I had a feeling you might ask that.
I am a travel enthusiast who’s blessed with a job that can be done on the road. In the archives of this site you will find content from two older blogs of mine (please excuse any formatting issues, caused by the import process). They discuss previous trips, most notably South America in 2011 and Singapore, Australia and Tasmania in 2013.
When I write, it’s really me talking about what I’m doing, what I’m learning and where I am. The latest trip is six months on the canals of England, starting at Norton Junction in Northamptonshire and finishing who knows where. On the way I’ll be taking in towns and cities and beautiful countryside. There will be pictures and comment, some of it humorous. I’ve blogged like this in the past, in fits and starts and sometimes had the feeling that readers are sitting at home but would like to be out there with me. This season of blogging comes with a challenge – the same one I give myself – change your daily living and reap the benefits.
Our jaded Singaporean friends at dinner on Saturday had advised us to use the Number 2 bus as a sightseeing option, and to take it to the end of the route, Changi Village, near the airport. This was the site of the infamous Changi prison, controlled by the Japanese during the war and where many atrocities were committed. Changi itself is now home to a Singapore Air Force base and the international airport as well as Changi prison, which is a very large new and high-tech facility, but Singapore deliberated oversized it and it is currently only a quarter full. They are intending to move many prisoners here from other places around the island. prison. Changi is also the jumping-off point for a number of boat tours, but the Singaporean anti-enthusiasts had rather dampened my enthusiasm for visiting Palau Ubin, (the famous “granite island” and home to some villages not unlike those of the 60s, before the mass expansion of building on the island of Singapore).
We emerged after an hour of travel on an air-conditioned bus into the most oppressive heat, right opposite the hawker centre. Neither of us was hungry, so we wandered through before crossing the main road and checking out a parade of cafes and restaurants. Mum espied an older, British couple chatting to a Singaporean man outside a small, but smart looking restaurant. We discovered that “Charlie” owned and ran the bar and he gave us helpful tips as I sat and drank exorbitant (as we discovered) imported beer. he advised us to take the 29 bus to an MRT (metro) station nearby and take a train back into town. After a sizable lunch in the hawker centre, we waited for a 29, letting many 2’s go by, though they probably would have been as good. I stood and chatted with a lady called Janice a former nurse, originally from Saskatchewan, now of Edinburgh from where she is sent worldwide to lecture on nurse management. We finally made it to the MRT station complex and after a little exploration found the platforms and pushed down to Harbourfront – the gateway to… Sentosa!
I’m sitting outside a shack-like house, listening to animal noises from the bush, maintaining my phone (backups and upgrades), drinking homebrew (with proper printed labels), waiting for Rotary dinner. Mum is naturally appalled by the location, which is running damp (there’s a small creek eight feet from my chair as I type) but I think it’s really rather fun, and much nicer than our noisy near to Central Station, Sydney. It’s well-located but far from plush. Everything is so expensive, from accommodation to food.
Sentosa is a beach resort on reclaimed land, easy dashing distance of Singapore’s municipal centre. It offers such delights as a viewing tower, indoor skydiving centre, marine life centre and two beaches. Inexplicably, the place is highly recommended everywhere and is accessible by a variety of methods in ascending order of expense: a “boardwalk”, monorail and cable car.
What they don’t tell you about Sentosa are all the things you rapidly learn when you arrive. Yes, there are beaches, but they were delivered on a truck at some point in the 90s. The sea looks none too clean, but then raising one’s gaze causes it to fall apon what looks like a substantial industrial shipping port across the bay, so that is far from surprising. Existential delights, like “the southernmost point of mainland Asia” and a number of dubious takeaway restaurants await the weary traveller
Singapore, Singapore; half sanitized, half raw for sure.
Singapore is a nanny-state plugged onto the bottom of one limb of Malaysia. The bits they want you to see are spectacular and quite artificial. The ethnic group regions of the city/island are not quite as clean, twice as busy, half as predictable, a half as well served by the public transport and two thirds of the price of the upmarket areas. That’s a summary, and here’s how today went.
We did a lot of walking, but first we left the hotel to have an argument at the bus stop on the main road. I’m very much a “let’s get on a bus going the right way and then we’ll sort it out later” kind of person. Mum is more inclined to plan before leaving the hotel. No, the process of selecting and catching the bus you think you need isn’t easy, especially without a route map (does such a thing exist here?), but the trick very broadly is to find a road you want to visit on your map, find it on the right-hand column of the bus list to see which numbers will take you along that road (but which end of the road? which direction?), get on the bus when it arrives, ask the driver for the price to your desired stop and have him pluck a figure out the air, normally about S$1.20 or more, then use your map to keep track of the route so that you know when you’ve arrived in the approximate area, then ring the bell and get off.
Mum wanted to go to the Bay Gardens, a beautiful, ultramodern eco park on reclaimed land by the Marina Bay area and the bus dropped us off between two impossibly huge buildings (a 5* hotel, the Marina Bay Sands and the “Shoppes”, or mall) and a very busy main road. We finally made it up a lift to a walkway over this road, which allowed us to walk through the upper reaches of the hotel and out the other side, putting us in view of the most remarkable “Supertrees”. These, we discovered, were all part of a water, air and biomass recycling effort which uses prunings from a number of municipal sites to run a biomass boiler which in turn powers the dehumidifiers in the two huge greenhouses you can see in the distance in some of these shorts.
Poor Mum was truly exhausted with achy feet. I started a beer and some work, but soon handed the laptop over, with the words “I’m too tired to do this”, and fell asleep before the can was finished!
Settled in the hotel, we stepped out and more or less across the road to a food centre. This one was clearly intended to look like a hawker centre, but it had a "big commerce" feel about it. I ate two dishes: some smoked duck and pork with rice, then lots of veg and tofu from another stall. I was eating vegetables that I've never eaten before, some tangy, some crunchy, interspersed with tofu in every configuration possible – balls, in a slice of sweet pepper, in flavoured slices. Mum had a very safe-looking prawn and vegetable noodle soup dish. Thoroughly overfed, we waddled down the main road, loosely in the direction of the Raffles Hotel. Passing it, we saw a single police officer off his motorcycle and beckoning to various lanes in a huge intersection. Everyone was very obediently stopping or moving on his command. He was allowing a large cavalcade of white vehicles and state cars to turn left. He then jumped back on his bike and continued to the entrance to Raffles. We were walking that way to follow our route "round the block" so we quickly came across the entourage pulling into the turning circle. It transpired that the queen of the Netherlands was paying a visit. We have a photograph of all the police bikes parked outside the hotel. It seemed all of the officers were invited in as well. There were more than 10 motorcycles parked up on the main road!
The walk back was uneventful except for picking up a drink at a 7 Eleven store. Two for the price of one on Pink Dolphin bottled drinks. One was peach flavoured with added vitamins. The other was enriched with… collagen! Well, that will put paid to any early onset wrinkles!
Too tired to pester locals in the bars and no hotel bar, so I will retire now. Breakfast at 0830 tomorrow. I will be wearing sandals all day, I think. We plan to go to the marina and Chinatown.
We slept well on the flight, all 15 hours of it. A half hour delay on the stand was due to broken in-flight entertainment, which they managed to fix to an extent, but no interactive. On arrival, Changi airport is easy to navigate and the taxi was swift and not too expensive. Towering, oddly shaped blocks of flats and offices, overlooking palm trees and inland waterways. Now in the Strand Hotel. And the wifi works. I think.
We were warned about the subway station they're building right below our window, but they don't start digging until 0900 and we'll want to be having breakfast by then before exploring the city.
Now I suppose we rest and then go hunting for dinner. The food courts and hawker markets are open 24/7, so I'll precache some map data on to my phone and go to investigate