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27 October 2010

Labrador Nature Reserve

Before our trip I struggled to find this place in any of the guidebooks we have and having now been there I suspect it would not be on the casual tourist's itinerary whilst in Singapore.

When we visited the reserve it was surprisingly quiet, peaceful and relatively empty, we seemed to be virtually the only people there.  As there isn't much there I can't imagine it ever being full of tourists and locals but that made it pleasant for a relaxing afternoon.

The reserve has several relics left from the Second World War as it is right by the coast and was used as part of the coastal defences of Singapore both during that  specific period of history (though Singapore was not invaded via the sea as it turned out) and before that.  As it had been identified as an ideal defence site to protect the entrance to the harbours of Singapore. 

It is no longer used for that purpose and has subsequently become a designated nature reserve to protect the plants, wildlife and the rocky shore line there.  Although we were able to see the remains of the fort that was on the site I understand there are also some tunnels which can be explored.  Unfortunately though they are currently closed for renovation so we could not go into them.  The picture below taken through a gap in a metal gate is the closest I got.

It seemed that as well as the tunnels being closed a lot of the restaurants etc. were also shut but we eventually found a nice restaurant appropriately called The Labrador for a late lunch. Whilst there I accomplished another first ..... trying cuttle fish. As with many of the other fish dishes I've tried recently the cuttle fish was nice enough but I doubt I'll be ordering it again out of choice.

I can't say the nature reserve would necessarily be somewhere I'd be looking to return to any time soon but for a pleasant afternoon away from the hustle and bustle it certainly was worth a visit. If nothing else perhaps when they re-open the tunnels it will be worth another trip.


21 October 2010

Futuristic Cinema

I wouldn't normally write about something seemingly so mundane as a trip to a cinema.  Going to the cinema is very similar to back in the UK wherever you are.  Here I can book tickets online when I arrived there were the usual adverts etc. but no this cinema trip wasn't quite like any I've been on before.

This can only be described as the 5 star of cinema experiences and I've been just a touch spoilt by it now.  We went to a cinema complex at the Vivocity shopping mall which by the way also houses the largest cinema screen in Asia (this will be an experience for another time I think).  Anyway I digress if you buy the gold class ticket your cinema experience can start up to an hour before the film starts.  With this ticket you have access to an exclusive lounge (sounds like an airline and believe me you felt like you should be strapping yourself into the cinema seats) where you are greeted by your 'host' and can enjoy a drink or something to eat before you go in.  I should point out that the cost of the ticket doesn't include the food or drink but I still think this is pretty impressive.

So once you go in the cinema only has about 30 seats and to be honest the size of the seats would not allow for many more to fit in!  The seats are arranged in rows but in twos so it's ideal if you go with a friend or loved one and are the biggest most comfortable seats I've ever seen or sat on in a cinema.  They really look more like seats on business class on a plane hence the reason I felt I should be strapping myself in!!  The seat reclines and they also have a foot rest as well.  You get given a blanket too which you need as the air conditioning is very powerful but that also means you can get even more comfortable as you settle down to watch the film.

Wait though there's more ...... each set of seats has a table and a button on it, this is your push button waiter service so you can order drinks and food throughout!  Well of course we made the most of that and ordered wine and a meal which was very good.  It did seem weird sitting in a dark cinema eating and I was convinced I would get my meal all down me but miraculously I didn't!!

Of course the reason you go to a cinema is to see a film and although in someways that seemed like the second event to everything else it was a good film I'm sure made all the better by the surroundings.  I actually went with the fellow expat I had met at the fish and chip shop opening night the previous Saturday (and not my fiance though I've said to him we should go sometime too) and some of her friend's - all absolutely lovely and I think I'll be seeing them all again before long.

Cinemas like that are well and truly due in the UK don't you think?!?

18 October 2010

Fairies and Proper Fish and Chips

The start of the weekend meant more exploring to be done.  Friday evening brought with it our customary plans of a few drinks after work with friends, before meeting them though my fiance and I went to a bar called Divine in the Parkview Square.  The building really stands out and you can't help but notice it as it was built in an art deco style and is amazing to look at.  I understand it was originally going to be a hotel but that was not to be and it is now an office block.  What I didn't realise until recently though was that there is also a bar on the Ground floor of the building.


The bar is equally as impressive as the building is from the outside with its high ceilings, low lighting and amazing art deco design and features.  It really feels like you've stepped back to the 1920s.  However the really good part about the bar is the wine collection or rather the rather unique way in which the bar staff collect your chosen bottle of wine once you've selected it.

This picture shows the wine selection which as you can hopefully appreciate is fairly large and you certainly couldn't reach the wines at the top (at the bottom of this picture is the start of the regular bar).  So what do the waitresses do.....?  They attach a wire to their back and are hoisted up in the air by this to the appropriate part of the cabinet.  To make it even more quirkier the waitress, whose job it is to do that, has a pair of fairy wings attached to her back.  Unfortunately I was not able to get a picture of the waitress in action but we've already said we need to go back so hopefully I'll manage to get a picture then.

Saturday saw a trip to the Marina Bay Sands hotel a very new hotel and as you'll see from the picture below a very striking and distinctive building on the Singapore skyline.  As you can the building has three towers and then what looks like a boat straddling the top.  Up at the top there is an infinity pool (you wouldn't catch me in there) and a viewing platform looking out over Singapore.

You have to pay $20 which is approximately £10 to go up to this viewing platform and although the views were good I don't think it was worth that kind of money.  You could not feasibly spend hardly anytime up there as asides from the views and getting close to the infinity pool there isn't much else to do.  All there was a snack bar type place selling hot dogs, cold drinks and a few souvenirs.  I'm not sure if we got there too early as there did appear to be a restaurant or something but this was shut and didn't look to be opening any time soon.  I think they certainly could have a bar at least up there so you could enjoy the views over a drink.  We were able to get close to the infinity pool (picture below) but only hotel guests are allowed in it so you end up feeling like you are gawping at all these people staying in the hotel as they go for their swim.  Not that relaxing for them I'm sure!  After that it was back down to the exit.

I do have to say the views over Singapore were lovely but as often is the case here it was very hazy so unfortunately we could not see that far.  However it is one to cross of the list as they say.

On the way home we noticed that a shop near us describing itself as a traditional British fish and chip shop looked to be open.  It appeared a few weeks ago and we've been patiently waiting for it to open and today the shutters were up.  So that evening we took a wander down to see what they had to offer.

It turned out they weren't officially open as they still didn't have their license though they are all ready to go and hope to be open this week.  However they invited us in for a drink and we ended up spending the whole evening there.  I think we were the only people there who didn't know anyone else but that didn't matter as the shutters were up, the tables out in the front and anyone was welcome.  We got chatting to some other local expats, exchanged numbers and as a result I'm off to the cinema tomorrow with one of them.  More on that when I've been as I gather I'm going to a rather flash cinema, certainly compared to anything I've experienced before!

The business is being run by British expats, with a British chef and they plan to import cod, haddock and plaice to make it fully authentic and then another fish more geared up for the locals.  Of course we also got to sample some fish and chips that night and boy were they good!!!  I can't actually remember when I last went to a chippie but it would have been sometime before I moved out here in July and so they really hit the spot.  Needless to say we'll be heading back there again very soon I am sure.



UPDATE - October 2011


As this is one of my most popular posts despite having been written just over a year ago now I thought I'd better update one piece of information on here.  I understand that visitors can no longer access the infinity pool area on the top of the Marina Bay Sands.  When we visited this part was still accessible to non-residents, though you could not actually use the pool.  I guess the feeling I had at the time that I was slightly intruding on the guests has made them decide to close off this area and respect guests privacy.  Regardless it is probably time that I paid another visit here to see what has changed in the interim period.

14 October 2010

Dempsey

Once again I recently had the chance to explore an area of Singapore that I've not previously been to, this time an area called Dempsey.  I should explain that Dempsey is in an area of Singapore called Tanglin and I got taken there for a little taster of what its night life has to offer.

Dempsey (for Singapore at least) is a bit a of a trek, there is no public transport there as such so you have to rely on taxis to get you there and back again.  Tanglin is one of the most affluent suburbs of Singapore and it definitely shows with landed houses (i.e. very expensive and not the condos that most people tend to live in everywhere).  I suspect a lot of the people who live there have cars (again a very expensive purchase in Singapore) so being reliant on public transport is not such an issue.

The Dempsey area was where the English army barracks were when they had a base here but now seems to largely be devoted to bars and restaurants.  The first bar we went to had a very laid back feel with plenty of decking areas to sit out on and enjoy the balmy evening.  It was noticeable again the number of western expats there, I don't know whether this is because it is a popular place to go to or whether they live around that area.  I guess though as it isn't far away from Holland village where a lot of expats do live it is somewhere different to go to for an evening out. 

After some lovely drinks we went to an Indian restaurant which was OK but a lot of the restaurants around there I am told shut very early, soon after 10pm in some cases.  We'd arrived in Dempsey late so by the time we went to eat it was getting on for that time.  So we had to rush our choices as they really wanted to close the kitchen.  As a consequence the wine we had chosen they'd sold out of and so we had to make alternate choices from a very limited selection.  I think the food was probably also not at its best as they really wanted us out so they could close properly.  A real shame!

After this we went on to another bar which was great, totally different from the earlier bar as they had a really good live band singing covers and in between sets a really good selection of music.  The strawberry margarita's went down a treat as well! 

When we eventually left that bar to get a taxi back home we came outside to an electrical storm so the sky was alight with a spectacular lightening show.  That combined with the noisy frogs nearby couldn't help but remind me once again how lucky I was to be living here in this warm, tropical country where having to take a coat with you is never an issue!

13 October 2010

Moon Cakes

Shockingly I have just realised another food first that I've so far failed to mention!!  I mentioned in a previous post about the Mid-Autumn Festival that took place a couple of weeks ago and that it is a tradition to eat moon cakes at this time.  I therefore insisted that we should buy some to try too.  So we did.

We bought some white lotus seed paste cakes on a recommendation from a lady we bumped into in the supermarket that we went too as she told us they were very good.  There seemed to be lots of different types so I don't know whether we had the best of flavours but a local friend told us not to have the chocolate ones or brightly coloured ones that can be bought as they are not traditionally what a moon cake is. 

There were only four cakes in the tin which doesn't sound much but my first impression was surprise as to how heavy they were and how I couldn't imagine being able to eat a whole one due to their size and weight.  So perhaps only four was not so bad after all.  The moon cakes we bought came from Hong Kong but unfortunately I can't tell you much else about the information provided with them as none of the information was in English.  They came in a beautiful decorated tin though which I decided I would keep, the cakes themselves were individually wrapped with 2010 printed on the wrapper with further patterns on and yet further patterns and writing on top of the cake itself.


So to the crucial part what were they like ..... well they weren't bad but again I think it comes down to taste and the taste of these is something that Westerners just aren't used to.  The taste reminded me of peanut butter which although not unpleasant seemed a bit strange in a cake.  The closest I can describe what the inside of the cake looked like in terms of consistency was similar to marzipan I guess.

Would I have them again?  Probably not to be honest, but as with everything else new I've had since I've been here I'm glad we bought some to say we tried them whilst we had the chance to do so.

11 October 2010

Singapore Botanic Gardens

This week has turned into a very garden orientated week as on Saturday we went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens.  As I mentioned before my fiance went to a course with his work there earlier in the week and had said what a lovely place it was so it was decided that was where we'd spend our Saturday.

He was right in that it really is a lovely place to spend some time.  It was so peaceful that it was hard to believe we were so close to Orchard Road.  The gardens are full of amazing tropical plants and are so lush and green, having been here and the Chinese and Japanese gardens earlier this week it is easy to see why Singapore is also known as the garden city.

The gardens were established around 1860 and some of the areas we wandered around included an area known as Swan lake (fittingly there were some lovely swans on the lake), an area devoted to plants in the ginger family, an ecological garden, a bonsai area and much more.

Within the gardens there is also the National Orchid garden.  We didn't do that on Saturday as I'll be honest we must have walked a fair distance and we were both a bit tired but I definitely plan to take a trip back there soon.

Asides from the swans there were plenty of other birds to be seen and the lakes were teeming with terrapins.  The plants in the gardens and by the lakes also attracted some beautiful coloured dragonflies and butterflies.

The gardens also have a nice selection of places to eat which I was glad about as the walking ensured I had worked up a good appetite.  However no fish for me this time, I played it safe and had a tried and tasted plate of rice.  There were prawns in my rice though so I suppose it wasn't a totally seafood free meal.  There was also a lovely gift shop which sold plants amongst other things.  These are something I want to get as our balcony (apart from one small cactus plant) looks a bit bare at the moment and I'd like to buy some more exotic plants.  However I decided we could probably buy cheaper plants somewhere else so for now our little cactus plant will have to suffice.

After our trip we walked back a little way a long Orchard Road and ended up in the Hard Rock cafe where a yummy cocktail went down a treat!


08 October 2010

Gardens, Turtles, Tortoises and a Stingray

After a busy week of job applications and chores I decided to give myself a day off yesterday and take myself off somewhere and explore.

Earlier in the week my fiance had to go to the Singapore Botanic Gardens for a course with his work and was very impressed with what he saw.  So we talked about going there together at some point but this set me thinking about other similar places that may be worth a look.  One of our guidebooks mentioned another garden called the Chinese and Japanese gardens which I decided might be worth an explore.  It is a bit of a trek (if you can describe anywhere in Singapore a trek given it is a relatively small place) and the book didn't rate it as worth the effort but I figured it was still worth a look.  Especially as within it there was also a Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum which I thought sounded intriguing to say the least!

We live near an MRT line called the East West line, on the MRT maps this is coloured green and the distance I travelled was similar to going from one end of the District line (also coloured green) on the tube in London to the other.  As is the norm on that line I didn't get a seat and by the time some became available I only had a couple of stops to go so it hardly seemed worth it by then.  Funnily enough the MRT are currently running a graciousness campaign to encourage people to give up their seats to those with more need, let people off the train before you get on and so on.  They are therefore playing the most cheesy annoying jingle at all the MRT stations to encourage this.  I really could not see it catching on on the tube, you can view it on You Tube so see if you can track it down.

Anyway back to the gardens, they are over in the West of the island (the furthest West I've been in fact).  The gardens are on two islands on Jurong lake and really are so peaceful.  The only thing spoiling it slightly was that when you first arrive in the gardens you are still so close to the MRT station that you can hear that annoying jingle as the trains come in!

There are several Chinese-style pavilions and a pagoda in the gardens all of which you can go in and get some lovely views over the gardens.  There is also a section with lots of bonsai trees (or penjing) all of which are set in lovely surroundings.  I saw a lot of wildlife too, some lizards but much bigger than what you get in the city and some beautiful brightly coloured birds.

As I mentioned within the gardens is also the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum, an interesting and intriguing thing to me and I felt worthy of an explore.  I'll be honest that if I'd only be going for this I'd have felt it was a bit of a trek for little reward now I've been but that combined with the gardens made it a worthwhile MRT ride. 

When you first go into the museum there is a huge display of all sorts of turtle and tortoise ornaments etc. rather like someone might collect if they were their favourite animals - not great.  You then walk through a number of tanks with different turtles and tortoises in.  I never realised there were so many breeds and some were very ugly but others kind of cute too!

The best bit though was the last part, a mini garden within the museum where they let some of the turtles and tortoises out and you can walk round the pool and gardens in and amongst them in some lovely peaceful surroundings.  The guidebook didn't rate the gardens much at all but I personally think they were well worth the visit with the turtles and tortoises a quirky little extra.

Yet again in the evening we then went out for something to eat (this is starting to get a bit of a habit now not that I'm complaining) going to a seafood restaurant, fortunately with other non-fish options but yes for anyone who knows me still a bit of a shocker!  Tonight's new try being stingray ..... never did I imagine I'd being trying that but I gather it is something of a local delicacy here.  Yes it was OK too, a bit more fishy tasting than some of the other dishes I've tried recently but it reminded me, taste wise, of the fish you get when you have fish and chips in the UK (obviously without the batter).  All I can say is watch this space for my next fish tasting experience!

07 October 2010

Katong Laksa and a Chicken!

This week (and it isn't even finished yet) has seen two interesting food experiences which it only seemed right to share with you all.


Last night my fiance and I decided to go out for something to eat, after last week when my friend was here and we went out every night this might seem a common occurrence but it really isn't I can assure you.  So we decided we'd stay local, we live in an area of Singapore called Katong which is very famous for Katong Laksa.  Neither of us had had this so it was decided this was what we were going to eat at one of the famous laksa restaurants on the East Coast Road.  Laksa is a Peranakan dish and the guidebook we referred to described it as 'noodles in a savoury coconut-milk gravy with fried tofu and bean sprouts'.


The restaurant we chose although mentioned in all our guidebooks is also somewhere were locals go so again I felt we really were sampling the locals food and hopefully getting one of the best versions of the dish.  Well what can I say, we arrived and laksa was pretty much the only thing on the menu (good job we'd decided beforehand that's what we wanted to try).  On the basis of the guidebook we had assumed (never assume anything I guess) that laksa came in a variety of options i.e. sea food, chicken, beef etc. and when we arrived the guy serving us asked us if we wanted sea food or not which we felt confirmed this.  Although I've been pretty adventurous since I got here with my fish eating I still wouldn't choose fish over an alternative option just yet so we declined that assuming we'd be getting another version of the dish.

It arrived and just from looking at it it was fairly obvious it had prawns and various other fish in it and when we queried this, on the basis that it wasn't what we had ordered, we were told it only comes with sea food!!!!  I guess laksa is traditionally only a sea food dish so why give us a choice if we didn't have one?!?  By this time our drinks had arrived my fiance had ordered a Tiger beer and I ordered a coke.  When my 'coke' arrived it was in fact lime juice, now I like this and happily drank it but the guy definitely heard me ask for a coke as he clarified it with me at the time of ordering.  Needless to say I picked round my laksa and what I ate was very nice but if there had been an option to have had a non-seafood version I would have enjoyed it so much more and if this is the only way to have laksa I wish our guidebook had been a bit more specific.


I mentioned chickens in the title of this blog too, that wasn't wishful thinking on my part for last night and my laksa experience but refers to the chicken we brought with the intention of having a traditional roast dinner last weekend.  We bought a lovely looking chicken just like the ones you buy in supermarkets back in the UK but what you couldn't see from the way it was packed was that it still had its head and feet attached!  I really do appreciate that over here they use far more of the chicken than we do in the UK but it still came as a bit of a shock and was a little off putting (rather like the bones I found in what I thought were chicken nuggets).  I was seriously concerned that the poor thing may not have been gutted but fortunately it had been and once the head and feet were removed and it was cooked it was lovely. 


Even though my father was a butcher and I've seen numerous things like half a pig etc. before it is cut up and so does still look like the animal that still wasn't enough to prepare me for the sight of the chicken's head.  :o(

We've decided in future that we'll just buy chicken breasts or legs rather than a whole one.  You live and learn I guess and we certainly have this week!!

04 October 2010

Food Glorious Food and Emerald Hill

In keeping with my chili crab adventure, and as Singapore is a foodies heaven, I spent Saturday afternoon in the most amazing restaurant enjoying an all you can eat champagne brunch with friends to celebrate a birthday.

The restaurant is called Mimolette and is fabulous, it is near the old Turf Club near the highest point in Singapore, Bukit Timah.  As it was near the old Turf Club as someone who also adores horses this was an additional bonus to the afternoon as I got to see some.  The first I've seen since moving here in July in fact.  I think I can include that in my list of things I miss seeing - animals, i.e. horses, cows sheep etc. in fields.

Unfortunately getting there was a bit of a trek as our taxi driver took us close but to the wrong place, as we hadn't been there before we didn't realise this and of course there were no other taxi's to be had.  We weren't that far away but far enough when walking it in the midday heat, the air conditioning was very welcome when we did arrive.  As I said the restaurant is near the highest point in Singapore and I think we must have climbed that getting there (I've forgotten what hills are) but it was definitely worth the slight inconvenience.


The restaurant itself is almost colonial in style with some great old fashioned looking cabinets, candle sticks and general decor and is set in a fantastic location right in the country away from the hustle and bustle of the city.  The food was lovely, as much champagne as we could drink (and we did) and the brunch options included, pasta dishes, croque monsieur, croque madam, eggs benedict, eggs florentine, corn beef hash, side orders of bacon, frites, sausages, eggs cooked every way you can imagine and to round it off delicious desserts including, crepes, waffles and doughnuts amongst other things.  I hadn't eaten prior to going so I definitely did it justice being very hungry but I couldn't eat another thing for the rest of the day. 


On Sunday we stopped by Emerald Hill (just off the main shopping road, Orchard Road) as I wanted to see the old fashioned Peranakan shophouse buildings in the day and not just after frequenting the bars in the area on a Friday night.  There are a number of these style of houses around the island but these ones are mentioned in all the guidebooks as being particularly worth a look.  We wandered right up the road away from the shophouses nearest Orchard Road that have been converted into bars and to the houses that are still lived in.  It was so quiet there it was hard to believe we were so close to Orchard Road but they were beautiful and worth wandering up to see.  There was one for sale or rent and the estate agents were there marketing it that afternoon, I overheard them telling another couple this particular house was on the market for $17 million.  I'd love to have the chance to live in one of them but at those prices that will have to stay a lovely dream and I'll just have to keep on admiring them from afar!

Tourist Stuff and Chilli Crab

As I've mentioned my friend from the UK came out to stay with me last week, it was lovely to see her and also fun to be doing the tourist things again.  Once the Grand Prix was over I organised a full itinerary of things to do and see and I think she saw the main parts of Singapore during her week. 

The list is endless but we went on a boat trip on the Singapore river, saw Sir Stamford Raffles statue, the merlion statue, went to a couple of museums, the Central Business District with its amazing modern buildings (the picture to the left is of this area at night on the evening of the Grand Prix), Sentosa (a lovely island off Singapore which has beaches, bars and other attractions), Little India, Chinatown, Kampong Glam (or the Arab Quarter as it is known to tourists), Orchard Road and of course a multitude of bars and restaurants including the must do - a Singapore Sling at Raffles.

My friend made me laugh when she said she couldn't remember the last time she had been out every night of the week.  I admitted to her that although you could easily do that here it wasn't the norm for us either but for her visit it seemed a much nicer thing to do then sitting in front of the TV each night.  Especially with so much food choice to be had here.

Despite me doing a lot of things I've done previously I did succeed in a couple of firsts myself as well.  I went with my friend to an attraction on Sentosa called Images of Singapore.  I have to be honest in that this is one of several attractions across Singapore giving an account of the island's history or an aspect of it but this place is great for someone here on a brief visit who wants to get the main headlines of Singapore's history.  The wax works and fun interactive displays also made it a lot of fun and worth the visit.

In my continuing quest to try different foods whilst here I braved chili crab as well for the first time last week.  Well when I say I braved it we had a portion between four of us and I tried a bit but I still think that counts.  Before you ask yes it wasn't bad at all just a bit too messy with the chili sauce everywhere for my liking.  I doubt I'd ever order it again but at least I can now say I've tried it! 

Grand Prix

Well it's been a while since I wrote, I've been super busy for the past week as I had a friend visiting from the UK which was lovely.  She came just in time for the Grand Prix (which her, me and my fiance all had tickets for) and stayed for a week so I have been busy doing all the touristy bits with her.

The Grand Prix was amazing!!  I have to be honest I have never got Formula 1 and it has never really interested me as a consequence but being here with it on it seemed wrong not to take the chance to go and see it.  I can't pretend I really get it much more now but I do know that I thoroughly enjoy it and maybe I'll even take a bit more interest in the final few races of the season.




The two main things I have to confess to not realising previously was firstly that they practice ahead of the qualifying and the race so we got three nights of entertainment and secondly I can't get over how loud the cars are.  Yes I know you hear them on TV when you are watching it but I guess I've never given any thought to how loud they may be in reality, I definitely know now!  They sell ear plugs and ponchos and I was so grateful for the ear plugs.  The ponchos are also a good idea in Singapore but fortunately although it rained during the day there was no rain for the practices, qualifying or the actual race.

Singapore has the most fabulous skyline for a night race and seeing the coverage on the big screens I really felt proud to have the opportunity to be there.  It is definitely an experience I won't forget in a hurry.  The icing on the cake would have been a British win but you can't have everything and that wasn't to be sadly.
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