30 September 2014

Kuching Cat Museum

The weekend before we travelled back to the UK we went to Kuching in Malaysia for another friend's wedding.  Unbelievably after four years in Singapore this was my first visit to Malaysia!  Obviously we were there primarily for the wedding and although we had planned to travel so we had a day for a little exploring beforehand we ended up travelling the evening before the wedding and back again the day afterwards.  I clearly need to return again at some point to experience a bit more of here and other parts of Malaysia.

In-between the celebrations and travelling back to Singapore we did manage to squeeze one thing in though, a visit to the cat museum in Kuching.  If you know me or have read any of the blog you might have realised I am a bit of a cat lover.  We have our own cat here in Singapore and I've lived with cats all my life, so when I found out we were going to Kuching and read about the cat museum I suggested to my husband that we ought to go and visit.

Entrance to the cat museum

The name Kuching is actually derived from the Malay word for cat, kucing, so it seems appropriate for a cat museum to be there.  We took a taxi from our hotel to the museum which is actually a little out of the main town in the Kuching North City Hall Headquarters.  When we booked the taxi our hotel asked if we wanted the driver to wait for us but we declined.  However, in hindsight, given its location if you decide to visit it may be a good idea to pre-arrange for your taxi to return or wait.  Luckily we managed to locate the Malaysian version of one of the many taxi booking apps available in Singapore and booked a taxi to pick us up through that! 

The museum is pretty kitsch and quirky (just look at that entrance in the photo above) and if you are not a cat fan then don't even think about going, it really is all about cats!  There are exhibits on everything and anything to do with cats, from cats in history, modern day famous cartoon and toy cats, looking after your cat, cats in art and everything else you can probably imagine.  It was bigger than I expected and there is a lot of information in the exhibits to read though and a lot to see.  Admittedly some of the exhibits look like they could do with a bit of a spruce up and an update, but perhaps that is part of the charm of the place.  There is also, of course, the obligatory cat themed gift shop at the end and yes I did get a little something as a memento.

I don't imagine I'd ever visit again if I were to find myself in Kuching but as a little quirky extra it was a fun and slightly random way to spend a morning!

18 September 2014

Gardens by the Bay East and Marina Barrage

Whilst everyone is familiar with Gardens by the Bay South (the side with the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest) how many of you have visited Gardens by the Bay East?  Well neither had I until quite recently.  It was actually my husband who discovered this side of the gardens whilst he was out running and on a slightly wet Sunday a few weeks later we decided to go and explore them a little more.

Whilst Gardens by the Bay South is usually always full of visitors this part of the gardens was practically empty.  I'm not sure if that's because we arrived just as the heavens opened and everybody else had checked the weather forecast first or if it's always like that.  Regardless though this meant we could soak up the serenity of the gardens and explore them exactly as we wanted to.

This was taken in the area called the Rain Garden, very apt for the weather that day

This side of the gardens seems a bit wilder than the opposite gardens, a lot more focused on the natural aspect of the gardens and in making them suitable habitats for various wildlife.  It is described on the Gardens by the Bay website as an interim garden and that future developments will be based around the theme of water.  There are already a lot of ponds etc. here and information about how it is planned these, and the water they hold, will be used going forward.

Of course you can also enjoy views across the water to the domes in Gardens by the Bay South as well as of Marina Bay Sands, the city skyline and the Singapore Flyer.  There isn't a lot of shelter in these gardens so come prepared for sunshine or rain.  Luckily though we did manage to find a spot with a seat and shelter as the rain came down heavier again whilst we were in the gardens.  This area however would be the perfect spot to come armed with a good book for an afternoon of peace and reading.

If you decide to visit this side of the gardens another thing you can do is walk across the Marina Barrage and back along the south side of the gardens which is exactly what we decided to do.  Well, to be honest, we weren't sure if we could just get across but we thought we would walk down and see.  Luckily you can and it's clearly a very popular route with cyclists!  So we got to walk right across the barrage, see the ships out at sea and get some good views back towards the city.  The reservoir that the barrage has created is the first right in the heart of the city and is its most urbanised catchment.  When you get to the other side of the barrage there is actually a visitor centre you can go into as well.  We didn't on this occasion but continued our walk instead up towards Gardens by the Bay South.

View from the Marina Barrage towards the city

We had had a very early start that particular Sunday and although it felt like the middle of the afternoon by the time we reached the barrage it was only lunch time.  So our final point of call that day was to Satay by the Bay, a collection of hawker style stalls in the Gardens for something to eat and a welcome cold drink.

Gardens by the Bay East seems to be a real spot of tranquility, perfect for some peace, quiet and downtime.  The walk through the gardens and across the barrage was a really delightful way to spend our Sunday.  Next time you are looking for somewhere different to go walking perhaps you'll think about here.

09 September 2014

Red Dot Roaming - Esplanade MRT - Jendela (Visual Arts Space)

After a month away from Singapore in the UK, Spain and France (more soon on all of that) I'm back and managed to get Red Dot Roaming again last week.  This time I decided to take a look at the Jendela Visual Arts space in the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay and close to the Esplanade MRT station.

If you aren't familiar with the Jendela Visual Arts Space it is housed on the second floor of the Esplanade and is incredibly easy to find, just follow the signs.  I'd never heard of it though until I started looking at what was around the Esplanade area.  It is the only dedicated exhibition space at the Esplanade and holds regular shows often integrated with other events at the centre.

On my visit I chanced upon an exhibit by local artist, Jeremy Hiah called 'Tales from Jalan Buang Hoe'.  The exhibit is the artist's depiction of some of the local old myths and legends from a time long before Singapore became the thriving modern city it now is.  The legends he has chosen include the story of how Pulau Ubin came to be, a story I had heard before, the legend of a white crocodile that lives in the Kallang river (a new one for me) and a handful more.  All are presented in different ways including one recreated with Lego models (most ingenious I thought), a wall mural and a shadow puppet show.

The display area is only small and whether you chose to see this exhibit or another your visit would probably happily fill just a lunch break if you were in the area or maybe as a little extra something to do before seeing a show on a visit to the theatre.  Perhaps one to keep an eye on for something of interest to you.  From investigating the exhibit a bit more since it seems that the artist did some guided tours and interactive activities during its time on display.  So it is worth checking the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay and specifically the Jendela page of the website as I'm sure other artists may do similar things in the future.

If you are interested in seeing 'Tales from Jalan Buang Hoe' it is on now until 14 September 2014 (so get there asap), Monday - Friday 11am - 8.30pm, Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays 10am - 8.30pm.  Admission is free.

If you missed any of my previous Red Dot Roaming posts, check them out here and let me know if you think there is somewhere close to an MRT (or LRT) station that I might like to visit.

Esplanade MRT is on the Circle Line (CC3). 

08 September 2014

Mid-Autumn Festival @ The Gardens 2014

The Mid-Autumn festival is currently being celebrated in Singapore and Gardens by the Bay are putting on an amazing lantern display.  I went to the gardens last Friday evening to have a look and I have to say it is better than ever!

Just in case you don't know the Mid-Autumn festival is a harvest festival which is held on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar.  The festival celebrates gathering (for example family and friends coming together), thanksgiving (giving thanks for the harvest) and praying (asking for conceptual or material satisfaction).  The harvest has been celebrated during the autumn full moon since the Shang dynasty (16th to 10th century BC).  An important part of the festival celebration is moon worship as the ancient Chinese believed in rejuvenation being associated with the moon and water. Offerings were made to a lunar deity known as Chang'e who was the Moon Goddess of Immortality.  The festival was a time to celebrate the successful harvesting of rice and wheat with food offerings made in honour of the moon.

Today people celebrate Mid-Autumn festival and enjoy eating mooncakes, a taste I'm afraid I haven't managed to acquire in my time in Singapore and carry brightly lit lanterns at celebrations.  Many people were carrying their own lanterns around with them on Friday night, myself included, whilst enjoying the fabulous displays all around the gardens.

Gardens by the Bay is celebrating the festival with a huge display of lanterns this year featuring both traditional Chinese themes and international themes that everyone will be able to recognise.  If you look at my first photos you'll see we were taken on a mini tour around the world and you should be able to identify various different countries, which ones can you recognise?  Hopefully you'll notice the UK lanterns with some of London's famous landmarks.

The traditional themes include the ancient Chinese palace, the Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea and the Treasure Voyages of Cheng Ho.  There are lanterns representing all the different races in Singapore under the theme of racial harmony, ones representing the twelve Chinese zodiac signs, a sporting theme and a birds of paradise theme.  I thought they were all great but was particularly taken with the ancient Chinese palace and the other large lanterns out in the lake.  They all look very magical lit up at night.

Asides from the lanterns there are plenty of other things to see and do at the festival.  There are nightly cultural performances, various dance and art troupes will be at the gardens as well as a sculpture exhibition at the Silver Garden.  For more details of what you can see check out the Gardens by the Bay website.  There are also loads of cultural activities for visitors to participate in, plus you can view the winning entries from a lantern making competition too.  Many of the entries had a strong Singaporean theme taking recognisable aspects of local culture and focusing on promoting racial harmony and cohesion in the community.  I was seriously impressed by the talent exhibited here!  No festival would be complete without food, of course, and the gardens has an Asian food street selling a variety of goodies from China, Taiwan and Singapore.  Although I didn't sample anything on offer on my visit (having enjoyed some dim sum before walking around the gardens) I did notice the presence of smelly tofu or rather the aroma of it.

The Mid-Autumn festival is on now until 14 September 2014, Monday - Friday 6pm - 11pm, Saturday - Sunday 3pm - 11pm.  

Free admission, entrance fees apply to the cooled conservatories.

Venues: Golden Garden
                Silver Garden
                Dragonfly Lake
                Scented Walk
                Baby Planet surrounding
                Supertree Grove
                Supertree Grove Colonnade

Check Gardens by the Bay website here for further details regarding the Mid-Autumn festival.

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. 

03 September 2014

Brunch at the Bar & Billiard Room

We decided to treat ourselves one Sunday and headed to Raffles hotel to the Bar & Billiard Room for brunch.  It was so last minute (that morning in fact) we hadn't even booked and just turned up on the off chance, fully prepared to go somewhere else.  However the staff managed to fit us in and we had a lovely table out on the verandah.

Just as a little background the Bar & Billiard Room was established in 1896 and has two original billiard tables in it from the turn of the century.  There are three price options for the Sunday brunch, $158++ including unlimited flow of the Sommelier’s selection of red and white wines, beer, soft drinks, juices, Singapore Sling and Bloody Mary, $178++ including unlimited Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve and $198++ including unlimited Champagne Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé.  We opted for the middle option on our visit.

We began with starters, of course, though I always try not to go too crazy on them from past experience at brunches of getting too full too soon and then struggling with the rest!  There was an extensive seafood selection including various different types of oysters.  So, whilst I'm not a fan, my husband was very happy to partake of these as well as some of the lobster.  These are all items I wouldn't choose to eat myself so as a result things he doesn't get to have very often.  Thankfully for those, like me, who aren't so keen on seafood there were plenty of other options including various different breads, cold cuts, salads and lots of other delicious options.  I didn't try it but my husband highly recommends the chilled green pea soup with ricotta, crouton and mint.  The breads and meat we had were all amazing and went down incredibly well.

Just a few of the many starters on offer

After attempting to be sensible with the amount of starters I ate I moved on to the main courses.  Again there was a multitude of amazing dishes on offer including a meat carving station.  I began with the roast chicken with 'piperade' and some vegetables but it wasn't long before I moved on to the meats from the carving station.  There was quite a queue here so clearly this is a very popular part of this brunch!

One of the highlights for me here was the Welsh lamb, certainly not something I get to eat much of in Singapore so a real treat.  The lamb was served with mint sauce, of course, and was well worth it.  I guess we'll have to return again someday to get our lamb fix once again.  We really enjoyed our meat though at this brunch and as well as the Welsh lamb also had plenty of beef, once again with all the condiments and vegetables.  For me the lamb was cooked just a little better than the beef but that's only my personal taste.

Roasted Welsh lamb

Happily and despite all that meat I still had some room to sample a few of the many desserts on offer.  I've said it before but I do enjoy desserts when I have them and this brunch did not disappoint.  The options were very extensive and I certainly got my fill.

As I mentioned we had only decided that morning to see if we could get a table and were lucky to have been able to.  We ended up sitting outside on the verandah but as a result we only had a handful of others sitting near us and were perfectly positioned to sip our champagne (with our glasses constantly being refilled) and pass the afternoon in a very decadent and relaxed fashion.  We felt unhurried and simply able to enjoy ourselves to the maximum.  A fabulous last minute decision!

Our lunchtime view from the verandah

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