So….Cruise vs DIY?

So did we do it better than taking a cruise?

Well, if you take out having to lug our suitcases everywhere, on and off trains, to and from airports and up and down all the steps we ended up having to navigate, then we obviously would have had a better time of it on a cruise.

BUT, we were able to immerse ourselves a lot more in the cities we stayed in and this, to me, is invaluable.  We were under no time constraints when it came to most of the things we wanted to see and do (unless it was those imposed by ourselves when we chose to do guided tours).  It was particularly lovely in spots like Venice and Capri to enjoy the place once all the day trippers had left.  We ate what we wanted, where we wanted and when we wanted.  We could stop when and where we wanted.  We got to use all sorts of public transport and we got out of the cities too.  We saw so many more countries and sights on our itinerary than if we had been on a cruise.  And there’s nothing like staying in a place for a few nights to get into its groove.

I loved the fresh markets we came across – being able to buy and cook with fresh local produce was a great experience, not to mention being able to interact with the locals.

I’m not saying don’t go on a cruise, they definitely have their place and there are people who absolutely adore cruising, but for us and the way we travel, d.i.y is the way to go.  Maybe just with less luggage next time….

The main thing I learnt out of this trip was that while it was great to tick off some of the major icons of the world, I actually much prefer going to a place that is quieter and where you can appreciate it for being itself.  I much preferred Barcelona and Lisbon over Paris and Florence.  Those flag carrying big tour groups were so annoying and I got so sick of being harrassed by people trying to hawk me stuff whenever I came near a popular sight.  I hated having to line up for everything, although to be honest, we didn’t have to do very much of that, we just moved on if there was a huge queue.

Where would I go back to?  Lisbon and Barcelona.  For sure.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to my Laos trip in November.  Even more so, because I know it will be a much more intimate experience.

If you’re interested in any of the facts from our trip, here they are:

We stayed with:

Parkroyal on Pickering, Chinatown/CBD, Singapore

Citadines La Ramblas, La Ramblas, Barcelona

Hotel Convento do Salvador, Alfama, Lisbon

Villa Montmartre, Montmartre, Paris

Citadines Lyon Presquile, Lyon

Chateau de Trigance, Trigance

Private Residence (AirBNB), Vieille Ville, Nice

Locanda Ca’Amadi, Cannaregio,Venice

Villa Il Mosaico, Florence

B&B Antico Monastero di Anacapri, Anacapri, Capri

Casa Di Eddy, Termini Station, Rome

We flew with:

Singapore Airlines Perth to Barcelona and from Rome to Perth

TAP Airlines from Barcelona to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Paris

HOP Airlines from Nice to Venice

We took trains between all other cities, a waterbus in Venice and the high speed ferry between Naples and Capri

We drove with:

Sixt (between Aix en Provence and Nice)

We bought these city cards to help save us money – they included free public transport:

Lyon City Card

Lisboa Card

Roma Pass

We used these tour companies (everything else we did ourselves):

Urban Adventures in Barcelona (Tapas Walking Tour)

France Tourisme in Paris (Versailles)

Tour Azur in Nice (Monaco Evening Trip)

Florencetown in Florence (Pizza and Gelato Making)

Dark Rome in Rome (Vatican Tour)

Coop Culture in Rome (Domus Aurea)

If you have any questions about our trip though, please ask me!

Brunch and beauty

The road leading up to and around where Dempsey Hill is today, was named after General Sir Miles Christopher Dempsey. Dempsey had a decorated military career and earned a reputation for being an expert in combined operations. During 1945 he was the Commander in Chief of ALFSEA (the Allied Land Forces of South East Asia) and General Officer Commanding the Malaya Command headquartered in Singapore. Despite this incredible career, Dempsey is relatively unknown.

Amongst the grounds of Dempsey you will find the St George’s Church (still in use), the Tanglin Barracks (where’ll you find House), Ebenezer Chapel (which now houses the White Rabbit –go now!), the old Tanglin Military Hospital (houses Loewen by Dempsey Hill) and the Singapore Civil Service Sports Council’s Dempsey Clubhouse (houses Sam’s Curry).

The Tanglin Barracks originally consisted of thatched attap roofs with square columns, incorporating plenty of windows and doorways to let in as much fresh air as possible. Raised wooden floors and plank walls were used to keep the barracks breezy and went some way to help the English regiment combat the tropical heat, while open verandahs wrapped around each building.

My last visit was back on New Year’s Day 2014, our party of four nursing quite the collection of headaches from the previous nights’ revelry. Nevertheless, we LOVED the food. We LOVED the peace and quiet of Dempsey even better and it has become another one of those places I can’t wait to return to when I’m looking for a bit of quiet after the buzz of the city.

So when we wanted somewhere to have a nice relaxing brunch, House certainly came straight to mind.

I ordered the Asian sliders, a detox juice and shared and slice of pandan cake and then it was on to Stage 2 of Operation Relaxation – to get our nails ‘did’. And my favourite place to do that in Singapore is OPI at the Forum Shopping Centre. The lovely girls here buff, polish, trim and manicure your hands and feet to perfection and ALWAYS leave me feeling like with have a new pair of mitts. The hard thing is working out what colour to choose…. But luckily, OPI has put out a collection which suits our needs perfectly and made choosing a colour so much easier – you’ll have to keep reading to find out what we mean and what colours we ended up choosing.

Just about every time I am in town, the first thing on my list is a trip to this salon. Situated at the ION Orchard end of Orchard Road, in a small shopping centre mostly frequented by expat housewives and their children, this little salon offers brilliant quality mani / pedi services, all using my favourite OPI nail polish. My Mum and my besties have all been willingly dragged here at some point, and from the point onwards, always want to come back.

Jaclynne has been working here since I started coming and I am always so grateful for the amazing job she and her team do. My nails are perfectly shaped, cuticles massaged, any excess skin around my nails is trimmed, dry skin is buffed off, my arms and legs are exfoliated, my hands and feet soaked in paraffin wax coming out baby bottom smooth and of course, my colour is expertly applied.

Thank you OPI at the Forum for making me feel a million dollars!

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For our last evening in Singapore, we didn’t want to venture far, so it’s a good thing we are down the road from the Chinatown Food Street.

Chinatown Food Street underwent a big renovation a couple of years ago, ‘sanitising’ the area (perhaps a little too much for the liking of some), and a large overhead roof was added to make the area all season proof – protection from the sun and rain. There are cute little carts lined up along the street selling all sorts of amazing Chinese and local cuisine – popiah, char kuay teow, barbecued stingray – just take your pick, grab a table and tuck in.

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At around 10.30pm we jump into a taxi and make our way to the airport for the first leg of our European adventure.

Always sad to leave my Singapore, but you should see what we’ve got lined up next!

Tulipmania

Back when GBTB was built, I made a visit with two of my besties and we checked out one of the conservatories. It was quite expensive at the time if I remember rightly, so we made the decision to go inside only one of them. I’m quite happy then at the request of dear Mum to check out both of them today.

First up is the Flower Dome, which contains plants and flowers from around the world.  The Tulipmania floral display is currently on show in this dome.  These Tulips are set against a Persian style backdrop where you can learn about the flowers origins in the ancient Ottoman empire (now Turkey) where they were first cultivated and its significance in arts and culture. The colours are just stunning – beautiful cremes against vibrant oranges, rich velvety textures to frilly edges beauties.

The rest of the garden on display is equally as impressive, one of my favourite parts being this incredible sculpture (of which there are many hiding throughout the domes)…

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And of course I can never resist a cherry blossom…

IMG_2419The Cloud Forest is filled with plants from tropical highland locations, the centrepiece of which is a massive mountain waterfall, around which spirals a suspended walkway, allowing you to glimpse the garden from above – just as if you were walking in the clouds.

Leaving the gardens behind via the little garden shuttle bus, its time to make our way to shopping paradise – Orchard Road.   Not that we have shopping on our minds.

On my last trip to Singapore, I found myself frantically tracking down the ice cream uncles I had seen lining Orchard Road on umpteen trips before, finally ready to try this mysterious ice cream bread sandwich. And once I had, I wondered (as you usually do) why the heck I had waited so long to do so. So this visit, it’s definitely on the list again and I’m going to see if I can tempt Mum into trying it too – especially after her brave foray into Black Sesame Ice Cream yesterday.  The deal is you can have a normal flavoured ice cream only if you have it in bread.  Otherwise you go the safe option with the wafer – you need to try red bean or sweet corn or the like.  She picks the fruit tingle with the bread and I try the yam flavoured ice cream.  The yam flavour is kind of like a watered down blueberry flavour almost – nice.

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With the sightseeing and food tasting out of the way, it’s time to head for those bird cage cabanas at the hotel to relax by the pool.  The water was chilly but there was incentive in making it to the edge of the infinity pool for a snapshot!  And chillin in the cabana with a beer was really nice.

Chijmes is one of my favourite places in Singapore. I just love the beautifully restored colonial buildings with restaurants pouring into the outdoors, alongside perfectly manicured lawns and hedges and twinkling fairy lights. In a busy city like this, spaces with the ability to make you forget the hustle and bustle are worth a million. We’ll check out another one tomorrow, but Chijmes is just absolutely beautiful.

This is Mum’s first time to Chijmes and I can’t wait to show her and she is as bewitched as me.  There are different cuisines and types of restaurant on offer from Japanese to Western and from pub dining to elegant restaurant settings.  Even just coming here for a sneaky drink is a great way to end the day.

We decided on Wharf Oyster Restaurant, which also did a variety of fish, burgers and other dishes, so it’s a great choice even if you are not a fan of seafood like Mum.  The service was prompt and very good and the food was great too – especially the Black Sesame Brulee.  OMG I’ve never tasted anything so luxurious – if you get the chance it’s something not to miss.

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To learn about the history of Chijmes, check out my earlier post here.

 

 

 

De-stressing on the Little Red Dot

I LOVE Singapore, as you know, and so does Mum, so we can’t wait to start our trip off here, getting pampered and relaxed to start our holiday off on the right foot. Stepping out of Changi Airport into the early morning heat (it has been an abnormally humid week for this time of the year), we grab a taxi, load our bags in the boot, and are soon driving along East Coast Parkway towards the city. Arriving at the financial district, the roads are busy with commuters heading to their offices, ready to start their day.  In the near distance, we can see our hotel emerging, and our sense of excitement begins to build.

We have been eyeing off the Parkroyal on Pickering for years now – in fact, ever since we saw it magically arrive on the little red dot known as Singapore. ‘One day’, we thought, ‘one day we’ll stay there’. And just like magic, a good rate appeared on Agoda and that day has now come….

The Parkroyal on Pickering is a ‘green’ hotel – in more ways than one. It was the first eco-friendly hotel in Singapore – check this out:

  • there are 15,000m2 of sky gardens at the Parkroyal on Pickering;
  • it features zero energy sky gardens;
  • light, motion and rain sensors regulate the use of precious resources;
  • 32.5 Olympic sized swimming pools are saved through water conservation every year; and
  • their annual energy savings could power 680 homes!

But that doesn’t mean that it’s all heart and no soul, because this hotel does ‘green’ very well. Apart from the super lush greenery sprouting from numerous floors of the hotel on the outside, there are plants sprouting from the walls on the inside!

But we can’t check in yet, so you’ll just have to follow us around for the day, until we can give you more ‘goss’ on the hotel later.

We arrived in Singapore early this morning – just after 6am to be exact – and jumped into a taxi straight away to partake of one of our favourite things to do on our trips – a visit to SO Spa (previously Spa Botanica). Normally we would leave a stopover in Singapore for a relaxing wind-down at the end of a big trip, but because we had already booked Singapore in when Scenic cancelled on us for the second time, we had to start with it at the beginning. And you know what, when we looked at it – we thought, well at least we’ll have the opportunity to relax beforehand so that we are nice and chilled for our trip BEFORE we start this time – all the better to make the most of the things we love doing best on the little red dot.

SO (haha) here we are, back amongst the peacocks and the mud pools, ready to partake in some amazing massage treatments to kick off our amazing holiday.

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Mum chose the Instant Glow Green Tea Facial, I decided on the Gotu Kola and Walnut Body Scrub and we both went in for a Shoulder and Scalp Massage (check out my greasy hair afterwards down below!).  I am very close to sleep during the appointment, but I promise there was no snoring.

Afterwards, we sit in the small balcony room sipping a cup of ginger tea before changing into our bathers and heading for the gardens outside where you can head to the mud bath or take a dip in the float pool. What’s so good about lathering your skin up with a thick layer of goopy brown mud and letting it bake onto your skin before rinsing it all off? Well people have been aware of the healing powers of mud for thousands of years. Mud has anti-inflammatory properties so soaking in it can relieve muscle aches and pains. The minerals in the mud can also have a soothing effect on your skin. One you can feel straight away – your skin kind of tingles and feels fresh and alive. That’s the best way I can explain it, other than to say, just come here and try it for yourself!

At the float pool, the water splashes onto you from the rock face waterfall above, frangipani trees surrounding you.  Floating around in this pool is certainly not a dull way to spend the day, and any cares or worries we may have had just 12 hours ago are certainly not making an appearance here.

Then, inside for a bit of whirlpool action before washing our hair under the shower, drying our bathers in the spinner and moving on. Because you know, well, you can’t stay here all day.

Relaxed to the max, we jump about the island bus and head for Siloso beach to continue with the chilled out vibe, with a spot of lunch and the imbibing of cocktails.  It is peaceful sitting here, but looking out to sea we can see a raincloud swiftly moving across the waters – I think the Singapore afternoon shower is on its way.  We make our way back to our hotel just as the heavens open.

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Coastes Beach Bar, Sentosa

We finally make it back to our hotel, eager to explore every inch of this incredible place, hoping that it matches all of our long held expectations.  I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

I can’t wait to check out that infinity pool later!

The chilling keeps rolling well into the evening as we make our way to Clarke Quay for some music and dinner. Mum LOVES Clarke Quay. I think it’s touristy and overpriced and would usually prefer to dine elsewhere. That said, I’ve had some great evenings here, and No. 1 – it’s close to our hotel, No. 2 – this trip is about compromise for this solo traveller.

We make the rounds of the restaurants checking out each of their menu displays to see what takes our fancy before settling on Warehouse, where there’s a great little band playing.  One duck pizza and a cocktail later, it’s time to head back to the hotel and get some proper rest (but not before getting Mum to try the black sesame icecream over at Azabu’s!)

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Clarke Quay

The Delights of Ice Cream in Bread

My time in Singapore is almost at an end again.  I have most of today to finish off my list of must do’s.  Of course, there are still things I didn’t get to do and plenty more inspiration for next time.  I still haven’t made it to Pulau Ubin (grrr) and I would love to stay in a totally new location again next time – more residential if possible or even out as far as Changi.  Who knows – I’ll always be back, so there’s no hurry.

I have been to Tiong Bahru before, but only briefly (for a stop at the Nimble/Knead beauty salon in shipping containers – check it out if you get a chance), so I really wanted the chance to return again and stroll around it’s up and coming streets.

The architecture of Tiong Bahru is art deco and quite different from elsewhere on the island.  I really like its clean lines, which I think have held well against modern times considering it’s one of Singapore’s oldest suburbs.

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The two main streets to consider for funky little cafes and shops are Eng Hoon Street (where you’ll find the fabulous Tiong Bahru Bakery and the Orange Thimble) and Yong Siak Street (where you’ll find cafes like 40 Hands, the Open Door Policy bistro and Books Actually).  But wherever you walk, there’s a nice relaxing treat for your eyes and most likely, your stomach.

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Much, much quieter than Orchard Road or any of the areas in the CBD, Tiong Bahru marches to a different beat and it’s easy to see why there has been a resurgence of people moving back into the suburb.

I definitely look forward to spending more time here from now on.

With only a few hours left before I need to get to the airport, there’s one thing I have got to do with my remaining time – track down one of the ice cream men on Orchard Road so I can try the ice cream in bread.  I have no trouble finding one just outside Wisma Atria – he’s just served up an ice cream to a foreign couple and has now unexpectedly been asked to pose for a photo with one of these strangers.  He looks as though he’s not sure what the heck is going on, he’s just serving ice cream and now he’s going to wind up in someone’s photo album?  He grimaces into the camera before turning back to his cart and looking anxiously around for his next customer.  Which is me.  I’m still not sure about this bread thing, so I’m definitely not going to go with an exotic ice cream flavour.  So I scan the list and think surely ‘Ripple’ would ease the blow in case the bread doesn’t cut it.

I grab my sandwich, exploring the texture and colour of the bread, clamp it down and bite into it – the berry flavour of the ripple ice cream is just gorgeous and the bread is, almost sweet I guess.  Or is it just that I think it’s sweet with those pretty pink and green swirls surrounding the sweet ice cream?

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In any case, it’s really great and I would have no hesitation in making this a must do every time I’m in Singapore.

I’ve enjoyed this (nearly) week in Singapore so much.  It’s been amazing getting to know the other sides of her personality and I can’t wait to see more next time.

So long for now, Singapore!

Eating my way around Singapore

This morning I decide to try the curry puff shop for breakfast.  Swinging past, I grab two – one potato and one chicken.  Biting into the nice soft but crispy (if that’s possible) pastry, I get a glimpse of the goodness inside.  These puffs are great – not too spicy, just right.  Really, it doesn’t seem that you can go wrong with any of the local restaurants on Killiney Road!

Things don’t really get going til about 10am in Singapore – this is when the shops open and most cafe’s as well – so unless you eat local or know where to go it can prove a little difficult if you are someone who likes to eat breakfast early and ends up at a hotel without a restaurant.  Luckily over all my visits to Singapore I have worked out both where the locals eat and where to go for an early Western breakfast.  Killiney Road has been a good spot to stay.

I have a task on my list that I need to complete for my niece Lola, for whom I always buy a new pair of silk pyjamas or nightdress.  When I first started buying them I would get pink or mauve, but now she’s grown to the ripe old age of ten and these girly colours just don’t cut it anymore.  She wants blue.  So off to the Chinatown markets I go for this years pair.  I find a nightdress with beautiful little cherry blossoms across it and my job here is done, so I can sit back with a beer and enjoy a spot of lunch.

The Chinatown Seafood restaurant sits in prime position on the corner of Pagoda and Trennganu Streets in the middle of the markets, it’s bright yellow plastic chairs a beacon for the hungry.  As the name implies, their menu consists of seafood (don’t laugh, I did observe a couple of girls ask the wait staff what they could eat because they don’t eat seafood – wrong restaurant girls).  Their Tiger beers are a great price here – you’ll find them at half the price of any bar in Clarke Quay or at most hotels.  Today I order bamboo clams, just cause I’ve never had them and a friend recommended me to try them.  Flavoured with garlic and spring onions and in a kind of soupy gravy, they were definitely worth a try.  It’s amazing the feeling you get when you try something new and really enjoy it.  Such a gem and something else that is amazing about travelling.

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I wander a few more of the shops and end up down the road at the Central Shopping Centre at Clarke Quay.  I always make it here because my most favourite ice cream at the moment is sold here – black sesame seed.  If you haven’t tried it – you should.  It’s almost got a chocolately flavour about it, but less rich and…well, just try it.  It’s sold at the Azabu Sabo Hokkaido Ice Cream shop on the outside of the shopping centre close to where Clarke Quay and Boat Clarke meet.

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The rain has arrived for the day and it seems kind of heavier.  Although I just ate the banana clams (and the ice cream), I’m still a little hungry.  Pulling up a chair at SQUE, I notice they have pork sliders, so I order one, not realising that one is not just one, but three pork sliders.  You gotta laugh when a glass of prosecco is $17, but you get three sliders for $7.50!

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But anyway, the sliders are so good and they aren’t overly filling and I take my time over my prosecco hoping the rain will stop soon.

It slows to a drizzle, so I walk around to the bus stop and intend to sit on the sightseeing bus for the rest of the afternoon.

And then the rain starts again.  More rain.  Heavier rain.  Sudden rain.  Several of us are on the top level of the bus, cowering under the covered part, with rain pelting us from all sides.  We can’t get up and go downstairs because the bus is moving too fast and the rain is sloshing across the floor from side to side.  By the time we arrive at a stop where we actually have time to move, we are absolutely saturated.  Ew.

Thank goodness the shops along Orchard Road are all linked so you can walk from one to the other without getting wet.  The rest of the afternoon is a washout, but nothing a spot of shopping can’t fix.  Plus I have an appointment at the OPI salon tonight, to get a mani/pedi – my feet in particular deserve a treat after all the walking I’ve done over the last two weeks!

Singaporean Gems

After an early morning trip to the Singapore Tourist Information Centre, I am delighted to find out that due to today’s national holiday (for Deepavali), the Istana – which is the home of Singapore’s Prime Minister – is open to the public.  For a small fee of SGD$2.00, you can wander around the beautiful, lush gardens and up to the Istana’s porch, with all donations going to support a children’s charity.

The expansive lawns are bright green and perfectly manicured and though the long pathway to the Istana is lined by shady trees, they do little to allay today’s humidity.  Beautiful scents waft across the air every now and again welcoming you to the grounds.

The Istana is a grand white building perched a top a sweeping white staircase, which leads onto a large grassed balcony with views back to the city.  The Singaporean flag proudly flying atop its roof.  Today there are lots of activities on for the people and there are masses of families coming through the gates to spend a few hours in this regal setting.

Back outside the Istana, I am melting, when I come across something else that typically melts – ice cream.  I have seen these ice cream vendors many times before, but have shrugged off the thought of trying ice cream wrapped in bread – I mean, why?  Well today, it’s a case of why not.  I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to try the bread yet, but you can also get ice cream sandwiched between a wafer, so I make a compromise.  You can have the wafer, as long as you try an unusual ice cream flavour.  Deal?  Deal.  I scan the list and decide on sweet corn.  Yes, sweet corn.

I take a seat and prepare myself to bite into my sweet corn (eek) ice cream.  Mmmm.  It tastes kind of, well, like sweet corn.  But in an ice cream format and it’s actually not bad.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say I like it because it’s not anything you’d normally eat in an ice cream flavour.  My verdict?  Try it.

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Next I grab a taxi to the Katong/Joo Chiat area of Singapore.  Less than $10, will get you to this suburb filled with brightly painted Peranakan shophouses, so charming you can’t believe it.  Also known as Baba-Nyona’s, the Peranakan Chinese were descendants of Chinese immigrants who arrived in the Malay archipelago and British Malaya (which is now Peninsula Malaysia and Singapore) between the 15th and 17th centuries) – Peranakan meaning ‘local born’.

They have a very rich culture which can be seen in the architecture of the shophouses as well as the food and richly beaded traditional costumes.  Unfortunately as I have arrived fairly early in the day (before 2pm) and on a public holiday, hardly anything is open and I am unable to try any of the awesome Peranakan food.  I guess this area will be marked for a return at some point so I can do just that.

Another short taxi ride away is East Coast Lagoon Food Village.  It’s a hawkers restaurant, where you can pretty much get anything.  From seafood to chicken rice.  And from Indian to Chinese.  All at a great price and with a free view of the sea.  Normally at this time of the afternoon, the place would be fairly quiet, as things don’t get busy til the late afternoon/early evening, but being a public holiday there’s loads of people here.  The trick is to look for the stalls with the longer queues as these are generally good, but each stall also has a rating (A, B, C) which grades their cleanliness and food quality.

Unable to make a decision and after doing about four loops of the village, I end up going for some chicken wings which are supposed to be absolutely amazing (they are) and a cup of sugar cane juice.  The juice is not something I would usually drink, but with the heat today, it’s going down better than beer and bounces nicely off the sauce that accompanies the chicken.  East Coast is not just for eating though there are several places along this stretch where you can do just that.  You can also camp in one of the designated areas, or hire a bike to ride along the coast and enjoy the wind in your hair.  Although it’s on the coast, you don’t swim here because as you can see when you look out towards the horizon, there are loads of tankers and well, the water quality would definitely be debateable.  It’s definitely a nice place to hang out and chill though.

I can’t believe it took me so long to get to either of these places when they are only a short, cheap (compared to Australia anyway) taxi ride away.  I would definitely come back to both of these places in a heart beat.  I guess everything is so close and easy to get to in Singapore, that perhaps you get a little lazy sometimes and forget to venture out into some of the more local treasures.

On my way back to the hotel for a rest, I pass by Teck Kee Tanglin Pau in Killiney Road, which was closed yesterday.  I have read about this place and know that if you pass it by you will be sorry, so knowing I only had a small lunch at East Coast Park, I have plenty of room to try their Char Siew and Big Chicken Pau.  I bite into them and OMG they are good.  So good.  I’d go as far to say the Char Siew is the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve never tried the Big Chicken before but it too is awesome.  This could be a very dangerous place to have around the corner from my hotel.  Oh yum.  Yum, yum, yum.

The public holiday today is to celebrate the Indian Deepavali festival – or the festival of lights.  It’s one of the biggest and brightest of the Indian festivals and lasts a month from mid October to mid November, although the main celebrations tend to last around five days.  Before Deepavali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes and then on the night they dress up in their finest clothes, light lamps and candles inside and outside their homes and participate in family prayers.  Traditional sweets (or mithai) are then exchanged between friends and family.

Tonight, all of Little India is lit up and there are masses of people lining the sidewalks.  It’s even madder than usual and trying to find a spot to dine at a restaurant is crazy, but it’s worth it to see the lights and soak up the atmosphere and see yet another side to Singapore’s multicultural little island.

 

Thongs and Wantons

This morning I packed my bags and checked into my second hotel in Singapore, ready to continue with my explorations – first stop – the Singapore Pinacoteque de Paris, a short walk away.

The Pinacoteque has only been open a few months and I was keen to check it out.  However, there was nothing really on in any of the rooms so basically all there was to visit was a small room on jewellery and carvings from different parts of Asia and a small room of paintings.  Most of the paintings weren’t to my taste and the only few that were, you couldn’t photograph in any case.  I wish I had saved myself the entrance fee as it really wasn’t worth it – in fact, for the little that was on display, they shouldn’t even be charging an entrance fee.

It was just as well that the museum was at Fort Canning because it meant I could have a little bit of a look around.  I hadn’t visited Fort Canning properly – the one time I made it here, was for a Motley Crue concert years ago (full face of makeup, humid weather, rock concert – never going to work well).

Fort Canning was known as Bukit Larangan (the Forbidden Hill) before the British arrived in the 19th century.  It was reserved for Malay royalty and banned to the general populace.  Once they had established Singapore as a trading settlement, the British renamed it Government Hill and Stamford Raffles had his home here, with a view to the harbour, which these days you cannot see.

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In the mid 19th century, the fort was built here – it was the first British built fort in Singapore – and the hill was renamed Fort Canning.  The fort consisted of barracks, officers’ quarters, two magazines (containers for holding supplies of gun cartridges) and a hospital.  The fort was demolished in 1907, never having been used.  However the grounds are a lovely place to walk around today.

Next stop was the National Museum just down the road from Fort Canning.  I should note here that there is a new museum shuttle bus that is free and does a route between the Pinacoteque, the National Museum and SAM (the Singapore Art Museum).  All you have to do is grab a sticker from the information/ticket counter at the first museum and you’re in.

It actually surprised me that I had never been here before – did I not realize it existed?  I’m not sure, but although it wasn’t on my list of things to do this time round, I couldn’t not go when I was right nearby.  Plus it’s a rainy day today, so perfect museum weather.

The museum has several different sections each with different exhibitions about the creation and growth of the little red dot known as Singapore.

It was interesting to see pictures and paintings of Singapore back in the early days before all the land reclaimation and glitzy malls.

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One of the parts of Singapore’s history that always fascinates me is that of it’s World War II days, when the island everyone thought was impregnable, was taken over by the Japanese and even renamed – Syonan, meaning “light of the south”.  It is frightening to think how close the war came to my own country and that such brutality (including to many of our own Australian soldiers) was taking place so close to home.

The museum building itself is a graceful old lady – beautiful colonial architecture with a simple, but stunning stained glass domed roof.  The building was originally the Raffles Library and Museum and was built in 1887, making it Singapore’s oldest museums.

The Singapore Art Museum is my favourite museum in Singapore, mainly because of it’s contemporary themes.  There are usually some offbeat but amazing works in here and I love to check it out whenever I can.

One of the most intriguing displays was this one below.  Walking into a small white room with a high ceiling, shimmery, glittery little squares greet you.  Look closer and inside each little pocket is a blood sample.

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There are some great themes that run through the current exhibitions…

…and some just really cool stuff (did you know the thong is considered the national footwear of Singapore?).

I was certainly museum’d out by the end of the day and looking forward to a good dinner.  My new hotel, Lloyd’s Inn is situated in Lloyd’s Road (a more residential area and quieter than being on Orchard Road) which runs off Killiney Road (which intersects with Orchard) and which plays host to a load of little restaurants with different cuisines.  It was difficult to narrow down the selection, but as I’m here for a few nights, I figure I can give a few of them a go.  So tonight I choose to go with The Chicken Rice Express restaurant, where for a ridiculous amount of money I ordered wanton noodle and a nice glass of lime juice, which came to my table very quickly.  Really nice tender meat and nicely flavoured noodles.  I found it hard to eat the wanton’s with the slippery chopsticks, but managed without splashing myself too much.  Yummy!

The Ten Courts of Hell

Have you heard about Haw Par Villa?

It’s the stuff of nightmares.  Quite literally.  Many a Singaporean parent scared their children into being good by bringing them to this theme park whilst growing up and I can see why.

If you haven’t heard about Haw Par, chances are that you would know about tiger balm.  Well the same people who bought you tiger balm were responsible for this garishly coloured, elaborately sculpted theme park, built to scare the bejesus out of you.  Opened in 1937 to the Singaporean public, Haw Par Villa was the brainchild of Aw Boon Haw who wanted to build the park for his brother Aw Boon Par (hence the name Haw Par). The brothers were known as the “Tiger Balm Kings of Rangoon” when they moved their business to Singapore in 1926, and, believing one should contribute to society, this park, costing over $1M to build was just one way in which they did so.  The park was packed with visitors each weekend and every holiday.

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Free to enter, it’s located at it’s own MRT stop making it incredibly easy to get to and making me wonder why I hadn’t made it here sooner.  There are many sculptures depicting Chinese legends of ethics and morality, but the centrepiece would have to be the Ten Courts of Hell.

I was scared before I even got to the Ten Courts of Hell thanks to this delightful masterpiece!

So this is how it goes…settle in.

Upon your death you will reach the Ten Courts of Hell where you will be ushered inside by Horse Face and Ox Head (their actual names).  At the first court, your past deeds will be reviewed.  If you were virtuous – straight to heaven.  Guilty?  Well, here’s where the fun begins.  You star into the Mirror of Retribution where all your past misdeeds will be revealed.  Atonement is then carried out at the following nine courts.

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Final judgement is passed upon reaching the tenth court of hell where a cup of magic tea in the Pavillion of Forgetfulness will help you forget about your past life.  Then you get on the Wheel of Reincarnation where it will be decided how you return in the next life – either as nobility, a common man, a quadruped, fowl, fish or insect.

There was more to see, but the colours were starting to hurt my eyes and I was scared that I was hanging dangerously close to being punished at the third gate of hell for being ungrateful).  So I jumped back on the train and headed for the much quieter, more restrained Chinese & Japanese Gardens.  The gardens, although further out, also have their own stop on the MRT.

Unfortunately a lot of the buildings were closed for renovations, but what I could see was beautiful.  I can see why many Singaporeans pack a picnic and head here for a catch up on the weekends.

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Although I’ve been to Resorts World at Sentosa several times, I had never managed to make it to the Maritime Experiential Museum.  Now there is also the SEA aquarium on the same site and the museum has become integrated, which means you need to buy a ticket to the SEA aquarium even if you don’t want to SEE the aquarium.  Which I didn’t.  Anyway, the museum tells the story of trade through Asia back in the day including the types of goods that were traded and where they came from which was quite interesting.  There is also a typhoon theatre, for an extra SGD$2, where you go on a journey into a typhoon.  Cute.

For those that haven’t been to Resorts World, there’s all sorts of stuff to see and do here, including Universal Studios and the Candylicious chocolate store.  I didn’t need to go in, but I did.  And that’s when I found them.  The bakeable Kit Kats.  Yes, you bake them in the oven.  I had heard about these and assumed I wouldn’t get the chance to try them until I went back to Japan (Japan is THE land of Kit Kats – there’s even a Kit Kat megastore, check it out), but here they were.  Packets of little sweet potato Kit Kats that you can put in the oven.  I can’t wait to get these babies home.  Remind me to tell you what they were like.

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So a very successful day all round, knocking over three of my long awaited must do’s and finding the bakeable Kit Kats.  Ah, time for a relaxing drink.

Second Homecoming

I’m packing my bags for the last part of my trip when I get a message.  It’s from my ten year old niece Lola.  I tell her I’m about to go to the airport.  “I’ll miss you”, she said.  “But I’ve already been gone for about ten days Lols”.  “Oh, I didn’t know” she texts.  “You need a calendar of when I’m away”, I joke.  “I think I do need a calendar” she writes.  You know you’ve done a fair bit of travelling when people in your family don’t know whether you are at home or not anymore!

And this year has been a bit different, with my feet barely touching the ground before I’m off somewhere else.  I’m calling it my gap year, albeit about twenty years too late.  It’s the year I’ve learnt the most and one that has opened my eyes about travelling, changing the way I do things and what I feel makes a holiday.  One big happy learning experience.

Driving through the streets of Hanoi on the way to the airport, I snap away on my camera, eager to record everything about Hanoi.  Memories to treasure, stories to tell, cultures to explain, food to rave about.  I love travelling.

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It’s no secret that Singapore is like my second home so that of course is where I’m heading next.  I figure that each time I visit there’s a niggling list of things that I want to see and do, that I just never seem to get around to, so my next five days is about just that – crossing of some of those ‘must do’ items before the thought of it drives me crazy.

I’ve even split my time between two hotels to make sure I have no excuses, so first up, I’m at the Bay Hotel across the road from the massive white shopping complex known as Vivocity.  Vivocity is not just a shopping centre though, it’s the gateway to Sentosa and an MRT/bus station, not to mention home to hundreds of shops and loads of restaurants.

A few hours wandering around shopping and some dinner is all I’m up for tonight, but tomorrow – I start crossing things off that list.