Monday, 25 November 2013

The best weekend

Apologies for the delayed post, I was having technology issues.  My laptop refused to connect to the internet yesterday and kept freezing every 5 mins.  (My camera also decided to break, as did my BlackBerry - argh)

Annoyingly yesterday I used a cash machine to withdraw $150, and the machine never actually gave me any cash, but took the money off of my balance.  I called the number on the ATM but they couldn't do anything and told me to call my bank, which I did, and I then had to fill in a form and send it off, so hopefully I'll get my money back!

My rocking Friday night in was semi planned, because I knew Saturday was going to be quite tiring.

I had planned to meet up with Paul (from the family I had gone to dinner and quiz with) who was going to come with me to Pulua Ubin, a little island off the coast of Changi, near the airport.  The guidebooks all say this is a must do, because it's meant to be what Singapore was like before they decided to urbanise it and build Skyscrapers.  I had also been invited to dinner at the Raffles Hotel with another Paul (the guy I am working for out here) and his family.  It was nice to have plans with other people.

I woke up early, packed everything I thought I would need (poncho, suntan lotion, water, insect repellent, money, camera) and grabbed a taxi to Paul's condo.  We picked him up then headed off to Changi Village, where you grab a 'bumboat' to take you across to the island.

The queueing system is a little interesting, you sort of just stand where you can, then when there's enough people, they grab 12 of you to go onto the boat.  It's a bargain at $2.50 each.  The journey probably takes between 5 and 10 minutes, depending how far the boat has to go to avoid hitting a cargo ship (the bumboat has to traverse the Singapore Straits - a busy shipping route filled with cruise liners and cargo ships).

I am unsure as to why the boats are called bumboats, maybe because you get on and off from the back - who knows.  They're quite pleasant little things, if a little basic, you sit on a wooden bench either side, and each boat has been customised by its owner - some have glass windows, some have tarpaulin, some are open to the elements, some have flowers on the top, you get the idea.

We got off at Pulua Ubin on a little jetty, and it was like being in another country.  The jetty stretched out into the sea, and you had to walk down it to reach land.  We turned left to where there were about 10 different bicycle hire shops, inspecting several and bartering with prices before deciding upon two lovely nearly new red mountain bikes.  I think we paid $12 for 4 hours, which isn't too bad.  Paul's bike seemed fine and still had the polystyrene wrapping around it, but mine was slightly more dodgy - the right brake barely worked and the left brake worked a little too well, but I soon got used to it.

We headed up to the Wetlands first - a semi easy cycle with a few slight gradients, these were quite difficult because we were cycling up rocky/gravel wet paths so the tyres had little purchase, and the gradient was enough to make me knackered by the time I got to the top. We parked the bikes and walked off to our first stop - a very randomly placed mock Tudor cottage.  It had once been a holiday home for some rich guy and in the last twenty years they have converted it into a visitor centre - so it's now empty but you can use it as a shelter.

After the cottage, there's a boardwalk route you can take around a bit of the island, which we headed to next.  I spotted a large lizard on a rock near the shoreline, but there wasn't much wildlife apart from that - ideally you're meant to go on the boardwalk when the tide is out so you can see what's lurking on the sand below, but the tide was in when we went.

The board walk then leads you through a load of mangroves.  These are truly amazing trees - they survive in salty water environments and just grow through the sediment.  They are pretty flood resistant and harbour loads of animals.

At the end of the boardwalk there is a tower 20 metres high that you can climb.  We got to the top and the view was pretty impressive, we were above all of the trees that seemed so high from the ground.  You could see all the planes coming in to land at Changi airport too.

this was actually really wobbly and swayed in the wind. 

On the way back to the bikes we noticed quite a few of the bikes (luckily not ours) had been knocked over, and there was a bit of a commotion.


On closer inspection, we saw that a family of wild boar had knocked over some bikes and caused a trail of destruction to get at some food - some naive people had left a load of food in takeaway containers in their bike baskets, which the boar had managed to get in to.  The cheeky buggers!

We continued to cycle to the other side of the island - this side was much less jungly and more open.  About 30 metres out to sea you could see floating pontoons with little huts on top - these are for prawn farming.

On the way back to the jetty, we heard screeches and saw a load of monkeys in the trees - I love seeing wild monkeys and think it's so strange where we have squirrels, they have monkeys.

We stopped to refuel and ordered some food - I had mango chicken and rice, and Paul had an oyster omelet (gross), Mee Goreng and sweet and sour pork, washed down with a huge bottle of beer each. So much food came out and we couldn't finish it all - especially me as I was saving myself for the feast I was going to eat later.

After lunch we headed back to Singapore island, amusingly you have to go through security on your way back and have your bag scanned - what they think you could bring back from the island (it is only 10sq m and has about 40 people living on it) I have no idea.

I enjoyed the trip - it was the first really jungle I had seen since arriving in Singapore.  You cycle through little tarmacked roads surrounded by jungle on either side, and you feel like you're in another land.  All you can hear are the crickets who sing in harmony in different pitches, and the occasional monkey shriek.  It's really lovely and I hope it stays that way for a long time - there has been talk from the government of turning the island into an adventure park, but I hope it doesn't happen, sometimes it's good to preserve history.  We were very luck with the weather - it was cool in the morning with slight drizzle, which made for good cycling, and as we were leaving the sun decided to come out and play.

We grabbed a taxi and parted ways, and I then went for a nap as I was tired from cycling in the mid day sun. I slept for a bit longer than I intended, leaving only time to get ready for my dinner at the Raffles Hotel.  This is arguably the most famous hotel in Singapore - built in 1884 it was originally by the seaside, but land reclamation projects have meant it is now 500m from the sea.

It is built in the colonial style, and I was happy to see it afte rvisiting Pulua Ubin - you could really imagine what it used to be like before modern day Singapore.

We had booked for the buffet dinner in the Bar and Billiard's room.  It was INCREDIBLE.  The room itself was such an amazing setting - huge chandeliers, high ceilings, massive windows, intricate floor tiling.  The centrepiece of the room was the Martini bar - a gorgeous dark wood bar with lots of alcohol and a few cuban cigars behind it.  I wish I had taken my proper camera to take photos, but I thought it would be a bit frowned upon and I wanted to seem mature and ladylike and like I was used to that sort of setting so didn't bring it. Instead I resorted to crappy sneaky phone camera shots!  The ones of the decor inside didn't come out too well so haven't bothered sharing them.

It was a buffet dinner, but not just any buffet dinner.  The selection was amazing, and I tried almost everything (with the exception of mussels, oysters and prawns - not a massive seafood fan).  I had beef carpaccio, seared tuna, duck salad, parmesan gnocchi, quails egg, scallops, mozzarella salad, the list is endless.  However I wanted to save myself for pudding, so didn't have much of the mains - besides the options were mainly seafood again, so I passed.  We had probably 3 plates of starters then moved onto the pudding selection - I could literally spend all day here just eating.  For pudding I had ice cream, caramel sauce, tiramisu, 'dark chocolate composition', 'lemon dome', jasmine and sesame cake, chocolate and caramel cake, bread pudding - I tried everything.  The trick is to get a tiny bit of everything so that you don't fill up too much.

artichoke, quail egg, mozzarella, tuna, scallop, tapenade, beef carpaccio, stuffed toms

a 'lemon dome' with gold leaf

I was stuffed by the end though, pretty much defeated by the food.  We realised we'd been there for nearly three hours and we were tired, full and happy, so decided to call it a day - but not before a game of pool on the famous billiards table (I know, spot the deliberate mistake).  Legend has it that the last remaining wild tiger was shot under the billiards table in 1902.  Poor tiger!

The table was the smoothest table I have ever played on, as well as the hugest, and I had to use the rest to make a few shots. Happily, I didn't play too terribly, and I actually pocketed some of the balls which makes a change.

I headed home grinning from ear to ear at such a great day.

Yesterday I awoke early again, and headed into Chinatown to get some gifts.  My plan had been to do that then head off to the Botanic Gardens, but I went a bit crazy with my purchasing and so headed back to the hotel to drop everything off. I realised I also had to do my laundry, so went and did that, and then the heavens opened, so my plans changed and I ended up just mooching about the hotel.  I should have done something more productive, like go and look at museums or something, but I was quite tired so lazed by the pool reading my book (I was going to do blog update/other administrative tasks but because my laptop wasn't playing ball I couldn't).  Anyway here's some (more) photos of Chinatown...

a bunch of old men watching the film they were showing in the shop, they were there for ages
In the evening I headed out to play badminton.  It was nice as people were pleased to see me and asking if my migraine was better which was very kind of them!  I realised the reason I wasn't playing great is because we're playing with feather shuttles, and I am used to lighter plastic ones.  I took the towelling grip off my racquet as it makes it much heaver, and my play improved instantly. Unfortunately though I remembered very quickly why I put the grip on in the first place - because the old grip leaves my hands black!!! One of the the other guys lent me his racquet for the rest of the session which was nice of him (and it was a better one than mine!)

On the way home an old man opposite me kept staring and smiling at me. I thought he was being creepy so gave him evils and ignored him.  When I got home I looked in the mirror and realised my nose was black, and I had black streaks all down my arms.  That combined with the fact my hair was all over the place and I was wearing no make up, was probably the reason he kept smiling at me - I probably looked like a chimney sweep!  Sorry old man for giving you evils, your smile was warranted!

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