Category Archives: Travel articles

Amba Hotel Charing Cross: calm behind commuter chaos

No-one would ever call Charing Cross station an oasis of calm. Yet right in the heart of the daily maelstrom of commuter traffic which swirls through one of London’s biggest railway stations, the Amba Hotel Charing Cross is surprisingly quiet. And spacious. And plush.

In fact it turned out to be generally much nicer than I’d expected when I turned up at Charing Cross station in the middle of rush hour.

amba hotel charing cross
Amba Hotel Charing Cross is directly above Charing Cross station

I was offered a free glass of fizz (or juice) as I checked in, which was a nice touch, and then as I left the smart but small lobby, was surprised by the wide corridors and the six-storey sweeping staircase which brought a more genteel age of travel to mind.

Continue reading Amba Hotel Charing Cross: calm behind commuter chaos

The Queen launches P&O Cruises new ship Britannia

The day was bright and sunny for Her Majesty and Prince Philip as the Royal party arrived to launch P&O Cruises new ship Britannia last Tuesday, a welcome change from the drizzle and rain of the previous day.

The Queen launches P&O Cruises new ship Britannia
Awaiting The Queen’s arrival

Before the official naming ceremony took place though, the seated guests (thoughtfully supplied with hand warmers and mugs of hot spiced cordial) were treated to some acrobatic ‘zorbing’, the exuberant Red Hot Chilli Pipers and the Bands of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines and The Irish Guards.

There was a brief speech from David Dingle, chairman of P&O Cruises’s parent company Carnival, a prayer from the Bishop of Southampton, and then the invitation for the Queen to name Britannia from Captain Paul Brown, with proceedings ably and entertainingly MC’d by comedian Rob Brydon.

The sparkling wine from Wiston vineyard in West Sussex was ready to go...
The sparkling wine from Wiston vineyard in West Sussex was ready to go…

The Nebuchadnezzar of sparkling wine from the Wiston vineyard in West Sussex looked as if it were travelling worryingly slowly down the wire towards the ship once Her Majesty had pushed the launch button, but in the end it broke on the side with a emphatic smash. Continue reading The Queen launches P&O Cruises new ship Britannia

Cheval Residences serviced apartments, a home rather than a hotel

For frequent travellers who find hotels increasingly soulless – or just miss being able to cook dinner – there is another option: the serviced apartment.

Rather than having to inhabit just one room and go out for meals, the appeal of serviced apartments is often the extra space – such as a separate living room and kitchen – plus the security of a reception, a daily maid service, a central location and being able to stay there for the night, a week, or months and even years at a time.

cheval residences serviced apartments in london
The view of the rest of the apartments from my (pretty high up) balcony

Judging by the apartment I stayed in, one of Cheval Residences serviced apartments in London, which was just behind Gloucester Road tube station, an added benefit was that the place was immaculate. It was like being given my very own luxury flat in which I could totally make myself at home, forgetting that my own rather shabby flat was just a few miles away. Continue reading Cheval Residences serviced apartments, a home rather than a hotel

First glimpse of Britannia, P&O Cruises brand new cruise ship

It cost more than £520 million to build, weighs 141,000 tons and will carry more than 3,600 passengers. And this Friday Britannia, P&O Cruises brand new cruise ship, will be making her way from the Fincantieri shipyard in Trieste, Italy, to her new home in Southampton, ahead of the official launch ceremony on March 10th.

Britannia P&O Cruises
Britannia is P&O Cruises’ largest cruise ship and sets sail for England on Friday

Journalists and travel agents were given a sneak preview last weekend, including a tour round the vessel guided by Britannia’s Captain Paul Brown.

P&O Cruises chairman David Dingle and chief executive David Noyes were part of our group, as were P&O’s new ‘food heroes’ Olly Smith, Eric Lanlard and Charlie Turnbull, respectively in charge of the wine, cakes and cheese offering on the ship.

Britannia P&O Cruises
It was a rainy Sunday morning but Britannia was still an impressive sight

The rainy day didn’t detract from the impressive sight of Britannia, P&O’s largest cruise ship to date, which will boost P&O’s passenger capacity by 24 per cent.  At 1.082 ft long, and with 15 passenger decks, she displays the world’s largest Union Flag on her bows (94 metres long) and she was pretty impressive on the inside too. Continue reading First glimpse of Britannia, P&O Cruises brand new cruise ship

Fifty Shades of Grey review: Blue Steel and an Ikea Room of Pain

First, the good points about Fifty Shades of Grey, the film which has been greeted with massive under-enthusiasm by the critics (but which hasn’t stopped it breaking box-office records, unsurprisingly given the books’ massive fanbase).

Dakota Johnson, who plays Anastasia Steele, is actually rather good in a difficult role in which she has to be sexy, innocent, vulnerable, feisty, a bit of a drip and a stubborn sex kitten all at the same time, no easy task.

fifty shades of grey film review
Wide-eyed ingenue turned sex kitten meets the Blue Steel gaze of Mr Grey…

When she first pulls her unbrushed hair into a ponytail we instantly know she is playing the Anne Hathaway role in A Devil Wears Prada – attractive Hollywood actress attempts to look like ‘a normal person’ by wearing some frumpy clothes and not paying enough attention to her hair – but she somehow makes this and even the constant lip-biting (a key plot point in the book) not too irritating. She is the easiest woman in the world to turn on though – just a neck-nibble or rib-kiss is enough to have her writhing in ecstasy, but that’s probably just as well, as sadly the big let down of the film is Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey.

Again, it can’t be easy to play such a cliche-ridden character – he’s a billionaire! he’s mysterious! he’s had a bad childhood but doesn’t  want to talk about it! he’s a businessman who conducts deals from the top of a phallic skyscraper and barks business-like things into his phone like ‘They’ve got just 24 hours to decide’ and ‘Get the plane ready, I’ll be there in 30 minutes’ – but Jamie sadly, cannot act at all.

fifty shades of grey film review
Oh my, that’s a rather big chopper you’ve got there Mr Grey…

He clenches his jaw, he shows us his ‘Blue Steel’ glare as often as he can, but in spite of how many times he tells Anastasia things like ‘I want to f*ck you into next week’ you never ever feel he’s actually horny at all. He takes his top off (hurrah!) but does so in the matter of fact manner he’d use to strip at the gym (boo) and never, ever convinces us that he’s full of desire. At one point he is gently stroking Ana with his stiff wand (not a euphemism) and the peeved, perplexed, slightly nerdish expression on his face reminded me of Rimmer (again, not a euphemism) in Red Dwarf. This is not an attractive look.

fifty shades of grey film review
This pencil gets sucked an awful lot…

Neither character is served well by a script and set-design which served to lay bare the daftness of the plot. Christian’s office is staffed entirely with Aryan supermodels who swish around as if auditioning for an updated version of Robert Palmer’s Addicted to Love video [I’m assuming equal-right legislation doesn’t apply in Seattle: ‘Receptionist wanted: must be blonde, stick thin and you will be fired when you reach 30].

fifty shades of grey film review
Christian is rather annoyed that the guy next door has a bigger one than his

Some lines are just embarrassing. The supposedly sophisticated Mr Grey makes a right twonk of himself with the simple task of ordering a drink. He faffs on for ages: ‘I’d like a gin and tonic please, Hendricks or Bombay Sapphire. Cucumber with the Hendricks, or lime with Bombay Sapphire.’ I expected the waiter to slap himself on the forehead and shout ‘No shit, Sherlock, everyone knows that’s how Hendricks is served, Mr Big Shot!’ Was this supposed to show how cool Christian was or just a load of product placement? Either way, it was irrelevant as we never even saw him drink the thing, we were too busy off in a glider. He also can’t say his admittedly terrible line ‘Laters baby’ without sounding like someone’s embarrasing Dad – and he actually does this twice, an absolute passion-killer.

fifty shades of grey film review
Love in an elevator…this was possibly the only scene where you felt he might actually fancy Anastasia

Some of the best bits of the book seemed completely missed out – there was a lot more shagging in cars, I remember, which would have been fun – and dinner at his parents would have been far spicier if she was taunting Christian by not wearing her underwear as in the book (it was hinted at, but then forgotten altogether) and there were several pointless sequences such as dancing in his penthouse flat, and flying not once but twice (helicopter and that post G&T glider). And the famed Red Room of Pain looked way too new to have seen much action: it was as if he’d gone out and ordered a ‘build your own BDSM chamber’ kit from Ikea and never actually used it.

So for the inevitable sequel, can I politely suggest more lust, more desire, more sweat and less jaw-clenching? Jamie looks good – he’s just not hot.