Friday, November 4, 2016

Day Three in Auckland

Today was another full day in Auckland.  We started out in the Devonport suburb, about 15 minutes away.

The North Head Historic Reserve has been listed as a Category I historic place since 2001.  The military used it for defence until 1950.

The area contained three gun batteries and an extensive tunnel system linking underground store rooms and observation posts.

View of Rangitoto from North Head




It's a nice place for a short, easy hike and there's a nice view of Rangitoto Island.





Next up was the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum.  It opened in 2010 and is the official museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy.

The museum chronicles New Zealand's naval history from the 1845 Flagstaff War.

The museum is very well done and quite educational.  I, for one, never knew that New Zealand had participated in the Vietnam War.




After lunch we drove about an hour to the Muriwai Gannet Colony.







Each year, from August to March, about 1200 pairs of gannets nest here.







From the car park, there's a short walking track to a viewing platform over the colony.   There's also nice views of the beach.






It's great that Czechland is right in the centre of Europe but if only it had a beach.





This evening we had a special treat.  Natalie pulled some strings (no pun intended) and got us tickets to see the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

The NZSO was founded in 1946 and is based in Wellington.  Tonight's programme was Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor and Elgar's Symphony No. 1 in A-flat major.  The performance was wonderful.


They played at Auckland Town Hall which has a separate concert chamber.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Day Two in Auckland

Today was a proper fun filled day.  The first item on the list was to take a 25-minute ferry from Auckland to Rangitoto Island.

Rangitoto Island, actually the Rangitoto Island Scenic Reserve, is a 5.5 km (3,4 mile) volcanic island located in the Hauraki Gulf.  It is the largest, and most recent, of the 50 or so volcanoes of the Auckland volcanic field.


The island was formed at least 6000 years ago by a series of eruptions.  The most recent eruptions took place 550 to 600 years ago.

The volcano's crater


When New Zealand was first colonised by the British Crown, the island was purchased in 1854 for only £15.  What a bargain.

Lava tunnel
In 1890 it became a recreational reserve.

During WWII, military facilities were installed to help protect Auckland and to house U.S. troops.

As of 2011 the island is pest free and visitors are not allowed to bring any animals on to the island.  Rangitoto has more than 200 species of trees and flowers including over 40 different types of fern.  Hiking up a volcano across lava fields makes it a popular day trip from the city.

View of Auckland from Rangitoto
After a full day on the island, and another trip up to the top of the AZ Tower, it was nap time before getting ready for the theatre.

The production of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert recently opened in Auckland and we were able to get tickets.

The Civic Theatre first opened in 1929.  After a major conservation effort it reopened in 2000.  The theatre is well known for its atmospheric style.  Thanks to the design and lighting it gives the audience the impression of being in an outdoor auditorium complete with twinkling stars.

The show was amazing!  I think it's even better than the original film.  Here's a short video I found out on YouTube.
video
©Auckland Live

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Made it to New Zealand

We made it to Kiwi Land!  Kia Ora!!

British Airways 7h40m SIN-SYD
We left Singapore last night and arrived in Auckland this afternoon.  The flight from Singapore to Sydney, Australia, was just over 7½ hours long.   We had a little over an hour to go through security and get to our connecting flight.

Our flight to Auckland was 3¼ hours long.  We then had to go through customs and immigration in Auckland.  They take it seriously here.

Quantas Airlines 3h15m SYD-AKL
At immigration the officer asked me what my travel plans were.  Auckland-Napier-Dunedin-Wellington.  He then asked me why on earth was I going to Dunedin?  Unless, of course, I was Scottish.  Hmmm...I guess I'll figure out why next week.

Anyway, immigration was easy.  Customs was a bit more complicated.  Not for us but for a few other people.  New Zealand relies heavily on its agriculture so they have very strict biosecurity regulations.  You can not bring in honey or fruit.  Not even an apple from the plane (because the apple may not have originated from New Zealand).  Most airports have drug dogs.  In New Zealand the dogs are trained to sniff out fruit.  The automatic fine is $400NZ (€259 / $290 US).

If your hiking boots are dirty they will even take and clean them for you.  No problems for us but of course there were a few people who didn't bother to notice all of the signs warning what not to try to bring in to the country.

New Zealand really is far away.  It's 10 hours ahead of Brno, so basically a day ahead.  And it's in the Southern Hemisphere which means the seasons are flipped.  November here is Spring! 

At the top of AZ Tower
But the best part of arriving in Kiwi Land was Natalie waiting for us at arrivals.  Even though I just saw her in September it still seems like ages.

Our first day here has been settling in to the hotel and a bit of exploring Auckland.  We even went to the top of AZ Tower.  Tomorrow looks to be a hike to a volcano and we picked up tickets to see Priscilla at the Civic Theatre.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Hawker Centres

The food in Singapore was awesome!

Especially at the hawker centres.  They are basically open-air places that serve inexpensive street food.



When you go to a hawker centre there can be hundreds of stalls.  The best rule of thumb is to choose the ones with the longest queues.



Most are self service so once your food is ready then you take it to your seat.  All of the tables have numbers and some will deliver the food to your table but I never saw that.



The centres can get quite busy so it's fine to take an empty seat across from a stranger.

When you're finished you just leave your trays as there is staff to bus and clean the tables.



The national dish is "Chicken Rice" which is chicken and rice cooked in broth and served with cucumbers, black sauce and chilli sauce.



My favourite was the laska which is a bowl of noodles in a coconut curry broth with chicken and fish balls.

Hawkers are popular across Singapore and I believe that they are also in Malaysia and Hong Kong.  Here's a short video I found on YouTube that gives you a feel for the hawker centres.


video
©Condé Nast Traveler

Monday, October 31, 2016

Singapore


Singapore is both a city and country.

The city-state has a main island and 62 other islands located next to Malaysia.

Singapore is home to almost 5,8 million people.


It's easy to get around and there's plenty of areas to explore.  Singapore is quite diverse and a mix of Chinese, Malay, and Tamil cultures. 

This is a great place for those who like architecture.

The Marina Bay Sands opened in 2010.  The resort includes a hotel, a convention centre, a shopping mall, a museum, a skating rink and the world's largest atrium casino.  The three 55-story hotel towers were inspired by decks of cards.  The SkyPark is a 1 hectare (2,5 acre) roof terrace that connects the three towers.  SkyPark includes an infinity swimming pool and great views of the city.



Merlion Park is a popular area at Marina Bay near the Central Business District.







The Merlion, the mythical fish with a lion's head, was created in 1964 as a logo for the tourism board.

The ArtScience Museum opened in 2011 as the world's first ArtScience museum.  Exhibits show the accomplishments of both the arts and the sciences over time.  The building was designed to represent a lotus flower.


Every night there is an incredible laser and fountain show set to music that includes Louis Armstrong's It's a Wonderful World.


The Double-helix bridge is a pedestrian bridge that opened in 2010.

The Singapore Flyer opened in 2008.  Until 2014 it was the world's tallest Ferris wheel at 165 metres (541 feet).

The Float is the world's largest floating stage.  It can seat 30,000 people and was used for the YOG's opening and closing ceremonies.



Youth Olympic Park is the city's first art park.  It opened in 2010 when Singapore hosted the first Youth Olympic Games.


The Gardens by the Bay is a futuristic park with giant artificial trees.  It is home to over 200 different plant and flower species.

The National Gallery opened in 2015.  It is home to more than 8,000 works of art.  It is made up of the former Supreme Court building and City Hall, both national monuments, and it is the country's largest museum.

The Arts House at the Old Parliament opened in 2004.  The old building was restored and is now an arts and heritage centre.

The Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall opened in 1862.  It is home to the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and was listed as a national monument in 1992.  It was renovated in 2014.


The War Memorial Park is dedicated to the civilians who died in Singapore during WWII.

Saint Andrew's Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral near City Hall.  It is the country's largest cathedral.

Singapore's House of Parliament was completed in 1999.


The Fountain of Wealth was listed in 1988 by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's largest fountain.  The water actually flows inward.  It's all very feng shui.


The Red Dot Design Museum has over 1,000 exhibits from more than 55 countries.  All of the exhibits have won the prestigious red dot design award.



The Asian Civilizations Museum specialises in history from China, Southeast Asia, and West Asia.





Singapore is predominantly Chinese but Chinatown is home to the traditional Chinese quarters. There are lots of restored shophouses and it's a great place for a wander.




The Chinatown Heritage Centre is a well put together museum chronicling Chinatown and the history of Chinese immigrants.

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a four-storey temple in southern Chinatown.  It was completed in 2007.  It is supposed to be home to one of Buddha Shakyamuni's teeth.
Central Business District










The Majestic is a historic building in Chinatown.  In 1928 it was a Cantonese opera house.  During WWII the Japanese Army used it to screen propaganda films.  It screened Chinese films until it closed in 1998.  It was renovated and reopened in 2003.




The Sri Mariamman Temple is the city's oldest, and most important, Hindu temple.




Little India is the centre of the Indian community.  It's a colourful area and the main area is just a few blocks.  Lots of shops selling saris, gold jewellery and spices.

The Sultan Mosque was completed in 1928.  It can accommodate 5,000 people and became a national monument in 1975.  It is considered by many to be one of the city's most important mosques.




Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is the area's oldest and busiest temple.  It dates back to 1881.





The Angullia Mosque has been serving the Muslim community in Little India for over 120 years.

One of the best things about Singapore is all of the really delicious food.  Especially at the hawker centres which are great open-air places for inexpensive local food.  There are community tables and benches.  They sprang up in the 1950s and 1960s.

The Singapore Botanic Gardens were founded in 1859.  The 82-hectare (202,6 acre) area contains more than 10,000 species of flora.  It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015 and it is the only tropical garden listed as a site.  About 4,5 million people visit each year.