Sunday, 31 March 2013

Sentosa island: Getting there

So after some trepidation (the recent TripAdvisor reviews were pretty devastating for some of the attractions), we decided we would in fact go to Sentosa island.

After perusing the options, I determined that a Day Pass would get us all the things we wanted, and would be cheaper than buying the components. It still wasn't cheap, at $71.90/$53.90pp Unfortunately, I didn't read the fine print well enough, as the regular day pass did not in fact include the MegaZip, which was a significant part of my value-for-money assessment. I don't recall seeing it on the website, but if we'd gone for the Premium Day Pass, for an extra $60 or so, we would have got not only the MegaZip ($60pp) but also i-Fly ($79/$89 pp) and some other things.

Oh, and you need to buy or pick up the tickets at level 3 VivoCity shopping centre, which is not the shopping centre that the MRT station comes out at, it's the one further away from the Cable Car entry point. About 15-20 minutes very brisk walk away from the Cable Car entry point. Each way. So much for an early start to avoid the queues.

And then you can't just barrel up to the entry for the attraction like we did, you've first got to queue to present your day pass at the ticketing office to get it stamped, scanned and ride tickets issued. So I got two extra rides in the comfortably quick 15-floor trip to do that. I looked like I'd been for a swim what with all that extra to-ing and fro-ing in the heat and humidity.

At least our cable car had fans in it. And a couple of seedy-looking chaps.
Cable car, looking towards Sentosa island.
From Sentosa, looking back toward the main island
We saw a cruise ship turning around in the harbour as we passed overhead, which you can see in the left middle ground of the above photo, reversing into the dock.

The exit to the cable car on Sentosa island was through the mandatory gift shop, naturally.

Breakfast: Singapore style redux

This morning we felt we should try kaya toast, which seems to be a particularly Singaporean dish.

Kaya is a sweet, thick custard-like substance, apparently made from egg, coconut and pandan. It is served spread on toast, and often with soft-boiled eggs. Where soft-boiled means barely warmed through, certainly nothing set. Often seasoned with soy sauce and pepper. You can have it dipped in an eggy batter (french toast), with the kaya on the side and/or have cheese in there too. A set menu includes your choice of kaya toast, two soft-boiled eggs, and tea or coffee (which is made with sweetened condensed milk, super strong over-stewed tea/coffee, diluted with water).

I chose kaya cheese toast. The boys had kaya french toast. JD had kaya cheesy french toast.
Kaya cheese toast, soft boiled eggs and 'tea'
French toast, with kaya on the side, eggs with soy and pepper, and 'tea'
Frankly, it was hideously sweet, and tea was pretty vile (I have only a dash of milk in mine and no sugar). It reminded me a bit of traditional Indian breakfasts which can also be dreadfully sweet.

We'll try something completely different for breakfast tomorrow.

Singapore Science Centre

Thanks to time zone differences, we were dressed and fed and ready to go by 9am. However, the Science Centre doesn't open until 10am. So we took the long way by train, seeing a bit of the countryside, and arrived at the front door a little after 10.

Like most hands-on science museums, some of the exhibits were really interesting, some were boring, and rather a few didn't work any more.

The section on sound was a lot more interesting than we expected, with a theramin, some fun hands-on stuff, and some choreographed magnets.
Ky playing the theramin
"Pump up the Jam", by Technotronics. Can't you tell?

The "Quirky" section was mainly pages from a book on Chindogu stuck on a wall, with a few like-minded examples. The sales pitch about Leonardo da Vinci's designs being part of the exhibit was true, but only in the most literal sense.

Lunch was at the onsite Macca's, mainly because I was confident they'd have real milk for a much-needed cuppa tea. That was when Ky realised he no longer had his bag with his jumper in it. (JD registered our loss with Lost & Found, but we still haven't got it.) We also saw an Imax film about Monarch butterflies and how they tracked their migration patterns.

The Candyland special exhibition was absolutely not worth the extra admission ($3: we spent 20 mins in there, max). Apart from learning that they put sugar into concrete to slow down how fast it sets, I didn't learn anything remotely new. The kids did have some fun bouncing around a floor mat tongue, which made different sounds as you stood on different receptors (sweet, sour, bitter, salt). (I have some recollection that recent research showed that not only were there no zones on the tongue for different elements (eg sour at the back of the tongue, but also all taste buds can taste all things. But I might be misremembering).

The other reason we bailed early from the Candyland exhibition was to see the fire tornado. After demonstrating a mini version, which showed the flame go from all over the place into a vertical coil by placing a cylinder around it, we then saw the big one.
Nonchalance in the face of (actually not much) danger
Afterwards, the kids were still really keen to go through the laser maze, but were very disheartened when it turned out to be closed for maintenance (not something that was mentioned when we bought our entry tickets). So with some ice cream for consolation, the boys then stripped off their t-shirts and ran about in the WaterWorks exhibit (basically a small outdoor water park, with signs up to meet the educational requirement).
Before they got soaked through
By then, it was after 4pm, I had a stinking headache (probably caffeine withdrawal, from one one cuppa tea to that point), and it was time to go home.

All up, a fun day, but not fantastic.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Breakfast: Singapore style

This blog opens its post by declaring that "Breakfast in Singapore is something of a fluid concept: if a hawker or eating house is serving it in the morning, there's no reason it can't be breakfast". So we ended up back where we had dinner last night, but at the partner stand serving Indian-derived dough-with-stuff cooked into it while you watch.
Ky's banana prata with strawberry
Ky chose a banana strawberry prata. Prata is the soft dough, a bit like roti or paratha; there was a sliced banana baked into it, and strawberry topping squirted over it. Jos chose a cheese and onion prata - same dough, but this time with chopped onion and cheese inside into it. It came with a yummy curry sauce, which Jos managed to spill over the table and himself. (Ooops)
Jos's cheese and onion prata
JD had a beef murtabak, which was a bit like keema naan, but beef instead of mutton. The curry sauce with his was a bit darker and spicier. The stuffing also had potato and other yumminess.
JD's beef murtabak
And I had a special thosai, which seemed to be a local variant of a masala dosa with egg. The dosa was thicker and doughier than the crisp, thin dosa we had in India, but it was still very yummy, and the curry sauce was excellent.
My masala dosa, with egg, potato and other vegetables.
I think we'll try the kaya toast and variants tomorrow.

Caffeine withdrawal sux!!

I need to remember to wean myself off my ten cup a day tea habit when I'm about to travel to a country that doesn't do tea with milk. Not only did I end up with an excruciating headache by the end of the day, but we resorted to eating at McDonalds for lunch because we knew they'd have tea with milk (my first for the day).

A couple of paracetamol (acetominophen) and a couple of cups of tea, and my headache is easing (thankfully).

I will not be skipping my morning cuppa tomorrow morning!

Singapore - first impressions

The airplane was cool, at times chilly, which meant the steamy air at Changi airport was a bit of a shock to the system. Queues through Customs were slow-moving, with the boys having to go through on their own, but quarantine was just a wave-through. No lengthy declarations to be signed with dire warnings of penalties for failing to properly declare any food, plant or animal items. We tried to declare our wine and tea, but we were almost laughed at for our efforts.

Next stop was the tourist bureau to determine the exchange rate (roughly AUD1 = SGD1.3) to work out how much to withdraw from the ATM for around AU $150 walking around money, and to work out the best way to get to the hotel. I was keen to try the trains, but he said taxi was the best - the trains would be too crowded. Even though it's a public holiday, I asked? No, you're right, it should be fine. And so we took the train. It was pretty jammed for a few stops, but was overall very good (and air-con'd). The ticketing system has what the Melbourne train system should aspire to: single use tickets available , but re-useable (as well as more durable plastic myki-like cards); simple touch-on, touch-off which works; cheerful people at each station who are keen to help. And regular trains that meet up with connecting trains. And cheap - our 25min trip, including minute-long changeovers cost $2.20 each.

It was a bit of effort gettting to the hotel from the train station, mainly because I couldn't retrieve the response to my email request for instructions, but also that no-one knew how best to reach it, although all were very keen to help (including staff from other hotels whom I asked). But we got here, and the room is large and comfortable, and pleasantly cool. We went back out and found some fabulous cheap food to top us up (Ky at least was getting the hangries), buy some milk for our tea (imported from Thailand) and then back to the hotel for a cuppa and crash. It's after midnight, and the boys had been up for eighteen hours (they're now both dead to the world), and JD and I will be hitting the sack pretty soon too.

Tomorrow, we're planning on spending the day at the Science Centre.

Singapore Air - You're a great way to fly

It was a long flight, but we knew that. But there was adequate bum room, adequate leg room, and the seats reclined almost too much. There were good movies on the personal entertainment unit, the food was reasonable to good (with metal cutlery!! and free beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks!!!), and they coped well with the fair amount of turbulence we encountered on the trip, and a very full plane. And despite our flight being all afternoon Melbourne-time, I managed to get a fair amount of sleep. The boys didn't, but are still awake (just) at 11:30pm Melb time.

The male flight attendants get to wear regular lounge suits, but the women wear the iconic "Singapore Girl" uniform, a sarong kebaya, with the long, slim, slit up the front, fitted skirt, and the breath-takingly tight tops. They show off their impossibly small waists and delicate hips and rib-cages. And they're woven cotton fabric, without a skerrick of give. I understand most airlines have fairly strict image requirements for their flight attendants, but this uniform ensures Singapore Airlines' female staff can't put on more than a kilogram. (No they don't have a wardrobe of uniforms at various sizes to accommodate their cyclical weight gain/loss. I asked.) And the trick to being able to raise their arms despite wearing incredibly formfitting tops? The sleeves, while shaped, are actually quite loose.

Although flying cattle class is never fun, this was one of the more tolerable long-haul flights we've had in a while. The next legs should be okay.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Packing notes

It's time to start thinking about what we're going to pack.

This time is a little different in that (a) we will be dealing with multiple climates (total fire ban-hot Melbourne, tropical Singapore, chilly Tokyo, and snowy mountains), and (b) we will be taking some stowed luggage. Although stowed luggage goes against every grain of my travelling soul, we can't take local wines with us unless they're stowed.

Upside: we don't have to be so economical with our packing. Downside: we don't have to be so thoughtful about our packing. But I'm still preparing a rough list to make sure nothing critical gets left behind, and that we're not taking more than actually need (we're expecting to come back with at least one extra stowed bag).

Carry-on bags will still have enough to get us through at least the first day in each new location, in case bags don't make it onto the same flight for whatever reason. That means at least one full change of clothes, basic toiletries, essential medicines, inflight entertainment, and anything we cannot risk losing (camera SD cards etc).

Stowed luggage can have the snow gear, gifts, parcel Em bought online but accidentally had sent to her folks place in Oz, extra pair of shoes, extra toiletries and the like. If we plan it well, we won't even have to open this bag while we're in Singapore.

In the meantime, we need to get everything we want to take with us laundered, tidy up the house, see whether the boys still remotely fit their snow gear (and obtain replacements if required), charge all the electronic devices, load podcasts and movies onto said devices, tee up the house sitter/supervisor, source the hostess gifts, find a phrase book, and squeeze in another full day's work/school. Easy. Heh.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Hostess gifts

I don't give hostess gifts very often. Partly 'cos I wasn't brunged up proper (sorry Mum), but mainly because we're not usually being 'hosted'. However this time we'll be relying very heavily on Em, JD's sister, and we want to bring something to say 'thank you'. Ideally, we'll give her and her family things that they'll like and use, rather than some dust-collecter or other. And she's a Strine living in Japan and might be grateful for a top-up of TimTams or Macleans toothpaste or something.

Having thrown together a quick list of ideas for her to pick from, I thought I might jot them down here in case I (or anyone else) wants to refer back to them. So, in no particular order:
  • local wines (generally limited to two bottles per adult, not an option if taking carry-on luggage only)
  • local foodstuffs (can't bring them into Oz/NZ, but can often take them into other countries)
    • honey, jams, quince paste
    • TimTams, Mint Slice, musk sticks, Tiny Teddies, soft liquorice
  • local cosmetics - favourite toothpaste or moisturiser
  • OTC pharmaceuticals that are harder to get there (two-months worth limit into Japan)
  • classic Australian stories/books
    • The Magic Pudding, Cuddlepot and Snugglepie, Storm Boy for kids
    • Picnic at Hanging Rock, My Brilliant Career, Cloudstreet, Playing Beattie Bow for teens/adults
(Will my citizenship be revoked if I admit I always found the Gumnut Babies to be a bit freaky?)
  • films of classic Australian Stories, and/or other Australian films (Mad Max, anyone?)
  • soft toys - wombats, kookaburras, platypuses, Bananas in Pyjamas
Pronunciation guide: Wom-bat, not womb-at.
  • souvenir t-shirts (I haven't a clue what's on ones available locally, and I rarely wear them)
  • merchandise from the local AFL footy club (football guernsey, ball cap, scarf)
  • coffee-table book of Australian art/architecture/landscapes/etc
  • Aboriginal artwork, didgeridoo, boomerang or similar
  • tacky souvenir shop stuff, and boy, there's some doozies there
Koala kitsch, anyone?

So what's the best or worst hostess gift you gotten or given? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Monday, 25 March 2013

Four more sleeps!!!

(From keepcalm-o-matic)

On Good Friday, 29 March, we fly for Singapore. We'll have three and a half warm, humid, tropical days there, and then we go on to Japan for twelve days, where the cherry blossoms are out but it's still pretty frickin' cold.

The whole thing has snuck up on us, but now that it's nearly time, I'm getting giddily excited.

We'll be relying fairly heavily on Em, JD's sister, to make suggestions/recommendations, and possibly even be our tour guide (she's been living in Tokyo for nigh-on a dozen years), but we've got a few things we're keen to do: Studio Ghibli museum (closed Tuesdays), one (or more) of the half dozen science museums, onsen with or without snow monkeys, Edo Wonderland (learn how to throw a ninja star! dress up like a samurai! closed Wednesdays), Kyoto, traditional stuff  as well as the technological wonderland stuff.

For our brief stopover in Singapore, we're planning a full day on Sentosa (luge, beaches, cable car, dolphins ziplines, indoor skydiving, oh my!), probably a full day at the science museum, including the WaterWorks exhibition (note to self: closed Mon 1 Apr), some time (breakfast?) at the zoo, some shopping, some dining, some just plain walking around. I don't think we'll be bored!

And we leave in 85 hours or so! Woo-hoooo!