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?

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