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.

155

Azamara Asia Cruise 553

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!

157.JPG

158.JPG

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!

Azamara Asia Cruise 615
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.

Azamara Asia Cruise 614

Azamara Asia Cruise 620

Azamara Asia Cruise 635

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.

Azamara Asia Cruise 637

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!

Azamara Asia Cruise 611

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!

Azamara Asia Cruise 554.JPG

153

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.

162.JPG

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.

Azamara Asia Cruise 540.JPG

 

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.

177.JPG

182.JPG

180

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.

IMG_3694.JPG

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.

Azamara Asia Cruise 562

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!

Azamara Asia Cruise 564.JPG

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.

singapore-805548_1920.jpg

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!

Azamara Asia Cruise 588 (2)

Azamara Asia Cruise 596
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.

Azamara Asia Cruise 580.JPG
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).

singapore-123337_1920.jpg

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.

singapore-214738_1280.jpg

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

 

Advertisements

Warden Hill Circular Walk, Northumberland

In the beautiful Northumberland National Park

img_9922
Trying to keep my balance in the wind atop Warden Hill

I always knew I was lucky to grow up in Northumberland, hailing from a mining town near the beautiful coast. What I didn’t realise in my younger years was just how much there was to discover in this beautiful county, especially in the countryside and that is how, in my 5th decade, I’m still finding new and delightful areas to explore.

Last year I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour of Northumberland National Park with my local Travel Massive group (a group of like minded travel enthusiasts) and it reignited my love for my home county. I now return to explore more regularly, especially on foot, making a point to visit previously unseen areas as I did today.

My walking partner was or rather, always is, my husband Ron and our destination on this occasion was the village of Warden near Hexham. I’d read a lovely write up about this area and a quick internet search brought up this 6km/3.5 mile circular walk. As luck has it, the walk actually started from the delightful Boatside Inn which we had visited and enjoyed before. This obviously was meant to be so and we decided to book for Sunday Lunch at the end of the walk! and off we set.

img_9907-2

As we’d made reservations for Sunday Lunch we parked at the Boatside Inn and set off on the walk described in the literature as ‘This pleasant walk involves a steady climb up to Warden Hill where you will get a panoramic view of south-west Northumberland’ with a walking time of approx. 2 hours.

This sign posted track began about 70m from the Inn where we walked parallel to the Newcastle to Carlisle railway line for a short while. Luck was on our side this day and with the sun shining we were able to appreciate the landscape unfolding before our eyes. The wind didn’t bother us too much either as we we’re sheltered by the trees, although a few low swaying tree branches relieved me of my hat on three occasions!

img_9913

The walk is straighforward to navigate with several finger posts and waymarks. I used a photosnap of the map and directions on my mobile phone as opposed to a printed map. The walk comprises tracks, pasture and tarmac roads. The tracks were fairly muddy in part but that can be expected this time of year as the ground hasn’t had time to dry out. You’d need to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for this walk.

img_9910
The Newcastle to Carlisle railway line winds through the landscape toward Fourstones

You are taken on a steady climb with views across to the village of Fourstones and the river Tyne. At every turn another lovely scene opened up including a couple of rainbows, even though it hadn’t rained! We mused about how the landscape must have looked to those who lived here in centuries gone by. Small worked flints have been found along one of the tracks which date back around 10,000 years!

img_9914
View toward Fourstones and the river Tyne

It really is such a pleasure to walk in this area. It’s so beautiful and peaceful. I would think it is normally quiet but the wind was whipping up quite a bit as we got higher. We only passed one other person along the way and there were no livestock in the fields we crossed until we reached Warden Hill which was dotted with sheep.

img_9925
Rainbow without the rain! viewed from Warden Hill
img_9924
Stunning blue skies and panoraminc views from Warden Hill (an Iron age Hill Fort)

The views that met us when we reached Warden Hill made the walk totally worthwhile. The term ‘Big Sky’ really applies here as you slowly turn 360 degrees to take in the stunning views…Wow! and as the countryside of south east Northumberland stretched out for miles I was acutely aware of the history beneath my feet as I was standing on the site of an Iron Age hill fort. Coming back downhill we spotted something more ‘gruesomely’ recent in the form of an animal skull and bone, possibly a sheep, which had us wondering about its demise!

img_9923

From Warden Hill the walk took us through the quaint village of High Warden with it’s handful of stone houses and random beds of snowdrops. A tarmac road meandered downward, ultimately leading us back to the Boatside Inn and the promise of a hearty meal. To that end we weren’t disappointed and we both enjoyed a roast beef dinner with probably the biggest yorkshire pudding I’ve ever seen!  So although this isn’t a review of the Inn I would still recommend it as a great place to eat.

img_4312

Ron and I found this walk to be really enjoyable despite the muddy tracks being tricky to negotiate in parts, we just had to take a bit more time and care…and hold onto a few branches at times!

I hope our experience has inspired you to enjoy walks in Northumberland and the National Park area. I’ve only shared a snap shot of this walk in photos as I don’t want to spoil it for you! I love reading your comments so if you’ve already tried this walk or have a favourite walk in this area I’d like to hear about it.

You can view the map and information for this walk here and read the highlights of my tour of Northumberland National Park here.

Thanks for reading. Bye for now, June xx

 

 

 

Dumfries and Galloway

Putting the ‘Bonnie’ into Scotland!

IMG_8002

I’m always saying I’d love to see more of Scotland, another country that’s can be reached in under 2 hours from where I live, but like many others, I let my travels take me abroad to guarantee some warm weather to accompany my cultural experience.

So after spotting a 2 night hotel deal, we booked a stay in the Dumfries and Galloway (D&G) region and after visiting areas mainly to the east, I was looking forward to be heading west.

The route we took was a bit unconventional due to hubby’s work and saw us travel from Wearside to Belford in Northumberland then through Northumberland Park before joining the A69 to Carlisle and onwards. This meant a lovely little stop over for me at Sunnyhills Farm Shop and Café to enjoy coffee, cake and a bit glossy magazine reading to pass the time. The café had a welcoming atmosphere with views across the countryside and served good quality coffee (and free refills which was unexpected but great as I was there a while) and the cake portion was so generous I actually kept half for Ron.

XMLR5094

I’d love to say something positive about the next part of our journey as we were driving through the beautiful Northumberland National Park however, car trouble put paid to that! So concentration was the order of the day and our car, which has never let us down, tried its very best and managed to get us to within 100 yards of our hotel before coming to a halt. I won’t bore you with the details but I’m happy to say our recovery service were amazing, providing us with a nifty hire car and taking our beloved car back home. So on with the weekend.

We were staying at the Hetland Hall Hotel and while it needed some updating  it more than made up for it with fantastic service, wonderful food and some of the friendliest staff I’ve come across.

IMG_8039

We decided to meander our way to the Solway Firth, a designated coastal Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and our first stop was Sweetheart Abbey in the Village of New Abbey. This pretty village was voted Best Small village in Scotland 2012 and a stroll around revealed sights which will have helped it take the title, including cottages with quaint kerb appeal and a tranquil Mill Pond with its sun dappled water and seating for a moments quiet reflection.

IMG_7967IMG_7968IMG_7966IMG_7970

The 13th century Abbey, though partially ruined, has a quiet beauty to it and is bound with a story of enduring love. Following the death of her husband Lord John Balliol, Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway had her husband’s heart embalmed and placed in an ornate ivory casket which she carried wherever she went.  The abbey was founded by Dervorgilla in his memory, and named Dulce Cor (Latin for ‘Sweet Heart’). When she too died, Dervorgilla was laid to rest in front of the abbey church’s high altar, clutching her husband’s heart to her bosom.

IMG_7960

The Abbey was a recommendation from Abbey Cottage Tearoom after I mentioned my upcoming visit on Instagram, so where better to enjoy a coffee before continuing our journey. We relaxed in their sunny courtyard garden and although we didn’t eat here, the food being served at other tables looked lovely and the staff we’re welcoming and friendly. I would certainly return.

IMG_7963IMG_7977

I must add at this point that I had downloaded a nifty little app from ‘Welcome to Scotland’ (as mentioned in the hotel literature). This was an invaluable source of information and a quick look during coffee had shown us that Rockcliffe would be a nice place to visit and do some walking. On the way we spotted a large advertising board in a field for The Steamboat Inn and with its promise of fresh seafood we found ourselves heading for Carsethorne.

Carsethorne is a small ‘one way in and out’ fishing village on the banks of the Solway. The Inn was full of character and packed full of coastal and countryside ‘nick nacks’ and the outdoor space on the edge of the water was a relaxing area with floral displays, plenty of seating and shady umbrellas. It was sunny but breezy so we opted to eat inside and sat in deep armchairs beside the unlit fire (it still felt cosy though) and because of our seating arrangement we decided on the sharing platter of various seafood items, chicken, wedges and dips. It was all very nice but I’ve no photo to show you so you’ll have to take my word for it.

IMG_7985IMG_7984IMG_7986

We headed outside to finish our drinks and sat marveling at the vastness of the Solway Firth and beauty of the countryside surrounding it. Then, feeling pleased with ourselves that our chance culinary find had turned out to be a good decision, we headed to Rockcliffe.

Rockcliffe is a very small coastal village situated on the eastern side of the river Urr estuary and on arrival we could see immediately that we’d made a good choice. The small car park had a very useful information point and a short stroll led us to a shore that was stunningly beautiful.

IMG_7995IMG_8001

At low tide the water is so shallow there’s not even a ripple and it seems frozen in time plus the firm mud and a natural causeway means it’s possible to walk over to Rough Island however, it’s important to check the tide tables in advance.

IMG_8002

We opted to walk one of the circular routes to Kippford and back. This was an easy to moderate walk of approx. 3.25 miles on well signed and maintained footpaths throwing up beautiful scenery along the way along with gorgeous houses and gardens.

IMG_8015

We definitely had a touch of ‘location envy’ and we weren’t alone in enjoying this area with people passing us at intervals and all with a friendly greeting.

IMG_8011

What I wasn’t expecting was a ghoulish hidden Grotto full of items not out of place in a ‘Ghost Train’ ride. So was the sense of humour of one local who had opened up this little part of his land to the passing public.

IMG_8016

Walking into Kippford was one of those ‘who’d have thought this place was here’ moments as we were met with whitewashed cottages, a harbour of sailing boats, cafes and a pub! Yes a Pub! I mean, don’t we all dream of a lovely country pub at the end of a lovely walk? Well, halfway through in this case but we like a pit stop! and so we had one at the Anchor Hotel. It was lovely to sit outside the in the sun and take in the ever changing  green of the landscape as the sun and clouds tussled with each other in the sky. We even had a bit of company!

IMG_8027

The return part of the walk would take us along the Jubilee Path on more elevated ground away from the water but just as pleasant. At the end of this walk we mused about how lovely it must be to live somewhere like this, and at that point I realised I was in danger of checking out Rightmove and hauling my belongings across the border!

IMG_8008IMG_8030IMG_8031

The joys of the day had taken its toll so relaxation was the order of the evening with room service food (again so tasty and well presented) a few drinkies.

The following morning after waving bye bye to our car, which was being transported back home, we decided the head back in the direction we came and pay a visit to Gretna Green. Even though I’d heard it had become very commercial since its humble beginnings I still had to visit the site of many an elopement, a beacon of hope for many and the end point of many a carriage chase…The Blacksmiths Cottage!

IMG_8042

Yes, it is very busy with tourists in abundance but I must admit the whole ‘complex’ as I’ll call it is very well designed, looks nice and welcoming and has lots of shops and facilities. However, I was only really interested in the history of The Blacksmiths Cottage so headed straight for the Gretna Green Story Exhibition. Here the story was brought to life and with interactive elements, story boards, memorabilia and more. For me though, just to stand there in the spots where so many hearts had been united in love was worth the visit for me.  I could feel something special about the place and even shared a couple of quick kisses with Ron while holding hands and striking the famous anvils (there’s more than one and the original is housed in a glass case).

IMG_8050IMG_8054IMG_8064

We’d didn’t hang around to find each other again in the Courtship Maze or shop for souvenirs instead choosing to drive to Carlisle as I’d not been there before.

To be honest I don’t even have a photograph from Carlisle. It wasn’t easy to find your way to the car parking and even the castle didn’t inspire me to walk up to its walls (I LOVE castles, but strangely this one held no draw for me, was it not picturesque enough after the beauty of the D&G? Was I just weary, I can’t put my finger on it)? A quick walk around the town centre had me impressed with Carlisle as a great place for a day of shopping and lunch with friends, with its many eateries, al fresco seating and a good mixture of shops.

We had such a great time that heading home we were already talking of a return to D&G. We’d like to visit areas including Kirkcudbright, known as the Artists’ Town and the Galloway Forest Park which is a haven for walkers, cyclists, adventurers and Dark Skies enthusiasts.

If you’ve visited any of the areas I’ve enjoyed/plan to visit or have any recommendations let me know. Did you or someone you know get married at Gretna Green? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Thanks again for reading, bye for now. June xx