Monday, January 11, 2010

Two out of three ain't bad

Classic Singapore Sling recipe
3 oz pineapple juice
1.5 oz Gin
1/2 oz Cherry brandy
1/4 oz lime juice
1/4 oz Cointreau
1/4 oz Dom Benedictine
Grenadine for color
Dash of Angostura Bitters

Shake, strain, and garnish with a slice of pineapple and a cherry

beware: it's one of those "harmless" tasting drinks.

So our three days in Singapore became two. Such is life. I was happy that Mike hadn't washed his hands of me and my planning. Either he's a glutton for punishment or I really am that cute.

Best not to speculate.

The very first thing we noticed was that the escalators in the airport were faster than any others we'd ridden. Whoa, you're in Singapore, let's get a move on!

The island city-state Singapore is known for being well-organised, polite, and above all, clean. Spotlessly clean. This is the place where gum is illegal and there are fines if you do not completely flush the toilet. (Whose job is it to enforce that one again?) Feeding the birds is forbidden, and God help you if you spit.

Actually, the spitting thing is banned in Dubai too.

Singapore may be obsessed with cleanliness and timeliness, but is neither sterile nor stuffy. It is a beautiful place of silvery palm trees, eye-pleasing architecture, people from all over the world, and very importantly, it's known for its cuisine. Magic words. Mike in particular gave Singapore the hmmmm...would we like to take a job here? once-over.

I wouldn't say no.

The two cities, Singapore and Dubai, remind me of one another. Business-centric cities, with a good dash of tourism, stunning to look at, and very livable. Singapore has the historical advantage, Dubai the exotic Arabian feel.

Of course they compete with one another. I love that.

By the time our taxi dropped us at the Fullerton Hotel, we had been coddled throughout our vacation, well used to never having to open doors for ourselves, or summon our own elevator, Heaven forbid, and to being treated quite well for our money.

In fact, had we stayed at a lesser hotel in Bangkok they probably would have said "look, lady, you changed your reservations, and now you're changing them back again, what is your problem?" instead of the unflaggingly polite yes Madam, of course madam, no matter how whacked out you are you are always right and wonderful and we live to serve you that I got.

The Fullerton, though, was yet another step up in perfection. Ah...colonial opulence.

The coattails of the doormen were the longest, the smiles the exact correct wattage, and I even got the staff to speak to me like a human being instead of a god. Of all our destination homes, I was most excited about getting to stay in the historic Fullerton, 1928. An imposing neo-classical building crafted from light grey grantite brought from Aberdeen, Scotland, it overlooks the sea on one side and the Singapore River on the other.

Originally the Post Office and government offices had taken up residence on the lower floors and, in proper British style, the exclusive Singapore Club made use of the upper ones. It sounds very Wooster and Jeeves, m'boy.

Then, and today:

During WWII the building's thick walls made it a last refuge for the British and a hospital for wounded soldiers. After Singapore was surrendered to the Japanese, Governor Thomas was marched away to Changi Prison for the duration of the war. The Japanese, knowing a good thing when they saw it, then made the Fullerton their headquarters.

In 1997, and this is the really cool part of the story for us, a Hong Kong company spent 300 million dollars and three years to renovate the Fullerton into the magnificent place we were walking into. They restored it to its former glory and won award after award for hotel and historical preservation excellence.

An atrium soared overhead, the inside open and airy, all leather seats and crystal and hushed echoes, respendant with Christmas decorations. Of course our kids were only interested in the carp ponds among magnificent twin curved staircases.

Our "last minute" suite, thanks to my inability to translate dates on a calendar, was amazing. Overlooking the Singapore River and Promenade. It was, without question, the nicest place I have even stayed, bar none. I had set up the reservation, but even so I got a choking feeling while we explored our new domicile, could we honestly afford this? We were almost giggling, big eyed, checking out all the accoutrements of our rooms. Check it out, a mini stairstepper for the executive. The fabrics! The lighting! Luxurious this, exquisite that.

Now, look back up at the photo of the Fullerton. See the flagpole on the top, there? See the two little dots sticking up, just below it, above the three windows? That's Mike and Bethy on our balcony. Seriously.

And then, the source of much happiness:

Nothing like staying in a totally fabulous place with your kids fighting to be allowed to make you the next cup of gorgeously foamy coffee. Then you take it out to your enormous balcony and survey all below you...yes, one could get used to this.

Although, because it was truly special, I wouldn't want to get used to it. It was a treat. A real treat.

The hotel had been recommended to us by Nigel, my British running friend who also happens to be a bit of a high-powered banker in the shipping industry. Obviously he has some really, really good taste.

(Later, as I was raving to him about his taste, he sheepishly confessed that though he's made many trips to Singapore he's never actually stayed in the Fullerton, and that his clients in Singapore have given him much grief for not doing so. Me too. It really is a must-do.)

As guests of the 8th floor, we had complimentary access to the beautiful afternoon teas, cocktails, and then champagne breakfasts in the Straits Club. On that first day we missed all of them and had to console ourselves at the Penny Black Victorian London Pub. Fish and chips and real British beers and a view of the Fullerton.

We made do.

The next day we wandered around the Promenade and across the street to the iconic Merlion.

I stopped to pick up coffees and a Singapore Starbucks cup (I'm getting quite the collection) and the rest proceeded out to the Merlion. The kids were immediately set upon by the usual crush of Asian photographers. Fine. However, this time one man, intent on getting a photo of Thomas, pushed Mike aside.

This did not go over well with Mike.

Fortunately Mike managed not to kill anyone (Changi Prison, not so good) and kept most of his reaction limited to snarling, removing Thomas, growling, and eventually drowning his anger in a nice Grande Mocha. (Thank you, Starbucks.)

The MRT train was as prompt, quick, and tidy as one would expect and we took a little ride to the Harbor Mall to pick up a few things. I had thought we would go over to Sentosa Island, which I had foolishly imagined to be a sort of nature reserve, beaches and trams and a butterfly garden. Upon closer inspection we realised that's like thinking going to Disney Animal Kingdom is going to the park. Looking at the hopped-up crowds queing up en masse, we decided it would be better to have a quiet day and save the excitement for our evening.

So, bought some clean underwear, (that's important while you're travelling -what if you get in an accident and all that,) went to Toys R Us for the kids haircuts, Thomas' first in a while:

and Bethy's hair got a liberal spraydown of bright red after her cut, which pleased her no end. All the other kids getting hair done had jet black hair, and that spray was a little more subtle on them.

Hers faded to pink over several weeks, and finally away.

We also followed that cherished tourist tradition of more eating out and being generally indulgent.

Mike and a

Back on the MRT so as to not miss tea, a proper tea at the Straits Club, which consisted of trying to make the kids understand how to behave in a genteel atmosphere, even as I got scones and clotted cream and fruits and lovely chocolates and tea and Bethy piled her plate with all sorts of candies, gummy worms and such.

Little kids, well, not so genteel.

That evening we took a taxi out of town to the Singapore Zoo's Night Safari. We'd been told if we did nothing else, that that was the thing to do. So we did it. After dark, muscular, athletic men in loincloths in a "native" highly pyrotechnic fire-breathing show, which impressed Bethy especially:

We liked it too. Those guys could keep a flame going. I cracked up that Mike was most interested in figuring out what they were using to make the flames, deciding it must be ethanol, as often they would take a swig and then have to hold it in their mouths for a long time.

Then we joined a line to ride an open bus out into the zoo where we saw the animals relaxing in the cool nighttime air. I loved that our kids were incredibly entertained by speculating would we have a tiger bus....or a giraffe bus...or a zebra bus...? Good stuff. The animals themselves were not terribly photographable, at least not with my gear, but educational good stuff.

The kids were very into it, and were therefore totally pooped out in the taxi home as we rode through the city, trees extensively garlanded with Christmas lights, and the loveliness of a city after dark.

And we'd missed our complimentary cocktails again. I wrangled a couple of glasses of red wine for us, why not? That's being on vacation.

The next morning we packed our things and took a taxi to the harbor where we boarded the Asian cruise ship Superstar Virgo.

and headed out into the waters of Singapore Harbor where there were a mind-boggling amount of ships to drive home the point, if there was ever any question, that Singapore is a major port.

We were the only Americans on board.


Ghost said...

Sentosa Island as a nature reserve? Which joker gave you that idea? That has to be the funniest thing I ever read on this blog.

Natalie said...

Aren't you glad we figured it out before we went out there?

Sadly, that joker was all me, trying to ferret things out online.

Is that seriously the funniest thing you've read on here? Did you read about my good intentions to only have one beer with the hashers? Or how we went to the airport 24 hours after we were supposed to be there? How about the time...oh, never mind.

I live to amuse you all. Enjoy.

Natalie said...

PS. loved your city, Ghost!

*Paula* said...

What an adventure! You've sold me on the need to go to Singapore!

Cathy O. said...

Wish we could share a Singapore Sling... miss you! If I ever go to Singapore, the Fullerton is on my list for the place to stay. Beautiful.

Mom2ABJ said...

Please tell me you had chili crab while in Singapore!!! I will be crushed if you hadn't!

Leone said...

We had dinner at The Fullerton for our anniversary last year ..... seriously awesome. Had the roof top to ourselves, even the wine brought up to us .... the views from the very top are unbelievable.

We were treated so special and then dinner in the Italian Restaurant.

The Chef has now moved on and opened his own place near Shenton Way ... and it is busy every night.

Tanya said...

and thats exactly why we go to Singapore for a bit of development (as opposed to the 'developing' country we live in)although we've never stayed at the Fullerton- how fab to be able to enjoy such a gorgeous hotel!! I have so loved reading about all your adventures and yes I think you'd LOVE Italy too. Its a different kind of fabulousness where are you off to next?

Natalie said...

We have NO IDEA where we're off to next. It all depends on how long we stay in Dubai, and that is very much in the air. In a good way. I would love to hike in Nepal, go to Africa, Turkey, Italy, France, the UK, the list goes on and on. Mike and I would escape to Morocco or Lebanon if we had someone to watch the kids. We'd also go back to Northern Thailand. Then there's Hong Kong, Viet Nam and Cambodia...see what I mean? It's mind boggling!

In a good way.

Natalie said...

And I forgot Egypt. Mustn't forget Egypt.