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Rabbies Tour day 3

View from the window, third day

If the weather on our second day of our tour had disappointed then on the third day it was back to the glorious sunshine of the first. There was still a stiff breeze and it was cold, but everything looked wonderful in the sun. And of course the previous day’s rain had washed the air completely clear.

The plan was to leave Arran’s west coast and take the small ferry over to Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula, and doing so meant that the day started with a drive round the north of the island to Lochranza. We had time here to visit the ruined castle and explore the small harbour and anchorage, but it was so windy and cold that after exploring the castle ruins most people headed for the ferry dock about a quarter of a mile away where we found a sheltered spot to drink a takeaway cup of tea from a local stall. Then it was onto the ferry for the short crossing to Claonaig. I went up on deck to get some images but it was very windy and cold out on the open sea.

After landing in Claonaig we drove north to Tarbert, a very pretty spot with a sheltered harbour and – yes – yet another ruined castle. (I gather that the west of Scotland was a pretty warlike place in the past.) And yes, given that we were on the Kintyre peninsula Pete our tour guide did give us a quick blast of That Song by Wings….

Then it was on again, to Inverary. Once again we had the chance to walk around. We’ve been to Inverary before and had visited the castle (this one being of the stately home variety rather than ruinous). In fact the visit wasn’t very long, but we had time to explore the small town and have some lunch as well.

View from the Rest and Be Thankful car park

Back in the bus we went onto the next stop – the top of the Rest and Be Thankful pass, which is route from the west side of Argyll to the more south-facing area at the top of Loch Long. Apparently it was given this name by soldiers in the 18th century who had climbed the steep military road out of Glen Croe and were on their way over to Inverary. This was the end of the climb, and it became the practice for the soldiers to take a break – to truly ‘rest, and be thankful’ that the climb was over.

View across Loch Lomond from Tarbet pier

Then there was just one more stop to make. The official itinerary called for a stop at Luss in the central part of Loch Lomond, but Pete suggested a change so we called at the small landing stage at Tarbet, in the northern part of the Loch instead. Again, very pretty and more photos were taken.

After that was the drive down the length of Loch Lomond which was over far too quickly. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves on the M8 going past Glasgow airport, and heading into Glasgow to drop Ilona off. Then we headed back to Edinburgh, and we were outside the Rabbies Cafe-bar not long after 6 o’clock. And that was the end of our Rabbies tour to Arran.

But our day hadn’t ended…. we walked round to the Crowne Plaza hotel, checked in, and found that this time we’d hit the jackpot. We’d been upgraded. I need to explain that this hotel is situated in several houses along Royal Terrace, which was laid out in the 1820s as an eastern extension of Edinburgh New Town – here’s a link to a Wikipedia article about it. Obviously most of the rooms in the houses have been subdivided, but a few – just three, I think – have kept their original full width and full height, and we had one of these for the next two nights. Fantastic!

Room 110, Crown Plaza Hotel, Edinburgh

Rabbies Tour day 2

Goat Fell, morning day 2

The second day of our tour of Arran with Rabbies dawned a bit differently from day 1 – as you can see above. That’s the view from outside our guest house at breakfast time.

However, it was’t actually raining at breakfast time nor when we set off, so the day’s first business was a walk across Machrie Moor to the various standing stones and stone circles. These are reckoned to be at least 3,000 years old, but as usual with these things, no-one has any real idea what their purpose was. One thing is clear, however: given the number and size of the stones (that large standing stone is approaching 4 metres high), this wasn’t the work of one person working on a whim – there must have been an organised effort to create these structures, involving many people and continuing over many years, perhaps generations. So that suggests that there must have been a society, with hierarchies; someone to decide what should be done, how, and with the authority (political? religious?) to get other people to do the work; and many other people to actually do the hauling and digging. Given the thin margin of agricultural surplus that would have been available at that time, I think the society was quite large. Yet we know nothing about them.

As we were leaving the rain was starting. We then drove to the southern end of Arran and escaped the rain, reaching Drumadoon Bay near Blackwaterfoot. This was just a wide, wind-swept beach – quite evocative in the gathering gloom. After that we drove round the southern end of the island and back up the eastern side, going through Whiting Bay and Lamlash before arriving at the Wineport near Brodick Castle for lunch. We had a couple of brief stops for ‘photo ops’ on the way, but by this time it was raining steadily.

After lunch, and in view of the continuing heavy rain we did mainly indoors-y things. We visited some craft shops near the restaurant: a leather good store where Val and I each bought a new belt, and a ‘smellies’ shop – Arran Aromatics. There was also a small craft brewery, Arran Brewery, which other people in the groupl visited. Finally it was off to Lochranza at the northern end of the island for a visit to the Arran distillery. This is a new distillery, just 22 years old. Indeed, when it opened it was the first new distillery in Scotland for a very long time. It’s very small – the wash tun, the brewing vessels and both sets of stills (four in total, two used for each stage of a double-distillation) are all located in one room. Quite a contrast with the Glenfiddich distillery which we visited a year earlier!

We were dropped at our lodgings at around 5:30. After resting for a while, having a cup of tea and cleaning ourselves up, we got very wet on the short walk round to the Douglas hotel. Still, we enjoyed our meal there, we sank a bottle of Chilean Merlot, and enjoyed a dram of Arran malt to finish.

Rabbies Tours bus

Actually, we’re already back. We went to Edinburgh on Sunday in late April for a first night, then joined the three-day, two-night Rabbies tour to Arran early the following morning. We finished the holiday off with another two nights in Edinburgh, returning home on Friday afternoon. Mostly the weather smiled on us (always a benefit in Scotland), the tour was great, and there’s always things to do in Edinburgh whatever the weather.

The tour was a three-day, two-night affair. Starting in Edinburgh early on Monday we drove over to Glasgow for another pickup then south to the Ayrshire coast. The target at the end of the day would be Brodick, the main ferry port on Arran, but we visited other places along the way.

Whitelee Wind Farm

First was the Whitelee Wind Farm…. an unusual attraction I’ll admit, but apparently it’s the second largest in Europe and has just over 250 turbines; it can generate a lot of electricity. Scotland is aiming to produce 100% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2022, and apparently they’re well on track to achieve that. (One of those small blobs at the bottom of the windmill is a person.)

 

 

Then we went to Culzean Castle, which is actually an 18th century stately home, where we spent several hours and had lunch; and finally we visited Alloway, the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. We saw the Auld Kirk of Alloway and the Brig o’Doon as well as the memorial gardens. Read Tam o’Shanter for more about the Kirk and the Brig. (Warning! it’s long, and in Scots…. but very evocative.)

 

After that we did the drive to Ardrossan where, at six o’clock, we boarded the CalMac ferry ‘Caledonian Isles’ for the 55 minute crossing to Brodick. We ate our evening meal on the ferry, as we had been advised that places to eat in Brodick might close pretty early in the evening.

Goat Fell, Arran, from our guest house window – first evening

We were booked into a guest house (Hunter’s) in Brodick which was delightful. We met the proprietor, Caroline, who was very friendly and chatty, and who showed us to our large, comfortable room at the front of the house overlooking Brodick Bay . The weather that first day was delightful – sunny with blue skies – but not that warm as there was a chill wind blowing. Still, the weather gave us excellent views of the Scottish landscape during the day, and the view from our room of the bay and Goat Fell, the highest mountain on Arran, was pretty special.

 

We went out for a drink later at the Douglas hotel, just over a quarter of a mile away, which we discovered a) served food and b) seemed to be still doing so at 8:30 or so. A quick look at the menu revealed things we would enjoy so we decided that would be our dinner location for the following evening. Then it was back to the guest house to bed, for a fairly early start the next day.

Here are some images I took with the iPhone while i was away. Most of these were taken at times when I didn’t have the DSLR with me, i.e. I wasn’t on what I was expecting to be a photographic excursion, but then I ran into a scene that I wanted to capture. One or two of them already appear in other posts – apologies for the repeat.

First, some night images:

Next, a few from around Singapore:

And finally some from Kuala Lumpur:

 

Telok Blangah forest walk

(Somehow I managed to forget to write this day up at the appropriate time. This dates from before I moved on to KL, of course.)

One of the things I had wanted to do last year but never managed was to walk along the Southern Ridges. This is a laid-out path (or series of paths) that link a number of open spaces just behind the south coast of Singapore island. It stretches a few miles – I joined it at Kent Ridge which is not the westernmost end of it, and walked through Hort Park, Telok Blangah, Mount Faber, and finally down the Marang Trail back to the MRT. These areas are all green (in different ways) and in some cases quite hilly, but are all separated by busy roads; but since the creation of the Southern Ridges walk, they’re all connected by paths running above the roads – in a couple of cases, dramatically high above the roads.

I got there by MRT to Pasir Panjang, then walking back eastwards along a busy road to a Pepys Road which leads off to the north side of the busy road, and then walked up Pepys Road until I reached the edge of Kent Ridge. This was actually at the eastern end of Kent Ridge, so initially I walked westwards for a half-a-mile or so, fully in the knowledge that I would be retracing my steps in a short while. I was a bit disappointed to find that the Kent Ridge Forest Walk (a tree-top high level walkway) was closed for maintenance, but it turned out that there were other high-level walkways later. Kent Ridge was quite manicured, and I stopped and started retracing my steps when it became obvious that I was approaching an area that looked more like a park. I did reach a viewpoint and was taken by an old information board that showed an explanatory picture of the view. However, the board hasn’t been updated for quite a few years, and the view has changed a lot….

I found a path dropping quite steeply to Hort Park, the next open area eastwards. This was very different from any of the other areas I walked across. While it’s green it’s not really open – instead, it seems to be a cultivated area with a number of nursery gardens. I think that Gardens by the Bay grow plants here in a series of controlled-environment greenhouses, and there also seem to be community gardens that looked for all the world like a Singaporean version of English allotments. There was also a busy public area, the HortCente, which looked like a combination of a community centre, shops, restaurants and other small-scale facilities. I particularly liked the ‘English Garden’ here – a small area laid out in formal English garden style, but with (mainly) tropical planting. I also recall that somewhere in Hort Park there was a large, sheltered (i.e. covered) facilities area with toilets, water fountains and vending machines – this was very welcome. Continue Reading »

I arrived home on Thursday 1 March in the early morning – I disembarked from the airplane at about 7:20, at Manchester airport. Readers, that was a shock. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Manchester airport look welcoming but that morning it was especially not so. The previous day I had been in Kuala Lumpur in temperatures a bit above 32°C, and in Manchester it was somewhere below 32°F; and unfortunately I was mainly dressed for Kuala Lumpur. But I had a plan – a heavier pair of trousers was at the top of my case, along with a jacket and a waterproof, so I repaired to the gents loo and (with a bit of a struggle) changed. Then I had time for a cup of tea in the Arrivals hall before heading off to the airport station for my train home.

I was just about to go down to the platform when I got a call from Val, who told me that Customer Information at the airport had called her to say that my passport had been found – I had obviously dropped it at some time in the previous half-hour. So I rushed back to customer information, identified myself, and was reunited with my passport. One lesson to draw from that experience is that it is a very good idea to fill in the ‘Emergencies’ page at the back of your passport – that way, if your mislaid passport is found, the finder has someone to call…. Then I charged back to the station just in time to get on my train. Continue Reading »

KL Bird Park

On my second day in KL I went for a ride on the Hop-on/Hop-off bus. I hopped-off at various points but the main stay was at the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. This is located in a large green area just to the west of the city centre – other attractions here include a zoo, public gardens for walking around, various botanical gardens and a butterfly park. The National Mosque is on the edge of this area, as is the Malaysian Houses of Parliament.

The Bird Park advertises itself as the “World’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary”. I can’t comment on that claim, but I spent an enjoyable two-and-a-half hours here. I can’t say it was spectacular, but it was peaceful and relaxing. It was also very hot, of course, and to be fair a number of the birds were pretty motionless – perhaps they’re more active early in the morning or the evening? Nonetheless it was enjoyable being to see the birds close-up – to walk around among them, in fact.

There were some areas where the birds were caged, and those parts were less fun. The parrot house was one such, although there was a hierarchy of enclosures. Some species of parrot (I’ll call them all parrots even though there were in fact a variety of species there) were in quite small enclosures while a couple of other species were flying freely within the overall parrot house; and indeed, to interact with the visitors. I’m not sure why some parrots were kept in smaller enclosures – perhaps they’re aggressive with other species?

At the end of the visit I went outside and waited for a Ho/Ho bus. Readers, that turned out to be the hardest part of the day. It was mid-afternoon by this time and therefore very hot and humid, and I had to wait about 30 minutes for the bus, with nothing to take my mind off my discomfort. Given that my intention at that point was simply to return to the hotel, it might have been better to get a taxi. On the other hand, however, if I’d done that I wouldn’t have seen the Petronas Towers, which I passed and took pictures of once I was on the Ho/Ho bus. You can’t win them all.

Here are a few pictures I took in KL city.

First, in the Pavilion shopping mall in Bukit Bintang. This was just a few minutes walk from my hotel, in the midst of some very busy streets. It’s a very high-end mall: lots of the top names (e.g. Prada, Cartier, Rolex) have stores there. So do some other names that don’t seem quite so high-end: Dorothy Perkins (!) and T. M Lewin (!!). But maybe those brands seem more exotic from the perspective of Asia.

I also did a hop-on/hop-off bus ride and here are a few from that:

The National Palace is where Malaysia’s Head of State resides. Malaysia has a totally unique constitutional model – an elected constitutional monarch. It all goes back to the situation at the time Malaysia independence in 1957. At that time the Federation of Malaya consisted of two British colonies (Penang and Malacca) and nine Sultanates. In 1957 they decided to adopt something quite like the British model and have constitutional monarchy but with the government being drawn from members of parliament. But who should become the monarch? There had always been nine Sultanates; some bigger, some smaller, but all theoretically equal in status. So they decided to rank the Sultans in terms of seniority (length of time as Sultan); then the most senior Sultan at the time of independence would become the King (and head of state) for a term of five years. At the end of that time the first King would be followed by the current Sultan of the next Sultanate, in terms fo the 1957 seniority list. However, although everyone knows who the next King will be, they go through a form of election: the nine Sultans vote for next King, it’s just that the ballot paper only has one name on it, that of the agreed Sultan! I have to say that however strange it seems, it has served them well ever since 1957.

And finally a few images from a visit I made to the National Museum. I didn’t go in, just took some pictures of the exterior of the whole museum, and of the interior of a “Village Chief’s House” that has been erected in the grounds.

 

KL

At Singapore airport – I just liked the airline name.

Which the usual abbreviation for Kuala Lumpur, of course – the capital of Malaysia. I’m spending two nights here before heading home.

I flew in to KL International just after lunchtime on Monday. The flight time from Singapore was given as 1 hour, but in fact only 40 minutes of that was in the air. No sooner had we got to our cruising altitude of about 35000 feet than we were beginning the descent. But the flight attendants managed to get refreshments round to everyone and to tidy up afterwards, though the refreshments were just a small packet of peanuts and a carton of orange juice.

KLIA is over 50 kms from the city, so my transfer took about an hour, and was a quite frightening hour at that. It wasn’t that my driver was speeding, just that lane discipline while driving along the motorways seemed to be missing, not only my driver but all around him. There were a number of times when both the car I was in and another vehicle were veering towards each other. We also seemed to drive for miles straddling the white line between two lanes. I now see why the riders of the little motorbikes zip around so much and so quickly – it’s to stay clear of all the randomly-driven cars….

Part – just part! – of the room.

However I did arrive safely at my hotel, the ParkRoyal Kuala Lumpur. This is now my third stay at one of these hotels, the previous two having been at the ParkRoyal on Kitchener in Singapore. That hotel is a solid 4* and perfectly good, but this in KL is more like 4*+. And I found I’m booked into their ‘Orchid Club’ – better and bigger rooms, and use of a separate club area, including a large lounge on the 6th floor where I took breakfast, afternoon refreshments and soft drinks, and early evening canapés and drinks. The latter two – ok, mainly the last one – was a huge pleasure. The canapés could actually be a complete meal if you took a generous portion of all the food on offer – let me say that I didn’t. But they had wine, and they kept coming round and offering to refill my glass, and who was I to refuse?

The hotel is in one of the most commercial ares of KL, Bukit Bintang, home to glitzy malls. I went out for a while later on Monday and explored locally, and again late in the evening.

My first impressions of KL at the end of the day were that it was noisier than Singapore; more vibrant with lots of energy, but also harder. For example, walking down a street of eateries and being accosted every 30 seconds by the greeters for each one. The traffic seemed worse – more congestion than in Singapore – and the public transport system seemed to be more fragmentary. (Apparently not many people use the in-city systems which consists 3 or 4 monorails and a couple of subway lines. Possibly the fact that they’re not well integrated and may not share a ticketing system has something so do with that). And finally, lots of things seem a little unfinished, whereas in Singapore everything is just-so. (Of course, many people would prefer the KL approach.) It might be a city you could come to love, but I think it’s a city where it takes more effort just to be comfortable. And of course it’s hot – a couple of degrees more so than Singapore.

Tomorrow I’m going out for the day, and I shall report back. More pictures in day or so, too – I have most of the walk-around images on the phone and not available to me at the moment.

Chingay!

On Saturday night I went to Chingay. This is a parade to celebrate the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It was first held in 1973 as a fairly impromptu affair in Chinatown and featuring Chinese parade artists representing just the Singaporean Chinese community. I think there were then a few years when it didn’t take place but by the end of the 70s the idea had been resurrected but also altered: from then on it would include and feature artists and groups representing all the communities in Singapore. Indeed, presently there are also a number of international groups represented, certainly including Malaysian groups and also others (I remember a Japanese float, for example). It has also grown – this year there were about 6,500 performers. It’s held over two nights in the pit lane of the Singapore F1 circuit which is several hundred metres long, and grandstands are erected which can hold thousands of people. The government of Singapore estimate that if you include all the street parties and impromptu parades that label themselves as part of Chingay then the total audience is around 200,000.

I’d heard about Chingay when I was in Singapore in 2017, but I’d missed it – I was there in March and in any case the Chinese New Year was earlier in 2017. But for this year – 2018 – it was later and the two nights of the Chingay parade would be the 23rd and 24th of February. Given that I had already determined to return to Singapore, I decided to organise the visit around attending Chingay. I was able to buy a ticket online well in advance (cost S$55), and I was able to exchange the email voucher I received for the actual ticket without any problems at a Mall near to my hotel.

I took my seat just before 7 o’clock, and there was then about an hour of warm-up acts – lots of chat be the presenters for the differentsections (A, B & C, reflecting the fact that it would take some minutes for a float or group to walk along the length of the parade), and some less formal dance acts. The parade proper started at 8pm with the first float containing, among other people, the President of Singapore together with her husband. (That’s him in the picture above), and it finished just about 9:30 with a fireworks display. Afterwards it took me about 90 minutes to get back to the hotel! – the problem was that many thousands of people were exiting the grandstands at the same time and were therefore overwhelming the public transport options. Indeed, even walking was directed along routes that the police knew to be easy to walk along, and I’d walked about a mile before I was able to branch out on an independent route.

I had hoped to take lots of pictures but that turned out to be a problem. The angle of the grandstand seats meant that people’s heads in the rows in front were always in the pictures, and if it wasn’t their heads, then it was their mobile phones or most annoyingly of all, their d****d Pom-Poms. I did have a bit of success holding the camera up in the air, pointing it in vaguely the right direction, and hoping. But that was probably annoying the hell out of the people behind me. Still, at least I wasn’t (in the main) obstructing their view with my Pom-Pom. Oh no.

So how was it? Well, it’s a world-class parade, which says it all, really: as parades go this is one of the very best, but when all’s said and done it’s just a parade. I had a great time; it was an experience I won’t forget; I’ve got some souvenirs (ask me nicely and I’ll show you my Pom-Pom); but to be honest, I don’t feel any need to do it again. But it was definitely worth doing this one time.