining the view for others. That goes for leaning too. For Mamma Mia, we sat in Dress Circle seats on the side of the theater and were on the railing. Which was fine until the very tall person next to me leaned way forward to check out the side of the stage, obscuring the entire stage for me. I tapped on her shoulder and asked her nicely to please lean back in her seat. While she was outraged, she did it and I enjoyed the rest of the play. Awkward yes but it had to be done. So don’t let some rude patron ruin your night. Be polite and tell them to behave. And, of course, for the singalong at the end, we all stood up and danced the night away!

We bought our theater tickets in advance at a savings (20-40% off face value) on TodayTix | Theater Tickets to Musicals, Plays, Broadway, More. Similar to TKTS where we buy our NYC Broadway tickets, you get a discount that gets steeper the closer to the date you attend the show. We wanted seats together (single seats are really cheap if you don’t mind sitting separate from your party!) with a good view so we booked a few months in advance. You can also check out the tickets on which is the London TKTS site. If you are really flexible and want to show up the night of the play and see if you can get “rush” tickets, which are tickets that are still unsold and cheap-usually single tickets and may have some obstructed view-that is the most economical way to see a show. Tickets are all digital and you just pull them up on your phone to be scanned when you enter the theater.

London Shopping-Girls Trip 2022

We had timed our Girls Trip 2022 to occur in mid-November after London had turned on their spectacular Christmas lights. I’ve travelled all over the world but never have I ever seen a big city light up like London does for the holidays. Streets are strung with lights, entire building facades are decorated, and don’t even get me started on the decorations in the classic huge department stores like Harrod’s. It is THE most wonderful time to visit London, a city I’ve visited many times over the years.

We had an entire day dedicated to shopping and checking out the department stores all decked out in their holiday finest. We started with the iconic Harrod’s where you can buy anything from very expensive designer items to tasty treats in the food court and affordable souvenirs in the basement where the tourist shop. I had to buy an extra suitcase for my Harrod’s Paddington Bear.

After the splendor of Harrod’s, we grabbed a taxi from the convenient taxi stand next to the store. Many stores are within walking distance of each other once you get from Harrod’s to Oxford Street. Luckily, the big department stores all have cafes and places to relax and sit. Shopping is exhausting work! We walked between these landmark stores:

  • Selfridge’s on Oxford Street – six floors encompassing 10 acres
  • Fenwick’s on Bond Street – from furniture to clothing, they have it all
  • Liberty of London on Regent Street – especially magical for anyone who sews and loves fabrics
  • Carnaby Street an entire street filled with specialty shops and cafes
  • Fortnum and Mason known for their selection of tea, biscuits, preserves which make great gifts

One of our tour guides clued us in to look for the signs above shop entrances that indicate that they supply goods to the Royal family. I guess it is quite the honor. These are primarily small bespoke stores like tailors, hat stores, hunting clothes, etc. For those who aren’t on a Royal budget, check out Marks & Spencer or the Primark department stores around town-these are where the average citizen shops for clothes. We loaded up on bargains for ourselves and gifts at these stores. Patti even bought a coat to wear home!

We also hit the markets to shop and eat-when in London, visit at least one or more!

  • Spitalfields Market-go to the The Flat Iron across from the market for lunch or choose from a wide assortment of food from the stalls in the market. There is great shopping at the market with everything from vintage clothes to vinyl to gift items.
  • Covent Garden Market has been around since 1845 for wonderful food and shopping and is especially lovely at the holidays. We stopped into the Punch and Judy pub in Covent Garden market for classic fish and chips with mushy peas. The showstopper though was the sticky pudding-heaven in your mouth.

After a hectic day filled with shopping, we rested our tired legs and enjoyed the treats on Brigit’s Bus Tea Tour. We were on the first Christmas lights bus of the season. Touring all around town while sipping on tea/hot chocolate/champagne, we sampled the treats wearing our paper crowns and singing holiday carols. The perfect ending to a perfect day in London.

I highly recommend going to London in mid-November-less crowded, beautiful decorations and fantastic shopping. The trifecta for a perfect Girls Trip!

St. Ermin’s-Best Hotel in London

Bee lovers, history buffs, dog lovers and those who appreciate over the top hotel service will love my favorite hotel in London-St. Ermin’s. I’ve travelled all over the world and this is my pick for best overall hotel. Hands down. A historic property set in a private courtyard, it exudes charm but most of all I love the consistently world class customer service I’ve received every time I stay there. Their staff is well trained, friendly and go out of their way to make you feel special. Another bonus is the location, which is easy walking distance to many sites such as Parliament, Westminster Cathedral, Big Ben, Hyde Park, St. James Park, Churchill War Rooms, 10 Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, etc.

Caxton Bar & Grill/St. Ermin’s Bees/Afternoon Tea

The formal lobby serves as an elegant gathering place for the afternoon happy hour with free wine/nibbles most days and a fine place to have a cup of tea. Everyone but especially kids (who may never have seen such a relic let only used it) seem to be fascinated with the typewriter available with paper to type out a review of the hotel. Just off the lobby there is the Caxton bar and restaurant where the morning breakfast is served. Upstairs, there is a lovely room for Afternoon Tea that is served daily. Featuring sweet and savoury treats from the hotel’s rooftop garden and bee garden, you can’t ask for a more quintessential British tradition to enjoy during your trip to London. Make reservations here for Afternoon Tea well in advance of your visit. It’s popular! After taking your tea, go upstairs to the third floor and visit the St. Ermin’s bees. Safely behind glass, you can watch them go about their daily business of making honey.

While Thom and I have stayed at St. Ermin’s several times on both business and pleasure trips, I didn’t stay there on my Ladies Trip recently because we needed the added space of an ARBNB. However, we did visit after our Parliament trip to soak up the warmth of tea served in the bar and take advantage of the grand staircase to pose for pictures with a kind staff member serving as our photographer.

Perks that we loved at St. Ermin’s:

  • Free wine and canapes for happy hour Monday to Thursday 5:30-6:30
  • 24 hour gym
  • Free water and candy in room minibar-handy to refuel after a long day of walking
  • International breakfast buffet free with made-to-order omelettes (with Marriott Platinum status)
  • Mailed my postcards to US for free
  • Typewriter in lobby that you can use to leave reviews of hotel-kids are fascinated by this device
  • Amazing front veranda where you can relax, eat takeway food or drinks or get lobby service from hotel bar
  • Concierge service-lent me a new electric adapter when mine failed to work
  • One block to St. James tube station-so quick to get around London
  • 10 minute walk to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Hyde Park
  • Starbucks, Pret-A-Manger and pharmacy one block away
  • Grand staircase in lobby for photos you’ll want to share
  • They allow pups-who doesn’t love a pet friendly place!

St. Ermin’s History

St. Ermin’s is built upon the site of a 15th century chapel dedicated to St. Ermin (thus the name!). The building was converted into a hotel in 1899. Famous for a meeting held here by Winston Churchill in 1940 with founding members of the Special Opertions Executive (SOE) also known as Churchill’s Security Army. This elite group formed the basis of the SAS and took over an entire floor of St. Ermin’s as its headquarters during WWII while the M16 were stationed two floor above. Churchill was known well in the hotel’s Caxton Bar during this period. History buffs will love staying here and walking over the Churchill War Rooms for a tour.

After WWII, a “Division Bell” in the hotel lobby was rung to signal MPs that they had eight minutes to get back to Parliament to the House of Commons to vote. Now the bell now longer rings but you never know who you might meet at the hotel because it is located within the “Westminster Bubble” very close to government buildings. It is rumored that MPs could use a secret tunnel to get back to Parliament, running from under the grand staircase in the lobby to the House of Commons. Hmmmm….who doesn’t love a British mystery?

Westminster Abbey Evensong

I’ve been to London several times but always on business trips. While I was able to work in a little sightseeing on these trips, I definitely hadn’t been able to fully experience all that London has to offer. This time visiting, I worked remote with flexibility to journey out with Thom during the day while the US slept. First up, we checked in to the beautiful St. Ermin’s hotel (separate post on this hotel because it’s so special!) and then we went for a stroll around the neighborhood.

One reason we like to stay at St. Ermin’s is that it is only blocks to Big Ben, Westminster, etc. We were so happy to see that Big Ben had all the scaffolding down from work being done and it was shining brightly for picture-taking. As we walked by Westminster Abbey, which we had never been in, we saw people going in even though it was 5 pm and you might expect it to be closed.

Turns out there was an Evensong program about to start so off we went! The door guard explained that it was free, an hour long and that we would need to stay for the entire program, and no pictures were allowed. There was only a small group attending along with the church choir and organist. What an awesome way to experience this magnificent site for FREE! Yes, my husband doesn’t obey rules well, so he got off a few great pics even with admonishment from the clergy walking by. Oops. All in all, a wonderful memory that I won’t soon forget and that I highly recommend.

For more details on Evening, check out the website before you go for dates and time: Evensong | Westminster Abbey (

UK Parliament

Last time Thom and I were in London, Parliament was in session, so we had the opportunity to observe the House of Lords. This was nirvana for two political junkies like us. It was fascinating to see another government in action with their debates and loud interactions. Lots of standing up and down, shouting “Hear! Hear!” and jeering the opposition party. Very lively indeed!

We saw a different perspective in September as Parliament was out on break, so we got to take a self-guided audio tour throughout the entire Parliament building, including a leisurely wander through both the House of Lords and House of Commons. It was awesome to see Margaret Thatcher’s statue in her heels standing tall among all the men who have run the UK government, truly highlighting the gender gap amongst past leaders. However, they did name a new female Prime Minister, Liz Truss, while we were there. Liz ended up not lasting very long (44 days-a record) and a new male PM, Rishi Sunak, was announced after we left Europe. Truly a time of turmoil for the UK. Wondering if Liz will get the honor of a statue or if her short tenure won’t earn her one. The brutal British press ran a picture of Liz next to a head of lettuce while all this was going on and asked which would last the longest: Liz or lettuce. Lettuce won.

One of the coolest aspects of our time at Parliament was walking around the floor of the House of Commons. Thom enjoyed talking with one of the staff stationed there to ensure visitors didn’t do any damage. When he found out Thom was originally from NYC, they chatted about his trip there and that his lasting memory of NYC was a hot dog. Merits of a NYC “dirty dog” ensued. Next trip, he said he wanted to go to Durango and take the Silverton train, which we have taken twice so we told him it was worth the long trip from London. Just a few hours after we left, some climate protestors went on a similar guided tour and glued themselves to the PM seat in the House of Commons and the police locked it all down. I felt pity for the kind staff member we had spoken to for after we left, he ended up having a helluva day ahead of him peeling the protestors off the furniture.

Two months later…

I was back in London again, this time on a Girls Trip and we got to experience Parliament up close and personal again this time. Parliament was in session, and we were first in line to see the House of Commons debate. Because we were there early, we were allowed to queue up and see the opening ceremonial Speaker’s Procession walk. This procession is very pomp and circumstance with various officials including the Speaker moving past the public and into the chamber. With police along the route monitoring, the public must stand, take off any hats and be silent as the procession moves by. No pictures are allowed. Now, as we were right up front and center for this event, when the Speaker walked by, I gave him a big smile and I got a wink in return. My moment of infamy interacting with UK leadership. I would highly recommend getting there early to see this iconic UK experience.


For history and information on the UK Parliament, check out their Wikipedia page here: Parliament of the United Kingdom – Wikipedia.

Check online to see the Parliament calendar in advance of your trip Lords Recess dates – UK Parliament. This will determine whether you can sit in the gallery and watch the proceedings or, if they are not in session, you can take a tour and see all the chambers.  Both experiences are very interesting, and I highly recommend.

Tower of London

A London “must see” is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tower of London. This huge site, encompassing 12 acres in Central London on the River Thames, includes the historic castle, palace, and prison all overseen by a witty band of Beefeaters. Now, I’ve been to London many times but have never managed to fit this “must see” site into our typically packed schedule, probably because it is huge and requires many hours to explore properly. Finally in September, I’m super glad that we were able to dedicate a whole day to checking it out.

We’re not huge fans of taking guided tours but we’ll take them occasionally if we feel that we would benefit from a download of background information while taking it all in. So, we booked the opening ceremony Tower of London/Crown Jewels/Tower Bridge tour (details below). Our small group only included 12 people and the guide. Perfect size for us! Meeting the group at 9 am at the designated spot near the Tower of London entrance, we walked right in and were greeted by a friendly female Beefeater (one of only 3 females out of the 32 in this elite group). Yes, I asked her about the Beefeater gender breakdown, which didn’t surprise me given the strict requirements.

Also known as Yeoman Warders, these Beefeaters are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. The Beefeaters are all retired British Armed Forces members who must be former warrant officers with at least 22 years of service and hold the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. It’s a very competitive post to achieve. They all live on the grounds with their families. There were humorous stories galore shared from our Beefeater about her fellow guards and life at the Tower. One guard had teenagers that tried to sneak out of the walled grounds, but it didn’t go well when they tried to get back in after the gates were locked at night. Our Beefeater walked us through the history of the opening ceremony with the guards and the keys and then we got to experience it. If you are going to take a tour of the Tower of London, go early and include the keys ceremony. It is unique and well worth the cost and getting up early to get there.

After the opening ceremony, we went immediately to the Crown Jewel room (no pictures allowed and this time Thom behaved after a stern lecture from our guide that anyone trying to take pictures would be thrown out). Crowns, necklaces, and other jewelry of epic proportions were in secure glass enclosed cases that you walk around and gawk at while lots of guards watch and make sure you don’t touch anything. I’m glad we were able to see the jewels and absorb the history of how they are used for coronations, such as the 12th century golden eagle ampulla that holds oil that pours from it’s beak into the gold anointing spoon for the royal coronation ceremony. Sadly, the Queen passed away while we were still in the UK. We will be watching with great interest as King Charles wears the jewels we saw on our Tower of London tour during his coronation ceremony in Spring 2023. It will be much more interesting knowing the history behind this ritual that doesn’t happen very often. Of course, Prince William hopes it happens again sooner rather than later.

The rest of the Tower of London had LOTS of really old lethal weapons, torture tools and armory, all needed to protect London from various invaders in the past. I liked the dragon sculpture fashioned out of weapons. Very menacing!

Note-this tour is not for the physically challenged. We climbed 17 flights of stairs that day and walked 6+ miles. At the end of the tour, we walked up to the top of the Tower Bridge, which was quite the hike but the great views made it worth it. Almost. Then we walked across the bridge to the other side of the River Thames, bid adieu to our guide and proceeded to Borough Market for a well-deserved lunch break.


We took this tour: VIP Early Access – Opening Ceremony Tower of London & Bridge with Crown Jewels 2022 ( Be advised there is a lot of walking and stairs in this tour, so it is not for everyone. There are many different types of tours so check them out and see what suits you best before booking. You can also just buy entry tickets and explore on your own: Tower of London official site: Tower of London | Historic Royal Palaces (