Archive for April, 2011

It’s been a while since Aude and I have been on a proper vacation, so we planned two weeks in Asia to coincide with the long Easter break, starting with three days in Singapore and then just over a week in Vietnam.

Aude on SWISS flight to Bangkok

Settling into our seats on the SWISS flight to Bangkok

Tickets were courtesy of my frequent flyer miles, which unfortunately meant that we were flying SWISS rather than Singapore Airlines, since they don’t release award seats on their A380 aircraft. Neither of us particularly like flying with SWISS, at least not on the old planes with their extremely slopey seats. You spend the entire flight trying not to end up curled into a little ball on the floor every time you fall asleep.

It nearly went from bad to worse – a quick look at the menu revealed that dinner offerings were a main-course soup, a vegetarian couscous, or a steak.

The first two choices both break some of my long-held dietary beliefs, namely 1) soup is not food and 2) a meal isn’t a meal without meat. I’m not a big fan of steak on planes, but in this case, it was the best of a bad lot.

We were sitting in the very last row of the cabin. It was touch-or-go about whether they’d run out of steak before they got to our row, but in the end, we were in luck. I ended up with a steak (not great, but not terrible) and Aude chose the vegetarian couscous (just as lousy as it sounds, reports Aude).

I know that no one flies for the food, but come on, SWISS. On an 11-hour flight, you should offer a proper meal. When you’ve spent the better part of $4000 on a business-class ticket, it’s a bit cheeky to try to fob someone off with a bowl of soup.

Okay, that’s my white whine for the day.

Singha Beer and dim sum at the Thai Lounge at BKK

Almost worth the stopover in Bangkok: Singha Beer and dim sum at the Thai Lounge in BKK airport

We changed planes in Bangkok for our connecting flight to Singapore (on Thai – bigger, more comfortable-seats and better food, despite a flight-time of just under two hours) and arrived mid-afternoon. As always at Changi airport, we were through passport control in minutes, and our bags came out almost immediately.

A quick flip through my blog reveals that I haven’t been to Singapore since December 2009. That’s not entirely true – I passed through the airport on my way to Indonesia in January, but I barely had time to change planes, so that doesn’t really count. In any case, a lot has changed in 18 months, including the completion of the Singapore Flyer (a huge Ferris wheel) and the construction of an incredible new casino complex.

It was Aude’s first visit to Singapore, though, so we made sure we hit all the highlights. We started with dinner at a hawker centre, a great first taste of Singapore (see what I did there with that clever pun?) followed by a walk along the waterfront and a drink at Indochine. We spent considerable time looking for the Merlion (“I swear it was right here the last time I was in Singapore”) only to discovered that it’s been covered in cladding as part of a temporary art exhibit. At least we got views of the spectacular new casino, which was still being constructed the last time I was in Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino, Singapore, at night

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel & Casino, Singapore

Singapore Merlion and Merlion Hotel

We spent ages looking for the Merlion, which seemed to have disappeared since my last trip. ("No, I swear Aude, it was right here the last time I was in Singapore!") Turns out it was housed in the red 'Merlion Hotel' in the shot -- some art project that most of the locals dislike.

Singapore CBD skyline at night

Skyline of the Singapore Business district, as seen from the harbour

Singapore Flyer at night

The Singapore Flyer, Singapore's answer to the London Eye

Esplande Centre in Signapore

The Esplande Centre in Signapore, otherwise known as the 'Durian' CentreThe classic Fullerton Hotel in Singapore

Over the next few days, we hit all the big sights in Singapore: shopping on Orchard Road, visiting Chijmes, Arab Street and Little India. We hit the Funan centre to buy a new camera for Aude, and sampled some of the nightlife at Clarke Quay. We had white pepper crab at No Signboard Seafood (where we encountered the fiercest, rudest dragon of a hostess I’ve ever encountered).

Aude in Clarke Quay

Aude absorbs the ambiance of the nightlife in Clarke Quay

Mosque on Arab Street, Singapore

Mosque on Arab Street, Singapore

Arab Street, Singapore

Arab Street, SingaporeArab Street, Singapore

Singapore buildings

Singapore buildings

Little India, Singapore

Little India, SingaporeLittle India, Singapore

Aude in Little India, Singapore

Aude in Little India, Singapore

Finally, we hit Raffles for a Singapore Sling – horrendously overpriced, but a must-visit spot on any trip to Singapore.

Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore. Be sure to throw your shells on the floor.

Singapore Sling and Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore

Singapore Sling and Peanuts at Raffles Hotel, Singapore. At US$25 a drink, something of an expensive photo opportunity.

Aude poses with a Singapore Sling

Aude poses with a Singapore Sling

Matthew drinking a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel
Drinking a Singapore Sling at Raffles Hotel

All-in-all, a great visit and an easy way to get into the swing of Asia before starting off on our real adventure: Vietnam.

Aude enjoying a summer BBQ

Aude getting ready to enjoy a spring BBQ


Matt cooking ribs on the BBQ

Neil complained the other day that there were more pictures of the cats on my blog than Aude (I notice he didn’t mention anything about there not being enough pictures of me on the blog, but I’ve chalked this up as an oversight on his part and have included one of myself as well).  It’s only fitting, then, that I dedicate this post to him.

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and that was definitely the case today.  I bought a few racks of ribs to throw on the BBQ, neglecting to check in advance whether I had any barbecue sauce in the fridge.  Sure enough, the cupboard was bare, and this being Sunday, all of the shops were closed.  Two trips to the local petrol stations yielded plenty of ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, but no barbecue sauce.  So I had no choice but to make my own.

Fifteen minutes of Googling later, I had a recipe that I could assemble with the ingredients in the house and a little creativity.  Ketchup, tomato paste, garlic, onions, paprika, chilli, cayenne pepper, black pepper, cider vinegar, brown sugar and bourbon, plus a splash of Worchester sauce, a dollop of mustard and a little soy sauce all came together to make an improvised BBQ sauce that turned out to be great.

All in all, a pretty good Sunday.  We had a nice walk through the forest behind our house this afternoon, discovering a new castle (how often does that happen?) and finding a great vantage point to survey our whole village.  Five loads of laundry.  Lunch and dinner on the balcony. 

What more do you need on a weekend but that?

Daisy with pollen on her nose

Caught! Daisy maintains she wasn't in the flowers, but her yellow nose tells a different story!


It’s a beautiful spring afternoon and we just finished lunch on the balcony.  The barbecue has had a real workout over the past few days, Aude has been busy potting plants, and all around us the trees are beginning to bloom.  It’s getting tougher and tougher to spend time in the office, staring out the window at the glorious weather outside and hoping that it lasts until the weekend.  This weekend we’ve been lucky — the weather has lasted and the weekend as been picture-perfect.

I made the mistake of taking my winter tyres off too early last year, just in time for a late surprise snowfall, but this year I think I’ve left them on long enough.  We’re about to go on vacation for a few weeks, but after we get back I think I can safely remove them without the danger of an early May snowfall.

We are getting excited about our upcoming vacation — a few days in Singapore followed by a week-and-a-half in northern Vietnam.  Friends of ours were scheduled to visit Tokyo at the same time, but they’ve sensibly decided to take a detour and will be coming to Vietnam instead, so we’ll be able to catch up with them in Hanoi for dinner. 

For today, though, we need to juggle a mountain of laundry and my US tax return with a walk in the forest and some beautiful spring sunshine.  I suspect I know where my priorities lie…