Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Singapore for 24 hours

When M was researching flights home, one option was to fly through Singapore.  So, we decided to stop and stay for 24 hours - Layover Style.  We had big plans to eat our way through town!  It was rainy, humid, and very hot.  

First - Hawker Centres.  We started our adventure at the Hong Lim Food Centre, a popular hawker centre in the CBD.  Hawker centres are permanent, open air markets for street food vendors to make and sell food.  A little tough to see in the photo above, but the first 2 floors of that building is where the market is.  There are dozens of stands in each centre selling all kinds of food and drink.

Through his research, M had found a few places that we were off to try.  Now...actually finding said places proved to be a bit challenging, but finally we got the hang of it....the long lines helped us find them!

It's definitely not the prettiest dish we've ever had, but man it was delicious!  It's char kway teows, which means literally "stir-fried ricecake strips," is a popular noodle dish in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia.

M stood in line at our next stop while I went to get something to drink - we wanted to try something different.  So I got a chocolate avocado smoothie - it was surprisingly tasty!

The next 2 dishes were also delicious!  Wanton Mee and a chicken curry (I'm not sure of the name).  

Seating is first come first served.  It was so interesting to see people leaving umbrellas or coats or their purses to save a seat and go wait in line - no one would dare mess with anything!  Two young guys sat down at our table, heard us speaking English and struck up a conversation with us.  Super nice guy, he wants to get to the US one day! 

We walked around the area a bit before we met up with our bike tour.

There were tons of these massive covers that were over alleys and walkways - to protect from rain and sun.  

We met our bike group at Let's Go Bike Singapore.  We love doing bike tours in cities - you see so much more than walking, and get some exercise!  They're the same group as the company we did our crazy Bangkok bike tour with.  Luckily, this tour was much calmer than the one in Bangkok! 

We did the 'Historic Singapore' tour.  Since Singapore is so small, we were able to really see a ton of different areas on our 20km ride - Chinatown, Boat, Clarke and Robertson Quays, Singapore River, Kampong Glam, Museum District, Raffles Hotel, and more.  

I always love spotting older men sitting around playing intense games of checkers. 

Did I mention it was incredibly hot and humid?!

We stopped at a small cafe for a Kaya Bun, or peanut butter bun.  Such a great snack!

Our tour group - the other couple was from Toronto and the man from Ft. Lauderdale.  

One of my favorite parts of the city was how many different religions coexist together.  For example, while the mosque still has the traditional call to prayer 5 times a day, they keep the volume low and point the speakers only towards the neighborhoods immediately around so to not disturb others.  

The Merlion, half mermaid and half lion, is Singapore's national symbol.  Unfortunately he was under construction when we were there, so he wasn't spewing water... but that didn't deter the massive crowds around him! 

This was the last stop on our tour, which was fantastic - definitely recommend it.  Such a great mix of old and new Singapore.  Our guide Freddie was terrific.  We felt like in just a short amount of time, we got a really good feel for the city. 

After our bike ride we headed over to Orchard Road, the main shopping district of Singapore.  The Christmas decorations were out in FULL force - it was absolutely unreal.  These photos don't even begin to show many lights and decorations there were!  They certainly don't mess around. 

Once we were a bit overloaded, and surprisingly in the holiday spirit (despite the temperature), we went back to near where we finished our tour for dinner at an outdoor hawker centre, Makansutra.  With all of the city lights illuminating the skyline, it was really beautiful - very different look than in the daylight

We got the traditional wee nam kee chicken rice, as well as a stir fry dish hokkien prawn mee.  The place was absolutely mobbed!  We finally were able to grab 2 seats, our food and a pitcher of beer.  We'd definitely earned dinner that day after all of our biking and walking!  

A fabulous, whirlwind stop in a vibrant city.  We so enjoyed our time there and can't wait to return one day.  It was the perfect end to our trip on the other side of the world.  

Back to our hotel to shower, pack up and head to the airport.  Several people have asked me where we stayed - it was the Holiday Inn Express Clark Quay.  Great location, tiny but very nice room, would certainly recommend it. We had a reservation for both nights - our flight out wasn't until around midnight, and we knew we would want to clean up before the long journey home.  

Flying through Tokyo, we landed back in DC the morning before Thanksgiving - and were so looking forward to spending the holiday in Richmond with our family and friends!  

Time to plan another trip!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Gourmet Escape

We had already planned to spend a few days in Margaret River before we discovered the Gourmet Escape food and wine festival... but it did help determine our order of cities to visit!  And what a fabulous way to end our time in Australia.  

In addition to the actual festival, there were several other events that you could purchase tickets to, such as specialty chef pop-up dinners.  We decided on 2 - both things that were unique to Australia, that we couldn't easily repeat at home in DC.  

The first was Dining on the Brusselton Jetty.  Sponsored by the Western Australian Fishing Industry Council (WAFIC) and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), it was a seafood focused meal.  The dinner took place at the end of the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, which we had to take a boat out to! 

Beautiful but quite windy evening as the group waits for the boat to arrive. 

Not too shabby!

Very cool to see the sun setting in Margaret River, just at the same time as it was rising at home. 

The tent on the end of the jetty!  We were lucky the dinner even was able to occur, the evening's before had been postponed due to the wind. 

Sitting inside the beautiful tent.  There were 2 waves of diners, we were in the second. 

The 2 celebrity chefs, Rick Stein and his son Jack, came out and did a bit of a Q&A, told stories and jokes, in the middle of the evening.  They were quiet entertaining!  We also got to chatting with a lovely couple on the boat who we sat with at dinner, so it was a very fun evening!  We are now Facebook friends - gotta love social media.  You never know - our paths might cross again one day!

The next day was our day to attend the actual festival.  It was incredibly hot that day, but we still had a great (albeit sweaty) time trying all kinds of different foods from the chefs.  

I was so hot I could hardly catch my breath - I don't know how these guys were cooking over hot grills!  

After a few hours and lots of delicious food and drink, we took the bus back to the house to clean up for the event I was most looking forward to - dinner on the Castle Bay beach!

It was even more beautiful than I'd imagined!

Chef Guillaume Brahimi was the celebrity chef of the event.  He's from France, but currently living in Sydney.  He grilled the lamb chops that we had for dinner on this massive grill, right on the beach!  Luckily, at this point in the day, the weather had cooled down and it was quite nice.

We were literally right on the water!  They were starting to stack sandbags while we were eating to keep the tide from getting into the tents.

We had lots of time to mill around, try different beers, take photos and chat with folks before dinner.  Lots of the other celebrity chefs who were in town for the festival were at dinner, and it was very cool to meet some of them.  We met the guys behind Porteno, one of the restaurants we ate at in Sydney

Dinner was served family style, and was absolutely delicious.  We sat with 2 couples who both live in Singapore, and since that was our next stop, we were able to get some tips!

It just couldn't have been a better last evening in Australia. 

The next morning, on our way back to Perth to fly out, we made a few stops along the way.  First, coffee with a view. 

and a windy selfie!

Our final stop was at Eagle Bay Brewery for lunch on their back patio.  It was beautiful!  The food and beer was delicious.  

And with that, our time in Australia had come to an end.  I knew it would be beautiful and the people would be lovely, but we were just blown away by everything.  If only it wasn't quite so far to travel to visit!! 

Next stop, a 24 hour whirlwind tour of Singapore!