29 July 2011

Icons of Singapore - Merlion

I've fallen a little behind in my postings lately for a very good reason.  We've had two visitors staying with us since the beginning of July (my fiance's two sons, my stepsons) and so we've been taking them to various places on the island.

One of the first things they wanted to see was the Merlion.  I realised this was one of the tourist things I did when I came here on a pre move holiday but I've never really mentioned or acknowledged it on this blog as a result.  I wrote about what I consider to be another icon of Singapore (Raffles Hotel) a while ago and I think the merlion can also be classed in the same category.  It is one of the things that most people (even those who haven't been to Singapore) will be aware of and will recognise.

It is a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body and tail of a fish.  The fish body is said to represent Singapore from the time it was a fishing village known as Temasek.  Temasek means sea town in Javanese.  The lion head represents Singapore's original name, Singapura which means Lion City.  I've mentioned this before but when an ancient prince landed on Temasek he believed he saw a lion on the shore and named the place Singapura.  As there have never been lions in Singapore it is more probable that he saw a tiger but still the name stuck and the island was renamed Singapore.  The merlion symbol was designed in the 1960's so despite it being instantly recognisable as a symbol of Singapore it is not as old as you may first think.

Although the one in my photo above is probably the one you are most likely to have seen in photos of Singapore, this is the one near the Fullerton Hotel at the mouth of the Singapore river.  There are a number of merlion statues dotted around the island including one on the island of Sentosa.  This one is big enough to go up in and has a viewing platform, personally I think this one looks a little scary.  I haven't been up on to the viewing platform so I don't know how good the view is.  There is a smaller merlion behind the one in my photo above (which also spouts water) and another at Mount Faber amongst others on the island.

Whilst thinking about this post I had a bit of a look on the Internet for merlion references and did stumble across one thing that amused me.  According to Wikipedia, so please correct me if this is wrong, Singaporeans often use the term 'merlion' in place of vomiting, due to the merlion's constant gush of water from its mouth!  It is, apparently, now used by Singaporean medical staff as a slang term for a patient suffering with this condition - lovely!

Earlier this year the merlion found a different kind of fame as a temporary 5 star hotel suite.  For a month from April to May the merlion was obscured from view as it became the centre feature in this one luxury room.  To the casual observer it could almost have looked as if the merlion were undergoing some form of maintenance work.  It was however part of the Singapore biennale 2011 organised by the Singapore Art Museum and was a piece of art by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi.  I should clarify that for the duration of this the water gushing from the merlion's mouth was temporarily turned off!  You can read a little more about this here.  The merlion is now back to how it looks in the photo above with water gushing from its mouth. 

The merlion really is an iconic Singaporean mascot, countless souvenirs can be found either of merlions or with the merlion featuring on them.  There are bars with cocktails served in merlion shaped containers and in merlion shaped glass holders.  At the Youth Olympics last year one of the mascots was a character called Merly who was based on the merlion.  The list is endless.  You would certainly find it difficult to avoid the merlion, or at least something linked to it, on a visit.

27 July 2011

Jones the Grocer

Jones the Grocer is a delicatessen style grocers and restaurant with two stores on the island.  The one I've been to on a couple of occasions is the one in Dempsey. 

It is an Australian chain but it brings to mind the deli style shops you'll frequently see in the UK with cheeses (the Dempsey branch has a whole room full of cheese), pasta sauces, jams, various breads, wines, confectionery and so on.  Basically the type of food that it is not easy to just stumble upon everywhere you go in Singapore.  This makes it all the more fun whether you are looking to buy or just browsing at what you can get there.

As well as the shop part there is also the restaurant.  At the Dempsey branch you can sit either indoors or outdoors.  The outdoors option is a great place to meet friends, enjoy a relaxing lunch and maybe a glass or two of wine.  The menu options are all delicious with an exciting choice of sandwiches and cheeses amongst other things.

They also have a branch in the Mandarin Gallery shopping mall on Orchard Road.  Again this branch comprises both a grocers and a restaurant.  The restaurant is definitely a very popular brunch option at weekends with (for the Mandarin Gallery branch at least) the need to be prepared to wait to dine the order of the day.  For this reason alone we've never managed to eat in this branch as we've not had the time to wait!  That said though Jones the Grocer is a shop and restaurant well worth a visit for all your deli favourites.

25 July 2011

Sarong Kebaya's

I've visited the Peranakan museum previously but made a return to visit a specific exhibition about the Sarong Kebaya.  The Sarong Kebaya was the chosen clothing of the Peranakan women (nyonya's) for many generations.  If you are not sure what this style of clothing looks like have a look at the uniform of the air stewards on Singapore Airlines, their uniforms were inspired by this clothing.

The exhibition traces its history by looking at the Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese and European influences and how the styles, materials and decorations used altered accordingly between the 16th and 20th centuries.  It is a staggering collection of original pieces (many on loan) all exquisitely and painstakingly designed and made.  The colours and designs are beautiful and the exhibition shows how the clothing developed from a very basic functional piece to carefully designed high fashion pieces of their day and culture.  Where wearing your best pieces was very much a part of demonstrating to others your standing and position as well as the overall elegance of the nyonya's.

As I wandered around the exhibition I was struck by how many of the designs could still be considered very wearable.  Many of the later designs, in particular, would not look out of place for sale in a high street store.  They really were stunning and the designs on many of them unique and with much symbolic meaning to them.

The exhibition is on now and runs until the 26 February 2012.  I gather that around October time they'll be replacing many of the current sarong kebaya's on display with new ones (possibly worth a further visit).  The museum is on Armenian Street and is open on Mondays from 1pm to 7pm and Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am to 7pm (9pm on Fridays).  As well as this exhibition there is a whole range of exhibits about Peranakan culture at the museum.  It is well worth a visit if you are interested in finding out more about the Peranakan communities of South East Asia.

22 July 2011

Chill Out Bars - Part 3

As these posts seem so popular with my readers (and it's Friday so a few beverages after a long week are most definitely in order) my fiance has again been busy writing about various bars in Singapore that are worth a visit.  His latest best five bars are detailed below.  If you are on Twitter and you like what you read follow him at @AskSirStamford.

Long Bar at Raffles Hotel

On Beach Road, is the absolute colonial bar with dark wood, ceiling fans (motorised in this day and age, although I imagine at one point there must have been a poor unfortunate urchin sat in the corner pulling a cord in order to keep the establishment cool and comfortable), slickly dressed barmen and bar women and easy chairs.  It is located on the first floor at the back of the hotel, above a courtyard bar.  It is, of course, the home of the Singapore Sling (designed as a drink for the ladies sometime before 1915 by Ngiam Tong Boon and now every tourists drink of choice, it would certainly be one for Del Boy, mange tout mange tout).  As previously mentioned there are two bars in Singapore where littering is permitted (with monkey nut shells) and the Long Bar is one of them (no prizes for knowing the other one, I have written about it before), it being common to throw the shells or whole nuts on the floor for fun.  Usually I prefer to sit at the bar, as opposed to one of the many tables (which I feel are rather too closely packed together) and people-watch (a fun pastime with so many tourists around) with a Tiger pint (flipping expensive here at $18++, added service and Goods and Service Tax, GST). When I first arrived in Singapore this was the haunt of choice, on a Sunday afternoon, as one could usually guarantee a conversation with a Brit, Aussie or Yank (Westerner chat, often craved by the fresh off the boat expat).

New Asia Bar

At the Swissotel, above Raffles City Mall, is a high rise bar with spectacular views across Singapore (including all the ships at anchor in the bay awaiting to load or unload) to Malaysia and Indonesia.  The best time to go is just prior to sunset, although it is often difficult to get a window-side table (incidentally the windows are the floor to ceiling variety so if you suffer from vertigo do not stand too close to them, else you may feel a little dizzy).  The drinks menu is very very extensive, extending over several pages of a very swish booklet, covering every conceivable cocktail under the sun (or sunset), a range of beers and good wines (it really is excellent supping champagne to celebrate a birthday as the sun slips gracefully beneath the horizon in the west). One such cocktail is served in a white porcelain merlion (I need one of these containers), although I do not profess to know what drink it contains.  On the beer front you can order a larger ale served in a half yard glass (on a wooden stand, similar in style to Kwak glass served in Oosters, Far East Square) with the challenge being to drink it without covering one self in beer as you get to the large bulb at the bottom of the glass.  Later in the night the bar turns in to a kind of dance club with many ‘big fish, little fish’ tunes (although not as hardcore as Stereolab or Zouk).

Scruffy Murphy's

Within East Coast Park, is a great place for a Sunday afternoon chill out and brunch by the sea.  It is a fairly typical Singaporean Irish bar (operated by the Gaelic Inns chain, with other branches being The Penny Black on Boat Quay and Muddy Murphy's at Orchard Towers), serving food that generally hails from the emerald isle (or at least from the British Isles) and the standard range of beers (Tiger, Guinness, Bodies) and wines.  The food in general is good, a bit basic but does what it says on the menu.  Particularly excellent is the all day fry up consisting of the usual suspects, served on an enormous plate with toast etc.  One word of warning, if you order the fish and chips check that you get chips and not mash, really who the feck (Irish phrase there) orders deep fried fish with mash potato, apologies if you are that weirdo.  Anyway, it is a fab place to relax at the weekend with the sound of the waves in the background, the sights of people attempting to Rollerblade and girls on the backs of tandem bicycles not peddling whilst their boyfriends do all the work (top marks for loafing).  Finally the bar is ideally located, if you have been energetic and hired a bike (about $15 for three hours) and cycled up and down the East Coast Park (one can cycle to Changi Village, past the airport), for restorative pint before having a sleep.

Update 13 January 2013 - I'm a little late with this one but Scruffy Murphy's is no more. Sadly it closed last year.  Their website does indicate that they'll be back and to follow their Facebook page for updates.  So watch that space I guess and fingers crossed!

Prince of Wales

On Boat Quay, is the second branch of the popular backpacker pub based on Dunlop Street in Little India.  The Boat Quay version is in an old narrow shophouse overlooking the river (there is also a terrace with seats next to the river).  The bar inside is made up of a solid slab of wood that looks as if it was cut out of one of the East India Company’s clippers and buffed up, giving the place a look of an oldie world back street boozer (in fact the first time I frequented the joint it was inhabited by a couple of old Navy boys telling tales of drunkenness on the high seas, that sort of place).  Drinks-wise the offerings are fairly standard, although the beer options are excellent, coming from small regional Aussie brewers (and a good range of bottled beers, anywhere that serves my old friend James Boags is worth a mention).  For food to compliment the drinking there is a Mexican franchise, serving , err Mexican food  (tacos, fajitas, enchiladas etc. with beef, fish or chicken) in huge tasty sumptuous quantities (a lunch time stop here and the afternoon may require a siesta), including wonderful apple based desserts.  My first evening trip to the bar we encountered a Mexican festival celebrating a victorious battle (led by a bunch of farmers) with French (always a reason for an Englishman to celebrate French defeats) that included a piñata filled with sweets and money off tokens (free food and beer) – a lot of fun was had by all with a few sore heads I imagine.  

Red Dot Micro-Brewery

They have two branches in Singapore (the Red Dot on the South East Asian map), located on Boat Quay and on Dempsey Hill.  As a micro-brewery the beer served is generally excellent and extends across a wide range of styles.  There is an excellent Cologne style kolsch (I enjoyed this on a trip to the city’s Christmas Markets in 2009 and also on London’s Southbank), as well as a light English-style summer ale and a darker maltier stout.  The most unusual beer is the appropriately named Monster Green (I am sure this was also a character in one of my kids’ story books) which is unsurprisingly green in colour (a herb with health bringing qualities has been added).  I will say that it takes a leap of faith to drink but once sampled there is no going back. Given the green nature of the beer, the bars ran out on St Patrick’s Day this year.  Of the two bars, I have frequented the Boat Quay branch more regularly (in fact I am probably considered a local by the usually brilliant staff).  It is situated nearer the Raffles Place end of the quay and is again in an old shophouse (or more accurately several old shophouses) and also has a terrace onto the Singapore River (one can often observe fish nibbling at the quay stones below one’s drinking perch).  The food at Red Dot is good, ranging from bar snacks (chicken wings, wedges etc) to more substantial meals.  The Dempsey branch is based in the lush rainforests of the former British Army barracks and is where the actual beer is brewed (more Monster Green is needed for next March, guys).  The branch also includes a kids cookery school on a Sunday which will be sampled soon (Laura will report upon that escapade in a future blog).

You can read the previous two posts about some of the best bars in Singapore here and here.

Any suggestions for bars four? Where do you sup away your worries or cheer your successes?

19 July 2011


We did, what a lot of locals do recently, we took a weekend break to Bintan.  Bintan is one of the islands of Indonesia but is only approximately forty five minutes away by ferry from Singapore, so it's very easy to take a short break there.  I'm told it is almost considered a suburb of Singapore and having since visited Bali (more on that soon) it really did not feel or seem like we had hardly even left.  Asides from the beautiful natural beach and the obvious lack of high rise buildings and condos everywhere.

The view from our hotel room balcony

It was a pleasant change to be catching a ferry rather than a plane and despite obviously still having to go through customs, it seemed a lot less stressful and the whole experience far more relaxed.  The ferry reminded me of the ferries that run between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight in the UK, though this was, I would say, smaller still than those.  You were able to buy snacks and drinks on board and before we knew it we had arrived.

After the process of buying our Indonesian visas, these have to be bought on arrival so this does add another step to the process before you clear customs, we easily picked up the coach laid on by our hotel to take us the remainder of the journey.  It did not take long to reach the hotel but it was already dark by this point so I could not see anything of the island.  My only observation being that it was not built up like Singapore as there were hardly any lights or buildings that I could see as we drove to our destination.  This was subsequently confirmed on our return journey on the Sunday, as I mainly saw golf courses, other resorts and lush countryside.

Our hotel's own personal stretch of beach

The hotel we stayed in was very pleasant with a wealth of facilities meaning you did not need to leave it if you did not want to, it certainly was big too!  I'm not ashamed to admit I got a bit disorientated on a couple of occasions.  There were clearly a lot of people staying there who work and live in Singapore and do this trip regularly as they were on first name terms with a lot of the staff.  There are lots of golf courses on the island and our hotel also had its own which a lot of people were making use of and enjoying a golfing mini break.

Our weekend did not consist of golfing or anything really other than relaxing with a stack of books by the hotel pool and wandering along the almost deserted beach.  Although I love visiting places to explore a new culture, city and so on, occasionally it is also nice just to do nothing and not feel bad about it.  There were a few people enjoying various water sports but the majority of people we saw were just walking along the beach and enjoying the feel of the sand under their feet.  The beaches at Sentosa, Singapore have all been 'helped' to look as they do now so it was nice to be on what I, at least believe to be a natural beach.  The sand was beautifully white and the beach was relatively clean with a few tiny crabs running along here and there.

I can understand why visiting Bintan is such a popular option for a mini break for many who live in Singapore.  It is easily accessible and time wise you arrive before you left Singapore (they are an hour behind Singapore time).  It is also the perfect opposite to Singapore with no city, high rise buildings and people everywhere.  Yes even in a hotel the size of ours it did not feel crowded at all.  For a weekend it is a lovely escape right on Singapore's doorstep.

17 July 2011

Krish - a plush venue for a quiz night

This is a bar / restaurant in the west of the island in a complex known as Rochester Park.  It was described to me recently as similar to Dempsey and I have to agree with this.  There are colonial style buildings and that same feeling of tropical lushness with the place full of restaurants and bars to while away your free time. 

We actually came here for a pub quiz and I have to say this must be the poshest and most pleasant bar I've ever gone to for a quiz.  The quiz takes place every Wednesday evening, it is best to call and reserve a table in advance and teams have a maximum limit of eight people.  The quiz was, as expected, fun though the questions were very hard, that said though we still managed to win.

The quiz night was actually being relaunched the evening we attended and so during the course of the quiz there were a few additional perks that we benefited from.  Firstly we were given two free cocktails from a selection on the menu.  There was a free shot based drink given to every table.  The drink was called 'Tiger Blood' and as you can see from the photo was bright red.  I'm not sure what was in the drink but mint definitely was.  Asides from the drinks we were also given several plates of snack food to share throughout the evening too.  Although we did not eat in the restaurant area, the bar food alone was very good with plenty of selection.

Whilst I believe all of the freebies were just a perk for the relaunch the quiz is free to enter and if you like quizzes was a lot of fun.  The ambiance and environment though with plenty of tropical lush greenery, make it worth a visit at anytime.

Update 22 March 2013

Another update I should have done a while ago but Krish is yet another restaurant in Singapore no longer in existence.  However in the same place is Nosh the new restaurant concept by the owners of Krish.  I haven't been yet but please get in touch and let me know what you think.

07 July 2011

Chinatown Temples

I met up with a friend in Chinatown to visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre recently, a place I've visited previously and really enjoyed but she had not been to.  After our visit and some lunch we decided to have a look at a couple of the temples that were close by as well.

Firstly we visited the Sri Mariamman Hindu temple on South Bridge Road.  Being in the heart of Chinatown this temple seems even more striking in comparison to the other buildings around.  Having different religious temples in close proximity of each other is not that unusual here and is frequently seen, an example of how the differing cultures in Singapore have harmonised?

The temple is Singapore's oldest Hindu temple built originally in 1827 by Nariana Pillay.  He arrived in Singapore on the same ship as Sir Stamford Raffles.  The present form of the temple dates from 1843.

We were the only ones in the temple when we visited and once inside the compound it is beautifully serene and peaceful.  There are wonderfully painted ceilings (as you can see in the photo below) with numerous deities portrayed.  Before you even enter the temple you can't miss the colourful gopuram (tower of the temple) which is intricately decorated and the cows etc. that adorn the tops of the walls skirting the grounds.  Once you are inside there are several shrines all equally beautifully decorated and highly coloured.  It, like all the Hindu temples I've seen since arriving here, is a real treat for the eyes.

We then ventured a little further up the road to the Buddha Tooth Relic Buddhist temple which is again on South Bridge Road.  This temple was only opened in 2008 and is a huge five storey building built in the southern Chinese Buddhist style.  The temple houses what is believed to be the sacred tooth of the Buddha, hence the name.

As soon as we arrived I was welcomed by the exotic smell of incense sticks being lit and burnt by the worshippers.  Once we got inside we were immediately in the area where the services take place.  There were a lot of people offering up prayers and as we walked around the edge we noticed that quite a few Buddhist monks had also appeared.  It was only then that we realised a service was about to begin.  At first we were not sure if we would need to leave but this proved not to be the case and it was fine for us to remain and observe.  Even down to us being able to take photos of what was happening.

The temple is beautiful with a large golden Buddha at the front flanked by numerous smaller statues.  There are hundreds of tiny Buddha's set in to the sumptuously designed walls, together with good luck deities around the sides of the temple.  These deities are all different and are for each of the Chinese new year's depending on the one you were born in.

The chanting of the monks must take many years of practice, it is quick and continuous and they appear to barely stop for breath.  The congregation also join in and as I listened to them it seemed to me very soothing and slightly hypnotic.  As we wandered around the lower level we also found a smaller group of monks again chanting to the accompaniment of music at the same time as the service continued in the main part of the temple.

The next level up is a mezzanine level and serves as an observation deck to the lower level.  Here you can watch the proceedings (between the blinds) below without feeling that you are intruding too much.  It also gives an idea from above of the sheer scale of the Buddha in the temple and the size of the building as well.

The levels above that house a museum about Buddhism, which is well worth a visit if you are interested in finding out more.  A gallery of prominent monks both from the temple and Singapore and their achievements, some information about the building of the temple and a gift and book shop.

On the highest level is the Buddha tooth relic.  This room was just as beautifully decorated as the lowest level had been.  The stupa (or place where the relics are housed) is made of gold that has been donated by worshippers and the floor is covered in tiles of gold as well.  The relic and this part of the floor was not accessible and had to be viewed through a window but it was stunning to look at.

Finally, as if all that was not enough, the temple has a roof garden.  The garden was lush with plants, shrubs and flowers everywhere.  It really would not have looked out of place in the Botanic Gardens.  Right in the centre of the garden is a huge Vairocana Buddha prayer wheel.  I was amazed by how big it was and together with the peacefulness of the garden this must be the perfect place to pray and gather your thoughts. 

All the temples in Singapore (and not just the couple I've focused on here) are definitely worth a visit.  I've always found you are made to feel incredibly welcome when you do take the time to explore.  Ultimately visiting them gives you the opportunity to learn about another aspect of the day to day life of many living here first hand.

05 July 2011

Kopi, a Wet Market and a Hawker Centre

Much like you may go to a coffee shop or cafe on a Saturday morning for a relaxing coffee or late breakfast.  We took a trip to one of our local hawker centres to enjoy a morning kopi recently.  Kopi is, I guess, South East Asia's unique version of a coffee and although it can be enjoyed anytime, what is nicer than one after a wander around your local neighbourhood on a Saturday morning?

Kopi is traditionally a very sweet white coffee made with condensed milk!  So yep it really is incredibly sweet but definitely appeals to my sweet tooth.  There are a number of other versions which you can have that are not as sweet but I've only ever tried kopi.  I have been told what you should ask for to ensure you get one of these (if you want it) but I can never remember what you have to ask for and to be honest I'm happy with the sweet version.

Kopi is often served in places called Kopitiam's (at least here, these can be found all over Singapore).  The name kopitiam comes from the Malay word for coffee (as borrowed and altered from the Portuguese) combined with the Hokkien dialect word for shop.

This particular morning actually began with a walk around the area where we live.  Of course we've walked around here lots but never really ventured into the local shops asides from the two malls nearby.  We also knew there was a mini wet market nearby which we were curious about and found.  By the time we arrived there was not a lot left, we went mid-morning so I guess if you plan to buy from them you need to go early to ensure you get the best choice.  

The floor in this part of the market was, as the name may suggest, wet so you needed to watch your footing.  I gather that the floors are regularly washed and hosed down with water to keep them clean hence the name wet market.  In the days before refrigeration wet markets were the only way of ensuring meat was fresh particularly in hot climates such as Singapore's.  Animals were slaughtered there the same day as they were sold (often with the customer present) therefore ensuring freshness.  As well as the wet market there were a number of other shops etc. selling all manner of goods including household items you'd find in a supermarket and a stall selling the king of the fruits, the durian.  Usually the smell does not bother me too much but that stall really did smell strong!  We didn't try or buy. 

After our kopi's we later wandered over to a bigger hawker centre near to us (Old Airport Road) to have our lunch.  For those who may not know a hawker centre is an area occupied by lots of different food vendors selling all sorts of food and drinks from traditional local dishes right down to Western food in some cases.  It is usually in an open-air environment, there are also food courts in Singapore which are indoor, air-conditioned versions in malls etc.  The food is usually cheap (in comparison to restaurants) and very good.  The vendors don't have specific tables attached to them rather there are tables dotted all around the hawker centre and you sit where you like after you've bought your food.  Similar to the food courts that you often now see in large shopping centres in the UK. 

In Singapore, at least, it is not uncommon for locals to travel to the other end of the island to go to a particular stall for a particular dish because it is regarded as the best.  Often they'll then also be prepared to queue for an hour or more to get the food (that is usually a sure sign the food is good).  In some cases stalls will only be open on certain days and at certain times and once all the food is gone for the day / night that's it until the next time they are open.  This doesn't deter people though, in fact I get the impression the stalls with limited opening times are often the best places to eat if you are in the know.  Dining out really can require military precision and planning at times.

We had a lovely relaxed day living less like a visitor and hopefully more like a local.

01 July 2011

Hhhmm a nice glass of wine?

My fiance and I were recently went along to a wine appreciation evening organised by EnjoyWine Singapore.  This is an online forum for those in Singapore who enjoy a glass or two of wine and want to indulge that passion a little more with like minded souls.

The evening was a very relaxed and friendly affair and an opportunity to meet some more lovely people.  The purpose of it being to enjoy pleasant surroundings, good company, a lovely meal and, most importantly, share a few bottles of wine.  Every couple had to bring a bottle of wine, they all needed to be different, but it did not matter what they were so we had a mixture of red, white and a dessert wine to finish.  Those who knew their wines then enjoyed comparing and discussing them as we ate but I think everyone enjoyed it regardless of their knowledge. 

The evening was held at Winebos on the corner of Jalan Klapa and Victoria Street and they also supplied the food, cheese and some additional wines for us to try.  There was so much food I don't think anyone could have gone home hungry. 

By the way, Winebos have just opened a new branch in Katong (my neighbourhood so lots of excuses for future visits) on the East Coast Road, Katong village.  So now you can sample their wine selection and enjoy the food there too.  I gather the steak is particularly good, take a look at their website for more details.

Whilst I'm not the most knowledgeable wine drinker I know that I do enjoy good food and good company and a glass or two of wine certainly helps to make that all the more pleasant.
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