Of collecting and collating memories

We shopped for hours, M and I. I intended buying gifts for family and close friends. In between shopping for others, I browsed and picked up junk jewelry and clothes for myself. Flitting from one shop to another in the row of several tiny shops lined next to each other, we enjoyed the art of shopping as only women can. Despite not being the quintessential shoppers. We realized that we are quite similar in our shopping habits. Focusing on things that we had in mind and not lingering around shops we have no intention of buying from.

We came back satiated to join the men and kids at a beach that's just across M's house. The evening was cool with a light breeze. The clean sand glistened against the dark evening sky. The sea glittered with the lights cast into the waters by a fleet of ships lined up in neat rows farther down the shore. The kids were making merry building sand castles and running about unfettered. As we adults huddled together in the open seating area of the adjacent food court, a heady mix of different food smells wafted across. Just the perfect evening one could have. Food, drinks, and friendly banter with some occasional food for thought thrown in.

We left for Bali the next day afternoon. The flight was a bit delayed and as is wont with the smartphone and wi-fi era, the extra time was duly spent clicking and posting selfies. We caught up with some sleep on the flight. Just before we began our descent, we woke up to a beautiful sight of the bright setting sun casting a radiant yellow and crimson glow on the sky on one side while the cool white moon shimmered pleasantly on the other.

We met D, our warm and courteous chauffeur, at the airport who'd also be our tour guide for the next three days. On the way to our hotel, we passed by a lot of  life-size statues at road junctures depicting scenes from mythology, particularly the Ramayana and even the Mahabharata. It was not surprising considering the fact that the island is named after the mighty king Bali in Ramayana. Over the next three days, we were to discover a beautiful land; one that was similar to India in many ways, yet one that retained a distinct, unique culture of its own.

We love animals!

After all the drama, it was funny to wake up the next day and start for the same place. To make up for the balance amount on our ticket. Ha-ha, no, we are not that crazy. Yes, we were heading to Sentosa once again. However, this time, the wonderful underwater creatures beckoned us.

SEA Aquarium:
From sharks to stingrays to dolphins to sea horses to clownfishes to coral reef, we got to see them all at such close quarters! It felt surreal to walk through a glass tunnel and see sharks swim above your head. It was like walking through an encyclopedia of aquatic animals, full of wonder and trivia. 
R's injury changed a few things on our itinerary. A water park that had been planned after the aquarium visit had to be canceled. Thus, we had the entire day at disposal. We spent a good three hours leisurely strolling along, and clicking several pictures (this was me, of course). After a late lunch, we headed back home for a relaxed dinner. The next day was devoted to being around with some more animals. 

 Singapore Zoo and Night Safari:
The Zoo is large and requires 4-5 hours of time to cover it all at leisure. Since we've had our share of zoo visits, we decided to concentrate on the ones that we haven't seen elsewhere. Also, it made more sense to conserve time and energy for the night safari. 

It was a warm day and we were being worn down by the humidity and all the walking. After a couple of determined hours by walk, we hopped on to the tram that takes you through a trail across the zoo. If you are ok to just skim through the sections you can keep riding, else you hop off at designated stops to explore at leisure. We rode past some parts and hopped off at sections that seemed interesting.

The husband badly wanted to see the "Arapaima" and "Polar bear", but unfortunately, these chose not to come out from their hideouts. We were as excited as the kids to see some rare-to-find-in-zoo species like the 'African painted' dog, 'Red river' hog, Komodo dragon, Koalas, and Kangaroos. 

The cat family's always a pleasure to capture, especially when one's striking a pose.

That's the African painted dog
We were famished by evening and stopped at the restaurants outside to grab a quick bite. We also needed the break to re-energize before the safari began. The entrance to the night safari is just a few blocks away from the zoo. By the time we got done, a huge crowd had gathered to form a queue to enter the safari gates! We waited a bit to let the crowd dissipate and then entered. There were two trails: one that could be covered by foot and the other by the tram. After all the walking in the zoo, it was a no-brainer that we chose the latter option. But, what did we see? All the crowd had gone nowhere. They were now at the queue for the tram!

The serpentine queue moved rather slow or so we thought. We stifled yawns and tried to pep up the weary and antsy kids. Well, who could blame them? A long 45-minute later we got our tram. Almost immediately, all of us felt enthused to spot the animals in the dark. It was definitely a good idea to take the tram because a) we couldn't have possibly covered it by foot, and b) the audio guide on the tram fed us with interesting bits of trivia as we rolled on slowly through the animal habitats. Even though this was not a forest safari, it did not feel lame. The stillness of the night, the shadow-and-light effect created, and to see the animals prowl about freely, sometimes close enough to put out your hand and touch them, all of these added a thrill factor. Sleep and lethargy vanished into thin air, and we were recharged enough to enjoy a "creatures of the night" show after the safari.

Our stay at Singapore was drawing to a close with just a day more to go and that day was ear-marked for shopping. Yes, no trip is complete without shopping for knick-knacks and souvenirs.

However, the fun was not over. As the dialogue goes, "picture abhi baaki hai", we still had the Bali trip to look forward to. 

A day full of twists and turns!

Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumble Bee, Avengers!
Sword! fight!
swish, dwish, dishoom, dhaaa!
If you are or have a sci-fi aficionado in your home, you're certain to nod your head at the above. For the uninitiated, I'm talking about the world of Sci-fi heroes and Transformers: a fixation with R and his friends' circle. They discuss these characters so passionately as though a post-doc degree would depend on the discussion. And, each is an SME. The already make-believe characters come alive in more creative ways in these little heads. From time to time R imagines himself to be one of these avengers who can transform into vehicles and fight the evil.

So, can you imagine the excitement levels if he went to a place where he could actually be a part of the transformer's game plan?!

The Universal Studios

The Universal Studios in Sentosa Island is a theme park. The joy-rides are based on themes lifted off popular children's' movies like the Madagascar, Lost World, Transformers, Shrek, Disney, and so on. Even before we had the trip planned, R's (like-minded) classmate who had already visited the place had got R all excited about the transformer's ride. So, we knew that we simply HAD to cover this one come what may.

We were quite a large group this time. (M, her kids, M's Sil and her kids and the three of us.) The place is HUGE and very creatively done. Each section is well-planned and laid out. There are rides for all ages. You can re-live the childhood in the right sense. I, for one, absolutely love these joy rides and can give any kid tough competition when it comes to being involved. We initially followed the route map to avoid missing anything. However, the queue for each of the rides proved to be deterring, and in the end, we had to split up as three groups to cover what was most important to each.

Our first ride was on a boat that took us through a long tunnel. The dark tunnel had the characters of Madagascar playing out a scene, mouthing dialogues targeting the passengers on the boat, springing surprises at blind turns along the way. The ride, bereft of any adrenaline factor, was a cute presentation; strictly for little kids :-) After the ride, the characters came out to engage with the crowd. R thoroughly enjoyed himself, dancing to the music without any inhibitions, displaying a streak of flamboyance in some sense, quite unlike his parents. A good thing, I'd say!

Inside the tunnel

A couple of rides and a short 4D animated movie later, we decided to break for lunch. We were also tired and worn out by the long queues everywhere. The good thing is, the rides display a real-time indicator right at the beginning of the queue that indicates the amount of time one would need to wait in the queue. So it's easier to decide right at the beginning if the ride might be worth the waiting time.

It was almost 2 pm as we strode towards the Lost World section. Most of the rides showed a waiting time of one hour, the exciting ones more than that. So, it was time to pick and choose. Our instinct told us to finish off the great transformer's ride before anything else, so off we split ourselves. This was one of the best decisions we made. You'll know why, soon.

M's son, E, came with us.The queue there reminded me of the queues at Tirupati. We went from one enclosed section to another, each time hoping that would be the last one, only to find ourselves into another. There was so much build-up to the actual ride. Every enclosed space was filled with transmitters, video screens that displayed some mathematic mumbo-jumbo, and movie characters on different screens trying to solve a life-threatening situation. The answer being the avenger of course, who can save them from the alien's attack or some such. R and E thoroughly enjoyed being in the queue too!

Finally, after about an hour or so, we reached the end of the line and all the hoopla. As we strapped ourselves to the seat and set off, we realized that all the hype was totally worth it and perhaps more. The 4D animated experience was simply mind-blowing. You've to experience it to know. Even the ones who scoff at sci-fi stuff will agree to this. R was going to boast to his friends back home for a long while now.

As we got off, contemplating going back for a second round, we were greeted by the rest of our group. Our description of the ride got them all excited and they decided to head towards the queue right away. And, then, I saw an opportunity. There were two more rides under the sci-fi section that were not meant for little kids. I thought it was a good idea to pack off R with the rest and try one of those rides with the husband. The plan seemed perfect and we split into different groups again.

About 10 minutes in the queue and I saw M and a security person approach us with a worried look on their faces. I knew instantly something was wrong. M said that we needed to go with her as R had got himself injured. We jumped off and darted outside. I was imagining all the worst scenarios in my head and couldn't even bring myself to ask M the details. As we ran, I only kept asking where R is and if it was too bad. By then I saw R with a gash just below his left eyebrow. The moment I saw him, I just enveloped him into a tight hug. It was not as serious as I'd imagined; his eye escaped narrowly, he's not unconscious, these thoughts kept going on in my head in a loop. Actually, I just felt a wave of relief wash over me.

R was sobbing, more out of shock than pain. The only thing he kept telling me, in between sobs, was that he wasn't running. I've always reprimanded him for not being careful and being susceptible to all kinds of injuries. Poor thing! After I had calmed him (and myself) down, I asked M what happened. Apparently, they were at a queue for a different ride and R just banged himself against a railing. R's version was no different. He was trying to keep pace with others and banged against the rod which he missed seeing. The railings were all smooth with no rough edges and the whole thing baffled us and the staff who, as part of due diligence, tried to understand how the accident occurred. The wound wasn't bleeding a lot but since the gash was wide, stitches were required to seal the area. The medico-in-charge advised us to take R to a children's hospital nearby since the charges in the Park would be way higher and besides they might not have the best of facilities. Oh boy! a hospital visit in Singapore. We were told how expensive medical facilities are and while this was not a good time to calculate expenses, we couldn't help wondering how much of a blow this could be.

M's SIL decided to wait back with her kids and E while M and her younger one D accompanied us to the hospital. The staff at Universal were highly prompt and made sure to see that we got dropped off at the taxi bay, and even got a preferential cab service. The ride to the hospital was more solemn than anxious since R was not complaining of any pain and he wasn't showing any red flag signs. R required five stitches and we were done with all the formalities and procedure in less than an hour's time. And, yes, since it was a government hospital, we got let off with minimal (relatively speaking, of course) expenses. We had to take care that the wound was minimally exposed to water and keep him off strenuous activities for the next few days.

So, yes, we even did a tour of a hospital while holidaying. How much more exciting can the trip get! "All izz well" is all we could hum as we hit the bed that night. 

Rendezvous with feathered friends, a river cruise, and a dinner by the bay

The effects of the day's activities and the previous night's flight journey hit us hard by the end of day one. Also, the husband and I were just recovering from the effects of the flu. So, like good kids, we decided to hit the bed early to sleep it all off. Of course, it was a silly thing to do when you have some fun company. Indeed, you lose track of time, and fatigue simply melts away when you have so much to catch up. M and I kept chatting well into midnight; the kids and the menfolk were holed up separately (each happy with a suitable company).

Jurong Bird Park, Merlion Park and around Clarke Quay:

We all woke up quite late the next day, quite understandably so. After a heavy brunch, we started off for Jurong Bird park. We had to take the MRT to the far end of where we stayed. The train ride lasted about 30 minutes during which we amused ourselves with the names of the station and in general people-observing. M had asked me to avoid carrying full-lengthed clothes and as I looked around, I was quick to acknowledge that the weather condition was just one of the reasons for her advice. I felt quite over clothed even in my knee-length skirts and capris. Not that it really mattered. Just saying:-p

From our station, a bus was to take us (per info provided by the App) to a particular point after which we had to walk (yes, you guessed it right. Just a few hundred meters) to the Bird park. We were a bit wary of the last leg of the journey considering how the App was quite off  the mark the last time. We must have stood out as perfect tourists with the camera slung over the shoulders and an in-general air of unsureness, for a bus driver proactively directed us to the right route number that had a stop right outside the park. The route mentioned by the App would have stopped short of 3 bus-stops! Just imagining another lengthy period of sun-walking made me shudder. We'll remain forever indebted to the guy.

(Dear App makers, either you over-estimate the enthusiasm of tourists or you need to get yourself updated.)

The Bird park lived up to the expectations of all the word-of-mouth and online reviews. The myriad, colourful species from around the world are wonderful to look at. We timed ourselves to catch two bird shows and they were absolutely superlative. If you plan to visit the park, do allow yourself time for these shows. These, and of course, the sheer collection of bird species, make the park stand apart from any other zoo.

After the Bird park, we grabbed some late lunch and headed (via the MRT) towards the Merlion park that's centrally located. It's an area bustling with office-goers, tourists and locals. We enjoyed the perfect evening weather to stroll by the river bay (the same river connects the Gardens by the bay, the Flyer, and the Merlion) towards the park. We sat by the steps near the Merlion until dark and then took a short river cruise to the Clarke Quay. The cruise was a short 20-minute ride with an audio-video clip that describes the iconic structures that you see around along with its associated history. We passed by many bridges (each of them with a history and usually named after a colonial governor) that dot the entire span of the river.

Helix Bridge-It has a canopy structure that resembles the human DNA

Anderson Bridge

The Quay was beautifully lit-up for Christmas (although my guess is it is all through the year), and bustling with energy, and people, with a line of multi-cuisine restaurants dotting the shoreline. We chose a Mexican restaurant (actually anything that offered a decent choice for veggies was how we came about to choose it) to have dinner. Quite an expensive affair, but at least, it offered some decent portion of food. But, what's a holiday without some indulgence! However, our general observation was that fine dining in Singapore not only leaves your pocket but, sadly, also your tummy lighter. However, the food courts around the housing complexes are far less expensive and also serve a decent portion of food; quite popular amongst the locals.

The food was good and the view by the bay even better. With our palates and heart satiated, we headed back home as yet another fun day came to a close. Leaving you with some pics from the day.

Carrying an Ostrich egg

Meandering along and discovering Singapore

We reached Singapore on 19th morning. We had a happy reunion at the airport with M and family who came to pick us up. The kids were so thrilled to see each other after a long gap. They could not contain their excitement and kept chattering at high decibels all along the way. It was a short 15-minute car ride to their house, but long enough to marvel at the chiseled (a tad unnatural, one can say) landscape, spotless roads, and the noiseless and smooth flow of traffic. The roads aren't too wide, yet, I don't recall a single moment of chaos anytime during my stay. The transport, like all other sectors, was organized and moved with clock-work precision. Strict laws, heavy penalty, and a self-imposed discipline among citizens are, I realized (rather wistfully), so essential for an organized society.

After we had refreshed and helped ourselves to some lovely home-cooked brunch (oh, the many joys of having a home as a base during a holiday ;-)), we set out for our first stop on our itinerary. M and I had spent a good time chalking out our tour plan; I underlined the must-see ones as far as I could fathom from the likes of TripAdvisor while M re-arranged and paired the places with exact dates as per logistics and distance.

Gardens by the Bay and Singapore Flyer:

N, M's husband, took us through a few useful transport Apps (bus info, route-maps) that would help us get from one point to another. Armed with those and the MRT map, we set out for the Gardens by the Bay. The transport system more or less resembles that of Bombay. A permutation and combination of buses and local trains will take you from point A to B. So, in a way, I was reveling in some sort of familiarity. R was particularly pleased to travel by the double-decker bus. We had only managed to show him these (never got a chance to travel on one) during my visits to Bombay. It has been on his wish-list ever since. Speaking of wishlists, this trip truly fulfilled all of the items in his wishlist so far (that, the list keeps increasing and expanding, is a different story altogether.)

Despite the eagerness to follow the route and instructions to the letter, we still managed to get off the bus one stop earlier than intended:-p Course re-directed with the next approaching bus, we arrived at our stop without much delay. The App had mentioned walking down a few meters from the said bus stop to arrive at the Gardens. And, so we began to walk in the general direction of our destination (shown by Google maps). It was about 1:30 pm and the walk under the sun was not exactly rejuvenating, the December weather notwithstanding. And, it definitely seemed to stretch beyond the few hundred meters mentioned on the App. We instinctively knew that there was something amiss. The local prepaid card on my phone was non-operational for some reason and I suddenly missed the ease with which you can stop and ask just about anybody on the road for directions back home. Not that the locals are not friendly, it's just that we did not cross paths with any pedestrians at that hour and place.

We knew that the garden and Flyer were located close to each other, so when we finally ( after a total of 15-odd minutes; it definitely seemed more!) saw the Flyer in sight, we heaved a sigh of relief. At the helpdesk we were duly informed that the Gardens was close but not close enough to walk it out. We hailed a cab promptly and cooled off inside the AC. 10 minutes later, we found ourselves at the ticket counter of the huge expanse of green area that is known particularly for the two large conservatories that houses all kinds of flowers and plants grown in an artificially created climatic condition.

It took us about 3 hours to cover the two main conservatories, the Cloud Forest, and the Flower Dome. The flower dome didn't excite me so much; we have all of these and much more growing in the natural surroundings in our own Ooru, I thought. The Cloud forest was fascinating for its architecture and the thought that went behind it.

There are a few more outdoor architectural attractions to marvel at if you have the time and stamina. It takes a lot of walking to cover most of the sights in Singapore, so one has to be adequately prepared. Also, the conservatories, like all other enclosed public areas in the country, has the air-conditioning running at the highest freezing mode. To the extent that you might consider moving around with a light jacket or so when indoors!

It was close to 6 pm as we left the Gardens to ride on the Singapore Flyer. We did some absolute touristy stuff like getting a picture of us clicked in an indoor studio and paying a bomb for one of the many prints that had us against the iconic backdrops of Singapore in various shades and tones:-p We had a lovely time on the Flyer and went on a clicking spree, capturing the skyline at different angles and levels of altitude. The dusk-to-night landscape switched automatically from gray to one that had every structure around dazzling with night lights. We spent some quiet time on the banks overlooking the bay with some mouth-watering ice-cream for company before calling it a day.

Leaving you with some more pictures taken from the Flyer.

It has taken me so long to post the details of one day. At this rate, the travelogue might take longer than I thought. I do hope I manage to finish it before I forget the details or worse, lose the interest to write it down.

How it all ended and began

2015 had to be a mixed bag for me; Not great, not bad either. Nothing significant achieved or lost, professionally. On the personal front, the husband lost his father early this year. The F.i.L had been ailing for quite some time and while the end was not entirely unexpected, it still came as a sorrowful blow to the near and dear ones leaving an irreplaceable void.

Later in the year, I was to experience a different kind of void as another good friend of mine, M, moved abroad. The same city that seemed so promising and exciting a few years ago because of these friends who were actually extended family seemed empty and boring now with both of them moving to different countries within a span of two years.

Who would've thought that, after years of being spread out in different cities and countries during the years of education, work, and marriage, we'd converge in the same city, bearing children in the same age group, and to top it have the respective husbands get along with each other to regroup as one large family. Yet, this happened. And, we enjoyed while the party lasted.  Life throws strange coincidences at you and you're left wondering about how the bigger picture must seem to the player above who positions us at different angles, bringing us together and apart at various points in the game of life, all the while keeping the end a mystery and surprise. How amusing for Him!

Even as M settled in her new home, we were making plans to make the most of her relocation: by holidaying in her new country-Singapore! October appealed to both our families, then, since a good part of the kids' long holidays coincided. However, life is never simple and straightforward. Like the game of see-saw, circumstances on each side kept changing affecting our plans and finally we had to defer our trip. I saw Christmas holidays as the next best opportunity and was determined to see it happen.

Singapore had to be clubbed with another destination. It is the usual norm, no? However, I skipped the usual destination partners and chose Bali. A good blogger friend and my travel guru shared valuable tips and info about the must-see places and stay options in Bali, and with less than two months to go, I had all the bookings in place. In a pleasant turn of events at the last moment, M and her family also decided to join us to Bali, adding to the excitement. What fun the trip was to be! We decided to end our travel with a quick stopover at Mumbai, begin the New year like we have always done in the recent past, and then head back home, refreshed and rejuvenated!

Little did I know that the universe had conspired to end the year for us with a lot of drama. Our ride on the roller-coaster had only just begun. Before even I had commenced with the bookings, we realized that R's passport was to expire and needed immediate renewal if we were to travel in December. Thankfully, the process has been simplified and we got it done like a dream in just three days. Just as I thought things were moving, the husband announced that he might have to travel to the US; his travel dates and ours brushed too close for comfort. Providence played its part and the trip got cancelled. Phew! Then came the troubles with the Visa. Of course, it is a simple procedure and one only has to get hold of an agent to sail through the procedure. We got hold of one too, but then the cyclonic rains hit Chennai for more than a month, putting all applications on hold. We managed to get the Visa just in the nick of the time. And, then lastly, the husband and I got hit by a nasty bout of viral in quick succession just 10 days before the travel date. I was so sick that for a while we wondered if I'd get better enough to undertake a journey.

For all the advance planning, we managed to start packing only two days before the trip that included some last minute shopping. It was totally a mad, crazy time for a person like me who likes to pack at leisure!

Getting past all the drama, we set out for one of the most cherished vacations; one that will be remembered for a variety of reasons. Hoping to capture all the fine moments in the upcoming short series of posts. Stay tuned!