Simply Singapore

More of a stopover than a full destination, nevertheless visiting Singapore was a much-anticipated destination for me. For years I’ve had in mind wanting to see one of the rapidly growing, mega Asian cities. Perhaps spurred by movies like Blade Runner along with all the sci fi and apocalyptic fiction I’ve read of late. Not a great setup I know, but trust me it’s a place I was really interested in seeing.

Another motivation was all the ‘street’ food available there. Have read for years in travel magazines about the hawker centers (open air grouping of food stalls selling quick, inexpensive food). Then watched too many Anthony Bourdain episodes set in Singapore and throughout Asia where he slurped down delicious looking noodles, rice, etc.

So yes, a combination of anthropological interest in super modern cities and food craving drove me to Singapore.

We arrived at about 7 am from Frankfurt. As noted on my last post, I don’t believe I slept for even 5 minutes, so started our quick trip in a very floatey state of being. That feeling of having been at sea for a few months and not having your sea legs.

First pleasant surprise came upon check in. I’ve booked countless hotels for this trip and they all seem to blend into one another. Somehow I remembered booking a very basic place for Singapore, so had no expectation of anywhere nice, even though the word “spa” was in the hotel title. Words are easy…

Thankfully I had completely misremembered (aided by the fact that we got a great price). We arrived at the One Farrer Hotel & Spa by about 8 am, well before 2 pm check in. Expecting nothing but hoping for an available room, we were first disappointed. The very nice clerk, in a shirt with really great buttons (white with multi-colored stripes), kindly informed us the only room ready had twin beds, which wasn’t going to work. I went off to the bathroom to change and Jeff prepared to have our bags checked while we went off to find some hawker food. By the time I got back, Jeff had worked a miracle and got us both a room upgrade and an immediate check in.

We unpacked and cleaned up a bit, then headed out to explore the city and attempt to stay awake. Singapore is not exactly laid out on a grid, and we managed to turn ourselves around several times in our short outing in Little India. We wanted to find the Muftasa Center (huge department store with everything under the sun) and get some food. Managed despite ourselves to find the center and found a great little open air restaurant that had fresh juices and “kopi” and “tei”. Took me a while to figure this all out, but basically, I think, “kopi” is coffee. Drank a lot of that in our three days here. Also had an egg roti, a yummy egg and bread snack. Then tired and a bit snappy both of us, we decided to head back to the room and take a nap. Could have knocked us out for the day, and it was incredibly hard to get up after a couple of hours, but did a world of good.

So began our pattern for the next couple of days. We headed out to a hawker center, ate some good food then wandered around with some destinations moderately in mind.

 

Singapore Hawker and high rises

Telok Ayer Market, Singapore Hawker Center

 

Singapore Hawker

Inside Telok Ayer, our first hawker center

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our first afternoon we circled the central business district waterfront area. Here absolutely was my big, futuristic city.

Singapore highrises

Singapore view

With very expensive oysters (good thing I had a lot in France, that’s about $78 for a dozen).

Singapore oysters

Wow, oyster prices in Singapore are not like in France…

Made our way across the DNA Bridge to the top of the ‘ship’ building (looks like a big boat on top of three massive towers). Drank a tasty if spendy rum drink and enjoyed the views 57 stories high.

From there ended up on a much, much longer walk than expected to get to another hawker center, East Coast Lagoon (maps don’t always convey distance well). But the chili crab was worth the journey (sadly Jeff isn’t a crab fan, so ‘suffered’ a bit more than me…).

East Coast Lagoon Crab

As good as it looks, Chili Crab in Singapore

Next day got off to an understandably late start. I slipped down to the pool for a short bit then we ate chicken congee in our room. We took off again into Little India, festive in the preparations for Diwali and found a recommended biryani place for lunch (yes, we basically ate the whole time we were here…).

Diwali Little India Singapore

Diwali decorations

Wandered through some markets and shops, and then went to the botanic gardens. The place is enormous, with some beautiful and interesting displays (sadly the toxic plants section of the medicinal plant display was closed…). The highlight was the orchid garden.

Ended up too tired and footsore this night to trek out to any of the recommended hawker centers so followed the masses to a food center at the bottom of a huge shopping mall. Had some good if not spectacular noodles. Seemed to me there was a higher local to tourist ratio here than at any of the hawker centers we visited.

Had a harder time in Singapore than expected finding interesting local artisans. This is not to say Singapore doesn’t have them, as I know there is some amazing design coming out of this area. But it wasn’t until the last day, when we had to be at the airport by 4 pm, that I started to put together where to best search. I found two stores that curate (mostly) local designers and saw some beautiful products. Threadbare and Squirrel carry the line Emblem for example. Colorful shoes that are unbelievably light. Would probably go perfectly with some of Silke’s French bathing suits. The General Company curates a number of local and regional brands with great design taste. Along with a great coffee shop. Next time in Singapore, I will make it to Haji Lane and Arab Street. Plus a few more hawker centers…

For now it was off to the airport and a series of flights on Thai Airways that would lead us to four days in Perth, Australia. Or was it that we were back in Portland? So many similarities. Stay tuned.

A Little Bit of Luxury

Several years ago I asked a glamorous and fun-living friend from Portland if she had any recommendations of the best luxurious places to stay in France. She immediately wrote back to say, La Chèvre d’Or (The Golden Goat) in Eze-Le-Village. I think the words “fairy tale” and “magical” were used as well. From that time I’d look periodically at their website and dream of how I could get there.

Once we decided to make this journey, I started to check their site and others to see if we could make it work to stay there, oh, and eat in their two star Michelin restaurant (my first Michelin starred experience). Fortunately found an autumn package that made it all seem within reach.

So we headed out of Lagrasse and drove back across the south of France (not the best planning, but the decision to go to Languedoc-Roussillon was a late one). From Nice we went through winding roads and past pumpkin-headed stilt walkers (it was Halloween, which it seems France is adopting) to get to the gates of the hotel. As we arrived early they deposited us on a magnificent balcony overlooking the Mediterranean with a refreshing cranberry spritzy something drink. Shortly thereafter we were taken to our two-story room with our own private little balcony overlooking, of course, the Mediterranean.

Pretty much everything about our experience at the hotel was fantastic. Met and/or exceeded all my expectations. An extra bonus was the sauna they had recently installed right at the edge of a cliff, with a glass front overlooking the ocean. I love saunas and have been missing my sauna sessions with Amalie and Holly at the gym in Portland. So this was an absolute treat. Both nights we went at sunset, watching the sun dip across a low range jutting into the Mediterranean.

Friday night was the highlight. We had an 8 pm reservation for the chefs “menu” at their two star Michelin restaurant (yes I’m gratuitously repeating that). Our table (yep, overlooking the Mediterranean, though it was dark out so only saw the lights) had two chairs and a low stool. To my inquiring glance the waiter informed me it was a “sofa” for my purse. I now always want a seat especially for my purse, brilliant.

The menu (see image) was a six-course dinner starting with an enormous glass of champagne. It even included an oyster from Brittany… We had been handed the a la carte menu first in error (the dinner was part of our hotel package and was a set menu), but as it turns out, our dinner included everything we would have chosen anyhow. And this way no tough decisions required. Our very friendly and extremely knowledgeable sommelier selected out a delicious local white for the initial courses and a powerful Syrah for the venison course. It went well with the many, many cheeses I selected from the cheese trolley (I though it was a plate for me and Jeff together, but was apparently just for me, oops, but delicious, every bite!). We snapped a very few photos at the end on the iPhone and much as I wish we had pictures of all the courses, it just did not seem right to disturb my purse/wallet on its sofa to take out the phone and start snapping shots. Suffice it to say that this (early) birthday dinner was perhaps the best ever, and not one I will ever forget. Oh, and after dinner, a bit too full to go to bed, we wandered up into the medieval village, walking by the light of the moon. We even waltzed a bit.

When we finally woke up Saturday morning we went down the hill into the lower part of Eze-Le-Village. It was market day and although it was a rather small one, perhaps 15 vendors in all, made two wonderful finds. First was a gentleman from Nice, M. Dominique, who works with enamel and various metals to make a wide range of jewelry. His enamel designs are all brightly colored. His metal-on-metal designs had a restrained beauty. Next was Silke of Flowers Sea & Sun. Her stall had scarves, from brightly patterned cotton scarves to softer-than-soft wool/cashmere poncho-like scarves. Also jewelry and photos mounted on wood (images from the region). She used to have a store in xx and designs her own shirts and bathing suits. My sister talks about a French bikini she had as a teen and how perfectly crafted it was. I think I’ll have to head back in the summer to try some bathing suits!

After the market we toured a fragrance museum, with some fantastic old bottles/labels and copper distilling equipment. Then it was off to the grocery store to pick up some bread, wine, etc. so we could do a picnic dinner on our balcony (there was no topping the dinner the night before, though as a last picnic in France, this one was wonderful).

After our tour of the market and perfumery we spent a lazy afternoon swimming in the pool and sitting on some of the many terraces snaking along the hill (the property is built into a hill descending towards the ocean). I worked on a blog post from a lounge pod I’d love to have as my normal office. We also made friends with one of the resident cats. I think he liked my shirt…

One of the best parts was the staff. Everyone was very professional and helpful, but never stiff or overly formal.

Though we would have stayed forever, we departed shortly after the sunrise (and it put on a show for our last morning).

Sunrise over the Cote dAzur

A brilliant sunrise for our last morning in France

Sunrise over Mediterranean Sea

Sunrise in panorama

Further consolation was that our next step continued the luxury (well, that is after a not-at-all luxurious and delayed flight to Frankfurt and stay at a basic but clean Ibis hotel).

The Alps from above

Jeff’s shot of the Alps as we leave France

In case it’s not already obvious from these posts, and the whole premise of this site, I’m a big fan of travel. Nearly all our flights on this journey have been booked with miles, and having read so much about them, I was hoping to redeem some of our miles for business or even first class travel on Singapore Air. The absolute bonus was to get two seats in the A380 Suites, but in my research I learned that they (almost) never release two suites at the saver level (lowest number of points) on the same flight. In the month leading up to our trip I checked daily to see if any seats were open from any European city within a week of my desired dates (some sites will check reward seats for you, but of course United and Singapore will not open their systems to those sites so you have to check manually). Nothing, nothing, nothing kept coming up, even in business class. Then late one night, sick with a head cold and traveling with my mother in southern Oregon, while sitting on a bed in a perfectly adequate though decidedly not luxurious motel in smoky Ashland (during the forest fires), there they were. Two suites out of Frankfurt. Just a day after the miles we had transferred from our Chase credit cards hit our Singapore accounts. A bit afraid it was just a fluke and the booking wouldn’t work, I kept clicking on “Next,” made it through the booking process, then did a happy dance. The best part, the flight left on my birthday.

Briefly, it was wonderful. I’ve never before flown first class and it is indeed a totally different experience from the torture seats I usually fly internationally. It started with a glass of Dom Perignon.

Dom Perignon on Singapore Air

My first ever glass of Dom Perignon

After selling hundreds of bottles of the stuff in my previous job, this was the first time I ever tasted it. Mostly I just drank that throughout the flight (they let me taste test the Krug, but it had too much of a fruity finish for me). I wouldn’t say the Dom spoiled me for other champagnes (as first class has definitely spoiled me for economy), but I was far from disappointed either.

At my count we were eight people in first, and for that we had I think five incredibly professional, friendly, helpful and all-around great flight attendants. In addition to keeping the champagne glass full, they answered any questions, provided a great list of sites/restaurants/etc. to see in Singapore, and basically kept us fed and happy. Our suites were essentially pods with a large TV screen, big comfortable seat, table, lots of little storage spots, and the whole thing could become a bed upon request. Jeff and I had pods right next to one another. The flight was overnight, and actually I “lost” seven hours of my birthday flying east, but most of those 17 hours were amazing. I don’t think I slept at all; didn’t want to miss any of it.

Towards the end of the flight, I came back to the suite to find a birthday cake and two little bears (and more champagne…).

All in all, the end of France and launch into the Asia-Pacific leg of our journey was incredibly special. Next up, three sleepy days in Singapore.