Today we learn that as each of us goes back home it leaves a void in our heart, the length of a journey when progressing through customs can only ever be approximate, travelling by bus can be a pleasurable experience and the final day of a great ‘journey’ is desperately sad.
Emma’s going back this weekend via Penang and I’m leaving for Singapore by bus. C is following after Emma leaves and she’s joining me in Singapore but going via Melaka solely because she’s never been there; can there ever be a better reason?
Booking a ticket on a bus is extremely easy, you’re presented with a seat plan of the bus that you’re intending to take and click on the actual seat that you wish to book, it’s a bit like a cinema or theatre booking process. I book one at the front so I can see the countryside and this proves to be a poor choice but I won’t know that until tomorrow. Once you’ve gone through the process and been warned that this is an international service so you’ll need your passport, you’re good to go. They’re extremely efficient and it does fill you with confidence.
We continue to get the most out of today which is sunny and warm, but then it should be we’re only a few degrees north of the equator and when we get to Singapore we’ll be one and a half degrees north, in fact, so close that some aeroplanes actually cross the equator if they’re stacked before making their approach.
I’m up early to double-check my rucksack and ensure I’ve picked everything up but I still receive the inevitable text as I reach the bus station from C, “I’ll bring x, y and z, that you’ve left behind”. I’m good at this when we’re all leaving or when I’m by myself but clearly not good when there are others still in the apartment where toiletries can get mixed up.
The bus station is a central hub about the size of a small town and would not look odd if there were aeroplanes standing outside. There are ticket offices, excellent and I mean really excellent cafes and restaurants, duty-free and non-duty free stores, escalators to other floors that have hundreds of comfortable seats if your in-transit between connecting buses and there are bank machines and money changers for your destination currency. It’s slick beyond description and I’m seriously impressed; however, the thing that gets my attention is something that I’ve read about but never seen, there are sleeping pods (these remind me of the cold units that they put corpses in to preserve them until they can be identified but much bigger and, I would hope, warmer. They’re stacked three high and four across and accessed through a door the size of the unit and virtually all of the inside is a bed. There are some in the city (not these) where you leave your clothes outside in a bag and when you awake the following morning they’re there for you washed and pressed. There are also some communal facilities to freshen up.
I’ve had my e-ticket swapped for the equivalent of a boarding card but I think this is purely for the Singapore border authority so that they know who you’ve arrived with and when.
I present myself at the appropriate gate and at exactly the time that the bus is advertised it pulls up and opens all of its cavities for filling with bags, prams, golf clubs and other stuff then on we get. It’s not full and that’s a real bonus for me as I’ve made a mistake by booking the front nearside seat i.e. not behind the driver. I wanted it for maximum viewing but there are several things that are going to defeat that plan.
- The passenger seats are much higher than the driver’s seat by about two feet so it’s difficult to see through the front window because you’re above it.
- The front side windows are blacked out so that they keep the sun off the driver and the people sitting in the front and this restricts the view
- There are logos and adverts on the outside of these windows so the view is impeded anyway.
- The front seat has a kickboard that restricts the amount of room for your legs and feet whereas you can get them under the seat in front if you’re a little further down the bus especially when you’re tall.
So there you have it, if you get the opportunity of the front seats of a long distance coach in Malaysia; don’t.
I move to some vacant seats on the other side of the bus and a little further back and that’s where I stay, they’re excellent.
The bus is comfortable, air-conditioned and spacious. The scenery is varied and interesting but not in the same league as the scenery from Cameron Highlands to Kuala Lumpur although I’d still promote the bus over air travel and if you include the time to get to the airport, the extra time that you have to build in for security and waiting to board then getting into the city at the other end, well the bus is marginally quicker.
We arrive at the Singapore border-check and getting signed out of Malaysia takes seconds; however, getting into Singapore is very time consuming and involves the dreaded zigzag queues that are ubiquitous at border crossings these days. We take about an hour and a half; however, I’m talking to a French-speaking Swiss gentleman who is taking some photographs when a security man asks to see the pictures that he’s taken. After a brief look, he’s invited to go to a secure area, it all looks a bit sinister although the Swiss man seems quite laid back about it.
We continue zigging and zagging eventually clearing the passport control followed by a walk through customs with no interest from the officials followed by a reunion with the Swiss gentleman who’s been waiting for us following interrogation and deletion of the images that he’d made in the passport control hall. He’d certainly been fast-tracked but I’m not sure that I’d recommend it as a general method of being selected.
The trip across the island is very efficient and passes some cracking landmarks including the Singapore Flyer and the Marina Gardens and the magnificent Marina Bay Sands Hotel complete with gardens and pool in the shape of a ship straddling the three columns.
I’m dropped no more than 200 metres from Hotel Indigo at Katong V – excellent result!
C will not arrive until the following evening as she’s calling at Melaka on the way and when I see the photographs I’m slightly envious, if I return to Malaysia it may be on my list.
In the morning I purchase a travel card from the hotel which turns out to be a real rip off. They can be purchased at a number of venues but S$14 at the hotel and S$10 at the 7eleven irritates me and I ask the receptionist who sold it to me if he knew the cost next door, there was no reply, he just looked sheepish.
The bus and metro service in Singapore is exceptional and reasonably priced, it’s also really easy to use by just tapping your card on one of several machines in the bus, there is no necessity to stand in a queue to use one reader near the driver as you do in the UK. I’m lucky as the bus I catch to go to the centre of the city is a double-decker and I manage to get the front seat upstairs giving me panoramic views of the elevated motorways, bridges, the huge wheel that’s even larger than the London Eye and the wonderful gardens with huge metal-framed illuminated flowers. As the bus enters the city centre the skyscrapers fill me with awe and they contrast with the antiquity of St Andrews Cathedral and the beautiful Colonial style buildings like Raffles and the old government buildings.
I spend the next couple of hours wandering around the old town with a half-hour in St Andrews. I’m not a big religious person but I do enjoy time spent in the odd church, temple or mosque. I enjoy the beauty of the architecture, the fascinating statues and fabulous artwork and the dedication of the people that frequent these wonderful buildings and grounds.
I’m sitting in the pews and thinking about my dear late wife Linda, my Mam and Dad, and many friends that have gone before me and the fabulous legacies of their influence; they’ll never die. These thoughts are not sad, they’re mostly uplifting and sometimes make me smile. It might be nice if there’s a world to come but it doesn’t really matter. If the light gets switched off and there is nothing more, the important work has already been done. Our legacy is who we have touched and helped. If I leave a legacy like the footprint that Linda and my Mam and Dad left for my family and all the other lives that they touched then I can sit here and relax.
Sometimes I light a candle and stare into the flame. I try to light it from a candle that’s already burning and there may be a reason for that but I don’t know what it is.
This church is giving me a warm hug, not all of them do that. I’m lucky in Yorkshire many of the churches are open through the day but when we’re walking in Spain they’re quite often locked shut and that’s sad.
I suppose, what I’m trying to say in these few paragraphs of rambling is it doesn’t matter if you have a god, what does matter is that you have a life with which you can do good and lend a hand – I’m OK with that.
There’s a teacher and a group of youngsters about eleven or twelve years old all well dressed in uniform and she’s telling them about the history of the building…
Apparently, Sir Stamford Raffles allocated the land in his first town plan and the building is the second church to be built on this site, the first one was built with a spire but no lightning conductor (I suppose in the 1830s that would probably be the norm) anyway the inevitable happened and it burned down so a second one was commissioned and built. Its name, St Andrews was chosen because much of the initial cost was covered by Scottish Business people. It has a bell that was cast in 1843 and named the Revere Bell after the wife of the American Consul Joseph Balastier who paid for it.
… and that, I’m afraid is as much as I picked up as they moved on to some sketching and brass rubbing work around the building.
It’s been a relaxing break in the church and the commentary by the teacher was fascinating but I really want to find Raffles which is only a block away but as I round the corner I’m disappointed to see it surrounded by protective boards. The last time I was here over 25 years ago it was being refurbished so perhaps I’m not destined to see it in its full glory.
I don’t spend any time in Raffles choosing to catch a bus from the stop handily sited adjacent to the hotel. I arrive at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and alight from the bus open-mouthed. This triple tower hotel is not only huge (2,500 rooms), it also has a garden and swimming pool in the shape of a ship which straddles the three towers and is over a thousand feet long and includes a five hundred foot infinity swimming pool. The scale of this edifice is astonishing and I’m looking up the curving structure in admiration and awe whilst feeling dizzy. It’s impressively, wonderfully, dizzyingly, fabulously and any other adverb you care to prefix your observation with, whatever superlative you choose, it’s better.
I spend a good hour in the foyers and atriums and take the opportunity of a soft drink to aid my observations of the people that are milling around, I love this!
The gardens are next, all themed according to their country and every one meticulously kept. I spend two hours wandering through the shade of the trees and smelling the ferns and blooms. I’ve loved Singapore for thirty years and this confirms why.
I leave the gardens intending to return with C and spend the rest of the afternoon sitting in the sun next to the rooftop pool alternating between swimming and writing – this is idyllic.
In the evening I meet Julie and Simon who have been living and teaching in Singapore for the last couple of years. C is making her way down country from Melaka and is probably negotiating the dreaded customs as we shake hands and hug. They take me to a Chinese restaurant only a couple of hundred yards from my hotel and we sit in the open and chat as the sun sets over the Straights
It’s dark when C arrives and more drinks are ordered to slake her thirst. There’s still food on the table and that satisfies her whilst she catches up with what they’re up to and what’s happened since the last time we saw them having done the Coast to Coast back in the UK. It’s a work night so we wrap it up about half nine and promise to meet again tomorrow for a quick look around their school followed by a quiz at their local, it’s a hard life being a traveller!
In the morning we acquire a travel card but this time from the 7Eleven and we’re good to go. I do a little bit of revisiting where I was yesterday and that’s good as I know what I’m doing now and I find that sharing an experience with someone special is far better than visiting alone although all rules are there to be broken.
We try to orientate ourselves by virtue of a trip on Duck Tours which is excellent. It’s only an hour and includes a cruise around the marina area giving us a completely different aspect on the wonderful buildings that litter the edge and even bridge it in places. We get a better view of the environmental domes which we decide to visit in the afternoon but the real landmark is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel which was astonishing yesterday from the shore, today, seeing it from the water introduces a sense of scale and it is epic. We return from the Marina and the tour ‘Duck’ takes us through the old town where we have a great commentary about the British and the government buildings together with the laws, courts and administration that had been established nearly two hundred years ago. The tour costs the equivalent of about £25 and is well worth it.
We’re dropped off at the ‘Duck’ offices and make our way to the bus stop that will enable us to get to the Marina Gardens where the Cloud Forest and Flower Domes are, we’re hoping to be there before the thunderstorms that are forecast for the afternoon make their appearance.
The Gardens are free to walk night and day; however, the two domes require a ticket. It’s about the equivalent of £15 and covers both Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome so it’s not bad value.
The Cloud Forest dome has a lift that takes you to the source of the highest indoor waterfall in Asia set amongst rainforest plants, beautiful vivid coloured blooms contrasting with more mundane coloured but extremely interesting carnivorous plants with trumpet-shaped flowers that catch unsuspecting insects and dissolve them before digesting them in a macabre process befitting a horror movie.
We follow elevated walkways that sweep out over the people many metres below. Every two hours artificial clouds are conjured up in a process of ‘misting’ via tiny atomising heads where water is forced out under pressure and creates the illusion of a rainforest canopy cloud, it’s astonishing.
We leave the Cloud Forest Dome and head for the Flower Dome. It’s slightly smaller than the first but much more colourful and we’re in luck as the Sakuras have only just been established and they’re in full bloom. The Japanese theme is prevalent although there are influences from all over Asia and a small area dedicated to the plants and fauna of Europe. It’s important to be vigilant in here as there are sculptures built into the planted areas, many are obvious but there is a number that blend into the garden design and when spotted, transform the plot into something even more interesting and sometimes very amusing.
We need to return to the hotel as we’re coming back here this evening for the light shows so we make our way to the magnificent hotel and decide on a walk over the causeway off this huge spit of reclaimed land to catch a direct bus back to Katong.
Cecilia is looking stunning in a long dress ready for the evening. It’s our last evening so we’re making a bit of an effort. The bus drops us at the shopping centre that we looked in this morning and we’re unsure of timings so we take a taxi to ensure we’re in the gardens by a quarter to eight when the light show starts. It’s a good choice as the taxi driver drops us very near the centre of where we need to be and a few steps later we’re in amongst the artificial trees that are complemented with real ones and all are festooned with coloured lights.
There’s an expectant hush… then the music starts and it’s all of the wonderful classics that I was exposed to by Mr Hogg our music teacher. The lights dance and fade in union with the beat and intensity of the music and the whole garden is transformed into a sensory experience. It goes on for 20 minutes and I notice that some people are actually up on a walkway in the canopy of the trees. Definitely worth considering if I ever return.
We walk from the gardens to the Marina area at the other side of the shopping centre. The Duck Tours guide had advised us to find a place near the Louise Vuitton signs and that’s what we do. There is a comfortable crowd already here when we arrive and there’s plenty of space for us to find a good vantage point.
We manage to get some great photos and I notice again how elegant Cecilia is looking in the long frock, it’s good to be with her and it’s perfect for this warm night in a posh area of the city, she fits in perfectly.
This light show involves dancing fountains around the marina that change colour with the music together with lasers picking out images in the mist. It’s another 15 to 20 minutes of cleverly choreographed entertainment and we love it.
Once finished we make our way to a footbridge that was pointed out to us from the Duck boat. It represents the double helix of DNA and I wanted to cross it to get a closer look and now’s the opportunity. Like most of the architecture in Singapore, it’s both beautiful and functional.
We decide on a meal near the hotel at Katong and an early night to prepare for return tomorrow. C will return to Manchester then York on a morning flight and I return to Heathrow and a bit of Granddading with my grandsons with the added bonus of Harry’s ninth birthday.
The morning brings a heavy heart as we do the final packing and then, with a long hug; it’s over.
It’s been great though…
Enjoy the snaps…G..x