Day Trip to Gallipoli

As an Australia who was living in London for 12 years it had gotten to the point that I felt like a bit of a disgrace for never having visited Gallipoli. As I was planning to leave London later that year I decided the time had come!

But gosh as a quick trip it is hard to do! It is a good 4-5 hours by car from Istanbul. I was travelling solo so getting a private car was ridiculously expensive – plus I needed a guide once I got there. I then looked at flights from Istanbul to Canakkale – there appeared to be one a day but it was either very late at night or very early in the morning. The day after my visit I was off to Cappadocia so none of that met my time needs.

Looking onto Anzac beach
Looking onto Anzac beach

So I decided to do a day trip from Istanbul – it was a long day but I definitely think if you’re looking to do this relatively quickly vs travelling Turkey at a leisurely pace (which would of course be preferable) I think it is the best option.

I emailed quite a few places and found TJ’s tours – I of course liked that one of the owners was Australian!

Memorial
Memorial

When I arrived at my hotel in Istanbul Empress Zoe the night before there was a confirmation from the tour company which was reassuring when I had a 6am pick up – I’m not keen on getting up early without reason! I was picked up just after 6 and there were several of us in a minibus. We had a stop for breakfast just under 2 hours into the trip which was basic but fine. And importantly there was a clean bathroom.

Then we visited a quite spectacular Turkish war memorial. We then gathered into the town of Eceabat to meet up with others. Our tour guide was brilliant. Extremely knowledgeable. Turned out we had been Peter Jackson’s tour guide when he was in the area! Impressive celebrity association!

ANZAC cove
ANZAC cove

The highlights of the trip were ANZAC cove and of course Lone Pine as an Australian. It was very moving to see the graves of all these young boys who were most likely naively expecting the adventure of their lives. Seeing the beach and seeing the landscape brings home how difficult a task was faced. It was a very moving trip and something I think every Australian should do.

Finally we hopped on a much bigger bus for the trip back to Istanbul – which took considerably longer than the trip out as the traffic was bad. I got back to my hotel about 1030pm. So a long day but a great day and so worth doing. The tour company were fantastic and I think it was also excellent value for money.

Lone Pine
Lone Pine

The most Fab 8 Things to do in Cappadocia Turkey (Part Two)

5. The Love Valley Walk

The Love Valley
The Love Valley

I combined this walk with the Rose Valley (see below) for one big day trip. Again I used Middle Earth and only booked them after the Ihlara Valley day. This was a relatively easy trek – not particularly steep although it was twisty terrain. The highlight of this walk is the rather phallic section at the end as you will see graphically in the photos! I would do this one with a guide as I think it could get confusing.

The rather phallic Love Valley
The rather phallic Love Valley

6. The Rose Valley Walk

Heading into Rose Valley
Heading into Rose Valley

This was the afternoon of the Love Valley Walk and was definitely the most strenuous of all the walks I did in Cappadocia. There was A LOT of up hill. Up and then down. And then up again. And a bit around. But the scenery was drop dead stunning. All that hill climbing up and down made for some amazing views – particularly as the sun dropped. There was also a very cute café where we stopped off for some well earned pomegranate juice and potato chips! I would never have been able to figure out where to go on this walk on my own so I was very glad that I had a good guide.

The Rose Valley
The Rose Valley

7. Hot Air Ballooning

More balloons
More balloons

This is one of the best things I’ve ever done. Ever. In all my 70+ countries travelling. So I had a false start morning where I got up at 4am, got in the car to go to the field and then got sent back due to weather. Tried again the next morning and thank goodness the weather was good as I was leaving that day. It also meant it was a particularly good day for photos as the last two mornings had been cancelled so I think every balloon in Cappadocia was up in the air!

Hot air balloons
Hot air balloons

I asked the hotel to recommend somewhere and they recommended Royal Balloon. They picked me up at the hotel and then I was driven to a big open area with a rather large restaurant that served a decent buffet breakfast. After food and coffee we were divided into groups and headed out to our balloons. Each balloon has a pilot. Ours was incredibly experienced and I felt very safe. He was also very interactive with the group and chatty whilst being calming.

Balloon with Uchisar in the background
Balloon with Uchisar in the background

I was blown away by the view and I think I took about 300 photos in the hour I was up there. It was absolutely stunning. The juxtaposition of the many colourful balloons against the fairy chimneys and surreal landscape of Cappadocia was extraordinary. I loved every minute of it! It was challenging but of course fun to try and get the best composition. You’re not moving fast but you are moving – as is every other balloon up there!

The hour went by far too quickly and we safely and quickly landed. There was then champagne and chocolate covered strawberries and a certificate. Then a car back to the hotel and back for a nap! But such an amazingly wonderful morning and worth every penny.

I seriously took about 300 photos
I seriously took about 300 photos

8. Have a Hamam

I do love a Hamam! Sure the cleaning is usually a bit on the rough side and I’ve had some interesting experiences when I’ve been using fake tan (well I have large Moroccan women laugh out loud at the fake tan coming off my skin! Good icebreaker) but you feel SO clean after having one.

So I’d googled and checked trip advisor and came up with Elis Spa in the town of Goreme. I got the hotel to book that morning but that didn’t seem to exactly be necessary – could be because it was March and fairly quiet.

Stunning views across Rose Valley
Stunning views across Rose Valley

Shoes off on entry and then into the women’s section. Into the Hamam to lie on the mobile and sweat for a bit. Then a very thorough scrubbing and massage where I did feel a bit thrown around but not necessarily in a bad way! Then a relax with a dip and some tea. All very good value as well.

This was a great thing to do after doing all the walks I’ve described above. It wasn’t my usual standard of boutique to be completely honest but that wasn’t really an option in Cappadocia. So although this was a spa type treatment I would rank it more as an adventure rather than being boutique!

More clarity as to how the Love Valley gained its name
More clarity as to how the Love Valley gained its name

The most Fab 8 Things to do in Cappadocia Turkey (Part One)

I had wanted to go to Cappadocia for years. The key driver for me was the amazing photos I had seen of the Hot Air balloons against the fairy chimneys. I’m delighted to say the trip not only met but exceeded my expectations!

Fairy Castles in the Pigeon Valley
Fairy Castles in the Pigeon Valley

Landing in Kayseri airport you could be anywhere. However, once you enter the national park it is like you have fallen into a fairytale. The lunar landscape and fairy chimneys create a landscape unlike any other that I’ve ever seen. In the late afternoon sunlit it positively glowed.

Ilhara Valley Chimneys
Ilhara Valley Chimneys

After a bit of research I had decided to stay in Uchisar. Goreme sounded too backpackery and Urgup too small. I had also decided to stay 4 nights – arriving late afternoon day 1 and then leaving late morning day 5. This actually worked perfectly with what I wanted to do. However if you are not so into the walks/trekking and more about the hot air balloon you don’t need as many nights as I had. But you need to give yourself a couple of mornings at least for the hot air balloon. Mine was cancelled two mornings in a row due to weather.  On to the Best 8 things to do in no particular order:

  1. Stay in a Cave Hotel

I don’t really see the point in coming to Cappadocia unless you stay in a cave hotel. It is such a unique experience. Most of them are obviously more like normal hotel rooms inside but you’re staying in a cave! So I stayed at the Argos in Cappadocia cave hotel which I loved! What a stunning hotel! Uchisar is at the top of a hill and Argos is right near the top over several kind of “levels”. As you can see from the photos it completely doesn’t look like a hotel – it does look like it has been carved into the earth. It is quite a big hotel but it sort of meanders around so it feels very boutiquey (not sure that’s a word but I think I’m going to make it one!). My room was lovely – beautifully styled and quite large. A big bathroom with a massive walk in shower and lovely toiletries. The lighting in the room was particularly glowing and flattering!

This is the actual hotel!
This is the actual hotel!

I/we ended up eating at the hotel restaurant 3 of the 4 nights I stayed. The food was very nice at Seki but it was pretty pricey for the area. The service was fantastic. Everyone at the hotel is so friendly and any request was quickly resolved. They did put on an excellent breakfast which I would highly recommend. And it is a stunning view. Apparently if you get up early enough you can watch all the balloons from the terrace but the only time I did that I was in one!

One of the many cute doorways in Argos
One of the many cute doorways in Argos

I did really like the Seki bar. This was a lovely rectangular shaped room with a fire that was a lovely spot to have a glass of wine and review the day. I went in mid March and it was quite cold – I guess I never expected Turkey to be cold but you do need layers – and thus the fire!!

Argos in Cappadocia
Argos in Cappadocia
  1. The view from the top of Uchisar Castle
Uchisar Castle
Uchisar Castle

So the castle itself is not particularly exciting. You do have to pay to enter but it’s a small amount. You wander through the cave/castle and then head up! There are lovely views along the way but it’s all about the top and the 360 degree view of Cappadocia. I’m not an early morning person without duress so I can’t tell you about the sunrise but I did see the sunset and it was lovely. The castle itself is also very photogenic. I would advise taking your pics of the castle from the bottom just before the entry point and after the markets. That is where I took the shot attached to this blog.

Sunset from the top of Uchisar Castle
Sunset from the top of Uchisar Castle
View from the top of Uchisar Castle
View from the top of Uchisar Castle
  1. Pigeon Valley walk

This was definitely the easiest of the walks that I did. It is a lovely walk from Uchisar to Goreme. We got the hotel to direct us to the start of the walk – that’s the picture you see of the sticks with the pigeons on the top. Essentially you walk down the hill that is Uchisar and as you get past the town the entry is on your left. You then follow the stunning path to Goreme. We didn’t need a guide for this one. This was some of the best weather we had on the trip so these are possibly my best photos (outside of the hot air ballooning of course) as I had the best light.

Entrance to the Pigeon Valley
Entrance to the Pigeon Valley

We did go to the Goreme Open Air Museum after this walk. To be honest it felt quite ho hum after the Pigeon Valley. And this was before we’d done the Rose, Love and Ilhara Valleys. Probably a good thing to do if you don’t plan on doing any full on walking as you can see the Fairy Chimneys but you really don’t need to go if you’re doing walks.

Pigeon Valley
Pigeon Valley
  1. The Ihlara Valley Walk

We did this walk with a guide which was a good choice. We used Middle Earth Tours who were fantastic. I found them through trip advisor, lonely planet etc in London and emailed them for prices etc. But we didn’t actually book them till we got there. They were pretty flexible with availability but it was March so not peak time. Especially considering it was snowing some mornings!!

The Ilhara Valley
The Ilhara Valley

Anyway we started the day with a tour of some underground caves which were quite interesting. Particularly when we could see all the tricks that could be done with blocks of stone to hide entrances! Then off to Ihlara which was so lush and beautiful. It was a lovely big old walk – about 3-4 hours of solid walking. Wonderfully there are a few little restaurants on the river so you can plan your lunch time stop for a lovely meal by the stream. The highlight of the walk was towards the end when we got to the full fairy chimneys. There were quite a few churches with mosaics inside along the way. The guide seemed quite into these – same the next day. I got the sense that most people are into these. I personally didn’t find them that interesting. I am sure this says much more about me than the history of the churches! I think I just didn’t find them sufficiently photogenic. Anyway we asked for more nature and views and less churches and they were happy to oblige.

View over the Ilhara Valley
View over the Ilhara Valley

If you’re an experienced/comfortable walker you could do this walk yourself. I love a trek but get nervous about directions so I was pleased we had had a guide on this one. Up to you.

Random Pretty Lake
Random Pretty Lake

How to climb Ben Nevis

Arriving
Arriving

Sure Ben Nevis is the highest  mountain in the UK. But it’s up and back within the day. And I’ve done Kilimanjaro. I’d done Snowdon the year before and whilst it was a big day it was manageable. I really didn’t think Ben Nevis would be that big a deal. I was very wrong!

The starting poing
The starting poing

As I was travelling solo I decided to find a guide to take me up – thank goodness! I emailed the hotel I was staying at (The Lime Tree) and asked for a recommendation. They came back with Atlas Mountaineering. After I sent him an email the owner Connnor actually rang me and asked if I knew what I was getting into. He explained that even though I was planning to climb at Easter there would still be a lot of snow on the top of the mountain and that I would need to use crampons and an ice ax. This struck fear in my heart as my usual rule is that I don’t climb anything that requires technical stuff – especially in scary snow! He also explained that the weather changed very quickly. I thought oh well maybe the weather will be better than he says and stayed very positive.

Helpful map!
Helpful map!

I was up early my first morning in Fort William and drove to meet my guide John. He was very experienced and gave me a lot of warnings about the mountain. I hired the crampons and ice axe from him as well as some winter climbing boots. These have a much firmer base so work better with crampons vs normal hiking books. We headed off and decided we would review things about an hour or so in. The visibility was not great – although at that point I was only concerned about taking photos rather than actually being able to see where I was going. Anyway we got to the go/no go zone and John said he thought I could handle it so I couldn’t say no!

The starting gate
The starting gate

An hour later we put on crampons and I had my first go at an ice axe. The crampons were actually great – so much easier to walk in! And the ice ax was heavy but fine. About half an hour after we put them on complete white out descended on us. All I could see was John’s pack. Every inch of me was covered and thank goodness I was exerting myself so heavily or I would have been freezing. At this stage John was navigating using just an old fashioned compass and his hand nearly froze.

At one point John turned to me and said “We’re here” . I asked where we were and he replied that we had reached the summit. Luckily there was a snow covered rock that I could put my hand on and get a photo on my phone. I checked it out against shots on a clear day online the next day and could not believe the difference!

Very cold at the summit
Very cold at the summit

Then came the worst bit – getting down. John was keen to get us down as quickly as possible – so was I but it was hard work on the knees heading down – and scary stuff heading down at quite a fast pace in crampons! Finally after another hour we could take off the crampons. An hour later we stopped for the first time that day – it was about 3pm. Finally I was able to eat something although I was so exhausted by that point I could barely be bothered.

Another hour and a half of painful walking as my soaked socks made my foot slip inside every step – guaranteeing me another lost toenail. I also went through 3 pairs of gloves that day (soaked) and John went through 5 pairs.

A rare moment of visibility on the way
A rare moment of visibility on the way

I have never been so happy to see a car in my life as I was that day. I asked John how the day had compared to previous climbs – on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the toughest where would this sit? He looked at me like I was a bit mad and said well it doesn’t get worse than total white out. He had been in conditions that bad before but never anything worse which was quite sobering. He also told me how many people disappear on the mountain each year as the weather comes in so quickly and destroys visibility. I can certainly see how this is the case!

Thank goodness I had my boutique hotel booked – The Lime Tree! And I had already checked that I could have room service. I arrived at the front desk very bedraggled and the first thing they pointed out to me was the drying room of which I made good use! I had an amazing hot shower and jumped into my high thread count sheets! Delicious room service was up next with wine and tv and gosh did it feel good! I woke up in the morning to a rather sore body and a very big appetite for the large Scottish breakfast that was awaiting me.

The only decent view for the climb
The only decent view for the climb

I would highly recommend climbing Ben Nevis in better weather than I did – preferably June before the midges. And if you are travelling solo definitely get a guide. I would also be careful going up in a group (which they run in the summer) and stick close to the guide and other members of the group. It would be so easy to get confused up there and make a wrong turn when the weather comes in. Atlas Mountaineering were fantastic and I would highly recommend them.

Singapore Part Three: Sleeping, More eating and something different

Singapore view
Singapore view

Getting around

The MRT is a fantastic sub way. It is super easy to use and the trains are quite frequent. The only thing that is a bit annoying as a traveler is the ticketing system. They have a permanent style of card like an Oyster or Opal. However, the only other option is a Standard Ticket. You can use this ticket for 6 journeys but you can’t top it up with money and then draw down – you must purchase each journey separately. This is a bit of a pain when you are hopping around Singapore. Having said that the journeys tend to be very cheap (about Singapore dollar 1.70 for many one way trips).

Uber is also up and running in Singapore and we used it several times. Rates very good as always.

Treetops Executive Residences

The location of this hotel was fantastic – just off Orchard Road. It was literally a 30 second walk to Orchard road and about a further 5 minutes to walk to the Orchard MTR and ION shopping centre.

Treetops Lobby
Treetops Lobby

It’s a big place! I had the most basic one bedroom and it was huge. Room one was a large living area including a kitchen. A very nice touch here is that they do the check in in your apartment rather than the lobby. There was also a welcome basket with milk, tea, coffee, biscuits etc – all you need for your first couple of days. Nice toiletries in the bathroom but they are not replaced. Wifi in the room was excellent but could be patchy in the general areas.

The bedroom was large with a very big king sized bed made up with good quality sheets.

Treetops Entrance
Treetops Entrance

There is a big very busy breakfast buffet – lots of changes each day which was good – waffles one, pancakes the next. The coffee was not bad considering it came out of a basic machine.

A highlight was the very large pool. The pool had two spa areas – great jets to put on your sore feet after a big day walking in Singapore!

Some other places where we ate

California Pizza Kitchen on Orchard Road. Not the exactly a high end culinary experience but their bbq chicken pizza is a classic and it is a very kid friendly menu and place.

Wine is not cheap in Singapore – there are happy hour offers but outside of that you will be paying circa Singapore dollar 13 for a very small glass. Obviously this is a good use of funds and time vs no wine at all but it is a bit of a pain. Well I found the small glass size more of a pain than the price!

Wild Honey Beverages
Wild Honey Beverages

Wild Honey is a great brunch/lunch place on the 3rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental mall. This is a funky western style brunch place with a wonderfully long and interesting menu. It was full the Sunday that I visited. I had the Greek breakfast which was a small pan with baked eggs, lamb moussaka, béchamel sauce and Japanese eggplant on the top and Turkish bread on the side – very tasty. They also had excellent coffee.

Wild Honey breakfast
Wild Honey breakfast

Flying with

Singapore Airlines Economy return. Darn no A380. An A330 on the way over and I think a 777 on the way back although they appeared identical. It is quite a spacious feeling economy. Most importantly it has an excellent entertainment system. A huge range of movies and TV and a decent sized screen in the back of the seats. Their headphones are not great so would suggest you bring your own.

And to finish off…

Somewhere different

Animal beanbags and wine at the MAD museum
Animal beanbags and wine at the MAD museum

My brother found this fantastic little place called the Mad Museum (as in Make a Difference) and we headed here for dinner. It is on Orchard Road just past Orange Grove road. It is fantastically quirky. The ground floor is full of different modern art installations. One of our favourites was a painting of a chair that you can “sit” in. There is also a great little museum shop. Upstairs the art continues with a mix of installations.

Burger at MAD museum
Burger at MAD museum

We had dinner here and it was delicious (again small Singapore portion sizes). I had a

Wagyu burger with purple chips. It was a little disappointing that the purple chips were actually crisps but the burger was super tasty. We then headed to the ice cream section where we were able to sample some of their interesting flavours like salted egg yolk (actually very tasty!) although I stayed safe with the salted caramel when it came to the final order.

This was a really fun different place to visit and the staff were also incredibly friendly.

Wine Display at MAD museum
Wine Display at MAD museum

 

Singapore Part Two – The Key Tourist Sites

Orchard Road

We stayed literally steps for Orchard Road and a few minutes’ walk from the MRT stop for Orchard road which was a great location.

The buildings of Orchard Road
The buildings of Orchard Road

So Orchard Road is all about shopping. There are an insane number of malls. They are literally everywhere and it is not easy to tell the difference. ION was quite near our hotel and had an absolutely gigantic H&M (there is an even bigger free standing one further down Orchard road). It is also quite photogenic at night – got that futuristic feel that Singapore is so good at. My favourite was the mall at the mandarin oriental hotel (333 Orchard Road). This was a three story mall but it contained quite a few cute boutique stores by what appeared to be local designers. Surprisingly these stores were not that expensive – about SD$150 for a frock.

ION Shopping Centre
ION Shopping Centre

The best part of the malls are the food courts. There is broad choice, quality is high and the costs very reasonable. I do suggest you take your own tissues though – it was very difficult to find napkins at any of the food courts we visited. Some did have hand washing stations which were great for post meal but not really effective when you have just shelled a prawn.

Gardens by the Bay

This was my Singapore highlight! Sure it is a huge tourism sight but it is fantastic. I particularly loved the sci fi trees. It is such a mix of garden meets futuristic design. Most importantly it provides many photo opportunities!

Some of the many stunning sights in the Flower Dome
Some of the many stunning sights in the Flower Dome

The closest MRT is Bayfront. On arrival there are many signs helping to guide you to the entrance. There is free entrance but if you want to visit the Conservancies (the best bit) you need to pay. The Conservancies are the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Dome – two of the best things to see. It was super-hot the day we visited so we decided the shuttle bus $3 trip was a requirement. First up was the Flower Dome. The domes are the same type of thing you find at the Eden Project in Cornwall. The Flower Dome is focused of course on flowers and plant life. It is pretty but this one is definitely more of a thrill if you have a green thumb. One thing I didn’t do which would have been great was to visit Pollen. This is a Jason Atherton restaurant in the middle of the Flower Dome. I love his restaurants and it would have been great to have a meal in the middle of the dome – next time. Singapore does a great job of putting fab restaurants in its major tourism sights (see the National Orchid Park).

The world's largest indoor waterfall
The world’s largest indoor waterfall

I far preferred the Cloud Forest Dome. This houses a mountain of sorts and features the highest indoor waterfall in the world. The path essentially takes you to the top of the mountain and you then head down some fantastic stairways to “climb” down the mountain (not a good one if you have a fear of heights as it is very open).

Love these super trees!
Love these super trees!

We then walked down to Satays by the Bay. This is a touristy hawker bar set up that is outside and as the name implies situated on the Bay. Having said that it is very easy to figure out what each stall is offering and the quality was good. We went with a serving of 10 chicken satays which were very tasty.

The OCBC Walkway
The OCBC Walkway

Next up was a walk down to the Supertrees. These were my favourites in terms of photography. The key was trying to get the right angle and as always the right light. They look best with a very blue sky behind them. I paid the $8 to do the OCBC Skyway and this was well worth it. This is basically an outdoor bridge between the super trees and was the best way to get some great shots.

Botanic Gardens

This place is huge and very beautiful! There is also loads going on throughout the Gardens so you may want to put aside a few hours to explore. It was a very hot steamy day when we visited which took away the enjoyment a little bit – I would have definitely stayed longer if the weather was cooler.

We started off with the kid’s section which was a bit of a dud even if you were a kid. Well I am being a bit unfair – I think it is more suited to kids under 5. Once we were done with that I headed for the National Orchid Garden. It was a lovely walk with everything from bonsai trees to gazebos in-between. Near the entrance to the Orchid Garden is Halia. I stopped in here for a coffee and it has a lovely atmosphere – again would be a great place for a proper lunch.

A rare and stunning orchid
A rare ad stunning orchid

Post caffeine it was into the Orchid Garden. This is a big place!!! It is very beautiful – they have made the most of every step with lots of benches surrounded by gorgeous orchids all designed as Photo stops! It is selfie stick central in here especially as I went on a Sunday – helper’s day off.

Walking through the National Orchid Garden
Walking through the National Orchid Garden

There is every type of orchid experience you could imagine – orchid strands developed for VIPs from Margaret Thatcher to Kate and Wills. There is a mist room as well as a cool room for the rarer strands. It is almost easy to get lost in here!

A gazebo in the Botanic Gardens
A gazebo in the Botanic Gardens

Last up was a stroll down to Swan Lake. I had read there were mute swans on the lake and for some reason this intrigued me. Alas by the time I got there I was rather exhausted from heat and walking and only took a cursory look around – no swans! It was rather steamy and overcast by this time so dreadful light thus no photos. It would be worth coming back here in different weather conditions.

Marina Bay Sands

The lobby at the Marina Bay Sands
The lobby at the Marina Bay Sands

Wow this place is over the top! We started at possibly the largest hotel lobby I have ever seen! We headed past the Casino into the giant shopping centre. A map is a requirement for this place. The ground floor of the shopping centre is a lake and you can hop on a boat a la Venice and be gondoliered (not sure that’s a word but it possibly should be) throughout the centre. Rather surreal to be shopping and look down and see water and a boat!

Venice meets shopping
Venice meets shopping

There are almost too many bars and restaurants here! Again we hit the food court to keep all stomachs happy and I did have a delicious laksa (again too small though J) . Then it was upstairs and onto the bay for the sounds and lights show. This is run twice a night usually and we went to the first show which was at 8pm. The show is worth seeing as the city skyline view is fantastic. There are then loads of sprouting fountains in the bay that explode and have different light colours projected onto them. All to 13 minutes of very Disney style music. My favourite bit was the many many bubbles that exploded on the land side – always very cute to see small children determinedly chasing bubbles!

The night show at Marina Bay Sands
The night show at Marina Bay Sands

Singapore Part One – Walks and the top of Singapore

This was a bit of a different trip as I was travelling with my brother, sister in law and two wonderful nieces who are 8 and 13. So accommodation and meals were chosen based on likelihood to eat of my two cheese, tomato and chicken nugget loving nieces. Having said that they did branch out and have some dumplings and chicken satay. I did a mix of family stuff with them and then some solo travel things which were more focused on photography.

Little India

Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple
Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple
Leong San See Temple
Leong San See Temple

I went solo for this trip and followed a neighbourhood Walk in Lonely Planet Singapore (love their neighbourhood walks)! This kicked off at the Farrer Park MRT. There were some very photogenic temples along the way – the Taoist Leong San See Temple was one of my favourites followed by the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. I stumbled across a pop up art display in one of the small parks. Several trees were without leaves it being summer and all so colourful umbrellas had been installed for shade.

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
Pop Up Umbrella Art
Pop Up Umbrella Art

Tan House was my other photographic highlight. This is a very colourful house that now seems to house some type of tourist agency and a few small vendors. It would be preferable if the vendors were not there as they can make getting a nice shot tricky but I guess they are making a living whereas I am visiting for about five minutes!

Tan House
Tan House Yellow Side
Tan House
Tan House

Tiong Bahru

I enjoyed my first Lonely Planet walk so much I decided to do a second one and went with their guide to Tiong Bahru. This is much more hip part of Singapore vs the more cultural Little India walk. It is filled with white buildings which were apparently Singapore’s first public housing. Now they give a touch of Sidi Bou Said to this area. There are cute coffee shops and cafes galore around here. I visited the Tiong Bahru Bakery which was excellent (I also discovered later there is one of these on the ground floor of the Tang Centre on Orchard road – good place to get decent coffee on Orchard rd). It is a gorgeous café filled with many tempting treats. I went with their specialty savoury croissants. These are sort of mini croissants – well actually more like a mini sandwich with croissant style bread. They then provide a choice of four fillings – I went with a sausage version and a pork version. It was 2 for $10 so silly not to try two of them. Delicious! And their coffee was fab.

Croissants
Mini croissants at Tiong Bahru Bakery

I also visited the Tiong Bahru market and food centre. Downstairs was a traditional style market with lots of flower stalls. Upstairs it’s a busy hawker centre. The choice on hand is almost overwhelming. Interestingly there were about three stalls that had long queues vs the balance of stalls that were waiting for customers. I did find this one a bit intimidating in terms of food choices thus my croissant consumption at Tiong Bahru Bakery.

This is a lovely little neighborhood for wandering. There are many cute little shops – particularly gorgeous book shops. A highlight here was Nana & Bird – this store has a bit of everything with women’s fashion as well as some baby clothes. It has interesting and fresh designs and whilst not cheap it is not overly expensive.

Hawker Market
Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre

 

Chinatown

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

This area most definitely deserved more than the fairly quick tour that I took. I would highly recommend having a leisurely couple of hours to wander around and explore the back streets. This is my quick overview.

Chinatown
Chinatown

I started off at Chinatown MRT and did the lonely planet walk backwards as I was coming from Tiong Bahru. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a major Singapore tourism sight. I didn’t go in as a church or temple has to be pretty special these days to get me to take my shoes off and head inside. From a photography point of view, I enjoyed being able to capture its traditional architecture against the modern buildings of Singapore. Tourist buses galore here.

Ann Siang Road
Ann Siang Road

There is then a lovely road to follow called Ann Siang Rd which is to the side of the temple. The beginning of this road is full on tourist tat market. However, if you continue to follow it the road becomes far more atmospheric with beautiful buildings and delicious looking restaurants. This road then takes many turns and requires some stairs to take you on to Amoy Street. This was also a great street for wandering – very photogenic and interesting and different shops and restaurants.

Mount Faber Park

The many bells at Mount Faber
The many bells at Mount Faber

The highest point of Singapore sits at the top of Mount Faber park. You can take a cable car up here or you can drive. We headed up for dinner at Spuds and Aprons which is the restaurant at the top. The food was okay – I did keep noticing that portion sizes are not particularly large in Singapore. I had the mustard chicken and mashed potato which was very tasty but I could have used more food.

The Koi Pool at Spuds & Aprons
The Koi Pool at Spuds & Aprons

Anyway there is a fab view out over the southern end of Singapore. Around the restaurant there is a wooden verandah/stairs etc that you can walk to take pics of the view. The bannisters are covered in golden bells which adds a nice touch to photos. There is also a large happiness bell up near the children’s play area which was rung rather frequently while we visited – mostly by my 8-year-old niece. The kids were thrilled with the fish pond which contained rather large koi fish. Fish food was available for purchase and distribution.

Heading for the Happiness Bell
Heading for the Happiness Bell
View from Mount Faber
View from Mount Faber

Seven must dos in Daylesford – Part Two

Part two of the Seven best things to Do in Daylesford:

5.Head to the spa

I don’t think you can come to Daylesford and not have some kind of spa treatment. There are many on offer but I decided to go with the classic – Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa. This is actually the first spa I ever went to circa 20 years ago and I was entranced. Where had spas been all my life? Since that critical visit I have visited many spas of different forms and shapes in many places. I was quite excited at heading back to the place where it all started…..

Hepburn Bathhouse
Entry to the Hepburn Bathhouse

My first piece of advice is make sure you book and book a good couple of weeks ahead. I had remembered this from those long ago visits so booked my Day Retreat package. This gave me two hours in the bathhouse and sanctuary mineral water pools and rooms, a one hour massage or facial, a lunch platter and a take home gift. At $AUD235 for a Tuesday this was great value. Whilst I was there I heard a few people turn up without bookings and there was a considerable wait.

As I have already mentioned it was school holidays which wasn’t ideal. It was busy in the bathhouse and sanctuary! A complete first world problem but there is something about busy baths – so much nicer when they aren’t so busy. I also had recollections of lounge chairs for easy reading but there weren’t any of these. Well there were a couple outside in the 7 degree weather but as you may have expected they were quite empty.

Hepburn Bathhouse
Inside Hepburn Bathhouse

Onwards and upwards I made sure I visited everything on offer. Steam room, salt pool (this was my favourite – so nice and warm and not super salty), hammam room, spa couch (kind of weird metal contraption in a big spa pool that was actually very comfortable) and different temperature pools. I was then keen on a rest before doing the same thing again and managed to figure out I could head to the treatment area where they did have cushions etc and read my kindle for a water break.

Water break over I hit a couple more rooms and then into the slightly odd mixed sex change rooms. They have organized this well considering it is mixed sense but you wouldn’t want to be a body conscious 14 year old girl in here. Every facility you could need is on offer but the combined thing is a bit odd.

Warm and dry I then headed down to the Pavillion restaurant. Lunch was part of my deal and I had a very tasty platter with meats, cheeses and dips. My free beverage was an exciting lemon squash. Then it was back to the spa and time for the treatment rooms. Wow did I have a great massage! I had said that I had neck and shoulder issues and my guy (dreadful but I didn’t catch his name) was brilliant! It was wonderfully painful – not so painful I screamed but that good pain where you know you are going to feel like jelly afterwards.

I was then escorted back to the relaxation area for tea and my parting gift – a sort of potpourri for the bath thing. Quite nice but I’m not much of a bath girl. Anyway I had arrived at 11 and was leaving at nearly 4pm ridiculously clean so it was a very enjoyable and fantastic value day.

6.Visit the Convent Gallery

Convent Gallery
Entry to Convent Gallery in Daylesford

The Convent Gallery is a mix of Gallery, shop and café. It is located up the hill in the main part of Daylesford and it is very well signed. The building and the grounds are beautiful. Once inside the first thing you will see is the café. This is a stunning space. I came for lunch and enjoyed roasted mushrooms and saganaki cheese. My eyes were then unfortunately larger than my stomach so I ordered the scones I had seen brought out to others. They were sensational! Warm, fluffy, tall! I made it through one and a bit and then felt rather full for about 24 hours.

Convent Gallery Daylesford
Cafe in Convent Gallery

Next up was a wander through the lovely gallery and a quick visit to the shop.

7.Get in the car

The area around Daylesford is stunning. Sweeping views, gorgeous landscapes – it is a lovely place to get in the car and just drive in whichever direction you feel like going. I popped into Castlemaine. I was surprised to find it is quite a large town – and the place to go if you feel like DIY, a bakery or Asian food. I think these three types of retailers make up about 60% of the main town real estate! It is a charming town with lots of lovely old for Australia architecture. I also drove up the hill to the Old Castlemaine Jail. I had read they did not do tours so I just stopped and took a few photos. However on my return to Melbourne I was informed that they do actually do tours you just need to give them a call.

Castlemaine Gaol
Old Castlemaine Gaol

After Castelmaine I headed to Hepburn and past one of my favourite places in the area and perhaps the one best suited to Instagram Lavendula. This is a stunning lavender farm with a café and activities. Unfortunately in winter it is only open on weekends and I was there during the week. This is definitely a place you want to visit if it is open.

Lavendula
Lavendula Lavender Farm Hepburn

Seven must dos in Daylesford – Part One

So gosh Daylesford gets cold! I hadn’t been for years and had very fond memories. The opportunity came up for a visit in July. Friends told me how cold it would be but I thought hey I lived in London for 13 years I know cold. But gosh 7 degrees in Daylesford feels like the equivalent of 0 degrees in London! And despite years of being told there is no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing I have not brought the right clothing. And it is school holidays. I do wonder what the deal is with school holidays is in Australia. It appears that it is always school holidays somewhere as the states all have different dates. Anytime I go away it is school holidays. Ok I have fully moved into first world problems here so shall now focus on the positive and the best things to do in Daylesford!

Daylesford to Tipperary Springs
The beautiful walk along Lake Daylesford
  1. Stay at Hotel Frangos

So I had a bit of an ill fated attempt to stay at a friend of a friend’s place in Daylesford but it turned out there were some major heating issues – combined with my lack of brownies training and very limited experience in making fires – that meant I needed to find an alternative asap. I remembered I had googled Hotel Frangos before deciding on the friend’s place as I had been to the restaurant years ago. Luckily they had a room and what a warm and cosy room it is! Sure it is not the biggest room but it did have a huge bathroom. The room also has a lot of furry soft furnishings – they are even on the walls! I couldn’t think of anything better in cold weather! Best of all they have a fantastic café downstairs – Café Koukla –  which is where breakfast is served. It is also one of the only places to have wifi so it has also been a lovely place to sit and blog.

Frangos Frangos bedroom
The furry bedroom at Frangos Frangos

I had two brilliant breakfasts here – first morning was a very tasty omelette with giant hunks of boconcinni. Second morning was poached eggs, bacon and avocado on sourdough. Excellent bacon and the eggs tasted very fresh. As well as fresh oj and a fantastic coffee.

breakfast
Breakfast at Hotel Frangos

They are known for their woodfire pizzas. It has been far too cold to consider leaving the nice warm café in the evenings so night one I had a delicious pumpkin, feta, spinach and pine nut pizza delivered to my room. It took all of about 5 minutes to arrive and you could taste it was fresh from the oven. As this worked so well I did the same thing the second night and enjoyed an amazing meat falling off the bone lamb shoulder with a gravy/sauce that was heaven.

  1. Breakfast at Gourmet Larder

Although 2 of my 3 daylesford brekkies were at Koukla I hit this place my first morning in town after my very cold night! It was number one on yelp and with good reason. Great atmosphere and I enjoyed the veggie beans on toast with poached eggs. Great coffee too!

  1. Go for a few walks – but get some guidance

    Wombat Hill
    Mushrooms on Wombat Hill

I love an exploratory walk but sometimes I really don’t pay the attention that I should when heading out. I did three “walks” over one afternoon. First up was Mount Franklin. I have drunk their water for so long it seemed rude not to visit when I was neaby. It is very well signed on the road towards Castlemaine. Follow the turn off and drive a ways up and you’ll get to a camping ground where you can park your car. It was very empty when I arrived – again reference the weather. There are beautiful fir trees all over the place begging for xmas decorations. Again the walk is signed and the guide is given of 0.5km and 20 minutes. It is quite steep particularly initially. But it is very beautiful. The mountain is actually an old volcano. I was a bit unsure as to whether or not I had reached the top. I actually had to google it whilst I was there! The “top” is actually a flat area covered in stones. It is not much of a view once you arrive – very much covered by trees. But it is a nice stroll up and it is always good to climb a well known brand!

trees
The start of the walk up Mount Franklin

Next up was heading back into Daylesford and hitting Wombat Hill and the Pioneer Memorial Tower. I love a view! I really should have paid more attention as I walked up Wombat Road. In my defence there was a very clear sign that I was heading up Wombat Hill and botanical gardens (see attached). It did end up a rather windy exploratory path to find the Tower. Which was of course located next to a car park! I should have come in from Wombat Hill House. Well at least I covered some extra ground and it was up hill so all good for the glutes! It is quite pretty and there is a decent view from the top of the tower.

Climb Wombat Hill
The sign that seemed to clearly indicate this was the right start to walk up Wombat Hill

I then decided to do a “proper” walk eg one that had a brochure from the tourist info office. This was walk #7 – Lake Daylesford to Tipperary Springs. I’m going to admit up front I didn’t actually get to Tipperary Springs. Not through lack of trying and not because I gave up – I actually think I walked further than the walk suggested. Anyway it is a nice kick off from Lake Daylesford – park near the Boathouse Café. It is then a very pleasant stroll along the lake passing mineral spring pumps which are currently out of action due to ecoli (which didn’t make me feel great about my visit to the springs the next day but all was fine).

walking along Lake Daylesford
Who would head up the Three Lost Children walk??

Luckily it was cold enough that I wasn’t reliant on their water and they are kind of photogenic.

Signage on the walk
The Lake Dayelsford Walk is part of the much larger Goldfields walk
Beautiful Trees heading up Mount Franklin
Beautiful Trees heading up Mount Franklin

It was quite easy (eg no one could get lost) to get to the highway and cross over to the Twin Bridges picnic area. I then thought I was on the right track until I hit a t junction. From here I went up, down and around and finally decided to give in as it was starting to get dark and I couldn’t figure out any other options to get to the Tiperrary Springs. And I was really starting to feel like a wine.

 

I headed back on the other side of the lake as guided by my tourist office brochure. I checked my phone once back at the car and between the 3 walks and a few other small meanders I had managed to clock up 12km for the day and get a few nice pics. I therefore decided to focus on the journey rather than the destination of the springs I never actually reached…..

  1. Have a chocolate indulgence

    The entrance to the Chocolate Mill
    The entrance to the Chocolate Mill

I drove past the sign to the Chocolate Mill about 3 times before I headed in. It wasn’t my fault – no one could reasonably be expected to pass by a sign that elicits memories of the classic Gene Wilder Charlie and the Chocolate Factory chocolate river more than 3 times without turning right.

New friends
New friends

The Mill is about a 5 minute drive out of Daylesford heading towards Castlemaine. It is quite a big place. There is a lot going on outside which was not being used due to the cold weather – many tables and kid friendly playgrounds etc.

Inside is a store, tables, a café of sorts and the manufacturing facility which you can clearly see through the glass. Something about people in white coats dipping items into big vats of warm chocolate tends to make me hungry. There was a lot of product on display for purchase – bars, slabs, different formats – although you were advised not to touch any of them as the chocolate would apparently melt quite quickly in your warm hands.

The famous hot chocolate
The famous hot chocolate

I hit the chocolate counter to make a few new friends – shortlived but tasty friendships. I then ordered the hot chocolate – milk flavour. They are quite rightly best known for their hot chocolate. It was a sensation. I enjoyed being advised that I would need to use my spoon a lot to scoop up the chocolate from the bottom. I then learnt that getting a good portion of this chocolate on my spoon and then adding a dash of warm milk was the best way to enjoy the hot chocolate. This made for a high sugar, low volume, very tasty lunch!

Part two to come….

The 5 best things to do on a day in Mongkok

Mongkok is a very happening area in Hong Kong and great for having a general wander with your camera. I did a bit of googling pre this day out before heading out and hit pay dirt on my favourite Hong Kong site Sassy.

http://www.sassyhongkong.com/a-day-in-mongkok-what-to-do-where-to-go-whatsonhk/

I used this guide as my base and then added in a few things.

Hong Kong's Mongkok District
Typical street scene in Mongkok
  1. Tim Ho Wan at the Olympic Shopping Centre

This was my first ever visit to Tim Ho Wan. I had been wanting to go for ages – the thought of a Michelin starred dumpling was very attractive to me – as well as the novelty of visiting apparently the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the world! Apparently the Olympic Shopping Centre restaurant is the original but don’t quote me on that.

Let’s get on to the food! I arrived at 1145am on a Monday and there was no queue – however that situation had changed by 1220 so the early arrival is obviously a good idea. They did not have a trolley set up – instead there was a sheet of paper and a pencil for your order.

IMG_1939
The Menu

I started with the Vermicelli rolls with shrimp. These were the right mix of slimy but tasty. Next up were the fresh shrimp dumplings which were a sensation – fabulously plump shrimp and a delicate coating. Normally I find dumplings a little heavy on the coating side – this was a much more pleasing balance. I then tried the dumplings Chiu Chow style which means peanuts, chives, pork and water chestnuts. These are a house special. However I didn’t really enjoy these. They were very heavy on the water chestnuts – and I am not a big fan of water chestnuts. They were also hard and sloppy to eat.

IMG_1943
Mmm Pork Buns
IMG_1940
Just the right sloppy Vermicelli Rolls
IMG_1941
The plumpest prawn dumplings

Last up was the baked bun with BBQ pork – which was outstanding – perhaps the highlight of the meal. These buns were very different from your standard white puffy sticky pork buns. This was more like a baked bread roll and was absolutely delicious. Sweet and sticky and crumbly the bun was the perfect contrast to the delicious bbq pork interior. This one gets my vote for best pork bun ever!

The servings were a good size – as one person I probably only needed 2 ½ dishes but my eyes are always bigger than my stomach. Even better the entire lunch plus my coke zero was only 98 Hong Kong dollars! A fantastic deal!

  1. Check out local life at Cherry Street Park

As soon as Tim Ho Wan was finished I headed to the very close by Cherry Street Park. I refused to be put off by the signs telling me to watch out for Rat Poison -it certainly wasn’t stopping the locals. The park has been designed to be like an outdoor gym Hong Kong style. There was Tai Chi going on and a kid’s playground. It is quite a large park and it was a little difficult to figure out how to exit once you were in so if you get stuck backtrack to the Olympic Shopping Centre walkway thing.

rat bait
Watch out!
cherry park 2
Ready for exercise!
cherry park
Walkway from the park to the rest of Mongkok
  1. Breath in deeply at The Flower Market and give the Bird Market a miss

The orchids here are absolutely stunning – you will wish you were able to take these beautiful delicate flowers home. Alas you’ll have to settle for photos only – which the stall owners are happy for you to take. Prince Edward Street road side has more upmarket flower shops as well as some cute boutiques and food places. A lot of the nicest places are on the first floor of these buildings so look out for cute signage pointing you upstairs.

Hong Kong Flower Market Orchids
Stunning Orchids
Hong Kong Flower Market
You never send me blue roses

I also went to the nearby Bird market (the area is very well signed). I’m not really sure why I did this as I am not a big fan of birds – I think I thought I might get some good photos of birdcages. I did get a few of those shots as you can see but the place kind of gave me the creeps – caged birds singing etc etc.

Hong Kong Flower Market
The Flower Market
Birdcages at the Bird Market in Mongkok Hong Kong
The Bird Market
  1. Get great deals at the Sneaker Market

From the Bird market wander back through Fa Yuen street for an assault on your senses on your way to Sneaker Street. The key street here is Nelson street. The Sneaker market is well signed but it was a bit confusing to figure out if you were actually in the heart of the area – so head for Nelson street. There are loads of stores here and sneakers galore. You can feel the heart palpitations of the Adidas/Nike/ASICs IP lawyers as you see signage that has surely not been signed off by head office!

Hong Kong Sneaker Street MongKok
Store in Sneaker Street

I got a pair of Adidas runners here. I had actually thought they were knock offs but was later told my several HK residents that the sneakers here tend to be the real thing! So next time I come I will buy proper ASICs shoes for running.

  1. Get some nice pics at Goldfish Street

Goldfish street is actually Tung Choi street – head for its corner with Bute street for maximum shops and shots. This is an area for pet owners in general with pets and their accessories on sale. However the highlight is the numerous cute little bags of goldfish in gorgeous colours – very good for Instagram!

Goldfish Street in Hong Kong's Monkok
Goldfish