Richard and Weez Excellent Adventure - December 1999...

Monday 29th November

Well, here we are.  2309 GMT, Altitude 10,100m, Air Speed 892 km/h (I hope we don't hit anything at that speed!), Outside Temperature -54 Degrees C (Brrrr), just passed Bucharest (I had no idea it was there!) and now flying over the Black Sea.

It has been a long day.  For the first time ever, Louise was more or less packed 12 hours before we left.  There must have been a catch... and sure enough at 1pm (31/2 hours before we agreed we would leave), she anounced "I'm going to town Rich".  Not just a couple of stops down the tube but to Oxford Street!  A brief heated discussion later and she left. Aaaaarrrrrgggghhh!!!

So, nothing left to do but turn the stereo up super loud and blast a few aliens with a good old fashioned game of Gyruss (a game from my youth - but that's another story) and hope Louise didn't get lost or held up.  Thankfully she turned up again at about quarter to three.  Liz and Jess called by to pick up a house key because they will be staying in our flat while we are away.  Jess took a liking to Grommet who normally sits by himself by the TV so I'm sure he will have some good company while we are away.
 
We caught a taxi to Paddington because it was raining and caught the Heathrow Express through to the airport.  We were able to book in early and I asked if we were able to choose our seats if they were available.  We usually choose one of the rows at the back where the plane tapers and there is only room for two seats.  Problem with being at the back of the plane is when it is bumpy, it feels way worse than if you were sitting over the wings.  Something that freaks me out a bit!  So, this time we were going to try and get two seats further up the plane close to an emergency exit where you have no one else in front of you, and hopefully the ride would be a bit smoother.  When I did ask, however, we were told that our seats had already been pre-allocated but she would check which ones they were for us.  Guess what?  Seats 64C and 64A.  The last two seats at the back of the plane.  Now, I don't remember asking for these when we booked the tickets (but if you know me, I usually can't remember what I had for breakfast!), but I think this must have been way too freaky for us not to have.  So, to save messing everyone around, here we are. 64C and 64A (where 64B is I'm not sure!).  Thankfully it hasn't been too bad apart from one episode near Berlin when I thought I was going to get tossed out of my seat if the tail didn't fall off first!

For some reason, we seem to have headed due south when we reached the Black Sea and are now flying south east again below the Black Sea between Ankara and Cankiri towards Baghdad (didn't know they were there either!).  Perhaps it's dodgy air space around this area!

How do I know all this, being such a geography challenged individual?  Well, (a hole in the ground) everyone has a neat little 6" LCD screen in the back of the seat in front of them... if you see what I mean.  You can play Nintendo, watch movies and TV re-runs, read up to date news via satellite etc, etc, etc AND get a live update of where in the world you are on a map.  Pretty cool.  I'm finding mine pretty hard to see right now because the guy in front has his seat tilted right back and I can't adjust the screen any more.  Hopefully this new bout of turbulence we have just hit will encourage him to put it back up.  Wishful thinking!

Dinner was nice. Hors d'oeuvre (what ever that is) Braised fillet of fish with Oriental black bean sauce, Stir fried mixed vegetables and steamed rice.
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Louise is fast asleep and has been for the last two hours!  I'm sure she will arrive and complain that she is tired.  Usual story!  All the lights are out now and it is 12.30am so I should try and sleep too I guess. Ooh... I've just found CNN on the TV so I might have to watch that first. So on that note, no more rambling. TTFN.

It's 0447 GMT.  I've only managed to sleep for about an hour. It is so hard to get comfy with long legs stuck on the end of me.  Louise has had six hours sleep now and she just woke me to show her how to play the video games.  No wonder I'm a bit grumpy!

I may have been right about the airspace around Iran and Iraq. Since leaving the area and crossing into India, we have stopped weaving all over the place and flown pretty much in a straight line.

Thursday 2nd December

Ahhh... my first nights sleep of more than three hours.  I think my internal clock is just starting to come right again... just in time for another 5 hour change when we fly to New Zealand tomorrow!

We were going to go to Sentosa Island today, leaving reasonably late in the morning, so we could have a good part of the day there but not be too tired to wait around for the Musical Fountain.  The Musical fountain is a magical laser and light show that several people have told us not to miss.  We called the information line from the Hotel to check times for the show etc... no one answered the phone.  So, on to the Internet.  Local calls from the Hotel are only 3cents per minute so it is cheap enough to surf from our room given that I can dial into the local attglobal server.  And boy were we glad we did.  The Musical Fountain is out of service for maintenance till tomorrow.  Change of plans... we will have to do Sentosa on the way home.  So today it's going to be Brunch at Lau Pa Sat Festival Market,, on to the Jurong Bird Park, the Jurong Reptile Park, dinner at China Town and hopefully a boat ride in the evening.  Sounds reasonable - Louise normally tries to pack 24 hours of sight seeing into six - much to my complaints of exhaustion!  She's getting better.

So... what did we achieve.  Well, everything except the reptile park which wasn't listed in the Lonely Planet as a 'Must see' so not bad going.  Lau Pa Sat Festival Market is a thriving place where the locals eat when they 'aren't eating out'.  There are a huge amount of stalls selling food from a number of regional cuisines.  We ended up picking a stall where there was a large line of locals waiting to be served.  Ordering the food was a bit of an interesting (stressful) experience that involved a lot of pointing, hand gestures and confusion!  We both ended up with rice and other portions, many of which we had no idea what they were... it was all very nice though.  I wandered off and found some 'Special Lime Juice and Special Plum Juice (Yuck!)' so as to avoid dehydration in the very humid heat here.

From Lau Pa Sat we headed on to the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport).  The tube system here is very clean, very efficient and air conditioned!  Why London can't learn from this I will never know.  Conquering the public transport system is one of the biggest hurdles in any new country if you want to make getting around cheap and stress free.  Singapore is very easy.  To travel on the MRT or bus, you have to pay per section traveled.  You can either buy a single ticket for the distance you intend to go (always clearly displayed at your station of origin) or you can buy a ticket with credit on it ($12 is the initial charge with $10 credit).  As you travel, your fare is deducted from the ticket as you feed it in and out of the gates you pass through.  If you travel on the buses, you turn the ticket over so the blue side is up and feed it into a machine as you board the bus.  You then choose your fare (again clearly shown on the bus stop sign) and it returns your ticket with a small paper permit to travel.  You pay a 15c premium to get on an air conditioned bus.  You may think it would be expensive to travel when paying per section.  In fact, here, it is incredibly cheap.  When we traveled out to the night Safari on Wednesday night, the journey took us about an hour on MRT and Bus... all for the huge sum of about $2.40 or 80p.  In London, 80p would only get you through a single section!  This would have cost at least five pounds in London!!

Our entry to the Bird Park was free as was the mono-rail trip around the park (we got a ton of free vouchers through flying with Singapore Airlines).  There were a lot of beautiful birds here, but it did make me feel sad to see large birds like the Bald Eagle cooped up in a cage.  Sure the cage was as big as a house, but after two flaps of its huge wings, the bird was at the other side - it would never be able to soar as it could in the wild.  I understood that a lot of the birds there were endangered, but what a price to pay for the animals to be caged like that....

By the time we had finished at the Bird Park, it was too late to go to the Reptile Park so we headed back into the city on the MRT  and made our way towards China Town as darkness fell.  The streets at night here feel extremely safe.  Hardly surprising given that some crimes we might consider as minor end up with a couple of lashings across the rear with a Rotan.  Louise followed the streets through China Town to the Lonely Planet guide stopping outside old temples now converted to shops etc (yawn!) until she finally gave in to my complaints of sore feet from walking all day.  Ergo, we made our way towards a small place in China Town called 'Beautiful Myanmar Restaurant' - somewhere that was meant to cater for the local Burmese community. It was very quiet in the street - we were the only two walking around and as we approached it, the red neon sign was still hung outside but 80's music pumped out of the door and it looked more like a bar.  As it turned out, the restaurant had been bought out and the owner was very eager to get us inside for a drink and something to eat.  He didn't have a large menu, but he was so keen for us to eat something, he said his chef would make us something nice, something a little spicy.  At least that's what I think he said.  I found his Singlish a little hard to understand!  In due time, the chef bought out a huge plate of spicy noodles with meat of some description in it and some fried chicken wings.  Coupled with lashings of Lager, this was the best meal we had in Singapore.  We were the only Westerners in this place and we received fantastic service.  The ' Hard Days Night' bar is located at 11 Mosque Street, China Town.  Well worth a visit.  We walked home and slept exhausted... even Louise.

Friday 3rd December

We didn't venture far from the Hotel today since we had to get our transfer to the airport in the afternoon.  Instead, we left our luggage in the lobby hoping dearly that my computer briefcase containing not just my laptop, but also camera equipment, didn't disappear while we were away.  Thankfully it was still all there when we returned.  Louise looked for clothes but found nothing she liked.  I found a Microsoft® IntelliMouse® Explorer (an optical mouse with no moving parts) at an excellent price in a huge arcade with seven floors of computer shops.  I constantly get frustrated with mice that don't track properly as the rollers get dirty or as the mechanisms wear.  No more!  This mouse is fantastic.  It works nearly anywhere.  At the moment I'm lying on a bed using the mouse on the duvet and it tracks perfectly.  I think I will buy a second one on the way back through for Renee. 

We have been surprised at how few westerners we have seen around Singapore.  In two days of traveling around we have only really seen a handful each day.  Well, today we found hundreds of them, all in Raffles City Shopping Centre.  Why more of them don't venture out past the shopping centres I have no idea.  Perhaps they are in large organised tours that we haven't bumped into.  I know the tour desk at the Hotel tried their hardest to sell us tours to some of the places we visited (telling us how difficult it is to get transport back at 10pm etc etc).  I guess many tourists would believe them.  We were happier finding our own way there and back on the public transport for $10 rather than paying $30 to have it all done for us.  It's more fun when there is the possibility of getting lost I guess!