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Review: Ocean Liners – Speed and Style at Victoria and Albert Museum

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Bed and sink unit from the first-class cabin of the Mauretania, made in 1906-1907

Long before planes dominated international travel, cruise liners were the way to go abroad. Throughout the 19th century and early 20th century, huge swathes of Europeans crossed the Atlantic to start a new life or explore the Americas. Today, the cruise liner is stereotypically associated with pensioners on holiday and has been getting a bad rap in recent years for the ‘negative’ tourism it brings to port cities such as Venice, Barcelona or Dubrovnik. While current cruise liners are apparently very comfortable and have all the mod cons, we don’t quite associate them with the glamour they had in yesteryear. A current exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum delves into their history, starting as far back as Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Eastern in 1857, which revolutionised boat transport.

Honour and Glory crowning Time, from the Olympic (1910), the Titanic’s sister ship

The exhibition kicks off with the advertising – with posters, brochures and flyers showcasing famous liners such as the Normandie, Olympic, Titanic and Mauretania. Like a would-be passenger of the time, this is usually the first impression you would have of a liner before seeing it in the flesh. The dozens of shipping companies in the 19th and early 20th century were incredibly competitive. New liners always tried to boast some new feature the others didn’t have, with the Titanic’s claim to being unsinkable proving horrifically untrue.

However, as in real-life for travellers, the advertising is simply a warm-up. We are then introduced to the first of 200 pieces of artefacts from cruise liners gone by, including furniture, uniforms, art work, film footage, panelling and more. As someone who has long been interested in the Titanic’s history beyond the film, it was amazing to see the ‘Honour and Glory crowning Time’ clock panel from the RMS Olympic – Titanic’s sister ship. Fans of the 1998 film will remember this was faithfully recreated as the meeting place for Jack and Rose on the grand staircase. The exhibition also features two artefacts from the Titanic – a deckchair and a panel from the first class lounge rescued from the north Atlantic after the ship went down in April 1912. The wooden panel is displayed at the end of the exhibition appearing to float at sea, just how it was found over 100 years ago. From around the same time period is furniture from the RMS Mauretania (1906). Run by Cunard, it was the world’s largest ship until it was overcome by the Olympic in 1911. On show is a bed from first-class cabin C23, designed by workers at the Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson shipyard at Wallsend Tyne and Wear.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018

Mannequins in swimsuits from the mid 20th century

One liner that often appears throughout the exhibition is the Normandie, launched in 1935 by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. Although not a huge commercial success, she is widely labelled as one of the greatest liners ever due to her stunning design and interiors and was the largest and fastest when she entered service. An Art Deco lacquer panel, designed by Jean Dunand for the first-class smoking room, is stunning and huge. Going back two decades is another example of a striking Gallic liner by the same company, the SS France (1910). The doors and panelling from the embarkation hall and communication gallery from around 1912 are joined by two armchairs from the first class dining room and they give you a good understanding of why the ship was nicknamed ‘the Versailles of the Atlantic’. However, as the exhibition progresses through the decades, the furniture and decoration rather deteriorates into more simple and bland designs by the 1950s and the 1960s. Looking back over 150 years of mass transit, it’s clear the Victorians and inter-war period were clearly leading the way in terms of style. Read the rest of this entry

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Ideas for Valentine’s Day… or just a romantic date in London

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Cheers to us! Celebrate Valentine’s Day with a loved one

February 14th is fast approaching and we all know what that means… the sudden urge [or pressure ;-)] to put some romance into your relationship and make a song and dance about the fact you’re in love. Now, here at MOAMG, we believe romance should be a regular occurrence in a relationship, not just for one commercialised day a year. Nevertheless, there should never be an excuse to not be romantic on the 14th as millions of couples across the world will be doing just so.

I’ve been to Paris, Venice, Santorini and many other supposed ‘cities of romance’, but I have to say, London is incredibly romantic. It can be difficult to find yourself in an amorous mood in a city you may associate with going to work, but believe me, there are so many great places to visit with your loved one. So if you’re stuck for some ideas on what to do on Valentine’s Day, here’s a few ideas both for on the day… or if you’re organising a date at any time of year. (NB. If any require booking, obviously I would recommend booking asap due to the Valentine’s Day surge in bookings).

For a guide to what’s on in London this Valentine’s Day 2016, click here.

  • Dinner cruise on the Thames

As I have blogged about previously, cruising down the Thames is a great way to see the city from a different perspective. However, at night, the city takes on a whole different look with the millions of twinkling lights and lit-up landmarks. Several companies offer dinner cruises down the Thames so you can eat, drink and be entertained while checking out the beautiful sights of London. ThamesDinnerCruise.co.uk are offering different Valentine’s Day packages depending on what you want, ranging from £37.50 to £170. Bateaux London includes food, drink and entertainment, with their Valentine’s Day packages ranging from £125-£160. For something a little different the PS Dixie Queen is a paddle steamer offering a three-hour cruise including dinner, drinks and live band, with prices ranging from £78 to £125. City Cruises, one of the most popular Thames tour companies, are offering a Valentine’s Cruise with three-course meal and live music (£100-£110) or a Valentine’s Party for those who feel like shaking their tail feather (£30 per couple).

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Tower Bridge opening to let the PS Dixie Queen through

  • Walk along the Southbank

During the day, the Southbank can be a bit overwhelmed with tourists. However in the evening, the pace really changes and with the city lit up and many options to stop off for a drink or something to eat, it’s a nice place to stroll along. You could even do a pub crawl. Either start at Westminster or London Bridge – or if you have more time on your hands start or end at Tower Bridge, where there are lots of riverside restaurants and bars. Many of them include a great view and are listed on MOAMG’s Guide to London Restaurants with a View on Urbanspoon.

  • Talk to the animals at London Zoo

In recent years, London Zoo has become a popular hotspot with couples for dates. In the summer, London Zoo Lates is a great date because it’s adults-only. However if you have the day off on Valentine’s Day or are celebrating it at the weekend, the zoo is open from 10am-4pm. On the 14th, tickets are £20pp, going up to £22.50pp on 16th February onwards. For more information, visit the London Zoo website.

  • Hold hands for some ice skating

    © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

    Mingle with giraffes at London Zoo

Although the open air ice rinks of Christmas are mostly closed, there’s still plenty of rinks in the capital in operation throughout the year. Alexandra Palace in North London is open all year round and costs between £7.50-£9. Queensway rink in West London also has a bowling alley in the same building and is open daily all year round. Price: £10.50. Planet Ice in Brixton includes themed parties in the evening, with prices starting from £5-£9. Broadgate ice rink near Liverpool Street is one of the few open-air ice rinks open past New Year’s and closes 24th February 2013.

  • Fun, frolics and flirting at the Trocadero

Yes, going to the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus may sound insane to some of you, but many couples enjoy gaming together. The entertainment complex features 5D World virtual reality experience, Star Command Laser Tag, Golden Nugget Casino, a Cineworld cinema, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum or the opportunity to dress up in historical clothing for a goofy photoshoot. When you get hungry or thirsty, there’s Yo! Sushi, Ed’s Easy Diner, Rainforest Cafe and Piccadilly Institute. For more information, visit the Trocadero website.

  • Museum Lates

Many people can find large school groups of children or buses full of tourists a tad overwhelming during the day, so lots of the capital’s museum host special late nights, usually monthly, for adults-only activities. As well as a chance to see the museum exhibits when it’s less busy, there is usually music, food and drink, as well as other fun activities. Sometimes there are themed evenings where guests are invited to dress up. Victoria & Albert Museum and Natural History Museum host their late nights on the last Friday of every month, Science Museum not so often so check their website for details, National Portrait Gallery is open until 9pm on Valentine’s Day (and every Thursday and Friday) and  the Wellcome Collection gallery in Euston Road is open until 10pm on Valentine’s Day (and every Thursday), with current exhibition Death: A Self-Portrait proving popular. The Design Museum hosts occasional ‘Design Overtime’ nights every few months. The Museum of London and Museum Of London Docklands host regular late-night events, and for this Valentine’s Day will be hosting a 1920s-themed evening at the City museum, with absinthe, cabaret and Charleston lessons on offer. Lates at Tate Britain take place on Fridays every few months including talks, drinks and performances, while the British Museum is open until 8.30pm every Friday.

  • Cocktails in a unique or lavish setting
Cocktails © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Cocktails with a view at the Oxo Tower

There are tons of bars serving cocktails around the capital, but some are more special than others. If you want a good view, I recommend booking a table (or you can just walk in if you’re willing to take a risk there will be availability) at Oxo Tower on the Southbank, Galvin at Windows bar at the top of the Park Lane Hilton, Vertigo champagne bar at Tower 42 in the City, Vista rooftop bar overlooking Trafalgar Square (only open from April to September for the summer season) at the Trafalgar Hotel or the Rooftop bar at the Sanctum Soho Hotel. Other great bars without the views, but with stunning interiors include the Long Bar at the Sanderson Hotel in Fitzrovia, the Booking Office restaurant and bar at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, the Art Deco Beaufort Bar at The Savoy off The Strand, or the Cocktail Lounge at the Zetter Townhouse in Clerkenwell. If you don’t mind swapping cocktails for wine, then check out the unique, old ‘cave’ at Gordon’s Wine Bar near Embankment and Charing Cross tube, the oldest wine bar in London. The Queen Of Hoxton in Shoreditch is hosting their pop-up winter venue WigWamBam on their rooftop from end of October 2012 until end of March 2013, which features a wigwam with roasting fires, the chance to toast marshmallows and drink alcoholic hot chocolates. However, one of the capital’s most unusual bars has to be Cellar Door – a converted Victorian underground public toilet at Aldwych, which feature live acts from 9pm each evening. Click here for Metro Girl’s review of Cellar Door.

  • Climb over the roof of the O2

For those couples who want a bit of adventure in their life, climbing up and over the roof of the O2 in Greenwich is perfect. Open all year round, Up At The O2 offers 360 degree views of the city. Tickets start from £22, but O2 Priority customers can get discounts. Metro Girl went in the summer and absolutely loved it. Here’s our review.

  • Take a boat trip through Little Venice

The Thames isn’t the only waterway in London – the canals of the North side of the centre are particularly lovely. Departing from Little Venice or Camden Lock, you can ride along checking out the stunning regency architecture of the area’s townhouses, go through the dark Maida Vale tunnel and either start or end your journey at the Camden markets. In the winter (November to March), the trips only run on weekends, but are daily through the summer season (April to September). Tickets are £7.20 one way or £10.30 return. For more information, visit the Waterbus website. After your trip, stop by The Bridge House for a pint or some food.

  • Or here’s some old favourites if you’re not feeling too imaginative…

Visit the official TKTS booth in Leicester Square to get up to half-price tickets for West End shows for that day. Book a romantic meal for two through TopTable. If you’re planning on going to the cinema, I highly recommend staying local to wherever you live in the capital as the venues in the West End are highly overpriced (e.g. Vue West End £13.90, Empire Leicester Square £12.95-£15.95, Odeon Leicester Square £13-£22).


For listings of what’s else is going on in London over Valentine’s Day, read MOAMG’s Guide to what’s on in London in February 2013