TRAVEL with pat and lew

Archive for the ‘… Singapore’ Category

Singapore was an afterthought

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

When we booked our Qantas flight from Paris to Perth, we noticed that it stopped in Singapore, where we had never been. For a slight fee, we could delay the connection, and we did so for three days.

Our taxi from Isle St. Louis to De Gaulle encounters no traffic, and the airport check in is so easy it’s frightening. They look at nothing.

“Would you like to see my laptop?”

“No, that’s all right.”

Five years after 9-11, this is not comforting.

We had planned to have dinner at the airport, but there are no restaurants. Next time we fly out of CDG, I’ll remember to pack a baguette.

Air France flies the ticket we bought from Qantas, which we know is not a good thing. The flight to Singapore takes 12 hours, the food is awful, and the seats are cramped. I do enjoy the movie, Spike Lee’s Inside Man starring Denzel Washington and Jodie Foster.

We make a bad decision at the airport and try to save a few dollars by taking a shared cab. We are the last ones off and the ride takes almost an hour. Exhausted, we check into our hotel and sack out immediately. (see separate Marriott post)

We sleep well, tired from jet lag and off rhythm with the six hour time change from Paris, which now puts us exactly 12 hours ahead of US eastern daylight savings time.

When we did emerge, we got directions to Botanical Garden, where we thought Pat could run. There’s a very cute running map in the shape of a foot. But the directions are imprecise, and there’s a huge problem right away.

The Marriott is on a corner, and there’s no apparent way to cross the street. Finally, we figure out that there are underpasses to get to the other side. We go down. The signage is awful. We come up at the wrong place. Down again. Finally on the correct corner, the sidewalk is mobbed. It’s loud. This is not a good running venue.

shopping par excellence 

We reverse direction. Orchard Street is wall to wall shops and malls, three malls on every block, each with 200-400 stores inside. There’s no architecture to speak of. No design. No attempt at beauty.

But there is an efficient layout of stores for serious shopping. Some designer stores, many brand names.

The currency exchange ratio now works in our favor, since each Singapore dollar costs only 63 cents US. Pat finds shoes at half the price she has seen in New York and elsewhere (did we get the conversion right?), and buys two pairs. They’re light, and we think they’ll fit within our Qantas guidelines. We were 1.5 kilos light coming in, between the two checked bags, and they never weighed the carry-on.

Outstanding mediocrity

After we had our Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel (see separate post), we search for elegant dining along the water. The street signs are not clear, but we wander in what turns out to be the right direction, although we never know this until we arrive. We pass through a large and beautiful concert hall and finally reach the water.

There are several restaurants, none of which are remotely elegant. Actually, they’re all quite tacky. We choose an Italian restaurant. No napkins. Well, actually, little tissue-like paper squares in a glass. We order pasta and wine. It comes, and it’s almost ok.

There’s no bread. “We don’t serve bread, would you like me to bring some. Of course, there will be a charge.”

Where’s the men’s room? You go down the stairs, out of the restaurant, across the street, through another restaurant and out into a hallway.

Remember the saying, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything. (Or Olivia Dukakis’s variation in Steel Magnolias, if you can’t say anything nice, sit next to me.)

We decide the nicest thing we can say about this restaurant is that it is an outstanding example of mediocrity.

last disappointment

We took a harbor cruise on an imitation Chinese junk: 3 hours, hot, dull, waste of time. Better to use the time to shop.

                     

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Singapore Sling at the Raffles

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

Pat has but one objective in Singapore, a Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel.

 

Sir Thomas Stamford Bingley Raffles served the empire in Malacca and Java, where he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor. There were allegations of financial impropriety, and he returned to England, where he succeeded in clearing his name. On his way home, he is said to have visited Napoleon, then in exile at St. Helena, but found him unpleasant and unimpressive.

Raffles sailed to Calcutta in late 1818 and soon established a free-trade post at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Thus he discovered Singapore, they say, as if it wasn’t here before he arrived, securing the control of the island to the East India Company.

A web site called “Drink Boy” states that while no one disputes that the Singapore Sling was originally created by Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon for the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, that is where the agreements end. The exact date is in question, with some people claiming it was in 1915, some 1913, while the hotel itself claims that it was created sometime prior to 1910.

There is also plenty of disagreement as to how closely the current version of the drink served at Raffles conforms to what was originally served. Apparently the original recipe was lost and forgotten sometime in the 1930’s, and the drink currently served is based on memories of former bartenders, and some written notes of uncertain provenance.

We cab from the Marriott to the Raffles, moving backward in time from the 21st century to the 19th. We are in the Writer’s Bar, the waiter explains, but none of us are writers. Yes, one of us is, Pat says, and I try to explain The Heretic, but I’m not sure he gets it. The bar, also referred to as the Long Bar, is of course English colonial, with white pillars and dark wood beams.

We order our “slings.” Pat has read somewhere that they serve over 2000 a day in this hotel, although it seems unlikely they will meet that target today. The current recipe at the Raffles Hotel, listed on a little card they have, includes 30ml Gin, 15 ml Cherry Brandy, 120 ml Pineapple Juice, 15 ml Lime Juice, 7.5 ml Cointreau, 7.5 ml Dom Benedictine, 10 ml Grenadine, and a dash of Angostura Bitters. It is garnished with a slice of pineapple and a cherry.  

What are Angostura Bitters, you ask? Here’s what I learned on the web. First compounded from the bark of a South American tree, in Venezuela in 1824 by a German physician, who intended it as a remedy for stomach maladies, Angostura Bitters was soon exported to England, where it came to be used in a number of cocktails following its medicinal use by the British Navy in something called Pink Gin (the pink being provided by the bitters). It is currently used in both aperitifs and digestifs, and is alleged to settle one’s stomach before a meal, or as a preventive measure before a night of serious drinking.

 

Truth be told, our Singapore Slings tasted like mildly alcoholic fruit punch, nothing really to get excited about. But then, we don’t claim to have sophisticated palates.

 

When I stand to take a picture of Pat with her sling at the Raffles, an Australian from the next table offers to take both of us, and when he rejoins his wife, I reciprocate. He tells us that fifteen years ago, the hotel was quite rundown, but there is no evidence of that today.

 

In fact, the hotel itself is a glory to behold. The Long Bar, of course, is a major feature, but so are the grounds and the exquisite all-white veranda framing a tropical vista. While we’re there, several long black limousines pull up at the columned portico entrance. The shops adjacent to the hotel are elegant. The atmosphere bespeaks a different time, before the world wars, when British colonial power ruled uncontested.  

                 

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Marriott Singapore – superb

Posted by Lew Weinstein on February 22, 2007

We’re staying at the Marriott Singapore on Orchard Road, in the heart of Singapore’s shopping district. The hotel is modern and tastefully decorated, our large room has the most comfortable bed we have ever slept in, and the service is truly extraordinary.

In the ground floor Marriott Café, where we have the buffet breakfast twice and lunch once, servers buzz around like a hive of bees. It’s really incredible. If you open a butter pack and lay the little paper cover on the table, someone will come to pick it up.

Is this the mode of Singapore, or the Marriott, or both? We ask the headwaiter, and he says it’s Marriott, that they have training meetings every day to reinforce the level of customer service they wish to deliver. After living in France, where you will be left alone for hours at your table (if you wish), this is quite a contrast. We actually find it a little oppressive at times, although everyone is extraordinarily nice.

On our last night in Singapore, we decide to dine in the hotel. I collect the three restaurant menus and bring them to the room, where Pat is napping. There’s an elegant Chinese restaurant, maybe too elegant for our mood, and for our casual clothes. The first floor Café has a long menu but we’ve been there. The third is the Pool Grill. They have lobster tail at a reasonable price. Not a hard decision.

It’s still a little humid, but five minutes after seating, a cool breeze arrives. The view is stunning – Singapore high rises and a curved moon hanging in the black sky. We order drinks. The waiters hover, trained as they are to leave no customer alone for more than four seconds.

We say we’re not in a hurry, that we’ll place our order after we receive our drinks. Responsive to our wishes, everybody slows down. We drink, we talk. The food is outstanding, the dinner peaceful. Five stories up, it’s quiet, elegant, romantic, slow-paced, and wonderful.

We cap the evening by returning to the outdoor pool at 10:30pm. The water is warm. We turn on the jets. It’s perfect.

               

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