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Saturday, October 29, 2011

I touched a snake!

Last night brought Joe and I to the famous Singapore Night Safari. On the other side of Singapore it is a very well built zoo next to another zoo...with another one being built right next to it! My biggest regret is that we didn't have more time. We booked what we thought were tickets and transfer but ended up being a tour that meant we had to leave at 10:10 instead of closer to midnight like we had planned. It was a whirlwind of animals and LOTS of people queueing for the 45 minute tram ride (due to the Deepawali and Halloween festivities) but we had some great close-up experiences. The tram ride itself was OK, but we really enjoyed our walk through the park. We had a giant flying squirrel run over our feet, got face to face with adorable flying foxes and watched them squabble over food. They also had several binturongs (gotta love an animal that smells like popcorn and is also called a bearcat) cut slow loris', tarsiers and bat eared foxes!!! I love those animals! I even touched a snake (and there is photographic evidence to prove it) a sweet boa constrictor...didn't even freak me out! Perhaps I am growing up! We wish we had more time, but it was still a fun experience.

This morning we woke up early and had breakfast at the famous Raffles Hotel and it is gorgeous as advertised. As we weren't a guest we couldn't partake in the Sunday brunch but we did go to the on site bakery where we had an Eastern breakfast. I had tasty dim sum with BBQ'd pork and Joe had something called Nasi Lemok (I believe that is what it was..need to double check) which consisted of coconut rice, chili sauce and a salty fish all wrapped in a banana leaf. It was pretty good and a nice cap to our Singapore eating experience...though we are eager to come back in two weeks and try some more delicious cuisine. your heart out!

Now we are waiting in the incredible Changi airport which is hands down the best airport I have ever visited. They really know how to do things right in Singapore! Swimming pool, jacuzzi, gardens, shopping, movie theatres, spas, napping area...this is a well thought out airport!

Well, my time is running out on the Internet clock so I have to run. Off to Phuket for a true rain forest adventure. Hope I don't see any swimming cobras!


Cat & Joe

"Tastes good...yummy yummy!

If I had to sum up Singapore in a few words I think that "tastes good, yummy yummy!" would say it all. These are the words we heard as we visited our first hawker stand (street food) yesterday afternoon. Singapore is a city whose citizens don't eat to live...they live to kind of people! A melting pot of cultures and cuisines, Singapore is a gastronomical delight and Joe and I were determined to make every minute count.
We arrived around lunch time but weren't able to make it to our hotel until about 2pm. The Pan Pacific Singapore is a gorgeous hotel located right in the center of everything. We were met by out personal concierge and brought to our room where a beautiful bouquet of red roses and purple hydrangeas was waiting. Apparently Joe had called ahead and booked a couple of surprises for me which were very much appreciated. We were upgraded to a deluxe balcony room with a breathtaking view of the city, flowers and a special anniversary cake. Joe is definitely a keeper!
After freshening up we left the hotel and made our way to the Esplanade and the Mankasutra hawker stand. There we tried Char key Teow a spicy Chinese noodle dish and rojak- a doughy concoction of breaded potato and egg mixed into a sort of salad. We topped these off with fresh squeezed lime juice and sugarcane juice with lemon. Delicious! From there we walked down the Esplanade and past the famous Merlion Park. The merlion is an iconic figure in Singapore and consists of a mermaid with a lion's head spouting water. These statues can be seen in several locations around the city.
From there we went to La Pa Sat another famous hawker stand. This place was a veritable emporium of smells and tastes. Each stall served up sumptuous dishes from all over Asia. We chose roti prata a famous dish that is sort of like a pancake filled with spicy chicken with chile sauce on the side. After that we were exhausted and found our way back to the hotel where took in the night view of the city and then used our remote control to lower the blinds before falling into dreamland.
This morning we woke up and watched the news (yes Bangkok is flooding..but we think we will still be OK to get out to Cambodia on the 3rd...we'll see. Otherwise we'll just do something else!) and prepared for the day. We booked a hop on/hop off sightseeing bus and made our way to Chinatown which proved to offer up an incredible travel experience.
Upon arriving to Chinatown we made our way to the Maxwell Center (another treasure trove of street food). As we were taking pictures outside a man came up to us and said "you have to try the chicken rice." We said "we know Tian Tian's supposed to be amazing." Well we got to talking for a couple of minutes and he said "follow me, I'll show you my favorites." From there he told us his name was Eric and became our personal culinary tour guide. We learned that he used to study in Oregon and when I told him I worked at the Monterey Bay Aquarium his eyes lit up and he said he had been there three times! He then took us to Tian Tian's chicken rice (a place I had read about in two books and seen on Anthony Bourdain) and helped us order chicken rice, half a chicken and upon his insistence bean sprouts with cuttlefish. (Yes Aquarium coworkers...I did eat a cuttlefish...and it was tasty). While we ordered he told us how to eat our food and bought us lime juice and coconut juice, served in the coconut. Joe was a little wary because he was spending so much time with us but I had read that Singaporeans were very friendly and loved to share their food.
After about an hour of eating and chatting he said, wait you have to try this and then bought us Tanglin curry puffs, one chicken and one sardine. I said "well I'm not sure about the sardines...I feed them to the penguins..." He said "trust me...this is not penguin food." He was was one of the best things I have ever tasted. We offered to repay him but he wouldn't hear of it!
After filling our bellies he asked us how much time we had. We told him we were pretty open and he took us to the Buddha tooth relic temple across the street. He walked around with us through all five floors and explained a lot of what we were seeing. After that he offered to take us to the National Museum but we declined as we wanted to move on. I gave him my work info and said if he was ever in Monterey again I would be happy to show him around and after the personal tour he gave us, I hope he takes me up on the offer. Meeting him and getting that personal touch, just because he felt like sharing was one of the best travel experiences I have ever had and will always have a place in my heart.
After that we went to the Sri Mariaman Hindu temple to take some stunning pictures and then made our way back to Maxwell Center and had a famous banana fritter before moving on to Little India. At that point we were drenched in monsoonal downpours so we went to the Banana Leaf Apollo to do what of course! We had a delicious dinner of chicken kurma, samosas and lime and watermelon juices before making it back to the hotel.
That's all for now. We have to run...I hear the animals calling and it's almost time to pick up our bus for the Night Safari tour!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Time to dust off the old suitcases....

You probably thought I had disappeared never to be heard from again and certainly not in blog form. There were times that I kind of thought that too. However, after a wonderful trip to Africa, a nine month job search with a fabulous ending at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a cross country move and over two years of very hard work....the time has come to cross another continent off of our list.

After a lot of adjustment to our new environs and job, Joe and I found that we had a serious case of wanderlust. After much discussion, we decided to conquer Asia. Now, you may not realize this...but Asia is HUGE and full of infinite possibilities. After several arduous months spent pouring over travel books, web sites and old episodes of the Amazing Race..we finally narrowed our choices down to SE Asia. What did we learn from this? We learned that SE Asia alone is HUGE! Back the old drawing board we went and finally came up with a whirlwind sampler of SE Asia and in true Chiappa is going to be epic.

Our journey began in San Francisco last night where we boarded the Cadillac of planes hosted by Cathay Pacific. Things were rocky at first as we realized we hadn't been assigned seats together (three years ago when we went abroad we couldn't check in online ahead of time...but now you can). Over 14 hours of flying on one plane and not together...I have to say this redhead was quite distressed. Luckily a kind flight attendant put in a seat request and we ended up with some of the best seats of all....bulkhead seats! We had nobody in front of us and I could actually rest my long limbs on the wall in front of me from time to time. Cathay Pacific also has these great seats encased in a shell that slide forward which means you don't disturb the person behind you.

The food was pretty good (and we enjoyed our Cup of Noodles snack about 8 hours in) but the best part was the Entertainment system. We have flown a lot, but never has there been a better system to stay occupied. They have over 100 movies, entire TV series, language lessons (Joe has now learned that the word for Cat in Thai sounds like "meow" can imagine what he is calling me now...) and loads of games. Joe and I even played trivia against each other (though we decided we were too young for some of the questions). Of course we got a little could you not when flying for 14 hours...but overall it was a great experience.

We landed in Hong Kong about an hour ago and I am writing to you via the free internet station in the airport. Gotta love technology! It is very overcast (turns out we didn't leave the Monterey fog behind) but it looks like a fun place to explore. So many little time... It will have to wait for another trip.

For now, it's onward Singapore..and almost four more hours of flying! Remember....Asia=huge. See you soon!