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 (

Naughtiness at the House of Lords

When in London after a long work day, tradition dictates that you go to the nearest pub and have a pint or two.  But I never take the traditional route and I don’t drink beer so after MY work day was over, I headed on over to the House of Lords to hear the Earl of Sandwich argue over the merits of an amendment to the Criminal Finances Bill.  Yep, I’m a political geek.

After not being able to just “drop in” last night as we walked by on the way home (due to the presence of a knife of the Swiss Army variety in Thom’s pocket), we left the weapons at the hotel and off we went.  The House Of Lords works late into the evening so by the time we cleared security after being searched, me so thoroughly that Thom asked if the security guard had asked for my #, up we climbed to the Stranger’s Gallery where visitors can sit quietly and observe.  To enforce that rule, you have to check in all your bags and cell phones with a guard before entering.

With gold-plated pretty much everything and knight statues glaring down from their lofty perches above the floor, the Earls, Ladies, Lords and such sit (and sleep) during the proceedings on red leather banquettes.  If they aren’t sleeping, they are looking at their iPads or speaking on the topic at hand.  All very formal, we snickered (quietly) when one Lord spoke of the “naughtiness” of the vigilante posse hiding wealth by buying up London real estate through LLC’s (owners anonymous) registered in British territories and driving up prices so that buying a home now costs 39x the median income of the average Londoner.  Citing one example in nearby Cambridge, a new development of 292 homes were snatched up by foreigners, primarily Chinese and Russians, with only 2 homes purchased by UK residents.  Shocking-sounds like Seattle.

I did feel quite young sitting there watching these old guys bicker and debate whether there should be stricter government control in this area of finance.  With the average age of about 70 years old and probably only 10% women, there was definitely a strict dress code with the men in suits and the ladies in skirts.  I was disappointed that the only person wearing a white ringlet wig was the youngest person in the room running the technology.  The clerks who run the notes to the Lords were very formally attired in tails and large metal medallions hanging from their bodies.  Posh.

Leaving as the debate was still raging at 7:30 p.m., Thom and I couldn’t wait to discuss the experience.  Yes, for political geeks, this was the highlight of our London trip.  Cheers!


Treacle Tarts at The Wolseley

Harry Potter fans will understand my fascination with treacle tarts.  Why did Harry and his gang love eating something with such a funny name?  What is a treacle?  Well, thanks to The Wolseley in London I can now answer those questions.  Treacle tarts are amazingly delicious and treacle is golden syrup.  Yum!

I owe a big thanks to my friend, Karmann, who turned me on to this elegant yet approachable restaurant near The Green Park and The Ritz.  After cheering on the late finishers in the London Marathon that ended at Buckingham Palace today, we made our way through The Green Park, filled with marathon fans soaking up the last of the sun.  What a beautiful day it was whether you ran a marathon (how do they do that??) or just enjoyed a walk through a market or park.

Seated as soon as we walked in to The Wolseley and starving, I ordered the recommended chicken soup with carrots and dumplings that was light yet deliciously rich at the same time.  With bits of chicken, I quickly finished it while Thom shared with me a few bites of his chicken, bacon, and avocado sandwich and pommes frites.  Not only was the service impeccable but the prices were not too expensive given that London in general is very expensive indeed.  Surrounded by marathon finishers still wearing their medals and celebrating with champagne, steak and caviar, we quickly moved on to dessert.

Treacle tart-what would it taste like?  I had done no research and had no expectations.  I wanted to be surprised. Well, it came warm with a side of clotted cream that actually helped cut some of the sweetness.  Think pecan pie without the pecans and with a flaky crust.  Very dense and delicious.  No wonder Harry, Ron and Hermione ate these up when they magically appeared at Hogwarts.  After seeing Platform 9 3/4 at the Kings Crossing station this morning, it was only fitting that I end my day with their favorite Hogwarts dessert.  London is definitely a magical place.


Exploring London’s Parks

London has THE BEST parks.  Friday after checking into St. Ermin’s, we immediately set out to explore and push on to avoid the dreaded jet lag.  Unfortunately, we hadn’t gotten any local currency yet so when I tried to use the public loo later in St. James Park, I discovered there was a 20 pence coin required to gain entry.  WTH!  You have to pay to pee?  Thom’s solution was a suggestion to walk all the way back to the hotel.  NOT a  really timely choice so I went with my own solution-act really pathetic and prey on kind strangers who DID have the required coins.  Bingo!  Within seconds of asking the closest coffee kiosk barista in the park for directions to an ATM and explaining the situation, another customer quickly found the right coin and offered it to me, rolling her eyes at Thom and telling me there was no need to walk anywhere and she was happy to help me.  There you go!  Afterward, I promised Thom that I would “pee it forward” and help other desperate ladies out next time I go, keeping a stash of required coins just in case.  Ladies need to stick together!

Later, we checked out Golden Square on the way to Carnaby Street.  A park with stunning public art AND a communal ping pong table in heavy use, this may not be on visitor’s “hot” list to see but it was just lovely.   Shoe lovers will appreciate the largest stiletto you will ever see.  Now that’s art!  None of that crazy abstract crap you have to figure out in museums.

On Saturday, we headed out to the most popular spots:  The Green Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Garden.  Very close to our hotel, The Green Park showcases Buckingham Palace on it’s perimeter.  While we didn’t see the changing of the guards, we did check out the guards and the massive palace.  Really, who needs all that space???  Looks like a big money drain to me.  Walking through the Wellington Arch and checking out the many war memorials, you are reminded everywhere in London of WWI and WWII.  So many lives lost.

Right next door to The Green Park is Hyde Park, totally deserving of all the accolades I read out about it in the travel books.  From the cheap ($2 euros a day) bike rentals to the large lake with paddle boats and rowboats and horse trails, it is amazing.  Thom quickly got a hot dog to wolf down for energy before our long walk.  My only beef with the park system is the lack of trash cans in all the parks.  What’s up with that London?  Surprisingly given the lack of receptacles, the parks are very clean but the few trash cans overflow like crazy, the only unsightly view in the otherwise clean space.

Hyde Park even has chairs you can rent by the day to relax and gaze out at the water.  Very reminiscent of Central Park in NYC, one of my favorite places, people were stretched out on benches and the lawn enjoying the rare sunshine.  And can I say, the dogs here are SO well behaved it’s crazy.  Off leash in the parks, I have yet to see dogs growling or fighting.  They just walk docile and obedient with their owners by their side. Thom asked one dog owner why the dogs are so calm and he replied, “Lots of opium.”  Be calm and drug your dog?  I’m sure he was just kidding.  Probably.

Right next door to Hyde Park is Kensington Gardens.  We were needing a break from the sun so we ducked into the Serpentine Gallery on the park grounds to check out the spring show featuring the work of John Latham, a pioneer of British conceptual art (1921-2006).  Thought-provoking for sure, the use of books was prevalent in the conceptual art pieces.  Interesting exhibit but the bathrooms had the best technology I’ve seen.  Dyson water faucets also served as hand drying jet blasters–all in one and very cool.  Better than the art!  Heading over to the Prince Albert Memorial we enjoyed watching an intense street hockey game.  Damn, they were good.  Hockey scouts need to be checking these dudes out for their teams!

John Latham’s art-these are books if you can’t tell


Moving on, we checked out Kensington Palace, with the beautiful Diana White Gardens to mark the 20th anniversary of her death.  We did feel that the security was pretty darn lax and gates were unguarded and would be too easy to hop over.  What?  In fact, walking down embassy row later in the day past all each country’s gorgeous building, we didn’t see any armed guards except for the Israeli post where they were armed with impressive weapons.  In China when we walked Embassy Row, you would see armed guards in front of every embassy.  Here, one guy came running out of an embassy yelling “YO!” to the Domino Pizza guy at the curb to deliver a hot pie.  Classy.

We tried walking by The Orangery next to Diana’s White Garden but a very fancy, or as the Brits would say “posh”, wedding was going on so here the security was tight and we were politely turned away.  So, they guard weddings better than they do embassies here in London?  With top hats and tails for the guys and long gowns for the ladies, this wedding was one fancy event.  We considered trying to crash it but thought better of it and moved along to continue our 11 mile hike that day.  What a great day!


Chechnya Protest in London

We just happened to wander by the Russian Embassy in London as a crowd gathered to show support for gays being rounded up and held in detention centers in the Russian republic of Chechnya.  Part of a purge by the Russian government in response to a planned gay pride parade, Londoners we saw wanted to spread the word of this atrocity so action and pressure by world leaders will hopefully stop it.  I am happy to help.


One man carefully spread out a roll of paper to write his message, “Free Love.  If compassion is higher form of wisdom, how wise are you?” while others organizing the event spoke to policewomen and the crowd.  Photographers captured the moment and others wrote encouraging thoughts on the pink triangles.  I wrote “Love Trumps Hate”.  Thom explained to me that in Nazi Germany gays had to wear pink triangles on their clothing.  Frightening times when we see history repeating itself and our nation’s leaders are doing nothing to stop it and some are encouraging it with their hate-filled rhetoric.

Laying pink flowers on the sidewalk, the mood was somber but defiant.  A group of men allowed their pictures to be taken as Londoners stopped to read the signs.  We walked by later on our way home, happy to see the signs undisturbed and folks reading the messages.  Grassroots efforts like this work as we are finding in the U.S. with our protest marches, calls to Congress and other efforts trying to stop the madness that lies in POTUS.  Where we can support other countries with their efforts to stop the hate and embrace love, we most certainly will.  Never give up and never back down.London_April 2017-8261

London Shopping-Vintage to Vinyl

Eleven miles and 25,000 steps later, we had walked ALL over London.  Literally.  We embraced “shop till you drop” and had fun doing it.  Starting at our historic boutique hotel, St. Ermin’s, at noon after sleeping in (jet lag sucks) we walked to Notting Hill.  Yes, that Notting Hill but, alas, we didn’t run into Hugh Grant.  Buggers!BC655D29-FC10-4252-920C-07883DB7450F

This terribly charming area has shops galore including Portobello Market, a street filled with stalls featuring furs, teapots and more.  But first, it was National Record Store Day and we were looking for vinyl and lucky enough to stumble upon the Music & Goods Exchange.  Searching for treasures among the used vinyl, I found “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, a compilation of 19 classic cuts from the archives of the Savoy featuring pioneer jazz, be-bop, rhythm and blues.  Dedicated to and featuring Charlie Parker, the tracks are from 1940-1960.  Thom picked up singles from Elvis Costello as much for the covers, which we will frame, as for the music. Can’t wait to spin some tunes when we get home!

I love bookstores second to none so imagine my excitement to not only find the original bookstore featured in the movie, Notting Hill, but we also found a great sale at another bookstore.  Picking up a “Royal Snap” very British card game, I now have a plan to play cards with Mia next time we go to Boise.  “Albie and the Space Rocket” was another purchase.  “It seems like just another ordinary night to Albie until he wakes up to find…penguins stealing the furniture, moose tangoing in the toilet and zebras asleep in the kitchen cupboard.  But who has left a trail of baked beans?”  Can’t wait to read this silly tale of adventure to Mia!  Of course, I’ll have to explain what a “bloke” is and so on.  Love those British terms especially “cheeky”.   I got Thom “From Churchill’s War Rooms” as he plans to visit the actual war rooms while I am working this week.  Booorrring! He knows that would not be at the top of my “go do” list so off he goes by himself.   Yet another bookstore we stumbled on wasn’t open but we read the sign by the door which shared that this shop was the inspiration for the travel bookshop featured in the movie.WP_20170422_19_16_40_Pro

Finally reaching Portobello Market, we navigated the crowds to find Mary’s Living and Giving, a thrift store that benefits Save The Children.  I had read about this amazing shop and it did not disappoint.  From Kate Spade to DVF, there were bargains galore and a friendly clerk to assist.  I’ve decided to start a new tradition and get Hannah vintage fashion wherever I travel and this time she’ll be gaining a black sheath with fringe and zipper treatment.  Super cheeky and all proceeds to a worthy cause!

Around the corner, we found another vinyl store, Rough Trade, where we browsed until we were informed that closing time was upon us so basically, “GET OUT!” Now dark, we started our long journey home.  Walking in front of a group of millennials at one point, we chuckled at their conversation discussing a game they like to play in the pubs called, “Daddy or Sugar Daddy?” asking women with older companions to share the truth.  Wonder how many cocktails they get thrown in their faces while playing this cute game.  I’m betting quite a few.

At one point along a lonely, creepy stretch of road, I was ready to try to hail a cab.  My back hurt, my feet ached and I was a little bit scared.  “Princess Snowflake get your ass moving” was my compassionate husband’s response to that idea.  Hitting 11 miles on my overworked Fitbit, we finally arrived back at St. Ermin’s.  Time for an adult beverage.  Cheers!

B Day in London

B Day was today in London with Theresa May cutting Britain loose from the European Union.  Thom and I had experienced a celebration of the EU in Munich last Sunday and now we were on hand to witness this historic Brexit moment in London.  Two sides of an important issue affecting so many people.

We walked across the Westminster Bridge one week after the terrorist attack and thanked the Muslims who were peacefully standing by the memorials and advocating love and unity.  Right on!  Later in the day, the police blocked off the bridge and marched in solidarity to show support for their officer who died in the attack.

We walked by Big Ben to see all the news teams who had taken over a local park to broadcast.  With Parliament across the street. it made for a good backdrop for the news personalities to discuss B Day.  Back at the hotel after 20,000+ steps (9 miles) of walking all over London on my only day off here before I head to work tomorrow, it was fun to watch the news broadcasts from where we had just been.

All the news shows are discussing Brexit and the effect it will have on London and the EU.  There seems to be so much uncertainty and confusion.  Of course, there were protestors making a statement on our crazy POTUS too-it is all one tangled mess.  Seems like our leaders could get their act together and actually take care of their citizens but people here are shaking their heads in dismay just like we are in the US.  What.  The.  Hell.