A Travellerspoint blog

On the Silk Road

Into Iran - Shiraz

sunny 16 °C
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The Flight Out of The Promised Land

A flight delay of an hour out of Male to Colombo and some very poor parenting (read screaming bloody kids), on the flight didn't help to salve the pain of leaving our little piece of paradise. Little did we guess what we were in for next: Colombo airport, OMG! An awful experience on many levels. It was noisy, uncomfortable and stifling. Cath had the displeasure of using the toilets, where she found half a dozen of the staff washing themselves in the bathroom sinks and spitting on the floor. Meanwhile back in the general area, there were groups of men everywhere on the floor, repackaging duty free cigarettes and jabbering away loudly at each other. The police appeared to just stand around and watch, attempting to intimidate the miscreants with mean looks, which the men ignored with gay abandon.

Any thoughts of catching a drink during the 8 1/2 hour layover were extinguished when we found there was no bar! And the exorbitant prices! Food and drinks were at a premium, with Hungry Jacks taking the cake at $US20 for a burger, they sure must be better! Unfortunately we had to suck it up
as it would have been $USD50 each to get into a lounge limited to only 3 hours. We made a solid vow never to return to Colombo.

Meanwhile, Emirates were having a bad week apparently, with another flight delay out of Colombo to Dubai. The pilot however, had other ideas and had started backing out the plane almost before everyone was seated. It appeared that everyone was glad to see the end of that place. How lovely though, to once again be in the arms of Emirates, they really do it well. We were both totally exhausted and nodded off immediately.

We both awoke half an hour before landing in Dubai, which emerged out of the darkness like a million fairy lights. We landed and then kept going and going and going. Finally the plane pulled into a flight bay somewhere just short of Egypt. After touching down, we were whisked off by bus for what can only be described as the longest bus trip ever undertaken within one airport. Emirates staff soon had us organised onto a further bus which delivered us to the terminal where our next flight was leaving from, this time FlyDubai, a subsidiary, which kept up the standard. It was a very pleasant hour's flight to Shiraz. Whilst Ian enjoyed the spectacularly rugged mountain views out the window, a lovely Iranian man sat next to Cath and had a good chat all the way to Shiraz, already proving that Iranians are a very friendly, welcoming and open people.

Shiraz

We landed in Shiraz with some trepidation, but were glad to finally have made it to the place that had been such a controversial topic with friends and family. We spent some nervous moments as we waited for our visas to be approved, at a cost of 290 euros, but following this we breezed through passport control and customs. Money was exchanged inside the terminal and we walked out into the crisp sunshine with 22 million Rials. That's right - 22,000,000. Luckily we had a note from our guest house in Farsi to hand to the first taxi driver to approach us and in no time we were on our way. On our way that is for the ride of our lives in a taxi. To say the ride was frightening is quite an understatement. For those of you who have braved the roundabouts in Paris and Rome, you ain't seen nothin' yet! Chicken is the national sport of drivers here. Everybody pushes in and the maddest, who in this case was clearly our driver, wins. Slamming on brakes, flooring the accelerator, hooning around four lane roundabouts where the lanes, where visible, are little more than a suggested guideline. Pulling out into the face of oncoming traffic, squeezing through lanes where there was no earthly way to fit. This drive had it all! We would definitely recommend taking up panel beating if you were to live here, a small fortune could be made. We eventually made our way to our hotel, down some streets that were not wide enough for a car but the driver made it fit and total cost? $6. Far better value than the mad mouse at the Royal Show!

90 metres down a labyrinth of alleys, we at last arrived at the guest house. We are staying in a traditional house, called Parharmi Guest House, which is located in the old city of Shiraz or the Vikali area. The house is a mud brick, 200 year old home with a beautiful courtyard, filled with orange trees, fountain, tables, chairs and couches for lounging. Oh good more lounging! It is shaded and during summer must be a haven from the heat. We were greeted by our host Saroush, and offered tea and caramelised dates, which were delicious. We were blessed with the VIP room for the first night of our 3 night stay, which was a pretty room with stained glass windows overlooking the courtyard. However as we arrived a couple of hours early, there was a delay in accessing the room so off for a walk we go.

As we wandered down the street near our hotel we appeared to be the star attraction, everyone wanted to say hello, especially children of primary school age. They are all keen to use English and we suspect a blonde pale woman is a rare beast in this part of the world. In fact in the Vikali Bazaar on our first night, a man settled his fractious toddler by holding her up to look at Cath and touch her! Whilst it is a little unnerving to be looked at all the time, it affirms all that we had heard about the Irani people being friendly, welcoming and interested in the rest of the world.

We visited the Qavam Gardens and Museum of antique objects, including a Shekel that was from 465BC, which immediately sent us into Monty Python territory: "1/2 a shekel for my life story........" We bought lunch from a friendly fellow called Ibrahim, who introduced us to the proper pronunciation of Kebab, Charbob and talked us into not one but 2 with bread, roasted tomato and taro salad. All to take away from his very small shop. And the price, $3 for both of us. The money is seriously confusing with hundreds of thousands and millions being normal denominations.

Kebab in hand we set off back to Parharmi house for a good feed and a lie down. Now Iranians being who they are, when we arrived with our takeaway lunch, they added to it. We were introduced to a sour milk drink flavoured with mint called Door, and some pickled vegetables, Torshi Makloot, which we were informed is always had with Kebab. We organised to have dinner at the house and carried our very fat tummies up the winding stairs to our room, for a nap.

The call to prayer awoke us and we decided it was time for another wander. Not yet game enough to leave the area we were staying in, as most signs are not in English and the winding roads and lanes were dark, we headed off down the main road near where we were staying. What was a relatively quiet retail street during the day had become a mass of lights, colour and people of all ages. It was Thursday night, the equivalent of Friday night in the west and it seemed the whole city had decided it was party time. We wandered into the Vikali Bazaar, unaware that it is THE bazaar in Shiraz, centuries old and still functioning as it always has. It is a riot of colour and people, the fabric stalls go on for row after row, it is a technicolour dream of fabric with intricate hand stitching, beading and a variety of silks, satins and other materials that neither of us could identify. Clearly under the Chador there is some party dressing going on! Spice shops, jewellery shops, leather goods, glassware, pottery and every imaginable food stuff are available and it seems the whole of Shiraz is here to buy it. Alleyway leads into alleyway at any and every angle and in no time we were hopelessly lost. But then a left here and a right there and we unaccountably popped out into the street almost where we started. After that we felt confident enough to cross the road, where the chicken game is on once again. It seems the secret is if you don't look at the car that is about to hit you, it won't.

Dinner time was calling though and we headed back to Parharmi for a traditional Shirazi dinner, Kalam Polow Shirazi and Dizi with sides of salad, pickled veg and bread. More than enough for two, we are starting to get the idea that ordering enough for 1 Irani might actually happily feed 2 hungry Aussies. It's an early night for us, after nearly 24 hours with very little sleep and a large number of kilometres travelled.

Day 2 Persopolis, Pasargad and Necropolis

The lovely young gentleman at Parharmi, Amin, organised a driver for us to head to the Gate of Nations area for our first entry into ancient Persia so we were up and about early to eat breakfast and head off. We were greeted by an elderly Iranian gentleman for a traditional breakfast of feta style cheese (Cath is almost in heaven), warm bread, cucumber (Ian is almost gagging) and tomato with tea and coffee, which Ian was unimpressed with, as he forgot the sugar. This gentleman speaks not a word of English and yet we feel welcomed and treated like valued guests by him, a truly sweet old man. Ian was rubbing his hands to indicate he was cold, when next thing the gentleman brought out a small heater and motioned for him to sit next to it!

At 8:10, the driver Rahim arrived and although he had very limited English, he could seriously drive and assured us that we would avoid all traffic as he knew the "genuine Sharazi way". He was very keen to explain all the sights to us on the way out of town and in a funny way we are able to understand each other. He, like everyone else drove like a complete maniac, but oddly we felt ok and were soon heading into the countryside. The mountains were incredible, Shiraz sits in a circular valley surrounded by mountains that should be snow capped at this time of year but are barren. There is no sign of winter, it was a bright sunny morning and the rivers and country are totally dry. The man on the plane must have been right, everywhere there are signs of a very bad drought. Rahim provided a commentary on roadside restaurants, shrines and monuments as we headed to Pasargad, the furthest of the 3 monumental sites, for the day. It is about a 2 hour drive and was 6 degrees when we left Shiraz but as we ascended the mountains and reached the plateau, it was a chilly 3 degrees at Pasargad. The sun was shining however and we were off to visit the Tomb of Cyrus the great. Pasargad is a UNESCO world heritage site and in its day - 500 BC, it must have been incredible. That is until Alexander, the not so great arrived and started knocking stuff over! There was little sign of the gardens left but the irrigation channels were intact and if they are any indication Cyrus must have had a great view from the top of his mountain palace. The walk up was arduous and it was only when we took some time to recover that we realised it was possibly the altitude. It was also the first time we felt "watched" from the watchtowers that dot the site. We are sure that they are there to protect important world heritage, but they also appear to pay some interest in tourists, especially those who are clearly not local. I guess it could make you a little paranoid but if you are simply being a visitor and not doing anything "offensive" then bahhh who cares, let them watch! Cath did feel the need to fix her head dress a couple of times though, to ensure she was not indecent. She continues to struggle with the fact that the local girls all look so elegant and comfortable in their scarves and she looks like she has picked up an old rag and attached it to her head. The Iranian people visiting the sites continued to welcome us to their country and were quite surprised we would come this far, "Australia is such a long way".

In all it took a couple of hours to wander the ancient monuments and then we were ready to head off to the Necropolis but Rahim insisted that we have the "best coffee outside Shiraz" in the small town outside the monuments. It is likely that he did not notice that we spotted the "tip" he received from the guy making the coffee. Having said that it was good coffee and a little chocolate on the side didn't hurt either.

The Necropolis or Naqsh-e Rustam is on the way from Pasargad to Persopolis and is the tomb of kings from the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods - Darius I and Darius II, just to mention a couple. The Darius' are the guys who built Persopolis. The necropolis is carved from the side of the mountain and whilst very impressive and quite daunting to think about the amount of work in it, you can actually see most of it from outside the fence and you can't enter the tombs anyway. So like another Australian couple who were there we took some photos, declined buying tickets or over priced souvenirs and went on our way. Rahim did try to talk us into a camel ride and we declined, Cath tried to explain to him that we have plenty of camels in Australia but we are still not sure she got that particular message through. Next, it was Persopolis, a truly ancient wonder.

Along the way Rahim pointed out many Iranian families by the side of the road, sitting on gravel, rocky cliffs or as Ian referred to it the tip, with their carpets out having a picnic. Another English word he was proud to use, frequently saying "picnic, Shirazi people, picnic, water pipe, food, family, good time, good time" with a huge grin and many nods. On arrival at Persopolis he parked, or pulled up next to the road wherever he damn well pleased, as it appears is the custom and off we went to explore. We were immediately met with many "hello's" and "how are you?" from the local people. Cath was approached by three very brave young girls who wanted to practice English and started playing a game of "Where do you think I come from? You guess the country." They had a picture taken and proudly wandered off to share their experience.

It is difficult to explain Persopolis, it blows the mind to think about the engineering, stonemasonry, time, money and hard labour that must have gone into building the structures here. As we are sure we will experience again and again, as we move through the ancient world, there is a sense of awe and wonderment at the people who did this and those who thought it was a good idea in the first place. Google the images and then plan a trip because it is well worth the visit. Again it took a couple of hours to see the site and even though it is winter it was pretty warm in the sun.

On the way out we were again playing the where do we come from game with Iranians and as Cath was calling out the answer to a woman well into her 40s, her husband called out to us "G'day mate", which had us all laughing. We located Rahim, who had found his picnic with some fellow drivers which included a water pipe. He collected his pipe and off we went. Rahim appeared pretty relaxed, red eyed and happy after his picnic and as we enquired what Iranians put in the water pipe, he was very quick to let us know it is not Arabic Tabac but local genuine Shirazi tabac. We both suspected that was not all!!!! Up went the music in the car, dance music never you mind and Rahim had his own little dance party in the front seat for a while before he settled down to getting us home, which he did with no issue even showing some things close to our home in Shiraz that should not be missed like restaurants, mosques and bazaars.

We arrived back to find another party in full swing in the courtyard, ordered a late lunch or maybe early dinner and watched as young women and men posed for selfies, arrived with birthday cake and generally had a good time. Another amazing meal was produced and we are fat, happy little Aussies ready for a rest and some downtime. We did have to move rooms in the house and frankly think that the second room is much better than the VIP room even if it is on the ground floor. The room has a rounded, exposed brick roof, very comfy bed and thankfully a nice oil heater which kept us toasty as the night was quite cool.

And then the toilet broke

Day 3

Up and about early again to let the staff at Parhami House know that the toilet was broken, we were again presented with a local breakfast dish that was delicious even though we were unable to distinguish what was in it, eggplant or cabbage would be a best guest. And then off to visit Nair ol Molk Mosque, better known as the pink mosque. Cath had misinterpreted the directions and we ended up at Shah Cheragh- a mausoleum of one of the Imams. It was a bit of a procedure to get in, we had to wait at the gate for a guide of the tourism ministry before we could enter, she turned out to be a very polite young woman with a military style uniform under her chador. Cath was to wear the chador and had to enter via a different door to Ian. We were unable to enter any of the buildings as we are not muslim and even if we were muslim but not Iranian muslim we would need to sit an exam before being allowed to enter the tomb of the Imam and his little brother. After wandering in the square closely observed by our guide and admiring the buildings, which are very beautifully covered in mosaic, for about 15 minutes we were invited, to have tea and look at some pictures of the inside of the buildings. The gentleman who was clearly a representative of the ministry was actually quite interesting and very happy to discuss the issues facing Islam today and throughout history but also very keen to reassure us that Christianity is very much a part of life in Iran and that we are all people believing in similar gods and prophets. And then kindly our guide took us to the gate closest to the mosque and gave us directions.

We found the entry to the mosque quite easily and were knocked out by the beauty. The stained glass is actually quite simple in design but the intricate design of the walls, roof and carpets create the most beautiful colours. It felt like being inside a kaleidoscope. It was a little strange to witness the modelling shoot going on though; whilst neither of us are religious, something about it just doesn't feel quite right. The area where you view the pink room is actually a small square and room at the back of the Mosque and we had to find our way through very narrow alleys, with just our noses for directions to the front part where the prayer rooms are. Again the chador was required and separate entries for men and women. The poor woman who was to help Cath into her chador was about 4 feet in height and Cath had to almost kneel so that she could get the garment on in an appropriate way, still pretty sure everyone else looks more elegant than Cath in these numbers. Everyone was very nice and friendly and super interested in an Australian visiting a mosque in Iran. Men and women have separate areas for prayer and so we bravely went our separate ways.
The prayer rooms were breathtaking in their decoration, mirrors everywhere, cut to reflect all the light from every surface, this must be what being inside a diamond is like. Unfortunately there is no photography allowed. Cath met some lovely women who were amazed that she does not profess a faith but was interested in them and were very keen to take her to see the Quran, it was a huge book on a stand in a glass room. It must have been 5ft x 3ft and open to today's lesson, if that is the appropriate term. Cath, like many of us was unaware that inside the mosque there would be small groups of women, sitting together with teachers, we assume learning about the teachings of the prophet or maybe the local Imam. It appears that the man who escorted Ian and the woman who escorted Cath were very keen to share more of their place with us and took Cath inside the men's prayer area- by the back door and behind a screen that the lady removed part of so that Cath could "share in the glory of Iran", not sure if they do this for everyone who visits or not but it is very humbling that they would share parts of their life that others may not get to share.

And then the fun part of the day, CAKE. Cath has been on about Iranian cake and pastry since we decided to come to this part of the world. For someone who doesn't really like cake, she really liked baklava and they have many varieties here. The cake shops are divine and like 2 kids in a candy shop we drooled over all of them before being very responsible and only having a small piece of baklava like dessert.

In an effort to reduce our waist lines we then took off for a stroll to find Valisar square and pretty much got lost, however we lucked it in and eventually found ourselves back in our street. Feeling a bit peckish we purchased a pasty looking triangle from a street vendor, for about 80c each and it turned out to be exactly that: a pasty type thing, filled with potato, vegetables and something a little bit spicy. Yum!

Having covered more than 10kms for the morning it was time to have a bit of a rest, check out the toilet situation and get ready for an evening exploring Hafez tomb and a restaurant for dinner. It turns out that one of the best traditional style restaurant and tea houses is right around the corner and we were keen to try it out. The toilet situation had not been resolved as they have to replace the whole thing, not a quick Papa Lazourou style fix! and we are to try out the 3rd room at Parhami House. Hafez tomb, whilst quite nice was not really as imposing as we expected. We got a taxi back to to the bazaar, but sad to say we couldn't find the restaurant and ended up settling for a rather pedestrian meal before returning home and settling in for our last night in Shiraz. Tomorrow we leave for Isfahan.

Posted by Seantiel 21:51 Archived in Iran Comments (2)

Maldives

From the Sublime to the Sublimer....?

sunny 30 °C
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New YearsEve

Saturday morning, bright and early, we were up packed, dressed and on our way by 7:30. Once again on the MRT to the airport, a relatively quick trip and then after navigating our way through the airport, we settled down to breakfast and coffee before catching our flight. We were flying with a Singapore Airlines subsidiary, this time Silk Air. All went smoothly and in no time we were on our way. It was a relatively small number of passengers and we had 3 seats for the two us. Cath happily devoured the Singapore Straits newspaper while Ian snoozed. Although a shortish flight, it was quite bumpy for most of the way, through white clouds, so it was a great delight to emerge from the clouds and see the Maldives iridescent in the morning sun. They really are gorgeous! The landing was interesting, as it appeared we were going into the ocean with the land appearing at only the last moment. To give you an idea of the size of the place, the aeroplane had to do a 3 point turn to head back to the terminal!

The day was hot, humid and windy, but after a short sojourn in a lovely little airport lounge, we boarded a seaplane for Veligandu. What a sensational way to arrive! Seeing the Maldives from only a few hundred metres up is like watching a string of jewels strung out over the aquamarine ocean. We are slowly working our way through the blue colour palette. And Veligandu is indeed a jewel. We landed in the sea close by the island, if you can call it an island, as it is only about 600 metres long by about 100 metres wide! We were greeted by a friendly hostess, who took us to our villa and explained the ins and outs and then finally left us alone to soak it all in.

It was New Years Eve and we had been invited to a sunset cocktail party on the beach; it may have been advisable to avoid the 2 cocktails prior to the party but that's not how we roll. The other guests on the island appeared to be mainly European and Chinese and they were frocked up for the event, with one English woman in a full length Morticia style black number accompanied by her largish husband all in white resort wear. Fourteen more and they could have been a chess set. Cath immediately had the Marshmallow man in mind. A few watermelon or champagne cocktails later and we were invited to the other side of the island for dinner on the beach, which was about 15 steps from one to the other.

As we took our seats for dinner, surrounded by fairy lights and the beautiful ambience of waves rolling in, we were invited to get in the party mood. Instantly Cath was transformed into the white ostrich courtesy of a very strange headdress and Ian became the golden leprechaun. God, how tacky and yet with enough bubbles on board, anything goes. Dinner was a gourmet buffet, but Cath really only had eyes for lobster...mmmmmmmm lobster. It took all her strength not to go back for seconds and thirds.

Not much later we skived off with our bottle of wine to sit on our private beach. We must admit that we were very, very drunk. Upon arriving in the room we found that the Moet fairy had visited and left us a nice little night cap. Sensibly (we know what you are thinking, how very unusual that sense was applied) we did not open it but saved it for the next morning's entertainment.

Day 2

After a deep snooze, we awoke to the sound of surf rolling up to our beach. Somewhat bleary eyed, we climbed into our bathers and took the obligatory ten steps to the water for a lazy paddle. The water must be 26 degrees, very easy on the toes. It was breakfast time however and there was no time to waste, considering we'd slept in until ten and managed a quick video chat home.

The buffet well and truly lived up to it's reputation, with every imaginable breakfast choice. Life is too short, so naturally we decided to try as many of them as possible, Cath accepted the champagne but Ian declined, displaying an unusual amount of restraint.

Feeling, and possibly looking, like a pair of overstuffed fairy penguins, we waddled around the island back to our villa, only to find the cleaners in residence. It was tough but we trundled on a bit further, chatted to one of the Balinese masseuses outside the spa and whilst walking along the beach, were visited by "Harry" the baby reef shark who swam right up to us, no fear at all. He followed us along for almost the length of the island, just doing his own thing. The water is so clear you can see the fish everywhere, no need for snorkel or indeed swimming, although Harry appeared not have noticed the fish, he was more interested in following us along like a puppy. Finally we made our way home. A surprising 1.6 km in all. We had finally slowed down to holiday speed, island time. We made the obvious choice to follow up with our celebratory Mo√ęt as we sat on a couple of banana lounges on our deck, surveying the amazing turquoise water.

There are 2 bars on the island and we found that we were not located in the middle but very close, less than 20m from one of them; obviously our reputations had preceded us. After a very strenuous day of lounging on the beach, by the pool, in the spa, which was in our courtyard, more cocktails were in order at about 4pm, followed by more food. We may have progressed from overstuffed fairy penguins to emperor penguins or in fact dugongs. Getting up was becoming an ordeal. Ian started making strange "aarfing" noises as he floundered to his feet.

Day 3

Happy birthday Ian.

The day started very early, before sunrise in fact, not Cath's best time of day. We stumbled out to the beach, the private one that is, to discover a German interloper lounging in our hammock. She disappeared quite quickly at the sight of Ian, which may or may not have been related to him being clad in only a dressing gown. Our little part of the island has the best view of the sunrise and we were lucky enough to have a clear sky to view it. There are few words to describe the beauty of a pink sunrise above sapphire water so I will not even try, let your imagination run wild or google sunrise in the Maldives I guess.

And then more of the same really. Hard decisions to be made: pool or beach; read a book or the internet; cocktail from page one or three; more food or not; sleep or awake; sun lounge or hammock? We should mention that the food was exemplary on all occasions, every conceivable kind of dish to tempt one, why not go back for second or even third breakfasts?

Ian had a very demanding afternoon being massaged and beautified by the Balinese massage girls before we made the long trek to the other side and end of the island to view the sunset. If the sunrise made us speechless the sunset was.......there are no words. We have some time-lapse footage and when we have figured out how, we will edit and post. After dinner we decided an early night was in our best interests and arrived home to find birthday gifts and the bed decorated in flowers and palm fronds spelling "happy b'day". Awww aren't they sweet?

Day 4

Are you tired of it yet?

We now have a routine of lazing. Breakfast is followed by the pool, lunch is followed by the beach, dinner is preceded by cocktails and a quick viewing of the staff cricket match, at which Ian sang a rendition of "C'mon Aussie c'mon", and then the bar is visited before a wine on the deck of our room before bed. Life is full of many lessons grasshopper. What have we learnt? We are uniquely equipped for:

  • Island time
  • Lazing by pools, beach or the deck
  • Excessive consumption of cocktails, wine and food
  • Meandering short distances
  • Massages
  • Reading - Cath should complete book number 3 today

There are lots of opportunities to do activities like dive trips, water skiing, sailing etc but it is very demanding removing oneself from sedentary activities like lazing and staring at the view. This was our last night on the island and we were determined to take the sunset dolphin cruise - in theory. Meantime, after another knock out lunch, Ian kept a close watch on relaxation central, while Cath treated herself to a massage. Our last dinner on the island and thankfully our favourite waiter Ali was there. Ali was always ready with a joke, a smile and to share some of his life outside work with us. All the staff on the island were wonderful; friendly, warm and welcoming, but Ali was special and he sort of got Aussie style humour too.

Day 5

Is moving on to Iran day. Up early-ish for another great big breakfast, one last swim and a couple of cocktails before we catch the sea plane back to Male. Well actually, Ian won the cocktail stakes for the morning: 3 to 2 - what a guts, but it was the last drink for two weeks! The sea plane ride from Veligandu to Male was awesome, we sat at the very front of the plane and were able to see, hear and experience the pilots doing their job, as there was no door between the cockpit and the cabin.

Posted by Seantiel 09:29 Archived in Maldives Republic Comments (0)

Singapore

3 days of Hawker markets and gardens

overcast 28 °C
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So the adventure begins; with a whole lot of excitement and a modicum of trepidation we are up, up and away.
We SCOOTed to Singapore from Melbourne and after a slow start- all flights delayed in and out of Melbourne today (I am assuming ATC have a Christmas hangover), the flight was pretty good- we flew SCOOTbiz and let me tell you I could get very used to having leg room, not standing in that endless line to board or check in and big chairs. I do like big chairs. However I do not think we will be business classing much more unless someone would like to make a donation to the travel fund of course. Cath will be looking for rich benefactors and Ian has already indicated he may take camels for her whilst in Iran - how this translates to frequent flier miles and upgrades to business class tickets is unclear but an interesting project. Do they even have camels in Iran?

Arrival in Singapore was easy peasy, straight out of the airport onto a very nice, clean and fast train (are you listening Melbourne!!!!!??) into the city and a 2 minute walk to our hotel - brilliant. Cath is sure she is the tallest, fattest, whitest, blondest person in town especially on the train, however Ian has assured her the Michelin Man is slightly bigger.

The Excelsior Towers is a very nice hotel - a little bit fancy, but not super Singapore fancy, but also a little bit weird. For example in our room there is a window from the bedroom looking into the bathroom. I assume so you can sit in the bath and watch the TV or the other person can watch you in the bath- creepy much?

It is fairly warm and humid, perfect for a stroll from the hotel to Chinatown. Ian has a bit of work to do in the strolling area, he is powering along in the humidity and having to listen to Cath say "slow down, I'm sweating". I'm guessing we will both get better at slowing down over the coming days, weeks and months, as we realise that we don't HAVE to do anything. There is no time limit on life now - WOW how cool is that?

We did have a map to get to Chinatown but really your nose could lead you and Cath's pretty much did - the food machine is in overdrive. Oh the walking we will have to do to not end up needing a crane to get out bed! Seafood and spice everywhere. What a dream for Cath, not so much for Ian, who has an aversion to eating animals with more than 4 legs. I would be very worried if I was a prawn, crab or lobster with Cath in town!!!!
The street markets are in full colour for NYE and Chinese New Year. Lots of colour - red and gold naturally and chooks everywhere, we are guessing its the year of the chook this year. I wonder what we are? Probably should find that out just in case we need more good luck this year.

As we walk, we have an opportunity to admire the local architecture, which is very pretty- lots of old colonial buildings with very sensible shutters to catch the evening breeze and ceiling fans - thank god. The buildings are painted with lovely pastels and the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Community is just beautiful. A couple of Tiger beers and a great meal in the Hawker markets and we are about done. Home we waddled - yup, waddling already- to a nice air-conditioned room and a little lie down before we really start adventuring tomorrow.

Day 2

These shoes are made for walking and walk we did: 16km of it. Madness in the heat and humidity, but worth it to have the lunch we did. That shall come later, first the morning.

We left our hotel hoping to find the Marina Bay Gardens and have a little wander in the shade of tropical gardens, as it was shaping up to be quite a warm one. We got slightly distracted on the way and had to visit Raffles, so beautiful but they have done such a good job of gardening we couldn't sneak a peak and really would they want two sweaty Australians in there? So on from there we wandered toward the ever present Marina Bay Sands, using logic that the gardens would be somewhere near there. In truth we had a map and we knew they were over there somewhere, but Ian loves a short cut and this one took us into the comfort of an air conditioned shopping centre with a rooftop garden, where we spied more interesting things to delay our finding of the gardens. Finally we found our way out and on to the Marina Bay area, where we spent a lovely couple of hours wandering around- literally around, we circumnavigated the whole thing! It was totally worth the time and leg work though: beautiful colonial buildings like the Fullerton waterfront, Merlions, traditional river boats, amazing outdoor fans generating cools spots for the tourists, and wonderful views everywhere.

We were quite impressed too, by the fact that there weren't too many crowds. Little did we realise that it was because the locals all know how to navigate through endless shopping malls, without having to leave air conditioned shops, as they connect to each other and the MRT stations underground, which we also discovered later in the day when it was slightly cooler. Someone possibly should have mentioned that you can do that, or do they all laugh at the silly tourist people on the streets? I bet they do (as would I given the opportunity!).

Eventually we entered the Shoppes (no I did not misspell that) in Marina Bay Sands, OMG daaarling. A little surprised that security did not immediately go "Ummm.... NO!" We bravely entered the coolness, both environmental and fashionable, of the great beast that is the Sands. Cath got caught being nice to Bruno from Amsterdam who was trying to sell some nail thingy and sharing his life story- has he not seen her hands? Clearly this is not a girl who cares about her hands. Thanks but no Bruno. Eventually we had to leave and we found the gardens. So beautiful and tranquil and the Super Trees, OMG the Super Trees! Go google it right now. Just incredible. In fact the whole gardens complex is a wonder, a day trip in itself.

Feeling a little peckish, we realised it was time for lunch. Cath as always the researcher on any trip, had found a must do lunch but as always Cath doesn't think about getting there; its all about the destination, so Ian stepped in and navigated our way, or to be fair, the MRT did. Can I say again the MRT is magic, cheap, clean and bloody marvellous? Melbourne you should start listening again!

Orchard Road for lunch. What a beauty. Decorated for Christmas in the most elaborate decorations we have seen. It took a couple of goes promenading up and down the street looking for Shi Li Fang before we realised it was inside the shopping centres, on the 7th floor and the escalator goes up the OUTSIDE of the building. Can you hear Cath panting with anxiety? Ian could all the way up!!!!

And then we found it: Shi Li Fang - no tourists, just locals. The lunch special is called the Steamboat lunch set. We had the pork belly and so should you if you get lucky enough to visit. Chopsticks at the ready, how the locals must have laughed, we dove in and it was fat belly time. The best we could manage for the rest of the afternoon was a lie down, swim and dinner at the hotel restaurant, not bad, but nothing compared to lunch.

Day 3

The clouds have cleared and the sun is out. Off we go for a morning walk to find some breakfast, although we have probably missed breakfast time due to the need to read all of the newspaper before getting out of bed. Cath has decided we are off to non tourist Singapore, to a wet market which is also a Hawker Food Market. It's a warm one again but ambling by the river is really very pleasant. The architecture is really very stunning, from massive skyscrapers to traditional houses, apartments and in the Tiong Bahru district, art deco masterpieces. The wet market was fabulous. Huge flower stalls, vegetables, fish, meat, all the stuff you need to live and the locals to go with it. Once we had wandered for a while, the tummy was growling and upstairs we went. How do you choose from a couple of hundred stalls that all look and smell amazing? You go where the biggest line is, so we did and met a lovely Indian lady just returned from Perth, WA on holiday. We had a great chat and found out the best dish- Roast Pork Char Sieu with roast pork rice. YUMMMO! Oh and a nice fresh lime juice to wash it down- $5.50 each thanks. Perfect! Growling bellies sated, off we wandered to explore Fort Canning Park. Along the way we found beautiful coloured traditional houses, the Sri Thendayuthapani temple and a couple of chooks wandering with us- how strange. The park was well worth the effort but the stairs, oh the stairs in the heat. After making it to the top of the Fort and wandering back down through the Spice Gardens, where we saw a little squirrel, it was again time to lie by the pool, read a book and ponder the rest of the day.
It's raining, it's pouring. The 4 o'clock munchies run was somewhat curtailed by the weather, still hot but a deluge has hit so we popped into the Coleman Food Centre, no idea what we ordered, noodle soups appeared though. Ian had possibly the best Laksa and Cath a Tom Yum. Bloody great. Ian sweated up a storm and went red. The Coleman shopping centre appears to be the music shop capital of Singapore with some amazing instruments, gear and interesting characters about.

Posted by Seantiel 22:27 Archived in Singapore Tagged buildings gardens spicy_food Comments (2)

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