Travelling with kids

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Have kids, will travel.

Most people agree that travelling with kids is hard.

Actually, most people except me.

I don’t find it hard travelling with kids per se. Yes, there are things you have to consider that you don’t when going it alone or with other grown ups. But, it always puzzles me when people use this as an excuse not to travel – especially abroad. Even when ours were young babies I never felt we shouldn’t get on that plane. In fact, I maintain that travelling with certain grown ups is WAY harder (ahem Mr 5gomad)!

Before you all start yelling at me, yes there’s a lot to think about. When you have toddlers, I agree, it is not the easiest thing to sit an airport for hours, confine them in a chair for even more hours and insist they keep the noise level to minimum. But honestly, it’s not unachievable. My motto is – what’s the worst that can happen? So they scream for 10 hours solid and you have a nervous breakdown. One cocktail around the pool and a few hours in a kids club later you’ll soon forget the toruture.

I remember a nanny friend of mine saying once that it’s not really much different to spending a day indoors in front of the TV on one of those ‘not in the mood’ days or when under the weather. Also, let’s face it, how many children would object to being given permission to spend hours watching cool films or playing games?

So, with that in mind here are my tips for travelling with children – young or old. Bear in mind, these are from personal experience, I haven’t googled this list and I’m sure there are plenty more practical ones like take loads of games, etc. But it’s not my style to copy and paste.

Before you go

Get them used to the idea of travelling. Show them where you’re going, let them get excited about what you are going to see, do and where you are staying. This is often overlooked as we forget that unless it’s Disney Land really, kids aren’t that interested in the sound of visiting Ang Kor Wat or relaxing in the Maldives. So show them stuff that you know they’ll be interested in – for my three it’s a decent looking pool and a nice hotel with maybe a local show thrown in and they’re sold.

As soon as their little legs can walk they can carry a bag. Even if all it holds is a comfy/baggy/soft toy type thing. Yes, you’ll curse the number of bags you have and you’ll curse me for suggesting this, but bear with me. When you’ve run out of room for the extras you’ve acquired along the way (mini knife and fork anyone?) and have a handy bag to put them in, you’ll be grateful. Also, when those little legs become the big strapping legs of a 18 year old you’ll be thankful for that extra bag carrier let me tell you.

Also, if it’s a special bag that always goes on holiday with you it’s a way of letting them know what’s coming up. Great if you have kids with special needs as it’s a way to help them feel more comfortable with the whole travelling issue.

Talking of special needs. If you have a child that has any kind of SN then don’t be backwards in coming forwards. Even with my Son who is now 15 I still board when the ‘those travelling with young children’ announcement is made (if I feel he has had enough). I don’t care if everyone tutts or sniffs around me. I explain our situation politely to the land crew and they are more often than not happy to accommodate.

Depending how far in advance you have booked the trip, if you can, avoid going to the cinema or watching newly released films in the run up to the holiday. That way you won’t get on the flight and hear cries of ‘Oh, I’ve seen that’. Having said that, what kid doesn’t like to watch the same film more than once?

Short haul flights

Load up the iPad with a couple of films, a couple of episodes of their favourite TV show and some games that they haven’t played before. Make it clear that the iPad cannot come out before the ‘magic light’ goes off overhead (the seatbelt sign) – maybe even say that the pilot him or herself has asked for this.

Take some snacks – this is a no brainer, but one I’ve often got caught out on as I’ve assume the children’s meal will be appealing enough. No! Nuts, bread rolls, easy to eat fruit (no peel to fiddle with), crackers and so on are all easy to carry, don’t need to be kept cool and travel ok. Obviously some countries restrict what you take in so watch out for that.

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This is what we hope for.

Don’t worry about everyone else around you. Oh yes, you will have seen the raised eyebrows and despairing looks of the guy behind/in front as you cajole little Johnny in to his seat whilst trying to strap tiny Johnny to your lap. So what? He should just think himself lucky he hasn’t got to do anything but listen to them – and maybe put up with some thrown food or a kick in the back every now and then. Don’t assume that your fellow passengers are berating you for having the audacity to bring children on a flight. Most of the time you’ll see sympathetic nods, grateful sighs and knowing smiles. Also, don’t assume it’s the people not travelling with kids who are the worst. I was once on a flight when another mum turned round and told me to tell my son to be quiet – she was travelling with her older daughter. I was shocked, how dare she break the code of motherhood? I asked him to be quiet whilst passing him a tambourine. That’s Karma that is.

Take along an extra pillow/soft toy/head prop if you can. The more comfortable you can make yourself and the kids, the better. You could also get one of those foot pillows if you can find one, I’ve never used them but they look pretty cool.

Make deals before you leave (if able to understand this). If they want to watch 5 films, they have to have a nap in between each one.You might get lucky and one of those naps will turn in to a longer sleep. If not, let them watch another film and they can make up for it whilst you’re sitting round the pool tomorrow. If they want to play some game for an hour, they have to sit still whilst you eat your (awful but always seem to eat it anyway) meal. Whatever works for you. Find your currency with them and barter!

Long haul

All of the above and then some! 

Face the fact that they will moan a bit. Or even a lot. Once you get your head around this it really is a matter of getting on with it. I moan on a plane, my husband moans on a plane. Why shouldn’t the kids? Just keep distracting them with another film, game, promise of ice cream when you get there. Honestly, lower your expectations 50% and you’ll be good to go.

Let them wander up and down at some point if they want to. Try to avoid the time when most people are sleeping, but don’t feel you have to pin them down the whole time. Unless, of course, you’ve got one of those children who charge up and down like a train – then strap them in and don’t let them move! (I’m kidding) Take them to the area near the emergency exits (resist all urges to open the door, no matter how bad it’s been up until then! Think of the cocktails woman, stop!) There you can let them see out the window without clambering over anyone. Maybe play eye spy? If you happen to be over an ocean it’ll be short game.

Wear comfy clothes. I know this sounds obvious but really, wear something you can lay in, be laid on in, that isn’t tight or irritating in any way. Something that when you have to stretch to the overhead locker for the millionth time you’re not self conscious of showing a part of you not normally on view.

Carry headache tablets. Just do.

If your child suffers from that hideous ear issue when flying there are a few ways to help this – all have varying results depending on the child. The usual sucking on a bottle (mine ALWAYS seemed to finish the whole thing just before we actually got up), sucking sweets, chewing on a teether. But I’ve also heard wearing ear plugs helps too. Google it – there’ll be other ideas out there. Try them and see what works for your child.

If you have a pukey child carry wipes and forage for all the sick bags you can before you take off. In my recent experience the cabin crew take a bit longer nowadays to come to the aid of a travel sick child and also cannot touch you or them. So they will throw lots of paper at you and then rather handily ask you to fill out a form in between catching puke. So just be prepared. Oh, and secret tip, the blanket they give you catches A LOT of sick if necessary!

One final piece of advice – start early. If you are a couple who like to travel why not travel with your kids? We started fairly easily with short haul flights to France from the UK and before we knew it we were heading to Oz with two young boys. Maybe it wasn’t a stroll in the park but whatever the flight was like I can’t remember so it couldn’t have been too bad. What I do remember – as do the boys – is seeing an amazing country and having a fantastic holiday though.

In my humble opinion, travel is the best gift we can give our children in terms of experiences. Without getting on with it, here’s just some of the things we would have missed…

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Scuba diving with your cousin.

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Searching for India Jones.

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Idyllic deserted beach anyone?

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Absolutely worth the flight.

 

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Hammocks and lazy days.

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Stunning sunflower fields of France.

Money aside, why wouldn’t you want your kids to see and experience all of this?

Do you have any tips for parents? Please share them in comments below. If you’ve got a funny story about travelling with kids, even better!

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Peranakan Museum

Peranakan museum

Peranakan Museum

Where: The Peranakan Museum, 39 Armenian Street, 179941.
Why? To finally find out what Peranakan actually means. To discover more about the history of Singapore.
When? Open daily 10am-7pm. Till 9pm on a Friday.
Cash heavy? Nope! Just $6 per entry, $3 for PR.
Kid friendly? Yes. there were hands on displays to keep them interested. There was a group of school children there whilst I was there and they looked like they were having fun. Strollers allowed in all galleries and there’s a changing room on level 1.
Dog friendly? No, but then why would it be?
Disabled access? Yes, all galleries have wheelchair access and there are disabled toilets and parking spaces nearby.
Getting there. The nearest MRT is City Hall. Alternatively it’s about a 5-10 minute drive from the centre of town and there are bus stops nearby.
Extra titbit. Look out for the poem about how to be a good daughter-in-law. When you’ve finished at the museum have a wander down the street and check out the amazing street art.
Website/Contact: http://www.peranakanmuseum.sg Tel: +65 6332 7591

The nitty-gritty:

The term Peranakan is talked about a lot here in Singapore. For quite a while I had no idea what it actually meant. I knew it referred to something – or someone? – local and that there were lots of lovely housewares you could buy in the ‘Peranakan design.” I figured it referred to the indigenous people of Singapore; the forefathers of this modern city. However, a trip to the Peranakan museum made me realise that there is so much more to it than that.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

The imposing staircases either side of the central atrium.

This small museum is in what used to be the Tao Nan Chinese School, one of the first modern Chinese schools in Singapore and is right by the city’s business district. With it’s dashing pastel coloured frontage, its arched verandahs and grand entrance way, the quietly imposing building catches you by surprise as you wander along Armenian Street. As you walk though the doors in to an atrium filled with light, you can’t help but notice the two huge symmetrical staircases that lead up either side of the building to corridors and galleries on the upper levels. As museums go, it’s very inviting – not stuffy or library like at all.

So, what is Peranakan? To quote the museum themselves “In Malay, Peranakan means ‘child of’ or ‘born of’ and is used to refer to people of mixed ethnic origins.” To put this in to context, years ago, way before Singapore was the high-rise city it is now, it was seen as a place of opportunity for many neighbouring countries due to its free port. This was mainly due to Singapore’s unique location on the major sea route between India and China. It quickly became a hub of trading and many Chinese immigrants came to make their fortune here – and never left. These travellers – although mainly Chinese, there were also Indian and Eurasian Portuguese – married local Malay (non muslim) women and their culture became known as Peranakan.

There are things displayed everywhere.

There are things displayed everywhere.

The first collection I visited in the museum was a series of photographs of modern-day Peranakan people accompanied by quotes about what being Peranakan means to them. There was a strong sense of belonging and tradition in most of what I read. Something that was echoed throughout other exhibits too. At the end of the room is a film showing the early Peranakan history.

I then went up to the first level where you can see art, clothing, furniture, traditions associated with the Peranakan culture. With nine galleries all themed with things such as Weddings, religion, food and feasting, it really does give you an insight in to how life would have been like years ago in Singapore. It also reflected on how this manifests in modern Singapore too.

The colourful Nonya ware.

The colourful Nonya ware.

My favourite exhibits included the amazing display of Nonya ware – the Peranakan design porcelain ware – including a full table laid for twenty plus guests. The fully dressed, parading wedding party was interesting too. There were artefacts all around the museum including at the top of the stairs and hanging above doors.

I'm not sure how far I'd walk in these...

I’m not sure how far I’d walk in these…

I was keen to learn about the Nonya (Peranakan lady), especially the rituals around getting married and was surprised by how many traditions there are. Many women it seems no longer follow these rituals to the book, but some do still survive. The room that focused on religion and in particular the rituals around death was fascinating – if a bit eery – and I can see that these customs are still in play today amongst modern-day Peranakans.

Other displays to look out for include the intricate beadwork, the fashion and the display about the many Peranakans who became cultural and philanthropic leaders.

They even have their own cat!

They even have their own cat!

The museum is an interesting way to spend a morning or afternoon. You can get around it in a couple of hours quite easily. On your way out visit the gift shop and pick up one of their beautiful hand-made cards or find a replica of the beadwork you had previously admired. There’s even a foodie shop where you can pick up some traditional Peranakan treats. A very pleasant way to while a few hours for sure.

Oh, and then have a wander down Armenian Street, there’s some amazing street art on the building just next door and some lovely little shop houses with pots of tropical plants and canaries in cages hanging out front. There’s an interesting looking restaurant that I want to go back to as well serving traditional Peranakan food.

Well worth the visit.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5  (out of 5)

Clarke Quay

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Where: 3 River Valley Road. 179024  to Clifford Pier, 80 Collier Quay, 049326.
Why? For a wander, a ride along the river and some great sightseeing.
When? Any time you like, it’s always there.
Cash heavy? Depends on what you do. To just walk is free. River boat tours are around $20 per person. Food is as much as you want to spend.
Kid friendly? Yes. Just keep an eye as you are by the river after all. But wide open spaces to walk along and easy for a stroller.
Dog friendly? Yes but only on a lead and not on the boats or in restaurants.
Disabled access? Yes, although it can be a bit tricky as you need to go around some buildings. Boat access check http://www.rivercruise.com.sg
Getting there. Clarke Quay MRT and Raffles Place MRT. 10 minutes from CBD by taxi.
Extra titbit. If you’re feeling really adventurous take the reverse bungee ride – not for the faint hearted!
Website/Contact: http://www.rivercruise.com.sg. http://www.fullertonbayhotel.com
The nitty gritty 

Whenever we have visitors the first place we take them, often jet lagged and little bit bleary-eyed is Clarke Quay. I’m not sure if it’s the colourful shutters of the MICA building (housing Government ministries) that I think will awaken their tired eyes. Or the towering city scape that comes in to view as you round the bend that I hope will impress them. Or the mix of bars, cafes and restaurants that can feed them whenever the need arises? Maybe it’s my old love, the Merlion – the original guardian of the city – who stands tall and proud at the mouth of the river, that I want to show off?

Who knows? I just feel it’s a great place to introduce anyone to this lovely city we call home. It has such a lot of history attached to it as the first port of Singapore. As recent as the 1970’s traders were still pedalling their wares on the banks of the river, and Clarke Quay was a noisy mix of bumboats (tongkangs) and lighters (twakows) unloading their cargoes. Ever since Sir Stamford Raffles step foot on the northern bank of the river and saw its potential as a free port it has been a hubbub for the island. But it hasn’t always been the lovely stretch of water it is now. With all the heavy traffic it encountered and the number of people living on, by and around the river it became heavily polluted and congested.

In 1977, the then Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew began a clean up operation that took ten years to complete. Involving relocating many hawkers, squatters, industries and immigrants, this clean up has got to go down as one of the biggest successes for Singapore. For the river is now beyond recognition with it’s attractive waterway walks, bustling restaurants and grand hotels that line the river. At the same time it has stayed true to it’s rich heritage and celebrates its history.

So, if you’re looking for a relaxing day out and don’t mind a stroll. Or, if you’ve visitors who have just arrived and you don’t have  a clue where to start, here’s my suggestion for a fab day by the river.

Take the MRT to Clarke Quay station, come out at the river, turn right and head towards Clifford Pier. On the way you will find many statues to catch your eye – from the large bird sculpture (symbolising peace, serenity, the joy of living and the power of optimism apparently!), to the often photographed jumping boys or ‘The First Generation’ to give them their proper names. In fact, if you are taking young children, make a game of this – challenge them to find the jumping boys, the cats, the traders, the bullock cart, and even Sir Stamford Raffles himself (on the opposite bank, but easily spotted if you are keeping a look out).

As you head under South Bridge you will enter Boat Quay which will be obvious from the plethora of eateries that spring up along here. You will be encouraged to sit down, relax, have a bite to eat or ‘just a drink madam?’ In fact, this is one of only a few streets in Singers where you will be approached by restaurant staff keen for your custom.  But this is Singapore, so don’t worry, you can easily say no thank you and they won’t be offended. There are many options, so if you are hungry give somewhere a try. Fresh fish and shellfish are on display too so you can even pick out what you’d like served up!

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Fresh fish anyone?

 

Fed and watered? Then keep walking and you will saunter past The Fullerton Hotel – an iconic hotel that has been on the same site since 1928 and had previously dominated the city’s skyline (pre skyscrapers and MBS). Placed under conservation at the beginning of last century, The Fullerton is one of those hotels that oozes colonial Singapore. If you want to soak up some of its history you can visit one of its restaurants or bars. If not, just oggle those that are as you walk by.

Keep going and walk around the mouth of the river heading for the Merlion Park. Standing 8.6 meters tall, this is where the guardian of Singapore now lives after moving from further down the river in 2002. Join the other tourists and see if you can capture a photo of the Merlion spouting water directly in to your mouth. This really is selfie heaven so be patient with the many tourists that are around. It’s worth it though for that one good shot. Look out for the Merlion cub too that sits just behind mum. Always a nice photo opportunity for the kids.

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The Mighty Merlion

 

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Nearly mum!

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Just a bit more

Oh, and you may just notice another famous landmark or two whilst you’re there too. More photo opportunities as you try to lift the famous Marina Bay Sands with your bare hands, or push round the Singapore Eye. If you’re not sure what to do, just look around and take your cues from those in the know.

Once you’ve had your fill of photo taking head towards Clifford Pier and buy a ticket for a river boat ride. Yes, it’s worth it! Here you’ll get a chance to sail down the river you’ve been meandering past for the last hour or so. Jump aboard (or step precariously, depending on your sea legs – but it’s completely calm so no need to worry!) a traditional bumboat. They all have video commentary that will tell you more about the fascinating history of the river and Singapore itself.

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Take a bumboat ride along the river

 

This is a great thing to do come rain or shine as on a hot day you can catch the breeze as you sail along sitting outside the boat (though you don’t hear the commentary then) or sit by a window and enjoy some shade. It’s also the perfect shelter from the showers that can catch you out. Take a full round trip if you can and you will see many more famous landmarks such as the Old Parliament House, the Asians Civilisation Museum and Marina Barrage. Not to mention you get a full view of the CBD and the gob-smackingly tall skyscrapers. You can hop on and off if you wish or can choose to end your journey at any one of it’s 13 jetties.

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Just a few of the skyscrapers you’ll see

 

Personally, I’d say go for a round trip and see as much as you can and end up back at Clifford Pier. This is purely because that way you can now gawp at, for me, one of the most splendid hotels in the area – The Fullerton Bay Hotel. I’m not sure of the technicalities, but the hotel is built on a public walkway (I’m also not sure they’ll appreciate my sharing this information so happily either). This basically means anyone – yes, even you in your comfy shorts and walking shoes – can stroll through the public areas. And these are public areas TO DIE FOR!

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The stunning Clifford Pier restaurant

I never tire of staring when I enter the lobby. The beautiful – and I mean stunningly beautiful – Clifford Pier restaurant just whisks you away to a place where you want to call everybody ‘dahhhling’ and quaff cocktails and sip Ceylon tea all afternoon. In fact, you can do exactly that as this one of the best places for afternoon tea (see Time For Tea, Fullerton Bay Hotel).

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A bar with a view to die for

 

Of course, if it’s later in the evening; ah hell, even if it’s not, you can head up to The Lantern Bar. Taking it’s name from Clifford Pier’s historical Chinese name ‘Red Lantern Pier’ this is one of my favourite spots for a drink or two as the views are lovely. Not so high up you feel sick, but high enough to take your breath away. There’s a relaxed vibe most nights with a DJ playing some nights – it can get busy so book if you’re keen to go on a particular night.

But, during the day it’s also great for a juice, cup of tea or cocktail too and you can get bar snacks if you haven’t partaken in any of the restaurants earlier. Now, sit back, relax and enjoy the view.

When you’re done – and had a good nose around the beautiful lobby – you can head to the hotel entrance and grab a cab back home. Or, if you’re feeling energetic, walk back along the river the way you came and jump back on the MRT. By the time you get there though you’ll be ready for another drink and some cake before heading home – look out for the cafe’s outside the shopping mall as they can tick the box no problem

For me, this is the perfect day out for newbies – and oldies – to Singapore. A great introduction to the city without being overwhelmed and a good way to check out what you might like to do next.

Enjoy!

Bollywood Veggies

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Bollywood Veggies – Kranji

Where: 100 Neo Tiew Road, Singapore, 719026.
Why? To get a bit of countryside goodness, to smell the fresh air, to see another side to Singapore. For GREAT food.
When? Open Wednesday-Sunday, 9am-6:30pm. (Closed over Lunar New Year for 2 weeks.)
Cash heavy? Nope! A couple of bucks to get in and whatever you spend on lunch. Whatever it will be, it’ll be a bargain. Bring cash though as doesn’t accept cards or cheques.
Kid friendly? Yes. Paths lead around the gardens for those with strollers, and kids are encouraged to explore.
Dog friendly? I’m assuming so as they have a dog run in the garden.
Disabled access? Yes, although some parts of the gardens are not accessible it’s pretty much wheelchair friendly.
Getting there. The nearest MRT is Kranji and from there you can get a shuttle bus (check website for schedule). Alternatively it’s about a 25 minute drive from the centre of town.
Extra titbit. The owners of Bollywood Veg make a point of employing those from the local community who are physically or mentally challenged to help run the gardens and bistro. Look out for a particularly inspiring lady called May who has written a book called Scaling Walls.
And try the banana bread – it’s delicious!
Website/Contact: http://www.bollywoodveggies.com.sg. Tel:+65 6898 5001 .

 
The nitty-gritty:
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Subtle but well said

Sometimes, despite the fabulousness of this city, every now and then we all just want out for a while. It may be that you want a drive through the countryside? Or perhaps you’re sick of high-rise condos, traffic and swarms of people everywhere? Maybe you need some time to think, relax and chill? Or just that you want reassurance that there is somewhere on this island that grows something you can actually eat!

In which case you can’t do any better than a trip to Bollywood Veggies in Kranji. Started by self titled ‘farm-preneurs’ Ivy Singh-Lim and Lim Ho Seng, this couple have turned a pipe dream in to reality. What began as an idea for somewhere for their retirement has flourished in to a fully fledged farm, bistro, food museum, cooking school and a whole new future for Singapore’s aspiring farming community.

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Or, just do it out of the kindness of your heart?

We found Bollywood Veggies one Sunday afternoon after we had decided to visit Kranji War memorial and wanted to stop for a quick bite to eat. As soon as we parked up I knew this wasn’t your ordinary out-of-town cafe. The car park was pretty full for a start – always a good sign, but also makes you think “oh no, we should have booked.”

But no, Bollywood Veggie isn’t that kind of place. No reservations required.

Go through the entrance and you’ll enter a whole new world. You are welcome to stroll around the farm and get up close to a lot of what they do there. With the most fantastic and quirky little signs all over the place, that alone is enough to keep you interested for a while (and giggling at the humour of those who put them there). If you are the green fingered sort you’ll be enthralled by the number of plants, trees and flowers they have. From mangos to figs, curry plants to water lily’s. Most of which are helpfully labelled. Oh, and if you want to lend a hand, rake a few leaves for them and they’ll give you a drink on the house (non alcoholic I assume?)

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As a playground should be

We came across one area that, despite the warnings about snakes, is a must. (I’m sure they’re not THAT serious about the snakes). Hidden amongst some trees, lots of plants and behind an old hut type building is a seesaw. You know, the old-fashioned kind. Along with a swing fashioned from a piece of wood and a rope, tied to a tree. Also, a very quaint, if somewhat eerily abandoned looking table and chair set. It was almost as if someone had just finished playing there 200 years ago and time had stood still ever since.

Once you’ve finished pottering around the farm do stop for something to eat. The ever friendly staff will help you with recommendations. The banana curry is a favourite we were told so we were keen to try it and were not disappointed. They also serve fish and chips for the less adventurous little ones with you.

With a small, but perfectly formed, set of farm ‘toys’ to keep the kids amused, you’ll find hours may have passed without you realising it.

And as you take your leave, with shoulders less hunched and your head a bit clearer, you can even buy some of their delicious chocolate banana bread to take home. I bought a copy of the book Scaling Walls by one of the ‘farm warriors’ Siew May who, despite a tough start in life has achieved more than most of us and I look forward to learning more about her and her life. Sometimes you can get lucky and they’ll have some veg or fruit to buy too. But, I think they use most of it themselves in the bistro. With bike tours now being arranged to start and end there, Bolly Jolly weekends and guided tours it seems to me this couple are long way from retiring just yet. And Singapore is the better for it.

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Beautiful reminders of the wildlife

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I cannot think of a better way to while a few hours than at Bollywood Veggies. Go explore yourself, you’ll not be disappointed.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

Are we there yet?

Before I left the UK, a friend asked when I thought I would feel ‘settled’. When I would look around me and say, yep, this is the life.

question-mark-22537418I wondered too. In fact I’m still wondering.

When you move to a new country there is so much to get used to. New people, new roads, new house, new school, new friends, new ways of doing things (remind me to tell you about the pavements, and don’t even get me started on the driving).

Don’t get me wrong, I know Singapore is one of the easiest places to move to –  the people here speak the same language as me, eat food I’m happy to eat, live in homes I’m happy to live in (not with them!). It’s a good gig really. But there is still so much to get used to. The whole way of being here is different. Not bad different. But different.

There have been a few eureka moments already.

The first time I got to the school and back without getting lost – I gave myself a huge pat on the back for that. When I was shopping at the supermarket and knew to take my fruit and veg to be bagged and weighed before heading to the cash till. Also, again at the supermarket when I didn’t stand and gawp at the chicken feet (no idea what they taste like as haven’t gone there yet) with my mouth wide open.  Another time was when making an appointment and heard myself saying, ‘oh no, I’m seeing a friend that day.’

All of these little baby steps are leading me down the right path, I hope.images

Then, of course, just when I start to feel like I’ve got a grip on things and can start to relax something comes along to bite me on the bum. Just last week I took the wrong turn to a place I’ve gone to a dozen times and ending up going completely in the wrong direction. In the end I gave up and came home.

Each day seems busier which I guess is a good sign. I still laugh at myself a lot as it can take me all day to get one thing done. I’m very easily distracted you see. But, each day there is something else that reminds me that I do really live here, and actually it is feeling more like home. For example, I’m not wearing my hair up every single minute of every single day; I seem to be adjusting to the heat. The aircon isn’t on quite as much and when the radio announcer said “it’s chilly at 26 degrees today” I get what he meant.  When I get in a cab and tell the driver where I’m going when they ask me how to get there, I don’t panic. (Yep, it seems to be a cab driver here you don’t actually have to know your way around. No ‘knowledge’ needed. London black cab drivers take note!)

But, as for feeling like we’ve settled. I’m still wondering – are we there yet?

Home is where the heart is…

Or was, or thinks it wants to be…IMG_0876

Having landed here in Singapore from the UK just nine weeks before I guess it should have come as no surprise that I felt homesick.  Ever since we’d arrived I had a feeling of things being not quite right. Off kilter. Like something didn’t quite fit.  This particular day it hit me hard, and it hit me in the least likely of situations. I was on my way to meet a lady I’d met at a school coffee morning the week before. She’d kindly invited me to join her and a few other women for a walk with our dogs and we were then going to have brunch together. All very sociable; more than I could have hoped for so early on really.

So imagine my surprise when, on the way there in the car a huge wave of longing to be home hit me. I found myself crying. Right there at the traffic lights. Good job I was wearing my sunglasses.

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And this is how it seems to be for me. I can be doing anything at all – the most mundane of jobs – and it’ll hit me right in the gut. It’s a physical thing too. Not a pain as such, but a twisting of the insides. A huge lurch in my stomach and chest.

Having asked around, it seems many of us – new and old expats alike – feel the same. Some of the things I’ve heard include a feeling of being overwhelmed, a lack of belonging, that the first few months are so raw.

So I got to wondering why this was? When we have come willingly (most of us anyway) to this beautiful country that is full of wonderful things to do and people to meet. Not to mention the fabulous travel opportunities being in Singapore offers up.

Some of these feelings I’m sure are a result of coming down from the high of the move. The initial excitement of the prospect of moving to a new country, telling your friends and family, choosing where to live etc. Before you leave your previous home, you spend time and energy getting organised for it. Packing, re-packing, sorting, clearing and so on. You are emotionally drained from all the farewells which can go on for weeks . Then, when you land, you have to hit the ground running trying to set up a new home (or find yourself a new home!), get the kids settled – at home and in school or nursery. There’s no time for what many have called the grieving process.

Once you’ve arrived there’s also the issue of finding your way round. I totally underestimated how stressful this would be. Navigating the roads is no mean feat. Navigating a shopping mall in this particular country I find almost impossible. There’s a certain incident that will be forever known as ‘Organic basket’ day that will go down in history as one of my all-time lows. But that’s a whole other story for another day.

Getting to know people, making friends and building relationships is vital – but can be draining. That’s not to say any of the lovely people I’ve met are making things hard for me. But, when you are getting to know someone 352-mastermind-chairthere is a lot to think about. All that information that needs to be shared, remembered and digested. Just a quick cup of tea can turn in to what feels like mastermind. In the next round you’re supposed to remember how many children they have, how long they’ve been an expat and where else they’ve lived. Otherwise you feel your time may be up.

You long for the warm, snuggly comfort blanket that is home and all that you know there. For family who you know you can call on when you just need a break from the kids. No questions asked or gaps to fill in. The friends who know when to call for a chat, to pop by for a cuppa – bring your favourite cake and give you a hug.

Being out of routine doesn’t help either. With no real place to fit or even anywhere to be most days it’s hard to fill your time meaningfully. Yes, for me, I could spend all day writing on my computer – and I often do – but that’s not going to help. The advice from many who’ve trodden this path before is, it’s best to get out there. To engage, see what’s going on, join a group, start a hobby. But wandering around without a real reason, or in my case, getting lost constantly isn’t much fun. But, I know it has to be done in order to build up a routine. Even if it’s just taking the dog to the local park every Thursday morning – that lady I spoke to once might become a good friend. It’s all about making the most of the opportunities really isn’t it?

The sad thing I’ve found though is how many of us feel this way. There are a lot of lonely women (and, I’m sure men) in Singapore. Women who have often put their lives on hold for their partners job and uprooted their families to pursue what they hope is a better life, a new adventure, a chance to start again. Which is all good in theory. But the reality of it is tough. Even those who have been here – or been away from ‘home’ – for over 20 years say it’s still hard. Especially as, by their very nature, expats are transient. People come and go all the time so you may find your new best friend has to leave and you are back to square one.

When does where you’re living become home I wonder? One Dutch lady said it was when she referred to a trip back as ‘going to Holland’  rather than ‘home’. When does the ‘not quite the right fit’ suddenly become more comfortable? One lovely analogy someone shared with me summed it up really:

‘It’s like Tree_of_Life_IIbeing a tree that has been many years happily in its pot. But, it really needed to be replanted in order for it to grow. Its branches and roots needed to be trimmed to help regenerate new growth. The branches (everything you knew how to do on automatic pilot) needed cutting back to grow new ones. Your roots (your support network of family and friends) have been given a shake up but they’re still there, along with some new ones that will help ground you. Although we call it homesickness, it is in fact, transplant wilt. With a little bit of time, patience and care you’ll soon be back to your blossoming self.’

That was another thing that came out when talking to others about this. It’s important to be kind to yourself. Give yourself space to feel sad. Give yourself a pat on the back for doing this well. Then also give yourself a kick up the you-know-what and get out there and enjoy the experience as much as you can. Accept you will miss home, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Get help from an expert if you need to. Phone that lady you swapped numbers with last week and arrange a night out. Go along to that coffee morning, you never know  your new BFFN (best friend for now) could be there waiting for you. Help yourself develop a sense of belonging by making an effort to belong.

Cherish the family and friends you have at ‘home’ – wherever that may be, near or far. It seems the common feeling is that the first year is the hardest, after that it becomes easier. So, only 41 weeks to go then…

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Super Tree Grove

Super Tree Grove at Gardens By The Bay

Where: 18 Marina Gardens Drive, 018953.

Why? To gawp at ‘super’ trees as they light up and sing. From an afternoon stroll to floating above the ground on the 22m high skyway there are lots of other ways to spend your time at Gardens By The Bay.
When? Open every day. The ‘Garden Rhapsody’ is on twice an evening, check website for timings.
Cash heavy? Some parts you pay to enter, for example it’s $5 to go on the OCBC Skyway, but you can go and marvel at the super trees for free. 
Kid friendly? Yes, plenty of space to walk, push a buggy and let them wander (keeping an eye near the water areas of course). There is a specific children’s garden (that I’ll cover another time).
Dog friendly? Dogs are allowed on lead in the outside gardens but not on the Skyway, children’s garden or in the conservatories.
Disabled access? Yes, lifts, ramps and barrier free routes. Wheelchairs can also be hired here.
Getting there. MRT or bus easily enough. Can also drive as large car park.
Extra titbit. When the Singapore heat gets too much, Supertree Grove offers a shady respite.
 
The nitty gritty:

When I had a friend visiting on a quick weekend stop over I was really unsure where to take her, especially as she’d spent her childhood in Singapore.

I opted for Supertree Grove at Gardens By The Bay as it’s close to Marina Bay – and the wonders of all that’s new and sparkly about Singapore. Also, we wanted to eat so I booked us a table at IndoChine in (yes ‘in’) one of the Supertrees. Wandering around the gardens is always fascinating. There’s always something interesting to see. In this instance it was lots of what looked like abandoned carnival floats with a theme I couldn’t quite make out. It turns out they were there in preparation for the Carnival of Lights festival that was coming up.

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Anyone for fruit?

The Supertrees themselves are truly amazing. Covered in plants with an inverted umbrella atop each one, they look unlike anything else you have seen. The plants that cling to them look fake. It’s only when you look closely (or read it in the guidebook), you realise they are actual living plants.

Heading to the tree where Indochine is based, we decided to go for a drink at the rooftop bar first. After being radioed in – Mission Impossible styley, as if we were either high risk security or top celebs – we got in the lift. Coming out of the lift you are ushered up a staircase (again with someone radioing ahead, and… WOW!

That is pretty much the word I heard everyone say as they did the same over the next hour or so. The view is fantastic. In this little bar atop a fake tree you can sit, have a (not cheap admittedly) drink and take in the full wonder of Singapore. From the port to the bay, the city and beyond you can see it all on a clear day. Even if you’re not eating, it’s worth the $10 or whatever it is they charge you just to go up to the bar to enjoy the stunning view. Great photo opps aplenty.

After dinner at IndoChine (restaurant reviews in another part of my blog) we went back down to the foot of the tree to enjoy the Garden Rhapsody. As night falls, the Supertrees come to life. Set to music that drifts on the evening air, and with a voice over that lulls you, all I can say is lay back – yes, lay down, it’s much better experienced this way – and watch the trees dance with light.

Undoubtedly there’s something very strange about lying under a huge pretend tree covered in real plants listening to classical music watching a light show. You may wonder if drugs have been ingested by mistake. Afterwards it takes a while to come round to the fact you’re laying on the floor – or the base of a tree if you’ve been lucky enough to get a spot – as you really have been transported by light and sound out of the bustling city. It’s a lovely feeling, so hang on to it.

People start moving away slowly – almost embarrassed to have enjoyed it so much. You can then carry on your wander around the gardens, or, like us, head over to Marina Bay and find yourself another amazing bar with a view.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

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Enjoy the other worldly nature of the light show

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Part of the 128m Skyway – get there early if you want to watch the show from here.

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Flat on my back looking up at the super tree – you can see just see the lights of the restaurant at the top.

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

Down sizing/de-cluttering?

Whatever you like to call it, when moving to the other side of the world there’s a lot of both that needs to happen – and then some!

relocatingI began being quite excited by the idea of getting rid of the junk. Removing all the clutter and ridding ourselves of some of the detritus that seemed to forever take over the house. I think the first room I started was the spare room. After all, that was going to be one of the easier ones to do right?

To call it a spare room for a start is a laugh. Ironing lived in there in humongous piles. Clothes the children had grown out of fought for squatting rights in there too; waiting on the day I’d finally find them a new home. Toys that were no longer given the time of day, bits of furniture that didn’t ‘work’ elsewhere. Oh, and not forgetting the boxes of old crockery, unwanted gifts, old soft toys and all sorts of other bits and pieces I’d acquired and was storing for the school fair.

It all lived in the room meant for guests. Good job we did have very many guests.

Sorry, I digress. So, months before we were due to leave I began the big clear our. My enthusiasm lasted about err, two hours. After that I lost the will to live. That first day really was an exercise in moving unwanted staff from one place to another. By the back door went things destined for the charity shop. The dining table was piled high with bags of things to give to friends. The bin was full of rubbish. Oh, hang on, of course it was. But, this was type of rubbish it takes a move to the other side of the world for me to see was actually rubbish.

The kitchen had mini piles of things I thought family would use. From that day forward it became a standing joke amongst my mum and sisters that they could no longer leave the house empty-handed. I prayed on their insecurities and their weaknesses.

“What if? You might need it for…”  “it’ll definitely come in handy at Xmas.”

My poor family now have houses full of things they neither wanted, needed or will use. Sorry guys!

After that fateful day of moving things around – and I did get the room cleared – I made lists instead. Ooh I LOVE a list. I made a list of what room needed what sorting out. Then a list for when I would do said room. A list of what I might need to do in each room once it had been sorted. Procrastinate became my middle name.

In the mean time, the once proudly clear spare room was beginning to fill up again. This time with boxes of stuff I was slowly sorting out. But it was slow going and time was ticking by.

After a bit of a meltdown one day my family rallied round and offered to help me organise/de-clutter. Apprehensively I agreed to a day the following week when we’d all get stuck in. First though, I needed a list for that. Who was sorting what to where?

The day arrived – we’ll call it the Essex Kitchen Nightmares day shall we?

When mum arrived I explained there were three ways to sort. Ship, Air or Pack.

If it didn’t fit in to one of those three groups, it was going. No questions asked. Right?

Ah, but  I wasn’t counting on dad coming too was I? Now, my dad isn’t a hoarder as such, but he does hate waste. To this day, I’m sure mum has no idea of what is stashed in their garage.

And then my emotions started to get involved.

“But I can’t NOT take Nan’s rose bowl can I?”

Questions arose over my favourite tea mug. Could I live without it for the next eight weeks? Would it make it if I tried to pack it? What about the new tea set my friends had bought for me. Should that go by ship, air or what? And should I just by all new cutlery or take some?

But, despite all my procrastinating, we did make progress. Little sis came to help too. She was on the list to sort towels and bedding. Again, same way of how to sort – ship, air, pack. Now, unlike mum – who either got it straight away, or much like the whole us moving away thing, she refused to think about it too much – little sis needed some explanation of what this meant. I thought it was straightforward really.

Ship meant anything we definitely wanted to take, but could wait eight weeks for and didn’t need in the next few weeks. You see, the ship set sail three weeks before us and arrived four weeks after.

Air meant anything we wanted to take and needed as soon as we got there, but that we could live without for a few weeks. Anything going by air left our house three weeks before we did, but arrived the same day.

Pack was anything we definitely wanted to take, but couldn’t live without, not for one day (think tea mug). So this stuff I was going to pack in our suitcases and was part of our luggage allowance, so nothing too heavy!

Oh, and silly me, there was also another category. The ‘staying but not taking’ sub group. Clearly, this was anything that we didn’t want to take, but maybe needed until the day we left. After that we would dump it. (Ahem, embarrassed cough. Actually, we just ended up taking most of this stuff to my mums on our last day, or leaving it for her to clear from outside the house. Best laid plans and all that. I’m guessing it got dumped??)

A-storage-locker-as-a-noetic-structureOh, and there was the other, sub, sub group. Storage. In this box – which turned in to a whole bloody storage lock up – were the things we didn’t want to take, but couldn’t bear to give or throw away.

So a good plan of action, lists to follow and jobs allocated. Simples!

Again, much like spare room day, Essex Kitchen Nightmares day meant piles of things everywhere. Again there was a lot of moving things around from one place to another. But, at the end of the day there were boxes boxed up to ship (Gulp!). Boxes of bedding to go by air so that we’d have something to sleep on when we arrived. Post it notes on every cupboard and drawer shouting “Don’t touch, to be packed!” and “Can use, don’t pack!” And simply “Ship!”. It all made perfect sense to us.

And so it continued like this over the coming months. Slowly but surely each room in the house got ‘organised’ – things were sorted, organised in to their group and labelled accordingly. It was Toy Story 3 on a grand scale.

Post it notes became my best friends. I knew where I stood with those lurid yellow notelets.

post-it-note-with-a-pinEvery single thing we owned was labelled – it was either going the long way round, going the short way or staying with us for the duration. Oh, and sub group ‘being dumped (at mums house) and the sub, sub group, going into storage.

And so, after what felt like the longest build up, the packers arrived on that fateful day in July.

I had every confidence in my well organised and finely tuned system. Ship. Air. Pack. (Dump {storage}). Simples!

Mmmm….

So, why oh why, when we arrived in Singapore and, in a house empty of everything except the five of us (jet lagged) and an oh so happy to be out of the crate dog, did we end up sharing three sheets, two towels and with no pants???

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Just some of the boxes destined for our new home.

Park Life

Bishan Park – or Ang Mo Kio Park

Where: Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1.
Why? For fresh air, fun and time to chill.
When? Every day of the week (anyone else breaking out in to song?)
Cash heavy? Nope, don’t need a penny, though you could take some to spend in the  cafe/restaurants if you like.
Kid friendly? Hell yeah!  There’s a playground, water playground (open at weekends only), acres of grass as well as loads of interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
Dog friendly? Yes! With it’s two designated dog runs this is the place for your pampered pooch to stretch his or her legs. Though it does get busy. Outside of the run, keep your dog on a lead.
Disabled access? Yes, the paths are wide and clear.
Getting there. There’s a large car park with coupon parking. Lots of bus routes go past Bishan Park.
Extra titbit. The water in the river and ponds that run through the park are kept clean WITHOUT chemicals apparently. Some clever plants do the job instead. 
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Stepping stones for the brave. During heavy rain these can become inaccessible though so watch your step!

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And always cautious, the local council put up a few warning signs.

The nitty gritty:

Bishan is my local park and lucky me. It is sprawling, lush, stunning and a fascinating place to wander around. Every morning the place is swarming with local people keeping fit – many in large groups (wearing matching t-shirts) – doing all kinds of exercise from Tai Chi to fan dances, jogging to meditation. I’ve even seen a few backward walkers. Who knew? At one end of the park is a fitness area where many congregate to do a series of push ups, sits ups, chin ups and every other kind of up you can think of. They take their fitness seriously here obviously. And of course there’s the joggers, walkers and roller bladers following the parks 3k route.

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Exercise is for wimps!

An amazing lily pond that stretches further than any frog prince could hop is a pleasant discovery around one bend and there are a large number of sun loungers big enough for the whole family to sit on. Add to this a great play area for big and little kids alike and a splash park to cool off in (weekends only) this place really rocks as far as parks go. And, to top it all, if you get a bit peckish you can head for one of the cafes. I have yet to eat in one of them but will try it out and get back to you.

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Woody looking for his Prince?

Taking the dog for a walk is definitely a lot more interesting in Bishan than it used to be back in the UK (think circling a cricket pitch over and again). It is a great place to take the kids when they want to let of some steam and a fab place to meet a group of friends for a picnic. You can even learn to roller blade if you like…

Final 5 Verdict? 5 5 5 5 5

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5 out of 5 – woohoo!

Aside

Oh The Places You’ll Go


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Here, in this part of my blog, you will find pages I dedicate to my friends Nic and Sam. They bought the family this wonderful book before we left on our adventure.

I urge anyone who hasn’t, to read it from cover to cover, then read it again. And then read it to any child you know, perhaps stop someone in the street and read them a page or two. It is just fabulous. Who doesn’t love a bit of the Doctor?

So, these pages are going to be slightly self-indulgent I guess. But they’ll be worth a read I promise. A look at all the places we will go whilst in this part of the world. It may be where to find the cheapest souvenirs here in Singers, or where to go for the most stunning view of Singapore. Or, how to rent a hut on a private island and where to take the kids for a long weekend. You could say they are reviews, but that would mean making sound, practical judgements. I can’t promise to do that as there may be vino or two involved sometimes.

I also invite you, my cyber friends, to submit your places too. Come on, let’s give that famous travel site a run for its money eh? If it’s in Singapore and the surrounding areas, send me your stuff; photos too. It may not make it on the blog (well, I’ve got standards to keep) but I promise to respond and we’ll go from there shall we?

So, come on then.

“Oh the places you’ll go,

Today is your day.

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!”

Dr Seuss, Oh The Places You’ll Go, published by Random House

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