Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities: Singapore & Sydney


I had never planned to go to Singapore and, frankly, didn't think I would. I'm not even sure why I didn't plan to go, but I suppose part of it was because I had heard from many people that it is a large, very modern city and that just didn't appeal to me. But it turns out that Singapore is really well-located within SE Asia, it has a great airport and many flights that go through there -- which I needed to do -- and did. But what made me decide to stay a few days was the fact that I had a friend, Sonya, who lived there with her family (husband & 2 boys) and she encouraged me to go stay with them and check it out. So I made a plan to go there on my way from Bali to Sydney.

I tore myself away from Bali on Tue, 26 Mar, and headed to Singapore. My plan was to stay there for 3.5 days, as I had a flight to Sydney scheduled for very, very late Friday evening  (actually 2:00am Sat morning). I figured/hoped that time frame would be long enough, and not too long, to get at least a taste of what Singapore is all about. And I think it was....

I arrived there mid-day and followed Sonya's instructions to get the subway to her part of town, then got a cab to her condo. They live in one of the many (many, many) condo complexes in Singapore.... and it's a really lovely one. Rather than a high-rise (as most of them are) her complex is more sprawling and very, very lush & green. Beautifully manicured. They have a nice pool there and a little gym, which I used a couple times.

It was so nice seeing (& spending time with) Sonya and her family. They were extremely generous and gracious with me. We had some outstanding meals together -- many of them at their home -- and one of them being lunch in a restaurant in the Botanical Gardens (after which we took a nice long walk through them). We had a lot of great time to sit & catch up and for those times, it was worth the trip.

As for Singapore itself, I wish I could say that I liked it. But I didn't. I REALLY, REALLY didn't. I'm hard-pressed to find anything about it that appealed to me and I actually couldn't wait to leave. I know, I know... those are some strong words, sister! But that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

I could share with you some of the tangible, concrete (pun intended) reasons why I didn't care for Singapore (there are MANY), but I don't much see the point. And besides, so much of my aversion was more energetic. On a very deep and visceral level, I actually felt repelled by Singapore. When people have asked me how I would describe it (and/or what it was about it I didn't like) I've always had the same succinct answer: I found it "soul-less". And after Bali -- perhaps THE most soul-ful place I've ever been -- the contrast was almost too much.

So without getting into what might amount to a (further) blast on Singapore, let me just say that it was nice to leave..... and to arrive in Sydney!! (it's probably unnecessary to tell you that I haven't a single photo of Singapore. Ah well....)
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So Sydney! A lovely place indeed.... and now I think it's time for a few pics, don't you?

 
 

I arrived there mid-day on Sat, 30 Mar, and my awesome friend, Danielle (along with her 2 daughters, Missy & Piper) picked me up at the airport. Easy-peasy (as they would say). We drove back to their house on the "scenic route" so that Danielle could show me some sights around the area. It was a gorgeous, early autumn day and my jaw was dropped the whole time. But I managed to snap a few pics from the car. These were all taken within 10 minutes of their house....
 
 Yes, that's a cemetery (above).... on a cliff above the sea.
Y
 
 
We eventually made our way to their house, and that is where I ended up staying for the next 6 weeks(!!). I hadn't actually planned that, but it was so comfy & easy, I just stayed. :) It's a great house, in a very nice & convenient part of the city (maybe 7 miles, as the crow flies, from downtown Sydney). I felt immediately at home with Danielle, John & the girls, and fell into a family life-style.

As I moved around Sydney -- on foot, in buses, in cars -- I was always struck by how much I liked the look and feel of the neighborhoods. If I were to move there it would be very hard to decide in what area to live, as I liked so many of them. It is the antithesis of suburban sprawl. Instead there are numerous neighborhoods (almost village-y), with architecture that is mostly eclectic bungalow style (various materials, eras, styles, etc), and each area seems to have it's own little central "strip" of cute mom & pop shops. Very walkable. At times it reminded me of Berkeley; at other times, Pittsburgh. It has a great feel. 

And, oh boy, Sydney has a "cafe culture" like no other place I've been (yes, Boulder included). You can't imagine the number of cafes... EVERYWHERE ... and they all serve absolutely fantastic coffee and they're all full.... all the time. And yet I don't get the impression that everyone is "speedy." Seriously, I could practically go into the shop at a gas station and count on getting a perfect espresso drink! I am not exaggerating here, people.

Turns out that my friend, Lauren -- who I knew from Sunny's group -- had gone to Sydney a few days before I had, to visit an old friend. So we were able to connect up and spend a couple days tromping around Sydney together. Some pics from those days....
 In the Botanic Gardens....
 
 
 
 
 And near Hyde Park....
 
 In Surrey Hills....
 
 
 

We had such a great time (didn't we, Lauren?!).

I also was able to spend time with my friend, Nevine, with whom, as you'll recall, I traveled in Laos and Burma, back in Jan & Feb. Nevine lives in Sydney now and goes to University of Sydney (she's finishing her studies in December... yay!). So we got together about 4 times while I was in Sydney but I neglected to take photos (or even have my camera) when we got together, so you'll have to just believe me. :) We spent one day walking around her neighborhoods (so cool & funky) and shopped a bit, another time she & her boyfriend, Vic, had me over for dinner at their place, on another day she & I went to a (really bad) French movie, and then on our last meeting, we spent the day walking/exploring around downtown Sydney. It was great to see her and I'm hoping we'll get a chance to rendezvous again here in Europe this summer. Some pics from our stroll around downtown....

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

So, as I mentioned earlier, my time in Sydney was fairly chill & relaxed. For the most part, I spent time with the family, hanging out, etc. I was able to get back into a regular workout routine -- and even did some personal training for some of Danielle's friends -- and was able to do a lot of relaxing. The two primary ways I got around Sydney when on my own were by foot and by bus. D & J live about 30mins walking from the beach -- Coogee Bay -- and about 25mins walking from a huge, gorgeous park, Centennial Park. I walked to these two places multiple times a week. There's also an amazingly gorgeous coastal walking path, going for many, many miles up & down the coast. I walked that a few times as well, each time doing a different segment. Photos of all these areas below
 
On the coastal walk....
 
 Very cool salt-water pool (above)
 
 
 
 
 Centennial Park.... I spent a LOT of time here
 
 
 
 
 
One day I took the Ferry out to MANLY beach (now, how much do you LOVE that name??), which is a peninsula north of downtown Sydney. It's quite picturesque and has a very young, beachy feel to it....
 
 
 
 
Seriously, I would live there just for the name of the place!
 
.... the view from my cappuccino....
 
 
 
Danielle & John took me out to several incredible meals -- Sydney is, indeed, a foodie town -- and we had such a blast. One of our evenings out....
Overall, I had such a great time in Sydney ... I had the opportunity to really "dial down" and relax for a bit. That said, for reasons I still have not sorted out, I got a little "stalled" there. I had thought I'd spend a bit of time in Sydney then travel around Oz and hopefully even New Zealand. But it was SO very expensive there (MUCH more than I had thought) and my bank account was dwindling, so I aborted that plan. So then I needed to figure out what next ... and I was having a heck of a time making a decision on that front. A huge part of me wanted to go back to Asia, as I loved it SO much -- and it's cheap! But where? I was thinking perhaps Indonesia -- Java? Borneo?  Then I thought perhaps Malaysia. Or should I head back up to Thailand? I was all over the board and feeling VERY indecisive. Fortunately, Danielle & John were open to having me stay longer (as long as I didn't move in:), so I had the time (& place) to work through it.

Somewhere in there I discovered two websites that serve to connect people who are traveling with hosts who need some work done. Basically, the traveler can go help the hosts in exchange for room & full board. It's amazing and genius(!) and was perfect for me. There literally are host ALL over the world.... who need help on their farms or at their schools or just learning English or with their kids or with their business -- and travelers can go help them and therefore stay for free? Not only is it a very economical way to travel, but it's an opportunity to stay with locals, be immersed in the local culture, and visit places that often are not on the "tourist circuit."  

I decided that this was the way I needed to go. So I created a profile on both sites (www.workaway.info  and  www.helpx.net) and began searching. I found several places in SE Asia that sounded promising, so I sent several emails out to those places first. As it turns out, either the timing or the fit wasn't right with any of them (and some never even responded), so Asia wasn't looking good. Then I suddenly received an email from a woman who owns a B&B in southern Spain, in the Alpujarra region. At that point, I wasn't ready to leave Sydney nor to commit to going to Europe just yet. But within a few weeks -- after have not such great luck with places in Asia -- I made the decision to head to Europe and come live in Spain for a while!

So at last my time in Sydney came to an end. I left there on Tue, 14 May, heading in the direction of Europe. I arrived in Paris 37 hours later (that included an overnight in Singapore) and the rest is history, as they say. Or, rather, the rest is for my next blog post.

Thanks, again, for reading all the way through. I'll begin my Europe post in the next couple days, so stay tuned!

Abrazos y Besos a todo el mundo!!



  

3 comments:

  1. When I visited Sydney a few years ago, I decided to go on a blue mountains trip. It was amazing...the kids and I got to see breath-taking views of these historical mountains! Oil mist and the forest's water vapour, scatter short waves of light to create the mountains' distinctive blue haze. These are attractions that make Sydney a wonderful place to be!

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  2. I've been to Singapore before and loved every minute and keep meaning to go to sydney as it sounds amazing. Also sounds like i wont be short of places to have a coffee either

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  3. Sydney, it’s true, is a bit of an exhibitionist. a glittering playground, its sandstone coves and sun-blazed beaches skirt the prodigious harbor and open Pacific. If you plan to travel here, I recommend to visit a list of the Cheapest Hotels in Sydney to suit your budget and needs.

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