Thursday, July 21, 2016

Term Break Adventures in Singapore

So the kids second term break started mid June and ended mid July (~3.5 weeks of school off). At the beginning of the break, we had our weekend away at Takalana Bay. Then Mason did a Drama Camp the first full week and Clarissa did a drop in camp a few days that week. The second week, I followed the advice of Dr. Lapointe and allowed the kids to be bored senselessly!!  At the end of that second week, we took our first trip out of the country since arriving at post six months ago (already??)!

We chose Singapore for several reasons. First, we made a list of all the term breaks between now and our departure, we then marked down when want to visit places based on migrations (I'm talking to you gray whales), optimal season (best time to dive the Great Barrier Reef), etc. Given July is the middle of winter in the southern hemisphere....nothing too enticing nearby at the moment. Second, Fiji Airways has recently added a direct flight to one flight and there....nice and easy! Finally, apparently we have an unofficial bucket list of getting passport stamps from the smallest countries in the world. According to World Atlas, Singapore comes in at #19 (and we have already been to #1 and #6). So Friday night, we caught the red eye to Singapore.

You wouldn't guess that was taken at 22:30 right before we boarded....she was so excited to be going to another country! After take-off, Mason was able to move to the row behind me and had 2 seats to stretch out in and Clarissa is little, so both kids got a good bit of sleep. Richard and I....well we maybe got a couple hours between us. We arrived in Singapore a little before 5 am local time (closer to 9 am Fiji time). We made it through customs and got our luggage. Prior to our trip, we had pre-booked tickets to Universal Studios and the bus/tickets to Legoland Malaysia to save queue time. One of the companies had offered us a discount on an airport shuttle, so we went ahead and booked that too (sometimes its hard to find an ATM in the airport and we read cab drivers in Singapore don't like credit cards). Unfortunately, when we got up to the counter they told us the wait would be about an hour, but it might be less.....what!?!?! That really sucks, how is that convenient? So, Richard went off to find an ATM then we could decide if we wanted to cab it. Several more groups of people started coming up to the shuttle counter and I heard the wait time dropping a lot (30 minutes to the next group, etc) maybe it wouldn't be an hour. There was a Starbucks just down from us (STARBUCKS! Unlike Richard who had to gone to New Zealand, the rest of us had not had Starbucks in 6 months), so we got some breakfast to snack on while we waited it out. We made it on to the shuttle, which was completely filled....and even though we were the first group to check in, we were the last group dropped off....hmmm, don't recommend doing that again!!

So we stayed at the Holiday Inn near Orchard Rd (near the big shopping district). We used points and cash with the IHG card and got a real good deal on the room. We had contacted them in advance to confirm they had a luggage room since we were arriving so early in the day (which they did). We were able to use the gym/pool bathroom to shower and get on some clean clothes. They were very nice and pre-checked us in and gave us a meal voucher for free breakfast since our room wasn't ready (which at 8:00 we weren't expecting it to be ready).....score! So we had some breakfast/brunch and headed to the catch the on/off bus.

We had asked the hotel for a recommendation prior to our arrival. They recommended Duck & Hippo tours as it had a stop about two blocks from the hotel. We knew we would all be tired so we figured something where we could see the sights and walk as much (or as little) as we wanted would be good. It would also help us orient ourselves in the city and learn our way around. 

The fountain of wealth in Suntec City. The water flows inward (a rarity in fountains) to represent riches flowing in. There were 5 towers of varying heights surrounding the fountain. The shortest represented the thumb and the other 4, the fingers of a hand. Therefore the fountain would be the palm of the hand receiving the wealth (or something like that according to the audio).

Colorful government housing. The majority of Singapore residents live in apartments, new ones go for about $250K (US) and the government lease is for 99 years.

Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindi temple in Singapore. It was located in Chinatown. As you can see it was quite overcast for our tour. Which made our adjustment from winter to summer a little easier, but it was still insanely hot (I looked it up, Singapore is located at 1ºN....just barely above the equator)!

I apologize for the moving blur....but the amount of greenery on balconies all over the city was so beautiful. This was one of the greener buildings I saw.

Cute little art along the street. There was a good bit of random street art either along sidewalks or in the middle of traffic circles.

We called it the boat in the sky (and googling confirms we aren't the only ones!). Marina Bay is a convention center, shopping center, hotel, casino, museum, two theatres, restaurants, skating rink.....essentially you name it and this complex probably has it! We wanted to make it up to the 2 acre SkyPark at the top.....but we ran out of time....maybe next time!

Cool looking bridge.

We had a good chuckle when the American Embassy in Singapore was describe as a fortress between the Australian and British High Commissions.

As we got close to our hotel again on the bus route, a Hard Rock Cafe sign caught Richard's eye. That has started to become a bit of a tradition for us (living overseas you tend to pine for little bites of America ever so often), so we quickly hopped off the bus to grabbed some lunch. We had only 2 bus stops to our hotel stop, so we opted to walk through the shopping district to our hotel for a little afternoon power nap to wait out the heat of the day and recharge. We found some more street art.

Multiple Starbucks (I thought the tree in the background was pretty cool looking too). I couldn't figure out how many there are in Singapore, but I did find several articles dated 2014 when the 100th location for the 19th smallest country in the world to have over 100 Starbucks.....that is a lot!!

As luck would have it, we happened upon a Lego Store with a free build event. I signed up on site and Clarissa got to make a bracelet with apples, gems, mugs, etc (Mason actually made one too....he told me later he mostly scavenged for these random connector pieces he wanted). They really wanted to get a picture of Clarissa with her bracelet by their sign....but she doesn't let strangers take her that was a no go.

So we made it back to our hotel. Our room was ready....we were on the top floor in the next to the last room on the floor.....yeah! More walking! So we enjoyed the AC (which didn't seem to be working very well), unpacked a bit, let the kids have some iPad time while Richard and I tried to rest. That didn't last too So we hopped back on the on/off bus and headed down to the Singapore Flyer (aka giant Ferris Wheel). 

Late afternoon (4:00 pm) is the time to go! No lines at all.....we walked right up, got tickets, weaved through all the line things, and walked onto the second capsule! 

As I said above, the majority of residents live in high rise apartment buildings as you see here. 

Ships, ships, and more ships! Ships as far as the eye can see. Singapore is the second busiest port according to wikipedia and we told the kids that our car and all our belongs came through here on their way to Fiji! 

The harbor entrance. You can see the Gardens by the Bay on the right (the white things are conservatory domes). The Marina Bay Golf Course on the left.

Cool afternoon shadow....

Downtown (the new financial district) with the part of the port to the left....that is a lot of cranes! The lotus flower building is the Art Science museum (part of the Marina Bay Sands complex).

I wanted to walk across the double helix bridge...being a science dork and all....but there was a certain little person with legs that were so The floating stage you see is the world's largest. Across the Marina Bay by the end of the bridge that starts at the edge of the picture is the Merlion fountain. The Merlion is half lion and half fish creature. Historically, Singapore was a fishing village and the tour bus narrative said something about someone long ago seeing a lion or something. The Merlion is used a national symbol now. We saw it closer from the on/off bus but missed the stop. That was one place we wanted to get back to as well and didn't make it too.

Richard being artsy while we waited for the on/off bus to come back and pick us up. We (well mine & Mason's tummy's did) lucked out and there was a Subway at the base of flyer and we picked up some dinner. Super yummy after a 6 month deprival! After getting back, we headed to the pool and hot tub before succumbing to jet lag and sleep.

We got up bright and early the next day to head to Universal Studios on Sentosa Island....we took a lot of pictures, so I will make that day its own post.

The next day we opted to take it easy. We had gotten to Universal a little before it opened at 10 am and stayed until right before it closed at 8 pm. We then grabbed some dinner while we were still on Sentosa it was close to 10 pm when we got home....a long hot day! 

The kids had spotted a Toys'R'Us sign at the mall right by our we must go look at all the toys that they didn't know they The earpiece on my sunglasses started falling apart. So I looked up where there was a Sunglasses Hut so I could get a new pair to wear while I send my Costa's back for repair. There appeared to be one close to our hotel....we did not find it but we did find a vietnamese mail order bride shop.....I kid you not!!! We didn't get a picture since I was trying not to draw the kids' (Mason's) attention to it.....we eventually headed to another mall via taxi and found a Sunglasses Hut....We also found a H&M and got some fun clothes and accessories! We then had lunner (late lunch/early dinner).

Richard's top sight of choice was the Raffles Hotel.....he wanted a drink at the Long Bar. What drink you ask? The Singapore Sling....why? It was invented there!

A fun thing at the Long Bar is that you allowed to drop your peanut shells on the ground (the only place in Singapore you are allowed to litter). The kids loved cracking open peanuts.

Cheers! Mason opted to get a tropical punch and Clarissa got the virgin sling.

Rockin' my new sunglasses.....and a cool fountain at the Raffles Hotel. The architecture was very British Colonial.

My top sight choice was the Gardens by the we grabbed another taxi and headed that way.

Being sweet for the moment.

Clarissa photobombing her brother who wanted a picture by himself.....I think he is unaware she popped up.....she is so sneaky sometimes; I love it when I can bust her!

While ideally, I would have enjoyed spending the whole day at Gardens by the Bay we only had a couple hours. So the SuperTree Grove was the iconic thing I wanted to see (the above view was from the Singapore Flyer). 

According to Wikipedia, Gardens by the Bay was built in 2012. So if you notice the plants don't extend all the way up SuperTrees yet. There are 18 trees throughout the park, some have solar panels, some are used for the conservatories air exhaust systems. The Garden's website says all the plants are soil-less and consist of a variety of ferns, bromeliads, orchids and other tropical flowering plants!

We got tickets to up along the walkway between two of the SuperTrees. The walkway is 22 meters high (72 feet) and 128 meters long (420 feet).

As we waited in line to go up along the walkway, the sunset and the trees lit up. We noticed that a lot of people were starting to gather. As luck would have it, We had planned things perfectly to be waiting in line when their nightly light show, Garden Rhapsody, started. 

Here is small clip of the show (it lasted about 15-20 minutes). The kids loved it....bright sparkley lights and fun classic music...Richard was less than impressed with my disco moves when "Stayin' Alive" was playing.

Towards the end of the light show, we made it to the front of the line and rode the elevator to the top to enjoy the skyline view of the city!

Panoramic I got of the SuperTree Grove before heading back down the stairs. You can see the "Boat in the Sky" really well also!

As you can see, the day was over so we headed back to our hotel for the night. The previous two days we had complained to the front desk that the air con didn't seem to be working very well. They had sent a maintenance guy up. He would fiddle with things for a couple minutes and give us a "well it is hot outside" excuse......(but it should be able to cool down in the evening, the lobby is freezing, and its always hot outside here, we would think). So while we were gone this day we had kept the curtains shut to help with the heat, but around midnight the temperature in our hotel room had made it up to 27ºC (80ºF).....kind of hard to sleep with it that warm, no fan, and no way to open a window. So Richard went down to the front desk. They sent up a different maintenance guy, he got some cold air blowing, as he was leaving, the manager called the room to see how things were going, since it would take a while to cool the room back down, they offered us another room to sleep in, Richard went down to get the key. Some how, Clarissa managed to still be sleeping through all this. I could feel the air cooling down (and moving would likely wake her). So Richard and Mason went to the other room and I moved over to their bed (not sharing the 'girl bed' with a little heat rock would keep me cooler). About 3:00 am, I noticed the room was starting to heat up again as the air con had stopped running again.

We had to wake up relatively early the next morning to catch a bus to Legoland. So the boys got ready in the other room, Clarissa and I got ready, had breakfast, got approval to switch rooms, packed up and moved all our stuff, and still made it to shuttle pick up on time! Woo hoo! (Again...lots of pictures at Legoland, so it gets it own post).

After a super fun day at Legoland and a nice COLD night in our new hotel room, we got up the last morning and headed for the airport. After getting checked in and through security, we found a Dunkin' Donuts and a play area. 

All & all, I think we had a great trip. Mason impressed a few of the taxi drivers with his Chinese he has learned during the first two terms. One of the drivers even asked him a question, which Mason replied he could write the answer but couldn't pronounce it. So the driver grabbed a newspaper and pen he had and handed it to Mason. Mason wrote the right answer. We were super proud of him! Clarissa said Legoland was her favorite, Mason liked the roller coasters at Universal Studios best, and our Starbucks mug collection has another member.

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