Singapore

Today we woke up at around 10am, got ready, and set out for the day. We first checked out what The Jewel looked like during the day. It’s an absolute gorgeous piece of architecture.

After admiring the waterfall for a while, we went in search of breakfast. We settled on Starbucks, as it was one of the first food places that we found. I had a breakfast sandwich, and Julie had a granola bar, as that was the only gluten-free item that she could find there.

After breakfast we took the MRT (Singapore Metro) into the city center. We ended up getting a two-day tourist pass for about $26. The journey takes about an hour, and requires you to switch about ¼ of the way into the journey. The metro line to the airport was added afterwards, so it was a bit of an afterthought, but there are plans to have a direct line later on.

When we arrived in the city center it was pouring rain. Before we dive into our adventure lets take a look at Singapore’s history.

Singapore’s History

Singapore, officially known as the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island country and city-state. Singapore’s territory consists of one main island, and 63 small satellite islands and islets, and one outlying islet. Singapore’s history dates back about 1000 years, having been a maritime hub of many empires. Singapore’s contemporary era began in 1819 when Singapore was established as a trading post of the British Empire. In 1867, the colonies in SE Asia were reorganized and Singapore came under the direct control of Britain as part of the Straits Settlements. Singapore was occupied by Japan during World War 2 from 1942 to 1945, before being returned to British control as a sperate crown colony following Japan’s surrender in 1945. Singapore gained self-governance in 1959 and in 1963 became part of the new federation of Malaysia. Singapore became an independent sovereign country in 1965. After years of struggling due to lack of natural resources the national rapidly developed to become one of the world’s most recognizable countries. It is ranked as the 11th best country to live in by the Human Development Index (HDI), which is defined by the United Nations.

Exploring Singapore

First stop was Raffles Hotel. The Raffles Hotel is a colonial-style luxury hotel that was built in 1887. It was established by Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies Brothers, and was named after British statesman Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who was the founder of modern Singapore. It is currently managed by the Accor group of hotels, and features 115 luxurious rooms.

After walking around the hotel in the rain we went and had a buffet lunch at Colony, which is located in the Ritz Carlton. For about $80 you have access to an immense selection of delicious foods from all over the world. While this is a fairly steep price back at home, this is somewhat normal pricing in Singapore. Singapore happens to be the most expensive place I’ve visited in SE Asia, and one of the more expensive places I’ve visited globally, only to be trumped by Switzerland, and eventually Norway when I visit there next year.

After stuffing our faces at the buffet we walked past the Singapore Flyer, which wasn’t operating, but was still neat to see. Singapore Flyer is a 165 metre (541 foot) tall Ferris wheel, and was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel until the 168 metre (550 foot) tall High Roller Ferris wheel opened in Las Vegas in 2014. The High Roller is now in second place, and the Singapore Flyer is now in third place stacked against the Ain Dubai Ferris wheel, which stands at 250 metres (820 feet) tall. The Ain Dubai Ferris wheel was constructed between 2015 and 2021, official opening in October 2021.

We then hopped on the MRT to see the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a Chinese Buddhist temple and museum complex that was completed in 2007. The beautiful temple is four-storey’s tall and contains a relic tooth of Buddha from a collapses stupa (temple). The tooth measures 7.5 cm, which far exceeds the size of a human tooth. The relic tooth is located on the fourth floor, however I was not allowed to take any photographs of it.

We were then going to see the Sri Mariamman Temple, however it was closed for renovations. We walked past it on our way back to the MRT. The Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. It’s an agamic temple, built in the Dravidian style. It was completed in 1827 by Naraina Pillai. Pillai was a government clerk from Penang who arrived in Singapore with Sir Stamford Raffles on his second visit to the island in May 1819. Pillai setup the island’s first construction company, and also took part in the textile trade business. He quickly became a leader of the Indian community. The original temple was a simple temple made of wood and attap (mangrove palm). The temple grounds were expanded in 1831 when private land was donated to the temple. This event is recognized on a stone tablet, which stand in the temple to this day. The temple underwent numerous modifications since then, with the majority of the current day temple being built between 1862 and 1863. While much of the original structure is no longer there, the oldest parts of the existing structure date back to 1843.

We walked through a traditional market on our way back to the MRT. It was really neat to see the local vendors selling their goods. The smell of warm durian was a bit overwhelming though.

We took the MRT to Marina Bay area. We exited the Marina Bay MRT station into the large mall adjacent to the Marina Bay Sands. There’s a small Venice style canal with gondolas inside the mall, surrounded by shops on both sides. It reminded me a bit of The Venetian in Las Vegas. We took two very long escalators up to the top floor, which connects to the Marina Bay Sands. Marina Bay Sands is a beautiful resort hotel fronting Marina Bay. The resort is owned by Las Vegas Sands Corporation and cost about $8 billion to build in 2010. The resort includes a 2561 room hotel, a 1.3 million square foot convention centre, a 800000 square foot shopping mall, a museum, a theatre, restaurants, two floating crystal pavilions, art-science exhibits, and the world’s largest casino, which includes 500 tables and 1600 slot machines. The hotel is comprised of three towers topped by a 340 metre long Sky Park and infinity swimming pool. A fourth tower is expected to be constructed by 2026.

After walking through the hotel we walked towards Gardens By The Bay. Inside Gardens By The Bay is Floral Fantasy, Supertree Grove, and two conservatories; the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. First stop was Floral Fantasy, which has four beautiful garden landscapes of floral artistry. It also has a 4D ride, however that was closed due to COVID.

Next door is Supertree Grove, which has 18 tree-like structures that tower over the Garden’s landscape with heights ranging from 25 to 50 metres (82-160 feet). The Supertree’s are vertical gardens that perform many functions including planting, shading, and mechanical functions for the gardens. They are covered in exotics ferns, vines, orchids, bromeliads, etc. They are even fitted with solar panels to harness solar energy to be used for lighting, collect rainwater, and serve as air intake and exhaust functions for the conservatories cooling systems. There is an elevated walkway called the OCBC Skyway, which links the two largest Supertree’s so that you can enjoy a panoramic view of the Gardens. Every evening at 745pm and 845pm the Supertree Grove comes alive with a coordinated light and music show, which is known as the Garden Rhapsody.

The Flower Dome is the largest greenhouse is the world at 3.0 acres, and replicates a cool-day Mediterranean climate. It features a changing display, flower field, and eight other gardens; including the Baobabs, Succulent Garden, Australian Garden, South African Garden, South American Garden, Olive Grove, California Garden, and the Mediterranean Garden. While we were they there was a special Hydrangeas display, with cute scenes with bunnies, sheep, a Dutch windmill, etc. The conservatory is designed by WilkinsonEyre and Grant Associates.

The Cloud Forest is slight smaller at 2.0 acres, although slightly higher, and replicates the cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions in SE Asia, Central America, and South America found between 1000-3000 metres (3300-9800 feet) above sea level. The Cloud Forest features a structure called the “Cloud Mountain”, which is completely clad in orchids, ferns, spike and clubmosses, bromeliads, and anthuriums. The conservatory is also designed by WilkinsonEyre and Grant Associates.

The sun was starting to set, and we were getting hungry, so we had some burgers at Shake Shack, which was located inside Gardens By The Bay. On our way out, we walked past the Garden Rhapsody at Supertree Grove to see the tree’s all lit up. It was pretty neat!

We then walked along Fullterton Road, which is located on the other side of Marina Bay. We saw the Fullerton Waterboat House, and Merlion.

The Fullerton Waterboat House is a historic water supply house that was formerly used to supply fresh water to incoming ships in Singapore. This beautiful three-storey Art Deco style building was built in 1919, and was used to supply fresh water to incoming vessels until 1990. In 2002 it was announced by the government that the building would be protected. In 2003 the building was renovated and opened up as a restaurant. While numerous restaurants have called the Fullerton Waterboat House home over the last 20 years, it still is used as a restaurant today. Basque Kitchen by Aitor, and European restaurant chain Picotin now call the building home as of 2021.

Merlion is the official mascot of Singapore. It is a mythical creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. It was first used in Singapore as a the logo for the tourism board as early as 1964, and is now widely used to represent both the city state and its people in sports teams, advertising, branding, tourism, and as national personification. The official Merlion Park was designated by the Singapore Tourism Board in 1964, and in 1972 officially opened the 8.6 metre tall Merlion Statue.

It was around 9pm, and we were fairly exhausted from only sleeping a few hours, so it was time to catch the MRT back to the hotel. It was about 1030pm by the time we settled in for bed.

Belgium – Brussels – Day 1 of 2

Today was the start of another travel adventure. This adventure involves Belgium, Luxembourg and Czech Republic.

My first stop was Brussels, Belgium via Amsterdam. I boarded my KLM Airbus A330-200 flight to Amsterdam at 2:20pm. The flight departed on time at 3:10pm. Flight time was roughly 9 hours gate to gate and went quite smoothly. There was free WiFi in the flight so I ended up chatting with a few friends. The flight arrived at 7:30am the following day.

I was supposed to have a quick 50 minute layover before boarding my next flight, but it ended up being almost 2 hours due to a technical fault. The original plane (an Embraer ERJ-190) was swapped for a Boeing 737-800. Flight time was roughly 45 minutes gate to gate.

After landing in Brussels I caught the train to the inner city for €8.90 ($11.70 CDN). After arriving at Brussels Central Station I visited St. Michael and St Gudula Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church in Gothic architecture style. The Cathedral was started sometime in the 9th Century but wasn’t completed until 1519.

The next stop was the Royal Gallery of Saint Hubert, a spectacular covered alleyway built by architect Jean-Pierre Cluysenaer completed in 1847. The gallery includes shops auditoriums, cafes, restaurants and apartments. I decided to visit Maison Danboy, a renowned bakery chain, where I ordered some delicious lemon and ginger cookies.

Next up was the Grand Place and surrounding Grand Square. The history of the Grand Palace started in the 11th and 12th Century, when a building was built on Coudenberg hill to house the Dukes of Brabant. Over the next few centuries the building was rebuilt, extended and improved to align with the increased prestige of the Dukes of Braband and their successors. The complex was destroyed in 1731 by a large fire and was eventually rebuilt in 1775. During this time excavations of the site unearthed various remains of different parts of the original palace as well as surrounding town. The monumental vaults still remain under the square and can be visited.

Next stop was a quick stop at the Brussels Stock Exchange, a beautiful building designed by architect Léon-Pierre Suys. The building was completed on the site of a former butter market in 1873 and housed the Brussels Stock Exchange until 1996. The building has since been transformed to a museum.

I then stumbled upon the Brussels Les Halles Saint-Géry, a former covered market that was completed in 1881. The market now houses Brussels Vintage Market, which is a collection of 40 vintage and second-hand merchants and more than 20 designers.

At this point in time I was starting to get hungry so I started to seek out some food at the well renowned Tonton Garby, but more on that in a minute. On my way to Tonton Garby I stopped at a famous fountain of a young boy peeing called “Manneken Pis”. Okay now onto Tonton Garby; the best way to describe this place is it has the most delicious sandwiches being served up by one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. I was recommended this place by numerous blogs and YouTube videos, so I figured it had to be good; I was not disappointed. While I was eating my sandwich I met a wonderful couple from the Rochester area in the US. They had just recently gotten married and are travelling the world together. We chatted for a bit before going our separate ways.

Next up was a few other sights before visiting the Place Royale and Royal Palace. Place Royale, also known as the King’s Square, is a historic neoclassical square in the Royal Quarter that was completed in 1782 as part of an urban project.

The Royal Palace is situated in front of Brussles Park and was designed by multiple architects including Chislain-Joseph Henry, Charles Vander Straeten, Tilman-François Suys, Alphonse Balat, Henri Maquet, and Octave Flanneau. Construction started in 1783, but wasn’t completed until 1934 when the new facade was finally completed. The impressive facade is 50% longer than that of Buckingham Palace in Great Britain, but it has less than half of the square footage of Buckingham Palace.

My energy levels were starting to dwindle so I walked towards my Hotel; Hotel Retro, a cozy mid-range boutique hotel. Before checking into the hotel I checked out the beautiful Le Botanique conservatory.

Check-in was very seamless. I was placed in Room 501, a penthouse room at the top with wonderful skylights overlooking the city. I decided to take a 3 hour nap before continuing on my grand adventure.

After waking up from my nap I was feeling much refreshed and ready to do more exploring. I walked to the nearby Metro station and boarded a train to the University area where I took a bunch of pictures of some beautiful buildings; one in particular caught my eye; Villa Empain. Villa Empain was built in 1934 by swiss architect Michel Polak in the Art Deco style. As many of you may know from reading previous blog posts of mine; I’m a huge sucker for Art Deco.

It was time to get some dinner so I walked towards Flagey square, where there was a beautiful building and somewhere I wanted to eat called Frit Flagey. Unfortunately at this time is when a group of men tried to rob me, but I managed to escape through some alleyways. Never in my 38 countries of travel have I had an attempted robbery. I’m a fairly careful person but they surrounded me so quickly as I was trying to take a photo of the Art Deco style Flagey building.

I walked around for a bit and came back to Flagey square about 45 minutes lated to eat at Frit Flagey; I was not disanointed. I then obtained some beers from a local beer store called Melting Pot. The gentleman recommended me a few beers to try.

I then took a bus back to my hotel where I enjoyed my beers, edited photos, and typed up my blog.

Be sure to check back tomorrow when I explore Brussels in further detail!

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Chicago!!!

Two weekends ago I had the wonderful opportunity to visit my friend Chelsea in the beautiful city of Chicago, Illinois. I spent three glorious days in the Windy City eating and drinking my way through the amazing city, while soaking up the amazing architecture in this metropolis that 9.5 million people call home (2.7 million in the greater Chicago area).

Chicago, the third most populous area in the USA, was founded in 1780 and officially was recognized as a city in 1837. Chicago had a spectacular fire in 1871 which destroyed many homes and left over 100,000 people homeless. This didn’t stop the city from rebuilding and by 1900 the construction boom and population influx left the city as being the fifth most populous city in the world at the turn of the 20th century.

Chicago is now an international hub for finance, culture, commerce, industry, technology, communications, and transportation. It also is a massive destination for tourism, with over 58 million visitors annually!

Below is a handful of the photographs that I took on my weekends adventures with Chelsea. I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet many of her friends while I was there.

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