Monday, June 19, 2017

Singapore: 50 Shades of Green

Singapore was a surprise: clean, green, safe and friendly. Full of fabulous parks and green areas, an awesome public transport system and amazing zoos. Over a very short space of time this tiny country, barely bigger than most cities, has shown how you can take a high population density (3rd globally) and still have a very healthy, liveable, green and happy country/city. Called the greenest city in Asia, with a total green cover at 47%, a country barely the size of half of London accommodates over 5 million people. It does not feel that way, with the amount of greenery giving the impression of space and size. This has been by design with laws mandating that new developments replace greenery lost by installing roof gardens and cascading vertical gardens on the new buildings.

One of the highlights was the Gardens by the Bay. This is a large botanical complex with a wide variety of themed gardens and two huge specialty buildings, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. On top of all that it has these huge artificial structures they call Supertrees. Apart from looking amazing and being part of a twice nightly sound and light show they are also solar collectors and vertical gardens. The sound and light show was a 12 minute extravaganza on a Star Wars theme. You might well ask, 'But what about the power use?' Well, the park has its own biofuels power plant powered by its own waste, the domes are water collectors and as mentioned the supertrees produce power from the sun.

At 7 Tons this sculpture called 'Planet'
looks like it is floating.

We also bought a 4 park pass for the zoos: Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo, Zoo's Night Safari and River Safari. All of them had a focus on education, conservation and species protection. Do not like to see animals behind bars but there was a large number of big unfenced bushland enclosures using other methods such as moats to ensure safety. So many beautiful animals in beautiful surroundings. With the help of the subway and bus system we trundled from park to park to park over a 3 day period. The 3 day tourist pass allowing unlimited use of public transport is very convenient and excellent value.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The final voyage of the Dawn Princess

Cruising is one of the most relaxing ways to travel. So when we decided to explore South East Asia and found out a ship from Fremantle can get us there, the decision was made. Then came the cat and mouse game of constantly checking prices to find the price sweet spot. When tickets got to nearly half their initial price (coming down to less than $100 each per day) we snapped them up. Never saw them go any lower.

A typical day for us started in the well stocked gym, trying every different machine and making muscles I did not know I had sore. Then a buffet breakfast with lots of gluten free choices, including amazing bread. The day was then filled with trivia games, Spanish lessons, dance lessons, gameshow challenges, amazing shows and solo performances, dancing and lots of food. Those not your cup of tea? Then there were pools, bars, casino, massages, outdoor games, bingo, cinemas or just go to the library and read a book or lie on deck and watch the ocean go by. It's up to you. It's like an alternate reality where the outside world does not exist.

One evening's dessert haul
As gluten free vegetarians we were incredibly well looked after. At dinner each night the waiters were always worried we were not eating enough and kept offering us extra salads and soups and would give us every gluten free dessert from creme brulee and apple crumble to flourless chocolate cake. We put on weight and had to cut back when we started feeling ill. They were killing us with kindness.

The ship stopped in five ports to allow day trip exploration. We left the ship twice, checking out Kuta beach in Bali and doing a tour in Penang. Bali was a pain getting out of the port as we were told to only use the blue bird taxis with meter on. But they are not allowed into the port area by non marked operators trying to push for fixed prices. If they come in they get chased out. This bit was not explained and we worked it out when we saw a taxi and tried to hail it but it drove off when a guy pressuring us for a deal made gestures at him. Eventually we realised we could get one by heading out of the port area and turning right (initially we turned left).

In Penang the highlight was the Entopia Butterfly Farm, where we got to release young butterflies that have never flown free before. One big fella hopped on Elizabeth and wouldn't get off. I used a piece of paper to gently prise him off her but he flew straight back on. I had to prise him off again and then shield Elizabeth so she could get out of the farm.

Batik Factory

During the other port days we stayed on board to enjoy the ship. These days were our best chances of winning at trivia as most of the passengers would go ashore (hopefully all of the smart ones). We also got to play table tennis and enjoy other normally busy activities. We did win once (a bottle of champagne) in a liar liar gameshow as it seems we are very good at picking the one person telling the truth.

There were a few special days. Elizabeth had her birthday on board. I had previously alerted the authorities to this occasion :-) so they were ready. It also happened to be the day of the Captain's address so everyone was treated to the sight of a huge champagne fountain on a tower of individually placed glasses. At dinner four waiters came over and sang happy birthday  and presented her with an individual birthday cake. They had a ceremony when we crossed the Equator; Neptune arrived and set upon some unsuspecting volunteers who've never crossed the Equator before and covered them in all manner of sticky and fluidy substances.

Champagne Fountain
Neptune in action

This was the last voyage of the ship as the Dawn Princess as it has been sold and will be re-named. So there was a special nostalgic feel about the trip and that came through from the crew. The ship had 2000 passengers and 1000 crew so it was like a mini city and chatting to so many new people brought out many stories: Eddie our cruise staffer (dancing and language instructor) from Venezuela who only a short while ago was skipping food queues to avoid starvation; the Philipino singer who put on a benefit concert last year to raise money for her mother's cancer operation; a trivia partner who met her cruise buddy on a Princess cruise one year ago; and a surprising number of staff from Peru who would query me about my Peru Hop T-shirt. How many stories has this ship seen? It was an interesting and very relaxing cruise.

Bon Voyage Dawn Princess

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Exploring the Kimberley

Kimberley trip 2016

Sorry this is under construction as I have not had time but want the order of trips preserved.

Coming soon...