Category Archives: Travel

The Great EU Quest: Poland – Salt Mines and Ermine

It’s already come to the final day – it’s sad to be leaving such a lovely city, but I think I’ve fit in a lot of things over this extended weekend.

After a breakfast cobbled together from random delicious things we found at Carrefour, we headed off to the main focus of the day: the salt mines at the nearby town of Wieliczka. Honestly, this is probably not a place I would have booked prior to the holiday if it wasn’t for its placement on the Lonely Planet list, but when in Kraków.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 79/100Sight: Wieliczka Salt Mine
Location: Wieliczka, Poland
Position: #213

It was another scorcher of a day, so spending a few hours underground in 16 degrees felt like a nice sojourn. I didn’t quite expect how much I would enjoy listening to the guide talk about the history of the mines or the fact that I would be given the chance to lick the walls (since the walls in most places are made of rock salt, and are therefore anti-microbial).

I also didn’t quite expect just how beautiful a lot of the chambers would be. Some contained artificial brine lakes (which were very well lit), many contained sculptures carved out of the grey rock salt and most had marble-like floor tiles that (again) were made from the rock salt.

The biggest shocker of them all was St Kinga’s chapel. This monumentally large chapel was carved of rock salt with statues, friezes, floor tiles and chandeliers all made from the rock salt found in this very mine (some of the pink salt sculptures were made form salt from a neighbouring mine). Some of the most impressive elements of this chapel included a carving of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper and a weirdly lifelike statue of Pope John Paul II.

Honestly the 2-3 hours underground just flew by about as swiftly as the lift that took us back to the surface and I am thankful for the Lonely Planet list for giving me the proper push to something a bit different. It’s been too long (probably 17 years) since I last saw such impressive underground structures although, being completely man made, this was a different experience.

Lunch was brief and was decided the moment we got to the salt mines and I saw a man cooking kielbasa for 10zl a pop. I cannot believe that it has taken me until Day 4 before I had a proper Polish kielbasa, but boy did it not disappoint with some mustard and a kaiser roll (side note: I wish you could get kaiser rolls in the UK outside of speciality stores, it really is the perfect all purpose roll).

After finishing lunch and enjoying some of the midday sun, we made our way back to Kraków to visit the National Museum. Why? Well, as the Uber driver correctly deduced, we were here to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Lady with an Ermine. This is a painting I’ve always loved and it’s a privilege to see it up close.

I can really see how this is considered one of Poland’s National Treasures (above: a picture of the poster outside as, for obvious reasons, photographs of the real painting are forbidden). If there had been a bench in the room, I would have been able to stare at it for at least 15-20 minutes. As it is, it was just my husband and I (and two guards) alone with the painting in a darkened room. It just felt like one of those special moments where I could have as long as I wanted to appreciate an art object and there was no one around to hurry me along.

Since we’d already paid for the museum it only made to spend a lot of time in,their permanent collections. Doing a museum like this on the final day really works as it helps to contextualise a lot of things that you pick up about the local history via osmosis. It also helps that I have been devouring the ‘In Our Time’ and ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ podcasts as I was able to play some fun games of historical detective with certain exhibits.

This was typified by a long time that I spent just analysing this chess set that was on display. Not only unpacking the history behind its depiction of a battle between Poles and Ottomans on the board, but also knowing the cultural reasons why the queen piece was replaced by a vizier/advisor. I felt like a proper clever clogs and it felt great.

There were also galleries featuring modern art by Polish artists and one containing a wealth of armour and weapons. At this point, pretty much anything we saw was a bonus seeing how the main reason for us to come here was for a single painting. There was also an exhibition on Polish comics, but we had to miss it as we forgot to include there in our ticket.

By the time we left the museum it was early evening and, seeing that Kraków old town looks it’s prettiest under the bubblegum sky of sunset, we went on an extended to explore the streets we’d yet to visit. Did we get a lot of guys coming up to us and telling us about the beautiful girls we could see at their employers strip club? Sure, but that didn’t detract from the beauty of the town, just from the respect that I have for my own gender.

We saw so many new churches and other places of interest on this route. There are surely countless buildings that we missed, but it was time for dinner and boy were we ravenous.

It was a long walk to tonight’s restaurant (one that was stupidly close to the hotel) and it was exactly the place we wanted. Proper Polish food and am interior that was decorated like some sort of ski chalet. The sour soup that I had to start was exactly what I was looking for, even if it wasn’t served in a bread bowl.

The star of the show was the main – a huge platter of Polish things that, between the three of us, we struggled to finish. On it there was two types of sauerkraut, pierogi, grilled kielbasa, potatoes, a cabbage roll, pork knuckle, pork steaks in a tomato sauce and bigos (a sauerkraut stew with meat). This is exactly the sort of food I was looking to find and I made sure to make the most of it.

Stuffed like thanksgiving turkeys we did a final tour of Rynek Główny to say goodbye, ice creams in hand (mine was rose flavoured and I feel inspired to make my own once I get home). I couldn’t help but linger as long as I could – this is definitely one of the loveliest squares that I have ever seen.

We are technically leaving tomorrow afternoon but, since it really is just a case of getting up and leaving for the airport, I guess that it is goodbye to Poland – for the moment at least. I have so enjoyed my time here and felt so at home in the culture that there will be a return visit in the next few years. Maybe it’ll be Warsaw or Gdansk or some place I haven’t event thought of yet; I just know that this is not my last time in Poland.

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The Great EU Quest: Poland – Auschwitz-Birkenau

There are cities around the world that bear scars of their troubled past. I’m thinking along the lines of Hiroshima’s Peace Park, The 9/11 Memorial in New York City and the former site of the Berlin Wall. For Kraków, and the surrounding area of Southern Poland, there is no scar deeper or more visible than the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. No one goes here as part of a holiday to find enjoyment, but to learn and pay tribute to what happened to over 1.1 million people some 70-odd years ago.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 78/100Sight: Auschwitz-Birkenau
Location: Oświęcim, Poland
Position: #104

The trip out from Kraków doesn’t take too long, especially if you book a tour that picks you up from your hotel. The advantage: you don’t have to think about getting there and back as everything is sorted for you; the disadvantage: the driver put on a short documentary about the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau which meant half of the journey there was spent watching footage of the camp – including what looked like the autopsies of a newborn baby and a young child. I get why the ride there might be spent learning some history of the camp, but that was a lot to see at 8:30 in the morning.

It’s hard to talk about visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau as so much of it is about the feelings. By now we all know what happened from TV, books, films and school – but it’s a profoundly odd place to visit, especially on a beautiful sunny day in May. For a lot of the tour the closest analog I can find from my own experience is when I went to Herculaneum as a student. In what is now actually quite lovely surroundings, something devastating and unthinkable happened. It’s trite to say this, but it really does feel haunted.

This is all surface stuff when walking around Auschwitz’s immaculate brick barracks. Once you go inside and see the conditions of the cells, the piles of belongings that were recovered (including a whole room of shaven hair… which I cannot find an adequate word to describe) and, eventually, the gas chambers – everything suddenly becomes incredibly real.

Honestly, I didn’t feel right with the idea of taking pictures inside the buildings – especially the gas chambers/furnaces and rooms containing the possessions. I know that lots of people around me were snapping away, but in certain places The feeling of it being disrespectful outweighed my own morbid curiosity.

So that was Auschwitz. Birkenau, due to it being mostly destroyed, feels incredibly different. I have seen those famous train tracks in so many films (like Shoah and Schindler’s List) and even listened to a classical album about makes reference to the train journeys (Different Trains), which makes it incredibly weird to see in real life. It’s a similar sort of haunting feeling that I got from the Peace Pagoda in Hiroshima.

The big thing for me at Birkenau, rather than the remains of the demolished gas chambers and the memorial, was all the chimneys. A massive field containing a sparse forest of brick chimneys that are the remaining parts of the wooden barracks that were burnt down in the vain attempt to conceal the war crimes that were occurring.

Like I said before, it’s difficult to put into words just how this visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau made me feel. It was only a few hours after leaving that I made the contesting that this was where Anne Frank died, which means I have now seen her home, read her diary and seen the place she was killed. That human connection there is probably what ended up affecting me the most.

On the way back I slept on the minibus. After that morning it was probably my brain feeling the need to refresh itself so I could compartmentalise a bit and enjoy the afternoon.

For the afternoon we took the opportunity to visit St Mary’s Basilica in Rynek Główny. After all, I’ve already spent part of an evening watching the swallows hunting for insects in the dusk, so I might as well see the inside.

Well, the inside is beyond beautiful – especially the main alter piece by Viet Stoss. The level of detail in the wood carvings depicting the many sufferings of Mary (especially the work put into them beards) are beyond a lot of what I’ve seen before. Considering this is the minor church of Kraków compared to Wawel Cathedral, it surprises me how St Mary’s is the more impressively decorated. Some of the portraiture feel like something I have seen in Orthodox churches, but maybe that’s more the Baroque style coming through.

Sadly the tower was closed when we went, so we exited and headed to the Cloth Hall to do some souvenir shopping. Honestly there is so much that I wanted to buy, but regrettably we only brought hand luggage – meaning that I’ve had to stick to a few items that are not breakable (which ruled out a lot of Christmas decorations and ceramics). Still, I found a bunch of nice things before I we headed back to the hotel to have a bit of a chill before dinner.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 741/751Food item: Roe Deer

When I want to try roe deer in the UK, it’s likely that I, going to pay £75 for the meal, in Kraków my share of the meal came to about £20. Just stunning. It’s gotten to the point where I feel like 70 zloty is too much for a main meal… which shows just how much I have started to adapt to the pricing.

The roe deer medallions themselves were seasoned with herbs and a generous amount of pepper. The accompanying sauce was flavoured with sour cherry and the meat was accompanied by whole sour cherry and there are a generous number of wild mushrooms. All flavours worked in perfect harmony in this zloty dish. The meat itself was tender with a slight gaminess to it, which puts it on par with hare. The way it was cooked makes me want to refer to this delight as a ‘wild steak’.

For dessert we all had the apple pancakes where the star of the show was the vanilla-caramel sauce. It’s one of the few times where I’ve had someone turn to me and ask what I was having. So yes, a good time was had by all at Miód Malina.

Tomorrow we will be off to the salt mines at Wieliczka for what is our final full day. After the last few days in the heat, I am looking forward to some time in a cold cave.

The Great EU Quest: Poland – The Many Faces of Kraków

It’s one of those travelling truths that whenever you want to properly get to know a city, you need to find and experience a number of its different personalities. This is even more important when you are in a city that is at least 500 years old. I think that, with today’s packed itinerary, I have gotten to know a few of the many sides of Kraków.

After a small breakfast at the hotel, composed of a bunch of things we found in the local Carrefour Express, we made a beeline straight for the second of the four Lonely Planet sites that I plan to see whilst in Kraków.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 77/100Sight: Wawel Castle
Location: Kraków, Poland
Position: #487

It’s located at the southern tip of the old town and is at the top of Wawel Hill, overlooking the city and the river. The whole complex is huge and also contains Wawel Cathedral (more on that later).

Now if there is one piece of advice that I want to pass on, because no one told me, it’s this: do not buy your tickets from the ticket office on the slope – instead head inside and buy it at the ticket office near the tower. Why? More open windows, it’s inside away from the blazing sunshine and the visitors come in ones and twos rather than large groups buying conflicting tickets. We wasted nearly an hour because we did not know this, so you are welcome.

I can see how people can spend pretty much an entire day here. There are plenty of things to see, do and eat – all at the typically inexpensive Kraków prices (I mean 3zl for a scoop of ice cream in a castle café is loving the Kraków dream). Since we had no desire to be led around by the nose, we went for most of the things that did not require a guided tour (except the Oriental art exhibition, because timing and money).

For good views of the surrounding city, you’ll want to pay a visit to the Sandomierska Tower (and for 4zl it’s a bargain) – but that’s hardly one of the big ticket items here. For that you’ll want to head to the State Rooms, houses a large number of tapestries, paintings and come of the most interesting ceiling work that I have seen in a European stately home. It’s a real shame that, throughout the castle complex, they are militantly anti-camera – otherwise I’d have posted a picture of one the weirdest ceilings I ever saw (imagine a bunch of heads peering down at you and you’ll get an idea).

This trip around the State Rooms really made me wish I knew more about Polish history before coming to Kraków (aside from the story of St Hedwig and her many water glasses). At least today I’ve managed to pick up a few stories about King Stephen Bathory and some of the other monarchs that came before him.

After the State Room was a visit to the ‘Lost Wawel’ exhibition that contains archeological remnants from excavations. This is fine enough, but the real point of interest is near the end where you descend down a ramp and see parts of the first church built on Wawel Hill, which dates to around 1000 AD. Utterly astonishing and so well preserved considering how much restoration work is having to be done on other areas of the castle.

Before leaving the hill, you have to pay a visit to Wawel Cathedral. The ticket includes a trip around the cathedral itself, a bell tower (where you get to see the heaviest bell in Poland) and the royal tombs (which lacked the grandeur of Vienna’s Habsburg coffins, but were still good to see). The interior of the cathedral itself is a real mix of different styles with a large number of chapels to different saints – the largest being to St Hedwig herself. Again, wish I could have taken pictures.

We left the castle via the Dragon’s Den, which is a small limestone cave that is the best way to exit. It’s one of the most famous caves in Poland because it is attached to the myth of the Wawel dragon… which explains all the dragon paraphernalia in the Kraków souvenir shops.

It was already getting to the mid-to-late afternoon so it was time to march on to Kazimierz (aka the Jewish Quarter) and pick up some lunch along the way. We ended up in a pub-restaurant en route and, between us, had a pile of three types of pierogi (meat, cabbage and Russian) and a plate of bread, lard and pickles. Honestly I am falling more and more in love with the food in this city/country plus any restaurant that allows three guys to order a carafe each filled with different fruit juices (mine was blackcurrant) is alright by me. Also, these pierogi and that lard was delicious. Hopefully I can find more of this before I leave for London.

We roamed the Jewish Quarter for a bit before reaching the Galicia Jewish Museum. It’s not that big, but it houses some really interesting photographic exhibition is about Jewish life in the Galicia region (which included Kraków) pre and post Holocaust. The photographs and the initial exhibition about the importance of blood in Jewish lore really helped open my eyes and my heart in preparation for tomorrow’s devastating visit to Auschwitz. I’d really recommend the Galicia Jewish Museum if you need a bit more context of you need a bit of a history lesson about how Jews were seen in Europe before the Holocaust happened.

From here the idea was to pay a visit to the Oskar Schindler factory, but they had sold out of tickets by the time we got there – so we stared at the outside before slowly making our way back to the Old Town. After all, I booked us tickets to a concert.

List Item: Listen to half of the 1001 Classical Works You Must Hear Before You Die
Progress:
 36/501Title: Ballades
Composer: Frédéric Chopin
Nationality: Polish
Year:
1835-1841

Despite having nothing to do with the city of Kraków, there is an hour long Chopin concert every day at 7pm for the low price of 60zl (which comes with a free glass of sparkling wine). It starts with a short talk about the life of Chopin before moving into an hour long recital of a number of Chopin pieces – including some mazurkas, a nocturne, a waltz (which was mesmerising) and enough of his ballades for me to consider is crossed off.

Aside from loud Italians in front of us, the experience of seeing a piano virtuoso playing these pieces live completely beats listening to them via headphones. It’s utterly breathtaking to see someone with so much talent and has worked so hard to learn this skill. He was also easy on the eyes, which helped to make the waltz he played just that extra bit dreamy.

After this was dinner at a steakhouse across the road called Ed Red. It’s one of the higher rated restaurants in Kraków and sometimes you just want to have steak. It also helps that it had two food items on the menu.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 739/751Food item: Bull’s Testicle

I’m really getting through the offal at the moment aren’t I. Since I didn’t want two starters to myself, I managed to convince my husband to order the plate of assorted veal offal whilst I order the ‘mountain oyster’ for myself.

Just to start off, this ‘oyster’ was served with a smoked white chocolate sauce – which may be one of the more unusual and delicious sauces that I have ever had. It really went well with the ‘oyster’ which was surprisingly delicious. I has expected something more chewy and gelatinous, when it was actually very delicate and tender with a vaguely beefy taste. It’s a bit like if leberkase contained puréed steak alongside the pork. At least that’s what I think. It’s weird to say this, but I would happily have bull testicle again in the future.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 740/751Food item: Veal Sweetbread

On my husbands plate was veal sweetbreads (which is thymus gland or pancreas), brain, tongue, cheek and liver. First and foremost, the veal brain was so much nicer than the lamb brain that we had because it had been seasoned really well. But that’s by the by – the best veal offal on the plate was the sweetbread. It was like eating a very subtly flavoured white sausage that took on the flavour of the mustard underneath it. It’s one of those pieces of offal that I have been very curious to try it with different sauces.

As a main we all had some excellent Polish sirloin steak with a a number of different side dishes in the middle. For the price of the whole dinner (£24 each) we had some really good food and tried some really interesting things. If I am ever in Warsaw, I might have to hit up the other Ed Red location.

So tomorrow is going to be a trip to Auschwitz. It’s a long return journey and it’s looking to be a harrowing day. Will podcasts for the bus journey and a good meal take the sting out of it? Who knows, I guess I’ll just find out tomorrow.

The Great EU Quest: Poland – First Night in Kraków

Despite only being two months ago, it feels like forever since I last went away. So the anticipation in the build up to this trip to Kraków has been very high. However, before we get to that…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 19/28

Despite having some genealogical roots in Poland (more specifically the Silesia region in the South West) this is my first time visiting. This really has been a long time coming seeing how I enjoy eating Polish food, watching Polish movies and, more importantly, it’s a pretty cheap holiday. Then again, after my last new EU country (Sweden) anywhere is going to feel pretty cheap.

Country: Poland
Year first visited: 2018

The journey to Kraków itself was pretty uneventful, although we did have a fantastic breakfast where we polished off the extra Belgian waffles that I had in the freezer.

I know I have said it already, but it is worth repeating, as a Londoner I cannot get over how inexpensive everything is over here. We had some problems with getting an Uber to our hotel (turns out that it was because of our hotel’s proximity to the Old Town and Uber drivers are not allowed to operate there) and we just missed the train (the next was in 90 minutes) so were getting a bit annoyed because we ended up splashing 89 zloty in a cab. Please note – this is about £20 between three people, it’s just that 89 feels like such a high number.

Our hotel is in the perfect place. It’s like having our own little apartment 5 minutes walk away from the old town and we’re close enough to some small supermarkets that I am going to be able to make breakfasts with some local ingredients as I actually have a kitchen to play with!

At about 6 in the evening, we set out of the hotel to get a first impression of the nearby areas of Kraków. The first thing that really struck me was just how much greenery there is, in fact the entire central part of the old town is surrounded by a park that also happens to contain statues and a number of water features. It would have been rude if we hadn’t taken a slight detour to get to know this area a bit better before heading to the main attraction.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 76/100Sight: Rynek Główny
Location: Kraków, Poland
Position: #197

This main market square of Kraków is huge. It’s one of the largest medieval squares in Europe, to the point where the middle contains the large (and old) Cloth Hall, which now houses a small museum and a lot of small shops. Being so large and existing in 360 degrees, it is really hard to take pictures of the square at ground level that do it proper justice.

Size and impressive architecture aside, the energy you get from this square feels pretty unique. Its like a larger and less crowded version of Covent Garden that also has a lot of historical significance. It was the moment that I first stepped onto the square where I realised that Kraków feels like a special place. Also, this square is going to be one of those places that we keep finding our way back to during our stay.

Being out first night, it only made sense that we did the really touristy thing and had dinner on the square itself. So, we went to Restauracja Sukiennice which is actually attached to the Cloth Hall in the centre. Honestly, it was the pictures of the schnitzel on their menu that won me over.

In any other city, the mark up would be so horrendous that we’d have to get one of the cheaper things on the menu to prevent us from losing all our currency. However, this is Kraków where we ate like kings and it only cost £10-12 each. I mean we all had huge (and really well done) schnitzels, a few drinks and we shared this huge and amazing meat and sauerkraut thing that came in a huge bread bowl… and it was still so cheap. Part of me wished that we had room for dessert, but I don’t think we stood a chance after the sauerkraut bread bowl.

As the sun began to set, we started to walk off dinner with a bit of an explore of the southern parts of the old town. It really does feel like a less imposing version of Vienna, or at least a Vienna that never became an important imperial capital. There really is something about the architectural style and the ever present theme of classical music that makes Kraków feel grand and cultured, yet it feels remarkably young at times as well.

Already I can also see that we’re going to be having surprises around every corner. For example, on this walk, we randomly came across a small market (with many many food stalls selling everything from smoked cheese carvings to alligators made from nougat) that has been temporarily set up to celebrate a big football match (that Poland has no stakes in).

We headed back as the stag nights began to start. On the walk back to the hotel we began to get a lot of people coming up to us with the promise of cheap beer and attractive women. Seeing how I am gay and teetotal, they could not have picked a worse mark. We also began to see some of the stag and hen nights begin to drag themselves into town… to do whatever it is they do. It kinda sucks that, because we’re three guys and none of us look native, the assumption is that we’re here to get drunk and objectify women. Whatever, it’s Sunday tomorrow and that means we can be fresh for our first full day.

So that’s the end of the first day where, already, I have been able to tick off one of the four (yes, four) Lonely Planet suggested sites that I plan to visit whilst I am in Kraków. What are the other three? See you next time where I’ll be visiting the second of four.

Off To Singapore: Day 6 – Orchard Street and Chengi Airport

It’s that time again. That time where the holiday that I have been excited about for ages (like, really excited) is over in what feels like a very humid flash. Was there more I could have done? Sure. I could have done the Tree Top Walkway, the bird park or maybe popped over the border into Malaysia. Still, I can’t say that I didn’t pack this week in with as much as I could.

So let’s get started with the beginning of the day which was, because I am me, a last minute dart around the souvenir stalls of Chinatown in order to buy a small stuffed red dog. Why? Well, all the stores (and even the Temple of the Tooth) have these little New Years Dogs on display and I wanted one!

With that itch scratched it was breakfast time, and what could be better than dim sum for breakfast on your last day. The restaurant, called a Red Star, was in a bit of a weird place: the 7th floor of what looked like a bit of a neglected block building which has an entrance leading you though the kitchen.

Once we were in the main dining hall everything started to feel a little bit The Wedding Banquet, only with the waitresses carting trolleys piled high with steaming bamboo baskets full of dumplings. Truly this was some of the best dim sum that I have ever had and this now restaurant has properly ruined siu mei dumplings for me.

Now, the big thing left for me to see in Singapore is the shopping street of Orchard Road. Rather than just take the MRT there and just make things easy on our aching feet – we opted to walk there from Chinatown via Fort Canning Park… which is up a hill.

The walk up was, as with all the green spaces in Singapore, beautiful. One tree, a very old and large banyon tree caught my attention on the way up. Similar stories at the top of the hill with there being many interesting looking trees, a cacophony of insect noises and, thankfully, a vending machine full of cold drinks.

After a short rest and a welcome downhill stroll, we were on Orchard Road, which would be Singapore’s version of Oxford Street. Unlike Oxford Street, however, this is a place that I could see myself regularly visiting if I lived there. So many malls, each with their own character and array of shops. Truly, you must be able to buy pretty much anything that you could need here, and a lot of things you would never need.

As well as an extreme variety in the available goods, there is a variety of architecture to keep the eyes busy as you walk down the very wide streets. Some are modern looking with interesting window configurations or building quirks, whereas others look like very traditional builds – one even looked like an extremely large Chinese pavilion!

Lunch wasn’t at a fancy eatery, but at Mosburger – a Japanese burger chain that helped satisfy a late night hunger need when we were in Kyoto. Because of the extreme failure of the Grape Fanta last night, I played it a bit safe with my burger option – although I did get the Hokkaido hash brown thing. As always, Mosburger delivers on a really good fast food burger,

Having purchased some last minute souvenirs at an extremely low price (to the point that I am surprised at just how many Singaporean dollars we’re bringing back) we went back to an earlier favourite attraction because we had some unfinished business to attend to.

So once again we found ourselves at the Gardens by the Bay so that we could visit the  Cloud Forest. What makes this so special? For starters it contains the worlds tallest indoor waterfall, which is cascading down a tower covered in a vast array of flowering plants. There is a bit of a log jam when you first enter because of this initial photo opportunity.

After this initial impression, the Cloud Forest keeps delivering with beautifully laid out gardens with interesting sculptures (including some Lego ones at the top) mixed in. We weren’t there at the time where they release mist, but I can only imagine just how impressive that would look, not that this really needed that much help.

So that was it really, from here we meandered back to the hotel via the Merlion Park and stuck to the shadows as much as possible seeing that the sun appeared to have upped its intensity for our final day.

We also passed a temporary thing on the Marina Front called ‘Art Zoo’ that consisted of a large number of bouncy castles in the shapes of different animals. I would have stayed a bit longer to take photos of each one, but there was no shade and it really started to feel like parts of my flesh was getting cooked.

Now, usually this is where I would end things – the flight home etc being a bit of a non-event, but this isn’t just any airport, this is Chengi Airport.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 714/751Food item: Barramundi

So yes, it would appear that extracting meat from a whole fish has become a bit of a running theme for this holiday. I’m not sure at what point in my life I became okay with things like this, but I see no reason to question it. The barramundi itself was delicious as was the garlic sauce that was slathered all over it. The flesh that was not flooded with sauce tasted a bit meaty for a white fish and, in part, reminded me of sea bass. Needless to say, I stripped off as much meat as possible and my side plate was piled high with fins bones (not the skin though, that was delicious).

This wasn’t the last thing that Chengi had to offer. Within the four linked terminals you can find a free cinema showing very recent releases, a huge variety of shops and restaurants and, amazingly, all manner of small gardens.

In our brief time there we ended up visiting three of the many gardens. Firstly we traveled between terminals to get to the Butterfly Garden, which is exactly what it sounds like. Despite it being dark and all the butterflies having gone to sleep, we turned this visit into a fun little butterfly hunt. We probably looked a bit simple. But it was fun.

We also visited the Water Lillies garden, but the one we spent the most time in was the rooftop cactus garden. I think we were sat in a bench in there for over half an hour, just relaxing and taking in the surroundings. It sounds odd, seeing how the calm was intermittently interrupted with plane noises, but I sat there with a bottle of water, with some live guitar music playing behind us, and looked at the sky which only had one stat out. It’s one of those perfect moments that you can’t manufacture, and it’s a fitting end to this voyage to Singapore.

So that’s it. As I write this I am on the plane getting ready to watch How to Marry A Millionaire before trying to realign my body clock. I live in nope that the stranger next to me won’t slowly encroach on my personal space as the flight progresses. But time will tell.

Goodbye Singapore. Thanks for everything.

Off To Singapore: Day 5 – Little India and Southern Ridges

So this is it, the last full day in Singapore (not counting tomorrow where we will be flying out at 11pm) and I cannot believe:

a) that this trip, that I have been looking forward to for months, is pretty much over
b) how lucky we have been with the rain, I know we had a storm yesterday morning, but it didn’t effect us too badly.

With a lot left to do here in Singapore there’s nothing better to get you started than a breakfast of nasi lamak right as you get ready to explore. Today’s first destination was Little India, based on a lot of recommendations that I saw online. Most of these are centred on the major temples (one of which was sadly closed for reparations) and the Tekka wet market.

Aside from the temples themselves, it’s safe to say that Little India isn’t the best looking or the best maintained area of Singapore that I’ve been to. I guess I went into there expecting a cavalcade of colours and lots of nice smells (similar to walking through Chinatown), so I was probably always going to be a bit disappointed? However, this was worth the trip for some of the sights.

After breakfast, and a brief rain shower, our first stop was the Sakaya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple (or the Temple of 1000 Lights) – a Buddhist temple with some cool tigers on the outside and a 15 foot tall Buddha statue on the inside. It’s one of the smaller temples that I’ve visited, but I always appreciate a large Buddha statue. Maybe one day I’ll see the Spring Temple Buddha, but somehow I doubt I will.

From here our next stop, after the closed temple, was the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. This is the oldest Hindu Temple in Singapore is definitely one of the most colourful temples that I have ever seen. I know nowhere near enough about the Hindu faith to understand a lot of the symbolism, but this temple was such a sensory clash as we walked around (some of the loud music might have been part of this). One day I would really love or go to a place like this and have someone explain what I’m seeing – maybe when I end up going to India in the future this is something to look into.

Near this temple was the Former House of Tan Teng Niah. People come here because it is touted as being the most colourful building in Singapore. I don’t think I could disagree here, based on the variety and the heavy use of colours on this house. It appears that this house, which is a former Chinese villa, is mostly used to store products for the stalls that now operate outside of it. A pity really as I’d be really interested to see what I might have been like inside.

The final stop in Little India was the Tekka wet market. I was going here to try and find some fruit for my food list (which didn’t work out, partially as no one labels anything) and just look around the stalls. I probably would have spent longer there if everything didn’t smell of raw lamb, but at least it was interesting to see what was on offer.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 713/751Food item: Bird’s Nest

Back in Chinatown again where I have finally found a place where I could try prepared birds nest without leaving a massive hole in my wallet. This portion of birds nest with rock sugar cost me $12, which is still a fair bit of money but a lot less than most other places. This is one of those food items that is on the 1001 list because of the texture as this really doesn’t taste of anything. What it does do, however, is give a dish a pleasing jelly-like texture. There is also a believe in Chinese medicine that birds nest is good for you, so maybe this has done me some good.

The rest of the day was spent with us doing the Southern Ridges nature trail. We decided against the treetop walk in the north of the island as this was easier to get to and, should a thunderstorm have hit, we would have the opportunity to bail out.

The walk itself is about 10 kilometres long and it took us about three and a half hours to complete. We actually did this in the reverse order of what is published on the website as we wanted to end our day at the harbour front rather than in the middle of some science park. Also, by doing this in reverse order, it feels like we spent most of the time going up – so I guess that’ll help balance out the late night fruit and Fanta Lychee.

It’s really cool how this trail joins together a lot of different green spaces and does so with a lot of different walk styles. There is a section where you go on a long canopy walk across a series of metal platforms, you cross some interesting and architecturally interesting bridges and, at the end for us, you find yourself at the top of Mount Faber where you can look back over the city or look over to Sentosa.

For me there were two highlights. The first was the Henderson Waves bridge. Not only is this wood-panelled bridge really interesting to look at architecturally but, because it is highest pedestrian bridge in Singapore, it also has the best views that you can get on this walk.

List item: See where bananas come from
Status: Completed

The other highlight was actually seeing banana trees! I can’t believe that yesterday I wrote about wanting to see this (having just seen pineapples) and here I am now seeing a banana tree. I know this is a silly goal, but seeing how they grow in real life just made me very happy (as you can see from the picture).

So, after 3 and a half hours of walking what do you think we did? Kept on walking for another kilometre across the boardwalk and into Sentosa. You know, it was there for the walking after all and I don’t think we were quite tired enough! It was a great opportunity to get some nice pictures from the boardwalk and truly got our appetites going for dinner.

For our final dinner (not including the airport tomorrow) we went to a hawker-style centre in the Vivo shopping centre and got a whole bunch of different things. What you are seeing here is a Korean barbecue beef set, char siu and duck noodles, two barbecue chicken buns, Fanta Grape (blech) and something called bo bo cha cha. The last one of these is an interesting desert containing coconut milk and pieces of sweet potato and yam. Apparently that’s a thing, and I liked it.

So tomorrow is the last day in Singapore. Going to try and mop up some loose ends whilst getting some much needed souvenir shopping done.

Off To Singapore: Day 4 – Botanical Gardens and Sentosa

The rains happened as the weatherman predicted. We woke up to some showers, which gave us pause as to what to do today. Then they appeared to have stopped, so it was back to the originally scheduled idea.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens are one of three gardens around the world to have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as being the sole World Heritage Site in Singapore. Oh, and they’re free to enter. This really means that there is no excuse to not see these whilst in the country – especially because they have their own subway station with an escalator leading right to one of the garden’s main entrances.

Unlike a lot of other major gardens that I’ve been to, the ones at Singapore are completely out in the open. I guess that, with Singapore being a tropical country, there is no need for hot houses whereas in countries like Denmark and the UK we have frosts that would kill off tropical plants.

By being completely open there is more a feeling of inclusivity and informality to the Singapore Botanic Gardens despite, in Singaporean style, there being a lot of signs displaying the rules, regulations and possible fines. However, this is still a set of proper gardens and so has a number of interesting sections including an ‘evolution walk’, where petrified wood is displayed, and a medicinal garden that contains plants that have been used for medical purposes.

List item: See where pineapples come from
Status: Completed

This is one of the weirder things from my list, and was added alongside wanting to see natural growing bananas. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of pineapples growing up from the ground like this and now I’ve seen it for myself. As well as a papaya tree.

Now, it was around this time that the rain started to spit, so we made a beeline for the nearest food place (as we hadn’t had breakfast) so we could try and ride out the rain. It felt like a mini-hawker place and so we were able to get brunch for a total of $11, which included the new love of my life: Fanta Lychee. Im not usually a bit Fanta fan, but I can make a huge exception for this.

Half and hour later and the rain wasn’t letting up. In fact it was now worse and we could hear thunder rolling in the distance. So we did what any smart person would do – walk around the gardens with out umbrellas up. I know this isn’t the best thing to do in a thunderstorm, but we couldn’t just stay inside for the rest of the morning!

So this was the rest of our morning in the gardens: walking quickly with the umbrellas up and admiring the scenery in the rain. Palm Valley, where they sometimes hold concerts, was especially beautiful – even in the rain.

No visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens is complete without a visit to the orchid gardens. It’s the only part of the gardens where you have to pay for admission ($5 each) and you get to see a fantastically well laid out area filed with all manner of different orchids.

This part of the garden also houses the ‘V.I.P. Orchids’ that have been named in honour of visiting dignitaries as part of Singapore’s ‘Orchid Diplomacy’. Some of these are more recent, like the orchid for Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and others, like the one for Margaret Thatcher, have been cultivated for decades. It’s really interesting to see how the names and the orchids match up.

Given that it was still raining, and time was getting on, I bought some refreshing melon milk from a vending machine and we made our way back to the subway to head for our next destination for day: Sentosa.

Sentosa is basically a resort island that contains a lot of hotels, a theme park and a whole lot of other touristy things. Honestly it’s not my sort of thing because it erases a lot of what makes visiting Singapore special, but I guess I can see the attraction of staying here and just doing things on the island (although you miss an awful lot by not venturing onto the mainland, which someone behind us in a queue was not going to do during a week long stay.)

Our visit to Sentosa got off to a rocky start as there was a problem with their machine redeeming our pre-bought tickets. Half an hour waiting at the counter to be told that we would have to pay again in cash and then wait on a refund to be done in the next five days. Hardly ideal, especially as there was no refund receipt that they were able to give out… so just a bit of a warning there.

Anyway, that unpleasantness aside, we were here for the oceanarium… which was closing an hour early some some unknown reason. Pushing forward though!

This oceanarium was excellent. I mean, I am a real sucker for a good aquarium but this is one that, until recently, boasted the largest viewing panel for a single tank in the world. More on that room later, because that really was special.

I also really appreciated that a lot of the glass on the front of the tanks appeared to be anti-reflective, which made it a lot easier to take pictures of the more interesting residents like the nautiluses, hammerhead sharks and sea dragons.

List Item: See a manta ray
Status: Completed

The real highlight, as I previously mentioned, was this big tank and the three manta rays that lived inside. Sure there were a myriad of other fish in there including unicorn fish, tuna and other rays, but I was here for the manta rays. If the aquarium had closed at its normal time I could have easily just sat there watching this tank for a solid hour. Still though, I had plenty of time with the rays and now I am left with whale sharks as the final ‘must see’ animal on my list.

Since we had some time before the water show (whose tickets gave us the problem earlier) we decided to explore the island of Sentosa for a bit – which lead us to an islet dubbed as the ‘southern most point in mainland Asia’. A cool moment for the hub as he could say, with some certainty, that this is the furthest south that he has ever been.

Dinner at this resort island of Sentosa ended up being ramen. It’s been so long since I’ve had a ramen this good (probably not since Japan) and, considering that we were in a touristy area, it was reasonably priced. For dessert, I had a very literal durian ice cream sandwich (yes, that is bread wrapped around a block of ice cream) which helped to change my mind on the taste of durian. As an ice cream it tasted like rum raisin, which just happens to be my favourite flavour.

We finished the night with the Wings of Time water and lights show. It was technically impressive with flamethrowers and fireworks alongside the projected images on water. However, this was very much aimed to be family friendly and I found myself rolling my eyes when two of the characters in the show began to sing a song about achieving dreams (because I’m dead inside). It had a lot to live up to after the more abstract water show that I caught two days previously, and I think that it lacked some of the heart and the authenticity that the other show had. Still, it was entertaining.

So this leaves tomorrow as the last full day. The weather is set to rain all day, but weather reports here change on a dime, so I guess it’s a game of wait and see.

Off To Singapore: Day 3 – Singapore’s Many Zoos!

Today begins and pretty much ends at Mandai. An area in the north of Singapore that is home to:

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 75/100Sight: Singapore Zoo
Location: Singapore
Position: #236

That’s right. As the title of this post suggested, today was a zoo day where we spent time in, and got to know the residents of, three different zoos in Singapore. The Lonely Planet only mentions the first main zoo as part of the countdown, but since they’re all right next door to each other… why not just buy a multi-park pass and see them all in one day? I mean, that’s what we did and I think we made excellent use of those 11 hours.

Still, you don’t start an all day zoofest without breakfast, so we tried some kaya toast. Seems like one of those regional things and is, essentially, toast with salted butter and some sort of coconut jam. It’s nice, although this could have had more kaya on it for my liking.

Anyway, time to enter the first zoo of the day: Singapore Zoo. Before going in I did have a flash of worry about what if it was more like Himeji that San Diego. This worry quickly melted away when I saw the first animal – a monkey that had been taught to stay in certain clusters of trees, but otherwise had free reign.

This became a common thread throughout the zoos with many of the primates being able to freely move in areas outside of their main enclosures. Quite amazingly, this same freedom was given to their group of orangutans who, whilst having a central island enclosure, also had many ropes to clamber about the place. Thanks to this we were able to watch a mother teaching her baby to climb, as we stood underneath looking up. Sure, we had to jump out of the way when the baby went to the bathroom, but it was still cool.

It’s also fair to say that even the animals without such free rein as the primates are still incredibly well treated and have enclosures that make great use of the beautiful jungle setting of Mandai. The elephants are especially well treated and we were lucky enough to catch the keepers interacting with them after the daily feeding show.

Other highlights of this first zoo included some time with the baby Pygmy hippo and a fantastic walk through called Fragile Rainforest where you were immersed in an enclosure with toucans (and other birds), some flying foxes, some local rodents and a rather photogenic sloth.

So this was a great start to the day and it was time for a late lunch at one of the places just outside the zoo. As I wanted to remain of the area (i.e. no hot dogs) we had some fried noodles and…

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 712/751Food item: Honey Jack

Yup, I found a fruit from my list! This might be the only one I end up getting as I’m not having much luck in finding unusual fruit of this region like salak, but still this is still a win and provided a delicious accent to this chenol that we shared for desert. I’m not entirely sure if I get the inclusion of kidney beans in a frozen dessert, but I sure do love the syrups that they added.

After this it was time for the River Safari. Whilst not as large as Singapore Zoo, because of the river focus, it still has some real big ticket animals on display.

Me being me, the real highlight of this visit was the manatee tank at the end. I have a minor obsession with manatees, which meant that I spent about half an hour sitting at the tank and just watching them gracefully swim around. Also, there was a baby manatee there which we saw interacting with their mum. Seriously cute!

Also on display are Singapore’s two pandas (which means that between this, Tokyo and Vienna, I have now seen six pandas) in a special enclosure next to the red panda (who I swear was on cocaine). I do love pandas, even if they are a ridiculous animal.

There was also an immersive exhibit containing spider monkeys and mara. I’m loving that this zoo sets up opportunities to get this close to the monkeys. Also the mara, who I want to adopt immediately as they are like a small capybara mixed with a rabbit.

Finally, we did one of the River Safari boat rides, which allowed you to pass by a number of different animals from the comfort of a boat on a track. Honestly, we weren’t going to do it because it could have been a little bit lame, but it was well worth the time.

By the time we left the River Safari it was only an hour before the Night Safari opened, so we bought our souvenirs and got in line for the tram ride… after the downpour stopped. I know that it is meant to rain hard in Singapore, but wow that was a lot of water.

As the name suggests, the Night Safari is a zoo that only contains animals that are active after the sun goes down and is only open between 7pm and midnight. This means that my photo taking was pretty much reduced to a minimum, but we make do.

The first thing we did, which is the same as nearly everyone, was take a ride on the park tram. It’s a cool way to showcase as many animals as possible, keeping in mind that the lighting is limited to what what would be expected during a full moon. Some animals (such as the tapirs) could only be seen via the tram ride, so this really is an essential part of any visit.

Even if you don’t do the tram ride you still have the chance to see about 70% of the animals in this zoo. Since it is dark, everything is done along a designated path and your ability to see a number of the animals comes down to a bit of luck. Sadly this meant that I was unable to see the tarsiers or the flying squirrels, but we managed to get good views of the hyenas, babirusas, servals and other nocturnal creatures.

Of all the animals in the Night Safari the highlight for me was the wallabies. Mainly because we were there at the same time that the keeper was doing some training with them and we got to know more about the individuals in the enclosure, plus we also has pointed out to us a wallaby who was expecting!

So by the time we left the Night Safari it was super late and, rather than take the long way home via public transport we took a taxi, where we paid both with money and with awkward laughter to some awful dad jokes.

Still this was an absolutely excellent day. It’s a lot of zoo-hopping, true, but that’s never a bad thing if they’re so close together. More rain is forecast for tomorrow, so I guess we’ll see what we end up doing.

Off To Singapore: Day 2 – Chinatown and Gardens By The Bay

The jetlag almost got me! I was awake at 4:30 this morning and it took me an hour to go back to sleep again. Take that jet lag… please don’t get me tonight.

So, today was the first full day in Singapore and it feels like we got an awful lot done, which I’m very pleased about because it’s very hard to do anything when it is 32 degrees and the air feels so thick that you might be able to bite a chunk out of it. Still, this is a holiday and this beats the -2 degree weather that we were having in the UK as as left.

To start off we took a walk up to Clarke Quay to try and find something for breakfast. Sadly most of the things were closed, but we still had a nice walk around the closed up shops and used this as a reminder that Singapore is a city state that draws its life from the water. A lot of the restaurants looked pretty touristy anyway, so it was probably for the best that we bought some pastries in a nearby shopping mall.

The first main thing on the itinerary was to finish off our exploration of Singapore’s Chinatown. This possibly the nicest of all the Chinatowns that I have seen (thus taking the title from Toronto) because of how well maintained it is. I mean, the New Years decorations help, but the Food Street and the main market street are so well done that, for the first time, I really enjoyed having a peruse through some of the stalls.

Chinatown is also home to two impressive temples – the first being the Sri Mariamman Temple. This is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and the first Hindu temple that I have been into, which means:

List Item: Enter a house of worship for the main world religions
Status: Complete

I hadn’t even thought about this goal for ages! Nice to know that some of these can occur without me even really thinking about it. Anyway, this temple had a lot of beautifully painted carvings of Hindu deities. You can tell that this was recently renovated as the colours are still incredibly vibrant.

After this we walked down the street to visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Just by stepping into the courtyard everything felt just that bit cooler than the outside world (this felt like some kind of miracle), and then we entered the hall of the 100 Buddhas.

The amount of gold and statues on display was astounding. Also, since we are in Singapore and this temple is only 11 years old, they are a lot more free with people taking pictures. It’s not a huge temple (you can see more floors if you’re on a pre-booked tour), but the ornamentation really does pack a punch.

From here it was onto a small bit for brunch (we had a lot of small shared meals today) at a nearby hawker centre (a different one from the day before). Why? Because I have been researching places where I could find foods from the 1001 list and I found a place that did this rather unfortunately named crustacean.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 710/751Food item: Moreton Bay Bug

So this name is the Australian name, but this is also known as slipper lobster or (in Singapore) crayfish. Looking at the shells on the crayfish, I am satisfied that this is the correct seafood for the list. It helps that this ‘crayfish’ tasted great, with meat so tender that I could just whip it out of the shell using chopsticks. It tasted like sweet lobster tail meat and this went very well with the peppery sauce. Considering the price, this is something that I would seek out if it was available in the UK.

From here we began our walk to the Gardens by the Bay. In total it is only about 40-45 minutes to walk there from Chinatown. It would be faster to use the subway, but where’s the fun in that? By doing this walk we started to get to know the Marina Bay region with fantastic view of the Singapore skyline plus a first sight of the weird and iconic Marina Bay Sands building. It was on this walk where I really began to think that Singapore could be an ideal place to live – if it was an average of 5 degrees cooler that is.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 74/100Sight: Gardens By The Bay
Location: Singapore
Position: #187

This is the first of two Lonely Planet places in Singapore and it is the one that I have been looking forward to the most. I do love gardens and areas of green within a city, but I don’t think there is any in the world quite like that Gardens By The Bay. The first things that demand your attention are the Supertrees. They are of varying size, but are all very tall and covered in climbing bromeliads.

Of course we had to walk along the Supertree Grove walkway. It helped give a better view of the surroundings and allowed a closer look at some of the orchids that were flowering near the top. It’s a little bit steep at $8 a ticket, but the majority of the garden is free, so I really cannot complain.

Due to the long walk and the increasing temperature we were in need of refreshment, so we shared this pile of flavoured ice (called ice kacang) as a small lunch. This pretty much solved my dehydration problem whilst also being really delicious. The fact that, beneath the multicoloured flavoured ice, there were sweet beans, grass jelly cubes and other things just added to the enjoyment.

With enough water to keep me going for a while, we went to the Flower Dome. Sadly the Cloud Garden was closed for maintenance, but there was more than enough to see in the Flower Dome to keep us happy. The temperature in the dome is set to be an eternal Mediterranean spring day, which means that it was ideal.

This enclosed garden houses plants from a number of different regions of the world that exhibit a Mediterranean climate. Amongst the plants were carvings and some sculptures (including an incredibly impressive wooden dragon) which helped to add to the flavour of the garden. We were technically there at a time where thy were dismantling a flower exhibition on dahlias to make way for a future exhibition, but most of it was thankfully left in tact.

It was with much reluctance that we left the cool temperature of the Flower Dome, but we took this as the opportunity to go to the hawker style area called Satay by the Bay to eat, well, satay.

10 sticks of assorted satay for $7 – and people were telling me about how expensive Singapore is. I guess it’s a perspective thing, also knowing where to get the cheap eats.

We wandered around the garden a bit more after this, making visits to the Indian Garden, the Chinese Garden and the Web of Life (which contains topiaries of a number of local species including the orangutan and the fig wasp). We spent a good 4 hours in the gardens and it was time to visit the building that towers over them: Marina Bay Sands.

With Singapore’s big Ferris wheel out of commission the best place to get an aerial view of the island is from the Marina Bay Sands Skypark on its 56th floor. It’s priced a bit steeply at $23 each, but this is a once in a lifetime thing and it really paid off once we were up there.

This must be one of the few viewing platforms in the world where you can see three different countries – in this instance: Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The views that you can get of the surrounding are are excellent, plus there is plenty of room on the deck to sit in the shade and just admire the view. Something we did for quite a while.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 711/751Food item: Silver Pomfret

For our final stop, we walked to the nearby Marina Link Mall where I had this beauty for dinner at a restaurant called Pappamia. Past me would have been initiated by the presentation of an entire fried fish, but now I’m in there scooping out flesh with the best of them. In terms of taste… I always have trouble differentiating fish. From eating it you can tell that this whitefish is an ocean fish because of the slightly mineral taste in the flesh. It’s also worth noting that this fish didn’t really have a fishy tast.

Could I identify this in a blind taste test? No, but that doesn’t stop it from being delicious.

Now, this this was to going to be the end of the day whereby we would walk back to the hotel and admire the city as it was all lit up (which, as you can see from the pictures, is beautiful) but luck had a different plan for us.

We were walking by the Event Plaza of Marina Bay and we saw a huge crowd gathering. Turns out it was for the nightly water and lights show (called Spectra) and we were bang on time. Over the next 15 minutes I was completely taken in by the synchronised fountains, lasers, music and superimposed images of mandalas, animals and other cultural icons. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit this, but this show managed to move me to tears in its third act. Amazing considering that this was free!

So yea, for a day that was going to be a bit of a slight lean into Singapore in order to get over the jet lag, this became a bit of a mega day. We got lucky that we had no rainfall, but I don’t think we’ll be as lucky tomorrow as we visit Singapore’s many zoos.

Off To Singapore: Day 1 – Excited on Arrival!

I don’t think that I’ve been this excited for a holiday since my honeymoon. We pretty much booked this on a whim because of an excellent deal, which means I have had nearly 5 months of build up in order to plan and to get more and more jazzed. The night before I was just jumping up and down as we finished our packing… you’d think I was a kid going to Disneyland or something.

What’s helped even more with this build up is that I recently got accepted for a new job (finally!) and this holiday is a way for me to escape the negative degree weather caused by ‘The Beast from the East’. Going from below zero to ~30 degrees has already been a bit of a shock to the system.

However, to get to Singapore there is still a 13 hour flight to deal with and an 8 hour time difference to overcome. The flight itself went well as, amazingly, there was no one sitting behind me; therefore I felt entitled to tilt my seat back as far as possible and ended up getting about 5-6 hours of broken sleep. Before this, I managed to do something I didn’t expect.

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 673/1007
Title: Whisky Galore!
Directors: Alexander Mackendrick
Year: 1949
Country: UK

They actually had a movie from the 1001 list that I had not seen as part of the in-flight entertainment. Not just any film either, a particular odd one when you consider it was one of four classics alongside two Marilyn Monroe films and the weird Frank Capra comedy Arsenic and Old Lace.

I enjoyed this odd film about an isolated Scottish island community and their love/obsession towards whisky. Weirdly enough this was probably a perfect airplane movie as you could just enjoy the farcical nature of it as the trolleys go by offering drinks. I have never seen a film quite like this, which may go a long way to explain this film’s inclusion on the list.

So here we are in Singapore. By the time we got the the hotel it was 7pm on a Sunday which meant we only did a cursory explore and found something for dinner.

One thing that really cemented that this is, in fact, Singapore is their love-hate relationship with durians. On the one hand it is hard to walk far it hour seeing somewhere selling durian sweets, juices, shakes or whole durians. On the other hand… they are banned on the subway and the hotel I’m staying in has a $300 fine in place for people who bring durian into their rooms.

This durian-based duality aside, I’m already loving my limited exposure to Singapore. Our hotel it just north of Chinatown, so it only made sense to head south. I mean with these awesome light-up fruit and dog decorations still on display for Chinese New Year, how could someone not be attracted to walk this way?

On our travels we randomly came across one of Singapore’s many hawker centres. Considering the day and time it was mostly shut, but enough was open to give me serious troubles in deciding what to eat. We must have walked around three times before I finally settled on a booth to buy from.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 709/751Food item: Laksa Noodle

For $12 we got a bowl of laksa soup, a bowl of mixed meat noodles (I am not even going to think about what was meant by ‘mixed meat’ for these noodles) and two cups of Bandung (think evaporated milk mixed with rose syrup plus plenty of ice). With this I have finally crossed off the last noodle from the food list and got to enjoy these bouncy noodles in their natural habitat.

As nice as the laksa soup was, the real MVP of this meal was the Bandung. Both the soup and the mixed meat bowl were spicy, which meant that this milky rose drink was exactly what we needed to stop the food burn. Something tells me that I’m going to leave Singapore with an even higher spice tolerance than I already have…

And that was pretty much it for our first night. We bought some pastries from a Japanese bakery and watched some Chinese people practice their square dancing before heading back to the hotel. I am acutely aware that, because of all the travel and the time difference, sleep might be a bit weird tonight – so we’ll have to see how it goes.