Glorious Sydney Weather

Monday, 2 March 2009

Singapore Sling

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Singapore doesn’t fail to impress. Compared to some of the rundown terminals at Heathrow, Changi Airport is very well turned out without being too garish (like some Middle Eastern and Asian airports). But my lasting impression won’t be made by the architecture and interior design, but instead by immigration.

Those used to travelling to the United States will know how bad the immigration experience can be; fingerprints, photographs, plain rudeness. Not in Singapore; here you are greeted with beaming smiles and a professional manner. To top it off, after everything had been checked, stamped and found to be in order, I was offered a mint…!

“Welcome to Singapore”

Too tired to tackle the city on my first night, my first adventure was to find breakfast the next day. Guided by a Wikitravel page insisting that I eat a traditional Singaporean breakfast, I walked a few blocks from my hotel to Orchard Street, the main shopping street in the city, to find a place to eat. Breakfast typically revolves around “kaya”, a sort of coconutty butter spread on toast, accompanied by soft-boiled eggs with soy sauce and strong coffee with condensed milk. I had no idea what to do with the two eggs and bowl of soy sauce handed to me, but the cashier came over to my table to help explain everything. (“Break the eggs into the bowl of soy sauce and give it a good stir”)

Typical Singaporean breakfast

Food in Singapore is brilliant. Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and European food is readily available, and often brought together to create a Singapore fusion cuisine. I met a coursemate from Imperial College for lunch. Neil took me to a food court where around twenty different stalls were selling different foods, which all smelt fantastic. We ate on a roof terrace overlooking the city.

Old ISE coursemates: Alex and Neil overlooking Singapore

The majority of the city seems to be covered in distinctive high-rise office buildings, luxury appartments and shopping malls. However, each of the different communities in Singapore has a cultural heartland: Chinatown for the Chinese, Little India for the Indians, Arab Street for the Malays (and I suppose the old Colonial district represents the European heritage). They each show a quirky side to the city that once was before the massive development that has taken place over the past 40 years.

Arab St – the Malay quarter

Little India, Singapore
Little India, Singapore

Chinatown, Singapore
Chinatown, Singapore

Singapore Cricket Club with skyscrapers in the background
Singapore Cricket Club with skyscrapers in the background

On my last day I visited the resort island of Sentosa. Connected to the Singapore mainland by cable car (and monorail), much of the island has been extensively developed into a pretty excrutiating family theme park with observation towers, beaches and cinemas connected by covered escalators piping out elevator music. Prices were also very high compared to the mainland, and my cash vanished far more quickly than I had expected. Nonetheless, there was a very good aquarium which made the journey worthwhile. My cable-car trip back to the mainland that evening also afforded some fantastic views.

For my last few hours in the city I walked along the riverfront and really experimented with all of the different settings on my camera to create some fantastic nighttime city images.

Singapore Harbourfront skyline
Singapore Harbourfront skyline

Last stop Raffles Hotel (apparently the place to be seen, but not to stay) then I was on my way to Sydney with another mint from immigration!

Hot Alex in front of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore
Hot Alex in front of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore

The blog is dead; long live the blog

Wednesday, 18 February 2009


So I haven’t written anything on here for a while. In 2004 and 2005 I was somewhat ahead of the times in having my own web log (or more specifically, a travel web log).

Then it died.

Mine wasn’t the only one. Gartner speculates that blogging peaked in 2007 and there are now in the region of 200 million blogs which are not being updated (apologies for the lack of reference, but this is from Wikipedia, so it must be true).

I left my job before Christmas and am now travelling around Australia, New Zealand and China, so this seems an ideal opportunity to resurrect the blog.

Hopefully you’ll be hearing more from me on these pages over the coming months. I will be back in the UK on 24 April.

Kilimanjaro 2007 – Day 4

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Walk: Mawenzi Tarn Hut (4283m) to Kibo Hut (4690m)

Notes and photos from my Kilimanjaro diaries written in 2007. Uploaded to my blog in 2009 but posted with a 2007 publish date.

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Eerie walk over the Saddle, and afro-alpine desert of screen with little gradient and just a few patches of moss and small flowers near rocks.


200 metres or so to our right, the Saddle dropped off and a vertical wall of cloud obscured the view.

Packed lunch at a collection of boulders that also seemed to be the base for some very nasty looking crows that must have known we would stop there for lunch.


Exhausting final push to Kibo Hut, arriving about 4:30pm, for an early dinner before settling down for some sleep before waking up at 11pm to get ready for our midnight departure for the summit.


Kilimanjaro 2007 – Day 3

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Walk: Kikelea Caves (3672m) to Mawenzi Tarn Hut (4283m)
Acclimatisation walk: to 4493m

Notes and photos from my Kilimanjaro diaries written in 2007. Uploaded to my blog in 2009 but posted with a 2007 publish date.

Pretty cold when waking up, but glorious sunshine sets an amazing scene over the clouds covering the world below.




Start walk to Mawenzi Tarn Hut in time for lunch. Lunch had an Arabian feel as we ate in the food tent: sun and shadows danced across the wind-knocked canvas.


The camp itself was inside a small crater with a shallow pond at the foot of Mawenzi Peak. After lunch, we headed off on an “acclimatisation walk”. One of our party wasn’t able to make it due to his delicate diarrhoea situation but the rest of us got an idea of the style of hiking we would have to perform on summit night (relentless zig-zagging across steep slopes).


We did this for about 90 minutes (summit night would be for 6 hours) and ended up half-way up Mawenzi Peak on a rocky outcrop … stunning views over the edge. Looking the other way, we could also see the true summit of Kilimanjaro – Kibo Peak – and not much higher than where we were, the shining roof of Kibo Hut where we would arrive tomorrow afternoon for our summit attempt the next day.


Coming down was great fun and for once I was grateful of having my walking poles which really helped with stability and speed. Very pleased with the wrist straps that came with the poles too, as they made it very easy to flick the poles out ahead of my feet.


Had trouble sleeping (very unusual for me) – must be the altitude. Had to wake up in the freezing dark for a loo break (without contact lenses)


Kilimanjaro 2007 – Day 2

Friday, 29 June 2007

Walk: Simba Camp (2627m) to Kikelea Caves (3672m)

Notes and photos from my Kilimanjaro diaries written in 2007. Uploaded to my blog in 2009 but posted with a 2007 publish date.

Slept in boxers with no sleeping bag liner to test I wouldn’t be too cold. Woke up mildly chilly but was reassured that I still had several more layers of clothing to wrap up in as we ascended the volcano.

The daily routine that I would get used to involved a 6:30am wake-up with tea in bed. Breakfast from 7am (porridge and jam) with the aim of having everything packed up and ready to go by 8am.


As I left my tent to get breakfast, I could still see Kili from the camp, but by the time we left at 8am, the clouds had rolled in again. We set off from our campsite and as we progressed the thick bushes became shorter and shorter until we realised the lack of vegetation from hereon would mean there was no privacy for loo breaks.


The milestone of breaking through the cloud line seemed to continue to evade us all morning, but around lunchtime we entered the thick cloud and had lunch in the fog near a cave. Several hours later we emerged from the cloud into strong sunshine and uninterrupted views of Kibo Peak for once.




Progression seemed odd from here, as we were not walking towards Kibo, but instead towards her sister Mawenzi Peak for a day of acclimatization. The two peaks are very difference in appearance: Kibo appears almost flat on top, while Mawenzi is sharp and jagged.


Washed feet at camp. As the sun set it got cold very quickly. People were tired so there was no will to play card games like last night. Straight to bed.

Kilimanjaro 2007 – Day 1

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Drive: Marangu to Rongai
Rongai (2000m) to Simba Camp (2627m)

Notes and photos from my Kilimanjaro diaries written in 2007. Uploaded to my blog in 2009 but posted with a 2007 publish date.

No hot water in the hotel for a final wash before starting our trek. Braved some cold water instead. Divided all my luggage into day bag, main bag and a bag to leave at the hotel i.e. stuff useless for the climb such as phone charger, shower gel etc…

Set off in minibus to our start site  A few people already have diarrhoea which didn’t make a pleasant journey for them. The bus drove around the volcano at a height of about 1500m-1800m (thanks GPS phone) to get to Rongai, our starting point near the Kenyan border on the north side of Kilimanjaro. Not much to see on the bumpy mountain road for about four hours except for plenty of shops advertising and selling just Coca-Cola.


We kitted up at the start and were pestered for the first kilometre or so by local kids asking for “chocolate / money”. My lunchbox was on display at the back of my backpack so I was a primary target.

The start of the route was exceptionally dusty and my Nordic walking pole extensions were fairly useless. Enjoyed getting into the rhythm of using the poles and started to appreciate how useful they would be. The dusty path gave way to a path through forest where we saw several black-and-white colobus monkeys.




After a fairly leisurely walk for four or so hours, we emerged from the forest and tall bushes into a clearing where the many porters had set up our tents. Sharing with Aman, I got out my Thermarest and sleeping bag to set up my bed for the night before it got dark. We were handed a bowl of hot water to wash with before dinner, and made out way to the massive food tent where we all played card games before a sumptuous meal.





As the clouds cleared after sunset, we finally got our first glimpse of Kibo Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro 2007 – Nairobi to Marangu

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Notes and photos from my Kilimanjaro diaries written in 2007. Uploaded to my blog in 2009 but posted with a 2007 publish date.

Early start and long drive to Tanzania.

Nairobi is a handsome city in parts with pleasant government buildings on a hill overlooking the city centre. Lots of civil servants and other office workers all heading into work as we left. Giant herons flying around the football stadium!

Good road out of Nairobi until the airport where the quality deteriorated rapidly. Great scenery on the way to TZ border, but no sight of Kilimanjaro (not really possible this time of year due to haze). The most striking features of the journey were the large anthills and Masai tribesmen.


KY-TZ border is crazy: 200m of no-man’s land between the two border posts full of parked trucks and buses, and many souvenir touts asking you to look at their “free” bracelets. Couldn’t take photos.

Arrived and Nakana Hotel in Marangu. Went for an exploratory walk with Aman and Gary into the local hills before dinner.


Kilimanjaro 2007 – Nairobi

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Notes and photos from my Kilimanjaro diaries written in 2007. Uploaded to my blog in 2009 but posted with a 2007 publish date.

Overnight flight from Heathrow to Nairobi. Cloudy cool day in Nairobi, doesn’t seem too different from London! Check in to Heron Court hotel.

Given “Sunny and sweet” breakfast – sausages, fried egg, maple syrup pancakes. Delicious.

Visit Lea Toto project in Nairobi slums to check the type of work VSO is doing supporting HIV+ families. Children gave a role-play about stealing and honesty, then sang several songs and read poems. Unfortunately we weren’t able to meet any VSO volunteers due to holidays.


We were taken off on a tour of a local slum by some of the centre workers (Gertrude, Leonida and Carolyne). We met one family (mother, child and niece) who were left by the father. The mother runs a market stall nearby but she has lost business as her main competitor spread rumours that her food was unsafe since she was HIV+. The mother then made a complaint to the local community leader, and the competitor fortunately made a public apology.


Back to hotel. Great buffet dinner. Trying hard to remember the names of the twenty-six other people in our group.

Summer’s here!

Thursday, 6 April 2006

A marvellous thing happened on Sunday afternoon…

Millions of people in the UK associate their childhood with a particular music that rings along residential streets in the summer months. Since I’ve lived in central London for the last few years, and have just recently moved to north London, I heard an ice cream van for the first time in years.

I ran out of the house with a friend Lucy and rapidly ordered two “99 Flake”s. The ice cream man said he starts at the beginning of April and continues for 6 months. Long may he continue!!