Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A Week in Singapore

It has always been on my dream travel list to go to Singapore. I had a friend at university who used to live there and seeing her photos was enough - but something about the small, relatively new little Country has always intrigued me. We managed to score plane tickets to Singapore (via Istanbul) and back from Bangkok for £490 each, which is unbelievably good, through the wonderful STA travel.

Singapore was therefore our first stop on our recent Asia 'tour' - we opted to spend almost a week there to recover from the jet lag and get our bearings properly. Because the Country is quite small, this allowed us plenty of time to get to know the different areas within it well. 

All I can say is - Singapore didn't disappoint. We spent the first few days exploring Chinatown, Little India, Downtown, and discovered the wonderful drinking district of Clarke Quay. We also met up with Trig's friend Theresa who lives out there (I swear he knows someone everywhere in the world!) who gave us a great local tour of street food places and took us to the best view in Singapore at the Sky Bar, and we visited the nicest little haunts. Local secrets are always great. I will say that Singapore isn't the cheapest, a few drinks in Clarke Quay can set you back a bit - roughly £9 a pint, but the atmosphere is great and if you can get past that, it's a great place to party. We saved money by drinking 2 for 1's during happy hour, between 8-10pm, although this seemed to vary right up till 2am in some places, which made it a little more bearable on the bank balance!

We learnt a lot about the way Singapore has been built and has become prosperous whilst we were there. You could really see the difference between the financial district, where Theresa informed us that the average wage was around 13k (£6000) per month, and in some of the poorer areas, where there was no minimum wage. We met a new friend in our favourite Chinatown bar (which had nothing to do with it being called 'Knobs and Knockers') who informed us that in many places in Singapore didn't have employment rights for the worker, which he knew from experience working on a market stall in Chinatown. Poverty seemed to be relatively hidden, but it seemed that there was a disparate and vast disconnection between the working class and the prosperous. It was interesting to glimpse at the two very different ends of the scale.

Another highlight was definitely the 'Alive' museum - which puts you in various different scenarios. We spent a really great afternoon here in fits of giggles.

We stayed in an Airbnb off the beaten track, which saved us lots of money, but wasn't easy to navigate around. We arrived late in the evening on our first night and google maps took us miles away from where we lived. Luckily a kind taxi driver rescued us 2 hours into our expedition, when we were on the brink of melting in the humid heat - (we British don't get any of that) and took us to the right place. Our airbnb host, Gwen, was absolutely lovely and had a beautiful home with a huge swimming pool, so we soon adapted! We then found some local eateries hidden off the beaten track, which although we were initially skeptical of, I think were much better than the main places we found in the city centre. It is certainly true that everything is very clean in SP, the fines were stern and people seemed to obey the rules. People also seemed ridiculously polite everywhere we went, too, which was really lovely.

We also visited Singapore Zoo. I never know how I really feel about zoos, though it seems to be the thing to do when you're in a new place. I felt that they did seem to really care about their animals, and had large open spaces for them to roam.  We had breakfast with the Orangutang's, and they seemed utterly unfazed around people. They also had a river safari which looked fantastic, but we had no time left to go!

On one of our last nights we took a visit up to Universal Studios in Singapore to see Halloween Horror Nights. This was absolutely amazing - with monsters and scary creatures roaming around a ghost town. People were hanging off buildings and zombies were roaming the streets. Halloween Horror Nights was split into 'zones' - from a scary clown house zone, to alien UFO abductors and scenes based on Horror movies, such as Bogeyman (complete with that all important never ending hanging clothes scene). There was a New York zone which was overrun by demons, a Forest of Disenchantment with the re-telling through screens of fairy tales with a twist, the characters are now trapped in their bad endings. We queued up for two hours to visit 'Jings Revenge' - an Asian horror themed haunted house, which takes place in a Chinese secondary school. I was jumping all over the place, Trig, however, was less easy to scare.

We opted to fly out a day later because there was a Queen tribute band at the Expo. It would have been Trig's dads birthday, it was also nearly the anniversary of his death, and his dad was probably the biggest Queen fan, so we thought it was fitting to stay. This was a really touching way to end our stay in Singapore. Though there may have been a tear shed or two we also found some fake moustaches, so all in all a great Saturday night!

Singapore, we will be back!

Have you been to this part of the world before? I would love to hear your stories!

Alice x

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

5 Reasons why I used to hate Christmas, and 5 reasons why I now love it

Merry Christmas!

It finally feels like the festive season! I know this because Trig and I managed to get our first Christmas tree up the other day in our flat and, within 24 hours the cat had smashed 80% of the glass baubles, all around the house. He'd hidden glass in some areas too. That was excellent.

I am being somewhat reflective this year. I have in the past been a bit of a yoyo when it comes to my feelings about Christmas, as a child, obviously, it filled me with excitement. My dad used to type up letters from Father Christmas at his work and post them through the door, and that to me was sheer evidence that he must exist, as who else in the world had a computer when I was five?

But into my teens and early 20's, there were a number of things that did used to bother me about Christmas.

1. You couldn't leave the house. No one was around and - dammit, and (God forbid) I'd have to spend time with my family and watch re runs of 'A Miracle on 34th Street'.

2. Jumpers. So many jumpers.

3. Seeing the scales and feeling guilty. Actually this one still gets me, but also the guilt that a large percentage of this world is currently starving, and I have just eaten my weight in cheese and crackers.

4. The whole extended family would come to our house on Boxing Day and there would be nowhere to run or hide, especially with a raging hangover.

5. Too many parties, too little time.

It's interesting now how the tables have turned. I genuinely do believe I might be becoming a grown up. Here's why;

1. My life is now so busy and I work a lot, so one day a year in 'housebound' mode is actually amazing.

2. We have no central heating in my flat, so, this year I actually asked for jumpers.

3. I have started to really care much less about what the scales say and more about how I feel. I do try to eat food that makes me feel good, and I'm more conscious nowadays about the nutrients I'm getting, but regardless I'll definitely be tucking into the mince pies this year.

4.  I miss those family get togethers. Took me years to realise that not everyone has their families travelling all the way to see them on Boxing Day, and now that it no longer happens. I rarely get to see them, I really really miss the yearly get together. Most importantly, now my Grandmother is older and less mobile and lives quite far away, it's so much harder to see her. I have realised that she is the linchpin that brings everyone else together, too. Food for thought.

5. All my friends who once lived in one place now live in separate parts of the Country, so once a year it's really really great to get together and be festive. Though this year, I'm attempting to do so without drinking alcohol. Lemonade can be just as fun as cava, right? Hmm.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Alice's Adventures in Istanbul


I have been very much enjoying a month away - which means I have so much blogging to do now! My plan was to blog on the move but unfortunately my tablet helpfully self destructed, which means I now have a LOT of catching up to do.

Our first stop on our travels was Istanbul. I had heard so much about Turkey and the capital before I went, including that it was listed as one of the most beautiful places in the world. What started out as a brief stop off on our way to Singapore, actually ended up being a highlight of our trip away.

We stayed for three nights in the little district of Taxsim, which just so happened to also be the modern end of the city and its party central to boot. We opted for an Airbnb, and stayed with a lovely man called Melik and his girlfriend, who made us feel really welcome and included unlimited free tea! There are lots of cafes and bars around Taxsim square, and the area really comes alive at night. We found  solace in a little Irish bar called U2 (we didn't judge based on the name) whilst lost looking for our Airbnb, and ended up subsequently spending most of our evenings there. The bar owner was a lovely friendly Turkish man called Leo, who bought us stuffed mussels, local street food, and kept us stocked up with bar snacks. Leo generally gave us a great insight into what it was like to live in the city, and by the end of the three days we were all good friends, he even invited us back to stay with him whenever we wanted to! We also met lots of friendly Irish people, almost all of which seemed to have somehow originated from Tipperary (the same place as my Grandparents). It really is a small world.

Central Istanbul has so much to offer, including the Grand Bazaar in Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque and the Spice Bazaar to name a few. I was really in awe of the buildings and architecture. You can do some serious shopping there too, which tons of knock off brands if that's your kind of thing, particularly around the Grand Bazaar area. Trig hated the Grand Bazaar as he said it was just full of bags and jewellery, which is conversely my idea of heaven, so we had to agree to disagree. It is absolutely huge, and to step into a side alley can easily mean hours of being lost. This reminded me a bit of the souks in Marrakech to me with the bartering and trading,  although it did seem slightly more structured. Although the drinks prices were similar to the UK, everything else seemed to be a lot cheaper and quite flexible, we found that with the exception of bars and restaurants, there often wasn't a fixed price for anything.

We really wanted to catch a Turkish show on one of our evenings but couldn't manage it. I was also very disappointed that we didn't make it to the Turkish baths! However if there's one thing I won't miss out on, that is sampling the local cuisine, and I have to admit doing so turned the whole concept of kebabs (pronounced 'kebabs' there) on its head for me. If you buy a kebab in the UK, it's usually because its 3am and you've had a heavy night drinking, followed by waking up by a greasy wrapper and a feeling of deep regret in the pit of your stomach. Not so in Istanbul. We had some amazing grilled food with incredible seasoning, which I think may have been some of the best food of the whole holiday for me!

Istanbul was just intended to be a short stop over for a few nights, that we took because it was on the way to Asia, and not necessarily to visit in its own right. However after spending the few days there, I did fall for the charm of the city and would now quite happily go back and visit Leo, do some budget shopping and eat some amazing 'kebaps' again in a heartbeat!

Alice x