Australia via Singapore

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Flag of Australia  , Victoria,
Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Singapore

Singapore is flat! No-one told me, so for some reason I thought it was hilly like Hong Kong. Flat and boring scenically, as the high rise modern buildings ensure that no distant views are available and in most places it is not possible to see the sea although Singapore is an island.

Despite this it makes for an interesting stopover. We arrived on Monday evening after having a night on the plane (effectively losing the day) so we did not expect to sleep much. By eleven pm we decided we should try and get some sleep or at least lie down. The next we knew it was MIDDAY Tuesday and we had had another 13 hours sleep! Then we spent the rest of the day in the Botanical Gardens. A very soothing place with beautiful plants and amazing orchids.

I love the cleanliness and efficiency of Singapore. It is so clean I found myself searching for some litter and when I did spot a wayward plastic bag rollling along the street I had to catch it and plonk it in a bin. I could become obsessional living here! It also feels very secure and there is a definite lack of fear of crime. In fact our room card key said if it was lost please return to Victory Hotel, Room 316. Hhmmmmm, that concerned us a little.

Public transport is again spotless, cheap and frequent. Altogether an easy city to get around. We visited the Singapore National Museum in a well restored period building where we learned more of the history of the Island. It really is multicultural and despite its troubled history, especially the immediate post WW2, when there was a critical housing problem, unemployment, lack of medical facilities etc it now seems to provide a positive environment for its residents. Everyone seemed reasonably affluent. There may be pockets of poverty or deprivation but there were none evident on our limited wanderings.

China town provided a morning walk and the Chinese Heritage Centre was especially interesting as it told the stories of a cross section of Chinese migrants. Life was very difficult for them, with many dying during the month long sail to Singapore and when they did arrive they usually made contact with a local association of people from their own area of China. The Associations provided all kinds of support, contacts to find work, food, social interaction, chance to speak their own dialect etc and they still remain strong. The majority of migrants were single and they found accommodation in small partitioned off rooms, not much larger than cubicles, and they mostly relied on cheap street food which was delivered to them by hawkers. It was a very harsh life usually with no drainage, so diseases spread easily, and no health facilites. The opium dens also caused great problems, especially for single migrants and it is hard to believe that they were supported by the Government (under British rule) in order to bring in income! Nothing changes when you think about smoking now. This was the situation up until the late 50s, early 60s. when Singapore became independant and life started to improve.

Of course we had to have cocktails (in fact Jim stuck to beer) at Raffles. I have wanted to do this since I was 9 or 10 years old. I don't think I knew what a cocktail was but the adventurers in the books I read seemed to visit Raffles frequently. The Singapore Sling (of which there are now 5 or 6 variations) was very good but I felt disconcerted by the troughs of unshelled peanuts on the tables. It is the norm to shell them whilst drinking and drop the shells on the floor. It took a couple of seconds to work out what was happening when we entered the bar and then crunched our way to a free table. Given everywhere in Singapore is spotless this was unnerving. Then I read that the Long Bar was moved in 1991 and has been relocated a couple of times at least. That's cheating! The hotel, however, is a very attractive colonial style building.

Another feature of Singapore is the art work or public decoration everywhere, sometimes surprising but always entertaining - see the swinging chandeliers from the museum and the dogs and cats in the Theatres complex.

Then on to Victoria in Australia.

We flew overnight to Melbourne with the intention of collecting the campervan at 10am so we could drive to the campsite and sleep. Unfortunately there was a hiccup with our van (we were told the one due in for us to collect had been involved in an accident) and a replacement was not ready until after 3pm. I think the one they gave us had been retired and was hauled out of mothballs as it is really old and worn. We are just hoping it is mechanically sound.

Whilst awaiting the van we took a tram ride around Melbourne and had lunch, but as soon as we were mobile we headed for a site in Geelong. It was a comfortable, pleasant site but nothing spectacular, or so we thought. We took a walk along a footpath by the Barwon River and as we were returning I spotted an owl (frog-mouthed variety) in a tree. I moved away to let Jim have a look and turned round to see a pair of beautiful yellow eyes watching me. It was a young frog-mouth and he had 2 siblings alongside him. I was speechless and couldn't believe our luck. We returned at dusk and they were then all awake. Unfortunately it started to get so cold we had to give up plans to wait for them (or at least the parent) to go hunting and returned to the van. That night was very cold. Tonight we are going to wear our snorkelling "onesy" suits to bed to try and stay warm. Not sure what effect that might have on anyone Jim might bump into when he has to visit the toilet block in the night.

On Sunday we moved along the scenic Great Ocean Road to Kennett River. The road was built after WW1 (started in 1919 and formally opened in 1932) to provide employment for returning service men. On this site there are red and green King Parrotts, Crimson Rosellas, Superb Fairy Wrens, Willie Wagtails, Kookaburras, Sulpur Crested Cockatoos, Hooded Plovers, White Faced Herons, Australian Wood Ducks AND Koalas in the trees around the vans. We couldn't believe our eyes. Then we made a meal and one of the King Parrotts came closer and closer until he landed on Jim's shoulder hoping to share his burger. As much as Jim loves them that was a little too close!

Tuesday we were due to move from Kennet River but when we were set to start the van would not budge - the battery was flat. Half an hour later we were on the way thanks to a set of jump leads and a friendly driver. Along the Great Ocean Road for 10 minutes then we were stopped and turned back as a car had gone through the barrier and over the cliff and the crane had arrived to lift it. Had coffee in the cafe by the campsite and waited for the Vic Roads Man (that's his title) to give the all clear. It was third time lucky and by 2.30 we managed to leave the Kennet.

Wednesday we had the same problem - flat battery. We decided we could not have this happening every morning so called the van rental company and eventually had a new battery fitted. When telephoning the repair company they were asking jim details about the site, then the address and the site receptionist shouted, " You know exactly where we are!". There are only 400 residents here. Then she said Ken will be here in half an hour - it has to be Ken.

Once mobile again we visited the 12 Apostles - limestone stacks. On the way we saw an Echidna crossing the road. It is a superb coast but the weather is still wild, adding to the drama of the view. Moving on (if new battery works) tomorrow to Tower Hill, a site in (or close to) a volcano.



 
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