It’s somewhere I’ve never been and was sort of on the way home so I decided to have a couple of days to explore Singapore. I’d been given tips by my neighbour Claudette who is a frequent visitor to a friend who lives there and by son and daughter-in-law who have been several times from Hong Kong.
I just missed the hotels shuttle service and was advised that there would be a 35 minute wait so I got a cab into town. As we drove along the incredibly straight coast road into the downtown area the driver had to flick his wipers a few times. ‘Is it going to rain all weekend?’ I asked, having only seen 10 minutes and a few spots in the last two weeks. ‘No rain,’ he replied ‘not the rainy season. He dropped me as requested at the Fullerton Bay Hotel which I’d reserved with Claudette’s guidance several weeks ago. A bell cap took my bags and escorted me to reception. There was a function of some kind in the main lobby with lots of elegant ladies in slinky dresses and guys looking more smart than casual. Very, no extremely, loud disco music belted forth from the other side of a temporary screen. Time to party! But not for me. I was told that I was going to the Fullerton Hotel just up the road instead but at the same rate that I’d obtained on booking,com. The bell cap whisked me back to the entrance, jumped the taxi line and thrust S$10 into the driver’s hand and said Fullerton Hotel. Which is about 200 metres away but I did have two cases and it was still raining, quite hard now.
The Fullerton is converted out of one of Singapore’s historic buildings the Post Office which also at times housed the Ministry of Finance. It’s a fabulous neo-classical structure with extensive lounges and eateries on the lobby floor. It was again stressed to me that I’d be paying the rate agreed which when I reached my room looked like a real bargain. I’ve been fortunate enough to stay in some very good hotels over the years but this room was amazing. OK the view was down into the internal courtyard not out over the Singapore River but it probably had the same floor area as my house. A bathroom with a massive bath and a separate drench shower were to my left, fitted wardrobes to the right and then in the main room a massive bed, easy seating area and a desk. The yukata I’d become accustomed to was replaced by a long towelling robe and a fully-stocked minbar and snack counter completed the picture. As it was late and wet I decided to grab food in the hotel and to make a swift move as everything closed at 10 pm. The fifth floor bar with a view stayed open longer and to look out over Marina Bay with its manic lighting displays. We’d seen the Hong Kong waterfront light show but this goes on all the time.
Next morning I headed for the Botanical Gardens after buying a two-day subway pass. Nice clear indications of line, direction and station again and I was soon having a pre-walk coffee right opposite one of the garden entrances. It’s a very pleasant garden for a stroll and plants are all labelled which is good. There was a reflexology path with assorted cobble and pebble patterns which I trod to liven up the legs for the trek ahead. There was no cherry blossom but hanami style picnics were evident all over. There was also a reminder of where our ancestor monkeys have led us.
I followed signs to the National Orchid Collection and have never seen so many outside of a greenhouse before and then probably not in this variety. Of course it is now 29 degrees so no hothouse required. They are very impressive and many of them very beautiful.
I wound my way back past a lawn with a concert stand and a lake spotting my first birds despite the constant squawking, chirrupping and fluting coming from the canapoy, Not some exotic sunbird but a hen foraging for her chicks for grubs in the leaves. I took the subway back a few stops to another of the recommendations Little India. The Tekka Centre has a massive food court with food of every (Indian) description on offer which are enjoyed at communal tables. I was very pleased to see that the goat meat had not walked here and was excited by the noise and savoury odours. A beer, samosas and curry puffs made for a good light lunch during which I was admonished by one diner for mixing beer with oil. It would make me burp he said as the two gas and oil don’t mix. He was not wrong.
I then went to look around the rest of the streets in the area when another Indian characteristic arrived. It may not be the rainy season but Little India was having it;s own monsoon.
I went upstairs to the sari floor dazzling in the colour arrayed in stall after stall with people ready to run you up a sari or jacket on the spot.
There was no sign of let up so I eventually made a dash for the station and went back to the hotel where my thoughtfully packed and as yet unused umbrella was waiting. I had’n’t taken it out with me on the cab driver’s advice. I took a chance on getting off at Esplanade which if the rain had stopped would give me a pleasant walk round Marina Bay. I had walked through the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (sic) where there’s a boating lake inside the mall in Singapore’s most distinctive hotel, For the brave there’s a roof terrace linking all three towers. It had slowed to a drizzle by now and at least it’s warm rain. I saw a building called the Red Dot Design Museum and decided it would be worth a look.
It’s full of mostly photographic panels about innovative design approaches with an emphasis on ecology and sustainability. It was interesting to note how few of the exhibits were from Europe to the US but I guess its location would lead one to expect an emphasis on work from China, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. There were wearable items that turned into tents, chairs made form recycled paper and a host of energy saving efficient devices. It also had a bar to provide respite during another downpour where I was able to pour a Foxes Rock IPA brewed in Northern Ireland – proper craft beer at last.
It cleared up a bit in the evening and I walked down one side of the river passing the stately buildings of the Victoria Theatre, Parliament and the Old Hill Street (Yes) Police Station with its mult-coloured windows and on to Clarke Quay.
I then crossed the rainbow Bridge and back up Boat Quay which has a fine array of eateries although many were closed on Sunday. Surprise, surprise I ended up in a Japanese restaurant which fed me tempura oysters and blackened cod in soy and yuzu sauce and miso soup with clams to end a real fishy delight.
My Monday plan started in the Gardens By The Bay a must on everyone’s lists. I did take my umbrella this time and while juggling it and the camera to document the garden I discovered the the lens had completely steamed up and I had a blank white canvas in the viewfinder, I somehow managed to deploy a lens cloth and images started to appear. Much of the early part of my route was out of bounds for remodelling and I wasn’t allowed to feed or add to the livestock of the lake but I did manage to make my way to the massive artificial sky trees (high level walkway closed for maintenance), well they have to get it ready for the high season and apparently they close it if there’s a chance of a thunderstorm which we had had and more were to follow.
The big attractions you have to pay for are a Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. The flower bit was devoted almost entirely to a display of tulips sponsored by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. There were some other nice areas: a Mediterranean Garden, South African and South American Gardens with some interesting plants but I was soon heading through the Gift Shop to the Cloud Forest. This has a stunning waterfall against a towering green cliff of plants. You then take a series of steps and elevators to get to the top and walk down a slope admiring lots of tropical plants on the way. It was fun and had good views over the bay. Oh and following Osaka’s Lego giraffe here we had Lego pitcher plants among the real ones.
Gardened out I took the subway to Dhoby Ghaut passing the fine sculpture of the Jelly Baby family to walk along the retail paradise of Orchard Road the central shopping street with umpteen malls. There’s a lovely white picket fence on the right which looks like the entrance to a park so I head towards it only to be assailed by shrill blown whistles and waving batons indicating I should go away. I persevered close enough to confirm what I was coming to realise was the Presidential Palace. No entry for me.
There were some good colonial and vernacular buildings hidden among the glass palaces of commercialism with all the usual suspect brand names abounding – I think there were three Lois Vuitton and four Chanel shops in a mile. One outlet that did take me by surprise was a Crate and Barrel an old Heal’s style favourite from Boston that I’ve not seen overseas before.
I popped into Takashimaya to see if the Japanese department store food hall translated to Singapore, Nothing like as impressive and with the food court an upmarket take on Little India yesterday. there had been intermittent big showers and warm drizzle for much of my walk so I dived back underground and emerged at a dry Raffles Station and went to admire the Merlion, a small replica of which you put on your bed at the Fullerton if you want to be eco-friendly and not have your sheets and towels laundered every day. Merlion Park is at the end of a strip of bars called One Fullerton which afford good views over Marina Bay and seemed very popular for late afternoon drinking. With One, the Hotel and The Bay Hotel the whole area seems owned by the Fullerton clan.
However I had work to do in sorting out packing for tomorrow’s trip home for which I need to leave the hotel a 06:30. So I pop into 7Eleven for a couple of cans to ease the sorting of clean and dirty clothes and cramming them into suitcases. Mission complete I set off for Duxton Hill an area of eateries recommended by my son. It’s pleasant area with about twenty eating options in a short space. Seduced by a real Spanish leg of bellota ham on the counter I entered a tapas bar and my first glass of wine for ages = it’s been beer and sake all the way.
As my taxi took me to Changi Airport in fifteen of the thirty minutes I’d been advised to allow, dawn broke and by the time we took off at nine fifteen the skies were clear and blue. I’ll try to lose my role as rainmaker.of Singapour.