19 March 2012

And we're off

The rain just wouldn’t stop on the so-called ‘Sunshine’ Coast, so on Saturday we sodded off to Singapore.  As usual, Doug decided that it would be best to start packing a few hours before we had to go to the airport, so lucky for him the Packing Fairies got a whole lot of his kit out the night before so he could yet again declare that there is nothing at all to packing for international travel and it only takes half an hour.

Brisbane Airport has a little noodle cafĂ© that is always good for a light and quick lunch, then it was a seven hour movie marathon to Singapore.  But you can only be distracted from the fact that you’re stuck in a small seat with little leg room for so long, and despite okay movies and very attentive service from the cabin crew I was downright antsy and ready to get off the plane by the time we arrived in Singapore.  It was hot and humid like a wet blanket descending upon you when we left the airport – does Singapore do any weather other than hot and humid?  Everywhere inside is air-conditioned, but lots of the food markets we prefer to frequent are outside affairs so you just have to get used to it, and you do quickly enough.  Singapore appears to be having a charm offensive at the moment, with every single person you meet very friendly and helpful and smiling and all in all it was very nice dealing with everyone.

We got all adventurous this time and stayed in the red light district of Geylang, though it seemed pretty tame when we went for a stroll on Saturday night – lots of people everywhere but that’s how it is all over Singapore.  There were a few gels who could have been Ladies of the Red Light District, or they could have just been office girls out for a good time on Saturday night wearing their floozie frocks.  Sunday morning, though, was an entirely different matter.  Who would have thought that Sunday morning was peak hour in the red light district?  Doug ventured out to find somewhere for us to have breakfast while I showered, and he was propositioned a number of times and asked if he wanted a massage.  But, poor dear, all he wanted was breakfast.  And just as well for him. 

Geylang is pretty rough and rundown, but do you know I like it a whole lot more than the upmarket shopping malls of Orchard Road, which bore me silly.  Prada and Louis Vuitton and Armani have shops in all the big cities, and upmarket shops are the same the world over.  You could be anywhere if you choose to shop in Orchard Road because absolutely nothing about it is authentic Singaporean.  The Geylang district has no shortage of prostitutes and gangs and illegal gambling dens and drug dealers, but you still feel perfectly safe walking about.  If you don’t want anything on offer, the person offering quickly moves on.  On many street corners enterprising individuals set up plastic sheets on the ground to display their array of performance enhancing drugs, which I guess is handy if you’ve come to Geylang to partake of its attractions but are feeling a bit tuckered out.  The architecture is old and interesting, with attractive detailing everywhere and big wooden shutters over many windows.  It’s the same when we travel through Hong Kong – we never stay on HK Island, which is mostly like Orchard Road only island-sized, but always go a bit further afield and find somewhere in Kowloon – more grotty, more noisy, harder to navigate if you don’t speak Chinese, but so much more interesting.

Anyway, we decided to spend the day at Singapore Zoo on the grounds that it’s been 20 years since we were last there.  And before there are any cracks about my age, I was very young when I was last there.  For the most part, it’s a great Zoo.  However, 20 years ago I complained about the inadequacy of the big cat enclosures, and nothing has changed in two decades and I still lament how small they are and how bored spitless the poor things must be.  And the rhino enclosure was dead unimpressive for such big animals.  Just consider Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo – now that’s a Zoo for big critters that like to trot about, and it’s how they should be accommodated.  I think Singapore Zoo should have less species on display, and give a lot more space to those they keep.  And what about enrichment activities, people!  The chimps had it, and the elephants, and a few others but not the cats.  I shall be a Big Cat Advocate here and declare that Singapore Zoo is Not Good Enough in terms of enrichment or space for them and if they can’t provide adequate care they shouldn’t have them.

But on the up side, it is said to be the best rainforest Zoo in the world and indeed it is a very beautiful place.  The orang utans have a large free range environment, to the point where they can come pretty close to watch you having lunch (from the tree trunks and ropes connecting the trees next to the open-air restaurant – they can’t come down and actually join you).  Baby squirrels ran around our feet while we had a pretty good Laksa lunch and they were gorgeous.  And OMG I can’t believe I’m commenting on public toilets, but they were the best we'd ever seen.  A wall the entire length of the room is an open-air waterfall, then a small garden, then a bamboo privacy wall.  How fabulous, we thought, and immediately started considering how we could work a similar idea into our coming house. 

We set off to find Calypso’s wild relatives (Asian Leopard Cats) and what a surprise they were - really quite small.  I think Calypso is already bigger than the female Leopard Cat in the Zoo.  They are very beautiful little cats, though, and you could definitely see that they are related to our moggie in looks and behaviour.  Then we encountered free range ring-tailed lemurs, and they came right up to us and guess what?  I wasn’t bitten.  Hurrah, no blood!  And then I got to feed a couple of elephants and was not mauled.  This is a good development in our interactions with wild animals.  Last trip, you may recall, I was bitten on the hand by a meerkat (and it drew blood and I almost fell down dead from rabies) and Doug was bitten on the bum by a giraffe.  Not having looked up an elephant’s trunk before, I did not know that they actually have two nostrils and that the tip is really muscular and has small bristles like whiskers.  What a fun day it was, and we emerged wound-free.

Then back to Geylang, where we managed to order a nice meal in a Chinese restaurant where they spoke no English and the menu was entirely in Chinese and even though the place was packed we were the only Westerners there – just how we like it.  It’s always a risk when you’re not entirely sure what you’re ordering, but the menu did have pictures and we figure it’s a good sign if a restaurant is full of locals.  Having said that, using this approach I once accidentally ordered tripe in a restaurant in Spain and it was blah and Doug had to (grudgingly) share his much nicer meal, so it doesn’t always work.  But mostly it does.

By early evening it had started bucketing with rain, positively monsoonal, so we decided to sod off to Istanbul. *** break of 12 hours ***  And now we’re here.  There was a crescent moon low in the sky as we flew into Istanbul, which we took for a good sign.  But who knew that the city is so incredibly hilly?  The old part of town, at least.  I'm not fond of walking up hills - I'm more a plains girl myself.  But anyway, it looks like it will be good.  The sun has just come up, and we have a charming room up in the eaves of our old hotel, with a lovely view of the Marmara Sea and the Sultanahmet Mosque just up the hill.  The Grand Bazaar is apparently not too far away – just don’t let be up the top of one of these monumental hills!  It’s a lovely sunny day, so after a shower we shall go exploring.

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