So….Cruise vs DIY?

So did we do it better than taking a cruise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We stayed with:

Parkroyal on Pickering, Chinatown/CBD, Singapore

Citadines La Ramblas, La Ramblas, Barcelona

Hotel Convento do Salvador, Alfama, Lisbon

Villa Montmartre, Montmartre, Paris

Citadines Lyon Presquile, Lyon

Chateau de Trigance, Trigance

Private Residence (AirBNB), Vieille Ville, Nice

Locanda Ca’Amadi, Cannaregio,Venice

Villa Il Mosaico, Florence

B&B Antico Monastero di Anacapri, Anacapri, Capri

Casa Di Eddy, Termini Station, Rome

We flew with:

Singapore Airlines Perth to Barcelona and from Rome to Perth

TAP Airlines from Barcelona to Lisbon and from Lisbon to Paris

HOP Airlines from Nice to Venice

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

We drove with:

Sixt (between Aix en Provence and Nice)

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

Lyon City Card

Lisboa Card

Roma Pass

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

Urban Adventures in Barcelona (Tapas Walking Tour)

France Tourisme in Paris (Versailles)

Tour Azur in Nice (Monaco Evening Trip)

Florencetown in Florence (Pizza and Gelato Making)

Dark Rome in Rome (Vatican Tour)

Coop Culture in Rome (Domus Aurea)

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

Passing of an Era

A few months ago I got the idea that with a long weekend coming up for Easter in April, it would be a good time to plan a little getaway with my girlfriends in Perth.  We thought about a few places, but we had limited time and with me being on the East Coast now, there were a limited number of places in which we could maximise our time.  It was pretty soon clear that there was only one place that was going to fit the bill, and as much as I hated to admit it (and only because of my penchant for checking out new places) – Singapore was it.

Again?  Seriously?  I hear you.  I mean what is it now?  Trip 14?  15?  I’m not sure myself to be honest.

But what is it that you want when you are heading away with the girls?  It’s going to be all about shopping, cocktails, relaxing and pampering.  Easy pleasure, with the option of exploring something new if the whim takes us.  And that’s what you get with Singapore.  It’s a girl’s holiday paradise – safe, clean and with everything that a girl’s holiday requires.

And in my opinion, it’s thanks to one man that we have this paradise to return to time and time again.

Love him or not, Lee Kuan Yew was the man who shaped Singapore into what she is today.  Singapore’s first Prime Minister after gaining independence in 1965, his reign saw average incomes rise 100 times, with investments across the globe, a widely respected civil service and world-class infrastructure.

He was widely criticised for his iron-fisted rule (a benevolent dictatorship or form of government in which an authoritarian leader exercises absolute political power over the state but is seen to do so for the benefit of the population as a whole) and for creating a nanny state where there was no chewing gum allowed, no littering, no graffiti, no jaywalking, no spitting, no expelling mucous from the nose and no urinating anywhere but in a toilet. What a terrible place to live huh!  Imagine that – a society where we respect each other enough to behave with dignity!

I recently read an old article that decried how Singaporeans were bombarded by official campaigns such as ‘Speak Good English!’, ‘Speak Mandarin’, ‘Be More Considerate!, ‘Be Spontaneous!’, ‘Be More Careful!’, and ‘Drive Courteously!’, and I had to wonder what was actually wrong with that?  Why shouldn’t you be proud to speak your native tongue?  Why shouldn’t we be more considerate?  One only has to stand on any peak hour street corner in the Melbourne CBD and listen to the furious honking of impatient drivers, taking stupid risks to save themselves 10 seconds of time to wonder whether we also should be driving a little more courteously!

I am not blind enough to think there is no crime at all in Singapore (on one December visit, there were three bodies that washed up in the Singapore River), but I certainly do consider it one of the safest cities I have visited and, although I take the same caution to personal safety wherever I am, I have always felt safe in Singapore and I know my girlfriends will agree, because this is part of what keeps us coming back.  As a female in a Australian society where we (often the victims) are warned not to walk through parks by ourselves to avoid vicious attacks, it’s nice to know there’s somewhere in the world we can go to not have to worry so much, and to at least know that if a crime is perpetrated, there will be consequences – for the perpetrator.

After his retirement, LKY remained a revered figure by many but he also became the target of social media attacks as some Singaporeans began to muster the courage to speak out against him and his political and social model.  Despite his retirement, he still oversaw and directed policy in his role as Minister Mentor.

Lee Kuan Yew died last month, aged 91 and was buried on March 29.  Thousands turned out to pay their respects to the leader.

How are we unfree?

I tell you what freedom is.

Freedom is being able to walk on the streets unmolested in the wee hours in the morning, to be able to leave one’s door open and not fear that one would be burgled. Freedom is the woman who can ride buses and trains alone; freedom is not having to avoid certain subway stations after night falls. Freedom is knowing our children can go to school without fear of drugs, or being mowed down by some insane person with a gun. Freedom is knowing that we are not bound by our class, our race, our religion, and we can excel for the individuals that we are – the freedom to accomplish. Freedom is living in one of the least corrupt societies in the world, knowing that our ability to get things done is not going to be limited by our ability to pay someone. Freedom is fresh air and clean streets, because nothing is more inimical to our liberty of movement than being trapped at home because of suffocating smog.

These are the freedoms that Singaporeans have, freedoms that were built on the vision and hard work of Lee Kuan Yew, our first Prime Minister. And we have all of these, these liberties, whilst also being one of the richest countries in the world.

There was no trade-off.

Calvin Cheng, Journalist

Memorium

It will remain to be seen where Singapore’s future lays and how, if at all, she will change.  Though Lee once said ‘even if you are going to lower me into the ground and I feel that something is wrong, I’ll get up’, so I doubt there’ll be anything to worry about!

Home?

Our flight is at 9.30 and we are so close to the airport, it literally takes us 10 minutes to get to the check in counter.  And we didn’t even have to get up at some stupid hour to get here.

I can’t believe this trip is over.  At times it’s felt like flying by the seat of my pants – new day, new city, what can I fit in?  And I know there’s a few places I need to come back to so I can see and do everything I want to.  It’s a brain drain at times, constantly on alert for things that are second nature to you when you are at home, but the experience, as always is invaluable.  And I am so glad that I am able to travel and have all these experiences, good and bad, because I’m sure that these can only make me a better person.

Munich – you were great – it was especially great to see my surname all over the place, but there’s only so much beer I can take (especially of the large, face consuming mug type) and I really need some vegetables.

Prague – such an interesting city.  Would have loved a day on a boat along the river, to go and listen to some music, eat Prague ham and the opportunity to photograph a sunset.

Cesky Krumlov – a small place I know, but I still think one more day would have been good here because I enjoyed the outdoors aspect and didn’t get a chance to photograph the massive dinosaur outside the museum for Lola.

Vienna – palaces and gardens.  I know there’s more to you and you are a classy city, but I’m not sure you were my city.  The fancy shoes an strudel making were definitely a highlight, but I will always thank you for Dialogue in the Dark.

Budapest – well all you showed me was rain, but even then I could see that you had so much more to offer.  For you – I’d love a whole week to explore.  I will be back, and although the plain mushroom and cheese langos was divine, I’ll load it up next time.

Krakow – you are as lovely as everyone says you are.  I would love to be on your doorstep again.  Special thanks to Cornellia from Crazy Guides, your command of the English language thanks to ‘Friends’ was amazing, as was your tour of Nowa Huta.  We would love to see you in Australia, but I’m not sure I can find a vehicle for you that would top driving a trabant.

Warsaw – what can I say – I read recently that you have a face that only a mother can love.  And it’s true.  I know you want to open up, but I don’t think you can just yet.  I’ll give you time and see how you go, but you are brave and you are a fighter and you have a fantabulous history that the world is waiting to hear about.  Thanks to Adam from Adventure Warsaw for his view of the city – you really made our trip.

And Singapore – you know how I feel about you.  We are best friends and I’ll always be back to visit.

Our Intrepid guide, Matt Starr, did a brilliant job of keeping the pieces of an age/expectation varied group together.  Your patience knows no bounds.  You say you aren’t a tour guide, but your knowledge frequently floored those of us on the tour and you have a real knack for choosing restaurants dude!  There was just about always something with some kind of vegetable in it and in central Europe, where meat and potatoes are king (thought that was just in Aus), that is a major challenge.  It was also a thrill to be able to film your ice bucket challenge for you in Prague.

It was great to meet family that I have never known for the first time, although most of us couldn’t communicate.  Your hospitality said it all.  And it was the best feeling to see and feel the place my Polish roots were planted.  It would be interesting to return to Warsaw in another 10 years and see if she has opened her arms any wider.  In the meantime, we look forward to welcoming our Warsaw cousins to Australia next year.

We are returning to Perth (me after three and a half weeks, Mum and Dad after about six weeks) and this is where the fun will begin for me.  But of course, you’re going to have to stay tuned for that.  The world always seems so much bigger and wider after travelling.

Don’t be Late Like the White Rabbit!

This morning we check out of the Dorsett and leave them holding our luggage, while we head to brunch at the White Rabbit in Dempsey.  Housed in an old chapel on the Dempsey grounds (an old British Army barracks and former site of Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower, where her young men would commence their national service), the White Rabbit, which is themed on the story Alice down the rabbithole, has been extensively renovated and I like what they’ve done.  The old altar is now the inside bar, the confessional now the wine room.  The original flooring has obviously inspired the décor – comfortable grey looks with powder blue wooden chairs, and classy oak tables, simply adorned with single white carnations.  There is a beautiful bouquet of white lisianthus and other assorted white blooms, which is stunningly simple.  Even the toilets are stylishly simple.  Outdoors is the evening bar, the Rabbit Hole and again, this area has been stunningly decorated with a simple hand.

WR Sign

The ever attentive staff make sure you glasses – wine or water – are never empty and your plates – once you have managed to eat the divine blessing which has been plated before you, is removed swiftly.  Brunch was a beautiful, laid back affair and I would love to come back here next time to sample their dinner affair.

I just can’t believe that so close to Orchard Road, is a place that seems to be in such a different world.  But I like it, and I’ll be returning to investigate it’s offerings a lot more in the future.

Delicately full from our late start to the day, we return to the Dorsett to collect our luggage and move on to our next hotel, the Crowne Plaza Changi.  Given our early morning flight tomorrow morning, we decided to make it easy (and slightly more expensive) on ourselves by staying at the Crowne Plaza Changi, right on the doorstep of Changi Airport.

It also makes the perfect base to show Dad a very important part of Singapore that he hasn’t seen before, and which I haven’t blogged about either.  It’s been several years since I visited the Changi Chapel and Prison Museum, the first visit when Mum and I intrepidly caught a bus out here to suss it out for ourselves.  This time though, we decide to do it with the help of an audio guide to obtain a different perspective rather than just reading the (very informative) information panels.

Nobody expected Singapore to fall during WWII.  It was a bastion of British safety and it was just inconceivable.  Even perhaps to the Japanese themselves, as indicated by this quote from Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita’s:

“My attack on Singapore was a bluff, a bluff that worked… I was very frightened that all the time the British would discover our numerical weakness and lack of supplies and force me into disastrous street fighting.” 
     1 Mar 1942

But fall it did.  General Percival was forced to surrender at the Old Ford Factory in Upper Bukit Timah Road (another sight I have yet to visit), which now houses the National Archives of Singapore.  And for three years it was under Japanese rule, even being re-named – Syonan-to – “light of the south”.  The Japanese ruled with terror and banana money until the end of the war.

Most surprisingly, and something which doesn’t come up often, was that there were around 400 women and children interned here at Changi.  Some of these women, many of them young and inexperienced were selected to be used at the whim of Japanese soldiers, a terrible sense of stigma and shame which would remain with them always.  There’s not a wealth of information about the Changi women, but you can see on display at several war museums around the world, including at the Australian War Memorial in the ACT, quilts made by the women, which included personal messages to loved ones.

Of course I came away with several books on the subject of Changi because you know all about me and books.  There were many to choose from, but I thought carefully and tried to choose several which I would hope would provide different viewpoints.  These were “Man of the Rising Sun” by James Sebastian, “Tales by Japanese Soldiers” by Kazuo Tamayama and John Nunneley and “Hiroshima” by John Hersey.  It’s always good to know all sides of the story!

We light a candle to remember those who suffered and died here and leave with the sobering experience lingering in our heads.

On the Corner of Dorsett & Duxton

This trip to Singapore was literally included as a grounder on the way home – there’ll hardly be time to explore. Dad hasn’t been here for quite a few years so he’s bound to notice a lot of changes – I think they had only started clearing the land for Gardens by the Bay back then. And Marina Bay Sands certainly wasn’t fanning the skyline with her deck of cards. For me it will just be a couple of days to get back into my own time zone before I get back to the grind.

Arriving in Singapore at around 4.20pm, we are feeling fine thanks to our JetEase tablets.

We’ve checked into a recently opened hotel named the Dorsett which sits between Chinatown and Tiong Bahru, nearby to Duxton Hill. Loads of funky little restaurants have breathed new life into renovated shophouses in this area, their five footways filled with excited diners, lively additions to the narrow windy streets of old.

My room is pretty small, but you only need a bed right!.  The hotel is quite wonderfully decorated – winged, coloured Chinese buddahs adorn one window, bling bordered panelling on the walls, huge chandeliers and a piano that plays itself.  And it’s a 10 minute walk to Chinatown, which is exactly where we are heading for dinner.

Chinatown Food Street Chinatown Meal

Given our location, there’s any number of places we could try for dinner. Russian caviar bar, Peranakan delights, Fusion fantasies…but it’s raining, and Chinatown is one MRT stop away from our hotel and it’s cheap.  My awesome meal cost me about SG$12 (king brown beer included!).

Chinatown’s food street has recently been revamped.  It’s now undercover and all sanitized, but I think it’s still a good place to go for a meal.  Currently, it’s time for the Mid-Autumn festival and the main streets on each side of Chinatown are adorned with large colourful silk flowers.  There’s also a lantern display, which lights up the entrance of the Chinatown MRT station.

DSC00742 DSC00740

Stomachs full though, it’s now time to rest our weary heads before we storm our way through tomorrow.

Psst…I’m going to…

OK, well my flight takes off this weekend.  Wanna know where I’m going? Of course you do. Well…..drum roll please….it’s….Singapore! AGAIN?  I hear you say. Yes.  I love it. But seriously…AGAIN? Yes.  But there’s a couple of twists this time!  Trust me!  I won’t let you down! Chat to you soon!

More Shopping at the Marina

Guess what’s on the itinerary for today – a visit to Marina Bay, well to be specific – a visit to Marina Bay to go … shopping!  The Marina Bay Shoppes are a spectacle to behold with indoor gondola rides, skating rink and top brand names like Manolo Blahnik, Harry Winston and Jimmy Choo.  Nevertheless we still find things to suit our budgets (though with the amount of shopping going on, I’m beginning to wonder whether anyone was on a budget!).  There are so many stunning shoes around, but my size 41 (10) feet are making it impossible for me to bring any of them home.  I make do with a pair of Swarovski crystal earrings instead.
For lunch we grab burgers before heading off to see the newly opened Gardens by the Bay.  Feb, Jo, Lindsay and I go in search of the giant garden funnels, while Sarah and Erin retire to the hotel.  The Gardens are stunning and the scale of them unbelievable until you are standing in it.
Later in the afternoon Feb, Erin and I scour Central in search of foot relaxation and soon find ourselves in 3 side by side salon chairs getting our legs massaged back into shape – such a lovely way to spend an afternoon with friends.
I’ve managed to talk the other girls into a visit to the original Botanic Gardens for this evening, where there’ll be a performance by a group called Teng.  The group has performed at high profile events such as the Singapore HeritageFest, Shanghai World Expo and Youth Olympic Games.  These guys put modern beats to traditional Chinese instruments and they are performing for free tonight, so I thought ‘Why not?’  The guys are amazing.  At one point a beautiful feminine voice rings out from the amphitheatre and we are all looking for the woman singing because all we can see are the seven guys standing on the stage.  Turns out, the voice is coming from one of them!  Another number features rhythmic drummers.  It’s a great show, and aside from the music, its great to be sitting back on the lawn watching Singaporeans in their down time with their dogs and picnic blankets.
Afterwards, we find the MRT and make our way to Chinatown for some shopping at the Night Markets and dinner.  There’s loads of bargains to be had here, a great place for souvenir shopping.
But one of the highlights of Chinatown, as we discover, is Da Dong, which commenced operation in 1928, and is now located on Smith Street.  We were strolling around looking for somewhere to eat, when we all seemed to look across at some dishes that had just been delivered to one of the outside tables.  All heads turned as we collectively came to the conclusion that this food looked awesome, so we grabbed a table. I order a bowl of chicken and sweet corn soup which is divine and absolutely what I need for my burgeoning cold, thick, sweet and salty – yum.  I also go for a sliced fish dish which is also wonderful, washed down with a few glasses of house wine.  This was exactly the kind of meal I wanted tonight!  I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the other girls ordered because I was in heaven with my meal, but I will also be putting Da Dong on the menu for the next trip.
After dinner was a little more shopping before strolling back to our hotel a couple of blocks away.

Sun, Sand & Sentosa

Today we hit Sentosa Island, Singapore’s seaside playground.  There’s so much to do, but a late start and long waits in queues leaves us with less time to do what we want.  Fortunately, we do get to start off with a ride on the Luge.  Helmeted up and a little hesitant as to what to expect, we get in our luges and off we go!  The ride itself is not long, and by the time you get used to it, it’s over.  I think we all would have loved to have a few more rides, but there’s other places to be.
Next up is lunch at Wave House, a cool little space beachside, with tube/wave pools and big comfy couches.  After food and beer, its time to head off for our afternoon of relaxation at Spa Botanica!  Spa Botanica is divine.  The grounds are stunning and are usually home to roaming peacocks (if you remember back to my blog from my April trip!).  There are no peacocks in sight today, but at the end of the afternoon, there certainly are six very relaxed and pampered girls!
Everyone splits up for the afternoon, Jo and I hitting the shops (of course!) to be joined a bit later by Erin.  There are just so many shops, its impossible to make a dent in them all.  I reckon you could actually spend a whole week alone on Orchard Road and still not visit every shop!
Tonight we head out for cocktails and tapas at one of my favourite haunts, Orgo.  Orgo sits atop the Esplanade (the huge durian shaped entertainment complex) and has stunning view of the city skyline – not to mention to-die-for cocktails and awesome food.  Organic cocktails downed, we hit the town back in Clarke Quay.  We search for a club which suits us, and settle on LeNoir.  The DJ is absolutely awesome (my good friend Nic would have LOVED the music) and we were warming up when…..in they walked…a swathe of beautiful people, perfectly coiffered and styled, all without an ounce of fat on them.  I swear all the oxygen was sucked out of the room as they walked in and took over the club.  We started to lose our groove and after Feb got flicked in the eye with one of the models 5m long locks, it was apparent we weren’t going to continue to enjoy ourselves here.  One by one we headed off home to our hotel rooms…for beauty sleep.
Me, Feb & Erin at Orgo

National Day for the Six

Today is the day we land in Singapore and it just happens to be Singapore’s National Day – pity cause I thought the fireworks scheduled for tonight were just for our arrival (hehe)!  We had an early start this morning to catch our 7.40am flight, and with no thanks to my overactive body clock!  Our flight was uneventful but good, apart from the fact the entertainment system was not working properly, which sadly meant no bollywood movies for me.
We arrive at the airport, and unfortunately the surprise mercedes limo transfer Jo and I booked is not awaiting our arrival!  After ages on the phone, it was apparent they had recorded the wrong pick up date, but thankfully they dispatched 3 cars immediately to pick us up.
Our hotel, the Swissotel Merchant Court is lovely.  Check in was smooth, the room is nice and roomy and the staff are really great – not to mention the location of the hotel, right on Clarke Quay.  My only complaint would be the lack of bathrobes and free wifi!
Starving from our flight and wait for transport, we head to a local establishment for some lunch – quesadilla’s, huge salads and drinks soon adorn the table, but it appears that Singapore is keen to welcome us and the restaurant “forgets” to bill us for our food!
Straight up we hit the MRT and the shops – Charles & Keith, Top Shop, Zara – all our favourites are here at ION Orchard and before we know it, it’s 7pm and its time to start thinking about eating again.  Though by the time we get home, the tiredness is starting to set in and I’m ashamed to say that Jo and I have resorted to a dinner of Pringles and Vodka.  We try to get to sleep, but have discovered the first eposide of a show called Susuke Singapore – we are hooked and just can’t bring ourselves to turn it off.  Finally, I push the off button and we are asleep in seconds.

The Battle for Brown

OK, so today is d-day (b-day??) – the day of my first ever spray tan.  So how did it all go down I hear you ask?
I turn up at Skin Gym and I don’t think I could be more scared of what’s about to happen.  I hope I’ve followed all the pre-tan instructions to the T, but I just can’t relax – in the worry of trying to get the list of instructions right – I’ve totally forgotten that I’m going to be NAKED!!!!!  Ahhhhhhhhhh – what the hell have I got myself into, and do I really want to sacrifice my privacy just to be beautifully brown on holiday?
I ring the doorbell and the girl who answers is superfriendly, ushering me in out of the cold and rain.  This is the girl who is going to turn me from pasty to perfectly brown.  She is soooo lovely and makes me feel super comfortable.  ‘Just think of me as a doctor, I see bodies all the time!’  I don’t have the heart to tell her none of my doctors have ever seen me as naked as she has, with the exception of the one who delivered me, but she goes on chatting and in no time at all I’m in the booth being sprayed golden.
So the actual tan goes well, though with my poor eyes at this time of night I can’t actually tell just how brown I am.  When I reveal the area of my skin where the g-string was placed, I can see immediately there is a world of difference, but I still don’t know how it’s going to look when I wash it off.  Two and a half hours to go til I can wash it off and see what I’ve ended up with….
….Time’s up and…
It seems that most of the tan washed off in the shower cause I’m not as many shades of brown as I was before I went in.  But I’ll see how it goes in the plain light of day….
….plain light of day – totally forgot that I get up at sparrows fart, practically still the middle of the night and dark, dark, dark…I can definitely see that the tan is there (phewww) and my knees look a bit patchy (maybe that’s to do with how I washed it off?) …but I do feel better about myself not being so white, so I think the tan has accomplished what I wanted it to.  Yay!  Now lets see how long it lasts!