FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Auckland to London (via Singapore)

Posted in Auckland, New Zealand, Singapore by folkestonejack on January 9, 2016

Our last morning in New Zealand before we head home saw the weather turn decidedly wet and blustery, rain hammering down a good six hours earlier than forecast. The apron at Auckland airport looked quite miserable and a complete contrast to the summery sight of a few weeks ago.

It was still raining as we boarded our Singapore Airlines A380 and the air hostesses had to tell us to mind the rain (dripping down across the doorway) as we stepped over from the air bridge. Our flight took off on time, with the ‘treat’ of a bumpy climb until we got clear of the clouds.

Sunrise at Changi Airport

Sunrise at Changi Airport

Singapore couldn’t have been more of a contrast with hot and sticky conditions to greet us. An overnight stay in airport hotel helped us get over the first flight before tackling the 14 hour second leg to London. Our room was air-conditioned, though we seemed to have it set to deep-freeze us overnight (quite a feat in the heat of this city). It had rained overnight, though it didn’t seem to have any effect on the heat.

It was great to walk out of the hotel and into the airport, ready to tackle our day locked in a film festival in the sky. Our flight made it into London Heathrow on time but half of our luggage had decided to stay on and enjoy the heat of Singapore for a bit longer. Grrr.

Postscript. Our remaining luggage was located after a couple of days, flown home and delivered by courier. Almost a happy ending if you overlook the items that went missing from inside the case somewhere along the way!

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Gardens by the Bay

Posted in Singapore by folkestonejack on December 20, 2015

I have wanted to visit the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ ever since I saw a picture of the remarkable supertrees illuminated at sunset in an inflight magazine. The supertrees are vertical plant displays that range between 25 and 50 metres in height, with a treetop walkway that offers wonderful views of the displays and the gardens beyond.

The supertrees at Gardens by the Bay

The supertrees at Gardens by the Bay

Although the garden has much to offer the temperature and humidity was already proving too much for us by mid morning so we concentrated our visit on the two cooled conservatories. One of these, the flower dome, is the world’s largest columnless glasshouse and makes for an impressive walk through the flora and fauna from the semi-arid environments of the mediterranean and sub-tropical regions.

However, the highlight of the visit was a trip to the Cloud Forest. Once you enter this tall greenhouse you are immediately met with a wonderful 35 metre high waterfall flowing from a mountain of vegetation. A lift takes you to the top of this mountain and from here you can take a leisurely walk back down to the base. Along the way there are some rather wonderful wood sculptures that appear to emerge from the raw material – these are well worth lingering over.

Sculpture in the secret gardens at Cloud Forest

Sculpture in the secret gardens at Cloud Forest

On top of the daytime delights, it is worth visiting the gardens in the evening (or finding a vantage point high up) to see the light show that takes place every night.

The gardens are still a relatively young attraction, having only opened in June 2012 but have clearly already become established as a must-see in Singapore. As stopover sights go, this has to be the best way to chill out after hours crammed in a metal box in the sky!

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Singapore stopover

Posted in Singapore by folkestonejack on December 20, 2015

I have learnt that it is never wise to cram too much into a stopover as you can never be sure how alive you will be or how much brainpower remains after such an exercise in sleep deprivation!

The infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands Skypark

The infinity pool at Marina Bay Sands Skypark

We had booked a room in Singapore’s most striking hotel, Marina Bay Sands, and been rather delighted to be upgraded to a suite. This was larger than my flat back home and absurdly equipped with more facilities than we knew what to do with – across the four rooms that made up the suite I counted eighteen seats, three sinks and two toilets!

Our stopover gave us sufficient time to take advantage of the hotel’s remarkable infinity pool, located on the surfboard like platform that sits atop the three towers of the hotel (known as the skypark). It was rather amazing to be able to swim to the edge at sunrise and peer over at the city skyline.

As the day warmed up (to an uncomfortable temperature in the mid 30s accompanied by humidity of close to 80%) we made our way into the gardens in the bay, followed by a walk to the artscience museum. Our sightseeing choices were based on the prospect of air conditioned coolness rather than anything else!

The current exhibition at the museum was ‘Collider – the world’s greatest experiment’ was a rather marvellous immersive walk through the story of the Hadron Collider and the discovery of the Higgs bosun.

Although not the most obvious choice for a stopover with a sleepy brain ‘Collider’ proved a great way to spend an hour, cleverly using a mixture of theatre, art-installation and objects to explain a difficult concept. For example, in one zone a corridor from CERN had been re-created with a particle physicist’s office. This included all the posters and notices from every day life (I rather loved the lost cat notice which read ‘Please return dead and alive to Erwin Schrodinger!’).

I came out of the exhibition enlightened, but the last of my brainpower for the day had gone. It was time to head back to the airport, grab some food and get ready for our next flight.

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A380 to Auckland

Posted in Auckland, England, London, New Zealand, Singapore by folkestonejack on December 19, 2015

I am used to spending the Christmas break in the wintry setting of the UK and usually work the few days between Christmas and New Year. However, this year I am heading to the southern hemisphere for the holidays care of Singapore airlines.

Our Singapore Airlines A380 at Auckland

Our Singapore Airlines A380 at Auckland

The start to our travels were a little less than smooth – an unhelpful checkin assistant having failed to check our bags all the way through (a supervisor told us afterwards that this was perfectly possible, but by this time our bags had been sent down and it was now too late – arghh!). However, on reflection the most important thing was that we were on the plane as we gathered that it had been oversold.

I have seen a few A380s at airshows but never been inside one before. If truth be told, it didn’t feel any different to any other plane as we settled ourselves in for the thirteen hour flight to Singapore. One surprise was the sight of christmas garlands hung up throughout the cabin, a neat seasonal touch.

I am always amazed by how well anyone sleeps on these things, so tend to treat them as a night locked in a cinema (with the opportunity to discover films that you’ve never even heard of and might never normally watch). Our first flight was no exception to the usual pattern, with just 15 minutes of sleep and three films completed by the time we landed.

Thankfully, we had booked a night’s rest in a hotel in Singapore before taking on the next flight to Auckland. I wasn’t entirely looking forward to this, having been awarded the booby prize of a seat in the last row of the plane’s lower deck (theoretically a window seat, just missing the window!). It will be good to have some time to stretch our legs and chill out before this.