Tag Archives: explore

Singapore: the first 48 hours

22 Oct

My trip to Singapore crept up on me. I booked the flight in February when Swiss had a sale on and a couldn’t resist a bargain. I admit I hadn’t done as much research for this trip and I was feeling a bit nervous about it.

It didn’t get off to the best of starts. For a couple of weeks, I have been suffering from an upset stomach off and on and my body decided it would be funny to see how Lyndsay would deal with this on a 12 hour flight to Asia.

Luckily, if I go anywhere further than the local supermarket, I always take my passport, toothbrush and Imodium. This is the first time I have had to use the latter.

When we landed and I managed to get to the hotel via public transport, I was looking forward to relaxing and lying near to a toilet that I didn’t have to share with 200 other people. That didn’t go to plan.

The hotel declined my credit card three times. The receptionist was really rude and demanded payment immediately and said it must be my credit limit and that’s why my card provider have declined it blah blah blah. I asked for them to get my credit card company on the phone so I could talk to them. The nice man at the credit card company assured me that they had done nothing of the sort. The issue was something from the hotel‘s side. Nasty hotel receptionist denied this and finally the payment went through (when he used another machine).

After that I popped to the supermarket for water and something plain to eat and got lost in the shopping complex! These things are massive. I had been walking around for ages and everything just looked the same. I had to admit defeat and asked the customer information desk how to get back. That was enough for one day. I went to bed hoping the next day would be better.

No such luck. I had booked on a bike tour of the city. These are normally a great way to orientate yourself in a city and to ask a local about what life is like. Again I struggled to find the meeting point and when I finally got there, I was the only one who had turned up. I offered to come back on Sunday because I thoughtcrime would be more fun to be with others and not just alone with the group leader.

Having no idea what to do, I picked up a MRT map (subway) and decided to head for the Botanical Gardens. The Gardens are incredible. Although they are primarily a place for difference plants to be showcased, they are a huge outdoor space which is utilised by locals for yoga and meditation. An interesting mix!

The Gardens are home to the National Orchid Gardens, which are well worth the 5 dollar entrance fee. It was really tranquil and lovely to see do many varieties of my favourite flowers.

And then the Heavens opened. Being from the North West of England, I know about rain more than most. Singapore rain is something else. Luckily I did have an umbrella with me but it didn’t help too much. I was soaked to the skin. I headed back to the hotel to use the gym while the storm passed.

Early afternoon the weather was much better and I headed out to explore. A friend had recommended a place to eat in Little India, so I headed there.

The eating experience was more of a challenge if I’m honest. The restaurant has a „Wall of Fame“. If you eat a curry of a certain spice strength without joghurt based accompaniments or drinks, they give you a clothes peg to write you name on so hang on the wall. My friend had tried this on his trip to Singapore but failed miserably. I managed to complete the challenge and get my very own peg. I think I could have possibly eaten a few levels hotter, but no one likes a show off, do they? Based on my problems 24 hours before, I feel like my achievement is in the epic category. I had a few celebratory drinks which meant the bill was pretty hefty. Oh well, I’m on holiday.

After that I wandered around Chinatown for a bit and then went to Marina Bay Sands and walked back to the hotel. The views are simply stunning and more spectacular than photos can ever convey.

The next day it was Bike Tour take 2! This time the tour was on. We biked for about 20 km over 4 hours with a stop for coffee and refreshments. The tour was interesting. We went through the Financial district and Chinatown. In Chinatown we went to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I hadn’t visited this the previous evening. The temple is almost completely made out of gold. The security is tight because of this. On the top floor is a relic which is meant to be the tooth of Buddha. All I can say if that was Buddha‘s tooth, his dentist bills must have cost a small fortune. It was huge. It was interesting to see. It’s can be hard to understand relics from the point of view of a non-believer but it obviously holds a deep meaning for followers of this faith.

Later we went by Marina Bay Sands, but we did a different route to the one I had done. Then we went to the hipster district which is an interesting mix of Middle Eastern cultures and has a huge mosque in the middle of it. There are so many faiths in Singapore and there seems to be very little racial tension or discrimination. I wonder what their secret is?

We stopped for coffee and were treated to some staple breakfast foods, which were yummy. We needed the energy for the next part. We actually road down the Singapore Formula 1 track! It was such a surprise. I think I was by far the most excited by this. It takes 4 months to put up the infrastructure and stands and 3 months to take it down. Incredible stuff.

After the tour, I had a swim in the hotel pool to cool down and I decided to go back to Chinatown. The leader of the bike tour had recommend a place to eat which was a hawker stall but had been awarded a Michelin star. Cheap Michelin started food? I was in! Only I wasn’t. I found the place and it was closed. I will have to go back another time. I had dumplings from another stall instead which were cheap and delicious. I then tried a Singapore Craft Beer called Simply Blonde. It cost about half the price of Buddha’s 6 monthly check-up.

I headed out to the Zoo for the Night Safari: the world first nocturnal animal park. It’s a good idea because not so many animals are active during the day when most zoos are open. It took a long time to get there, about 1 and a half hours. Although I had booked a ticket for 9.15pm admission, I managed to get in an hour earlier. I was glad of this because I was worried about missing public transport home.

The safari itself was good. We saw all of the animals apart from the wolves who were hiding somewhere. What was annoying was people who were talking the whole way through (not the thing to do on safari) and people using flashes on their phones to take pictures. I didn’t managed to get any photos because we were on a moving tram. As I wasn’t using the flash, I was trying to take a picture with the aperture open to let in more light. However, the camera needs to be completely still or the image is blurred. This was a shame but I did managed to see some cool animals up front! I managed to get the public bus home and it only cost me 1 dollar 27!

What a week!

20 Oct

What a week it has been! I had no German lessons this week because of half term, so I was looking forward to a bit of relaxing. Not a chance! I don’t mind a hectic week when you know it’s going to be a hectic week but when it creeps up on you to surprise you, it’s not good at all.

On Monday I really didn’t feel like doing much apart from going to bed early. I didn’t even achieve that after I had finished faffing around and getting a few small jobs that I have been trying to do for a while out of the way.

On Tuesday I seemed to be quite busy at work and I headed to the gym at lunchtime. In the evening I met up with some friends who I haven’t seen in a while. It was in actual fact a year or so but I was determined to get everyone together at least once in 2017. I almost made it; one of the group was sick.

We went to a really good burger place, where the burgers are so large that I didn’t even finish mine. We have already got a date sorted for a meeting in early December. I actually think this is cheating a bit. The next organiser doesn’t have to go through the pain of sending dates after dates and agonising about what time and where we meet. I’m saying I have more brownie points for my efforts.

Wednesday was the last outdoor hockey practice before we start playing the indoor season. Boo! I’m not a huge fan of indoor hockey, mainly because the ball never really goes out and you have to run and run until your lungs burn and your face looks like a beef tomato, which for me is about 2.5 minutes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling to well and I decided after the warm-up that it might be best to leave early and get an early night.

Thursday I was busy getting organised and tidying the house before leaving for a long weekend away in Singapore!

I only booked this trip in February because it was 460 Francs return in a Swiss International airlines sale. I have paid more to go home for Christmas before so forgive my impulse buying. Because the week was so hectic I have no idea if I have packed the right clothes etc etc. But who cares? I’m sure it’s a case of “I think I left the oven one” and everything will be ok. If not, I am sure I will manage.

So, by the time you read this, I will be there. Probably sweating, moaning about humidity and dying of thirst but hey that’s the beauty of Asia. Let the adventure begin!

40 Before 40: Challenge #2

9 Oct

For my second challenge of my 40 Before 40, I have decided to take on one of my passions in life – travel. My challenge is to visit 40 of the 51 countries in Europe before my 40th birthday. One of the plus points of moving to Switzerland was that it is in the centre of Europe and a lot easier to travel around. Over the past few years, I have been to a lot of new places but there are still more on the list to get through!

I was shocked when I realised that there were 51 independent countries. I have checked with several sources and they all say the same. So it must be true.

Technically, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey are transcontinental countries as they span Europe and Asia. Armenia and Cyprus are considered to be European countries, although they are geographically in West Asian territory.

Below is the list of the 51 European countries and next to the ones I have already visited I had put the date of when I visited. For some of the countries that I haven’t visited in the last 15 years or so there is just an approximate date.

So far, I have visited 25 out of the 51. I had better get packing my bags!

  1. Albania
  2. Andora
  3. Armenia
  4. Austria – August 17
  5. Azerbaijan
  6. Belarus
  7. Belgium
  8. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  9. Bulgaria – July 2008
  10. Croatia
  11. Cyprus – sometime in the 90s
  12. Czech Republic – July 2016
  13. Denmark – July 2016
  14. Estonia – May 2015
  15. Finland – May 2015
  16. France – December 2016
  17. Georgia
  18. Germany – June 2017
  19. Greece – around 2000
  20. Hungary – March 2014
  21. Iceland
  22. Ireland – June 2003
  23. Italy – May 2015
  24. Kazakhstan
  25. Kosovo
  26. Latvia – September 2015
  27. Leichtenstein
  28. Lithuania – September 2015
  29. Luxembourg
  30. Macedonia
  31. Malta – sometime in the 90s
  32. Moldova
  33. Monaco
  34. Montenegro
  35. Netherlands – December 2015
  36. Norway – March 2017
  37. Portugal – June 2014
  38. Poland
  39. Romania
  40. Russia
  41. San Marino
  42. Serbia
  43. Slovakia – August 2017
  44. Slovenia
  45. Spain – Sep 2014
  46. Sweden – Dec 2014
  47. Switzerland – country of residence
  48. Turkey
  49. Ukraine
  50. UK – birth place. That must count as being marked off the list
  51. Vatican City – May 2015

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Long weekend in Wales and the British countryside

8 Oct

As well as taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon, I spent some time in England and Wales. One of the main things that we had to do was to visit The Morgan Car Company. I bought my other half a driving experience for his Christmas present.

He took off with the instructor for an hour of driving, while I sat in the cafe reading Ian Rankin and doing a bit of German vocabulary training. Rock and roll all the way!

When he returned, I have never seen him so happy. He was like a kid at Christmas, who had got the bike that he had been hoping for since June. After that we had a tour around the factory. In an age where most British car manufacturing has been moved abroad because of cost reasons, it’s perhaps surprising that all of the cars are made by hand. By that, I mean, every part. It’s an incredibly labour intensive process but the outcome is something beautiful to behold. If I come into some money, I will be ordering my car straight away – the waiting list is over a year long.

On the Friday we had an appointment to have afternoon tea at The Manor Hotel in Castle Coombe. Castle Coombe is famous for being where the film War Horse was filmed. The village is tiny and so quaint. There was even a little shop set up outside one of the houses that said that the lady was the baker to the film and TV industry and there were different cakes, jam and drinks laid out. You just popped the money into an honesty box.

The afternoon tea was lovely. The room itself was a beautiful, rich yellow colour. The food was excellent as well: cucumber, salmon, coronation chicken and cheese sandwiches, a sweet and a savoury scone and a selection of intricate cakes and macaroons. Yummy!

I don’t think that I have ever been to Wiltshire before. It was a lovely day to drive through the British countryside and relax.

On Saturday we took it easy because we had the half marathon the next day. So we wandered around the shop, walked along Cardiff Bay and the Barrage and had enough pasta to sink a battleship before retiring for an early night before the hard work on Sunday began!

Survivor

4 Oct

Along with 25,000 other people, I survived the half marathon on Sunday in Cardiff. From 9am on Sunday morning, the place was packed with runners ready to make their way around the 13.1 mile course. The 0.1 is very important. It’s this last little bit that will kill you off, if you’re not careful.

Of course, I could have trained more, lost a bit more weight but it was too late to think of what could’ve beens. Armed with a Cardiff City bin bag to keep me warm before the gun went off, it was only going to be my mind that would hold me back.

The start of the race was ok. There were so many people that it was impossible to start off too fast. We had already walked along part of the course two days before so I knew after we went through Penarth Marina and over the Barrage to Mermaid Bay that I was half way there.

I had a couple of bad patches, especially between mile 8 and 9 and then again after 10 miles, but with the help of the Rocky theme tune and some more classic hits, I managed to power through.

Overall, I was disappointed with my time but I did manage to run a 10 mile personal best. I only managed to beat it by 9 seconds, and I am sure that I can run better than that.

The weather stayed reasonably dry and I fully deserved my beer and fish and chips in the pub afterwards. I was glad that I didn’t have to get on a plane back to Switzerland on Sunday night. The legs were a touch sore.

On to the next race…

Vienna: Days 10 and 11

25 Aug

On Wednesday morning I was back in the school. Although it has only been less than 2 weeks that I have been in Vienna, I have definitely got into a routine that works well. I normally leave at 8.10am and take the underground for about 12 stops and then I walk for 10 minutes to school. At the beginning this was a lot longer. Somehow I managed to take a longer route but on the way back I noticed that I could make a few shortcuts.

In the conversation class we were talking about the preconceptions or clichés that exist for different countries. Everyone in the class is from a different country so it makes it really interesting when we have discussions about how things are different in our homelands. The different nationalities are: English, Swiss (from the Italian part), Slovakian, Russian, Czech, Italian, Iranian, Ukrainian, Polish and Japanese. I am not sure if you could get a more diverse group of people if you tried. Some of the other students are staying in Vienna for a longer time, some are here while looking for jobs and others don’t really know what they are doing!

In the intensive course there were only two of us because none of the other people turned up for the class. We did a funny exercise where we start to write a story. I had to write a thriller and the other person wrote a love story. After we had started the story we had to swap and finish the other person’s story. I was quite surprised at how good my writing was. The language wasn’t very sophisticated but it made sense. I think it was better some of my writing in English to be honest!

In the afternoon I was treated to more “excellent” Austria customer service. This time at the hairdresser. The hairdressers here are a fraction of the price that they are in Switzerland and also cheaper than at home. I was left waiting for more than 20 minutes. I was about to leave when they came over to wash my hair. They then put some intensive conditioning treatment on my hair and left me with my head in the backwash for about 15 minutes. It is bad enough having your head in these backwash sinks for the time it takes them to wash your head but after 15 minutes I was in agony. Again I was ready to walk out with wet hair. There was no apology or embarrassment. I think that this is just normal customer service here.

In the evening I had bought a ticket to a Mozart concert at the Vienna Opera House. I got a 50% discount with the language school so I managed to get a seat 8 rows from the stage for 25 Euros. It was a really good view of what was going on on the stage. The concert was a series of excepts of Mozart’s works. There was an orchestra and two opera singers. The conductor was a bit of a smug bastard but I guess that he was playing the part of Mozart well.

The concert was only for 2 hours but I could have stayed there all night. At the beginning it was a bit like being at a pop concert when the band play songs from their new album that you don’t really know and all you want them to do is to play the greatest hits. It is incredible that some of these songs were written in the 1700s and they are still loved all over the world today.

After school on Thursday I decided to have an art afternoon. I went to Schloss Belvedere and saw an exhibition of Gustav Klimt, who I didn’t realise was Austria until I arrived here. The exhibition was called Klimt and the Erotic Encounters. Some of the art wasn’t too far from being pornographic. Shocked would be a good word to describe my reaction. There was an exhibition in Kunsthalle, Zurich which had a part of Japanese erotic art. These paintings were in a sealed off rooms and there was a person on the door who was checking that only over 18s were admitted. Maybe Austrians are more liberal in this respect.

Later I went to visit the Hundertwasser Museum. The museum is home to the art of Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who was one of the most, if not the most, significant Austrian artists of the 20th century. I only came across his work when one of my German teachers gave me some of his pictures to use in an exercise to improve my ability to make descriptions. The museum is full of his work and it is interesting to see some of the projects that he worked on during his life. There was also a photography exhibition of a Canadian photographer called Edward Burtynsky on the subject of water. The photos show how the effect of humankind is affecting water sources. He uses drones as well as standard cameras to make impressive landscape pictures.

In the evening I went for a quick run and then packed. Tomorrow is the last day of school and I fly back to Switzerland and my own bed.

Vienna: Days 6 and 7

21 Aug

Finally the weekend which means no need to get up early for school. However, the intensive German learning continued because we spoke for the whole weekend in the most part in German.

In my last post I was hoping for rain because the whole city was so warm and it needed to cool down. In true British fashion I will complain about the one thing that I was hoping for. It rained too much!

We left the apartment and it was already raining but only small showers. I had read in the free newspaper that there was an Oldtimers event near the Town Hall so we headed there. Just to be clear: there is a difference in what German speakers mean by an “Oldtimer” and what English speakers mean. In this case, I mean vintage car and not old people. My boyfriend is interested in vintage cars, especially British ones.

By the time we came out of the underground, it was lashing it down. I only had a rain jacket which turns out isn’t waterproof. We couldn’t find the event anywhere. Either it was cancelled because of the weather or we had gone to the wrong place. We then went hunting to find an umbrella so that I wouldn’t continue to get soaking wet through. By then I was pretty miserable so my boyfriend suggested that we go to the Sacher Hotel to try some of its world famous Sachertorte.

I was glad that we went, not just because I had an opportunity to dry off a bit, but also because the Sachertorte was delicious. The recipe was created in 1832 and the original recipe is still being used today. The actual price is relatively expensive but as it was a special treat and the surroundings were nice, it was nice.

I was slightly taken aback by the customer service. The waiter was not friendly when we arrived. All of the tables were taken and we were told “I don’t have any tables”. There was no sorry, or if you don’t mind waiting, we will seat you as soon as we can. I believe that this is just how Austrians are. They are known for being very direct with a little bit of arrogance on the side.

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It was incredible the number of people who were queuing outside the hotel to come in a try a piece of cake. I have no idea how many slices they sell a day there but they definitely make a tidy profit from it.

After that we joined a free walking tour. To make it a bit more difficult for me, we joined the tour in German. This is the first time that I had done a walking tour in a language other than English. I could understand most of what was said but at time it was difficult to understand what the tour guide was saying because the rain was beating down on the umbrellas. Even so it was good to learn some more about Vienna, the Habsburgs and the history.

In the evening despite the rain (and my protesting), we went running. Rather than go to the castle and back we found another route that was a bit flatter. I enjoying running in the rain a lot more than running when it is warm. I managed 9km but in the end I was a bit disappointed because I know that I could have run further. Anyway, 9km is better than nothing.

On Sunday we took a trip to Petronell Carnuntum. I had heard about this place from a student at the school. It is a Roman city about 45km away from Vienna. It was founded in the time of Emperor Tiberus and a significant military camp during the Roman Empire and it even had its own gladiator school. Some of the excavated wares were in unbelievably good condition. Even though the site is one of the most important sites in Central Europe, only 0.5% of the site has been excavated.

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The city is made up of 3 sites. One has a replica of a Roman villa that visitors can walk around, there is an amphitheatre which has a small exhibition and a museum. All of the sites are not together so we had to walk about 5km in total to visit them all. It was definitely worth it, especially as the entrance fees was good value to visit all the sites.

We had to be back in Vienna for 6pm because we had a table booked at Figlmüller. Figlmüller is home of the most famous schnitznel in Vienna. The Schnitznel is so big that it doesn’t fit on the plate. It was a good job that we booked in advance because the staff were turning away people every 5 minutes. It is so well-known that the tables are booked out weeks in advance. I love my food and I loved that schnitzel.

When we came to pay the bill the waiter asked me if I was American. I was wearing a Harvard T-Shirt so it was a good assumption. His second guess was Swiss. His third guess was Canadian. I told him in the end. He said that I had a little bit of a Swiss accent, which I have heard several times during my time here. I’m not sure what to make of that. I am pleased that people cannot guess my nationality from my accent because it means that I am not just saying German words in an English accent.

After eating a schnitznel the size of a plate it was time to go slowly home and spend the rest of the evening asking the eternal question: Why does the weekend always go so quickly?

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