Tag Archives: City

Birmingham, England – Impressions

Birmingham is known by some as the second city as it’s the second largest city in the United Kingdom. Situated in the West Midlands of England, Birmingham is just over 200km (125 mi) North West of London.

Although there is evidence of human’s in the area up to about 10,000 years ago, Birmingham, or Beormingahām as it was known, was said to have been established in the late 6th century. And with train tickets from London only £5.50 each way, it deserved a long weekend to explore what the city has to offer. St Martin in the Bullring…

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Bullring and Grand Central
Right near Birmingham Moor Street Station, these two separate indoor malls are joined by a series of sky bridges that cut through the nearby TK Maxx building to make one large indoor mall. The Bullring is named after the major commercial area of the city and is in a distinctive building. The connected Grand Central mall is just as large and is a distinct building of its own.

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Bullring Rag Market
Similar to the original markets which spawned the Bullring commercial region, the Rag Market is an area of fruit and vegetable stalls mixed with clothing and other general knickknacks in small booths. When compared to the upmarket style of the markets in York or some areas of London, you will understand where the name Rag Markets come from. While they certainly are not pretty, there are plentiful bargains here.

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Custard Factory
What’s now known as the Custard Factory, is an area of creative and digital businesses in a set of very colourful buildings that was once the Bird’s Custard Factory from the 1840s. It now contains many small shops, offices, galleries, theatres and eateries.

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Victoria Square
Under the statue of Queen Victoria, this public pedestrian square is surrounded by the Birmingham Town Hall, Council House and Chamberlain Square.

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Saint Philips Cathedral
the seat of the bishop of Birmingham, Saint Philips Cathedral, it is the third smallest in the UK. Compared to the Cathedral in York, it’s tiny, but still contains unique stained glass windows yet only a short 300-year history, including being damaged in World War II bombings.

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Aston Hall
Aston Hall is a villa built in the early 1600s that has been converted into a museum. It is situated in Villa Park, which, for those with a knowledge of sports, specifically Football,  is home to Aston Villa football team and their stadium, right next door. Unfortunately, the villa museum is not open on match days which just happened to be the day I stopped by for a visit.

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Gas Street Basin
An attractive section of canals in the network that flows throughout Birmingham, similar to many other UK cities. The surrounding area contains bars, cafes and several attractions such as the National Seal Life Centre and Birmingham’s Legoland.

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IKON Gallery
While waiting for my entrance time of the National Sea Life Centre, I popped into the local IKON gallery to check out a couple of the exhibitions. The IKON gallery is a world acclaimed art gallery spread over three levels just off the Gas Street Basin area. While it is fairly small, the three exhibitions were an interesting change of pace in this fast paced city.

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National Sea Life Centre
The National Sea Life Centre is an aquarium in Central Birmingham showcasing over 2000 different sea animals from various places around the world, from the Antarctic, across many of the continents. The aquarium is entirely set inside in a four-story building that leads you through a series of displays climbing step by step to the top, before catching a lift, or stairs, into the basement where there is a tunnel through a larger pool. Amazing displays show all sorts of creatures, from sharks to sea horses, penguins to jellyfish.

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Cadbury World
Cadbury World is an exhibition built beside the main Cadbury factory in Bournville which is a town originally built for the workers of the Cadbury factory. The Cadbury World exhibition is only one of two in the world, the other being in Dunedin, New Zealand. The 90-minute long attraction goes through the history of the Cadbury empire and documents many parts of the chocolate making process, including chocolate Easter egg manufacture. It is an interesting place to learn the history of chocolate and the region, and not just for the kids.

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Dudley Castle and Zoo
On the outskirts of Greater Birmingham is the township of Dudley, and on a hill above it is the ruins of the Dudley castle. Dudley Castle was built in 1070 by a Norman knight not long after the Norman conquests. I travelled for an hour out to Dudley to investigate the castle only to find that it was part of a zoo with a steeper entrance fee than I had hoped. And, as it was late in the day and I likely wouldn’t have enough time to make the visit worth the entrance fee, I took a bad photo and caught a tram back to the Birmingham city centre.

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Graffiti Art of Digbeth Walk
On my wanders around the city I noted many pieces of graffiti, but not until writing this did I discover there was an actual walk relating to a graffiti art. I would loved to have spent some time following this around the city as the few pieces I saw were amazing.

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Too Much to See
One long weekend was not enough to get to all the things I had hoped to see. Here are a few things I didn’t get to…

Thinktank Museum – Birmingham’s Science Museum.
Cannon Hill Park – The city’s most popular park spanning 250 acres.
Botanical Gardens – Gardens of a Botanical nature
The Coffin Works – A museum in the process of making coffins.

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Overall Impressions
Birmingham is a large thriving city only indeed second in the UK to London. The central city has so much foot traffic most days it could be considered reminiscent of Brixton or Oxford Street. But it is still different to the larger London, in that it is less cosmopolitan. And, only two hours away by train, it is definitely worth a visit.

The World Wanderer

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York, England – Impressions

Twenty-two miles north of Leeds, York is a city in Yorkshire founded by the Romans in 71 AD.

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Over the nearly two millennia since it was founded it has been known as Jorvik, Eburakon, Eoforwic, Everwic, Yerk, Yourke, Yarke and eventually simply York. After the Roman founding, it was overtaken by the Angles, captured by the Vikings, overrun by the Normans, ravaged by William the Conqueror, saw a peasant revolt, a Catholic uprising, and was besieged by Parliamentarians during the English civil war. In the last century, it was bombed by the Nazis and has been entirely overrun by rampant armies of tourists, who currently besiege the city, pillaging its wares on a daily basis.

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The City Walls
As the city was founded as a Roman fortress, a large rectangular wall was built around it covering about 50 acres. Much of these original walls still exist in the city today although over time parts have been destroyed or left to fall into disrepair, only to be repaired at various points in their history.

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The walls are an enjoyable way to walk around the edge of the central city, with walkways around the upper portions. A full circuit of the city centre atop the wall takes about an hour and gives good views of the city.

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Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
During preparation to build the Yorkshire Museum, workmen uncovered the extensive remains of the 13th century St. Mary’s Abbey. Many parts of these ruins were incorporated into the design of the museum and are contained in various exhibits.

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The grounds of the museum are extensive, including gardens and other buildings beside the River Ouse. While the museum itself is small, the three floors showcase exhibits from the age of dinosaurs through history to modern times, with a major focus on the local area.

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York Minister
The York Cathedral is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe.

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The cathedral was commissioned in 1220 and completed a short 252 years later in 1472. The entire building is 160m long and about 70m wide at its widest point. Inside the gothic architecture is beautiful with its open plan construction and a multitude of ancient stained glass windows. There are many areas inside the minister that are under restoration.

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The York Minister also has three towers, the central one some 72m tall. There is a challenge using the day to climb the 275 steps up the thin spiral staircases to the roof which has the best panoramic view out across York.

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Harry Potter, Diagon Alley and Shambles Market
While none of the Harry Potter movies was filmed in or around York, the city has still been taken over by Harry Potter Mania. There is a thin alley near the Shambles Market which has been compared to Diagon Alley from the movies.

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While I’m not a fan of the movies and have no idea what Diagon Alley is, the locals have taken advantage of the fever and there and many Harry Potter oriented shops in that particular alley. This one, for example, sells wands.

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York Castle and Clifford Tower
The mound on which the castle is built was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1068, and the first wooden castle was built in the same year. But, by the following year, it had been burned to the ground by rebels and Vikings.

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The second wooden castle was completed soon after and lasted 100 years until 150 Jews hiding in it committed mass suicide by burning it down. It was rebuilt in stone in the mid 13th century by Henry III.

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The shell that remains now gives excellent views across York.

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Holgate Windmill
The Holgate Windmill is one of the few working five sailed windmills remaining in the UK. It was built in 1770 and has gone through many repairs over the past 250 years. It was closed in 1933 after storm damage. Restoration began in 2003 anew and was completed in 2012 when for the first time in over 80 years it turned by wind power.

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UK’s Confectionary Capital
York is considered the home of confectionary in the UK with the Rowntree company introducing to the world such offerings as Smarties, Kit-Kat and fruit pastels. Even George Cadbury, I don’t need to tell you which company he started, was trained at Rowntree’s in 1858. Rowntree’s is now owned by Nestle. But it’s not just big chocolate companies in York, there are many boutique chocolate stores in the city and even York’s Chocolate Story, an interactive attraction which delves into, oddly enough, York’s Chocolate Story.

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Guy Fawkes
In 1605 he was discovered about to ignite 36 barrels of gun powder under the Houses of Parliament in Westminster London in an attempt to ignite a Catholic uprising. He was hung 2 months later, then drawn and quartered. I mention this because Guy Fawkes was born and educated in York.

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Overall Impressions
York is a very busy city even in March, which is considered the low season. I’m told that in summer it’s almost impossible to move in some of the inner city streets for the tourists. In my opinion, it has a similar vibe to Prague in the Czech Republic based on the cobbled tight streets, the number of pubs and the sheer amount of tourists. There were many places to see, and I enjoyed learning about the popular destination in Northern England.

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The World Wanderer

Amsterdam, Netherlands – Impressions

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands and is one of the most important ports in Europe. It is also considered the sixth safest city in the world, which seems odd considering the legal prostitution and profusion of marijuana in the city centre.

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To celebrate two of my housemate’s birthdays, I took three days out from my work schedule and flew into Amsterdam. Barely an hour’s flight from London, we were there before we knew it. I knew precious little of the city before I arrived, hoping to learn as I went and to follow the desires of my housemates.

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The city itself is clean, and some of the architecture is amazing, as you expect from a European city, although once you leave Old Town, many of the buildings become rather plain and boxlike. The streets themselves are fairly wide, and there are many canals throughout with regular boat tours.

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Bicycles
Amsterdam is a flat city, and while there are plenty of vehicles on the road, the culture has grown around cycling everywhere. Indeed, the most common sight in the city is the old ‘grand-dad’ style bicycles. Most roads have very defined cycleways, either marked or built in. This can make it a little confusing as to where walkers are supposed to walk. There are also many lockup locations for these bikes.

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Bicycles almost half the fun on Amsterdam, and it can be fun trying not to get hit by one of the city’s nearly eight hundred thousand bicycles, which are everywhere in every form. If you hear a bike bell ringing ahead, it is best to step aside of wherever you are walking, because the cyclists generally won’t stop for you. There are also plenty of scooters, as seems to be appearing in most European cities. These follow the same rules as the bicycles, so best to just get out of the way.

Coffee Shops
While marijuana is illegal in the Netherlands, in the Old Town at the centre of Amsterdam, the law tends to ignore it due to it being a major draw for tourism. It is one of the more renown things in the city, and the general expectation of people is that by going to the city much smoking will be done. As such, it is easy to get, and there is paraphernalia in many shop windows.

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This is also where the popularity of ’coffee shops’ grew from. Not to be confused with normal cafes, these ‘coffee shops’ are places where marijuana can be purchased and consumed. Out of curiosity, I visited one of these shops to determine how it worked. At the counter, there was a price list for everything sold including variety, pre-rolled or bagged, mixed with tobacco or straight, and a variety of other options. It is almost too easy to get. They also sell ‘Space Cookies’, as do many other places around the city. But, smoking is not only confined to these locations, but it can also be found everywhere.

Red Light District
As prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, an entire section of Old Town has been set aside for it. Through the back alleys, there are tiny booths lit by red lights, where women wait wearing all manner of next to nothing, offering the goods, so to speak. While it is not my thing, from my understanding, if a guy is willing, he goes into the small room with her, the curtains are closed, and the business is done. There are so many girls in the windows that many are bored and seem more interested in their phones than anything else, letting the ‘goods’ sell themselves. There is a no photos policy around this district, so none were taken.

Cheese Glorious Cheese
The Dutch have a distinct love of cheese, but unlike the French with their soft cheeses, and the British with their hard cheeses, Dutch cheese is semi-soft, with varieties such as Gouda and Edam. In the centre of Amsterdam, there are so many Cheese shops it is almost obscene. And each of the stores has a sample plate for each of the varieties, refilled regularly. On our first day in the city, we must have passed 15 such cheese stores and ate samples from all of them. Most of the stores are from one manufacturer, Henry Wiig, but there were a couple of others too.

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Edam and Volendam
As a side tour one day, the three of us caught a bus north to the small townships of Edam and Volendam, where we hired bikes. We rode around the streets, and near the dykes while looking out to the sea and along the way we found the occasional windmill. It was nice to get away from the bustle of the larger city, but it was still filled with tourists.

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Duck Shops
Both Amsterdam and one of my housemates are Rubber Duck mad. Everywhere we went there were rubber ducks of different varieties, and we even discovered two entire stores dedicated entirely to them, much to the enjoyment of said housemate. There are so many different kinds of duck, from Trump ducks to cat ducks, from horror ducks to birthday ducks, ducks based around most celebrities and of course just plain rubber ducks. These ducks can come in all manner of sizes, from the size of your thumbnail to twice the size of your head.

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Anne Frank House
There are many famous museums in Amsterdam, including the Van Gogh and the Rembrandt House, but the one we decided to invest some time into was Anne Frank House. Anne Frank’s Diary is an account of two years of Anne’s life as a Jew in hiding during WW2. The museum is the actual workplace of Anne’s father, Otto Frank, and the location where three families hid from the Nazi’s before finally being captured near the end of the war.

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The museum is an audio tour through the house, explain different parts of their time in hiding, and an in-depth account into the writing of the diary, along with the thoughts and feelings of those in the house. It is interesting to walk around in the actual location of the hideout, listening to the biographical audio. While it was not an overly sad experience, it was educational, and we all enjoyed our visit.

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Overall,
Amsterdam is a fun place to visit for a few days. While it has its share of quirks, like most cities, the three of us enjoyed our visit, and I would recommend going.

The World Wanderer.

Yangon, Myanmar

In 1989 the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma became the Union of Myanmar. At the time it was a military dictatorship until it ceded to a democratic government in 2010. It was around this time that the borders opened and travellers such as myself began flocking to a country mostly untouched by the modern western world.

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Five years later and it’s a very popular travel destination with many coming to the country to see it before it becomes the next Thailand, of which it borders.

Between 1974 and 1988 Myanmar was known as one of the world’s most impoverished countries. So, when I arrived in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon and the country’s largest city, I was surprised to find it bustling with some large rich houses, many newer looking cars and a smart phone in most people’s hands. It seems the western world will not stay locked out for long as there is evidence of a slow seepage already occuring… There’s a KFC in the city, but only one, and it’s very popular with the locals. No doubt more will follow.

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Yangon is a very busy city with just too many cars for the infrastructure, but unlike the rest of South East Asia there is not a scooter to be seen. Because everyone seems to own a car there are traffic jams everywhere and catching a taxi can be a very slow process although at their cheap fixed prices, it’s a better way to get around the city if you have the time.

Myanmar is still hanging on to its culture with fruit markets popping up everywhere as night rolls in. Most of the restaurants are what I call ‘plastic chair affairs’ – a stall set up with small plastic chairs scattered around short tables under the open sky. While mobile phones signs and satellite tv dishes are everywhere, it still feels very real and original. I’m sure this will change in time.

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One of the more fascinating cultural elements seen in the city is the dress. Many women wear clothing usually associated with Thailand, but that is not seen often in that country these days. They come in many colours and are very pretty. Both men and women tend to wear the Longyi, a thick fabric sarong often worn over the more western long shorts.

While there is some use of western cosmetics, most women and many men use a traditional cosmetic called the Thanaka made of a bark compound applied to the cheeks and sometimes the forehead. It has several good properties including a fragrance similar to sandalwood and it is used as a sunscreen. It certainly makes everyone stand out.

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This lovely young lady spoke excellent english as she harassed me to buy her postcards. I finally agreed after a bunch of haggling that included letting me take this photo.

During my visit, I got around the city to a few of the more popular tourist sites…

Shwedagon Pagoda
More than 2,500 years old, the pagoda enshrines strands of the buddha’s hair and several other holy relics. It is the most sacred buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, reaches 99 metres tall and is plated in gold leaf. At the top of the spire, an area known as the crown umbrella, there are 5448 diamonds and 2317 rubies. At the very top, a place called the diamond bud, there is a 75 carat diamond.

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The Shwedagon compound contain many different pagodas, stupas, shrines and statues. It is a very popular location with many groups of people in the different halls, praying and chanting. Most of the buildings are well maintained and often very shiny, like this silver one.

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Each corner of the compound has a great Bodhi tree, the so called tree of enlightenment buddha liked to sit under.

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Sule Pagoda
Said to be even older than the Shwedagon Pagoda, the smaller stupa is in the centre of the city. Standing at 45 metres tall and gilded in gold it stands out on the skyline of the city.

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Legend tells that it was once the home of a powerful spirit called a Nat and now houses a single strand of the buddha’s hair.

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Kantawgyi Gardens and Karaweik
Situated beside the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Kantawgyi gardens is a grand park area surrounding a small lake. It is a very popular place on weekends for the locals who come to enjoy the surroundings of nature in the middle of the city. There are many areas where people can hide away and just relax. It’s a beautiful place with a great view of the Shwedagon pagoda sparkling gold across the lake.

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But there’s another amazing sight in the park… Once floating, but now attached to one shore is Karaweik. It was an emperor’s palace, but is now a massive restaurant for the local elite.

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Chau Htat Gyi Pagoda
The Chau Htat Gyi Pagoda holds a much revered statue that is known as the six-story buddha because it is literally housed in a six-story warehouse. And it’s just down the road from the five-story buddha, although as the six-story is reclining, its overall length is far greater than the sitting five-story buddha.

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The site is over a century old and is even more massive than the golden reclining buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok.

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Circle Train
At the cost of only US$1 you can board the circular train and ride it in a circle around the city returning three hours later to the central train station. It takes a long time not because Yangon is that large but because the train goes very slow.

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The train is a fairly popular tourist experience as it takes you out into the country side, through smaller townships and past some of the more impoverished parts of the city. The ride was interesting and while the views were similar to some I’ve seem from a train in Bangkok, it was watching the locals go about their daily business that was more interesting. There were even wandering fruit vendors carrying trays of fruit on their heads. Because the train goes so slow, it doesn’t usually stop at stations, people just get on as the train slowly moves past.

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After a few days in Yangon, I headed north to one of the great wonders of Myanmar, the Bagan Plains.

The World Wanderer

Malacca, Malaysia – Impressions

Founded around 1400AD by Sultan Sri Majara, Malacca was established as an international trading port. There must have been something about its location as a hundred years later it was invaded by the Portuguese Empire who slaughtered all of the Muslim inhabitants. A further hundred years on and the Dutch seized the city, near destroying it in the process. Then, two hundred years later and after rebuilding it, the Dutch gave it away to the English.

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After a four-hour bus trip from Singapore, we arrived in the late afternoon to sticky heat and rain. While the rain would stick around for the four days of our visit it didn’t stop us from getting out and about.

Jonker Walk
The Chinatown of Malacca, the street is a popular spot for tourist and locals alike. During the day the street is busy with many local stores and cafes.

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Then on weekends, the street transforms into night markets, bustling with local food and includes a large stage where locals can show off their karaoke skills.

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Red Square
In 1641 the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in battle to conquer the Malacca, leaving the city in ruins. The city was rebuilt around Red Square in a classic Dutch design. The square also includes a Christ Church, another landmark in the old city centre.

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Saint Paul’s Hill
Another historical landmark of Malacca is St Paul’s Hill. Situated behind Red Square it contains the roofless shell of old Saint Paul’s Church, now part of the A Formosa complex, an old Portuguese fort.

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During our stay in town, St. Paul’s Church hosted an art festival, with plentiful contemporary dance and music shows.

Break The Code
A more modern aspect of Malacca, Break The Code is an escape room experience. Blindfolded, you are lead into a room and given an hour to escape. The idea is to solve a set of puzzles that lead to more puzzles, which will eventually allow you to exit the room(s), all in the space of an hour. There are four separate rooms available, each with a different theme: ‘kidnapped’, ‘haunted house’ and similar.

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While possible to complete the task with only two players, it’s quite tough. For this kind of game, the more minds thinking through the puzzles and throwing around ideas the better. While the two of us managed to get much of the way through, we ultimately failed to escape. A fun experience and one I’d do again, but perhaps with more people.

Pulau Upeh
Right off the coast of Malacca is Pulau Upeh, an island that is currently under reclamation. With only a short bridge to it, we rode there on bicycles loaned to us by the hostel.

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The island is in a strange state of being semi-built. A large portion of the island is already completed, with shops, housing, hotels built and just sitting there empty. The mosque is perhaps the only building in full use…

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Then at the other end of the island, diggers are working to build more of the island. The island does have perhaps the best beaches in the city.

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Malacca was a nice place to spend a few days where simply walking through the quiet streets at night has a light show of its own.

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As for the local transport, there are the Trishaw’s emblazoned with Hello Kitty that lights up brightly at night and pumps out hard dance music.

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Next we head 92km north to the capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The Trail Wanderers

Singapore – Impressions

Measuring 40km by 20km, Singapore is an island city-state off the southern coast of Malaysia. While people have lived on these islands for 1800 years, Singapore was only established 200 years ago as a trading port for the English. Occupied by the Japanese in World War 2, it joined with other English Territories to form Malaysia in 1963, only to be expelled two years later. It has since grown to become one of the Four Asian Tigers, free economic states, along with South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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After nearly 2 months in Indonesia, Singapore seems like the cleanest and most organised city in the world. The downside is that everything is more expensive.

The Central City
Singapore has spread to fill its island quickly and has begun to grow upwards. While the central city boasts many skyscrapers, large portions of the island are covered with high-rises. Singapore is a city of architecture, from the old english style of many central museums…

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…to the more modern and unusual, such as The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay buildings.

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Marina Bay Sands
Completed in 2010 and standing out on the skyline is the most expensive building in the world. At US$4.7 billion The Marina Bay Sands has three main towers, a major mall, casino and a Skypark across its top.

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Most of the Skypark, which is longer than the Eiffel Tower is tall, is only available to hotel patrons and includes a 150 metre vanishing pool.

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The rounded tip of the Skypark is a viewing platform available to the general public providing 360º views of the city and marina. Even in the rainy season the views were magnificent.

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Little India
Singapore has a large Indian contingent with their own region of the city. Little India has plentiful Indian restaurants and several temples.

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Unfortunately, we visited on a Sunday evening when half the population of continental India had popped over to visit. Sunday evening is a common time among the Indian community to go shopping. This was to such a degree that we found it difficult to move through the streets.

Tiger Breweries
Singapore has its only international recognised beer, Tiger. As it happens it was my birthday during our visit, so we headed out to the brewery for a tour.

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Unfortunately, it took us longer to get there on public transport than we’d expected and we missed half of the tour. All was not lost as we did manage to catch the end of the tour, the 45 minutes of free beverages. When my birthday was mentioned, somehow the time stretched to 90 minutes before we decided it best to head off. A good evening!

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Night Safari
Singapore has a world-class zoo with many species of animals. However, a zoo is a zoo and once you’ve seen a few they all start to look the same. Night Safari is still a zoo, but for nocturnal creatures with a tram tour through a portion of the park.

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After the main tram ride, there are several other walks available along dimly lit paths. These lead to various other enclosures, including many great cat enclosures, including two separate lion zones, and a bat enclosure. Other animals include elephants, monkeys, opossums and many other lesser known nocturnal species. With no flash photography permitted, getting good photos was near impossible but we still enjoyed the experience.

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Sentosa Island
Off the southern coast of Singapore is the resort island of Sentosa.

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This entire island is an entertainment zone with a myriad of different activities, such as a large Universal Studios theme park, 2.2 kilometres of sheltered beaches…

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… 2 golf courses, a Megazip adventure park, a Underwater World, a cable car, and many others, including the Luge, which began its life in New Zealand.

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Since I’d never actually been on the Luge in New Zealand(!), I had to do it. What crazy fun!

A lot of time and money can be spent on Sentosa island, but we had only a single afternoon among showers. Thankfully entry to the island is only S$1.

Orchard Road
With a couple of things on my shopping list, we decided to head to the main shopping area in Singapore, Orchard Road. Renown for having 30 malls along its 2.2km length, the street is Mecca for tourist shoppers.

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The start of Orchard road is the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, which exits beneath a 7-level mall. I managed to find the items I was looking for on the first two levels of the mall, so avoided having to spend too much time on the street.

Gardens by the Sea
Behind the Marina Park Sands is a large park area called the Gardens by the Sea. Most of the gardens are free to walk around, with several lakes, bridges and many separate garden areas, including the Supertree Grove…

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Gardens by the Bay also includes a pair of domes that contain specialty areas: the Cloud Forest and Flower Domes respectively. These are pay areas and can be quite expensive, so we decided against visiting them.

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City Lights shows
Most nights of the year Singapore hosts two separate free, light and sound shows. The first is in the Gardens by the Sea where lights dance around Supertree Grove in time to seasonal music. During our visit it was a Christmas theme.

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There is a canopy walk through the Supertree Grove which gives great views of both the Gardens and the Marina Bay Sands.

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The second light show is on Marina Bay in front of the Marina Bay Sands, where plentiful seating is provided. While waiting for the show to begin, there are great views of the central city buildings.

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The main show is about 20 minutes long and is laser light displayed on three fans of water projected up from the bay. The show depicts the life-cycle of humanity. It’s an interesting and most enjoyable show.

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Four days was simply not enough, so we extended to a week and still didn’t get to see everything. But alas, it was time get back on the road. Next stop, Malaysia.

The Trail Wanderers

Bandung, West Java, Indonesia – Impressions

Our trip to Java’s third largest city by train provided us amazing views over vast valleys of volcanoes and rice patties. The beauty of inland Java is unbelievable and the locals on the train seemed to agree.

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Bandung, however, didn’t live up to this beauty. Like the other cities of Java, we knew little of the area before we arrived and were determined to see what it had to offer.

A City of Two Halves.
Bandung is loosely split in half by the railway lines.

The area south of the train lines is a mass of street vendors and crowded dirty streets. We were warned about pickpockets and narrowly avoided a group of smug youths and their attempt on the busy street. There was a sense of being crowded with a little bit of danger. There are large areas of construction and so many cars and motorbikes it was difficult to simply cross the road.

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But crossing to the north side it’s like you’ve just stepped out of the 3rd world into the West. On the north side there are malls, higher class shops and restaurants, prominent architecture and more importantly, a relative sense of safety. This is where the few tourist spots are and many of the city’s prominent buildings.

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Finding an Information Centre in the city is next to impossible. With the vague tourist map we had and absolutely no help from online maps, we walked around dirty, hot streets trying to find a hidden shop that turned out to be inside a mosque. When we found it, we were given little information beyond another copy of the map. We headed off determined to find something about the city that we liked.

Jalan Braga
Near the Information Centre we went to check out the south side’s only tourist spot, Braga Street. Called the Paris of Java, the street was made famous in the 1920s as a promenade street, lined with cafes, restaurants and boutique shops. Now, apparently, it’s the top place locals come to party. When we arrived on Jalan Braga we discovered that it had largely been dug up with dirt and the stink of sewage in many places. And adding to it was the stream of vehicles along what was left of the road.

Frustrated at our day’s efforts, we spied a bar and settled in for a beer before heading back to the hostel.

The next day, determined to find something to like about the Bandung, we set out across the north side with more of a plan.

Angkots
As you travel further west across Indonesia, the Bemos we’d first encountered in Surabaya are called Angkutan Kota meaning ‘city transport’ or Angkot for short. Similar to those in Surabaya the Angkots travel predetermined routes across the city for between Rp2,000 to Rp5,000 depending on how far you’re going. The problems are still the same… if you don’t know the routes, you could end up anywhere. Best to ask the driver just to be sure.

Jalan Cihampelas
Cihampelas Street is a famous shopping area in Bandung which also called ‘Jeans Street’ because of the number of denim clothing stores that opened in the 1990s. The street has many malls and shops for bargain hunters. The area is very popular with Singaporean and Malaysian tourists, who flock here for the good prices. While in the street we stopped by Cihampelas Walk for lunch, a Western mall containing many Western-style stores and every American fast food chain possible.

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Museum Geologi
While generally not a great fan of museums, we stopped off at the Geology Museum for an hour as it began to rain. The first signs of the approaching rainy season. While most of the displays were in Indonesian, some were in English discussing the volcanos of Indonesia and the different time periods of the early earth.

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The museum is popular with local school trips and during our visit the museum was under sustained attack by three separate hordes of school children. Even so, it was still an informative stop off during a brief rain storm.

Saung Angklung Udjo
30 minutes by Angkot from the Museum Geologi is a school dedicated to the Angklung. The Angklung is an instrument made from bamboo tubes strung together that makes a dull chiming noise when rattled. On most days the school hosts tourists for an ‘Afternoon Show’. Listed as the most popular attraction in Bandung, we attended the show, which was made up of small acts and tunes played on the Angklung.

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The show had some dancing and towards the end the children handed out Angklungs to everyone in the audience and we were taught to play as an orchestra through many songs. The show lasted two hours and was perhaps the best part of our visit to Bandung.

Tangkuban Prahu Crater and Kiawah Putih Lake
Bandung is in a valley between volcanoes and as in many volcano towns, tours up the slopes are common. But after climbing Mount Merapi in Yogyakarta only days before, we felt that paying twice as much to be driven up a volcano wasn’t worth it this time.

Next we continue our travels to the west to the nation’s capital, Jakarta.

The Trail Wanderers