Exploring Singapore

Highlights of my ‘Singapore Fling’

Singapore is one of the most exciting cities in Asia. I’ve visited Singapore on two occasions, not as a main holiday destination, but as part of a cruise. Singapore is a small city state that is certainly big on personality. It was formerly a crown colony of the British Empire which went on to become a part of Malaysia before gaining independence in 1965. It is the world busiest port in terms of shipping tonnage and on sailing in our captain informed us that some ships can be anchored outside port for up to three months waiting to dock! On our first visit for a day in 2012, I wasn’t sure what to expect as my only experience of Asia at this point had been Pattaya in Thailand, which bears no resemblance except similar weather. I can honestly say it’s one of the nicest cities I’ve ever visited which is the reason why we took advantage of adding a 3 night stay to the end of another cruise which disembarked in Singapore. It is easily reached from the UK with several regional airports offering flights via Dubai with Emirates Airlines.

The city is clean and very modern, the local people are very friendly and it’s easy to get around which is great as there’s so much to see and do. From both visits, I have several fantastic memories and these are my highlights which you could easily fit into a 2 or 3-night stay.

Gardens by the Bay

Before we visited Singapore for the first time I researched where to go as our time was limited. The Gardens by the Bay were recently opened and sounded really interesting, so they were top of our list and we weren’t disappointed! It is a national garden and first class horticultural attraction for locals and visitors alike. The aim is to showcase the plant kingdom in a totally new way with garden artistry and horticultural innovation and to offer a calendar of exciting events to both entertain and educate including Christmas Wonderland of which I’ll cover more later.

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Admission to the beautiful and extensive outdoor gardens is free however, there is a charge to enter some areas such as the conservatories, flower dome and skywalk. The gardens are home to the ‘Super Trees’ and it was love at first sight for me (how can someone be smitten by giant metal trees? I don’t really know myself but I am!) hopefully you can see why from these photos! These Super Trees stand up to 16 storeys high and over 200 species of plants form a ‘skin’ growing vertically up the trees. It was wonderful to see the difference in growth between our first visit in 2012 and our second in 2015!

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Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay

On our second visit to Singapore we were joined by my son and daughter-in-law and we were keen to introduce them to some highlights of our first visit. So along with a daytime return to Gardens by the Bay we went along in the evening to enjoy the spectacular Christmas Wonderland…and wow! they certainly don’t do things by half in Singapore!

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The rather grand entrance to Christmas Wonderland

This was an extravaganza of all things festive including stunning light installations, an ice rink, Christmas market, fairground stalls, live musicians and more! Best of all admission is FREE although some attractions inside had a charge such as the ice rink.

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This picture below is of a really cool attraction where people were positioned on the floor beneath a huge mirror. This, in turn, produced the image you see in this photograph which could be purchased as a momento.

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This was Christmassy heaven and felt a bit like I was walking through Disney World, humming along to the festive music that filled the air and with a warm, happy feeling inside. We also enjoyed listening to a choir singing Christmas Carols in the most magical of settings! click here to see the video on my YouTube channel!

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Marina Bay Sands Hotel

This architectural gem of a building is located right next to Gardens by the bay with a elevated walkway into the Gardens. This is accessed from an external glass elevator which is an experience in itself!

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The hotel has its own retail experience too – The Shoppes – a luxury shopping centre with a canal running through it on which you can take a gondola ride. The MRT station here connects you to many areas of Singapore.

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The hotel has several appealing bars and restaurants which are open to the public.There is a viewing platform on the 57th floor too and from there you can enjoy spectacular views over the bustling shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait. Entry costs SD$23 Adult; SD$17 Children (Singapore dollars) at time of writing however, here’s my tip to enjoy most of the same view for FREE!  From the lobby take a lift in tower one up to level 57 where you’ll step out onto a smaller viewing platform right next to the bar and restaurant on the bay side.

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If, like us, you want to enjoy a Singapore Sling while in town then it’s a good idea to try one in the bar here. This way you get to enjoy the outdoor seating area which curves around to the other side of the hotel and offers fantastic views over the city itself and a chance to check out the 57th floor infinity pool.

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Newton Food Centre

This fantastic food court was a recommendation from a helpful Australian guy living in Singapore who we chatted to in the MRT station. How fortunate to have that chance encounter as we wouldn’t have known about this place. This is one of what are known as Hawker Centres, where you are approached by hawkers from each stall offering you a menu and asking you to sit at a table and…as there are lots of stalls, there are lots of them! We were approached almost immediately by more than one hawker and this can seem a bit overwhelming when you haven’t even had the chance to look around, especially as the atmosphere is quite bustling. If like us, you want to check out some of the stalls before making your choice, just politely decline.

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The large outdoor dining area is surrounded by a perimeter of stalls (over 50) selling a variety of Asian and Singapore dishes, so there’s something for everyone. When you’re ready a hawker will escort you to a table and from there they will look after you with all your food and drink orders. As it’s a while since we visited I can’t remember exactly what we ate but it was all lovely and reasonably priced. One of the most popular dishes is the chilli crab which I didn’t try but others in my company enjoyed it. On our visit this dish was priced by weight rather than by serving, so it pays to check before you order. The hawkers were friendly and the atmosphere was lively. Popular with locals and visitors, it’s a great unfussy place to relax with a cold beer and sample local food!

Chinatown

We had been recommended to visit Chinatown by relatives of ours. This historic area is a melting pot of old and new where you’ll find an abundance of traditional shops and markets alongside trendy stores and cool cafes all vying for your attention. This area is home to the colourful and ornate Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Here you’ll find Chinese temples sitting alongside Hindu temples and Mosques.

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On the day we visited China Town we weren’t really prepared for the amount of rain  we encountered which meant our exploration of the area took the form of hopping from one shop awning to another as we tried to keep dry. The rain soon developed into a ‘mini monsoon’ just as we’d decided to sit down in a cafe…phew! what great timing! It’s a shame we didn’t see more of this historic district however I was happy just to take in the atmosphere through a curtain of rain at this point!

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Little India

This is a vibrant historic centre where traditional trades rub shoulders with modern boutiques, hotels, restaurant’s, temples, churches and mosques. It’s very busy with a great atmosphere and fabulously colourful! If you like shopping or sniffing out a bargain then you could spend hours here. Shopping isn’t a pastime high on my list when on holiday but observing day to day life is something I enjoy, so a spot of people watching while enjoying some fabulous Indian cuisine was the order of the day after we’d finished exploring.

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It’s hard to know where to choose as there’s so many great looking (and smelling) options. Usually a place where you see several locals eating can be a good indicator, so that’s what we did! The dishes on the menu weren’t what you’d typically find in the UK, so we asked the server to recommend a good mix of dishes for the four of us. The result was that we enjoyed probably the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. This wasn’t a flash place but that wasn’t the experience we were after. What we got, more importantly, was great authenitic Indian cooking.

Raffles Hotel

This is one of the most famous hotels in the world so while in Singapore we just had to visit out of curiosity! If you haven’t heard of the hotel here’s a potted history: This beautiful colonial style hotel opened its doors in 1887 and is named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles the founder of Singapore. It is synonymous with luxury and renowned for the famous faces who have frequented the hotel over the decades including celebrities, dignitaries and royalty. Azamara Asia Cruise 572.JPG

The popular cocktail ‘Singapore Sling’ was also created in the Long Bar of this hotel and to sip on this famous cocktail at bar is on many a traveller’s ‘Bucket List’. We didn’t do this for two reasons firstly, we’d already tried a Singapore Sling while enjoying views from Marina Bay Sands hotel and secondly, I don’t particularly like them so preferred to save my $15!

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The Long Bar

It is a traditional hotel which surprises you with its oasis of tropical planting around the central courtyard and grounds. Many of the bedrooms opening out onto verandas surrounded by exotic plants. It’s certainly a contrast to the modern high rise buildings surrounding it. Azamara Asia Cruise 587.JPG

It’s perfectly OK to walk around the public areas of the hotel and enjoy a drink or food in the beautiful restaurants, bars and coffee shop should you wish. If you like a spot of shopping (or window shopping in my case) The Raffles Arcade features around 40 speciality boutiques with beautifully decorated window displays. This is where I had my second ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ moment..the first was in New York..although I wasn’t eating breakfast at the time like Audrey Hepburn in the movie. We had a spot of brunch in the coffee shop Ah Tengs where you can choose from a visually appealing range of sweet and savoury treats.

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The stunning festive Tiffanys window display

At the time of writing the hotel is undergoing a restoration programme in certain areas so a quick of their website ahead of a visit I advised.

Clarke Quay

Hugging the banks of the Singapore river, Clarke Quay is a thriving hub of bars, restaurants, live music, street entertainment, shops and more. We visited twice enjoying a great value set lunch on one day however it’s in the evenings that it really comes alive and you are spoilt for choice with numerous restaurants featuring a variety of local and international cuisines and bars for enjoying a live music and entertainment or just conversation and a quieter drink. The atmosphere is fantastic with visitors being a mix of ages and made up of locals, city workers and tourists. There are shops aplenty too, although you’ve probably gathered by now that I don’t really shop much on my travels! In many of the bars the drinks were on the pricey side compared to other areas with a pint of lager coming in at around SD$15 (about £8.50 at the time) so it pays to ask first, especially if you’re on a budget. We could walk to Clarke Quay from our hotel however, you can reach the area by public transport such as taxi, water taxi or MTR (I won’t comment on the bus system as we did not use it).

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Singapore MRT Trains

The MRT (mass rapid transport system) is modern, clean and efficient and a fast way to get around the city with many of the major attractions of Singapore within walking distance of an MRT station. It really was a pleasure to travel on the bright and airy trains. The stations themselves are spacious and clean with most featuring colourful décor and interesting artwork which make your journey to the train a more enjoyable experience. We bought an EZ-Link card which gives you unlimited travel on the MRT and bus network for 1, 2 or 3 days at a great value fixed rate, find out more and current prices here.

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There are a multitude of attractions to explore in Singapore but there’s only so much you can squeeze into a 3 night stay!. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my highlights and that I’ve given you an insight into this amazing destination. Have you visited Singapore? I’d love to hear your about your favourite things to do so drop me a comment.

Thanks for reading and bye for now. June x

 

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25 Facts About My Travels And Me!

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Favourites, Firsts, Scary Moments and more!

In the first yeat of writing my Travel Blog I’ve really enjoyed the interaction with my readers especially when I read responses to questions I pose such as what destination is top of your Travel wish list; your favourite holiday spot or travel tip; most memorable experience? etc. I’m regularly asked about my about my own travel experiences too so I thought I’d be nice to share some of my Travel Facts with you. Here they are:

No. of Countries visited – 51 (I don’t think I’ve missed any)

No. of Cruises taken – 28

It’s certainly a fantastic way to see the world and get a taste of destinations you may like to explore further.

Favourite Travel Destination Abroad – The Greek Islands.

I’ve visited 9 plus the mainland and it’s hard to choose a favourite although for beauty it has to be Santorini!

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Favourite UK Destination – The Lake District.

One of my favourite walks is around Derwentwater (shown).

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Favourite City – Sydney.

Sailing into Sydney Harbour on a cruise ship was fabulous and the city itself is great to explore and relax in equal measure. I just wish it wasn’t so far from the UK.

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First Holiday Abroad – Magaluf, Majorca…well, it was the 1980’s!

Age first travelled abroad – 20

Favourite Travel Tip – Have a printable ‘Holiday’ checklist to tick off items as you pack

Mostly travel as – A couple

Although we’ve had some fantastic family holidays to celebrate ‘Big’ Birthdays! including mine!

I Took My Honeymoon in – London for 4 nights (running a business meant no time to go abroad)

It’s Hard To Believe But – I didn’t visit the Lake District until  I was 30! especially being from Northumberland! and we loved it so much we returned the following weekend and visit regularly now. I didn’t visit Wales until my 40’s either.

Favourite Holiday Cocktail – A great Mojito

My Holiday Rituals are – Wherever possible the first alcoholic drink I have on holiday is a Pina Colada. It’s not my favourite cocktail but it’s a proper taste of the Tropical and symbolises the start of fun times ahead!

We always holiday in December and never leave home without an advent calendar!

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Favourite Airport – UK Newcastle; Overseas Singapore

Favourite Holiday Outfit – A shift dress and wedge sandals

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Cruise evening wear…

I’d love to – Fly first class return to New Zealand

Worst ever flight delay – 23 hours!! From Newcastle to Cyprus

I missed a flight to – London…for my honeymoon!

I thought our 10.40am flight was 11.40am. The lovely folks at BA understood and put us on the next flight in 2 hours. I was so tired following the 2 day celebrations that I wasn’t too bothered and sitting down for a coffee we both agreed it was the first time we’d had to ourselves to catch our breath and reflect on the lovely wedding we’d had.

Favourite Holiday Reading – I love a great crime thriller so anything by Peter James. If you have any reading recommendations I’d love tho hear them.

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Most Memorable Holiday Moment – Being proposed to on the deck of a cruise ship under the Caribbean stars!

I love that my Husband had the forsight to carry out such a romantic proposal and you can read more about that magical moment and our Disney Cruise.

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Scariest Holiday Moment – getting stuck in a strong current while swimming in Cyprus.

It was such a horrible experience and proved that effortless swimming out can turn perilous in the most calm and blissful setting.

A close second was on a visit to a farm in Honduras where I was scratched and bitten by a playful Oscelot who decided to use my leg as a sctatch post! One year on I still have the scars. Word to self – never enter a cage with a wild animals! (just to be clear I wasn’t mauled but I got a canny shock!).

I’ll Never – drink Tequila again!

Enjoying great company on board a cruise in the Caribbean I had what I now refer to as ‘My Tequila Moment’! I’ll spare you the gory details but it was messy…I’m sure you get my drift! it became the first AND last time I’ve ever drank the stuff!

I Dream of – Seeing the Northern Lights in Norway.

Upcoming 2017 Travels – South American Cruise; Sandals Resort stay in Jamaica; Cruising the Norwegian Fjords with Cunard.

This image is from our visit to the beautiful town of Stavanger in Norway.

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Destinations I’d love to visit soon – Abroad: Hawaii, New Orleans and Austria; UK: Peak District, Kent and more of Scotland following my visit to Dumfries and Galloway. You can read about my visit here.

So there you have it, just a few random Travel Facts. Do you share any of my experiences or favourites, have a book recommendation or maybe a ritual or tip you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them.

Thanks for reading and bye for now.

June xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Holiday Keepsakes

…and the ‘Beach Hut’ full of travel treasures!

I regularly bring a reminder of my travels back home, be that an entry ticket to a fantastic experience, a handmade craft or beautiful pebble/shell from a favourite beach. Whatever the item, it’s always a happy reminder of a certain moment or place in time. I often buy items that can be displayed in my home and love the feeling you get..you know the one..when you’re transported straight back in time, with a fond smile spreading across your face! this could happen when you walk into a room and your eye is drawn to one of your fabulous finds, when you pick pick up an item to dust or put on a piece of handcrafted jewellery.

Apart from the reminders of happy holiday moments and travelling tales, I love the individuality that keepsake pieces bring to your home. They add personality on our spaces in a way that some chain store items can’t (that’s not to say they don’t sell lovely things) and there are some beautiful treasures to be found on your travels at home and abroad.

One of my all time favorite keepsakes is this cuddly toy from a visit to Loch Ness about 15 years ago, not long after I’d got married. It still makes me smile and now my Granddaughters love it too!

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As far as interiors go, the ‘Nessies’ live in my Granddaughters room. Throughout the rest of the house you will find homewares from a variety of countries including some favorites shown here from visits to Vietnam: Lacquerware (Vietnam is famed for its lacquerware or ‘son mai’), wooden animal puzzles and a silk lamp; and from Tortola in the Caribbean: a Cat ‘trinket box’ puzzle.

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Some decorative items I bring back are smaller and usually displayed in the ‘Beach Hut’. No, I don’t actually own a beach hut, but there is a special little room in my house which has affectionately been given that moniker. I’ll let you guess which room it is. It’s safe to say it puts a smile on all our visitors faces.

The items on display come from places including Hong Kong, Mexico, Greece, Barbados, Curacao, Grand Turk, St. Kitts, Vietnam, and more…even Northumberland!

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My keepsakes find their way into the garden too.

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Of course, many keepsakes don’t go on display. It’s those little items which hold great memories, like a key card to beautiful hotel room, ticket to an event, a guide book, restaurant business card or a well worn map. Some people love to make a scrap book, for me it’s my ‘holiday box’ which holds a whole host of treasures from which I won’t be parted. I love to rummage through this box from time to time in a way that you used to look through holiday photographs, you know, the printed ones! This particular photo is for presentation purposes only, everything has now been piled..I mean placed…back inside!

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Jewellery is another treasure I often bring back from my travels and I have pieces that I wear often and always with a smile. Most are inexpensive, brighten up my outfits plus jewellery is a perfect way to mark a special occasion on holiday such as a birthday or anniversary. Here are two of my favourites which were bought just because I loved them: Bracelet from the village of Plaka in Crete; Hematite necklace from Samana in the Dominican Republic.

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Sometimes I bring back treasures that I can eat or drink (they never last long enough to be called keepsakes!) such as preserves, good wine from a vineyard or sweet treats such as Greek Baklava and Kataifi. Pictured here are treasures from vineyard visits: the bottle from a delicious wine from Italy and a (full) bottle of Cotto, a grape syrup from Kefalonia .

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I’m also a big fan of all things Disney and have some special keepsakes including these two: A fabulous Cinderella’s Carriage musical snow globe, a wedding present bought at Disney World for my husband Ron and me; and one of our world hopper passes from our visit during Disney World’s 25 year celebrations.

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Other favourites include this handwritten scroll, a gift from an artist during an excursion in Vietnam; a wooden strawberry I bought for Ron on the Caribbean island of Dominica which, when opened had the message I Love You on a sticker in the lid (which has since been lost) and was a bargain at only  $1 USD; a playing card which was used during a magic trick I helped with in Spain.

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I’ve so many fabulous finds that are special to me and evoke memories of romance, fun, excitement, fear (tower of terror anyone!!), fabulous sights, smell, taste and more.

I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing in some of my memories and I know you’ll have lots of your own. I love your comments so it’d be great to hear about some of your favorite holiday keepsakes.

Thanks for reading and bye for now. June xx