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16 December 2014

Memories of Spain

With Christmas just around the corner the summer and our visit back to Europe seems like a long time ago now but part of our trip included a visit back to Spain.  

I wrote numerous posts (and my husband also penned one of them) following our last trip two years ago, which you can read via the attached links if you want to.

Puerto Banus
Ronda
Marbella
Camuri - Chill Out Bars Goes Spanish
Casares & Gaucin
Mijas
Selwo Aventura
Tarifa

So this time around here are a few photos which sparked memories for me of our visit this summer. 



Mijas

Wall art in Mijas

Sunday morning coffee in Casares

Casares



Puerto Banus

Has to be done on the Costa del Sol



09 December 2014

Christmas Wonderland @ Gardens by the Bay

I have been well and truly getting my Christmas fix so far this year, including in this a recent visit to the launch of the Christmas Wonderland at Gardens by the Bay.  The gardens look wonderfully festive and I admit that for the first time this Christmas season I got a tiny pang of longing to be back in the UK for my Christmas or alternatively for all my nearest and dearest back there to be able to come here.  It truly does look magical all lit up and certainly got me focused on all the things I still need to do before Christmas day!  Though I still seem to have lots left to do.


My evening began with a visit to the Flower Dome to see the Yuletide in the Flower Dome exhibit.  The dome is teeming with beautifully lit Christmas trees and other decorations surrounding a snow covered village scene with lovely cool temperatures to match.  A night time visit is a must to fully enjoy the Luminarie light sculptures, of which there are thirty around the gardens, and really soak up the atmosphere.  The light sculptures are all handmade by skilled Italian craftsmen and are made of white wood frames from the south of Italy illuminated with lights in a variety of colours.  The centrepiece in the Flower Dome of Santa in his sleigh flying off into the night sky delivering gifts is truly beautiful.  Everyone in the dome on the night I visited seemed truly mesmerised and caught up in the magic of it all.

Naturally, as you are in the Flower Dome you also get to see some beautiful seasonal flowers and plants including fir trees, poinsettias and other blooms in festive red, green and white.  My personal favourites in the dome were all the beautifully lit up fir trees and the wintry village scene.

Inside the Flower Dome

Yuletide in the Flower Dome

Yuletide in the Flower Dome

Yuletide in the Flower Dome

Yuletide in the Flower Dome

Yuletide in the Flower Dome


From the dome I made my way to view the Spalliera, the largest of the Luminarie light sculptures at the event standing 31 metres wide and 17 metres high (approximately five storeys).  This is also breathtaking and strikingly beautiful and a must see on your visit.  At the launch the Spalliera was lit by the Guest of Honour, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Minister for National Development.  When we gathered at the Spalliera we were in total darkness but were instantly wowed by its beauty as the lights were illuminated.  As the Spalliera was illuminated we also got to experience 'Blizzard Time' when snow comes to Gardens by the Bay!  I confess to being a little bit cynical about fake snow up until this point but seeing this totally wowed me and having not really seen snow for almost five years I really got caught up in the moment.  Everyone there turned into children all over again as the snow fluttered down.

The amazingly beautiful Spalliera complete with fake snow!


There truly is so much to see at Gardens by the Bay at the moment I'm not sure where to begin!  You have to get down there to see for yourself.  However it includes numerous activities for children, a multitude of different choirs performing over the next few weeks and various festive performances and acts.  There is a Christmas Wonderland festive market set amidst the Supertree Grove with all the stalls in the traditional wooden huts similar to the many European Christmas markets I've been too.  There are a variety of food and drink vendors as well as stores selling gifts perfect for Christmas presents.  On top of this you can also enjoy a number of pop-up outlets including the Isetan Christmas village, with a variety of shops offering everything you could wish for this Christmas, Christmas delights by Culina, with an array of fine food and wine and Janice Wong, the acclaimed Singaporean pastry chef of 2am: dessertbar bringing to the Gardens an array of delicious sweet treats. 

Visitors can also enjoy an exclusive dining experience at the Spiegeltent, open until 21 December 2014, 5pm to 11pm daily.  The Spiegeltent is a travelling 'mirror' tent from the Netherlands which is making its first appearance in Asia.  Originally built in the late 19th and early 20th century only a handful now remain in existence.  It is made of 1000 pieces of wood, canvas, brocade, decorated mirrors and stained glass and here you can enjoy a unique dining experience in the tent dining on dishes created by Kitchen Language's Group Executive Chef, Martin Woo.  Visitors can enjoy a range of festive delights including wild mushroom and truffle tartlets, roast turkey with chestnut and cranberry stuffing, cranberry and chestnut falafel, smoked salmon and creme fraiche roulade as well as desserts including sticky toffee pudding and Christmas Wonderland strudel and with the menu changing every week you are sure to leave happy!  There are also specially concocted Christmas cocktails and beverages including hot vodka with honey, Wonderland champagne punch, watermelon slush smoothie and virgin yuletide pina colada.  Diners can choose from an a la carte dinner menu with items priced from $7.  Minimum purchase of a drink is required for entry into the Spiegeltent.


Christmas Wonderland @ Gardens by the Bay is on now!  Get yourself down there for a wonderfully festive treat.

The Festive Market will run until 21 December 2014 from 3pm to 11pm daily.  Food huts open from 5pm.

The Luminarie light sculptures will be lit up until 1 January 2015.

Yuletide in the Flower Dome will run until 6 January 2015.

Access to Christmas Wonderland @ Gardens by the Bay is free.  While admission charges apply to the Flower Dome you can currently enjoy 10% off admission rates into the cooled conservatories when you purchase your tickets in advance online! This promotion is applicable for tickets purchased through Gardens by the Bay’s Online Ticketing Portal one day or earlier before the intended date of visit. Tickets issued under the Advance Ticket Promotion will be valid until 6 January 2015. Tickets must be purchased online by 5 January 2015. Please visit www.gardensbythebay.com.sg for full details. Terms and conditions apply.

For more information on everything happening at Gardens by the Bay over the Christmas season, check out their website here.


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 Gardens by the Bay for the kind invitation.

23 November 2014

Christmas by the River 2014

I don't know about you but despite me approaching my fifth Christmas in Singapore I still struggle every year to get in the spirit and do all the prep that comes before the celebration.  I blame the year round warm weather for this.  So heading down to Clarke Quay for the launch of this year's Christmas by the River was just what I needed to kick me into action.




The evening began with a performance from the Methodist Girls' School String Ensemble.  They played a combination of beautiful pieces coupled with some seasonal favourites and got the evening off to a lovely start.

Mr Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of National Development was the guest of honour and there to officially launch the Christmas celebrations by the Singapore River.  The event was launched with some beautiful fireworks which, being very close to, were incredibly loud but lovely.  I was then treated to a river cruise tour on the Singapore river to view the decorations and the beautiful Singapore skyline.  We all also got to enjoy a festive performance by Vox Camerata who were performing some seasonal songs on board a boat in the middle of the river.


Image courtesy of Singapore River One
Fireworks at the launch


Image courtesy of Singapore River One
Vox Camerata

If you fancy heading along to the river to see some of the festivities yourself over the next few weeks you will be able to enjoy a wealth of Christmas themed events and promotions.  The three quays along the Singapore River are decorated with lovely Christmas decorations to get you in the spirit, including eight metre tall LED Christmas tree structures which really look lovely all lit up at night (see my photo below).  Many of the river boats are also brightly decorated and illuminated.

Visitors can also enjoy Christmas markets packed full of Christmas themed treats, gifts and souvenirs.  On the 13, 14, 19 and 20 December a Christmas festive market will be held along the river promenade in front of Clarke Quay Central.  In addition on the 20 and 21 December there will also be a pop-up Christmas market at Clarke Quay's Central fountain square.

You'll also be able to enjoy numerous local choirs who will be cruising along the river and performing, this includes, Vox Camerata, International Festival Chorus Singapore, Cornerstone Church Choir and ACS(I) Choir.  The choirs will be singing every Thursday to Saturday from the 15 November to 15 December 2014 from 7.30pm to 9.30pm.  As well as this Christmas Troopers will be roaming the three quays once a day every Friday from 7.30pm to 9pm looking for visitors to the quays to interact and take photographs with.

As if that wasn't enough, you'll be able to enjoy firework displays from the river banks at different quays every Friday at 9pm for the whole six weeks of the celebration.


Illuminated Christmas trees along the riverbank


Beautiful view of the CBD skyline from the Singapore River

There are many shopping opportunities to enjoy too during the festive period, with UnionPay rewarding shoppers along the outlets of the Singapore river.  From the 14 November to 28 December 2014 shoppers who charge a minimum of S$50 to their UnionPay card at any of the outlets along the Singapore river each day will stand the chance to win some fabulous prizes.  These include hotel stays at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront hotel and Swissotel Merchant Court, dining and shopping vouchers and lots lots more!

Watching the launch of Christmas by the River was a great start to my Christmas celebrations and really got me in the festive spirit.  Now I just need to crack on and start my Christmas shopping!

'Christmas by the River' is on now until 2 January 2015.  Check out the Singapore river website for more information.


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 Singapore River One for the kind invitation.

18 November 2014

Liverpool Masters v Singapore Masters

Along with my husband (who has been to many) I attended my first proper football match recently.  As my husband is also a much bigger and far more knowledgeable fan than I will ever be I've handed the reins yet again to him to share a little of our experience.


On Saturday 15th November we attended a football match at Jalan Besar stadium (the original stadium opening in 1929), the Liverpool Masters, featuring a selection of players from days of old, including Robbie Fowler (aka God), Patrik Berger and Jerzy Dudek (Champions League hero from 2005) played the Singapore Masters (including the current head coach of the LionsXII in the Malaysian Super League, Fandi Ahmad). This was the first match I’d been to since watching Fulham play Everton (a free ticket from a friend that worked at Barclays at the time) on a freezing cold February day in 2008. Prior to that my last Liverpool match was also at Craven Cottage in 2002 (a couple of the Masters played in that game too).


Waiting for the action to begin

We were sat in the covered part of the stadium, a good thing as the heavens opened just as we were arriving (which is very convenient for Lavender MRT (East-West line) and made our way to some free seats (there were not numbered seats) just above and to the right of one of the goals.

Events kicked off at around 7:30pm, although there had been a juniors tournament earlier in the day, with a line-up of the teams and the game comprising of two thirty-five minute halves. For the first half the Liverpool heroes were kicking towards the goal we were sat near and it didn’t take long before the silky Premier League skills were on display with a series of crisp attacking moves down either flank. The years were rolled back for me as the pass sequence went from Fowler to Steve Mcmanaman and back (how many times in the past had those two linked up) and before too long the resplendent reds were in front with a nicely worked goal. Emile Heskey (an eleven million quid signing for the reds back in the day) slid in to connect with a score from Jari Litmanen, a player that scored twice in that 2002 game with Fulham (the cold February wind whipping off the Thames making a half time pie a necessity). The crowd went wild, most fans were supporting both teams (Liverpool in red and Singapore in blue), as the rain continued to fall. 




Shortly afterwards it was two nil, unfortunately this time due to an own goal in Liverpool's favour. As the defensive quality of the former Premier League players started to show through attacking options for the hosts were limited but the score was kept down to two at half-time. As the rain eased the second half started in the same vein as the first thirty-five minutes. The Liverpool team added a third, from the boot of Jari Litmanen (the provider of the first goal) and hit the woodwork on a number of occasions. The Singapore team showed more attacking intent as the game grew into its latter stages, forcing a number of quality saves from the hero of Istanbul 2005 (Liverpool’s fifth European title), Jerzy Dudek. They eventually scored (Rafi Ali being the man to do it) to make it 3-1.

For the last ten minutes the superhero striker, Ian Rush, came on to perhaps the loudest cheer of the entire evening. He showed that he’d lost none of the predatory instinct, making a few quality runs in the same way that terrorised many a defence in the 80s and 90s.




The game ended 3-1, and was followed by a brief trophy ceremony and celebratory photo sessions. We don’t get to watch live football on anything but the telly often in Singapore, so this game was brilliant with a truly authentic atmosphere (very similar to Anfield, complete with the dulcet tones of You’ll Never Walk Alone).

A pleasant night and as the rain had stopped, we could finish our evening by making our way to drinks with friends in Little India.

16 November 2014

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

If you are looking for another part of Singapore's wilder side to explore then the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve might be the place for you.  Situated in the far north west of Singapore it is a bit of a trek (if you don't have a car) but well worth the effort!  To get there by public transport we took the MRT to Kranji and then a bus outside the station (number 925) which dropped us off right outside the reserve.  The bus runs in a loop so you can then get the same bus back to the MRT station.  Apparently the bus only runs past the reserve on Sundays and public holidays, the rest of the time the closest it gets is Kranji Reservoir car park and then it's a fifteen minute walk to the reserve from there.  Luckily we chose to go on a Sunday so were pretty much able to travel door to door!

On arrival there is a little visitors area with some information about the reserve and the type of wildlife you might be lucky enough to spot, including crocodiles!  I'd heard stories about crocodiles in Singapore but I didn't really know where they were.  Sadly (or perhaps fortunately depending on your view point) we didn't spot any crocodiles on our visit.  Maybe an excuse to return again for future crocodile spotting!



Once you cross over the main bridge into the reserve you have a number of routes you can choose to follow.  These vary in distance/time so you can choose whatever suits you best.  The paths through the reserve are well laid out and easy to follow and compared to places like MacRitchie Reservoir the reserve is a lot quieter (even on a Sunday) so is great for wildlife spotting.  It actually seemed really remote in places and I wondered how they check there is no one still in the reserve when it closes at night.  I definitely would not want to get stuck in there after hours!  There are bird observation hides dotted around the reserve for quiet observation as well as screens to watch the birds etc. without being seen yourself.  The hides have information about the types of wildlife you are likely to see as well.  In addition there is also a tower hide which you can climb to get some great views of the reserve and beyond as well as observe the birds from a different angle.


Although we didn't see any crocodiles we saw plenty of monitor lizards throughout the whole reserve.  We also saw plenty of birds although all from a reasonable distance so I'm afraid I don't know exactly what they were.  At one point we saw a school of silver fish which appeared to be jumping out of the water.  I later learnt they were called Tropical Silverside, thanks to one of the information boards I mentioned before.  The information provided said that they are often seen, as we saw them, in large groups near the water surface and when disturbed will synchronously leap out of the water.  I don't think we disturbed them as we were too far away so I'd love to know what did.  In addition the walk around the reserve also allowed us to see Malaysia at numerous points just across the water.


After following one of the walks around and finishing again back at the visitor centre we decided to then go on the mangrove boardwalk.  This is only a thirty minute walk so after a refreshing (and cooling drink) this seemed like a very sensible choice.  The mangrove walk is designed to let you walk right through the mangroves without getting your feet wet.  Whilst walking here we saw multiple mudskipper's and tree-climbing crabs.  If you look at my final photo in this post you can see both of these.  It isn't the greatest photo but hopefully you can make them out!





The Sungei Buloh wetland reserve is definitely somewhere to visit if you want the chance to get close to some of the nature in Singapore.  The walks are well laid out and with the hides and screens dotted around it is very well designed for the purpose of observing all that is there.  In addition and perhaps because it is quite a journey to get to, it is wonderfully peaceful even at the weekend, especially in comparison to other parts of Singapore designed for nature spotting and walking.  Definitely well worth making the journey!

I liked this advice on making the most of your visit taken from the leaflet we picked up at the visitors centre.

Take nothing but photographs,
Leave nothing but footprints.

Wise words indeed.

Mudskipper and Tree-climbing crab

13 November 2014

Airline Options

My husband has been busy writing for my blog again, this time with a post about a few of his experiences on some of the different airlines we have used.


As an expat with family commitments in the United Kingdom I travel back on a regular basis, perhaps three or four times a year.  Therefore over the last five or so years I have travelled on many airline and route combinations, ranging from the direct and convenient but expensive services of Singapore Airlines and British Airways to services connecting in the Middle East (Emirates and Qatar). There are many many airlines plying the route between Singapore and Europe, with vast differences in cost and service.  I’d suggest utilising a booking website and keeping an eye out for the best offers and being prepared to be flexible, for example, flying to London and buying a separate ticket on another airline or hiring a car is often significantly cheaper than flying to a regional airport.  

Additionally, work has meant that I have flown extensively on a more regional basis utilising both full-service and low cost carriers on flights between Singapore, Jakarta (traffic jams), Bangkok (great food coupled with chaos), Hanoi (great food with cool winter temperatures) and Kuala Lumpur (KL is just KL). 

Direct Services – Singapore Airlines or British Airways 

The very first time I went back to the UK after moving to Singapore I managed to find a reasonably priced fare on Singapore Airlines to London (these are very rare as SQ is often the most expensive provider on the route). My memory is relatively sketchy through the mists of time but I remember the fare was approximately fourteen hundred bucks (it must be noted that on discounted fares the airline awards a miserly amount of frequent flyer miles). The airline flies to London five times a day using a mixture of the fabulous Airbus A380 (they were ‘first to fly’ the type) and Boeing 777s. The intercontinental food service in economy is OK at best (regionally around Asia I avoid eating on SQ as the food is just awful, apart from the rock solid ice cream on flights to Bangkok), the seats on the 380 are comfortable (the best seat in economy is on the 380 configured with economy upstairs, very very quiet) and the entertainment options are standard (and excellent) for this day and age. However the flight is very long and very boring, I have often been flying over India and exclaimed / sighed that there is still five and a half hours to Singapore.  

Taken whilst in Richmond park, London this summer

Taken whilst in Richmond park, London this summer


I have also travelled back on British Airways (and before I go on I will admit a degree of bias towards a former employer), with the airline using rather tired old Boeing 747-400s and newer Boeing 777s on the route. I was seated in the emergency access row and had plenty of legroom on the flight to London, this was not the case on the way back, but as a short-arse this is not a problem for me. The seats are standard with adequate in-flight entertainment on-board the older aeroplanes (BA have just introduced the best looking A380 on the route, so things will improve) and great food. The service from the cabin crew was outstanding, understated and efficient (the provision of the necessary gin and tonic was prompt) and the flight smooth. When we took this flight it arrived (and departed from) at the Heathrow Terminal 3 hell hole but this has since changed to Terminal 5 after the unravelling of the joint service agreement with Qantas (the owner of this blog flew Qantas with no in-flight entertainment for 12plus hours, must have been awful) and hence there is a significantly improved airport experience in London. 

Connecting Services 

Much of my flying between the countries has been on Emirates (both in Economy and Business Class, but here we will only talk about economy, keeping it real). The real advantage of Emirates to the UK is that as well as Heathrow they fly to many other regional airports, therefore allowing the passenger to tailor travel plans to activities within Blighty, for example, on one trip we flew into Manchester and out of Glasgow (I had been at a conference in Edinburgh). Additionally, I prefer the fact that there is a break in the middle of the journey in Dubai, giving a chance to wander around, grab a coffee or a beer (or a shower when I had my gold status, long since expired), which I find much more relaxing. From Singapore the airline uses a mixture of A380s (economy is on the main deck with first and business on the upper deck with the excellent stand-up bar) and Boeing 777s. There are five flights per day from Singapore to Dubai, with the only one to avoid being EK349 / EK 348 which is via Colombo in Sri Lanka (9+ hours). Dependent on destination in the UK Emirates uses A380s and 777s (Heathrow and Manchester get the big bird). So the flights, the seats on either aeroplane are good in economy (the cabin to sit in is the front cabin on the main deck of the Airbus, as it’s very quiet and reasonably small), with good entertainment options and great food (this has massively improved over the last couple of years or so), we live in hope of receiving the Middle Eastern mezze platter (alas it’s been a long time). As for Dubai, as a connecting airport, it is clean, efficient with many eating options (additionally the call to prayer as the hot desert sun rises is mesmerising and exotic). Finally, the business class lounges (if you are lucky enough to have access) are truly excellent, please pass the Moet et Chandon. 




More recently, and based purely on price, we have shifted to flying to Europe via Doha and Qatar Airways. The airline flies to Heathrow and Manchester in the UK (shortly to add a Boeing 787 service to Edinburgh) with a couple of flights a day from Singapore to the new and excellent airport in Doha (there is a moving dinosaur in the terminal), using a mixture of Boeing 777 and 787s. From Doha to London the airline uses their brand spanking new Airbus A380 and Boeing 777s. When we flew from London the aircraft was an old Airbus A340-600, with poor seats and rubbish in-flight retail. However, the food was excellent covering a light snack and a full on meal prior to landing with the drinks trolley including champagne (we didn’t have any so I am not sure if it is extra money). From Doha to Singapore the airline flies the new 787, with new seats, new in flight entertainment and funky window shades. The aircraft is very quiet and relaxing. Qatar gives you the opportunity to earn OneWorld miles that are redeemable on over ten global airlines including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, American or Malaysian Airlines. 



There are, of course, many other connecting options, including Malaysian via KL, Lutfhansa through Frankfurt, Cathay via Hong Kong.  Which do you prefer?

30 October 2014

Reculver Towers

As I've mentioned in a couple of other recent posts we were back in the UK (and subsequently Spain and France) for a month from the end of July.  Yes, as usual I am a little behind!  The first stop on the packed itinerary was Kent where my parents and the majority of my family live.  We all spent a few days there before my husband and my stepsons went to Spain and I stayed on a bit longer to spend some time with my parents as I hadn't seen them properly since the previous summer.

Whilst we were all there we had a couple of day trips out which included the obligatory trip to the fabulous Wildwood, a place I've mentioned before, for my youngest stepson who loves it.  On the way back to my parents I suggested a little detour to a ruin nearby, Reculver Towers, somewhere I've always been fond of and fascinated with.  The weather for the first part of our trip back to the UK was very good but this day was a little cooler.  The towers are very exposed on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea so whilst not cold it was definitely fresh.  However that didn't stop us and the exploring began.


Approach to the towers

As I said Reculver Towers are an imposing landmark and noticeable from some distance away.  The towers date from the 12th century and are all that remains of a ruined church which stood in the midst of the site of a Roman 'Saxon Shore' fort and a Saxon monastery.  Having done a little further research the Saxon Shore was a military command of the late Roman Empire which was made up of a number of fortifications on both sides of the English Channel.  Several of these fortifications still exist today of which four are in Kent, Reculver being one of them.

The coast line has changed greatly since the towers were built and much of the site has been lost to the sea.  The edge of the beach below now reaches the towers which still act as a navigation point for shipping in the area.  The towers are in an area of Kent known as the Isle of Thanet, today it is no longer an island as the land has since silted up but two thousand years ago The Wantsum (a sea channel up to three miles wide) cut off the Isle from the mainland.  The Roman fort stood on a promontory at the north end of this channel.  After the Romans abandoned the fort at Reculver an Anglo-Saxon monastery was founded and the church built.  The church was partly demolished in 1805 but the twin towers were left.  



Reculver is not somewhere you'll spend a long time at so is perfect for a quick stop after visiting somewhere else in the area.  It's fun to explore though and imagine what it would once have looked like.  Of course, being a ruin in a relatively lonely spot all sorts of ghost stories have sprung up over the years, who knows if any of them have any truth to them.

Our afternoon was rounded off with a light late lunch in a pub nearby, a lovely start to our trip back to the UK.  So if you are in the area, like history or lonely windswept spots Reculver is definitely worth taking a look at.



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