Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Bali Day 3, and then back to Singapore! Also, lots of ice cream.

Our third day in Bali was beach day! I had insisted on a beach day, because I love the beach and also I got no beach all summer and in fact almost no sun all summer. Alaska remains possibly the most amazing place I've ever been and I am so glad I spent five months there, but the weather was definitely the worst part.

Anyway, in the morning we got up and put on bathing suits and sunscreen (which I was super slapdash about, as we will see later) and went to the beach! And walked along the wonderful warm water for about half a mile and then walked back, and rented lounge chairs and lounged, and I helped Cheryl grade a bunch of papers.

Everything good!

We had to check out of the hotel by 11, so it was only a couple hours before we had to head back. But we checked out, left our stuff with management, and then went and got lunch at a beachfront restaurant. This involved delicious alcoholic drinks, lots of water (you have to order your water in Bali because the tap water is nonpotable), and gado gado for me.

Gado gado
some fancy drink with Bailey's and other delicious shit

We did a little shopping after lunch - Cheryl was looking for some clothing items for a costume for her upcoming dance show. It was meltingly hot (Singapore feels positively balmy after Bali!), so I grabbed an iced coffee and gelato. Then we picked up our stuff from the hotel (they lock the door at 5 and we were flying out that night) and took it with us back to the beach, where we remained, becoming utterly sandy (or at least I did :p), until we ate a leisurely fried rice dinner nearby and then were picked up by Gede's driver friend and taken to the airport to fly back to Singapore. I also realized around this point that I had burned/tanned in totally bizarre patterns, including in one spot on one thigh, in a diagonal line across my chest, and with narrow pale strips along my stomach and down my back, because despite applying sunscreen three times that day I was clearly super mediocre with each application. I was definitely coated in sunscreen, sand, sweat, salt, and dust all the way home. But so happy! :D

Happy sandy Bali beach Sho!
Whoops :p

...and it turns out I had a lot less to say in this post than I realized! I guess I should post about the two days I've spent in Singapore since then, then, too.

Well, yesterday - my first day back after Bali - I was tired and had shit to get done, so I took a day in. I did laundry, retyped an old transcription because half of it had gone missing (boo), booked a hostel and a rental car for Honolulu, answered emails, chilled out. Didn't leave Cheryl's place until I left to meet her for dinner around a quarter to five. We went to one of her favorite restaurants, which was delicious (peppered pastrami/cheddar/mushroom burger on house-made walnut bun, yummmmmmm) and also pretty inexpensive for Singapore, and then to a classy ice cream joint, where we shared a sundae (chocolate hazelnut ice cream, peanut butter ice cream with real peanut butter chunks, Bailey's-and-bourbon ice cream, Bailey's syrup, caramel sauce, chocolate balls, oreo chunks, whipped cream, and a waffle-cone straw!). And then we went home!


And today I went to the Gardens by the Bay. This place is super awesome and extensive, with lots of different garden spaces. You have to buy a ticket to get into the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Dome, but it is totally worth it because those spaces are educational and beautiful. I took about eight million pictures in the Flower Dome, which is a dry cooled space and features gardens based around the five global temperate zones (California [yay!], South Africa, the Mediterranean, Australia, and I forget the other one but I'll find out when I look at my pictures to post them on facebook). Also there is a Christmas village in the center. Singapore loves Christmas. In sort of a weird way. I think I have mentioned this before. I also really enjoyed walking through the Cloud Forest Dome, which is a moist cooled space. It not only includes cloud forest foliage, but also a crystal cave and also a basement level where you watch an excellent five minute movie about global warming and see educational panels on what the Gardens by the Bay have going on in terms of sustainability (it is super extensive, btw).

picture number one of eight million

California garden!
Apparently usually there are poppies,
but I didn't see any today.
Wrong "season"?

Cloud Forest Dome waterfall!
You also go behind it on several of the levels!
Mist is everywhere!

Anyway, I also spent a bunch of time in the gift store, had a lovely solo lunch (penne with mushroom cream sauce - all the food there is super Western - and a nice mocha), wandered around the free outdoor gardens (various Singapore heritage gardens, including Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Colonial gardens, which makes sense since those are the four major populations of Singapore and the four official languages are Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English; and nature-focused gardens [ha, that sounds like a tautology] including a tree garden, and I forget the others :p), and then went to meet Cheryl at school. I got to see her classroom, mark some assignments for her, and meet one of her coworkers (who was AWESOME and I totally want to be her friend) and a couple of her kids.

The we went and grabbed dinner at a mini hawker market in a mall at the Serangoon MRT station (have I mentioned that Singapore is like the king of indoor subway-connected malls? It's like Montreal to the max. As far as I can tell, Singapore = upscale malls + nature preserves/gardens. At least the tourist/expat areas!) - Cheryl got this neat thing that I forget what it's called but it's basically a sort of pancake with cheese in it, and also an avocado drink that I tried and sort of liked but was sort of taste-buddedly confused by, and I got fish ball noodle soup, which was bland but fine, and then we got ice cream (hm. do I have a pattern here? do I plan my vacations around dessert? have I perhaps bought ice cream or gelato at least four times or possibly five if I'm forgetting one in the week I've been abroad? am I planning to go to a tea/gelato/macaron cafe tomorrow? no comment...) and then we bought cupcakes for later and then we went home and here I am!

Maybe tomorrow I'll post all my pictures, now that I'm caught up on the glob! :)

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bali Day 2

The next morning, Gede picked us up at our villa in Ubud. We knew the outline of a few things we wanted to see - a temple, a waterfall - but no real details, so we were relying on Gede to figure out where we might like to go. He did not disappoint! That guy knows the whole darn island so well, and it's crazy impressive.

I probably should have written down the names of the places we went, but I didn't, so, you know, too bad. We went to a pretty tourist-y but really lovely temple first. The temples are basically outdoors, which I didn't realize, and also it doesn't matter what you wear on top but you do have to wear a sari on the bottom so your legs are covered.

We explored a bit, and then headed on to the next stop! Gede knew of another temple, with no other tourists and some really cool stone carvings that he could tell us about, so we went there. This one was even more beautiful, and the stone carvings were of people doing everyday things in ancient Bali. A friendly dog appointed him/herself as our guide, and trotted ahead of us everywhere we went.

Third, Gede took us to this gorgeous waterfall, more or less on our way towards Seminyak where we would spend night number 3. There are many steep steps down to the area at the base of the falls, and you can pick your way over mud, stones, ledges, and streamlets, right up to the crashing pool! Waterfalls are Cheryl's favorite thing - I think for her they're like the ocean is for me - so she was even happier than I was!

Fourth, we stopped at Gede's friend's uncle's silver shop, since it was on the way and we thought we might enjoy looking around/find some presents for people. We didn't end up buying anything, but we did enjoy looking around! I just don't like silver very much. It looks sort of flat and boring to me, although I like silvery-grey metals.

Fifth - and it was only about noon! talk about efficiency! - we stopped for lunch near Seminyak. Gede knew of a great restaurant on the beach, and in fact our lunch and the quiet ambiance and the stunning ocean view made it hard to leave when we were done!

 Gado gado: Healthier than anything I'd eaten yet on this trip,
and so freaking delicous.
Might become my default order.

Yummy snapper "chowder" in Balinese sauce.
Definitely some curry in there,
not sure what else.

There just is nothing I like more than sitting on the beach.
But just wait until Seminyak.
It gets even better.

Nonetheless, we thought it was probably time to finish making our way to Seminyak and check into our hotel there. Umadasa proved to be spacious, attractive, very modern, and best of all air conditioned. And the staff was super friendly and sweet. We chilled in the hotel for a while, since we were overheated and tired, then made an ATM stop, did a little shopping, and had dinner at a restaurant that also had excellent gelato, which I did not try to resist ;)

And then we went home to our air conditioned room, showered, and went to bed! Next up: The beach :) :) :) :) :)

Bali Day 1

Bali! I went to Bali! It was hot and humid and sweaty and dirty and so amazing!

Cheryl and I landed in the Denapasar airport around 8 pm and made it outside in about an hour fifteen (Indonesian customs, unsurprisingly, is way slower than Singapore customs). Cheryl's been to Bali four or five times now, and she always hires the same driver - there's no real public transit, so it's most efficient and fairly affordable to just hire a driver while you're there if you're going to multiple places around the island. Gede, who seems like a super nice guy, picked us up at the airport and drove us to our villa (another thing about Bali - villas/hotels are nearly as affordable as hostels) in Ubud, where we would stay two nights.

Ubud is about an hour north of Denpasar and is inland. The streets are very narrow and being in a vehicle is a bit scary, actually! Motorbikes are even more common than cars, so the traffic is pretty complicated and dense. We were pretty tired and had already eaten dinner on the plane, so we were relieved to check into the villa, scope out our room (bamboo walls, tile floor, nice large bathroom although the shower had no curtain!), and pretty much pass out.

The next day we got up early, because we were being picked up for an all-day eco-cycling tour. The van to pick us up arrived at 7:45. Cheryl and I climbed in and then rode along as the other seven people on the tour were also picked up. After about an hour, the van climbed a treacherous mountain road to a beautiful restaurant for breakfast, with an incredible view of Mt. Batur - an active volcano - and environs. Breakfast - and this turned out to be common in Bali - was flat pancakes that came in banana or chocolate, fresh fruit (which I skipped), and fried rice. And jasmine tea, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We got to eat outside in the sun, overlooking the volcanic valley!

The next stop - still in the van - was a small plantation, primarily growing coffee, although they also cultivate cacao, spices, and teas. We got a short educational tour, followed by an extensive coffee and tea tasting, which was so freaking cool. Cheryl loves the lemongrass tea and the ginger tea, and I love the super smooth-yet-robust regular coffee and the perfectly balanced ginseng coffee and coconut coffee. I also tried luwak coffee, which has been eaten and shat out by a mammal called a palm civet (related to a mongoose). It was discovered by indigenous farmers during Dutch occupation; they weren't allowed to drink the coffee they grew and picked, but noticed that after the civets ate coffee beans they pooped them out undigested. Now it's suuuuuuuper expensive. I also found it to be almost undrinkable, personally: It was very strong and a bit sour and really not my cup of (ha) tea. It was fun to try, though - even though the other people on the tour heckled me a bit for drinking poop!

After the plantation tour, we got on the bikes at last! The bike tour is virtually all downhill, so it didn't exactly give us the exercise we had hoped for, but it meant it was just very fun the whole time! We stopped on the way down to see a few cultural sites: A Balinese home compound, an elementary school, a park. I loved learning details about how people live in another place than I do, although at the same time I was a little uncomfortable taking pictures of someone's home, even though they clearly had an arrangement with the tour company. I want to learn, but I don't want to be creepy or exploitative. So I just made sure I wasn't taking pictures of people who were just living their normal lives - only pictures of the places we were being explicitly taught about.

The tour and ride overall revealed some incredible views of forest, foliage, and cultivated rice paddies. It's not my very favorite scenery - I like size, which is why Alaska remains the most amazing place I've ever been and why I am a sucker for the ocean and why I really want to go see the Sahara - but it is really, deeply beautiful.

At the end of the tour we had a nice lunch and then got dropped off back at the villa around 3. Cheryl and I took about an hour to rest and cool off before heading onto the streets of Ubud to do a little shopping. We perused the hundreds of shops on the main streets for a couple hours, grabbing a scoop of ice cream midway, ate delicious noodles for dinner, and then went home to bed!

And now this post is pretty long, so I'll save day 2 (Ubud and Seminyak) and day 3 (the beach in Seminyak!) for future posts! Also, there is suddenly a cat on my stomach blocking my view of the computer screen. Good thing I'm not doing anything too interesting today - I need a bit of time to relax and catch up on some chores - so I won't get too far behind, here!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Singapore Day 2

This morning I had several hours before I needed to pack up and leave to catch a plane to Bali, so I decided to head out to Clarke Quay, a shopping and nightlife area on the Singapore River just two MRT stops away.

It's another beautiful day in Singapore - humid and warm and so comfortable for me, especially after a chilly summer and the beginning of New York's sinister slide into winter.

I wandered around the spacious and really lovely mall area for a bit, and then outside and across the river to the outdoor restaurant-ish area. It was only about 9:45 am when I'd gotten there, and it turns out nothing opens until 11, so I had time to kill. I had been able to grab an egg custard and taro bun from a pastry shop on my way out of the subway (the way the subway is connected both under and above ground to vast shopping areas reminds me of Montreal, btw), so I ate those out of doors and sat, journaling, overlooking the river.

Come 11, I wandered back over to the indoor mall side of the river and browsed the shops and Christmas displays. I'm definitely starting to recognize some of the elements of Singaporean fashion - not that different from New York or anywhere else but fairly specific. More LA-like, actually, which makes sense given the climate. I'm also starting to recognize the price and high-end nature of basically everything! Ha.

I passed a very fancy looking coffee shop/restaurant and almost didn't go in because I was intimidated by the fanciness of the coffee, but I steeled myself and was welcomed by the lovely woman working there, who sat me in a comfy chair overlooking the incredible river view, and served me a hazelnut cappuccino and two macarons.

Actually I was tempted by the expensive, enticingly-described black coffees, and I probably should have gotten one of those to counteract the sweetness of the macarons, but regardless the capp was delicious. I can't turn off my baker brain, of course, and the macarons were good but not perfect. Beautiful on the outside, but the insides had hollow spaces, so the bite didn't have enough crackle at the beginning or enough chew, and the filling wasn't as soft as it should have been. The peanut butter caramel one had ok-to-decent taste; the bittersweet chocolate one was more fully flavored and less hollow. I'd give them a solid B and I don't regret the SG$2.50 I spent on each; they're prettier than my own but slightly less satisfying in terms of taste/texture, and I'd give my own macs about a B as well. What I think all this means is that I am overdue for a first visit to Paris. Herme, I need you!

Anyway, I eventually headed back to the ground floor, where I thought I was going to grab ice cream (you may be beginning to wonder if I ate only dessert for lunch. The answer to that is, no comment.) and then go home, but instead I felt satisfyingly full of sugar already and I couldn't resist the temptation to go back outside and sit in the sun and look at the river some more, so I did that instead.

Seriously, I am pretty sure that sitting in the sun is legitimately my favorite activity. Above baking, reading, or hanging out with friends. Now, if I can sit in the sun while reading and chatting with friends and eating homemade ice cream, all to the better, but even (and sometimes especially) if I'm alone and caught without reading material, there is still nothing I'd rather do.

I finally got up the willpower to go inside and head home, where I've been chillin' out with the cats ever since. I do really want to go back there for dinner sometime, since it's supposed to be a great nightlife scene (hahahahaha did you ever think you would hear me say that?), plus I want some of the savory pastries from the pastry shop and I want the ice cream still and also there's a coffee shop I didn't go into that I totally want to try. And now it is time to go to the airport! See y'all when I get back from Bali, suckas!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Singapore, Day 1

After I chilled out a little and showered and said hi to Cheryl's cats, I copied down some of the suggestions she had emailed me about stuff to go check out and headed right out into the city!

I did so many things today!

First I walked around Little India as planned. There are lots of great looking Indian grocery markets on the street leading from the MRT stop into the Little India neighborhood, and then the main thoroughfare is packed with shops selling fabric, jewelry, and miscellaneous useful stuff. I accomplished my number one priority, which was buying a watch (actually I, uh, bought two, but I spent less than $10! So there! Little India = the place where Singapore actually isn't expensive, I guess).

I also grabbed lunch in the neighborhood at this crazy looking place called the Jungle Tandoor Restaurant. This restaurant looked exciting and rainforesty from the outside... and inside it was completely decked out in fake foliage and animals.

And I did not even remember to capture the elephant in the near right corner
or the giraffes in the near left!

I was the only patron in there for the first fifteen minutes, and I ordered aloo jeera heeng, which I had no idea what that was but it was cheap and turned out to be delicious potatoes in curry paste and lemongrass. And a really nice mug of tea!

After that I hopped on the MRT to the Somerset/Orchard area, which Cheryl had mentioned was fun to walk around and had great stores. By "great stores" it turns out she meant so many extremely expensive designer stores in a few blocks that it faaaaaaar outstrips Manhattan's 5th Avenue designery stretch. And yet somehow every store was still huge. I don't fully grasp how that worked, geographically, but somehow it does. Anyway it was pretty interesting to see! And a bunch of them had strange large Christmas trees/displays. Also, violet perfume totally smells how Neuhaus' violet chocolate truffle tastes, aka super weird and I am still confused about if I like it or not.

Somehow I don't think this Christmas tree comes off quite as weird in thei picture
as it did in person.

And after that, I hopped back on the MRT to the Botanic Gardens! The Singapore Botanic Gardens are extensive and free. I walked around them for a little over an hour and probably covered about one third of the paths, but then I got hungry and my feet hurt so I decided to head home. Plus, my camera battery had died, so I want to go back anyway to finish seeing it and to take pictures!

Meanwhile, thoughts about Singapore:

Maybe it's more like DC than NYC? Maybe I just think that because it's so clean. Seriously, things being clean makes more of a difference to the overall feel of the city than I expected it to. I keep thinking everyone is fancy and then looking carefully and seeing that they're not any fancier than people in New York, it's just that they're in a clean environment. In fact, they're probably a little less fancy than people in New York, overall. I spent a few weeks once in NYC noticing that literally every single set of women's toenails that I saw was painted. I mean, I started feeling like leaving the house in sandals and unpolished toes was like leaving the house topless or something. In Singapore, some women's toenails are painted and some are not.

The MRT is more extensive and involves less hustling around than the DC subway system, but is cleaner and easier to navigate than the NYC subway system. Also, it is a monorail or something, so where the doors land is completely consistent, and the ride is so smooth that no one hangs on to the straps. After one day of navigating the system on my own, I have almost a complete image of the subway map in my head, and sort of feel like I could get myself anywhere in the city very easily. I'm sure that feeling is somewhat deceptive; for one thing, I haven't been able to find an adequate Singapore map anywhere, so there must be stuff that's just not on the transit map. Googlemaps, here I come :p Also, I've noticed recently that NYC has one of the few metro maps that includes significant amounts of streets/street names on it in addition to the pure train lines. It's really a brilliant idea and I don't know why more cities don't do it, since it means that you can be hopping around the city, decide to go somewhere, and figure out where to get off the train even if you're not sure off the top of your head which stop is near where you want to go, or even where precisely those streets/that neighborhood is that you're looking for.

Also, everyone is pretty darn friendly, and also everyone stands on the escalator but leaves a clear path for the almost nonexistent people who want to walk. Which is the opposite of New York, where lots of people are in a hurry but no one cares about leaving a lane, and I chronically come up behind people and shout, "EXCUSE ME!!!"

Anyway, those are my first impressions of Singapore! Pics to come on facebook :) And tomorrow afternoon, I fly to Bali! Woooo! I AM BEING SO INTERNATIONAL Y'ALL.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hello, Singapore! Aka, yes, I will happily travel for 24 hours at a time.

Well, here I am in Singapore! In case you missed it, I am in the process of moving out of Hotel California in New York and into an as-yet-unknown sublet, also in New York, and in the meantime I am taking a vacation! Itinerary includes home basing it in Singapore with Cheryl for a couple weeks while taking weekend trips to Bali and Taipei, and then jetting to Melbourne for about a week and a half to check out Australia with my friend Mark! Home again on December 15th, after a more-than-24-hour layover in Honolulu (hahaha how terrible, right? :p). Basically, I am psyched. I've been to 48 United States and 4 Canadian provinces/territories, but never been abroad!

I left from JFK on Monday evening. I flew Singapore Airlines - 8 hours to Frankfurt for a two hour layover, and then back on the same plane for the 12 hour leg to SG. The plane was big and new and had personal tv screens with almost 300 free movie options. For the first leg I was surrounded by empty seats. There were four free and pretty darn delicious meals total, so I didn't even have to eat many of the snacks I brought along, and they came with free wine! Singapore Airlines = a champ. I also just like being in transit to begin with. When I'm in between places, I feel out of time. Not responsible for anything or worried about anything. Just in between, suspended. As Stew said in "Tomorrow Gone," "there is a stillness in motion that transcends the stationary." That speaks right to my heart.

So I finally watched Guardians of the Galaxy, Belle, Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Maleficent (and thoroughly enjoyed all of them); finished a couple books; did the sudoku and the crossword; enjoyed my meals; and towards the end squeezed in about 6 hours of sleep, so that when we landed in Singapore at 7 am I would be just waking up and hopefully minimizing jet lag!

So basically I love traveling internationally, and I haven't even done anything in another country yet :p

Anyway, once I landed, customs took like one second and I caught a cab to Cheryl's school, where she'd left her apartment key and MRT (subway) card for me, and then I took the quick subway ride back to her place. I saw a bit of freeway-side Singapore on the cab ride, and it was beautiful. Lots of palm trees, which I'm used to as a Californian, but surrounded by really intense greenery thanks to tropical climate. Weird to see the palm trees and the greenery together! The buildings by the road looked newish and very geometric, like they were made of lots of little rectangles and squares all puzzled together, and a lot of them had colorful squares or stripes of paint accenting the white walls, too.

Now I've showered and decompresssed a bit in Cheryl's apartment, and said hello to her cats, and I'm about to wander her neighborhood - she's immediately outside Little India. After I find some lunch, I'll probably wander farther! But be back around 5, so I can meet her for dinner when she gets home :)