Monday, January 27, 2014

Old and New in Paris

Paris, Stravinsky Fountain, Saint-Merri, street art, Jef Aerosol, Chuuuuttt!

Here's another view of Stravinsky Fountain which I mentioned in my post about the Pompidou Center next door. What draws me to this scene is the juxtaposition of old and new, the modern and the traditional, the quirky and the classic.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Modern Art and Confusion at the Pompidou Centre

Outside Paris' Pompidou Centre, you can see blue air ducts, green pipes for liquids, yellow electricity conduits, and red escalators and elevators.

The Pompidou Centre was not on my original itinerary for our Paris trip last June. My daughter was the one who suggested it. Since I gave my kids the Lonely Planet Not-for-Parents Paris Everything you ever wanted to know book prior to our holiday, I should have suspected that it may inspire them to make requests.

"Well, why are you interested in the Pompidou Centre?" I asked.

She replied, "The book says it's inside out and upside down."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sunset Cruise around Penang

Wind rushes through my hair as the yacht skims over the water. We're celebrating my friend's birthday on a Sunset Cruise around Penang Island. We relax on the comfy seats at the front of the boat raising our wine glasses in a toast and spend the next hours chatting and laughing while enjoying the sights. Ah, this is the life.

I'm on a boat!

For as many times as I've looked out over the water around Penang Island, I haven't actually spent much time on the water gazing back at the land. I've seen so many boats out there, from small fishing boats to sailboats to the cruise ships that pass by my home daily. Would it be my turn soon? Sure, I could hop on the ferry from George Town to Butterworth on the mainland or even hire a tiny boat to take me to Monkey Beach. But my fantasy voyage was doing it the high class, luxury way. When my friends asked if I wanted to join them on a cruise from Straits Quay down to the First Bridge and back with Blue Whale Cruises, I jumped at the chance. 

KOMTAR towers over the rest of George Town as a ferry makes its way to the island.

I've been to the restaurants and stores adjoining Straits Quay Marina so many times, but this is the first time that the gate to the private pier swings open for us, admitting us to the restricted area. With a dozen of us in the birthday party, we had the entire boat to ourselves. Well, except for the crew and Eileen, owner of Blue Whale and quite a delightful hostess. You didn't expect us to operate the boat ourselves, did you? As we climb aboard, Eileen cheerfully greets each of us with a delicious chilled glass of juice. After a short safety talk ("There are the life jackets if you need one. Don't touch the controls!"), we commence with our journey.

Picking out the various Penang landmarks from the unfamiliar vantage point of being on the water is entertaining. Many of us live on this side of the island, so the first part of the excursion is spent trying to find the condos we call home. KOMTAR, easily the tallest building on the island at 65-storeys tall, is obvious to identify.

A look across the Straits to a ferry boat by Butterworth

The part of Butterworth that's easiest to spot comes across as very industrial with its tall cranes to load large containers onto ships at port and holding tanks for petrol. By the time our cruise is over, we'll see at least three of the ferry boats that make their way between the island and the mainland. The ferry service started operating in 1920, and until the Penang Bridge opened in 1985, it was the primary way to get to and from Penang.

Ferry terminal, Church Street Pier and the clocktower of the old Malayan Railway Building

Cruising around the island, I learn something new. I have never once noticed the clock tower in the above picture in all the times that I've driven around George Town. How in the world can that be? Perhaps I've been too busy keeping my eyes on the road dodging motor scooters and pedestrians. At first, I thought it was the famous Queen Victoria Clocktower except that it's in the wrong place. It's part of the old Malayan Railway Building (now Wisma Kastam) built in 1907 on China Street Ghaut. Interestingly, this building was known for being the only railway building in the world without any train tracks near it. Customers could purchase rail tickets here before taking a ferry, included in the fare, across to Butterworth where they would then board the train.

Penang Bridge and Jerejak Island

The Penang Bridge stretches 13.5 km (8.4 miles) over the water connecting the island to the mainland. Any day now -- soon, very soon, we're told -- the Penang Second Bridge will open further south. At 24 km (15 miles), the Second Bridge will hopefully ease some of the traffic. A few weeks after this cruise, hubby had a chance to enjoy this yacht again, and they made it all the way down to the Second Bridge on that voyage.

Tugboat in action with the Penang Bridge behind it and the cranes of the Container Terminal on the left.

The bridge is the turnaround point for the night's cruise. The sun has been gradually sinking in the sky during our excursion, but the hills in the middle of the island block any spectacular sunset. May the next time we go on a Sunset Cruise, I'll ask to head the other way around the National Park so that we can can get a different view of the sun setting over the water.

KOMTAR, the Esplanade, and Town Hall

I love watching the city lights sparkle as twilight falls over the island. From the water, the large cruise ships look positively huge compared to our boat, and one of them definitely dwarfs Swettenham Pier where cruise passengers board and disembark.

Two cruise boats docked at Swettenham Pier

As we head back to the marina, we enjoy nibbling on the finger food Eileen spread out below the deck. I'd show you a picture, but I was one of the last people through the line. Small sandwiches, sausages, cheese, fruit, other hors d'oeuvres beckon me. Hmmm... what to eat? Some of everything, of course. When hubby cruises with Blue Whale again a few weeks later, he enjoys a full dinner cruise, lucky him.

Twenty people could have easily fit on board. Eileen often hires the Whale out for private cruises for something as casual as a fishing trip to fancy, special occasions like weddings. Another friend enjoyed a family reunion dinner party on board and raved about how fun it was. If you'd like to take a cruise but don't have big enough group for a private charter, just contact Eileen and she will try to find other people interested in heading out (10 people minimum).

Straits Quay Marina at night

By the end of the cruise, the island is covered in night. We sit on the yacht for a while longer enjoying a pleasant evening with friends. Reluctant to let the party end, we eventually move to one of the many fine restaurants at Straits Quay.

The Whale
If you would like to enjoy cruising around on The Whale, see the Blue Whale Cruises website or email them at for information. Eileen will be sure to take care of you.

2014 Prices
Contact Eileen for details and prices of a private charter.
Sightseeing Cruise - RM229 pp
Monkey Beach Cruise - RM299 pp
Sunset Cruise (Finger Food) - RM265 pp
Sunset Cruise (Full Dinner) - RM340 pp (Departs 18:00 and returns 21:00)
Round the Island Cruise RM399 pp (Departs 10:00 and returns 18:00; Includes a BBQ lunch and soft drinks, one hour stop at Monkey Beach, and one hour stop at Pulau Rimal)

Children under 5 years old are Free.
All food is Halal.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Snapshots from Singapore Changi Airport

Spending hours at an airport killing time before the next flight is usually an unappealing prospect. That's not the case at Singapore's Changi Airport. After having fun at Changi in the wee hours of the night on our way out of Asia, my girl was disappointed to not have another long layover on our return. With all the fantastic things to keep travelers occupied, it's no small wonder that Changi is often rated one of the top airports in the world.

A few weeks before we departed, Budget Travel Talk posted a picture of Changi Airport's Christmas decorations. It looked so intriguing that seeing it with my own eyes was one of the things I wanted to do while we were there. Wouldn't you want to see this?

She's a real pushover for the Leaning Tower of Pisa

It turns out that the Leaning Tower was just one of the many creative, Italian-themed, horticulture displays at the airport. We found a few others while strolling through the terminal. What was especially interesting was how they kept kids interested, too.

The Colosseum  

The Colosseum... with a special guest gladiator

Hey kids, it's Sponge Bob Square Pants! These displays had something for both classical tastes and those with more youthful inclinations. I thought it was an interesting dichotomy. I'm wondering if the floral designer had a sense of humor or stormed off in a huff when he/she saw how the displays were arranged.

I'm rather sure the original Trojan Horse story doesn't mention Gary the Snail.

While Changi Airport offers a playscape, as do many other airports around the world, its activities for kids go way beyond the norm.

At midnight, the woodblock crayon rubbings still drew a crowd of children. We obviously weren't the only ones trying to keep the kids awake and on their feet despite the late hour. Even at this time of night, the paper was well stocked and the crayons were plentiful.

Woodblock rubbing station next to an Orchid Garden with Koi Pond

If you happen to be visiting Singapore and departing from Terminal 3, stop by the World's Tallest Airport Slide before going through security. It's 4 storeys tall but was, unfortunately for us, closed when we were there.

Reach speeds of up to 6 meters (18 feet) per second going down this spiral slide.

The Butterfly Garden was yet another entertaining diversion, although I will have to say that it's about a thousand times better in the daylight when you can actually see the butterflies. As it was already nighttime during this visit, we spent some fruitless minutes searching for butterflies and then occupied ourselves by looking at the chrysalides. (Yes, I did have to look up what is the plural form of "chrysalis.") This garden is just one of the many themed gardens and nature experience throughout the airport.

Future butterflies

I was surprised to see that many of the airport's upscale stores stayed open past midnight. I'm sure that my husband would have bought me an Herm├Ęs scarf if only the shopgirls had not been locking up at 1 A.M. when we walked by... or maybe not.

As it was, the simple pleasure of the free foot and calf massage chairs was enough to keep me happy. Hubby motioned to me that we really had to go if we didn't want to miss our flight, but I was reluctant to disengage myself from the rollers powerfully kneading my aching muscles. The napping stations off to the sides looked enticing, too, but I knew that I would never get up in time if I allowed myself to lay down.

Other times at Changi, we've checked into the Transit Hotel if our layover was more than 6 hours. I really like that we don't have to clear immigration in order to reach the hotel. That's so convenient. During one stay, we swept aside the hotel room curtains, eager to look at the view. Perhaps we'd see planes taking off! Nope. It was just a blank wall.

Other activities at Changi Airport for travelers in transit:

  • Free 2-hour, guided tour of Singapore
  • Around-the-clock, free movie theatre; although you are cautioned to remember not to miss your flight
  • Rooftop swimming pool free for hotel guests and a charge of S$13.91 for non-guests
  • Fish Spa and Reflexology Center where fish nibble the dead skin off your feet
  • Entertainment Deck with a Kinect, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 perfect for tweens and teens
  • Shower and gym
Have you been to Singapore's Changi Airport? What's your favorite way to entertain yourself there?

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday on Budget Travelers Sandbox and "Oh the Places I've Been" on The Tablescaper. Check them out for more around-the-world travel inspiration.

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