Pic of the week; Cancun Mexico

Breakfast on the lagoon from our beautiful AirBnB outside of the 'Las Vegas chaos' of the Zona Hotelera. We opted to stay nearer to downtown Cancun for a quick 3 day stopover. Although still found time for a tequila or two. When in Mexico...

Breakfast on the lagoon of our peaceful AirBnB. We opted to stay outside of the ‘Spring Break Woo’ Zona Hotelera, and nearer to downtown Cancun for a quick 3 day stopover. Although we still found time for a little tequila drinking and pinata souvenir shopping. When in Mexico…

Food for thought: 9 of Singapore’s best eats

Mini-burgers, to-die-for chocolate cheesecake, and fun bubblegum cocktails from New Zealand style eatery The Fern & Kiwi, Clarke Quay

Indian banana bread, BBQ prawns and McDonalds chips! From ‘stall 6’ on the famous La Pa Sat hawker centre, Chinatown.

Tubs of mashed potatoes and peppery gravy from the SevenEleven

Giant crabs in their tanks, sold per kilo in the restaurants that line Boat Quay

A funny note from The Salad Shop at the bottom of UOB – “harmless caterpillars?!”

Leaving on a jet plane: Living abroad, Week 1

Who? Me!
Where? Singapore, South East Asia. I adore the city, it’s hot, English is a first language, cool creative agencies have offices here….
What?! Indeed, good question. I’m turning 30 this year, a milestone for many reasons –  mainly as the cut off point for Working Holiday Visas and the fantastic opportunity to live (& work) abroad for a year.  It’s now or never.
Why? After 15 months of traveling  & 48 countries, the question of course, should be; why not!

So I’ll get to all the practical stuff; city living, food, life, re-joining the rat race later. Week 1 is for enjoying!

Singapore’s annual Night Lights Festival, 1st Sept 2012. Features art installations all over the city, seen here at SAM (Singapore Art Museum) at Bras Basah.

Hard-core-par-kour! & aerial acrobatics from Argentinian dance company; Fuerzabuta. Dancers leap from wires into a brightly lit silk curtain and frolic in water inside a perspex fishbowl.

Fitness fans line the boulevard underneath the UOB skyscraper in Boat Quay. Free evening classes gather nightly as well as the 101 running club for our 3k around the marina! (My rookie first timer time: 17 mins.)

The fruit pastel coloured Clarke Quay. A prime spot to sit in the sun & indulge in my fave new past time; Scapbooking!

Finally, here is what you get if you mix a ‘temptation bell’ (you ring it, you buy the whole bar shots!) with a load of city bankers in the heart of the financial district = A night of free drinks! @ Magumbos Boat Quay.

Bratistlava, Slovakia

Out of ALL of the places to shatter its reputation, it has to be Bratislava. If you have even heard of it, (I hadn’t) you think ‘Eastern European/err tractors?’ If you have heard of it you think: Hostel (2005) – aka backpacker slasher horror movie set here. For the record, not a single frame was filmed here – but in Germany/Czech Republic whose governments were apparently equally as annoyed. Which makes sense as Bratislava place is point-blank stunning. If you ever get a chance, go!

You could walk across the city itself in about 10 seconds. It’s tiny but perfectly formed. The cobbled streets and church squares look like Italy, the residents look like supermodels, and the beer is 1,30 euro! What’s not to like. We spend one night coupled up like a French film, taking evening walks around fountains and drinking wine in the stylish bars. And a second night in one of the all time funniest pubs i’ve ever been in.

Mark’s friend Kieron has just arrived from Ireland so we go for a few beers in the previously mentioned nice fairytale part of the city. We then however decide to ‘go for one more’ in a tiny bar down an ally from our hostel. I say bar, but the place is more like a greasy cafe near Doncaster markets where you expect someone to bring you egg and chips at any point. Oh and add to this a classical violinist who doubles as a magician?! Instead of the dive bar crowd that you would expect there’s a mix of posh Slovakian students, a barmaid dressed in pajamas, a couple in their 80s where she’s in all her best jewelry and he’s dozing off  into his vodka. Plus, our favorites; Slovakia’s answer to Strictly Come Dancing; a brazen blond women jiggling her double F boobs with a rough looking man who is hovering around the karaoke machine begging people to engage in his knee-stomping, floor-slapping, drunk uncle at Slovak wedding moves. We sit memorised. Even though it’s a Monday, they look as though the whole crowd gather every night of the week, and nobody bats an eyelid that we’re there. We buy a 20 euro round for 3 euros and marvel at the oddness of it all. For the record it’s called Prezidents Pub (with a Z). I only wish this was my local.

Where we stayed: Old City Hotel / Downtown Backpackers

Liked: 1) KGB  – an underground bunker like restaurant 2) The quirky sculptures along Hviezoslavovo Nam 3) The beautiful walled Grassalkovich Palace park, even with its ants.

Dubai, UAE

Seventy days ago I was half way up Everest, sleeping in $2 wooden tea houses, dragging my tatty 13kg rucksack around the world. Today I Air Emirated it into the world’s glossiest airport, wearing wedges and toting a wheely case. Sell out, moi? Absolutely. Dubai is possibly the  polar opposite to backpacking. You have to mix it up though don’t you.

Before arriving, my Dubai word association game with myself would have gone something like this;

Desert, supermalls, construction, man-made, oil, gold, shopping, luxury, strict, arabic, westernized, ex-pats, wags, excess. 

After 5 days here my preconception were wro… No, actually that’s all pretty bang on. Although I would add:

Tourist centric, vast, humongous, fun, Disney-fied, into appearances, safe, pleasant, fake, voyeuristic, unique.

You can’t get too mad it Dubai, it’s only a baby, since the United Arab Emirates is just over 40 years old as a country. Build on oil & gold dollars, and now increasingly on tourist dollars, the city lives, breathes and oozes money. It’s a reigned in Vegas meets a cleaned up Macau. Its infamous non-libral laws verge on the ridiculous. Yet talking to people who live here they might kind of make sense. You can’t flick the v’s at anyone or drink in public (bad?) but then it’s unheard of that anyone throws a punch on a night out (good.) Mall staff can fine you if  they find your clothes ‘offensive’ (bad?) Yet, being given the power to judge the world for harem pants, Hollister, and jeggings? Come on, this is has to be good right?

Dubai is a world where a TEFL teachers salary means you can drop $100 on the famous weekly tradition of Friday brunch, drive Land Rover Cruisers, spend $40 on Jo Malone candles and wear Harry Winston jewellery, just to keep up with the ipad toting 5 year old sons and daughters of Emirates pilots that you teach in International School. It’s a real life episode of Gossip Girl. In the UK, the closest I get to London clubs like Mahiki & Embassy are reading Grazia. Here we graced both in one night. Whilst London however gets Prince Harry , Mahiki last Wednesday saw the likes of Rio Ferdinand. And I. Although I should point out quite separately.

Dubai is ALL about a world record. The Burj Kalifa glitters nightly as the world’s tallest building. It’s home to a nightly fountain show, which apparently alternates Thriller and more traditional Arabic music. They also threw in Whitney tribute last month for the late Ms Huston, which gives you some idea how ‘subtlety’ is a dirty word here. The Burj Al Arab is the worlds only 7 star hotel. Shaped like an iconic sail boat it’s apparently much prettier on the outside than in, and is ‘by appointment only’ even for a drink in the restaurant. It’s next to the famous ‘World’ multimillion pound island complex and the Atlantis on the Palm hotel, but again all are more iconic in reputation than they are accessible and easy to photograph. Unless you have your own helicopter to hand, which I wouldn’t put past most people here. By far the most memorizing sight is the world’s largest aquarium (just piping Japan’s) inside the Dubai Mall. Possibly it’s extra spectacular as it’s facing an almost equally giant sweet shop, which must be hell for the Great Whites cooped up in there staring out at Reeces Pieces all day long.

There’s possibly only one thing you cannot do in this city, and that’s its ultimate flaw; to be on foot!  Without a car, driver or taxi you are dwarfed by the sheer giganticness of the place.  To cross the main Sheikh Zayed highway is a 7 lane overpass. You don’t ever have to worry about coming into contact with traffic or the outside air, Dubai is an air-conditioned warren of walkways and lobbies. They even have early morning exercise classes groups who power stride through the miles of the Mall of the Emirates before it opens. You can’t blame them. To brave exercise in the outside desert would be to die at melting point in the unparalleled heat here. People at Arabian Ranches where I stayed laughed with amusement when I inquired about waiting outside to catch an afternoon bus into the city (for the record you can and I did;  the F30/3 dirhams). But then again in a beautiful gated complex with pools and tree-lined boulevards, I guess no one really catches the bus that often. Here is about splashing the cash, not saving it.

One evening we did brave outside the man-made bubble of new Dubai and drive down to the old town district of Deira & the Gold Souks. It’s here you have that Alice in Wonderland moment where she eats the cookie and everything shrinks back into its proper proportion. The skyscrapers give way to more modest mosques. The only thing that sparkles here are the rows and rows of garish yellow 22 carat gold shops. An acquired taste you might say, but century’s of trading can’t be wrong. Locals zigzag the industrialised creek at dusk via the rather magically named ‘Abras’ – small wooden taxi boats, that appear only 1kg from dipping into the jet black water. At 1 Diham a crossing it’s a nice touch to the city though, and a rare chance to feel real like you have broken out of the theme park, into the open air.

I’m not going to cliché enough to pretend I would turn down the wealth, glamor and the manicured ways of the new town over the tatty, crowded old town,  but it’s nice to see both.  I may have replaced by backpack with a suitcase but give me $5 Lebanese food down winding souk alleys that you can walk around any day.

Previous Older Entries

An.an.tas.in : The Anantasin is the name of a shipwreck just of the coast of the Sensi Parasise, Mae Haad Bay, Koh Tao, Thailand. It’s one of my many favorite places.

Lit.tle: Just because it’s cute.

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