The sights and sounds of Singapore, the Lion City

2013 had not been kind to me. Heartbreaks, leaving the UK and all my friends behind, and loss in the family kept me low all year long. Once I recovered a little I knew I had to find myself again if I had to completely snap out of the phase. For a traveller at heart that I am, nothing works better than a trip to a new place to remind myself of who I used to be.
So, by November I started to hatch the plan to do just that. Having wanted to see the Merlion for a while now, Singapore was definitely the first choice. Although, it had a little bit of competition from Egypt, but Singapore came out the winner in the end.

After some coaxing, I got my mum to agree to accompany me on the trip and the planning started full on. Of course I had to leave our visas till the last minute (in spite of knowing my luck with them so far), but thankfully, we got them sorted just at the nick of time and off we went on the 23rd of December to celebrate the holiday season in the dazzling city of Singapore. Trivia: The name literally translates to: Lion City.

We reached there in the wee hours of the morning and instead of feeling tired, I felt like a canister of energy had been opened inside. Out came my notes, as we went in search of some local food for our breakfast. My mind was stuck on the famous Kaya toast with Kopi (coffee made with condensed milk: yummm). I loved it so much that it became my breakfast staple when we were there and I even brought a jar of the green stuff home. My Kaya craze didnot end there, I got a lot of my friends to try it and pestered them till they said they loved it too. (Yeah, being my friend sure comes with a price).

So, anyway, I got my Kaya toast and the mother chose a soupy sea food noodles, which by the looks of it she thoroughly enjoyed. For deserts we had the jelly cubes we used to love in Hong Kong. After a very satisfying breakfast we started making our way into the city on the MRT (the Underground/Subway of Singapore). I tend to remember places by the colours and smells of the place and interactions with the locals. On our way out from the airport, we met this Singaporean man who helped me get the travel cards out of the huge MRT machines and showed me on the map how I need to get to our hotel. I (virtually) knew the route already, thanks to Google but this lovely man literally stood next to us the whole time till we got off at our station and kept telling us trivia about Singapore’s MRT. The other memorable person on the same MRT journey was a middle age Chinese lady who took pity on me carrying a suitcase almost as tall as I am and took the responsibility of taking care of it while I focussed on not falling on people standing next to me in the crowded train. We never spoke as she clearly did not speak much English and my Mandarin is a little rusty now! Interesting how smiles can do all the talking in situations like this…

We reached our hotel, Carlton, at about 9am , way before the check in time, only to be told that our room has been upgraded and we were being given a room in the executive section of the hotel. Woop woop. We got to check in straight away and I was almost in tears (of joy) to find out that our room had a view of the Singapore Flyer and the Gardens by the Bay. (I think that was the universe trying to make up for the sh*t that it put me through earlier in the year).

Although we were too hyper to rest, somehow the jet lag caught up and we took a ‘long’ nap. By the time we were up, it was still light outside and we decided to go out and explore the city. We walked for two hours straight crossing Raffles City, Bugis, Arab Street and we went as far as the big flyover (not sure what it’s actually called). We started walking back from there and as luck would have it , we took a wrong turn and ended up in front of the famous Mustafa Centre. That’s the place they say you can buy a laptop, some mangoes and everything in between from. A little bit of shopping and a gorgeous Indian dinner later, we started retracing our steps and with the help of a few more very friendly and helpful Singaporeans, reached our hotel. The lobby was bursting with energy- it was Christmas eve and everyone was on their phones or Skype or FaceTime showing the person on the other side the pretty Christmas decorations in the lobby.

The next day, we decide to head early (which was about 11am; early enough for me when on holiday) to Jurong Bird Park. It was absolutely fab. If you don’t have Ornithophobia, then this is a must see in Singapore. With a very large number of very pretty birds, it’ll sure be a treat for the eyes. Although to be honest we were a little “birded out” in the end. That night we treated ourselves to a fancy (and rather expensive) Singaporean dinner. The name escapes me right now, but it was really good!

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The following day, we made our way to Singapore Zoo. It was massive. You might want to take plenty of time in your hands to see the whole place at a relaxed pace if you don’t want to rush around like we did to squeeze in the Zoo, River Safari, and the Night Safari all on the same day.  Hectic but totally worth it. We walked long stretches of land looking at animals and fish of every possible kind. Most of them we had never heard of or seen on TV, so it was quite entertaining and educating. My mum and I spent the whole day soaking in all the information about these animals from all round the world. The night safari was probably my favourite bit. You actually get to see uncaged animals- starting from deer to lions and anteaters to hyenas – from such a close distance that it can freak you out a little bit, or as in my mum’s case, a lot- so much that she did not want to go on the walking trails at all and preferred to do the safari on the tram. I might have to go back to Singapore someday with someone a little more adventurous to go on those walking trails.

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On our list the next day was the Singapore Flyer and the Gardens by the Bay. Having been on the London Eye twice, I wasn’t too impressed with the Singapore Flyer, to be very honest. But who would want to miss out going on a glass capsule on a rainy day to look down at the city, Merlion, floating football ground, Sentosa Island, gardens by the bay and the harbour? This was the day when the rain played a little bit of spoil sport, and we were stuck in a restaurant for two hours to let the rain stop before we could walk to the closest MRT station. I had read a lot about these bouts of heavy rainfall in Singapore and turns out there was no exaggeration in their description. I had never before seen it pour like that. Stormy monsoons in east India and annoying drizzles in Birmingham, UK, were the only two types I was aware of before I witnessed this wrath-of-heaven-in-the-form-of-giant-water-drops rainfall. Anyway, so after the rain stops, we find our way to the Gardens by the Bay. Massive structures covered with all sorts of ferns and plants shot up to the sky with awe inspiring beauty.  A magnificent waterfall greets you as you enter the Cloud Garden and then you can take the lift up and walk all the way down the spiral, soaking in the beauty of amazingly colourful flowers and brilliantly patterned ferns. That night my mum and I sat quietly in the hotel lobby getting the sad feeling creeping in that it was our last night in this beautiful city.

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The next day we had an evening flight leaving our morning and afternoon free for a quick trip to Sentosa island to see the replica of the Merlion and the famous S.E.A Aquarium. This was my mum’s favourite part of the trip. The aquarium will leave any kid or adult equally wide eyed. We had taken the cable car to the island and came back on the monorail and MRT. Again, the cable car was a little bit of a let down as I was probably expecting to see the gorgeousness we had witnessed in Hong Kong when the cable car took us over the airport and we saw flights take off and land , hanging in mid air!
On our way back, I had a small -er- accident when I walked into a pedestrian traffic signal post. If you thought no one can ever be so clumsy, you clearly have never met me. So yeah, I brought back a scraped knee and a twisted ankle as souvenirs besides a ton of chocolate and the usual touristy stuff. Other than this, everything else on the trip was just perfect and most importantly, it served its purpose well, I feel back on track now 🙂

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