Saturday, March 8, 2014

Report # 69 Singapore March 8, 2014 Saturday Day One, Part One Partly cloudy. 90 degrees, very humid

View of new high rise apartments from the promenade deck
The gondola ride to Sentosa Island

Singapore is hands down, one of the world's most affluent and vibrant cities. A city that we have had the pleasure of visiting many times on past cruises over the years. It has not been that many years since a British colonial administrator by the name of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived to Singapore to find it a tiny fishing village. He was responsible for the establishment of the East India Company, and Singapore becoming a major British trading post in Southeast Asia. World War II was not kind to the city, as it was under Japanese occupation for at least three years. By 1965, Singapore separated from Malaysia, and became an independant republic within the Commonwealth of Nations. Who makes up the citizens of this country? Try Singaporeans, Chinese, Indians, Muslims, and international workers from all around the world.

Here we are at the Cruise Center at Harbourfront
Supplies for the ship's store

Dockside

Busy harbor with many ferries

We have taken every tour here, either from a cruise ship or while staying several days at hotels before joining a ship. The best way to see the majority of sites in the city is by the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit)....much like BART that we have in the San Francisco Bay Area. Only bigger and way better, in our opinion. Since today was a Saturday, we knew the trains and malls would be full of the locals shopping and enjoying their city. So we headed out about 10am to buy our tickets for the MRT. As recent as last year, we have always been able to purchase a two day pass for $16. plus a $10. refundable fee. That's Singapore money, which is $1.25 to our $1.US. Now that extra $10. is not refundable, but entitled us to a ride on the FunVee bus and also a ride on a riverboat called the Bubble Jet Adventure. With their new map, we should be able to follow our routes easily on the five different lines of trains, connecting buses, and the new bus and boat rides.

Getting off of the ship is not an easy task, especially if you do not like walking. It is a long hike just to reach the immigrations checkpoint, where normally there is a back-up of folks trying to get through at the same time. By the time we left, however, there was no line, and we passed through within minutes. Passports were checked along with our stamped arrival cards. Then we were free to go.


Coming into Harbourfront Mall from the ship

The train begins here at HarbourFront, which happens to be connected to a huge mall. Everything is connected to huge malls in this city. So much so, that you can spend days underground and not cover all of it. More about that later. Our first stop was at Chinatown. Once you leave the train, you need to follow the signs to the exit you want. That could mean taking escalators up several levels before you reach daylight. It did help to take photos along the way, noting the signage. That way, we could always find our way back to the correct entrance. 

Inside an MRT train
Coming out of the Chinatown MRT station

We need to come back here to get back on the MRT

Anyway at Chinatown, we went in search of an old fashioned hand held calculator. We found some in a kiosk that sold pens, pencils, tablets, and lots of cute stuff for kids. They were only $3., so we bought two of them. We always carry one to keep track of our purchases and to help with the conversion amounts. We do have a printed card that the ship gives us with the pier info and port agent info on it. A sample of US dollars to the local currency is printed from $1. to $1000. But a quicker way to figure an exact amount is with the calculator.


Chinatown's produce market

Chinatown's food

Crispy Peking ducks
Sold by the slice

Oyster omelette?

Preparing the food

Mostly fish and veggies

A buffet of food

More ducks

Affordable food choices

BBQ'd meat
Back to the MRT, we continued on to Little India, where we checked out the shops with fabrics. Not seeing anything that popped out as special, we bought nothing. There literally is so much to choose from, it is hard to narrow it down. And one of us has so much already to tackle in the sewing department, it was wise not at add to the already too large collection. Photos were the best thing to come away with here. Making it a point to walk through their food market, we got terrific pictures of the meat, fish, poultry, beef and sheep markets. Fresh produce was being sold by the ton today, because it was a Saturday, a big shopping day for the locals. You know what else is cool here is the architecture and colors of the buildings. Some local Indian artists were sketching the old ornate buildings from the sidewalks as we strolled by them. We did not leave empty-handed as we purchased a conservative? pair of inexpensive diamond earrings on the way back to the train.

Here we are at Little India

Quilts for sale

Little India streets

More Saturday shoppers

Sheep, goat, lamb, fresh chicken

Typical shop

Architecture is decorative

Very iconic and an artist's delight

So many fabrics

Tiny grocery shop

Chilies and spices

Too many to choose from

Indian food court

Veggie market at Little India

Meat market in crowded quarters

Poultry section

Fish for sale

Even sharks are consummed

Very fresh

Squid

Dyed flowers were $2. a bunch

Hot Thai peppers

Earrings for sale

One of the best spots to spend some significant time is at the Botanic Gardens. That involved continuing up the purple line, then transferring to the yellow line. Botanic Gardens was the stop, and once you exit the MRT, the gate is right there to enter the park for free, we might add. We were in for a bit of a shock when we saw the dry condition of the open fields of this huge park established in 1859. Usually green expanses of grass kept the park looking as tropical as you can imagine. 

One of the highlight of Singapore

Exit at Botanic Gardens

Follow the map, and don't get lost

Now it reminded us of the conditions we have in California.....brown and dry. Being so close to the Equator, Singapore has always been known to get copious amounts of rainfall. So they must also be in a drought situation. Even the lakes, such as Symphony Lake, was down over 10 or more feet, as we could see sandy banks where water should have been. Turtles and large fish were surfacing constantly, gulping air as the green waters were heating up. Speaking of heat, it was almost unbearable today. Despite some cloud cover, there was barely a breeze, and with the high humidity, 90 degrees felt like 190 degrees. The good news is that there are plenty of places to buy cold canned drinks from machines, and plenty of restrooms available everywhere you go. Bringing water from the ship was also essential. Surprisingly, there were few people in this park today. Our guess is that it was too darned hot outside.

Trellised garden

Blooming tree

Many benches to relax

Bouganvillas always do well with little water

Fountains in the Gardens

A nice place to enjoy a soda

Cascading waters

Many palm trees for shade

Cool spot in the park

Lake levels were low

Usually the grass is green, not dry

Many turtles in the hot sun

Sand banks on the lake

Symphony Lake

Heliconia


The neatest place to walk through in this garden is the smaller National Orchid Garden. For a whopping dollar (the senior fare), we were treated to the biggest variety of tropical orchids that exist in the world. Their orchid breeding program began in 1928, when over 1000 species and 2000 hybrid crosses were eventually born, so to speak. At least this area of the park has been kept watered, since they cannot risk losing any of these priceless plants. We did notice that the frangipani trees were under stress. Leaves had fallen off, like they do when they go dormant, which usually does not occur here. The flowers were few and far in between also. The most welcomed highlight here is the Cool House. Exactly like it sounds, the Cool House is enclosed and cooled down with misty water, fountains, and waterfalls. The carnivirous plants are interesting, since they are capable of attracting and consuming insects. Special blooming orchids are draped over rocks and placed in trees. The rest of the vegetation is what one might find in higher elevations in the tropics. The bad thing is that it ends all too soon. 


The nicest part of the Gardens

The second  nicest part was the entrance fee of $1.00

The crane fountain at the entrance

Tiniest orchids in the place

Blooming white flowers

Purple and white

White and purple

Trellised orchids

Shades of pink

Golden shower arches

Rusty color orchids

Following the fountain-lined paths

Do not walk off the pathways

Field of gold

Cooling effect

Raspberry shade of flowers

The Bromeliad Collection

Soft pink

Specialized hybrids

Yellow

Violet

Speckled violet

Speckled pink

All winners

Beautiful

More hybrids

Orchids love this hot weather

Pretty

Delicate flowers

Huge blooms

Genetically created

Perfect blooms

A cross with fuscia color

Brown and yellow

Healthy specimen

Creative planting

Oh, finally the Cool House

Walkway to the Cool House

Hanging plants

A mountain forest setting

Misty waterfall

Can we stay in here longer???

The perfect fan palm

Very tropical

Many volcanic rocks are used for planting schemes

It works well

And creates waterfalls

Local girl friends enjoying the day

A tree with host plants

Parasitic plants in tree

We saw these same plants in Cairns Australia

The gift shop

Upper waterfalls

Visitor park center

Once out the double doors, you are back in the reality of heat and humidity. The next best place to cool down is their gift shop, where they sell the Risis orchid jewelry. Real orchids dipped in many layers of nickel and other metals preserve the flowers forever and make a wonderful keepsake from this garden. One of us already owns a set, that was purchased several years ago at a much better price than we see today. We would say perhaps half of the current price. Since we had spent a couple of hours here at the park, we knew it was time to start heading back to the train.

Best be heading for lunch, since it was nearing 3pm. A favorite place for us is the Hard Rock Cafe, located near the Orchard Road exit. That meant taking the red
line from the yellow line. That part was easy, but remembering the way out of the gigantic shopping mall was another thing. Last year, we put the directions in our report, so this year, it was easy to weave our way up and out. Not that hungry, we shared an appetizer of chicken tenders and ice cold beers. Remember we said that Singapore is the most expensive city in the world? Well, the bill came to over $55. Singapore dollars, because two taxes are added, making the prices double of what we pay at home. Normally we order the chicken haystack salads, but sadly, they were not on the menu. Nearby the HRC was an interesting Italian restaurant wth wood-fired pizza. Perhaps we can try that tomorrow.


Finding our way to lunch

Easy mall to find by the unique design

Walking down Orchard Road

The Hard Rock Cafe off of Orchard

Inside the HRC

Beers were great

Chicken tenders - Tupelo style

A new acquired taste
The famous Raffles Hotel is always a must to visit while in Singapore. So we headed to the City Hall MRT exit, and found our way to the site where Sir Stamford Raffles landed back in 1819 to found this wonderful city. 

The Raffles Hotel
Over 125 years old
One of many fountains at Raffles

Inviting rattan seating in front of the hotel

The lobby is off limits to tourists


The main entrance of Raffles

War Memorial

The Long Bar, famous for the drink, the Singapore Sling, was crowded with customers. If they chose to try one of these spiked fruit drinks, the price would run about $29.Singapore or more. Personally, we prefer the Tiger beer instead. Less sweet, and more refreshing. 

The Long Bar

The outside patio bar
Crowded today
The hotel's architecture is unique to the 1800's colonial style, and is a jewel among the modern highrise hotels that surround it. Frangipani trees full of white fragrant flowers line the front driveway, and with the signature tall turban-topped doorman, you feel like you have been transported into a different era long since gone. We have had the distinct pleasure of being escorted by the marketing manager of Raffles on a private tour of the hotel and grounds a few years ago, followed by a lunch in the Longbar Steakhouse. Unfortunately, he has moved on to another large hotel in Singapore, but we sure have fond memories of that special visit.


The Wheelock Place dome

Looks like an upside down ice cream cone

Another shopping mall near Raffles

Many levels of shopping

The more modern Carlton Hotel

One of many coffee houses

Whimsical wall clocks

Well, this looks good

Not sure what this means

Different levels of the ION Mall

Big fines for these infractions

We made one last stop at Clarke Quay on the Singapore River. Since it was Saturday and already after 5pm, the place was beginning to get crowded. It was happy hour at most all the cafes and bars facing the river. It was also a good time for us to enjoy some creamy ice cream. Walking across the bridge, we watched the many riverboats carrying tourists up and down the waterway. This is where we can catch the Bubble Jet Boat if we choose to do it tomorrow. Inquiring as to how that worked, the fellow in the kiosk told us he needed to see our MRT cards along with our passports. We are not too comfortable with that, since it is obvious we are tourists.


Clarke Quay

Clarke Quay on the Singapore River

The best ice cream

Read Bridge at Clarke Quay

Singapore River

Love the color of the buildings

Cafes on the river

Covered cafes

Fort Canning Park near Clarke Quay

Heading back towards the MRT
View of the Marina Bay Sands from Clarke Quay
The MRT was getting very crowded now with the locals heading home or out for the evening. By the time we got back to HarbourFront, it was after 7pm. We had just enough time to clean up and head for dinner. 
Waiting for the train to arrive
Expecting to be alone at dinner, we were surprised to have Bill & Marianne show up wth guests. Two ladies were in tow and one of them was Pranee, the guest chef sailing with us. She was joined by her longtime girlfriend, both of them from Seattle. We had a most pleasant meal, sharing lots of info and stories with each other. Pranee talked a lot about Thai cooking of course, having grown up in Phuket. She also recommended many things to do while in Thailand next week. As for the dinner menu, we both ordered the prime rib, only to discover it was not as good as it should have been. It is a hit or miss deal with that entree. Tonight, the meat was tough and tasteless. Doubt we will order that meal again.

Around 9:30pm, we spotted fireworks going off near Sentosa Island. We got the hint when our super nice waiter mentioned that we could see it better from the promenade deck. Duh, if we all left, our waiters could get off the ship for some free time. Of course, we took the hint and headed off to bed.

Tomorrow will be another long day, although all aboard time is 4:30 pm.


A bumboat on the river
Sun was going down
Getting late
Night time at Harbourfront

Highrises off of the harbor

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