19 April 2016

Coney Island

Somewhere I was determined to get to before we left Singapore was Coney Island or Pulau Serangoon as it is also known. So we earmarked a day and headed over there. We decided to get there by firstly revisiting a Red Dot Roaming walk that we'd done previously and entering Coney Island via this route, making our walk just a little longer too. We took the MRT to Punggol and then got the LRT to Kadaloor and from there followed the Punggol Promenade Nature Walk around to the furthest entry point on to Coney Island near the Punggol Settlement, our intention being to walk the island and exit it at the other entrance point. When we first visited that area Coney Island was still in the process of being prepared for opening but we had seen it from our walk along the coast so knew this was one way of getting there.

As planned we followed our previous route until we reached the far entrance to Coney Island. Just a short walk across the previously locked up bridge and we were on the island and ready to explore it further. The island has one main path that runs straight across it more or less and then a number of side paths taking you to the small beaches and coves, picnic areas, mangroves and so on. You can choose whether to walk straight across or you can detour off the main path as much as you want. It is easy to follow the smaller side paths round and back to the main path again. The island is obviously very popular with cyclists (as I said we walked it which is also perfectly doable) and the main path is pretty well laid out with the side paths being a little more rustic.

Despite having already walked a fair distance from Kadaloor LRT we decided we would explore as much of the island as we could and found ourselves wandering off on to almost every side path we stumbled upon. As I said the majority of small paths take you off to small beaches and picnic spots. Despite there being a lot of people on the island (we visited on a Sunday) it wasn't too crazy and if you'd got a picnic I'm sure you could have found a spot to enjoy yourself. I assume, unlike the beaches on Sentosa, that these are natural beaches rather than man-made.

There are warnings up at various points that the island has deliberately been left in a more rustic state and therefore to cover up and wear mosquito repellent, particularly around the beach areas. Personally, we didn't find it too bad but everyone has different levels of tolerance so go prepared if you are susceptible to insect bites. Also there are no refreshment facilities on the island so go prepared with water etc. There are toilets at the first entrance to the island near the Lorong Halus Wetland and some shelters as well as tree cover in places. There are also a number of hides dotted around for those keen on doing some bird watching on the island.

One of the small beach areas

I don't think anyone can have failed to heard about the infamous cow who is resident on the island. Unfortunately, and perhaps not surprisingly we didn't catch a glimpse of it. I imagine there were just too many people around. Also there is a lot of forest cover (remember the island has been left in a rustic state) so I guess it's very easy for the cow to hide up. Apparently there are also wild boar on the island, there are signs up advising what you should do if you encounter the cow or the wild boar but we didn't see any of those either. Has anyone been lucky enough to catch sight of either on their visit?

One of the more rustic side paths

Alongside the forested parts of the island there is also a boardwalk you can follow taking you through a mangrove area. The perfect way to explore this habitat without getting your feet wet! Before we visited I had also read about the abandoned beach villa on the island that at one time belonged to the Haw Par Brothers, those of Tiger Balm and Haw Par Villa fame. I love abandoned buildings but we didn't go looking for it as it is not safe and is also in a mangrove area subject to high tides. In case you are wondering the mangrove area you can walk through is not the same part of the island sadly. I just have to satisfy my interest in abandoned buildings by looking at these blog posts here and here

Boardwalk through the mangroves
Main path through the centre of the island

As I said we opted to leave the island by the entrance/exit nearest to the Lorong Halus Wetland and from here we walked back past the wetlands towards Kadaloor LRT station. I really enjoyed our visit to Coney Island and am so pleased that I got to go there before we left. It's a great place to spend a day and get back to a more rustic side of Singapore.

09 April 2016

Ash & Elm

I recently got to sample Ash & Elm's lunch time weekday semi-buffet lunch.  For this, Ash & Elm at the Intercontinental hotel, Bugis has taken the best from their signatures and offers diners the chance to enjoy dishes from the Charcuterie & Cheese Room, Wood-Fired Oven and Charcoal Grill. From these stations you can enjoy as much as you like (as you can from any good buffet) but the twist is that you can also combine it, if you wish, with a choice of a main course from a variety of daily options.

The semi-buffet lunch is perfect for those looking for a great venue for a business lunch as well as those looking for somewhere different to lunch with friends. The dining space is open and airy thanks to the skylight roof but also offers up cosy more private spots for an intimate lunch with friends or for enjoying a business lunch with colleagues or clients. 

The salad station

Charcuterie and Cheese Room

As I said, before enjoying your main course you can choose from a variety of appetizers and soups in a typical buffet style set up. We began our meal in the 'Charcuterie & Cheese Room', yes you read that right - a whole room dedicated to charcuterie and cheese! My companion for the meal is a big cheese fan so he was in heaven. There was a good selection of European cheeses, pates, meats and condiments to choose from. We both took an ample range which we then very quickly consumed. To accompany our starters we were given our own bread basket with a variety of breads including sourdough, bread sticks and more. The bread was accompanied by two types of butter one of which contained seaweed. The slightly salty taste to this butter really went well with the breads. In fact in the end I only had the seaweed butter.

Our selection of breads

minestrone soup

seafood chowder

Salad with roast duck 

Fun interpretation of a mozzarella and tomato salad

From meat and cheese we moved on to salads and soups. There were a choice of two soups on the day we went, seafood chowder and minestrone. As I'm not a huge fan of seafood I opted for the minestrone soup. This had just a little warming kick to it and was really good. My companion chose the seafood chowder which they said was excellent. After this we had to try some of the self-serve salad too. The options on the day we visited included a Caesar salad and roast duck which you could add to a base of various salad items of your choice, including beetroot (one of my favourites), sweet corn, tomatoes, lettuce etc. Alongside the conventional salads they also had a fun interpretation of the classic mozzarella and tomato salad which you can see in the photo above. It was fun to squeeze the balsamic dressing over it and then eat it straight off the cocktail stick.

Roasted French Free-Range Yellow Chicken Supreme
Basquaise-style with Basmati rice

Chargrilled Australian Angus Beef Striploin
Potato gratin, pan-seared French beans, natural jus

After all the starters it was time for our mains. As I said previously Ash & Elm are offering a semi-buffet so you get all the benefits of a buffet plus the option of a main course too. Just make sure you leave enough room for it and then desserts too! There is a different daily selection of main courses, on the day I visited the choices were the chicken (above), Scottish salmon fillet, Parma ham flatbread, penne pasta and Australian Angus beef striploin (which my companion chose). The chicken was delicious, nice and moist and the tomato based sauce complimented it perfectly. I also got radishes with my meal, something of a treat in Singapore! I was pretty full by the time I'd finished though, if I'd realised I was going to get three pieces of chicken I'd have held back a little on the buffet. My companion's beef was also very generously portioned, something to keep in mind if you are dining here. 

The fact that the main courses change daily also means you can take the opportunity to dine on other dishes on your next visit rather than having to choose from the same few each time. Therefore you have to return to enjoy some of the other offerings!

Despite the fact that I was quite full by that point, after a short break to let my lunch digest a little, I found some room for a selection of desserts. I have to admit to a sweet tooth so couldn't resist trying a few. The lemon meringue (front of the photo) was particularly nice and zesty but they were all very good. By the way there is also a chocolate fountain for you to dip fresh fruit etc into, how can you resist that at the end of your meal?

I had a thoroughly enjoyable lunch and love the flexible nature of Ash & Elm's weekday lunch semi-buffet, if you want to dine light on just the buffet section you can or else you can enjoy a more filling meal. One that, on the day we went, meant I only wanted a very light bite in the evening. It's a relaxed spot for a different lunch concept serving up some great food at a great price. Go check it out soon!

The semi-buffet lunch is available on its own as a spread of appetizers, soups and desserts for $38 or with a choice of main course at $48.

Level 1, Intercontinental Hotel
80 Middle Road
Singapore 188966

Semi-buffet lunch (Mondays to Fridays) - 12pm to 2pm

Website: intercontinental.com/singapore

Dining reservation (email): intercontinental.dining@ihg.com

Dining reservation (telephone): (65) 6825 1008

Payment methods: Cash and all major credit cards

This blog resulted from an invitation and represents the thoughts and opinions of the writer. All information on this blog is provided "as is", with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy or timeliness and the writer will not be liable for any losses, injuries or damages from the display or use of this information. All text and photos on this blog are the original works of the writer unless stated otherwise.

Thank you to Ash & Elm for the kind invitation.

17 March 2016

Walking the SG50 Golden Jubilee Walk

During last year's festivities for SG50, Singapore's 50th anniversary of independence, a new walk route was laid especially to celebrate this. This follows an 8km route taking you through some of the history of Singapore right up to the modern day. We like walking and exploring so decided to give this route a go.

The walk begins at the National Museum of Singapore, somewhere well worth visiting too if you haven't been. Although there is the marker in the photo below outside the museum one thing I would say is that the start and end of the walk are not that obvious. Whilst the trail of SG50 markers to follow the route around are generally good, though we did lose them at one point and looking at the map afterwards it seems we also missed a part of the walk so maybe in hindsight they weren't so clear, the start and end could definitely be better marked. Regardless though we still had a good walk!

Start of the SG50 Golden Jubilee Walk at the National Museum of Singapore

National Museum of Singapore 

Back to the walk ... from leaving the National Museum of Singapore we headed towards Fort Canning Park and on past here towards the Peranakan museum and past the National Archives of Singapore. As we walked along Armenian Street I spotted this graffiti or street art on a wall, quite a rare sight in Singapore so it definitely caught my attention.

Graffiti on Armenian Street

Then we walked on towards the Central Fire Station, Singapore's oldest operating fire station which also houses a heritage gallery. Along the route are several plaques with information about some of the places of interest you pass. I'm not altogether sure whether these were put in place for the jubilee walk or if they were already there. I suspect some of them were already there. The information was a bit limited though and it would be good if there could be a little more along the route.

Central Fire Station

As we approached the Singapore river I have since realized that this may have been where we missed part of the walk. It was around this point that a section of the footpath by the river was closed off for work so this may have been why or that the markers were not too clear at this point. Either way we followed markers that took us straight towards the Esplanade area and on to the Helix bridge rather than walking near the Padang and National Gallery etc. Regardless though the walk we took at that stage, that obviously didn't quite follow the set route, was still very pleasant.

As I mentioned we completely lost the markers near the Helix bridge, maybe in hindsight because we took a slightly wrong route. However we headed on over the bridge and managed to pick up markers again on the opposite side which we followed into Gardens by the Bay.

Sir Stamford Raffles with the CBD in the background
Victoria Theatre and Victoria Concert Hall

Once we were in the gardens we followed the route around towards the Marina Barrage, walking past the domes and also near where the family of otters live. I'm still waiting for the day I see them but I suspect it probably is not going to happen now! The walk ends at the Marina Barrage but, as I said previously, it wasn't terribly obvious. Regardless though of these minor issues (which in no way spoilt our walk) and despite us taking the incorrect route the walk is very pleasant and lets you see both the historical and the more modern sides of Singapore. It's worth doing if you enjoy walking.

Closest I've got to seeing the otters at Gardens by the Bay

09 March 2016

The End of Our 'Expat Adventure in Singapore'

So as many of you already know sadly we are leaving Singapore after (for me at least) just over five and a half years here. This isn't a post I particularly ever wanted to have to write but sadly I must. Naturally there are a whole mix of emotions going on but I am truly sad to be leaving a place I have come to consider as my second home and somewhere that I've made a life for myself in.

We'll be returning to the UK for now. I say for now as I strongly believe our days of living abroad are far from over but as yet we just don't know quite where. For those wondering, of course George our wonderful cat will also be joining us for this new chapter in our lives.

I have many fantastic memories from my time here that I'll always hold dear and whilst no where is perfect and we've certainly had good times and bad I can't imagine having not taken the chance to live here now. Singapore will always be special to me but who knows what the future has in store for us ....

There is lots I shall miss, in particular all our wonderful friends. We've been fortunate to live in the same condo (albeit in different units) our whole time here so I shall miss our local neighbourhood and the people I've got to know around here. Likewise I shall also miss my work colleagues who have been a great bunch of people to work with. I could go on and on about the things I'll miss but maybe I'll leave that for another time!

So as life gets a little crazy now with farewells, packing and making the arrangements for some very important cargo to take his first flight I also wanted to let all of you know what the future holds for us. I shall continue to blog, I have a number of Singapore posts still to share as we try and do the last few 'must dos' so this blog isn't ceasing just yet. I do plan to start a new blog, I can't imagine not doing this anymore, which I am in the process of doing and I'll let you all know once it is up and running. As I say I certainly won't forget this blog (I've poured too much love into it these past years to do that) but obviously this one is very specific to life here so I feel the next stage of our lives needs something new. I do hope some of you will make the transition though and stay with me as I move on from Singapore.

Watch this space! 

25 February 2016

Red Dot Roaming - Kranji MRT - Kranji War Cemetery

Having caught up with the new stations on the second part of the Downtown line I'm back to 'k' in my Red Dot Roaming series with a trip to Kranji MRT to visit the Kranji War Cemetery and Memorial.

The cemetery is the final resting place of the Allied soldiers who died during the Battle of Singapore and the subsequent Japanese Occupation as well as those who died in other parts of South East Asia during World War II. Before the war the Kranji area was a military camp when Singapore fell the Japanese turned it into a prisoner-of-war camp. When the war ended it was decided that this spot would be designated as Singapore's war cemetery and the small cemetery already there, which had been started by the prisoners-of-war, was further developed. In time other war graves from Buona Vista, Changi and other places in Singapore were removed and re-interred at Kranji. In addition there are also a number of memorials at the cemetery with the largest being the Kranji War Memorial with the names of all those from the Air Force, Army and Navy who died but for whom no remains could be identified.

The cemetery is just a short walk from the MRT station with the approach being up a quiet road which reminded me a little of an English country lane with the high leafy hedges. I've been to a few similar war cemeteries in northern France and Belgium and all of them have an air of peacefulness and calm to them, Kranji was no exception to this. There were only a couple of other people there and although the view from the top of the cemetery showed the typical view of developed Singapore and we were only a short walk from a major road, there was nothing really to hear here asides from bird song on the breeze.

The sight of row upon row of white war graves is always a little heart wrenching, seeing the ages of those who gave their lives is also difficult. It is though, I think, important to visit such places and to take time to remember those who gave up so much for their generation and future ones. We probably spent around half an hour or so there looking at the memorials and just some of the many names from various countries and their regiments, reflecting quietly on that period of history.

The Kranji War Cemetery is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), if you would like further information their website is, www.cwgc.org 

Kranji MRT is on the North South Line (NS7).

If you missed any of my previous Red Dot Roaming posts, check them out here!

17 February 2016

Red Dot Roaming - Hillview MRT - Singapore Quarry

I'm currently playing a form of catch up with my Red Dot Roaming and posting some 'out of alphabetical sync' blog posts due to the opening of the second section of the Downtown Line last December. With that in mind then my next stop was Hillview MRT and a visit to the Singapore Quarry.

The Singapore Quarry, just like the former quarries at Bukit Batok Town Park and Hindhede Nature Park, was also a one time granite quarry, that has now been turned into a wetland habitat. Quarrying activities actually continued there until the late 1980s. Once quarrying stopped the huge crater was allowed to fill up with ground and rain water forming the lake that you can now view. Getting there from Hillview MRT is very simple, just head towards the nearby Rail Mall and then to Jalan Asas just behind it. If you follow the road around you'll find a children's play area and in the corner an entrance to the track going towards the Singapore quarry and other routes. 

I wonder where this track goes?

As always there was a very helpful sign once we were on the tracks directing us on the short walk to the quarry. Just like Hindhede Nature Park the Singapore Quarry is right besides Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. I don't know if ordinarily you can access the nature reserve from here but at the moment, due to the renovations taking place, you can only access Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from the Hindhede Nature Park and only on weekends.

Singapore Quarry

The walk to the quarry did not take us long and was on a well laid out road, so easily accessible to all. When we arrived at the quarry, just as at the Hindhede Nature Park, there was one viewing point giving some information about the history of the quarry and the wildlife it was now possible to spot there. Despite us visiting on a public holiday we were practically the only people there so it was lovely to just sit and enjoy the peace and solitude for a little while. 

On leaving the views of the quarry and walking back the way we had came we spotted another trail for mountain bikes. We did have a bit of a look but spotted a sign advising it was only for the use of mountain bikers and also that the route was not exactly designed for walking on. We left that and instead walked back past the entrance from Jalan Asas and on towards the Dairy Farm Nature Park and the MOE Dairy Farm Adventure Centre. 

The route was once again a well laid out road, I guess because the adventure centre was further along so it would need to be accessible to vehicles, but devoid of pretty much anyone else but us. Our walk eventually brought us back around to Upper Bukit Timah Road and on to the MRT station but not before I passed this set of old steps up the side of the bank.

As with the Hindhede Nature Park this is not a particularly challenging walk so suitable all. It is also not that long a walk so can be easily enjoyed without giving up a lot of time. What is nice though is that it seems to be relatively undiscovered so provides a pleasant sanctuary for just a little while.

Hillview MRT is on the Downtown Line (DT3).

If you missed any of my previous Red Dot Roaming posts, check them out here

02 February 2016

Red Dot Roaming - Beauty World MRT - Hindhede Nature Park and Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Those of you with a keen eye may have noticed that my series of Red Dot Roaming adventures are being done alphabetically. However with the opening last December of the second section of the new Downtown Line there are some new stations on the MRT network and therefore potentially other places to visit. A little bit of investigation later and I soon discovered this was true of one of the new stations, Beauty World, which gave me the opportunity to easily explore the Hindhede Nature Park and also visit Bukit Timah Nature Reserve once again. So I'm backtracking to 'b' for my next Red Dot Roam.

Hindhede Nature Park is actually right next to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, somewhere we first visited a long time ago, and I had no idea was the case until we returned to the area. The nature park is a lot smaller than I expected and a very straightforward walk, nice for families etc., but it still made a pleasant Sunday stroll. The main attraction of the park is undoubtedly the former Hindhede granite quarry. The site was an active quarry in the mid-1900s but now, just as in another of my Red Dot Roams to Bukit Batok town park, the granite quarry has been turned into a nature park. After quarrying ceased at Hindhede quarry the crater left behind gradually filled with ground and rain water creating the lovely lake you can see in my photos below. 

Entering the Hindhede nature park from Hindhede Drive you can easily follow some well laid out trails and in no time at all reach the viewing platform overlooking the quarry. By the way you can't get to view the quarry lake from any other point, just this one viewing point. As I mentioned above it does not take very long to get there or follow the trails in its vicinity so we then ventured off back to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. 

The well-informed among you may know that Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is currently closed for renovations but if you visit the area on weekends you can now enter it via the Hindhede Nature Park (NB. this is currently the only point of access to Bukit Timah Nature Reserve) and at least see some of the reserve and also follow the summit trail. Word of warning, after the ease of the Hindhede Nature Park this walk and climb is quite a challenge. I did vaguely recall how steep the climb was but even so it was still quite something else doing it again, go prepared! I also personally feel the summit is just a little disappointing as, despite being the highest point in Singapore, the view from there really is very limited. However it was still good to revisit the reserve and it extended our visit to this part of the island.

Hindhede quarry

Hindhede quarry

At the top of the summit trail in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve - this sign is a bit of an understatement!

After our climb to the summit we had a brief rest and then began the, much easier, descent with the intention of finding some lunch to end our visit in one of the nearby places we had spotted on our walk from the MRT station. On the way back down Hindhede Drive you pass underneath part of the Rail Corridor where I spotted a runner on a Sunday jog, somewhere else I need to pay a visit to at some point soon.

Beauty World MRT is on the Downtown Line (DT5).

If you missed any of my previous Red Dot Roaming posts, check them out here!

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