Sunday, August 30, 2009

Drinks Around the World: Singapore Sling

For the last few months, bloggers such as Lifecruiser conduct an international cocktail party where writers highlight a notable drink from their travels or experiences. With a recent visit to Singapore Zoo, this month's drinks takes to the steamy climes of south-east Asia.

The Singapore Sling was famously introduced at the luxurious Raffles Hotel in the early 1900s and where it is still available today for an eye-watering price over US$20). Many other bars around also offer the almost sickly sweet cocktail at a lower price but without the colonial ambiance.

It is made with two measures of gin and a measure of cherry brandy, mixed with a measure of lime juice, half measures of Benedictine and Cointreau and a generous half measure of Grenadine. Add a dash of bitters, fill with pineapple juice and garnish with the traditional pineapple and cherry.

So a hearty cheers to all at this month's cocktail party.

Other Drinks of the Month
Pisco Sour
Chimay Beer

Friday, August 28, 2009

Photo of the Week - Oasis? (Sahara Desert, Algeria)

The cruel deceit of the Sahara Desert lies in its ability to suggest water is nearby. The mirage is simply a reflection of the sky caused by the incredibly hot afternoon sand temperatures and light refraction, leaving such a realistic suggestion of a refreshing lake.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Natural Zoo (Singapore)

I have always had mixed feelings about zoos trying to balance the feelings of seeing magnificent animals in restricted sad cages against the beneficial scientific and conservation activities that many conduct. As an individual visitor it can be a chance to see, experience, watch, learn from and photograph in real life some of the planet’s most fascinating and awe-inspiring creatures – some of those almost impossible to see in their natural habitat. Equally it can be the chance to see disenchanted, constrained animals living in unnatural areas.

By far the best zoo I have visited is Singapore Zoo. With natural barriers such as moats, ditches and waterways replacing the usual bars and barriers for most displays (a few still have glass), the zoo has an open harmonious feel to it. Displays are thoughtfully landscaped and more generously sized and there is a general mood of satisfied, contented animals throughout the zoo.

Like all zoos, there are a number of highlight displays. Singapore Zoo boasts an impressive primate collection including a wide variety of monkeys, lemurs, chimpanzees, mandrills and the endangered golden lion tamarin (with its striking facial features) which are spread over a couple of island with a variety of forests, bamboos and grasses. A large group of endangered orang-utans have a large expanse of trees, ropes, vines and platforms to keep them entertained on a carefully designed island of their own.

Over fifty Hamadryas Baboons from Ethiopia live in one of the most impressive displays simulating the harsh deserts and the rocky escarpments of Ethiopia which they so nimbly access, climb and clamber for key strategic positions. The area is a riot of noisy screeches, clouds of dust, sharp dashing movements, revenge attacks, peaceful gazing and cautious grooming. As in the wild, caring mothers piggy-back their youngsters from the slightest hint of danger while young males stage mock fights in preparation for more senior roles.

The zoo also houses a rich collection of cats including lions, leopards, pumas and jaguars. Most notable are three white tigers (not albinos) which only occur in nature around 1 in 10,000 births. Similarly rare king cheetahs which have a different pattern to the normal spots (caused by a recessive gene and mainly bred in captivity) are included among the cheetahs. With bigger areas and more natural settings, some were tricky to spot highlighting the impressive camouflage techniques of these large felines. Nearby are a number of traditional African animals such as giraffes, zebras, white rhinos, hippos, warthog and antelope.

Though heavy on air-conditioning, iced water pools and large lumps of ice, the idea of a polar bear display in a tropical zoo is questionable. The display is cleverly designed so that you can watch these bears both above and below water, polar bears being impressive and powerful swimmers (a similar method is used with the hippos). Live fish and food frozen into ice is included in their diet to maintain some natural instincts. Being a hot, humid day when I was there, these majestic animals appeared completely sapped of energy.

Though I didn’t visit the area as I have seen them all back home, the zoo features an extensive and popular Australian zone including kangaroos, wallabies and emus (though no koalas), along with the usual collection of Australian lizards, snakes, spiders and other weird creepy-crawlies. The world’s most venomous snake – the taipan – is included though safely stored behind glass.

There are numerous other animals on display from butterflies and birds to reptiles and Asian elephants. It is easy to spend a rewarding full day wandering the paths and tracks (see map) either enjoying the posted feedings spread throughout the day or simply watching the wide variety of nature’s kingdom in what is surely one of the finest zoo settings of any. To escape the harsh Singapore humidity, there are plenty of places to sit and simply enjoy the animals at play. Attached to the zoo is a Night Safari but that is a story for another day.

Other SE Asia Posts
Breakfast at the Floating Markets (Thailand)
The Intrigue of Thai Massage(Thailand)
The Petronas Towers (Malaysia)

Friday, August 21, 2009

A Timeless Promise (Oberammergau, Germany)

In 1633, a traveller walked into the travel wonder of Oberammergau unwittingly carrying the plague and causing the death of many of the local population in a short time. Seeking a higher power to secure itself from the Black Death, the citizens swore to God that they would re-enact the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection every ten years for safety from this savage disease that had obliterated other towns and communities. Oberammergau escaped the clutches of this savage disease and the well-known Passion Play began its long run.

Even as religious observance has eased in many places in modern times and medical knowledge dramatically improved, Oberammergau avoids tempting fate and continues to fulfil its pledge of almost four hundred years, completing this stunning production on the years that end in zero. Indeed, apart from a war in 1870 and World War II (where religious plays were banned), the play has been completed every decade with the next due in 2010.

As per tradition, the play is solely conducted by the people of Oberammergau with the population studiously growing their hair and beards from the previous year to have the appearance of biblical times. The stagehands, musicians, technicians and costume makers are also drawn from the local populace. Indeed, it is clear who is in the play by simply wandering around town as the hair styles look like a flashback to the sixties and seventies.

The staging is an epic affair with the play running for five hours with a generous interval for dinner over a season of five months. It is conducted in the superb open-air Passion Theatre (audience is under cover) with a dramatic backdrop of the Bavarian Alps. One notable element of the play are the tableaux vivants that see significant biblical scenes frozen like a photograph with the actors remaining motionless on stage while a description of the setting takes place.

To support the popularity of the play with people travelling from all over the world to view it, nearly every house is converted into some form of accommodation and hotels for miles around are packed for months. I stayed with a family whose father and son were both performers, the father assisted in painting the backdrops while the mother helped sew the outfits. The friendly family only provided accommodation during the play though there was no sense of what must have been relief in getting the privacy of their own house back on the completion of the play’s season. Town life also continues with businesses and schools operating as normal adopting schedules to fit around the play’s afternoon start.

Located in southern Germany only a short distance from Germany’s highest peak, the town is a picture postcard of half-timbered houses with flower boxes bursting in colourful bloom and glittering churches, ornately decorated in gold. Many of the houses are adorned in detailed frescoes called lüftlmalerei, covering both religious and non-religious themes. While the most celebrated example is the Pilatushaus, two stunning secular examples are found in Ettalerstrasse. The familiar Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood stories are told in wonderful detail across the front of two houses as if reading giant comic books.

Several shops highlight the thriving woodcarving industry. Exquisite, detailed hand-carved figurines, bowls, plates and toys sit alongside machine-made commercial offerings meeting every conceivable price point. Woodchips lie on the floor as the owners patiently chip away at their latest creation. If you have a favourite saint or biblical character, it is inconceivable that your desires could not be satisfied among the huge religious collections.

In many ways, Oberammergau is a typical modest and picturesque German village. With its alpine setting and verdant surrounds, it oozes a timeless charm. More importantly, a town made a solemn vow and continues to hold its promise very dearly in eternal gratitude for the saving of their ancestors.

Other Germany Posts
Bacon Beer and Bishops (Bamberg)
The World's Largest Advent Calendar (Gengenbach)

Passion Play photos courtesy of Passion Play, Oberammergau. Tickets for 2010 are available now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Book Review: The Beijing of Possibilities (Jonathan Tel)

Last year for sixteen days the world stared mesmerised at Beijing - the creative artistry of the opening ceremony, the architecturally stunning swimming and athletics stadiums and the phenomenal sporting achievements of sprinter Usain Bolt and swimmer Michael Phelps. Behind the gold medals and sporting dramas, the media of the world tried to scratch below the surface of Beijing with various "human interest" stories but with little effect.

Jonathan Tel manages to lift the veil off Beijing and reveal the inner Beijing in a series of twelve fictional short stories in The Beijing of Possibilities. Highlighting the constant battle between tradition and the modern world, the stories take typical Beijing residents that a visitor would never meet and the Olympics media never highlighted or found.

In The Three Lives of Little Yu, Tel describes an infertile couple who raise three daughters (all named Yu) over three decades with tragedy befalling the first two. It is summarised by a typical Chinese proverb that litter the book's stories - "You cannot stop the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair".

The Double-Happiness Ball Bearing Factory details a young man seeking employment via a headhunter and highlights the ingenuity required entertaining westerners seeking joint ventures and the quirkiness of Chinese astrology resulting in a rejection of another job.

Tel's characters are a strange mix. From a couple desperately trying to return a valuable ancient jade spoon they discover in their unit and a teenager working to pay off her father's debt to a cycling Gorillagram that prevents a theft but is accused by the police of being a capitalist sympathiser and a pickpocket who fortuitously forms a relationship with a rich businessman, Tel successfully unmasks layers of a sometimes stifling culture, rich history, generational change, government control and ancient superstition that would be impossible to discover in a visit to Beijing.

The Unofficial History of the Embroidered Couch is a satirical look at a relationship between a Ming Dynasty maiden and a modern Chinese advertising agent arranged over the internet.

Overall, it is the way that Tel can take the everyday mundane life of typical Beijing residents and share their dreams, humour and irony that makes The Beijing of Possibilities such an entertaining and insightful read.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Photo of the Week - Mt Rushmore in Plastic Blocks (Billund, Denmark)

Constructed from over three million plastic Lego blocks, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln gaze down at visitors to Legoland in Denmark. Squeezing the world into a small area, alongside Mt Rushmore are a number of other famous world landmarks including the Statue of Liberty, Copenhagen's harbour, Amsterdam's canals and Bangkok's Royal Temple. An African safari and a driving school reveal the almost limitless imagination that can be rendered with simple plastic interlocking blocks.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Feeding Frenzy (Alaska, USA)

If looks could kill! Scratch, a solo black bear and long time visitor to Anan Creek Wildlife Reserve, and sporting a savage scar across his nose, stands in the cascading falls for over half an hour, plunging his head into the frigid water and coming up empty.

Elegant Mom, strolls down to the river for the second time, enthusiastic youngsters waddling behind and leans into the water from the bank, plucking a writhing salmon from the creek in seconds. A few drops of water drip from her neck, a spray of water from the struggling salmon. She strolls off to a quiet spot under the tree to continue the family picnic. The cubs follow in anticipation with even more spring in their step as they assuredly traverse the slippery rocks.

Nearby, four black bears, stand in a protective rock cave, out of the main current of the waterfall. This is the prime fishing spot and these giant bears have mortgaged these locations for years. Their swelling bellies almost rub they are so near each other, but apart from a bit of light-fingered thieving from each other, most get on with the job of gorging on the salmon.

Keen-eyes bald eagles and gulls await any leftover salmon. After all, bears are not the tidiest of eaters and the better fishermen among them satisfy themselves with just the eggs and part of the salmon head. The flesh is ignored, and makes for a welcome meal for the waiting birds. It is ironic, as the prime fillets of salmon is something we would gladly pay generously for in fish shops, yet at peak fishing time, the bears happily discard this in favour of the most protein-rich portions.

The action is manic. Over 25 black bears are stationed at their favourite locations near and in the cascades, fishing their primary summer meal. Some are extraordinarily efficient catching salmon at will – others take a fair bit more work. Young bear cubs watch intently, soaking in the lessons from their mother. After all, they will have to fend for themselves in a summer or two (and bears that can’t fish in this area won’t survive the winter).

Suddenly there is a disturbance. A single imposing brown bear strolls towards the main fishing grounds, the black bears clearing the path as if royalty is in attendance. These are traditional enemies and it is only at such prime feeding locations as Anan Creek that they will venture so close. Most black bears wander into the relative safety of the surrounding forest while one quickly shoots up a large tree. The ever-protective mothers ensure that their cubs are safe with the instinctive cubs treasuring protective cover from their parent.

But this brown isn’t chasing black bears. She is a champion fisher and in just a few minutes catches and gulps down the egg sac from three pink salmon. An eagle eagerly lines up for the remains from an overhanging branch but lacks the courage to interrupt this marauding diner. A brown bear family restfully watches on from a nearby log, unimpressed by all the activity.

Soon enough the big brown bear has had enough and wanders on. The black bears start sheepishly returning to their favorite spots and resume their feeding. And the normal mayhem of feeding returns to Anan Creek.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Bear Heaven (Alaska, USA)

Alaska is rich in national parks and reserves including several where visitors can view one of the greatest wildlife wonders on Earth – the bears feeding on the salmon run.

Around 50 kilometres south-east of the uninspiring Alaskan town of Wrangell is the travel wonder of Anan Creek, accessible only by boat or float-plane. The pink salmon (or humpie) make their bold run upstream against the surging waters of Anan Creek and the eager attention of predators, ready to spawn through July and August. It attracts a glittering array of Alaskan wildlife including black and brown bears, bald eagles, gulls and harbour seals. The black bears outnumber the browns and both have a healthy dislike for each other. Black bears are nervous of the more powerful brown bears and often move away or climb a neighbouring tree.

About a kilometre along a wooden boardwalk from the mouth of Anan Creek is a US Forestry Service shelter that provides both great viewing above a small falls and an excellent three-sided hide at the river level providing fantastic close-up viewing of the feeding frenzy. Almost certain to be misty or wet, the walk in and out is slightly unnerving as it is in open country with bears contentedly strolling along and across this same path. Food and drinks (except water) is absolutely forbidden for good safety reasons.

It is an extraordinary experience to watch bears dining on their favourite food only a metre or two away with eager-eyes eagles and gulls ready to seize any leftovers.

It is truly a travel wonder – wildlife at its finest.

More details on access and booking of Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

TripBase Graphically Impressive Blog Finalist

                                                            Tripbase Blog Awards 2009

I heard a couple of weeks ago that I was a finalist in the TripBase Graphical Impressive Blog Award. This award is done completely in-house and is not based on nominations or rounding up votes so I'm extremely pleased given the huge number of travel blogs out there.

The sector description follows:

"This is the award for the best looking/most accessible travel blogs. The award is handed out to the sector's stars; those who lead the way in terms of graphics, layout, accessibility and design. It takes a creative touch to stand out from the crowd and only the leading inspirational travel bloggers will survive the rigorous selection process.

Our panel of travel industry experts have scoured the internet to search for the biggest and the best technically impressive travel blogs. The initial long list is then discussed and whittled down to the shortlist of award winners. We believe that each of our chosen bloggers is at the head of their field. The winners deserve the public recognition for their hard work and are worthy recipients of this prestigious accolade.

Travelling is aspirational, it is creative, and it is about adventure and learning new things. Bloggers in this category will have the rare ability to convey this to followers through page design, images and layout. A travel blog is also a forum for advice and tips on destinations, accommodation, modes of transport and things to see and do. Therefore we also look for a blog that can facilitate easy access by those looking for help or information.

Congratulations to the other winners, especially the top three place-getters in this category who are the impressive Gridskipper blog, WorldHum and the National Geographic blog.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Time Phenomenon

At 12:34 and 56 seconds on the 7th of August this year, the time and date is 12:34:56 07/08/09.

That is 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 in order in a freak of numbers.

For Americans that tend to write the month then the day, this same phenomenon happened around a month ago on the 8th July.

In 80 years time for those of us around, the same thing will happen in 2090 with the added zero on the end.

Just a bizarre combination of time and numbers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Naval Riches (Portsmouth, England)

The historic dockyard in the Royal Naval Base of Portsmouth is a treasure trove of British naval history throughout the centuries. In the one area, the Mary Rose from the mid-1500s, Admiral Nelson’s famous HMS Victory from the late-1700s and Britain’s first iron-armoured battleship, HMS Warrior from 1860 stand proud from the era where naval power was a passport to military dominance. A combined ticket offers good value to see all three ships along with a handful of museums.

From the seafaring figurehead at the front of the ship, elegant yellow and black paintwork, the network of rigging on the masts and the superbly constructed (though smallish) admiral quarters encased in numerous windows at the stern of the ship, HMS Victory has a regal feel. The hull is constructed from two feet (60 centimetres) of solid oak.

By contrast, the cramped conditions with over 100 cannons and 800 men in a tight space must have made sea battles a hell on water. Utilising every inch of space, the men’s hammocks swayed over the cannons while even the dining tables hung from ropes. People of even average height today need to duck to avoid striking their heads on the beams below decks.

With the pride of victory at Britain’s most famous sea battle at Trafalgar, HMS Victory remains in commission as the navy’s oldest ship. A plaque marks the location where Nelson was shot in the shoulder by a French musket ball. He died below decks three hours later, victory having being secured, supposedly uttering the words “Kiss me, Hardy” to the ship’s captain. On 21 October every year to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar, marine flags representing Nelson’s famous expression “England expects that every man will do his duty" are hoisted.

Remarkably, one of HMS Victory’s large sails (around 25 metres by 15 metres), scarred with an estimated 90 shots from the French navy in the Battle of Trafalgar is on display in a special separate room.

Nearby is the Mary Rose, or more accurately a cross-section of it. Having capsized and sunk in 1545, King Henry VIII’s flagship lay on the seabed until she was retrieved in 1982, the portion that lay above the seabed having being consumed by marine woodworms. Today she sits in a ghostly mist of glycol behind Perspex windows, using the same longwinded but successful preservation method as the Swedish Vasa. A staggering number of artefacts are displayed nearby.

HMS Warrior
reveals the life of a seaman in Queen Victoria’s time. This giant iron-hulled warship, replete with both steam power and sails never fought a battle. Her mere foreboding presence, power and heavy armory supposedly deterred all enemies. Again the starkness of the living conditions between the senior officers and the seamen and the cramped living conditions are visually striking.

Though a dull town, the harbour is a flourishing centre of activity with modern naval craft competing for space with the hordes of ferries heading for the neighbouring Isle of Wight or the European mainland. Portsmouth dockyards are a travel wonder making a wonderful day reliving naval history through three well-displayed and exceptional ships of their day giving a small sense of the harsh lives that the seafarers lived, especially in battle.

Other British and Irish Posts
All the World's a Stage (Stratford-upon-Avon)
Soaking Up Culture (Bath)
The Illuminated Manuscript (Dublin, Ireland)
A Bit of British (Gibraltar)

Photo Source: Mary Rose

Monday, August 3, 2009

Photo of the Week - Tuscan Beauty (Pitigliano, Italy)

The southern Tuscan town of Pitigliano (about 100 kilometres south of Chianti) perches splendidly on a volcanic plateau, its ancient honey-coloured houses, city gates, aqueduct, churches and fortress built right to the edge of the rocky ridge. Etruscan tombs over 1500 years old dot the hill-face. With some of the more timeless Tuscany hotels, it is a wonderful small town that warrants exploring for a day with typical narrow alleys of houses that date back centuries and tiny hidden wine and food bars serving local wines such as the refreshing and light white, Poggia Al Tufo. In a surprise, along with a cathedral and a number of churches, there is also a Jewish history with a synagogue, kosher butchering area and bread oven which date back centuries.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Drinks Around the World: Becherovka (Czech Republic)

A group of travel bloggers are in their third month of celebrating a drink of the month.

With a recent focus on the Czech Republic with a tour of Prague and a guide to seven of the best Czech castles, this months offering comes from this popular central European country.

Becherovka is a drink based on a bewildering array of secret herbs and spices including cinnamon and aniseed. It has an intense fragrant flavour that is slightly bitter. Many enjoy it with tonic or soda water though I preferred it neat. Though previously difficult to find, it has started to appear on occasional shelves in Sydney and undoubtedly other countries around the world.

To add mystery to the product, only two people are rumoured to know the secret recipe handed down through the last two hundred years.

So here is a na zdraví to all those international drinkers at our mid-year cocktail party.

Other Drinks Around the World
Chimay Beer (Belgium)
Pisco Sour (Peru and Chile)

Related Posts with Thumbnails