29 March 2015

Red Dot Roaming - Harbourfront MRT - Marang Trail and the Henderson Waves

Red Dot Roaming recently took us down to Harbourfront MRT to explore the Marang Trail and further on to the Henderson Waves. You can actually walk a lot further than we did that day if you wish, our walk makes up a part of the Southern Ridges which stretches between Kent Ridge park and Harbourfront, but we decided that might be worth saving for another time. Most likely approaching from the other side and walking towards the point that we reached on this walk .... watch this space! Conveniently, as well, that part of the walk also lines up nicely with MRT stations, more Red Dot Roaming for the future I think.

Anyway back to our walk from Harbourfront MRT. Leaving the MRT station are signs pointing you towards the trail and as long as you take the right exit the start of the trail is literally right outside of the station. For reference it starts on the opposite side of Telok Blangah Road from Vivocity.  

A helpful sign just outside the MRT station

The trail is not actually that long but is a reasonably steep climb up steps and sloping footpaths taking you into Mount Faber park and ultimately to the top of Mount Faber, so be prepared to get warm. Whilst researching our walk I'd noticed on a map an indication of graves on the trail which sparked my curiosity greatly. I find graves very interesting, as anyone who reads my blog regularly may have noticed and I wasn't disappointed, tucked away amongst the undergrowth was an old Malay grave. I've since read that there was a Malay kampong here called Kampong Marang. However I really don't know much more than this, does anybody know anything more about this area and the graves? I'd love to hear from you.

Malay grave in the undergrowth on the Marang Trail

Walking on along the trail as we climbed higher we got some good views across to Sentosa and of the cable car. It didn't take long though to reach the top and enter Mount Faber park which is one of the oldest parks in Singapore. We actually visited Mount Faber not that long after we arrived in Singapore in 2010 and took a ride on the cable car over to Sentosa too but I'd not been back since then. It was interesting to approach it from a different point, last time we cheated and got a cab to the top, and good to revisit the park again which, as I mentioned, gives good views over the surrounding area.

This time though our plans were to keep walking beyond Mount Faber park and on to the Henderson Waves which would take us into Telok Blangah Hill park. Whilst we walked on through Mount Faber park the route took us away from our views towards Sentosa and instead gave us great views across the city, looking towards the HDB blocks you can see in my photo below and the CBD in the distance. As with a lot of the walking I've done in Singapore the paths are carefully laid out and signposted, great for not getting lost and suitable for all the family to enjoy.

Soon enough we arrived at the entrance to the Henderson Waves. The Henderson Waves is actually a pedestrian bridge, the highest in Singapore at thirty-six metres. The bridge connects Mount Faber park and Telok Blangah hill park. The bridge gets its name because it has a wave format to it which rises up and below the deck that you walk on. These 'waves' provide shelter and rest points along the walk over the bridge. The views from the top of the bridge are also pretty good too, looking down on the busy Henderson Road below and across back towards the city.

View from the Henderson Waves

Henderson Waves

By the time we reached the other side and entered Telok Blangah hill park, which has been in existence since the early nineteenth century, we were starting to get a little tired from the hot sun. We wandered around a little bit more but really wanted somewhere just to rest for a while and refresh ourselves before deciding what to do next. As we walked around we fortunately stumbled upon the Alkaff mansion. The mansion is a beautiful colonial building built in 1918 by Syed Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Alkaff. The Alkaff's were a family of traders whose ancestors had arrived in Singapore from Yemen in 1852. It was built as a retreat for the family and to entertain their guests and was well known for hosting high society parties in the 1930's. The property was acquired by the Singapore government in 1984 and after a period of disuse was eventually converted into a restaurant and eventually became an Italian restaurant in 2011.

I had previously heard of the place but wasn't sure it would really be suitable for what we wanted right at that point. However as we approached we discovered there was also a terrace area outdoors serving drinks and food in a relaxed environment. All we wanted was a cold drink and so we ended our exploring enjoying a refreshing drink in the shadow of the colonial bungalow. There were lots of families there doing the same or enjoying something to eat so this is clearly a popular spot to stop after a walk in the area. 

We decided to end our walk for that day having been out in the heat of the day for a few hours. We promised ourselves we would complete the walk by starting from the other end of the Southern Ridges and make our way towards the mansion from that side at some point soon.

Alkaff mansion from the terrace

17 March 2015

St Monica's

I have to admit that Boat Quay is not generally my first choice of places to go for a night out in Singapore these days.  Nearly five years of living here have made me appreciate there is a lot more to the island than this little stretch, but when St Monica's came on to my radar I was curious and decided to give it a go.  St Monica's is at the far end of Boat Quay, well past all the initial bars and restaurants that engulf the unsuspecting tourists as they explore this spot.  Make sure you keep on walking to discover it for yourself.

St Monica's is marketed as a dive bar which, according to Wikipedia, is an informal pub or bar often considered disreputable, sinister or a detriment to the community.  When I thought about it a little more I realised that I have often described places as dives (though maybe not in Singapore) and that this was never meant in a complimentary way.  St Monica, after who the bar is named, is the patron saint of alcoholics, disappointing children, victims of adultery and difficult marriages which only adds to the idea of it being a thoroughly dodgy but, let's face it, an interesting type of place to go to.  These two points got me even more curious!  St Monica's didn't disappoint and is rather cool and definitely worth a visit whatever your personal situation may be.

The bar is actually in the former location of the Spiffy Dapper, look out for the sign (pictured below) above the side entrance door of the shophouse and make your way up the steep, dark staircase to the second floor above.  Once you are inside you'll instantly notice that St Monica's is stripped back, dimly lit, basic and wonderfully unpretentious, a breath of fresh air amongst all the other bars in the area.  The decor is minimalist with simple tables and stools for sitting on and just a couple of framed collages of various rock band logos on the wall behind the bar.  There is no drinks menu to peruse, what you see behind the bar in terms of beers (they carry a range of American and English craft beers), ciders and spirits is what they have but the barmen can also make you a cocktail or two if you want.  I'm not a beer drinker so stuck to spirits and also had a cocktail, a particularly good daiquiri.  I do need to get back again to sample some others though.  My husband tried one of the beers, as recommended by the barman, an unusual whisky based one from Scotland.  The beer is brewed with Scottish water which is then conditioned in barrels used to mature Scotch whisky giving it a unique taste.  You can see the bottle in the photo below.

Looking towards the bar

The soundtrack to enjoy your drinks too is a fabulous rock one, there was some great music the night we visited and plenty of those rock anthems we all know and can sing along to from the 70s and 80s.  It's loud and fun and has had me humming a few of those classics all week!  With St Monica's laid back vibe it'll be no surprise that it feels like you can go there dressed as relaxed as you want, it's all about turning up, enjoying a few drinks and having fun.  Naturally being on the second floor of a shophouse in Boat Quay also guarantees a nice view over the Singapore river and down on to the crowds passing by below.  We sat right by the windows and there was something sort of fun about spying down on everyone walking past underneath.

Peeking out on Boat Quay below from the shophouse windows

View towards the Central Business District and Boat Quay from the Elgin bridge

I loved St Monica's and its 'couldn't care less' attitude and think it's definitely a welcome addition to the scene in the Boat Quay area.  Somewhere I would definitely choose to go to again.  Go find it too asap and let me know what you think!  

St Monica's is open Monday - Saturday from 6pm - 1am.  

Check them out on Facebook or on Instagram, @stmonicas_sg 

12 March 2015

Singapore Jazz Festival 2015

This past weekend saw us head off to the Singapore Jazz Festival 2015, very excited to be enjoying an evening of top quality performers.  The festival made its debut in Singapore last year (and we were lucky enough to have gone then too) and returned again this year, featuring some of the best artists in the business all overlooked by Marina Bay Sands and the CBD skyline.  The festival featured over 250 artists, including international Grammy award winners, chart toppers as well as some of Singapore's own jazz stars.  Although the festival is billed as a jazz festival its organisers state that it is a celebration of jazz inspired music and its influence across all music genres, guaranteeing an exciting mix of performers.  Also ensuring that everyone attending should have a great night and be able to enjoy the music on offer.

Ready to enjoy the night, armed with our FIJI Water, the Official Artesian Water for the festival

It was a lovely evening with pleasant temperatures and after a busy day at work armed with our bottles of FIJI water, the festival's official artesian water, we arrived ready to enjoy the evening.  The acts performing on Saturday night included, DJ Maurice Simon, Charlie Lim, Indra Lesmana, Snarky Puppy, Naturally 7 and Jessie J.  The performers we saw were all good but for me the highlight of the night was Naturally 7.  I'd not heard of them previously but they are an American based acapella group with a distinct style known as vocal play.  Check them out on YouTube if you don't know them already, they are amazing!  They sang a range of well known songs and were absolutely mind blowing!  I really can't sing their praises enough.  Jessie J was headlining the festival and the last act of the night and whilst I admit I did enjoy Naturally 7 more, she too was very good, she has a powerful live voice and certainly kept the crowd entertained.

The main stage

Asides from being a great night out the Singapore Jazz Festival also has an important social and development element to it.  A part of the proceeds taken from the festival goes towards supporting the Foundation for Arts and Social Enterprise in the nurturing and promoting of local jazz talent through a Jazz Academy.  These artists are then, in due course, expected to help future generations of talented musicians to achieve the same success in a 'creative circle of help'.  They also want to raise the profile of Singapore generally as a regional and international hub of arts and culture.  Something I've certainly seen developing recently right across the board.

The perfect backdrop to the festival

We had a great night out at the jazz festival yet again, the setting is perfect and the backdrop stunning.  Let's face it, it's a great skyline and one I never get tired of.  I'm pretty sure the 2016 festival will be even better!  Definitely one for your diaries. 

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 Food News PR and FIJI Water for the kind invitation.

12 February 2015

Delicious Food this CNY at Chinatown Food Street

This past weekend saw us visiting Chinatown Food Street on Smith Street for a pre-CNY reunion supper complete with the Yu Sheng.  Chinatown Food Street is the place to eat whilst indulging in all the Chinese New Year festivities in Chinatown and at the moment the street is decked out in festive decorations, only adding to a great atmosphere.  In addition there are also a variety of activities currently on offer, including lighting of sparklers and games for the whole family.  It's the perfect spot as you can dine al fresco but with the advantage of a covering (just in case the heavens open) plus there is also some air conditioning in place to make the dining experience even more comfortable.   

got to enjoy my first Yu Sheng last year and despite this one being in quite a different location to the last, this was no less enjoyable.  The Yu Sheng is a dish typically containing raw fish (most commonly salmon) and shredded vegetables mixed with a variety of sauces and other ingredients.  We joined a small group and, as is the traditional way of serving this dish, one of our party proceeded to add all the ingredients according to the order in the attached photo and as the MC called out what to add next.  You can see here what each ingredient symbolises, they all have an important meaning for an auspicious year ahead.

Once all the ingredients were added we stood up and readied our chopsticks and began to toss the ingredients together whilst chanting various auspicious wishes again led again by the MC.  It is believed that the height of the toss reflects the height of the diner's growth in fortune so it is advisable to toss as high as you can!  It's great fun, even if I do need some more practice.

Before (above) and afterwards (below)

Chinatown Food Street has a whole load of stalls though and after the Yu Sheng we, of course, got to dine on a few dishes from some of the other stalls too.  A selection of just some of these are in the photos below.  There are twenty four hawker stalls in total to choose from, all serving different local delights so there is bound to be something there for everyone to enjoy.  The dishes on offer are a celebration of all the Chinese dialects and different races in Singapore, included are the traditional dishes as well as more modern cuisine.  Some of these include, chicken rice, Hokkien mee, frog porridge, various noodle dishes, chicken wings, bak kut teh, satay, popiah, laksa and lots lots more.  The stalls take the form of street carts and recreate the busy hawker filled streets that Chinatown was renowned for.

It was a fun evening and it was great to have the opportunity to do the Yu Sheng again.  Get yourself down there asap and join in all the fun with your family and friends whilst enjoying some delicious local food!  

The opening hours, for the Street Hawker Stalls only, are currently extended from 11am until 2am daily until the 18 February 2015.  Please note that Chinatown Food Street will then be closed on the 19 February 2015 and resume normal operating hours (11am to 11pm) on the 20 February 2015.

In addition if you head down to the food street between the 13 February 2015 and 3 March 2015 and spend $10 in a single receipt you will receive a 20% discount voucher off Trick Eye museum admission tickets.  Terms and Conditions apply, the voucher is only valid until 31 March 2015.

The price range of dishes are between $2.50 and $10 a dish from the stalls, excluding the Yu Sheng ($28 for small, $38 for large).

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 Chinatown Food Street for the kind invitation.

09 February 2015

Chinatown Welcomes the Year of the Goat

Something that's become a bit of a tradition with us is to go to Chinatown during the build up to Chinese New Year to see the decorations and take in a little of the pre-CNY atmosphere.  This year sees the turn of the Year of the Goat so naturally the decorations in Chinatown, which are always pretty good, have a goat theme to them this time.

We always make a point of going for some food in Chinatown whilst we are there and then just enjoy wandering around soaking up all the action.  Here are just a few of photos from our recent visits to whet your appetite for the upcoming public holiday.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! 

02 February 2015

Singapura: 700 Years

Currently on display at the National Museum of Singapore is the exhibit, Singapura: 700 Years, which we visited recently.  The main galleries at the National Museum are currently closed for a revamp and scheduled to reopen in September 2015.  I have visited several times and always enjoyed walking through the previous galleries so I'm sure when they reopen it will be well worth another visit.

In the meantime though Singapura: 700 Years aims to take you through the various stages of  700 years of Singapore's history.  Before you enter the exhibition you firstly get a chance to read about some of the archaeological digs that have taken place in various parts of Singapore over the years.  Included within this are, of course, some of the items that have been dug up.  Of most interest to me, purely because I don't live that far away from it, was the dig of Fort Tanjong Katong, which stood from 1879 to 1901 in Katong park.  I'd heard about it before but it was interesting to read a little more.

Once you enter the exhibition it is broken into five sections; Ancient Singapore (1300 - 1818) the time when Singapore was known variously as Temasek and Singapura amongst others, Colonial Singapore (1819 - 1942) the time period seeing the arrival of the British and the rise of Singapore as a regional trading hub, Syonan-To (1942 - 1945) when Singapore came under the rule of Japan, Road to Merdeka (1946 - 1965) post-war Singapore, a time of rebuilding and revolution and Independent Singapore (1965 - 1975) the first ten years of nation building following independence.  I won't spoil it too much for you here but all the sections are packed full with information and there are plenty of interactive activities to keep everybody entertained.

Whilst, if you've read anything of Singapore's history or visited the exhibits currently under renovation at the museum I'm not sure you'll learn anything hugely new from this it's still worth a visit, especially as Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence this year.  I enjoyed the section about the archaeological digs that have taken place here over the years the most, as it was something I wasn't really aware of.  Personally I'd also have liked to have seen something post 1975 showing a little more perhaps of just how far Singapore has come since then and maybe what the future will bring, nonetheless though it was an interesting morning.

Singapura: 700 Years is on now until 10 August 2015.

26 January 2015

Burns Night

As I'm sure many expats feel when living in another country, it's nice to occasionally have a little of something familiar from home no matter how long you've lived abroad. We got to go to a Burns Night at Rabbit, Carrot, Gun on East Coast Road at the weekend which did the trick for me, even if I'm English and not Scottish.

I've written previously about Rabbit, Carrot, Gun and the Trenchard Arms next door to it and since writing this post they've become firm favourites with us when we decide to go out locally.  My husband spotted they were hosting a Burns Night a while back and we decided this sounded like something that could be a lot of fun to go along to.  For anyone who doesn't know Burns Night and suppers are held in honour of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns and are celebrated in Scotland around the 25 January.  They are becoming more common in other parts of the UK too and I've previously been to one or two events but this was the first time I'd been aware of anything happening in Singapore.

At a Burns Night supper the guests are traditionally served haggis with neeps and tatties.  For the unsure, haggis traditionally consists of sheep's heart, liver and lungs with onion and a variety of spices encased in the sheep's stomach, though it is often now in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach.  Neeps is Scots for turnips and tatties Scots for potatoes.  Luckily just because we were in Singapore this didn't stop us enjoying a traditional supper, though I have to admit it was possibly the most posh presentation of a haggis I'd ever had!  That said though it was very good and the haggis had a lovely warming spiciness to it.  The vegetables with the haggis were also a little different in that they were much more crunchy than is perhaps typical (see my photo below) and not as mashed up as neeps and tatties tend to usually be in this dish.  Alongside the haggis there were two other dishes on offer, the haggis, black pudding and poached egg salad which we got to try ahead of the night's events.  This was really interestingly flavoured with the slight spiciness of the haggis complimenting the black pudding and egg really well.  Secondly the Black Watch Scotch egg which was also interesting with the casing for the eggs being a mixture of black pudding, pork sausage meat and breadcrumbs.  The black pudding giving the casing a much darker colour than normal and a bit of a twist on the typical flavour.

haggis, black pudding and poached egg salad - which we got to sample a little of before dinner

The evening kept true to tradition and the haggis, once ready to be served, was piped in by a piper in full regalia.  He looked great but must have been very hot!  There was also a small collection of Scots at the event all looking fabulous in their kilts.  The haggis was then placed on a table in front of everybody and one of the Scots (with a real talent) read out the Address to a Haggis, a poem by Robert Burns.  If you want to read the poem for yourself I've attached it below.  We then all drank a 'wee dram' of whisky to toast the haggis and shortly afterwards the feasting began, and while we dined we were entertained a little more by the piper.  Finally we finished off our meal with a return to England for dessert and a delicious Eton Mess, sweet and incredibly filling!  By the way Rabbit, Carrot, Gun is currently serving black pudding on their regular menu, so if you're a fan and are missing it or fancy trying it for the first time get yourself there asap before it runs out.

Black Watch Scotch egg

It was a really fun night, the food was delicious despite, as I mentioned, it being the poshest haggis, neeps and tatties I've ever eaten.  All the little extra touches, such as the piper made it an even better evening and all the more enjoyable.  Whilst I may not be Scottish it was lovely to have this opportunity to celebrate something close to home.  Hopefully perhaps they'll do the same again next year, and if they do I suggest it will be well worth going along for the evening if you can.

Haggis with neeps and tatties

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, 
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race! 
Aboon them a' ye tak your place, 
Painch, tripe, or thairm: 
Weel are ye wordy of a grace 
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill, 
Your hurdies like a distant hill, 
Your pin wad help to mend a mill 
In time o need, 
While thro your pores the dews distil 
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight, 
An cut you up wi ready slight, 
Trenching your gushing entrails bright, 
Like onie ditch; 
And then, O what a glorious sight, 
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive: 
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive, 
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve 
Are bent like drums; 
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive, 
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout, 
Or olio that wad staw a sow, 
Or fricassee wad mak her spew 
Wi perfect sconner, 
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view 
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash, 
As feckless as a wither'd rash, 
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash, 
His nieve a nit: 
Thro bloody flood or field to dash, 
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed, 
The trembling earth resounds his tread, 
Clap in his walie nieve a blade, 
He'll make it whissle; 
An legs an arms, an heads will sned, 
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care, 
And dish them out their bill o fare, 
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware 
That jaups in luggies: 
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer, 
Gie her a Haggis!

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