Wednesday, 18 March 2015

photography and the supertrees

Seeing the Supertrees was perhaps my favourite part of visiting Singapore.  The supertrees are enormous, tree-like structures with huge, bare canopies that spread across the Gardens by the Bay. They seem futuristic and almost alien, yet they have their own austere beauty too.  Whatever your opinion, it's impossible to deny that they are fascinating.  I love experimenting with camera and photographing these incredible structures, wondering at the juxtaposition of nature and technology.

The Supertrees almost defy description, so I'm going to stop trying now, and just share a few of my photos from the afternoon.

Kisses xxx

P.S. For the first time in a long time, I felt the limit of my lenses.  I had a 28-75mm zoom with me that goes down to f/2.8 which I love very much, but I just couldn't get the wide angle I  craved.  I found this in Indonesia a couple of days later as well. I've been pondering investing in a wide-angle lens - does anyone use one?  Any thoughts/advice?  I'm thinking around the 10-22mm range.

Monday, 16 March 2015

gardens by the bay

While in Singapore over half term (which now seems like ever such a long time ago!) we took part in a treasure hunt in the Gardens by the Bay.  The gardens are truly lovely: enormous, spacious, sprawling and absolutely free.  They make a striking contrast the the bustle of the Central Business District, but they retain their futuristic touch and still seem an integral part of the city.

The treasure hunt proved to be a great way to explore the gardens, as each clue took us to a new section. Our goal was to save the world, naturally, and we were pretty confident in our ability to do so. I've seen loads of films where people save the world all the time, so I thought I was probably pretty well qualified.  We proceeded pretty quickly through the early clues due to our vast collective intellect. To put this in context, I am the moron of the group who doesn't have a PhD. However, pride comes before a fall and we actually got the last clue wrong, and had to re-think.

In case you were worried, it's OK, we made it, and saved the world.  

One particularly striking feature of the gardens is the pair of bio-domes that arch up over the horizon.  One houses a forest environment - we didn't have time to visit here, alas, but it's on my list for next time! - and the other is a controlled, air-conditioned, dry environment perfect for flowers. We had tickets to enter the Flower Dome as part of the treasure hunt, and it's safe to say we lingered here for quite some time.  

The treasure hunt was a brilliant way to get to know another aspect of Singapore.  The more I saw, the more impressed I was.  And the afternoon and evening we spent in the Gardens by the bay was quite possible my favourite part of the whole trip.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Wait until I tell you about the Supertrees!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

exploring singapore's botanical gardens

One of my must-visit locations in Singapore was the Botanical Gardens.  And they were huge! They're completely free so in some places it's more like parkland with excessive exotic plants.  I think I could have roamed around quite happily in the sunshine for a whole day, but we made the most of our morning there and followed one of the wide, winding trails. Rainforest used to cover much of Singapore, and this has been preserved in little pockets. It's inhabited by a surprising amount of wildlife: we saw a monitor lizard, and huge butterflies and chipmunks! (Just to clarify, the chipmunks were normal size, just the butterflies were huge). 

Singapore is apparently famed for its orchids, and having dropped a very reasonable $5 to visit the orchid garden, I could see why.  Garden is a misleading term: in this context it means giant park bursting with every kind of orchid imaginable. And then some. They were a completely wonderful riot of colour; incredibly vibrant and beautiful. 

You aren't allowed to pick them though. Unless you want to go to jail or similar.  There was a sign that said so, and I didn't want to go to jail.  There's a rather lovely custom of naming new hybrid species of orchid after important visiting dignitaries, and there's a whole section of the garden dedicated to celebrity orchids.  I wanted to get one named after me, but that option didn't seem to be available.  Maybe next time.

Looking at all those flowers is hungry work, and an ice cream sandwich seemed like a good idea. Frankly, I think I would always be of the opinion that an ice cream sandwich is a good idea, whether I've been looking at flowers or not.  I was a little taken aback however, to be handed a block of ice cream in a slice of bread.

Should have guessed from the name really.

Kisses xxx

P.S. *sigh* I really LOVED Singapore.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

cityscape by night

Singapore does a cityscape really well.  It has an impressive skyline full of glittering skyscrapers, and in case that wasn't enough, you can watch the Marina Bay Sands light show for free twice each night.  
I say light show... but that would be to ignore that dancing fountains, lasers, sheet of mist onto which they project digital images, and of course, fire.  Because fountains and lasers are just a bit rubbish if you don't also have fire.

We made a dash to catch this show a little after nine, I took exactly no pictures, and then we spent the rest of the evening exploring the marina, visiting the famous water-spouting Merlion, and marvelling at the atomically-inaccurate DNA bridge.  The bridge looked pretty convincing to me, but I was with scientists who were quite irritated by the mistakes.

Kisses xxx

P.S. Believe it or not, this was my second favourite free light show in Singapore.  My first?  Well that's another story...

Monday, 9 March 2015

the view from the shard

The man and I celebrated our two year anniversary at the end of January.  We didn’t really do anything last year as he was away travelling with work, and it sort of passed us by.  Therefore this year, we made plans!

We met at a favourite pub on the South Bank and watched the river slide by with our hands wrapped around mulled wine.  And then we had tea and cake too, because if a pub offers you tea and cake, you take it.

Afterwards we strolled along by the Thames towards the Shard, London’s newest and most iconic pointy building.  Upon arrival, we were put through airport-style security, deemed acceptable and took the two lifts up to the viewing platform.

It’s safe to say that the view from the Shard is spectacular.  Genuinely impressive from all directions, you get a bird’s-eye view of all of London town spread out before you, disappearing into the horizon.  We could see each meandering bend in the Thames, watch toy trains slip along tiny tracks, see boats leaving little trails in the river and spot St Paul’s and the London Eye in amazing detail.

Plus he’d arranged some champagne as a little surprise extra!

We’d booked to during sunset so we could see the view change from day to night.  And while the daytime was impressive, it was the night view that I really loved as we watched the city twinkle below us. 

Once you've got your ticket, you can remain at the top of the Shard for as long as you like, so we could enjoy the sunset and make the most of the view from all directions.  However, as evening drew on we departed for dinner.  We treated ourselves to a fancy meal out at a can-I-pull-out-your-chair-for-you-madam, I’ll-send-the-sommelier-over-shortly sort of place. Skylon was lovely and had a bit of pomp and circumstance without being intimidating and stuffy.  Plus the food was So. Amazingly. Yummy. The lemon dessert came with biscuits: who doesn't want biscuits with their pudding?

We had three courses and a glass of fizz as part of a deal, and we lingered with a glass of wine and tea and coffee and chocolate after the meal.  It was a truly wonderful, warm-glow evening, and so nice to do something special in celebration of 2 wonderful years.

Kisses xxx

P.S. There is however some friendly dispute over whether we should count our anniversary from our first date (which this was), or from becoming an official boyfriend-and-girlfriend couple.  Deciding to have 2 anniversaries seemed like an agreeable compromise!

Friday, 6 March 2015

singapore: how to start half term in style

About a year ago, my lovely friend Maja and her charming husband got jobs in Singapore.  The commute from the UK is quite lengthy, so they also moved there.  And ever since, I have plotting my visit.

I arrived in a haze of confusion having gone straight to the airport from a very busy school week. (I knew I was cutting things fine when I had to hang my slightly-damp clothes around my desk as they hadn't dried in time for me to pack). I jumped on a direct flight from Heathrow to Singapore an promptly fell asleep. With the time difference and the fact that I didn't go to bed, my brain somehow deleted the flight from my mental time line and it felt like I arrived the same afternoon, even though a whole day effectively passed. I was met by Maja at the airport and I learned how to navigate the MRT system. Or at least I learned how to follow Maja through it while we gossiped copiously, and I admired the beautifully eclectic names of the stations.

MRT stands for Mass Rapid Transport, and is the Singaporean answer to the tube.  Except it's cleaner and has air conditioning. In Singapore, it is customary to stand on the left of the escalators, not the right like the London tube, so my escalator etiquette was somewhat lacking. It is not customary to bang your head repeatedly on the exactly-head-height hand rails when you change train, but I did it anyway. Perhaps that will make up for my poor escalator manners.

Once I ditched my luggage and showered, I felt like a new woman. I had decided not to be jet-lagged and so I wasn't. Apparently that works. So it wasn't long before I was ready to get out and explore the lovely warm city-garden-state.

We spent part of the evening at the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel where the Singapore Sling was invented. I drank one. It would be rude not to, clearly. And having slung my Sling, I can confirm that they are delicious. But I cannot for the life in me remember any of the ingredients, except to say that at least one must have been fruity, at least one must have been pink, and that alcohol is involved.  Yum.

There's a somewhat curious custom however: each table has a little sack of peanuts and you can while away the time waiting for your drinks by cracking into them and winkling out the nuts. And then you are actively encouraged to drop the shells on the floor. The upshot of this is that walking across the Long Bar produces a resounding crunchy effect. Strange for a very bygone-era British-colonial style bar in a fancy hotel where a dress code applies.

Anyway, it was a lovely way to spend the evening, catching, reminiscing and with a whole deliciously travelly half term ahead of me.  

Kisses xxx

P.S. I fell in love with Singapore and even though I only had a couple of days there, it instantly added itself to the list of places I have to go back to. Time to start saving pennies again...

P.P.S. Wouldn't it be lovely to go on holiday all the time?

Friday, 13 February 2015

one photo and twenty words

You’ve got to be quicker than that if you want to be in the selfie, Dad.  Get a move on!

Kisses xxx

P.S. One Photo and Twenty Words is hosted by the lovely Abi of Creating Paper dreams.  Why not head over there to see the full collection?

Monday, 2 February 2015

two mouses

This is a story about the man and me.  It's a little story, but it's a special one to me, and one I hope I will always remember.  And so I think it's time to write it down.  It is a story of two mouses.

It began innocuously, as these things usually do.  One November evening back in 2012 found the two of us pounding the walkway around Ikea looking for shelves.  The man had just moved into a new flat and the last few evenings had found us both to-ing and fro-ing in a van, loading and unloading boxes, and slotting various miscellaneous bits of wood into other miscellaneous bits of wood in the hope that it would turn into furniture.

So that November evening as we trudged around the store, we were both feeling a bit world-weary. We rounded a corner and ran into a harassed-looking couple who were disputing the merits of one storage solution over another with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.  A small girl hopped around their feet desperately trying to get their attention, chattering away.

The more she was ignored, the louder she became.  And she repeated at ever-higher volume in a piping little voice: "I have TWO mouses!"

And indeed she did!  Clutched one in each fist, were two little soft toys.  Their noses poked out of her little hands, and their tails dangled behind them and she waved them around ever more excitedly.

"I have TWO mouses!"

It was as though she couldn't quite believe her luck.  Not just one soft, mouse-toy, but two!  One grey, and one white.  And how I laughed!  This little girl cheered me up tremendously!  I have no idea if she eventually managed to engage her parents' notice, or if she was going to be allowed to keep her two mouses.  I sincerely hope she did.  But I remember her sheer glee at the prospect and it still makes me giggle.

We spent the rest of the evening exclaiming to each other "I have TWO mouses!" at intervals, and chortling to ourselves.  We abandoned Ikea, the man resigning himself to a trip the following day when he had more energy, and headed home.

A few days later, I was back at the man's flat again.  He had indeed acquired and assembled some shelving and his place was starting to look like a home.  His return visit to Ikea had proved profitable.

But it also turned out to be profitable for me too.  As nestled in a camping chair - no sofa yet - waiting for me were two soft toy mouses.  One grey, one white. 

I have TWO mouses.

Two mouses has become our phrase, like a touchstone. It crops up all the time and never fails to make me grin like the little girl, never fails to make me think of the man. And I can cuddle my two little mouses and smile to myself.

There have been other pairs of mouses too.  I've got two lovely mouse buttons waiting for the right craft project.  And I found a great card with two mouses on it.  Then there are the mouses you see in these pictures.  They have a little story too...

Recently the man bought a car.  He'd been chewing over the idea for a while, and eventually found what he want.  And as a surprise he added me to the insurance, which was a lovely gesture as I don't have a car at the moment, and I do really enjoy driving.  He claims he only did it so that he didn't have to do all the driving, but I know better!

I thought I could get him a car accessory as a little thank you, but somehow I couldn't picture the man with a fluffy steering wheel cover.  Frankly I can't picture myself with a fluffy steering wheel cover.  Ditto fluffy dice to dangle from the rear-view mirror.

Then it hit me: not dice.  Mice!  I could give him two mouses to hang up in the car.  I did a bit of research (as in, I opened up google) and quickly found a knitting pattern to make cute little mouses.  I began knitting one afternoon, and by bed time I had made two mouses with lovely long pink tails t hang in the car.

I experimented a bit, and soon realised that hanging the mouses up by their tails looked a bit cruel. So when I gave them to the man, I included a little note to explain that they would be perfectly happy curled up in any available mouse-hole in the car ready for road trips.  I named them Carrie and Roadie.  Because cars go on roads.  Hopefully.

Carrie and Roadie sit quick happily in the front of the car and so far they seem to have enjoyed riding around.  But they best thing is...

Now he has TWO mouses too.

Kisses xxx

P.S. If you want to knit your own mouses, you can find the pattern here on Craftsy.  There are lots available but I liked these the best :D