Amazing Auto Tour Glacier NPS – Going to the Sun Road
Going to the Sun road is easily the most scenic drive in the country. Starting from the West Glacier entrance, the road follows Lake McDonald’s length, affording views of the biggest lake in GNP and the mountains surrounding it. After Lake McDonald, the road follows a river upstream, where the water is so clean and pure that it sparkles a cool turquoise hue. Trees and mountains surround us on both sides, while far ahead snow capped mountains peek out from between and above the trees.
Soon, the road leaves the river behind and climbs steeply uphill. The views open up to the deep forested valley below with snowy or bare gray mountains surrounding us. The winding river we left behind is now a thin shiny necklace through the valley. A few more twists and turns, and an especially tight hairpin turn, and the views get more magnificent as our little car chugs along.
In July, the stockpile of snow melting in the heat feeds the majestic waterfalls all across the mountains. Our favorite waterfall is the Weeping Wall, so named for a curtain of water that covers a cliff front. The waterfall comes right down onto the road, splashing cold alpine water into cars if windows are down. If Weeping Wall does not impress you, no problem, there are still plenty of other waterfalls. All around the mountains, tall waterfalls can be seen from afar, tumbling into the valley below.
As we continue driving upwards, we arrive at Logan Pass, the highest point of the road, which sits right along the continental divide. Around Logan Pass, many tourists are milling around taking photos, line of cars are growing due to limited parking space at the visitor center, while mountain goats and big horn rams are idling around oblivious to all the human activity.
Leaving behind the hustle and bustle of Logan Pass, the road starts descending, but the views are no less impressive. The mountains transition from snowy, to bare rocks, to thick evergreen forest and some charred forest, before climaxing at Saint Mary Lake at the end. The lake is peaceful and beautifully surrounded by picturesque mountains and deep blue skies. If you visit the lake early in the day before the wind barrels through the valley, the lake is mirror smooth, reflecting the mountains in the water. We find ourselves coming back to this lake often, sitting on the cliff at Sun Point, silently basking in the sunlight, taking in the mountains, air, lake, sky and everything that makes this place magical.
Voyage to Glacier National Park – Camping Via Plane
The trip to Montana’s Glacier National Park had been in our plans for a few years. A friend recommended the park at least 3 years ago, but somehow life kept getting in the way, as all excuses go. Eventually we ran out of excuses, and 2017 was the year to make this trip happen.
We decided to camp at the park to keep cost low. There weren’t too many campsites within GNP that were available for online reservations, and those sites were filled within days of coming online 6 months before actual camp day. The remaining campsites were on a first come first serve basis. Since we were not willing to risk not having a site, we settled on a site at Hungry Horse reservoir, about an hour drive to the West Glacier entrance of GNP. A little far.
This was also the first time we had to travel by air with camping gear. To avoid hefty baggage fees, we flew Southwest Airline for their free checked bags. The only downside was the closest town SWA flew to was Spokane, a solid 5-hour drive to the GNP area. Undeterred, we soldiered on with our plans. This trip was to happen regardless of what it took!
We wrangled 2 full size suitcases, 1 cooler, 1 duffel bag, 2 backpacks and 2 carry ons into our car, then onto the plane, and then into the rental car. With that, we started our journey from Spokane to Montana.
We drove through Spokane and out of it, heading towards Idaho. Cutting through the panhandle of Idaho, we passed huge swaths of national forest, before crossing into Montana and driving through more national forest. It was a bucolic drive of rolling hills lush with evergreens and shimmering rivers encircling the hills like moats. The rural-ness imparted a peaceful yet surreal atmosphere.
Campground: Hungry Horse Reservoir
Hungry Horse Reservoir deserves a write up of its own. We joked that if just the reservoir and mountains immediately surrounding the water was somehow transplanted to the Midwest, this area would immediately be hailed as an absolute gem in the national park starved Midwest. Instead, Hungry Horse Reservoir was severely eclipsed by the beautiful GNP, testament to the quality of Montana’s landscapes.
The dam itself was huge and worth visiting, and the reservoir was the classic Montana lake – clear and glistening with little islands of closely grown evergreens seemingly suspended in the water. Round hills surrounded the reservoir, while taller sharper mountains framed the horizon.
The road from the dam to Lid Creek campground was winding and narrow. It was a good half hour drive from the main road before we finally found our campground tucked away in the forest, at the edge of the reservoir. The campground was small and rustic. There was a camp host and a little board with instructions to pay and some notes on bear safety, but no electric, showers or flushing toilets. A mule deer wandered into our campsite to say hi, did a quick check of our camping gear, and wandered back into the bushes to continue foraging. Right across the reservoir from our campsite was the Great Bear Wilderness, part of a large swath of untamed landscape for the adventurous.
It was 930pm when we first arrived to our site, but with daylight being extra long in this far north place, we were able to pitch our tents and make food in the twilight. As we went to bed at 11pm, a low glow was still coming through our tent.
Fun Places to Visit When Exploring San Francisco – Tom & Priscilla
San Francisco was a whirlwind of a trip. A trip revolved around food to be exact. The annual Singapore Day happened to be in San Francisco this year (2016), with the biggest highlight being the delicious Singapore street food, with cooks and ingredients brought in directly from Singapore. Just for the food alone, we impulsively bought air tickets to visit.
This trip was short, really short. We arrived late Friday night in Oakland, and were up extra early on Saturday morning. Trying to pack in as many touristy stops as possible, we stopped by Fisherman’s Wharf, walked to the Marina District for breakfast at Seed + Salt (a little café serving up delicious gluten free, vegetarian, organic, local, etc. food), admired homes on Marina Boulevard, and took a stroll along the beachfront for the classic Golden Gate Bridge view. We underestimated how far the bridge was and soon realized there was not enough time to get to the bridge and walk across it. Next time!
As we left the beachfront, we found ourselves at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, lost in the beautiful pavilion and walkways, and watching the different birds in the lake.
Singapore Day in San Francisco
Finally, we peeled ourselves away from the touristy distractions, and started making our way to the Singapore Day event in the Dog Patch neighborhood. Knowing little about San Francisco, we were surprised to find the Dog Patch neighborhood to be industrial with huge decrepit warehouses. A little hard to believe a national level event was hiding in one of these grimy buildings, but we knew we were in the right place when we saw crowds of people heading in one direction. The event was indeed located in one of these massive abandoned looking warehouses, complete with broken windows and graffiti. The façade seemed scary, but the inside was simply a barebones large event space. Nothing fancy, just a large open space for big events.
Stepping inside, there were exhibitions on Singapore government initiatives, interactive games for children, performances from artists and even a mini National Day Parade. Priscilla bumped into old friends not seen in years, and together we immediately bee lined to the food area. The lines were extremely long, not surprising knowing that food had always been top priority for Singaporeans. We stood in line for as many booths as we could, managing to get Tom’s favorite stingray, roti prata and rojak before food ran out.
Foodie Tour of San Francisco California
We continued our jam-packed agenda to explore the city, which was still very much food focused. We made our way to the Mission District, and really loved the energy and many intriguing restaurants and shops. The one thing that struck us about San Francisco was the number of local, one location only stores. There weren’t big franchises and chains around every corner as in Chicago (e.g. Dunkin Donuts).
We stopped by Tartine Bakery, a quaint little bakery that was almost too quaint for how famous it was. Tom was a huge fan of their beautiful books describing the process of making high quality breads. So here we were, standing in the line that started at the counter inside, went out the door, and wrapped around the street corner. Tartine Bakery usually sold out of their breads and pastries well before closing time, but luckily there was still a good selection for us to choose from when we got to the front of the line. The pastries were well made and just lightly sweet, which really highlighted their strength in making quality dough, instead of masking sub par pastries with loads of sugar and other distractions.
Down the street, we found Bi-Rite Creamery. The line was intimidating, almost a couple blocks long. So instead, we went to a side window next to the store that offered a limited selection of ice cream but with no wait. We got a delicious basic ice cream sandwich – great treat on a beautiful sunny day!
We took a walk to the Lower Haight area, attempting to burn off the calories we ate all day to get ready for the next meals. Walking around San Francisco was more strenuous than expected, with steep hills that constantly challenged our stamina. Priscilla also brilliantly decided to wear “cute” shoes, and paid dearly with blisters and a limp.
As we huffed and puffed our way to Lower Haight, the buildings and stores got progressively older and more dilapidated. There still weren’t a proliferation of chain stores, just mom and pop stores that looked a little worn out. Our friend recommended Toronado, simply telling us we would find it cool. Standing outside the bar, we looked at each other skeptically – was this the right place? We checked the sign a couple times and reconfirmed our friend did say Toronado. From the outside, the bar seemed real dark, and the half door gave a glimpse of the bar’s dive-y vibes. We pushed each other through the door, sat down at the bar, stared at all the stickers and beer tap handles everywhere and observed the seemingly intimidating crowd (think leather jacket wearing biker types). It was not too busy, so the bartender took time to talk about the beers and why people are takings shots of bitters at the bar. Before we know it, we had one too many beers and the night was slipping away. Dive-y it might be, but it had a pretty solid selection of local beers, at least for us out of towners.
Mission District For Dinner
We headed back to the Mission district to pick out a dinner spot from amongst the many interesting options there and settled on Cha-Ya, a vegan/vegetarian Japanese restaurant that was simply and tastefully furnished. We stood at the door unsure if we had to find seats ourselves or wait to be shown a table. Gut feeling told us it was wrong to barge in and grab a table ourselves. We waited awkwardly until one of the ladies nodded at us, which we somehow correctly interpreted to head towards the table she was at.
Just like the décor, the food was simple yet delicious – vegan soba noodles in vegetable broth. It was a relaxing, down to earth dining experience.
Sunday Morning in the “Tenderloin”
On Sunday, we were up bright and early to join a friend at Hai Ky Mi Gia. We took a bus that dropped us off right where the fancy car dealerships were, but also noticed there was an unusual amount of trash everywhere. We shrugged it off as people partying too hard last night and not gave it much thought.
Hai Ky Mi Gia turned out to be a hole in the wall noodle shop typical of the classic Chinatown style. The shop had a variety of noodles to choose from, but the popular option was to have noodles with a braised duck leg. Delicious!
As we headed towards the nearest train station from Hai Ky Mi Gia, the trash situation we noticed earlier answered itself. We were actually in the Tenderloin neighborhood, where people were loitering, some yelling into their phones, others watching in amusement, and then others sitting or lying on the ground. A few who stood out were a completely naked man stumbling around, and another was staring intensely at us while chewing through a garbage bag full of bread. It was certainly shocking for the unprepared, but just as quickly as the area showed its true colors, we crossed a street and were in the thick of tourist land, full of chain hotels, bustling shops and trams. It was baffling how such poverty and decrepitude was hiding in plain sight.
Eat Real Fest – AWESOME Food Trucks and Artisanal Bites
We hopped on a train and headed straight to Oakland. Yet again, we were in for more food. It so happened to be Eat Real Festival this weekend, a large outdoor event with a mind-boggling number of vendors. The weather was beautiful and lots of people were out. It was a lively scene, right by the waterfront in Oakland.
Craving desserts, we headed straight to the FK Frozen Custard’s truck. They had an array of mouth watering exotic and adventurous flavors to choose from, like maple butter, Thai tea, chocolate barley tea, coffee mint mojito, etc. Despite all the amazing options, we went with plain vanilla custard, but redeemed ourselves by topping it off with a mini rum infused cupcake and drizzles of condensed milk.
There was so much amazing food and drinks with a focus on artisans from around the area. We wandered around, ogling the delicious treats that we want but just way too stuffed to take another bite.
Final Thoughts on Tom and Priscilla’s Trip to San Francisco
Just as soon as the trip started, the trip came to an end. We headed back to the airport after only about 36 hours of being in San Francisco. This was a rare treat of a trip, where we were constantly eating and each meal or snack we had was amazing and unique. It was also a rare treat in so many different ways; meeting up with friends, getting great Singapore food and visiting San Francisco for the first time.
San Francisco is likely the most vibrant city in the US at the moment. The city is surging with energy, with people out and about, active and busy. The food scene appears to be bursting at the seams with local and new upstarts, and plenty of diverse local businesses are around every corner waiting to be explored. San Francisco area is likely one of the wealthiest area in the country, with a prosperous tech industry that has attracted the most intelligent and ambitious young people to live here. We certainly enjoyed exploring the city and its food, and loved the energy of the city. We will definitely be back again!
Dark, rainy and cold – that is not the usual description for San Diego, but unfortunately, that was how San Diego was for us. California ended its four-year drought with a rare rainy weather, meanwhile we decided to escape the Chicago winter, thinking we could use some warm weather in San Diego. So…there was no beach weather for us and we wore our sweaters and raincoats everyday.
Debbie’s AirBNB House
Trying Airbnb for the first time, we picked a relatively cheap lodging in the Chula Vista area, about 10 minutes from the border with Mexico. The stay was surprisingly nice, and might actually be much better than hotels and for half the price at least. Our host left us snacks and drinks, and pretty much freedom to use most of her home. She worked in a hospital and left for work early in the morning, and was asleep by the time we got back. We went days without meeting her, and for a while, thought we would never get to meet her in person. There was this strange feeling we were pretending to be someone else, leading a parallel life. Finally, we caught up with her one early morning before she left for work and got to know her. How could a hotel beat the intimate experience and a chance to be immersed in the local life in a cute home in a random suburb?
What to do in San Diego – Visit the Farmer’s Market
Our first day in San Diego happened to be a Sunday, and we headed straight for Hillcrest Farmers Market. California’s farmers markets never fail to impress us, and this was no exception. The market had over 100 vendors, some were selling produce as expected, but a good number was selling prepared foods, and others were peddling artwork and artisanal cosmetics. There was definitely a lot more variety in vendors to explore compared to the typical Midwest farmers market. We tried exotically flavored sodas, some really good cured salami, a bunch of honey, amazing African barbeque, regular barbeque, fresh ceviche, and even a large cup of margarita. Along the way, finding random things like fossils. It took us all morning but was certainly well worth the time.
Liberty Station – Exploring San Diego California
Our next stop was Liberty Station. Liberty Station’s interesting layout was attributed to being previously a Naval training center in the 1920s, and parts of it still seemed to be a work in progress to bring in commercial activity. Some buildings were empty, while others were turned into art galleries or comic and tea stores. We found our way to Liberty Public Market, an indoor food hall, which had a selection of tasty looking eats. Besides the stores, the courtyards outside made for a pretty and leisurely stroll.
Awesome *&$#&^%$# Tacos Dude! Barrio Logan SD
Barrio Logan neighborhood was on our list for some amazing tacos at low prices. The neighborhood itself might seem a little sketchy and lifeless with decrepit and shuttered stores, but Salud! was a great reason to visit. The tacos were amazing, whether it was fish or pulled pork, with complex and tasty sauces, and the various salsa options were delicious even on their own. The restaurant had an edgy gritty vibe with a huge mural, car parts and a bike on the wall. The prices were also extremely reasonable, certainly a steal for how delicious the food was.
Not too afraid of the rundown-ness of Barrio Logan, we took a walk down the main street. Checked out a little coffee shop along the way, and ended up at Chicano Park, located under a freeway with colorful murals that had cultural and historical symbolism. We are not experts on the park’s history, but there seems to be good work done to document the place here.
A Walk on the Beach on Coronado Island
Crossing the Coronado Bridge that stretched across the bay, we arrived at Coronado Island, where a few locals told us it was the most fun place in town. Coronado Island was a little sliver of an island, where the navy occupied over half the land, while expensive mansions, a historic hotel, and a main street full of touristy fare filled the remaining space. Alas, the rain and cold gusty wind was too chilly for relaxing on the beach. We walked along the beach, found the historical Hotel del Coronado, and took a walk down the main street. Our exploration was brief.
Awesome Seafood at Mitch’s and Drinks in The Gaslamp
For dinner, we were craving fresh seafood and headed to Mitch’s. Mitch’s was a small, low key and bare bones eatery that served really affordable seafood. For a small place, they had a good selection of food options, from tacos to plain grilled fish to the regular breaded deep fried type of seafood. Most options feature local and fresh fish, not hard to believe seeing that the eatery was located on the edge of the pier, surrounded by active fishing boats. The seafood was so fresh and delicious, certainly a far cry from the options we were stuck with in the Midwest, which were mostly frozen imported fish that had lost its flavor in transport or lake trout if unfrozen. Mitch’s really reminded us of what we were missing living in the Midwest. The food was so delicious we actually had dinner there every night, cycling through the different options on the menu each night.
We headed to yet another touristy area, the Gaslamp Quarter. The district was the classic bar and restaurant area. It so happened to be Superbowl Sunday, and so, all the bars were full of rowdy football fans watching the game and guzzling beers. We were one of the few in the city and maybe country to ignore the game. As we wandered around, we found Café 21, a restaurant and bar bravely putting on live music to just three people who were clearly not watching the game. Perfect for us, we went in to check out the music. The music was actually quite good, performed by 2 guys from Argentina, and a lady who grew up in San Diego. The songs were lively yet laid-back, with the guys playing the guitar and the lady drumming. We chatted with the drumming lady in between breaks, and this enthusiastic lady was curious about our plans in San Diego. She nodded in approval as we gave her a quick rundown of places we were planning to visit, and added her suggestions like Balboa Park before she went back to performing. Besides the music, the drinks were also delightful. We treated ourselves to a sangria flight, which consisted of 6 little shot glasses of sangria each infused with different fruits and herbs. A great place to hide from the Superbowl crowd.
Hiking and Exploring outside of San Diego
The next day, our first stop was to get some coffee. We found a tiny little coffee shop called Industrial Grind, and it almost appeared to be a shanty. The coffee shop existed under corrugated metal roof sheets placed between two buildings, and a tarp out back provided shade for the seating area. It was certainly a cool little place with great coffee.
With an energy boost, we headed to Cabrillo National Monument. The national monument was situated high on a cliff in the Point Loma area, and supposedly a spot to see whales migrating. We started the hike at the bottom of the rocky cliff right by the Pacific Ocean, where the winds were gusting and rain was misting. We found some promising tide pools, but on closer inspection, there didn’t seem to be any thing else besides rocks and sand in them. In hindsight, we probably visited at high tide where waves were crashing onto the cliff, so the tide pools we thought we saw were simply puddles of water on cliff ledges.
The other part of the national monument was at the top of the cliff, where there was an old lighthouse and a statue of Cabrillo. There was not much to explore or hike up there, but it was a good spot to get a view of the entire city and beyond. Perhaps it was possible to see whales, but without binoculars, that was not quite feasible.
Our next stop was Torey Pines State Park, in the northern part of La Jolla. We were a little taken aback by what we thought was an expensive entrance fee for a state park, which perhaps hinted at the higher cost of living in California. We drove to the highest point in the park, and started our hike on a trail that would lead out to a beach. The hike was relatively easy, as the sandy ground was well cleared and there were stairs wherever needed. The landscape was sandy and almost desert like, with beautiful sandstone formation reminiscent of miniature mountains. Eventually the path led to a set of stairs that took us down to a beach surrounded by tall cliffs. Being a dark rainy day, the beach was completely deserted. It was a great day for finding solitude and for simply watching and listening to the waves.
La Jolla Cove Sea Lions & Gelato
After the hike, we headed back south to La Jolla Cove. The rain got heavier and we ducked into Bobboi, which had amazing gelatos of fun flavors like rose almond, and most of these flavors were made of organic and locally sourced ingredients. The cold and wet weather seemed to have kept people from doing anything in the city, so we were the only ones in the store, enjoying the rainy view and eating gelatos.
As the rain lightened up, we took a walk to find the famous seals and sea lions at the La Jolla Cove. Sure enough, a few of them were rolling around in the water, giving us tourists plenty of opportunities to take photos and videos of them. Along the rocky cliffs, many more seals and sea lions were asleep, undisturbed by people gawking at them. Somehow these animals continued to live in the area even as the city got built up and busy over time.
Day Trip to Anza Borrego – Hiking to The Oasis
To get some serious hiking, we headed out of the city, driving two hours northeast to Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Once out of the city, we passed little towns and beautiful rolling hills with farms. It was yet another rainy day, and at some point, the hills were completely swallowed in dense fog. Just as we started to worry about hiking in this weather, the fog lifted and clouds parted to reveal the bright and sunny desert. Sure enough, we had arrived at the edge of the Anza Borrego Desert. We found the visitor center, and were surprised to learn that the state park was way larger than we thought. The trails we had planned to hike would take another couple more hours of driving, so we settled on a hike right by the visitor center, which promised to lead us to an oasis.
We started the hike on a rocky and sandy path for a few hours, for once grateful the rainy season kept the temperature down. After about 2 miles, a little stream appeared, along with some palm trees. Then the trail got confusing. To begin with, the trails were not well marked, and we simply hiked wherever the path looked clear. Now at the stream, big rocks were blocking the path in all directions and a few fellow hikers were milling around, unsure of how to proceed. We clambered over large rocks, skipped across the stream, got to some dead ends, back tracked our steps and tried other paths over other rocks. Finally, with some helpful hints from other hikers, we made our way to the oasis.
The oasis was a different world with soft brown dirt and big tropical palm trees. The palm trees’ dried leaves hung loose on its side as fresh green leaves continued upwards. The scent of the trees brought back memories of the sweet smelling thatched roofs of rural Asia or beach resort furniture. Close your eyes and you could picture yourself on a tropical island, surrounded by palm trees and caressed by gentle winds. Finding an oasis after miles of dry, parched and unforgiving rocky land was quite strange. Where did the water come from? How did tropical palm trees find its way here? Oasis was a familiar concept, whether as a word or in pictures or films, but actually being in an oasis was enlightening. The oasis was strangely beautiful and calming, and we finally understood what an oasis truly meant.
San Diego was also known for small breweries. We headed to Miramar, an area just outside the city. Most of Miramar was for the Marine Corps, which might explain why the area was more industrial looking, not too different from certain suburbs of Chicago. We headed for Mikkeller brewery, located right in the middle of an industrial space, where their neighbors were battery distributors and freight services. Mikkeller’s space was large and wide open, with a bar in a corner and huge cartoonish artwork on the walls. The brewing and packaging facility was right inside as well. It happened to be a quiet night, with just one patron besides us. According to Tom, beer was great, but bartender could be friendlier.
San Diego Art Market – Balboa Park
On our last day in San Diego, the sky finally cleared and the sun was out. For the first time, we experienced the beautiful weather that San Diego was known for. With only a few hours left in the city, we went to the final tourist area we had not yet visited. The Balboa Park was a large area with most of San Diego’s museums and zoo contained in there. As we parked our car, we stumbled on one of the curated gardens, the Desert Garden, which had fragments reminiscent of our Anza Borrego hike. The plants we saw on the Anza Borrego hike was condensed in a small area, and other areas had many desert plants we had never seen.
Near the Desert Garden, we found a vibrant courtyard, which turned out to be the Spanish Village Art Center. Mosaic on the walls and colorful painted floor beckoned us. There were quite a number of studios in the village, and some of them were showrooms for a group of artists. Some were working studios where artists were painting right outside. We spent the rest of our time here, watching the artists and getting some little art pieces. Definitely a lot of interesting areas to explore!
San Diego was a good short escapade, even though the weather wasn’t quite as warm as we had expected. We could see why some people considered San Diego a sterile city, with its many clearly designated tourist areas like Gaslamp Quarters and Coronado Island. San Diego may lack the elusive spark for the city to be considered culturally complex, but considering the large military presence, the city still had pockets of authenticity and artisanship. If anything, there were certainly amazing food and friendly people in San Diego.
Singapore is an island that is also a city and a country at the Southeastern tip of continental Asia. The locals call it the “Red Dot” because it is so darn small… It sits close to the equator, ensuring a predictable 12-hour sunlight everyday of the year, and an amazingly humid tropical weather year round. This is where Priscilla grew up and on this trip, Tom the hapless husband, was about to discover his new extended family and a whole new culture.
Priscilla’s Journey Back Home to Singapore
Singapore was a place I wanted to escape, but now that I had left, I look forward to every chance I get to return. Growing up there, I ran out of what I considered to be fun things to do on the little island. I wanted to experience winter, be in the mountains, explore rural countryside, experience new cultures…the list goes on. And so, I took a gamble and left home for the other side of the world. In the first few years, I was absolutely exhilarated, full of wonder for the world outside. Never once did I feel homesick. But, as I visited Singapore every two years, each visit started to weigh on me. With each visit, my parents and grandparents seemed to age tremendously. My siblings had carved out new lives of their own that I wasn’t a part of. The many amazing friends, who had graciously kept in contact with me virtually, had exciting moments of their lives that I could not be present for, or that I simply could not spend time with in person.
It dawned on me that I was starting to get homesick. At the same time, Singapore seemingly matured and became a lot more cosmopolitan and sophisticated with each visit as well. The food scene blossomed, with many unique eateries offering local fusion to intricate Japanese desserts, and the many fine dining options readily available. The faces in the crowd appeared more diverse, with Europeans, and other Asian ethnic groups living in areas typically only inhabited by locals. The most obvious change was the many new and sparkling modern skyscrapers that dominated the downtown skyline today. Singapore had taken on a new big city personality.
For this trip, I took Tom on a touristy trail. We visited the Botanical Gardens to check out the vast collection of orchids; walked the Marina Bay area, known for the now iconic Marina Bay Sands casino hotel connected at the top by an infinity pool; hung out at Clarke Quay, the traditionally expat area full of bars and seafood restaurants; and strolled through the myriad of malls on Orchard Road, the biggest pastime my family and I shared. We did a lot of walking, exploring historical neighborhoods like Chinatown and Joo Chiat for the colonial style shophouses. And of course, eating local snacks and desserts that were on every corner. All super dangerous for the weak-willed – out goes the dietary concerns!
Food is an essential part of the local culture. The ubiquitous hawker centers, basically open-air but sheltered marketplaces for street foods and groceries, were part and parcel of my life growing up. I had often accompanied my Mom to get groceries, and while waiting for the groceries to be packaged up, we would grab food and chat about life. Naturally, Tom was dragged to all the hawker centers we loved. Since Tom was our guest of honor, we wasted no time to introduce him to local favorites ranging from Roti Prata to grilled stingray and chili crab.
So of course, Tom and I had a great time with family and friends. And, most valuable for me, was the chance to look at Singapore with a fresh pair of eyes and through Tom’s perspectives. There will certainly be many more trips to this city country and I can’t wait to see what other changes I will find next.
Travel with Tom to Singapore – Tom’s Eating and Cultural Journey Through Asia:
Off to Singapore for my first travel foray outside of the Great US of A to meet the new family members. I would have to say Singapore was a great way to ease into Asia travel for this Missouri boy as many of the signs are readable and the lifestyle is quite modern. Ok so at first you think, this is just another big city with some high rise buildings, but as we got on the ground and began exploring it proved to be truly a unique world all together.
Let’s just start with the weather. They have three types of weather, hot, HOT, and rainy and hot with nearly every day coming in around 85-90F. This sounds warm to Midwest folks, but not impressive, but it’s the relentless heat plus humidity plus extra strong sun that gives this place the uniquely warm feel. At night, it just slightly cools down to a balmy 81F. Singapore is located nearly on the equator so this is to be expected, but experiencing the general sweaty-ness 24/7 was an adjustment maybe because most people don’t really use AC!
The exotic trees and lush landscaping remind visitors that Singapore is a city that spawned out of a tropical jungle. It’s completely “normal” here to be walking down the sidewalk and see trees sprouting mangos, jackfruit, and durians. Don’t think about snagging one for your lunch though because people are quite protective of their fruits here. The fruits in Singapore were one of my favorite parts about visiting the tropics. The variety of exotic new flavors like durian or mangosteen and even the tastiness of old favorites like pineapples provide a regular reminder that you not in Illinois anymore.
What do you do when you want to have a little fun in Singapore? Eat of course! While getting to know my new family and learning about the place Priscilla grew up, we basically ate our way all the way across the island. The city may look ultra modern, but they have held tightly to their traditional food culture giving the local cuisine some of the most unique flavors in the world. The likelihood of finding a great place to eat seems so high here, even the so-called “fast” food of the hawker centers was complex and completely delicious. Even with about 2 weeks in Singapore for this trip, we were not able to exhaust the list of Priscilla’s favorite dishes.
Land is scarce in Singapore and thus, they are building UP and UP. The number of high-rise condo and HDB buildings under construction blew my mind. “You mean those 20 buildings in this one block (all 40-50 stories) are being built right now and will be open next year?!? AND there is a 3-5 year waiting list for an apartment?!? AND the apartment rent starts at $3-4K for a small place?!? Whoa…” When they build here, it is on a whole different level.
In between meals, we went out to explore the city to experience one of the favorite hobbies here, SHOPPING. It’s actually quite hard not to visit malls in Singapore because nearly every train station is located in some sort of mall. Above ground they have some ultra impressive buildings to house the top brands in the world, but below ground the mecca of shopping continues! The shopping extends layers and layers below the street level with a seemingly unending abyss of shops. My favorite thing about the underground mall world was the amazing food court. Even their malls have great food… America could definitely learn a thing or two about “fast” food.
The culture in Singapore is an interesting combo of Chinese, Indian and Southeast Asian leading to not only a unique cuisine, but also an opportunity to experience a bit of life from each of the origins. The citizens of Singapore are proud to call themselves Singaporean, but it seems that they also hold tightly to the traditions of their homeland with a wholesome respect for their neighbors and their respective lifestyles. Then add a ton of businesspeople from every corner of the world, and viola you’ve got an awesome cosmopolitan city. I can’t wait to go back (not just for the Stingray…) to visit the family and see how this city continues to evolve!