Climbing Mount Kosciuszko

I do love a mountain! Such a sense of satisfaction getting to the top – and it’s so much more satisfying when the mountain has cred – the highest mountain in etc etc. So of course as an Australian it was critical that I tick Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in the country, off the list!

  1. Make it a road trip

    Fantastic look out point on the way to Jindabyne
    Fantastic look out point on the way to Jindabyne

OK so I do love a road trip! It is the best way to get around and see stuff. We started from Sydney and headed South. We had a lovely lunch in MittagongThe Glass Café – where I had a very tasty hamburger and chocolate milkshake (going to burn all those calories climbing the next day)!.

Mittagong Milkshake
Mittagong Milkshake

On the way back we headed into Bungendore and enjoyed a great lunch at Gunnadoo pies. What a fantastic name for a pie shop! And the pies were outstanding.

One heck of a pie
One heck of a pie
  1. Mix up the walk

I did quite a bit of pre research on this and it was quite hard to figure out which route to take. As always it was much easier once you arrived and then all the brochures you needed were at the Valley chairlifts! But I’ve photographed them for you.

On the way up
On the way up

So we kicked off from Thredbo at the bottom of the chairlift and went up the Meadows Nature Track. This was a lovely peaceful walk – hardly anyone on it. We followed the path to where it meets the more challenging Merits track. This stretch was steep! Lots of water needed. This walk takes you up to the top of the chair lift where you join the Mt Kosciuszko Summit Walk. DSC_0013

From here the track got busy. We did the walk on easter Saturday so I guess that is to be expected. From the top of the chairlift it is 9km round trip and relatively steepish. There was every type of nationality and language being spoken as we passed people along the way. And very brave people with prams!!!

Looking over Thredbo Village
Looking over Thredbo Village

We decided to take the chairlift town as round trip from the village it had been a 24km walk and we were rather weary.

Me at the Summit!
Me at the Summit!

We had a beautiful blue sky day and the scenery was stunning. Such a beautiful walk and so peaceful if you could ignore the many others seeking serenity!

Heading Down
Heading Down

In hingsight another nice option would have been to take the Merritts Traverse up the mountain vs the Meadows walk. The more full on option is to hop in the car and start the walk at Charlotte’s Pass. At the very top this connects with the Mt Kosciuszko Summit Walk. This one is about 42km round trip.DSC_0037

We did a packed lunch which was perfect. The only place to eat is the restaurant at the top of the chairlift. Which was nice (see the highest section) but I’m sure would have been busy and is a bit slow. Much nicer to stop and sit on the trail and eat and watch the world go by.

  1. Stay in a chalet in Thredbo

Thredbo Village is very cute. Loads of lovely chalets and a nice little main square and road. It was much nicer than what we could see driving through Jindabyne which is the town at the bottom of the mountain.

Thredbo Village
Thredbo Village

Our chalet was fab – over 3 floors and massive. It even had a sauna! We ended up cooking and staying in both nights as we had nice wine and the living room was so big and comfy! We found our place through www.stayz.com.au and the chalet was owned by Visit Snowy Mountains. Ours was called Knickerbocker. It has a lovely terrace with a bbq and everything you could possibly need.

Our Chalet
Our Chalet
  1. Enjoy the highest…….

    Eagles Nest - at the Top of Australia
    Eagles Nest – at the Top of Australia

So there is a lot of The Highest in Australia action here! Of course the summit is the Highest Point in Australia. And then if you head to the very nice Eagles Nest restaurant you can enjoy the highest coffee in Australia, the highest beer, the highest scones – anything you can consume can be posted on facebook as the highest of its kind in Australia! And when you get to Rawson’s Pass you can also visit the highest toilet in Australia!

Australia's highest toilet
Australia’s highest toilet
  1. Have a great coffee at Central Road 2625 in Thredbo

    How cute - this is what the bill comes in at the Central Cafe
    How cute – this is what the bill comes in at the Central Cafe

So apparently this used to be a pretty average region for coffee. That is until Central Road opened up. It is in the main village square in Thredbo and has a very inner suburban feel and the fab coffee to match! We also did breakfast here on our final morning and it was fantastic. As I had burnt so many calories the day before I went all in with the pancakes, banana, bacon and maple syrup. A fantastic breakfast!

Amazing breakfast at Central Cafe
Amazing breakfast at Central Cafe
  1. Take the camera

Lots of lovely shots on this trip! We had a couple of nice road pull over shots between Mittagong and Thredbo – literally just off the Hume. Love those lookout signs! Then of course there is the mountain itself. My favourite spot was Lake Cootapatamba – you’ll see this lake a lot as you head to the summit but the best shot was just before – or after if you’ve summited – Rawson’s Pass. As always it is easier to get nice shots coming down as it is a bit more relaxing.

Lake Cootapatamba
Lake Cootapatamba

I’ve attached below some of the key brochures we found in our accommodation/at tourist places. It was hard to access this type of information before we arrived so hopefully this is helpful!

Map of Thredbo
Map of Thredbo
Brochure Three
Brochure Three
Brochure Two
Brochure Two
Brochure One
Brochure One
OVerall map
OVerall map

Top 5 things to do on a weekend in Bowral NSW

This is a truly lovely town and there is so much going on! Look carefully when you hit the main street – there are more arcades for shopping than there are in Melbourne!

  1. Stay at Links House
    my room
    my room
    breakfast
    breakfast

    You must stay at Links House – this is one of my favourite places I’ve stayed in a long time. The hotel is boutique adventurer heaven – high thread count and loads of character! The rooms are lovely but the best thing is the shared spaces and fabulous service. There is a lovely outside courtyard/winery that begs for wine to be drunk. There are then two sitting rooms in the front of the house where port is suggested. The manager is an absolute delight and the night manager was the same. So genuinely friendly and helpful. I can’t say enough good things about this place! Oh and there is also a great dvd selection and a fabulous breakfast.

    the garden
    the garden
    front window
    front window

    the garden
    the garden
  2. Dinner at the Bowral Hotel

    Veuve at the Bowral Hotel
    Veuve at the Bowral Hotel

Links recommended the Bowral Hotel for dinner. We did have a lovely meal – a delicious lamb rump with polenta and spinach for me – but the pub was dead. It was easter Sunday so I guess it was only going to go one way or the other! There is a nice outdoor seating area that is also smoking friendly that is pretty much on the Bowral main street so we enjoyed a bottle of Veuve sitting on the wonderfully named Bong Bong Road!

Dinner at the Bowral Hotel
Dinner at the Bowral Hotel
  1. Have a coffee at Elephant Boy.

    On one of your trips into town make sure you get a coffee at Elephant Boy. This little café is fantastic. The whole place is decked out like a library or bookshop and also has lots of you guessed it elephants all over the place. And then it has this sort of Indian feel to it as well – and some amazing looking cakes. And most importantly fab coffee!

    Elephant Boy Cakes
    Elephant Boy Cakes
  2. Hit the wineries

    Centennial Winery
    Centennial Winery

So the Southern Highlands is quite a big area for wine. First up after passing Canberra is Lark Hill Winery – it is very well signed from the Hume highway. They have a fabulous Rose that is heavy on the shiraz and the restaurant looked lovely (I didn’t think to book and they were full up when we got there). Much closer to Bowral we headed to the lovely Artemis where I picked up some lovely chardonnay.

Lark Hill Winery
Lark Hill Winery

However, the highlight was Centennial. It does appear to be the main winery in the area. There is a large cellar door area where I discovered their sparkling shiraz which was fantastic. We then went on to have a wonderful lunch in their restaurant. Everything we ate was lovely but the highlight was the fig, walnut and blue cheese salad. The cauliflower gratin was pretty sensational as well. All washed down with some pinot noir..

Lunch at Centennial
Lunch at Centennial

We did a brief stop into the Artemis winery and picked up some pinot noir. It is worth visit.

Cellar Door at Centennial
Cellar Door at Centennial
  1. Go Bra and Antiques Shopping

    Shopping in Bowral
    Shopping in Bowral

It’s all happening in Bowral. And some of the purchases are not as you might expect. There is a great Bendon outlet on the main street – so a bit of bra shopping in Bowral! There a couple of fantastic classic book shops and loads of lovely shops selling candles etc. The thing that Bowral is really known for is antiques and they have loads.

Head to Dirty Janes
Head to Dirty Janes

There is a fantastic antique warren called Dirty Jane’s just off the main street which is like entering another world. I’m not that into antiques but I loved exploring this place. Every nook and cranny is filled and it appears every stall holder is also a stylist in their spare time as they all look fabulous! My favourite was Suzie Anderson Home – visiting her “stall” (it is much more than that) is like a mini trip to Southern France. Her taste is immaculate.

Stylish Merchandising
Stylish Merchandising
Oh so tasteful Suzie Anderson Home
Oh so tasteful Suzie Anderson Home

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