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Pelicans

These are another couple of things that I didn’t do last year, despite hearing that they were excellent, Well, today I did them – or perhaps they did me, I am back at my hotel at 10:15 and am absolutely shattered.

I went to the zoo straight after breakfast. It’s somewhere in the middle-ish of Singapore Island, and is therefore some distance from the city (which is on the southern tip of the island). In fact it took just over an hour to get there – about 30 minutes on the metro followed by a bus ride of more than 30 minutes. The metro ride was to a place called ‘Ang Mo Kio’ which is a dormitory new town. In fact, it was one of the first new towns to be built after independence in the mid-60s. It was built during the 70s as a planned residential area, with the previous kampongs (traditional villages), agricultural land and swamps all replaced. It’s a place of tower blocks and grid-plan roads, and a new-build town centre which incorporates the bus station and (now) the metro station. Not unlike Telford town centre, in fact, and from about the same era as well. What’s interesting to see is that the place is in really good repair and the people look smart and purposeful; in classic Singapore fashion, everything works, nothing is broken, and there’s no graffiti. Perhaps not so much like Telford, then….. It has a population somewhere around 150,000, so it’s a significant sized town. And it’s just one of a dozen or more spread across the island and all built in the last 50 years.

But on to the zoo! I had heard about it when I was planning last year’s visit and had read about it. The comments ranged from “possibly the best zoo in the world!” to “but still just a zoo….”. So this time I had to go see for myself.

I think that both descriptions are true, or at least partly. It is a very good zoo, but it is also still just a zoo. It’s very well laid-out, with lots of information. They’ve got on top of the ecology/species preservation message. But they also include large animals such as elephants and some big cats in the zoo, and I don’t believe it’s at all possible to keep a big cat in captivity in a manner that’s not harmful in some way to it. On the other hand, there is the ‘species preservation’ argument, and that would very much apply to some of the animals they have, including the asian lion. Continue Reading »

First day back in Singapore

The Sultan mosque

So, back in Singapore. I arrived at 4:30-ish Tuesday afternoon after a door to door journey that took about 22 hours. There were a couple of trains from Sheffield to Manchester airport; a couple of planes from Manchester to Singapore; and finally a very comfortable transfer in a Mercedes from Singapore airport to my hotel.

Having arrived I looked after some housekeeping stuff. I needed all of the following things: some cash; a local sim for my phone; a pass for the Singapore MRT (the Metro); and I also needed to collect my ticket for the Chingay parade. I knew from last year’s visit that there was a shopping mall (City Square Mall) over the road from the hotel where I could get all these things. Later in the evening I went back to the mall to eat, at one of the many food outlets there. I was tired and jet-lagged and not feeling adventurous, so I picked ‘PastaMania’ and had a very enjoyable mushroom soup and ‘creamy chicken’ with penne pasta. Together with a bottle of water that came to S$15.90, or about ¬£8.50. I’ve found that you can certainly eat very cheaply in Singapore (you can also eat very expensively), but that alcohol is always expensive. Unless you stick to the ubiquitous Tiger beer, and in a popular tourist hotspot even that can be pricey.

One of my aims this year is to visit a number of places I didn’t get to last year, and this morning I went to the first of these: Kampong Glam. Historically, this was the centre of Malay settlement in Singapore. There are a few streets of old buildings consisting of South Asian ‘Shop Houses’, where the ground floor was devoted to business and the family lived above. However none of these premises seem to be doing what they originally did, most have become shops for local designers, or they are cafes and bars. Unlike a very similar area of Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia, they are all in good repair; indeed the area is very vibrant.

Alongside these streets of small buildings are a couple of much more major edifices. One is the Sultan Mosque. This dates from the 1840s (it replaced an older, smaller mosque) and claims to be both the oldest extant mosque in Singapore and the most important. It’s a very odd structure – despite being built to serve a Malay population its design is apparently based on the Taj Mahal, and it has an onion dome despite the fact that such a feature has no place in traditional Malay architecture.

Alongside the mosque are a couple of other buildings dating from the same era. One is the Istana Kampong Glam, the residence of the local Malay Sultan who did the deals with Raffles in 1819 and 1822 that allowed Singapore to come into being. Today it’s the home of the Malay Heritage Centre, which I visited and enjoyed.

I got a definite feeling from my guide round the Malay centre that the Malay culture is particularly under threat, and that the Malay language especially is not much spoken in Singapore. Of the nation’s ethnic groups, the Chinese (far and away the largest) are secure in their heritage, although even among them there are accounts of Mandarin usage dropping in favour of English. The Indian community is strengthened by the presence of so many Indian temporary residents. The Malay community, on the other hand, seems to be the loser. My guide, who said that she came from Malay ancestry – or had Malay ancestry – also said that she was Chinese, and certainly her name was Chinese. I get the feeling that as the Chinese and Malay ethnic groups mix, it is the Chinese who are the winners and the Malays who lose out.

 

Next week (19th February) I shall be heading back to Singapore and Malaysia. I’m having six nights in Singapore plus a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur; those, plus the two overnights while I’m on flights will mean that I’ll be away for about ten days.

Obviously I’ve been to Singapore before, so why go back? Well, I came away thinking that there were lots of things I hadn’t seen or visited: Chinatown, for example, or Kampong Glam, or even places like the Zoo. Then there were a couple of major museums that I didn’t visit, one of them being the Singapore Art Museum and the Asian Art Museum. And also one or two out-doors places – I think I’d like to walk the southern ridges, for example.

But the main reason I’m going back is that this is Chinese New Year, which in Singapore finishes with a big parade, the Chingay parade. I’ve timed my visit so that I shall be there for the parade, and Ive bought a ticket for it. Hopefully I shall get lots of images.

Then there’s Kuala Lumpur. I haven’t visited this city before, and I’m not sure what I’ll think about it. But I’m reading more about Malaysia, and liking what I read, so this will be a flying visit to experience that country’s capital. Perhaps next year I’ll do a trip just to Malaysia – I still don’t feel I did Georgetown justice last year, and I’m also attracted by places such as the Cameron Highlands, Langkawi and Malacca, or maybe the islands and cost on the east side of peninsular Malaysia. I’m not sure if I’m ready for Malaysia-in-Borneo yet – Sabah and Sarawak provinces. But who knows….

I shall be blogging from the trip, so stay tuned for posts and pictures.

East Portlemouth in the mist

This is a few months old, so apologies for that. I’ve been havering back and forwards as to whether to post anything about this brief visit or not, and have finally decided that I ought to.

In late October I went back back to Salcombe, just for a few days – just two full days, to be truthful, plus the late afternoon of the day I arrived. There’s no need to write about the journey – I drove from Sheffield to Salcombe in S. Devon via the obvious route – or the reasons for going. I took a camera system because the weather forecast look reasonable for at least one of the days.

I’m familiar with Salcombe but seeing it out of season did make it look different. For example, when I arrived I was initially pleased to see that the town’s main car-park, nicknamed the ‘boat park’, appeared to have lots of spaces, but I soon discovered that this was because it was mainly closed to cars because it was (partly) occupied by boats that had been taken out of the water for the winter. It was also odd getting used to the much shorter days – I’m used to the long hours of sunshine in mid-summer.

The weather, too, was very autumnal, at least at first – it was raining steadily on the afternoon I arrived, so no sitting on the terrace at The Ferry Inn this time. The day after was grey and miserable, with quite a stiff breeze, but this meant that we had East Portlemouth beach almost to ourselves for the obligatory game of beach cricket. But the day after that, the last full day of my visit, was glorious – perhaps the best day I’ve ever had there. Along with a couple of family members I walked from East Portlemouth to The Pig’s Nose Inn at East Prawle, a distance of perhaps three miles each way. On the way there we tried using some field paths in order to stay away from the lanes but we got rather muddy so on the return we just strolled along the lanes. The weather was wonderful – warmer than I’d expected (approaching 20 degrees), and very clear. Best of all I was able to get some good pictures.

For this year’s holiday in Crete (2017) I flew from Heathrow with BA, and stayed at the Bath Road Premier Inn the night before. I didn’t just book the previous night’s stay with Premier Inn, I booked the complete ‘SleepParkFly’ deal – a single price for the night’s accommodation before the flight, the overnight parking at the hotel, and then the parking while I was away. That seemed to be a good deal so I shall be repeating the exercise for next year’s holiday. This will actually be a bit more complex – I shall be flying out of Gatwick but returning to Heathrow – so I booked the SleepParkFly package at the Bath Road hotel again, and I shall get the National Express coach from Heathrow to Gatwick the morning after (my flight doesn’t leave Gatwick until the afternoon).

I did notice when I booked for next year’s holiday (2018) that the price for the SleepParkFly package had gone up quite a bit. However I thought it was still a good deal – it included vehicle drop-off and pick-up at the terminal, so no messing about with shuttle buses from distant car parks.

I’m now in the early stages of booking a holiday in Rome in the early summer/late spring and again the BA prices and flight times from Heathrow look attractive, so repeating the SleepParkFly exercise looked tempting. When I tried to check the cost I couldn’t find any prices quoted, however. So I did a bit of digging and found the following comment on the the Premier Inn website: “We’re not currently taking new Sleep Park Fly bookings at our Heathrow hotels.

Doing a bit more digging, I learned that in fact Premier Inn’s SleepParkFly partner at Heathrow, Purple Parking, went into administration in early November. They were then saved by another company, Holiday Extras, and as a result of the rescue Purple Parking are continuing to trade. (Here’s a link to a press release on the Holiday Extras website.) Obviously, however, the new owners and Premier Inn have not so far been able to reach agreement about new bookings so the arrangement has broken down.

Interestingly, however, Premier Inn continue to offer SleepParkFly packages at their hotels at other airports – Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted. Perhaps Purple Parking weren’t involved in those arrangements? But let’s hope that Premier Inn can reach agreement with a provider at Heathrow, as I felt that it was a good service.

 

Last weekend I was in London for 24 hours. My wife and daughter were visiting a sewing show at Excel so I had the day (Sunday) to myself. The weather was glorious – sunny until late in the afternoon, quite still, and quite warm by mid-afternoon.

We were staying at in Stratford in East London and on looking at a map I spotted that there were a number of canals and waterways nearby which I decided I would spend Sunday walking along.

First up was the River Lea Navigation, which I encountered in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic park. It’s been significantly tamed – as you can see from the couple of shots I got of this waterway, it’s been incorporated into the Olympic Park.

Next was the Hertford Union canal, a short (couple of miles) canal linking the River Lea with the Regent’s Canal. This was very much a typical narrow-boat canal of the kind I’ve seen all over England. There was even some canal boat activity – saw a boat being locked-down towards the River Lea. The environment this canal runs through is quite ‘gritty’ – there are still a lot of older building backing onto it, and the canal-side architecture has been ‘enhanced’ by the street artists. However, the canal also runs alongside Victoria Park and I diverted into the park for a while.

The western end of the Hertford Union forms a T-junction with the Regent’s Canal. Annoyingly, this was the only area on this walk where I had to divert away from the canal. There’s an apartment development under way – Bow Wharf – with the apartments expected to cost up to ¬£1M. How the East End has changed! – although I suspect that this part of the East End was always one of the better parts. Once back on the Regent’s Canal I was walking along the edge of Mile End Park the Regent’s Canal runs alongside it for a mile or more – and I was struck by the new architecture on the opposite bank. Was this canalside the focus of early development? Certainly it all looked much more modern than the housing along the Hertford Union. Not a much life on the can, however – for long stretches the surface of the water was completely covered in green algae which suggested to me that there wasn’t much traffic along it.

The final stop for this main walk was Limehouse Basin, at the end of the Regent’s Canal, and the site of a junction between the canal and the Thames. That said, I assume that the purpose of Limehouse Basin was to permit transhipment of goods from canal narrowboats to Thames barges & lighters, and vice-versa – I’m not sure about narrow boats on the tidal Thames! Today, as can be seen from one of the pictures, Limehouse Basin is home to a great many pleasure craft of different sizes.

Later – after a break for lunch and a relocation to the O2 area, via Canary Wharf, I walked along the Thames from the O2 to Greenwich. By this time it was getting hot, and annoyingly i again had to divert into a back street because the Thames path is currently blocked by a new development. But the walk along the Oval College was as magnificent as ever, and there was a cruise ship moored at Greenwich Pier.

Walk in the Peak District

 

The view from Monsal Head (taken on a different occasion)

Since I retired I’ve been able to get back to doing some walking in the Peak

District. I’ve been pleased to find that I can still do 10 to 12 miles over the hills, although the longer distance does now leave me tired. This year I’ve been out a handful of times. A couple of these were quite hard – I remember one in the upper Derwent Valley when I went badly off the path and spent a very tiring half hour floundering through waist-high bracken and heather which was very successfully concealing uneven ground below; the result was several stumbles and much hard work. I was glad to finish that one. But in mid September the weather cleared up after several days of rain and I went out again, to an area that I’ve never really walked – just to the north of Monsal Head.

The walk was about 10 miles round altogether, and was quite easy underfoot. It divided nicely into two – out and back. The outbound half took me to Foolow Village. After a couple of miles climbing up not-too-steep slopes the route levelled off and I had another couple of miles walking across the limestone – pretty level, and good underfoot. This was a really good section. A final stretch along a lane took me into Foolow village where I ate my lunch – alongside the pond, no less.

After more walking across the fields to Wardlow Mires the return section begin in earnest at the entrance to Cressbrookdale. This continued easily for a mile or more, and indeed I could have stayed on the path in the bottom of the dale all the way to Ravensdale Cottages, about three miles or so. But I was tempted by a suggested diversion on a side path, steeply up the side of the dale to the rim for the sake of the views, and I did this. Readers, the views were great but it was hard work! Then down an equivalent path back to the dale bottom. Beyond Ravensdale Cottages there was some road walking untilI I reached Cressbrook and the river Wye, where the path took me up to the Monsal Trail. It was about a mile along that to the viaduct over Monsal Dale, followed by the sting in the tail – the climb from the viaduct up the Monsal Head hotel, back to where I’d left my car.

As ever I had my camera and took a number of pictures. Looking at them on the computer I decided that they felt very ‘monochrome’ so that’s how I’ve processed a number of them.

Three Walks

Looking back towards Salcombe

 

Well, after a long pause with no posts I’ve finally got something to write about. So why haven’t I posted since I got back from Crete in June? – well, mainly because this is my Travel blog and I haven’t done any actual travelling since then…. Several trips were planned but subsequently cancelled, hence the paucity of posts. But I have been doing some walking in one context or another, so here are some posts about these walks.

The first walk was in August during a family holiday in Salcombe in the South Hams district of Devon. This was the third such family holiday in four years. I decided there was no need to do posts specifically about the holiday – it was pretty much the same mix as on previous years. However, for those who might be interested, here’s a link to a previous post. One difference this year was that our younger daughter, Jude, was with us and she had made it clear that she wanted to walk a stretch of the South West Coast path; and would I like to accompany her? Yes was the answer, of course.

We decided to do the stretch westwards from Salcombe round to Hope Cove – that’s about 8 or 9 miles – then head back to Salcombe across the fields to the village of Malborough – that would add another 2 or 3 miles to it. Then we’d aim for one of the occasional buses that run from Kingsbridge to Salcombe via Malborough. Along the way we reckoned that we might also enjoy a cream tea at Hope Cove, so we weren’t aiming on breaking any records on this walk.

My recollection is that we set off before 10 o’clock and did the familiar walk along the road to South Sands. Beyond that we climbed steeply uphill towards Overbecks, a National Trust house which sits high on a cliff overlooking the Kingsbridge estuary. (It’s actually a ‘Ria’, I’m told, since there isn’t any river – it’s completely tidal – and there has to be a river for there to be an estuary.) We turned off the paved driveway to the house and at last found ourselves on the actual SW Coast Path heading southwards round Starehole Bay and towards Bolt Head. This was where things got dramatic and beautiful, of course.

I won’t bother describing the route in detail, but here are some impressions of it that I remember:

  • it wasn’t quite as much ‘up and down’ as I’d expected – there were some white long stretches, e.g. over The Warren, that were on a level. I recall getting very tired many years ago during a walk over the Seven Sisters in Sussex, but this was no where near as bad;
  • we were surprised to notice that a group of young people were going a long way off the path to avoid a herd of cows (and they were cows….). In my experience you’ll be OK with cows as long as you don’t get too near to the rear end – that can get messy with not a lot of warning. Horses, on the other hand, can be vicious brutes;
  • the stretch around Soar Mill Cove was quite steep, on both sides, and we were surprised to see several older people being helped down the paths (which were quite rough thereabouts) towards the Cove. I couldn’t help feeling that getting the old folks back up was going to be difficult. (And before anyone criticises me for being age-ist, I’ll just say that I’m 67 and these were people who looked considerably older than me….);
  • walking around Bolt Tail, with Hope Cove constantly in sight – indeed, at one point we were walking from Hope Cove – was hard.

In Hope Cove we each had a cream tea to die for, at the Cottage Hotel, and then set off across the fields to Malborough. This section couldn’t help but be a letdown after the coast path, but it was the best way of getting back to Salcombe. In Marlborough we had a quick drink at the Royal Oak and then headed off to the junction with the main road to catch the bus. We left with almost 10 minutes to spare, but all we saw was the back of the bus disappearing up the road – it had left early.

I knew the name of the bus company (“TallyHo Coaches”), got their phone number via the mobile, and immediately rang them to complain, politely but firmly. They were very apologetic; confirmed from their equipment that the bus had gone through the timetabled stop at Malborough Garage 7 minutes early; and duly sent an 8-seat minibus from Kingsbridge to take us to Salcombe, at no cost. Well done TallyHo! – it’s how you recover from a cock-up that give you an opportunity to impress customers.

Tomorrow – or soon, anyway – a walk in the Peak District.

Chania Harbour and Porto Veneziano hotel

After leaving Palaiochora I went back to Chania for three nights. This was my third holiday in Crete and all of them have featured nights in Chania so I was wondering if I would be getting bored with the town. But not so – I find it as delightful and entrancing as ever.

This year I was staying at the Porto Veneziano hotel. I found it to be very good. It’s a much more modern hotel than any of the others I’ve stayed at in Chania – indeed, it’s almost the only new structure around the harbour. So the rooms were very modern and comfortable and there were good facilities on the ground floor. There’s no restaurant (well, apart from a buffet breakfast area) but that’s not a hardship – there are a million restaurants around Chania harbour, including a couple just outside the hotel. This hotel is right at the eastern end of the harbour, very close to the Venetian Arsenal, which was also new to me – previously I’d stayed at hotels at the opposite end of the harbour, which is a good half-mile or more away. I found some areas of Chania that I’d never explored before – the area further east of the harbour, round by the Sabbionara Rampart and the walk around the bay to the east of that. I was also closer to the oldest part of Chania, ‘Kasteli’, the low hilltop immediately behind the eastern end of the harbour. There are archaeological excavations around that area which reveal the history of the settlement that became Chania going back to Minoan and even pre-Minoan times – nearly 4,000 years ago. Some areas have been excavated and have interpretative displays, in English and Greek, available to read. But the highest point of the hill is occupied by much more recent buildings, so what might lie beneath those areas is still unknown. As ever when looking at very old archaeological sites, I’m completely thrown by the fact that the historic ground level is a number of feet lower than ground level today. Who knew that 4000 years of rubbish would have such an effect?

Here are some more pictures of Chania harbour:

On my first full day in Chania I actually went to Heraklion! I did this on the regular public bus which took longer than I had remembered – about two and three-quarter hours going, and a solid three hours on the return. I had thought that the journey time was more like a couple of hours or so, but I was mistaken. My target in Heraklion was primarily the Historical Museum of Crete which I found easily and which was good. There was a particularly good room on the ground floor about the Ottoman conquest of Heraklion in the 17th century, and the way the defences of the city were enhanced over the previous fifty years or so to combat the threat. Another display featured a large number of icons – all beautiful and colourful, and ranging from very skilled and sophisticated to icons that are cleary the work of more rustic artists.

After spending a couple of hours or so in the museum I went down to the harbour where there is large Venetian-era fortress (the Koules fortress) which has been restored and opened to the public in recent years. It’s a truly monumental piece of architecture with walls some yards thick in order to withstand the Turkish attacks. All to no avail in the end…

On my final day I went to a resort not far from Chania, Kalyves. I had been looking at this as a possible place for a holiday for Val and I together someday – it’s not too far from Chania and and not too commercialised. In the event however I came away a little underwhelmed with Kalyves. I think if we go there it might be better to spend a few days in a good resort hotel ¬†somewhere like Platanias, in the developed strip west of the town, before going back to Chania for a final few nights. But I finished the day with a beer in a bar in a road away from the harbour – very quiete, a bit hippy, and not too commercial.

Fisherman with a view

Then the following morning I had to leave. I took a final few pictures around the harbour; I bought a small piece of local art ceramic from a small gallery; and then it was time for the taxi to the airport to wait for the flight home.

I eventually got to Palaiochora just before lunchtime on Thursday. While I was waiting for my room to be ready I reacquainted myself with the town, and walked around for a couple of hours. From one beach to the other, and a climb up to the Castro at the end of the peninsula, did the trick. A cappuccino and sandwich at the Castelli snack bar above the sandy beach also helped.

I checked in and then just rested at the hotel for a couple of hours – after all the travelling I was ready for that. Although the weather was better – it wasn’t raining, for example – it wasn’t very warm either so sitting on the beach wasn’t quite right. Eventually I decided it was time to go out and eat, and I had a Cretan meal in a traditional taverna, ‘Portofino’, overlooking the stony beach. I had a Graviera Saganaki starter (a fried breaded cheese dish – very tasty) followed by “lamb and potato from the oven”, which was also good if very filling. Then back to the hotel for an early night.

Friday was the highlight of my stay in Palaiochora. Starting just after 10 o’clock I walked up to Anidri village, about three miles away. There’s a good kaffeneion there in the old schoolhouse at which I enjoyed the best cheesecake in the world, but the main point was that Anidri is at the top of the eponymous Gorge, which leads down to Giaskala beach itself about three miles from Palaiochira. Immediately after starting the gorge path I found the old (14th c.) chapel of Agios Giorgios – St George – complete with frescoes of him slaying the dragon. The chapel is very small and very peaceful, and well worth a visit.

Then it was on down the gorge. This took about an hour, so it was much simpler, shorter and easier than last year’s walk down Samaria gorge. Nonetheless it was a very enjoyable walk. At Giaskala beach there’s another taverna where I enjoyed a glass of fresh orange before the walk back along a dusty road back into Palaiochora. I’ll admit, this section was somewhat underwhelming. Then it was back to the hotel at just after 3 o’clock.

I ate in Portofino again that evening, this time rather less successfully – “beef from the oven”, which was tasty enough but of which there was a huge amount.

Saturday was my last full day in Palaiochora, and I spent it exploring the beaches. In the morning I walked out along the road leading westwards of the town, along the sandy beach, and then walked back along the beach itself. I paddled! The weather was sunny and warm, but again there was a stiff breeze which was hitting the sandy beach hard and it wasn’t the right place for sitting on a lounger. So I headed up to Castelli again and had my first serious junk food of the holiday – a club sandwich + fries, which was in fact delicious, and which was followed by a glass of draft Alpha. In the afternoon I put on my swimming gear and walked up the stony beach to a beach club – Perla Cove – where I bagged a lounger and enjoyed an hour on it. This beach is out of the wind. I did try going on for a swim but the beach is, as I’ve mentioned, stony underfoot (and thus painful), while the rocks that are permanently under water (even just a few inches) are very slippery, so I thought better of this. As an alternative I headed for the bar above the beach and let the barman mix me a gin and tonic. Then back to the hotel – slowly.

View from Castro cocktail bar

I spent the main part of the evening having first a cocktail and then a meal at Castro, a restaurant/cocktail bar on the way up to the the actual castro. It’s stunningly located, high up above the town, but the wind got up and I was in shirt sleeves, so I ended up very cold. The plate of pasta was excellent, however, and the glass of raki at the end had a certain warming effect. Either that or it helped me stop worrying about the cold…. A quick trip back to the hotel was followed by a visit to Monica’s Garden, Palaiochora’s best (only?) wine bar where a glass of cretan wine was enjoyed. Then back to the hotel for the last night.

The following morning it was time to move back to Chania. One last look around Palaiochora after breakfast, finish packing, and then I was on the midday bus.

Last look at the beach