MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Mount Isobel

After 7.5 years living in Canterbury in the South Island, I’ve managed to get up a good few mountains in the region’s Southern Alps. I have a few favourites that I go back to, but every now and again I’ll try something new. I’d known about Mount Isobel for some time, but it wasn’t until November last year that I finally got around to hiking it. The mountain sits overlooking the town of Hanmer Springs, what used to be a 90 minute drive away from Christchurch, but realistically is longer now with the speed restrictions that were introduced after the Kaikoura earthquake of 2016. With weather forecasts for the mountains being vague, I was hopeful for a clear day when I set off, but the reality is that you don’t always know what you’re going to get until you reach the mountain. The closer I got to Hanmer, the more I could see a thick bank of cloud sitting atop the range to the west and it was only on the final approach to the town that I could finally see a clear summit, separated from the cloud bank by the Clarence Valley.

There are several routes up Mt Isobel, and I drove through Hanmer and out the other side to turn onto Clarence Valley Road, a steep, winding and unsealed road that leads deep into the Southern Alps. I don’t have a 4×4 or a fancy traction system in my little car and have previously lost traction driving up a steep unsealed road, so I’m always a little nervous taking my car on some of New Zealand’s back country roads. It was only a few kilometres to reach the pull-in for the Mt Isobel track but when I got there it was full, and I had to pull up on the verge just a short distance away. For me, the initial part of the hike was rather uninteresting. It started across a deforested section of slope, where there was a glimpse of Hanmer Springs in the valley below before it disappeared into the trees; a narrow, rough, and at times zig-zagging path up the slope. Intermittent breaks in the foliage gave views of a town getting smaller and smaller, but I have to admit I found this lower section a bit of a drag.

 

After about 50 minutes, I reached the junction where the Dog Stream Waterfall track met up to share a route to the summit. There was no signpost here to direct but it was clear that up was the way to go and as the track broke free from the trees and onto the alpine slopes, I started to enjoy the hike a little more. Even although the track was steep here, by the time I’d reached the ridge and the junction with the Jacks Pass track, another 30 minutes later, the views had really started to become delightful and I loved this upper section.

 

I’d already passed a few people coming down from the summit. The early start from Christchurch had me at the start of the track late morning, but clearly those with the benefit of staying more local had managed an earlier start than me. I could see a couple of groups of people ahead of me on the ridgeline, and even though it is classed as a route rather than a track from here onwards, it really isn’t difficult to follow at all. The well trodden route follows the contours of the rising ridgeline towards the summit proper, and to my left I had mountain peaks disappearing into the distance, and to my right I had the plains of the valley with the buildings of Hanmer Springs.

Only near the final ascent did the alpine plants thin out a bit, and a scree slope had to be crossed to reach a rocky climb up to the summit marker at 1319m (4327ft). I’d made it up in just under 2hrs, less than the track sign at the start had listed. Surprisingly I had the summit to myself and made the most of it, taking photos and eating my lunch in solitude, admiring the view. From the summit, it is possible to walk down to Jollies Pass Road to the east, and one of the groups ahead of me had continued this way. After about 20 minutes to myself, a couple of other hikers arrived, so I started back down the mountain, leaving them in peace.

 

The view on the way down was full frontal mountains and valley and without the exertion of the climb, it was much easier to take it all in on the way back. I passed several people working their way up the slope as I descended, and as the alpine plants became replaced with trees and I once again reached the lower track, I found myself hurrying to complete this uninteresting section once more and I was back at my car a little over an hour from leaving the summit behind. The downhill return to the town was easy and quick and I found myself at a new cafe hidden down a side street where I enjoyed a post hike coffee and cake. But the best thing about Hanmer Springs is the thermal spa in the middle of town, and this was the perfect place to soothe my post-hike muscles, something that became a recurring theme after the next weekend’s hike.

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Otira Valley

When it comes to hiking, I’m utterly spoiled in New Zealand. From short walks of a few hours to multi-day tramps, there’s plenty of choice, and I’m a particular fan of getting in amongst, or up on top of, the many peaks of the Southern Alps. The west coast road that spans between Christchurch and Kumara Junction has offered me some incredible hikes, but one that had eluded me until last October was the walk up Otira Valley in Arthur’s Pass National Park. The marked trail looks quite short on the map, so to make the over 90 min drive from home worthwhile, I decided to combine it with a few nearby tracks. Parking up at the bottom of the Temple Basin track, I passed the bottom of that walk to cross the road to join the nature walk that lead onto the Lake Misery track.

Despite the proximity to the state highway with its regular traffic noise, the surrounding peaks seemed to pull my mind away from the noises of civilisation and frankly I was surrounded by a stunning landscape that was difficult to ignore. There were a few other people on the nature trail that had walked from Arthur’s Pass village but as I continued on to the lake, I felt more and more on my own. Looking back across the road as the trail gained a bit of height, I could see a great waterfall spilling down the opposite mountainside, and the zig-zagging Temple Basin track headed up the slope at its side. According to the Department of Conservation (DOC) website, the boardwalk that passes Lake Misery can be under water. It was such a gorgeous sunny day, that even though there had recently been rain, I was hopeful that there wouldn’t be any issues here, and thankfully the walkway was high and dry. At the far side of the lake, there was a large rock wall to climb up and over and now I was at the end of the Otira Valley look up at distant snowy peaks.

 

The track is poled but is also well-worn and easy to follow as it skirts the slope of the rock wall I’d climbed over to get there. The alpine vegetation was coming to life in spring, and below me the babbling waters of the lower Otira River accompanied me as I cut up the valley. A few places were rougher than others, including a few spots where the track had collapsed a little creating the occasional steep drop down, but otherwise it was a decent meander to reach the little wooden bridge that leads to the far side of the river. A DOC sign here marks it as the end of the track, the upper reaches of the valley deemed fit for mountaineers only. Everyone else on the trail with me turned back at this point, and I scrambled up onto the bridge to cross it and sit on the other side. It was such a lovely day, I was happy to just watch the running water for a while. But as I looked up the valley, I could make out a well-trodden path and far in the distance I could see a couple of people following it. It really hadn’t taken me that long to reach this point, and with time on my side and a blue sky above, it seemed like a good idea to keep going. And boy am I glad I did.

Following the path of the river for the most part, it hugged the slope as it headed upstream. Behind me, the road seemed so far away and the peaks of Mt Temple dominated the background. As the track hit a wide section of scree, the still-obvious track followed the natural curve of the valley and the road disappeared out of view and the incredible peaks of Mt Rolleston appeared. Cutting down towards the river, a series of small waterfalls created a stunning foreground to the view. It was hard not to get a little giddy with it all and it was also hard not to want to keep going. Despite clearly being in an avalanche zone, there wasn’t enough snow to be concerned, and I decided I’d just keep walking until the track stopped. Despite the lack of poles, it was well worn and therefore easy to pick a route past large boulders that littered the river side.

 

A myriad of waterfalls streamed down the steep wall of rock to my left and in front of me a basin became visible, surrounded by steep snowy peaks. I saw the pair far ahead of me trudging towards the snow, and after reaching the end of a flat area strewn with boulders, I found a spot to sit down and have lunch. As I ate, I was privy to the sight of several small avalanches skipping down the mountainside. The sight and the sounds were as incredible as each other, the basin causing the sound to magnify. Not far ahead, the track appeared to fade, but from my vantage point, I watched the pair cross a section of snow and clamber up another rock field to reach the true basin, and I watched in awe as they sat for a while, the avalanches coming down right in front of them.

 

I sat so long there that they headed back whilst I was still ogling at the view. When they reached me, one of them stopped for a brief chat, congratulating me for being out on my own. I’m never sure if it’s because I’m female or hiking solo (or the fact that I’m both female and hiking solo) that seems worthy of congratulating me for but these are the occasions where the male dominance of the hiking world becomes clear. I’ve taken my freedom for granted all my life, and thought nothing of taking myself up mountains on my own or heading off with a tent on my own, but every now and again I’m reminded of how I’m in a minority. But this man encouraged me to head up to where they had been before leaving me alone, and as I watched them disappear down river, I looked up at the beautiful white snow and decided I’d go the extra distance.

Thanks to their footprints, I could pick a route across a wide bank of snow, a couple of times dropping deeper down into the snow than anticipated. But once I was at the other side, I was greeted by a large boulder pile that I picked my way up to find myself staring at the backside of Mt Rolleston. The whole time I was there I was nervous. I hadn’t seen a single avalanche reach this far whilst I’d been sitting having lunch, but all around me were signs of recent avalanches and I was acutely aware of the fact that no-one knew I was there. Whilst I love hiking solo, it does make me heavily responsible for my own safety and at the mercy of my ability to make rational judgements. But the whole time I stood there, the nervousness was mingled with the thrill of the view in front of me, and the excitement and rush of having it all to myself.

 

This is definitely the kind of place that would be totally different to hike on another occasion: the view and risk changeable with the season and the snow level. Spring was a great time to be there, with the flowering alpine plants, the sunshine in the sky but the snow still present in the higher reaches. I cut back down the boulder field to the snow bank I’d crossed earlier, trying a different route to avoid the dips I’d fallen into on the way up. The view was just as phenomenal on the way back as it had been on the way there, and it was hard not to keep looking backwards as the basin grew further away and then disappeared out of sight as the valley curved back towards the road.

 

There was not a soul to be seen as I made my way back down the valley towards the little wooden bridge. A couple of people were on the marked trail as I continued back towards the road, crossing a lower scree field before reaching the turnoff to Lake Misery. Even with the road and power poles cutting across the landscape, there was no escaping the beauty of this place and it was a pleasure to retrace my steps past the lake and towards the nature trail. Only the cold of the shaded trail on the way back to my car reminded me that it wasn’t quite summer yet, but I was elated to have finally walked this track, and I was equally glad I’d had the guts to keep going up the valley. The Otira Valley track is now officially an Arthur’s Pass favourite.

Districts of Singapore

I’d read about a restaurant in Chinatown that took my fancy. After 4 days of hanging around Marina Bay, I was ready to see a bit more of what Singapore had to offer. The city was bustling at night when the temperature was much more pleasant and being a Friday, there were a multitude of bars spilling out onto the street as I headed from my hotel through the backstreets towards Chinatown. Unfortunately, the place I’d planned on grabbing dinner in was small and full so I headed into the nearby hawker food centre for what was a great meal anyway. These hawker centres are dotted about the city. Effectively a multitude of food stalls under one roof, they are a great way to try different foods and often a cheap way to eat out too. Feeling satiated, I headed to central Chinatown where there was a street full of food vendors surrounded by streets full of shops selling a myriad of souvenirs. It was packed full of tourists with a few locals intermingled and I grabbed some dessert to eat whilst wandering around. I rarely buy souvenirs, but these places are great for people watching, something that I do love to do, so I hung around for a bit before wandering off. I didn’t really have a plan of where to go, simply following alleys or lights or sounds. On a main street I found a collection of Chinese Lanterns depicting early settler life in Singapore.

 

I had one full day to myself before heading home on the Sunday evening, so I was glad to wake up to a gorgeous sunny day on the Saturday. The heat of this city in the daytime is incredible, but I decided to take a walking tour of the city’s districts. Whilst public transport can be a necessity in some places, it adds to the budget and I also feel like I see more of a place if I walk it, rather than disappear underground into a network of tunnels, so even in sweltering heat, I will often choose to stick to my own leg power. Heading down Raffles Place and around a corner, I started at the Singapore River outside the Fullerton Hotel. From here, the Cavenagh bridge and a collection of bronze statues dotted along the promenade provided regular distractions from watching the river boats heading up and down the river. There was just so much to look at, and I took my time to watch it all as I meandered upstream to a collection of old-fashioned shop fronts which were all bars. At nearby Elgin Bridge, I crossed the river to the far bank and started to walk back down river again. But shortly after crossing, I spotted a bench in the shade, and struggling with the heat, and an overwhelming tiredness, I lay down on the bench and promptly dozed off. I’d done a similar thing whilst on Sentosa Island, and whilst a little self-conscious about sleeping in a public spot, it was just what I needed, and an hour passed by before I knew it.

 

Finding my feet once more, I passed the Asian Civilisations Museum and found more bronze sculptures depicting different stages of settler life in Singapore. Cutting round the back of it, the distinctive Gallery of Singapore, Singapore Parliament and Supreme Court added to the nearby architectural gems. At the far end of Supreme Court Lane was the beautiful St Andrew’s Cathedral. It was open to the public so I took a look inside and enjoyed some much-needed air conditioning before touring the grounds and the nearby city streets.

 

At the far end of Coleman St, I cut up past a museum to enter Fort Canning Park, a hilly green space within the city skyscrapers. A walk-way halfway up the slope led me through herb gardens and artisan gardens towards an exceedingly distinctive and beautiful building. A variety of routes lead away from here, but I had so much to see that day, so I just stuck to the one side of the hill, heading back towards where I’d started and beyond there to the flagstaff and lighthouse. I spotted several squirrels in the trees as I walked, and enjoyed the sounds of the birds flitting around me. Down the steps towards the main street below I found a large stone carving depicting a multitude of historical scenes. From here I cut back to the Cathedral and followed North Bridge Rd towards one of the city’s shopping districts.

 

At the time of visiting in September last year, the famous Raffles Hotel was closed for renovations. The Long Bar, home of the infamous Singapore Sling had only just reopened and it seemed only right to head inside out of the heat to get one. I got sat at the bar and provided with peanuts whilst I watched the bar tenders mix a whole host of gorgeous looking cocktails. The Singapore Sling was probably the most expensive cocktail I’ve ever drank, but it was a novelty worth doing. I was a little tipsy by the time I headed out into the heat again, and the food that I ate for lunch from a nearby stall was the most disappointing meal I’d gotten on my whole trip thus far. I washed it down with Singapore’s version of an iced coffee from a popular store along the road, and continued on my way towards Kampong Glam.

 

Kampong Glam was a glorious neighbourhood with so much to see and so much bustle. I zig-zagged up and down streets full of gorgeous boutique shops selling all sorts of wares, making my way towards Masjid Sultan, the Sultan Mosque, one of the city’s most famous sights. Having a multi-national and therefore multi-cultural background, Singapore is also a melting pot of religion, with a variety of religious buildings catering to different faiths. I am an atheist but religious buildings are often the most stunning buildings in a city and irregardless of what faith they belong to, I love visiting them. I came prepared, knowing I would need to be covered up to go in, but I immediately started dripping in sweat with the extra layers as there was no air conditioning inside. A wedding was taking place inside and volunteers were on hand to answer questions, so I had a brief chat with one before the heat got too much for me.

 

Leaving Arabia behind, I headed towards Little India which was like a rabbit warren of streets full of stores that reminded me of my trip to India many years ago.  This area is known for its murals and I had a walking route planned to try and make the most of this, again zig-zagging through streets in search of them. There are some well-known landmarks here such as Tan Teng Niah and the Sri Veeramakaliamann Hindu temple, and there were cow references in many places, from the artwork to the statues. I even found another mosque and church within Little India too. Between Kampong Glam and Little India, I’d spent hours on my feet and as evening approached, it was time to start heading back, grabbing a cute little panda cake from one of the city’s many bakeries. I had to pack that night, and try and squeeze a ton of conference acquisitions into my bag so didn’t feel like eating out. Instead, I got some food from the 7 Eleven and watched a movie as I tried to rearrange my belongings.

 

I didn’t need to leave for the airport till the afternoon so after a morning swim in the hotel pool, I was quick to get out to complete my Singapore explorations. This time I had Chinatown in my sights, so headed to Raffles Place to start a walking route I’d been recommended. My first stop was the Yueh Hai Ching temple which was small and peaceful, and from here I followed Telok Ayer St into Chinatown proper. At Far East Square I went for breakfast at Ya Kun Kaya Toast. I’d read it was a great place for an authentic breakfast, and it certainly felt that way with a reduced comprehension of English, but as much as I like eggs, I struggled to eat the half-raw egg whites that were presented to me, and the iced coffee was gritty and bitter. I left feeling dissatisfied. Round the corner was the Fuk Tak Chi museum which I had to myself but as I continued deeper into Chinatown, a few more people started to appear.

There were so many photogenic buildings around here, and at Telok Ayer Green there were more of the bronze sculptures that I had become accustomed to. The nearby Thian Hock Keng temple got a quick look around and outside, on its back wall was an extensive mural depicting the history of Singapore. I cut up through Ann Siang Hill Park to find myself among street after street of beautiful buildings with shuttered windows. Eventually I found myself at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, one of the city’s most famous buildings. Beyond here there was a lot of construction work going on so it was a bit complicated to cross the road to get to it, but once inside it felt nice and cool although the crowds were heavy here. I didn’t fully appreciate everything I was seeing inside, and there was a phenomenal amount of buddhas within it, but I still enjoyed wandering around the inside of it and then out onto the roof terrace.

 

Heading up through the chaos of the construction sites, I cut down through Banda St where there were yet more gorgeous shop fronts, and then found myself back at the Chinatown Food Street and souvenir shops I’d seen on the Friday night. It was just as bustling in the daytime and I was hungry again so grabbed some fried chicken from a van that was parked up. Like the breakfast, it was really disappointing and half of it ended up in the bin. Nearby around Mohamed Ali Lane I found some more murals painted on the walls and took my last fill of the colourful and clashing buildings of the area as I left Chinatown behind. I’d spent more time there than I’d thought I would and suddenly had a bit of an urgency to get to my last port of call before leaving, so I hot-footed it through the business district. I called into the Market Street Hawker Centre for a drink, and ordered something that I didn’t understand what it was purely because it sounded intriguing and it was purple in colour. Sadly, for the third time that day I was disappointed with my choice. I’ve still no idea what it was but it was not pleasant, and again it ended up in the bin. Clearly this was not to be my day for food.

 

A trip to Singapore is not complete without a visit to the Gardens by the Bay, and whilst I’d certainly wandered around the outdoor space during the conference, I hadn’t actually done any of the paid attractions, and now I had just a few precious hours to pack them in. I headed straight to the SuperTree Grove and up onto the OBC Skyway, a raised walkway that connects several of the giant trees. The views were simply incredible and vast, with the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the Singapore Flyer and aspects of the garden all visible. There were plenty of people about but it didn’t feel crowded and I meandered slowly across the expanse of it. The grove is gorgeous at nighttime when it’s all lit up but the views in the daytime made me glad I’d saved the Skyway till the daytime hours.

 

Two domed buildings sit near the edge of the gardens and contain the Cloud Forest and the Flower Dome. It is cheaper to buy the entrances for both together than it is to buy them separately, and I started with the one I wanted to see the most, the Cloud Forest. This turned out to be one of my most favourite things in Singapore, and walking inside to be faced with a giant waterfall spilling down a wall of lush green vegetation was magical. Sometimes if you read about a place too much it can be a disappointment when you finally go there, but this place was incredible. Circling the flower displays at the base, I reached the far end to see a sign stating the wait to reach the top could be up to 30mins. I didn’t have time to waste in a queue, and suddenly regretted spending so much time in Chinatown that morning. Thankfully though, the queue was moving quickly and I was up within 5mins. Once at the top of the dome, a 1-way system leads down a series of walkways and escalators back down the levels. Intermittently steam is pumped out and it can at times feel like there are clouds in there. The whole concept was incredible and if I’d had the time I could have just gone round and round. There was so much to look at from the plants and sculptures to the views out the glass roof. Not to mention the waterfall that spilled off the one side. I spent over an hour there and really had to force myself to leave.

 

The Flower Dome was larger and busier and consisted of an upper concourse and a lower concourse with a couple of bridging gardens on a mezzanine level. The upper level was mainly arid or desert plants and there was an incredible dragon sculpture made out of wood at the far end. There was also some Alice in Wonderland sculptures hidden amongst the smaller plants too. There was a massive sunflower exhibit on whilst I was there which incorporated the Wizard of Oz. Upstairs this meant Dorothy outside her house in a small sunflower patch but on the lower level was a bigger spread where Tin Man, Scarecrow and the Lion were hanging out. A castle stood within it and standing out the front was the Wizard himself. The whole concept was impressive and the flowers and trees were beautiful. The wooden sculptures were so clever too, and whilst I much preferred the Cloud Forest, this place was still very much worth a visit.

 

I left the Gardens by the Bay reluctantly. I’d loved my week in Singapore and was totally in love with the city. Collecting my bags from my hotel, I took the metro out to the airport only for the train to break down on route. With it being the main line to the airport, I had confidence that something would be sorted soon, but there was still a good 20 minutes of not knowing what was going on before finally they announced a contingency plan and we were on our way. Singapore will remain firmly my favourite stopover spot on route to Europe and with the opening of Jewel a few months ago, I can’t wait to go back.

Singapore at Night

As the sun continued to lower, I walked in the slightly cooler air from my hotel to Marina Bay. This was my first sighting of the city’s famous hotel, the tri-towered Marina Bay Sands and it was just as impressive to see for myself as it had been in photographs. The next few days were to be taken up by the conference that I had come to the city for, and the conference centre was within the mega complex that includes a multi-level shopping mall. I needed to sign-in ahead of it starting so I made my way round the marina edge and into the air-conditioned mall. Thankfully there were signs telling me where to go because it was massive, and as I continued through the labyrinthine mall, I was shocked to discover a Venice-inspired canal in the middle of it, complete with boats to go punting on. This was one of many things that utterly amazed me about Singapore, and once I’d done the formalities at the conference centre, I was quick to venture outside to one of the city’s well known attractions, the Gardens by the Bay.

 

I had arrived at the end of a festival which had seen the gardens filled with lanterns, and this was the last night it was running. The sun had set by now and as dusk grew darker, the lanterns I came across glowed brighter. Filled with lakes and gardens and giant trees, the Gardens by the Bay is spectacular. I followed a vague trail through it, trying to see as many of the lanterns as I could before finding a large food market and entertainment area at the foot of the incredible Supertree Grove. Every night at set times, the giant trees here light up to music and I found myself a spot on a hill above them, away from the crowds to wait and watch. As I sat on the grass in the dark, I was befriended by a cute little cat, and I smiled as some families joined me, inwardly laughing at one woman’s failed attempts to shoo the cat away from her. When eventually the light display started, I was enthralled from start to finish, a grin on my face in the still-warm night, as I had one of those pinch-me moments that I get when I’m somewhere foreign and exciting, and feel truly in the moment. Afterwards, I joined the crowds to get dinner at a food stall and parked my butt on a bit of grass to eat a delicious meal. I am a massive fan of a variety of Asian cuisines, and with a multi-cultural influence, I knew that it would be an easy city to eat well.

 

Each subsequent morning I would rise and walk with the locals heading to work, taking that same walk round Marina Bay, feeling the impending heat that was to come before hiding away in the air-conditioned conference hall for hours on end. I always love attending conferences, but the long days can be tiring and it can be easy to forget where you are each day, as you get shepherded from lecture hall to lecture hall to exhibition room. Finishing around 5.30pm each evening though, I was at least grateful that the outside temperature was starting to cool a little by the time I was leaving, and every night, Singapore proved itself to be just as incredible in the hours of darkness as it is in the hours of daylight. In fact at times, it could almost feel like visiting a different city, with some places coming more alive after nightfall.

I headed straight out into the Gardens by the Bay for a second night. The lanterns were in the process of being removed, and I cut round the gardens to the promenade that runs along the water’s edge. Here it was packed with locals out jogging, couples walking hand in hand and tourists intermingling with them all. Across the water, the Singapore Flyer observation wheel flashed a multitude of colours. Past the distinctive structures of the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, I joined the throngs of people at a mass of food stalls. I was in heaven, wandering round and round in a sea of indecision at all the choice. Eventually I opted to try a few places, getting dumplings from one, beer at another and satay at yet another and I enjoyed every little morsel.

 

Once satisfied, I returned to the promenade and continued to the Barrage, a large structure that played a functional part in the watercourse, and had some lit-up water features nearby. I crossed the bridge to the far side but the gardens on this side weren’t very well lit, so I decided to retrace my steps back to the main gardens. I spent another evening ogling at the Supertree Grove, wishing my night-time photography skills were better. I followed a few of the paths through the gardens before heading back into the mall. Following a different concourse than I had to reach the conference hall, I passed a Formula 1 store complete with F1 racing car in the window, and walked the length of the Venetian canal to discover an incredible vortex waterfall at the far end. This indoor waterfall was stunning and I couldn’t help but admire it from all angles. Passing high-end shops with security guards, I found myself at another annex where the main food court was and here there was a giant light display complete with motion picture projected onto the floor. I got some dessert here before heading back to the hotel.

 

I had an extended lunch break on the second day of the conference and used it to head round to the far side of the bay to see the city’s famous Merlion statue. Smaller than the one I’d seen on Sentosa Island, it is probably the city’s most famous Merlion, complete with water spout coming from its mouth. I had been worried I wouldn’t get the chance to see it in the daytime, but even with an extended lunch break, it was still quite a distance to get all the way round the bay and back and still have time to look at it. The heat and humidity of the hottest part of the day blasted me in the face the minute I left the air conditioned building behind. I hot-footed it there, and joined the mix of people grabbing lunch at the nearby eateries, and the mass of people trying to take photographs at the Merlion. It was hard not to become one of them, and I too mingled for a while, trying out different angles and compositions to capture the essence of the place.

I don’t take photographs specifically for Instagram or social media, instead I take photographs that try to capture the essence of how I see or feel about a place. I’m well known among my friends and family for being terrible with memories, and I’ve become increasingly reliant on photographs to keep previous travels alive in my mind. I can remember conversations very well and things that I read well, but when it comes to names of faces, or locations I’ve been to and places I’ve stayed or eaten at, I sadly can forget all to easily. The large Merlion fountain and the cute little Merlion statue behind it were much more attractive than the stone Merlion on Sentosa, and whether it was shot with the Marina Bay Sands in the background, or the city skyline in the background, it was almost impossible to take a bad photo here. I could have hung out for much longer if it wasn’t for the heat and the need to get back to the conference. I meandered past the bars and restaurants that lined the promenade, Clifford Square and round the Fullerton hotel before returning to the much-needed air conditioning.

That evening as the sun prepared to set, I legged it across the road to the Marina Bay Sands hotel to visit the SkyPark Observation Deck on its roof. This hotel is famous for its rooftop infinity pool but as it is only accessible to guests, and the hotel’s price tag put it out of my budget, I had to make do with this one portion of roof that was open to the general public. Obtaining a frozen daiquiri from the bar, I proceeded to spend the next few hours chilling out watching the sunset. From the view over the Gardens by the Bay and the incredible number of ships offshore beyond it, to the city skyline full of skyscrapers, there was a lot to take in. Only the haze from the humidity dulled the view, but as dusk became night and the lights of the city turned on, a whole new city view came alive.

 

From the rooftop I watched the light and water display that takes place on Marina Bay. I could barely hear the music, but the light and laser show was impressive. The rooftop bar was by now spilling over, and eventually my hungry stomach dragged me away. I’d previously spotted and been recommended Black Tap which was in the mall below me. Famous as much for their shakes as their burgers, it was hard not to order both, especially as there had been quite a wait to get a table, but I was pretty full by the time I’d finished my burger, so when my monster shake arrived, I felt sick within just a few mouthfuls. I’m a glutton for punishment though and hate wasting food so I soldiered on, stuffing spoon after spoon of cream and chocolate and sauce into my mouth. I very much waddled home and rolled onto my hotel bed to wallow in my food coma.

 

The sun was a little higher when I got out of the conference on the third day, and I was able to take my time walking the long way back to my hotel, this time crossing the Helix bridge to the Grandstand where a man with a cart was selling ice cream. It was the perfect time of day to indulge in some as I slowly walked to the far side of Marina Bay as the lowering sun cast pretty colours on the reflective towers of the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel. The crowds at the Merlion were still present and after a while I left them behind to take a dip in my hotel pool. Up high among a mass of skyscrapers, it felt a little weird taking a swim with office workers visible in some of the nearby office blocks. I was lucky to get it to myself for a while before others arrived shortly before I needed to get going. I had booked a spot on the Singapore Flyer and needed to make sure I made it there on time.

 

I hadn’t initially planned on going on the Flyer, but after watching it from a multitude of vantage points during my stay, I’d changed my mind. It was a bit of a walk to get there, but I make a point of using my feet to explore cities wherever I can, so this was nothing unusual for me. I ended up sharing a pod with a group of friends but there was plenty of space for all of us to enjoy the view. Standing at 165m (541ft), it takes just over half an hour to do the full revolution, rising up in view of the east marina, and lowering down in view of Marina Bay and the city skyline.  There was a commentary running which I paid very little attention to, and as we lowered down towards the base, the group of friends offered to take my photo, amusing me by mocking up a mini photo studio, using their camera torches to make sure I was perfectly lit for the photograph. The eateries at the Flyer didn’t really whet my appetite so instead I headed to the food court inside the mall across the water. The food I got looked the part, but it wasn’t as good as what I’d eaten the previous few nights. In the darkness, I took the now familiar route back to my hotel, gazing over the now familiar view.

 

With the conference wrapped up after 4 days of lectures, I stepped outside to a beautiful Friday evening where locals had draped themselves along the seating areas along the waterfront. The reflections on the pool outside the mall were stunning, and as the sun lowered, the colours of the sky reflected on the water changed with it. A mass of lotus flowers were in bloom and lily pads broke up the reflections in places. I watched the sun set once more as I crossed the Helix bridge and as I reached the Esplanade area, a multi-cultural dance theatre was taking place so I joined the crowds to watch some flamenco dancing. This is the kind of thing I love to just stumble upon, and why it is important to just go with the flow sometimes. I really vary between trips that are planned to the day, and trips that I make up as I go along, and whilst Singapore certainly had more to offer than I had time to do, I was thoroughly enjoying myself just winging it each day.

 

The crowds on the Jubilee bridge and around the Merlion were the biggest yet. There was no mistaking that it was the weekend with locals and tourists alike out enjoying the warm but not oppressive temperature of the darkness. In every direction there was some kind of light display, either from lit-up skyscrapers to lasers and water features, and after several nights of enjoying these scenes, this was to be the last time I’d see Marina Bay at night. After making the most of what the marina area had to offer, it was time to delve more into the city itself and experience what the different districts had in store for me.

Sentosa Island

By the time I left my life in Scotland behind to emigrate to New Zealand back in early 2012, I’d spent more time than I would have liked transiting through American airports. They’re not the friendliest of places and with a real dislike for Los Angeles airport (LAX) I was keen for an alternative transit point between my new home and old home. My original booking that took me to New Zealand had been a return ticket, so I’d used the return leg with its LAX transit to go home and visit my family for Christmas at the end of 2012, but I was keen to avoid the same route back, and booked a ticket home via Singapore. I had a few hours layover at Singapore’s Changi airport and was blown away by the country’s national carrier that took me there and also the airport itself. I transited Changi twice more on my next visit to Scotland in 2016 and again revelled in the marvel that is now my favourite airport. With a multitude of gardens, entertainment zones and shops and eateries that stretch far through the concourse, it almost feels like the airport is a destination in itself. It also whetted my appetite to see the country who’s borders it sat within, and so when a work-related conference was announced in Singapore, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be attending. So last September, after a couple of weeks spent in Scotland, I left Amsterdam behind and flew to Asia.

 

I arrived in the early morning, and after obtaining a travel card for the public transport system, I caught the train into the city and went in search of my hotel. It was far too early to check in, so I simply dumped my bags and sat in the lobby perusing a guidebook, wondering what to do with the day. This was one of those trips that I’d left totally unplanned, making it up as I went along, and after a bit of reading and studying the transit map, I decided to take the train to Harbourfront, the gateway to Sentosa Island. Attached to the mainland via a bridge, there are a multitude of ways to get onto the island: a cable car, a train, boardwalk and road all link the island to Harbourfront. Looking to save money, and naive to the heat that would hit me that day, I decided to walk over, coming out of the Harbourfront mall and taking the boardwalk. Despite the early hour, the temperature was on the rise and a slight hazy smog coloured the sky, and before long I was sweating. In fact the humidity kept fogging my camera lens as I tried to take photos and I found myself torn between admiring the view and seeking out shade.

 

On arrival to Sentosa, I was greeted by a large resort but I was so early that nothing was open and there was hardly anyone around. It made for a pleasant walk in relative solitude as I cut along the promenade, admiring the cityscape across the waterway. At the main building complex, I cut up through what would no doubt be a bustling shopping and eating mall during opening hours and past several water features which led me up and out the other side at a raised area where I was faced with the giant structure of a Merlion. The official mascot of Singapore, represented by a lion’s head with the body of a fish, it is an iconic symbol of this island nation. There are several Merlion statues in the country, but this one on Sentosa is the largest and it is possible to climb up inside it for a fee. Here, I was thankful for the early arrival as the crowds had yet to appear and there was only a handful of people milling around, making it relatively easy to get an uncrowded photograph.

 

I skirted round the base of the Merlion and down Merlion walk, a paved route with a funky water feature running down the middle. At the far end, stairs took me down to the back of the beach amphitheatre, but rather than head straight to the coast, I double backed past a funky sculpture and a scented garden to head up into the higher points of the island where the cable car comes in. Up in the canopy, the insect noise was epic, and a boardwalk led away from the cable car complex towards a trail through a forested area. A few more people were about now and I regularly passed others as I meandered through the tree-lined path up, round and over the hill here. The path eventually cut back down to the north coast and once more I could see back across to the mainland.

 

By now I was grateful for every piece of shade I could find. The heat combined with the high humidity was intense. But the view across the water made up for that, and I soaked it in as I became more and more saturated in my own sweat. At the western end of the island I found myself at Fort Siloso, a gun battery utilised in WWII. Free to walk around, it is a cluster of buildings, tunnels and guns, and although I wasn’t really interested in the history of the place, I still took my time to wander around it. I was especially glad of the air conditioning that was on in some of the buildings which now represent a museum. At the back of the complex, I found myself at the Siloso skywalk, an elevated walkway that gave a stunning view across to both the mainland and the nearby beach of the south coast. For the first time I could see the reams of ships berthed just offshore and I realised how important Singapore must be as a shipping port. Now quite high above the main level of Sentosa, I had planned on getting the elevator down off the platform but it wasn’t working, and so I retraced my steps back to Fort Siloso and cut down the hill at the side of the walkway. Only when I got near the bottom did I realise that a high fence blocked my path, and frustratingly in the heat, I had to climb back up the hillside and cut back through the fort to get out.

 

The south coast was the gem of this place for me. An expansive series of stunning sandy beaches, turquoise water and off-shore islands welcomed me and the now increasing crowd of people. The remnants of a sand-art exhibition was being dismantled as I first hit the beach and I was quick to take my shoes off and paddle in the water as I wandered. I’m not one for relaxing on holidays, instead I have a constant urge to explore when I’m abroad, so although I was sorely tempted to get in the water and swim, I hadn’t actually brought by bathers and as such, I had to be content with just dipping my toes in the water. I was by now pretty hungry, and thankfully there were some eateries here, so I found myself a shady spot in one, ordered a nice cold drink and got myself some food to fill me up for the rest of the day’s walking.

Of the offshore islands, a couple have a bridge over to them, so at Palawan beach, I crossed the swing bridge to reach the largest of them. Immediately at the far side, a sign declared it to be the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. Looking at the location of it on a map I highly doubt the accuracy of it but that didn’t stop me and everyone else getting a photograph at the sign. Two towers behind here took me up above the canopy for a view back onto Sentosa Island and in the opposite direction, seaward where once more I was astonished by the shear quantity of ships hanging around offshore. Back down in the undergrowth, I found a spot to lie down in the shade and promptly dozed off, overwhelmed by the heat and humidity following my inability to sleep on the plane ride there. I awoke a little while later when the shade had moved and the sun reached me. I returned to wandering around this islet before cutting back across the bridge to Sentosa.

 

I briefly considered continuing along the coast to Tanjong beach but as beyond that the island is pretty much consumed by a golf course and resort, I decided that I’d had enough of the heat, and instead retraced my steps back to the Merlion walk. Cutting across the island here, I headed to the S.E.A. Aquarium and decided to head inside. I’m not a big fan of aquariums and zoos, and discovered after buying my ticket that this aquarium had captive dolphins which I really don’t agree with, but I was desperate for some air conditioned indoor time so headed on in anyway. What I discovered inside blew me away. After going downstairs and into the complex, I came through the entrance to a floor to ceiling glass wall that was the end of a huge exhibit, complete with shipwreck and a collection of sharks and large shoals of fish. It was exceptionally crowded, but I didn’t mind that I couldn’t get right up to the glass, because even from a few steps back, it was so high that there was plenty to take in. I stood here at this first exhibit for quite some time before moving on. Nearby there was a skeleton of a Great White Shark, which due to its nose, was rather amusing.

 

Through a tunnel below sharks and past eels I came out at a coral garden, and wandered past a really cool tubular aquarium. At the far end of the complex was the extensive Open Ocean Exhibit, another exceedingly large floor to ceiling glass panel wall that looked into one of the largest aquarium exhibits I’ve ever seen. Containing 40,000 fish within it, it was mesmerising and it was no wonder there were so many people draped across the various levels of the viewing area just staring at it. I too parked up in different areas to just watch the creatures swim by, and was torn between the happiness of seeing manta rays and the sadness that they were in captivity. I’ve seen manta rays in the wild off two different continents and they are an awesome sight to see. When I finally pulled myself away from the place, I found some jellyfish appearing to dance. Then there were octopus and more coral exhibits and I was glad to see that I could skip the dolphin section without visiting it, as I really didn’t want to see them in there. Finally, the route takes you back through the other side of the shipwreck exhibit and I left the building utterly impressed with what the place had achieved. It is definitely the best aquarium I have ever visited in my life.

 

The sun was dropping low as I returned to Harbourfront mall to catch the train back to my hotel. The mall was a total rabbit warren and I went round in circles looking for the station within it. I ended up among the rush hour crowds so I was happy to finally reach my hotel although I felt rather self conscious appearing in my sweaty and disheveled state. I’d booked my accommodation some time in advance and I can only assume I got some kind of deal because what I had noticed when I’d dumped my bags that morning was that it seemed rather posh, and this was confirmed on checking in as I discovered that my hotel was 5-star. As someone who regularly stays in hostels, and had in fact just been staying in a shared dorm in Amsterdam prior to arriving, this was a slightly shocking change of scene. Nonetheless, I was certainly going to make the most of it and had a huge grin on my face as I wandered round my large and fancy looking room. This would be just the ticket to come back to each day whilst in the city, and I soon felt at home.

Return to Amsterdam

It was an early morning flight that took me away from my Homeland once more, speeding towards Amsterdam with an unusually high tail wind. In fact, the flight I was on broke a record for the route, having reached Amsterdam well ahead of schedule and before I knew it I was back at the Clink Noord hostel in Amsterdam Noord. There was a totally different vibe to the city than there had been a couple of weeks prior. The weather was looking a lot more unsettled for one, but it was a Saturday, and as it turned out, there was a city-wide walking festival taking place in a city full of bikes. The crowds on both sides of the IJ river were intense. But despite this, I couldn’t come back to Amsterdam and not do it on wheels this time, so after dumping my stuff at the hostel, I hot-footed it round to the nearby bike rental office to get myself some transport for the day.

The free ferry across the IJ river was as packed with walkers as it was cyclists, and a surge of people disembarked at the Amsterdam Centraal pier. I cut up and under the railway station and immediately came out at a mass of people, cyclists, trams and cars. It took every sense I had at full alert to navigate this sea of hazards whilst trying not to get herded in the wrong direction nor fall off the bike. I didn’t want to end up in the city centre which was where the masses were going, so I cut off towards the Jordaan district to try and shed the crowds. I wasn’t always sure of the street signage to determine rights of way so at times I meandered off in random directions, doubling back or winding round canal networks if necessary. It wasn’t being lost, it was just making an interesting route. I knew where I was aiming for, but I had no time commitments and it was fun to explore side streets as I went. There were pockets of the Jordaan district that were busier than others but the main bridges across the canals were often a focal point for tourists and I could see some locals getting annoyed with those that abruptly stopped on the bridges when they were trying to go about their daily lives.

 

The crowds started to build up as I circumnavigated the main city centre and aimed for the crossing near the Rijksmuseum, marking the entrance to the museum district. This is one of the city’s major tourist zones and there were people walking, cycling and stopping everywhere. Whilst the large facade of the famous museum dominated the view forward, I was more interested in the beautiful turreted building that stood on the river opposite it. The bridge here, like many of the city’s bridges, had flower baskets along the railing and the blooms added a pretty touch to those canal views. Amsterdam has some incredibly famous museums with some incredibly famous exhibits, but the museum district was not my target destination at that stage, so after getting my fill of photographs of the canal, I cut in front of the museum instead of under it as most people were doing, and headed a couple of blocks away to the narrow entrance of Vondelpark.

 

I loved cycling through Vondelpark. From this access point, the park was narrow, and consisted mainly of the access path and a bit of green space either side, but after a long stretch of this, it cut under a road and entered the main part of the park where immediately I found myself at a lake and a route decision to make. Although busy being a Saturday, only small pockets felt crowded, and I was loving the cycling, so I started off by looping the park round the outer trail, past pretty buildings, statues and lakes. The main track was wide enough for multiple bikes to pleasantly pass each in other in both directions and before I knew it, I was back at the first lake where I’d started. The second time through, I utilised the narrow secondary tracks to snake through the park and enjoy the various points of interest. Being late September, it was autumn, so there was a variable amount of blooms and foliage. I spied a heron in a lake where some fountains sprouted up, and nearby there was a rose garden where some roses were still thinking about blooming.

 

After this second circuit, I was getting hungry and decided to get lunch at one of the cafes halfway up the park, but when I got there there was absolutely nowhere to lock up my bike. I’d noticed often as I’d cycled through the streets that every available post or bike park was often taken and in other places, especially bridges, it is not allowed to lock your bike. I certainly didn’t want to risk losing the bike, so after circling round the area looking for somewhere free, I eventually had to give up. I cut across to the more southern side of the park where a path hugged a lake across from some large houses. The sky was rather grey but the reflections of the houses on the water were still distinct. Nearby, there was an exit from the park and I headed back into the melee of streets and urban life.

 

I was only a few blocks from the museum district and turning onto the main street of Van Baerlestraat took me deep into chaos. The pavements were packed with people, the cycle lanes packed with cyclists and between all of this was a very busy tram line. I passed eateries that were packed to the brim, and struggling to negotiate the crowds, I found it difficult to get off this street, being herded by the masses in a straight line. There was definitely a knack to turning against the flow, and whilst the locals knew how to do it, I certainly did not. I ended up a lot further down than I’d planned to before I was able to cross over and double back. My hunger was driving me, so I decided to park up the bike and look for a place to eat on foot, but this was easier said than done as every possible bike park was full. Cutting down back street after back street I finally found a single bike park and quickly claimed it, only to discover that I couldn’t work the padlock. Finally sussing it out, I was glad to get walking for a bit, mentally making a note of where I’d left the bike as I made turn after turn to retrace my steps back to the main street.

The cafe that I’d eyed up from the bike was beyond crammed when I walked there and so was every other cafe within sight. Only when I found myself at the Stedelijk Museum did I realise there was a large restaurant there, so finally I could satiate my appetite. I spend a lot of time travelling solo and this means I eat out a lot solo. Even at home in New Zealand, I have no qualms about dining alone, but in different countries, this habit is often met with a variety of responses. The man that was serving me here at the museum restaurant seemed a little put out that I was on my own. It wasn’t that there was a shortage of tables, but I seemed a little unimportant to him, and I struggled to get served. If I hadn’t been so hungry I might have walked out, but eventually I got myself a coffee and a sandwich. My coffee arrived with a little Stroopwafel, a small Dutch wafer biscuit, and although the coffee was much better than the one I’d had near Anne Frank Huis on my first visit to the city, it still wasn’t as good as back home.

The weather was really making a turn for the worse by the time I was back out on my bike. The clouds were thicker and darker and there was a hint of rain in the air. There had been a few light and brief showers as I’d cycled that morning, but the afternoon was looking ominous. I’d seen photos on social media of the ‘I amsterdam’ sign outside of the Rijksmuseum and when I first saw it in the distance, it was only a hint of the red and white amongst a sea of people. The crowd here was phenomenal and for the first time I felt like was seeing the Instagram effect. As I moved closer, I was astounded by the mass of people posing on or in front of this sign, with people dictating to and grumbling about the people in and around their shot. It was impossible to get a photo without a multitude of other people and I found myself taking photos of the crowd itself rather than the sign. It was an unbelievable scene. There were some distinctive buildings around here though, so I left the crowd to ogle at these for a while before it started to rain.

 

I wasn’t interested in visiting any of the museums, so when it looked like it might get quite wet, I decided to head for the nearby Heineken Brewery. Finding a bike park round the cornere from it, I joined the long crowd of people waiting to get in. If planned ahead, it is possible to book a time slot to turn up for, but on a whim, I had to wait in a queue for a space to open up. It took quite a while to get in, and the rain was just starting to get heavy as I finally made it indoors. It turned out to be both interesting and fun. In groups, we were led round an introductory section where staff talked about the history and the beer itself, and as we went deeper into the experience, the groups merged together to form a mass of people gradually meandering around the one-way system. Passing giant vats and an old cart horse, the experience became a bit more digital as we got shepherded into a large room for a CGI experience. Out the other side of that, we got our first taste of the beer with a small glass of Heineken.

 

The rest of the levels were quite interactive with the ability to film short movies, and pose for silly pictures. There was so much information about the history of and association with this famous beer, and I was amazed with how much time could be spent here. These latter levels were also completely blocked in with no windows to see the world outside, and it felt like a rabbit warren walking through small corridors and holes in the wall, up and down stairs with no idea where I’d come out. Where the route did end up was what I assume was down in a basement, in a busy and loud bar where you could claim the 2 glasses of Heineken that were part of the entry fee. This sort of thing is the one time I can feel a bit self conscious being on my own, especially as I’m introverted and won’t openly talk to strangers. Nonetheless, I found a spot with my beers to hover and I enjoyed them immensely. I’m really not into beer, but Heineken and Stella Artois are the two that I actually quite like, so I enjoyed these more than I had done the Tennents Lager on my recent trip to that brewery a week or so prior.

After quite some time in the cocoon of the Brewery, I was shocked to step outside to heavy rain. Back on my bike which was soaking wet, I pedalled back to the Rijksmuseum to discover that the crowd had thinned out a lot by the famous sign. The food trucks I’d spotted earlier were thankfully still open and I ordered some waffles to huddle up and eat under an umbrella as the workers started to pack up for the day. The rain got heavier and heavier until it was torrential so by the time I’d finished my waffles, there was barely a sole at the sign and I was able to snap a quick photograph before the cold drove me onwards. In the archway of the Rijksmuseum, there was a group of men playing classical music and they had drawn a decent crowd. It was a good excuse to shelter from the rain for a bit, but it became increasingly clear that the weather was not planning on abating. I had had a whole route planned back to the hostel to see a few more sights but the weather meant that my day was going to have to be curtailed as before long once back on the road, my waterproof jacket failed and I became soaked to the skin.

 

By the time I reached Amsterdam Centraal it was dark and gloomy and I was hungry again. I parked my bike and headed inside to eat at one of the eateries there. Grabbing a free spot in an otherwise busy restaurant, I waited and waited and waited to get served. I failed to grab anyone’s attention, and after an extended time drooling over other’s people meals and feeling positively ignored, I walked out and bought some food at the market shop to take back to the hostel. It was still grey the next morning when I made the now familiar trundle with my suitcase to the pier, across the IJ river and into the train station to head to the airport. I’d left with plenty of time and so had a lot of time to wander around the expansive terminal. The elephant parade was on display so there were several of these dotted around the terminal to look at and I laughed to myself when at the end of the terminal, I stepped outside to find another ‘I amsterdam’ sign with absolutely no-one about. The backdrop might not be as impressive as the Rijksmuseum, but that was okay. Finally it was time to leave Europe behind and head to Asia, to finally explore the city who’s airport I know so well.

Fife Coastal Path

For 117 miles (188km), the Fife Coastal Path leads the way round the coastal edge of the Kingdom of Fife, from the Firth of Tay to the Firth of Forth. Despite being officially opened some time ago, I hadn’t really heard much about it, but when my brother suggested we do a section of it on my most recent trip back to Scotland in September last year, I was happy to take the suggestion. With both brothers living in the southern suburbs of Glasgow, we set off early, leaving the dark clouds of the west coast behind for the not quite 2hr drive across to the east coast. We planned on sticking to the Forth estuary side, walking west from Crail to Elie, and with a bus to catch, we were eager to get the distance behind us. We made it to Elie and found a park with a brief bit of time ahead of the bus that took us through the various villages before we got off at Crail.

A long time ago, in what feels like another lifetime, I used to date a guy who had a pilot’s licence and his own plane. I remember flying over the patchwork of inland Fife and the coastal villages and it was a perspective of the coastline that most people won’t see with their own eyes. I was excited to see the coast from ground level and it had been so long since I’d explored Fife at all. Crail’s main street was compact with narrow side streets and the buildings had the village vibe going on with their brick look. Passing the distinctive Golf Hotel, we cut down Kirkwynd to find the coast and the starting point for our walk. The tide was out, displaying the sloping slabs and boulders of the coastline.

 

Just before the harbour, we cut up to the elevated path under the wall of the Watch House and this gave a great view onto Crail’s harbour, which would have looked prettier had the tide been in. As we entered the harbour proper, I was amused by a sign stating not to feed the gulls that had a big splat of bird poo on it, as if the gulls had taken vengeance. Cutting up to the road to skirt the back of the small beach, I spotted the Isle of May off the coast, an island which I’d visited many moons ago with my dad, and which is great for lovers of sea birds. The views over Crail were also spectacular as we cut round the corner and left the streets behind to rejoin the path.

 

The path remained low and gently undulating as we made progress along this long uninterrupted section. About halfway to the next village we found ourselves at Caiplie Caves, a tall red sandstone structure that had been shaped by the pounding waves after the retreat of the glaciers. More a series of inter-linking arches than true caves, they were fun to weave through and the colour of the red sandstone was divine. We’d pretty much been under a blue sky and warm sun up to now but as we continued west, the sky grew more hazy: the leading edge of the weather system that we’d left behind on the west coast that morning. Flat agricultural fields spread out to our right, and the gently lapping waves accompanied us to our left.

After this long rural section, we reached the relative sprawl of Cellardyke. After leaving the caravan park behind, the path became the road that lead down to the harbour and then through a maze of narrow streets lined by tightly knit brick buildings. At one point, in a gap between the buildings we spied a puffin sculpture that had been carved out of a tree stump. It’s not overly clear where Cellardyke ends and Anstruther begins, as the two appear to merge seamlessly into one another, but Anstruther is the hub of this coastline with the largest harbour of all that we would visit that day, and a tourist draw, making it a pretty busy place to be. After our solitude for the past few hours, it was a bit of a shock to be amongst the relative hustle and bustle of this harbour town.

 

Anstruther is famous for its fish and chips, being made with fresh catch of the day, and with the crowd, all of the eateries at the waterfront were busy. We were pretty hungry by this stage, but eventually settled for a sandwich out of a tiny little cafe at the far end of the harbour front. We ate them on the pier, staring out at the boats moored up and making the most of the warm day. On the opposite side of the pier was the view of the route ahead: the little beach framed by a small church and more quaint little buildings. I was enjoying walking through the village streets as much as I was the coastal views because the narrow streets felt historic and there were so many pretty and cute little cottages and inns, such as the Dreel Tavern on the way out of Anstruther.

 

We finally found ourselves back at another beach where the path resumed, taking us next to the local golf course. There were plenty of people on this part of the path as well as plenty of people out on the golf course next to us and I secretly wondered if anyone had ever been hit by a stray golf ball. At the far end of the golf course was the next fishing village, Pittenweem where we popped into a local shop for some local ice cream to fuel ourselves for the final few hours of the walk. The tide had remained quite a way out for our walk so far, which had made some sections look a little less picturesque, but past the main harbour, the lower water level had allowed for some pretty cool reflections of the nearby cottages in the water. The final section of Pittenweem took us past a row of pretty cottages which faced out to the sea, several of them with benches outside to enjoy the view from.

 

It was another long uninterrupted section that eventually brought us to a busier part of the walk by the St Monans windmill and salt works. Being a short distance from St Monans, there were a lot of locals out for a stroll here. We managed to get the windmill to ourselves for a bit before some of the other walkers arrived, but by this stage my eldest brother was getting a little antsy to be finished. The clouds had thickened up and the hours had ticked by and so we pushed on. Past yet another fishing harbour, and through more village streets we came face to face with the pretty and dominating Auld Kirk of St Monans. The first church on this spot dates from the 13th century and it commands the coastline with its little cemetery around it. Here there is a brief diversion with a high tide route and a low tide route, but we were able to stick to the lower route, skirting below the church and continuing onwards to a slightly more dramatic stretch of coastline.

 

With a few small cliffs along this next section, it was much more undulating, and a few historic ruins dotted the way. A round structure sits at a bend in the path and beyond here, the ruins of Newark Castle stand resolutely above a small cliff. Past the other side, the track cut down to sea level again meaning the ruins seemed to dominate the now grey skyline. Further along, the path cut through the middle of another ruin, this time the 15th century Ardross Castle, and past here we could finally see the structure that marked the end of our walk, Lady Janet Anstruther’s tower on a headland at the end of a long stretch of beach.

 

When we finally reached the end of the beach, the coastal path curved inland a little, and whilst I would have liked to have gone down to the tower, my brother was keen to get home and so I looked at it from afar before we cut across to Ruby Bay and then the large expanse of Elie harbour. It was the last chance to see the sea before the road cut up into the streets of the village and we found ourselves back at the church where we’d caught the bus, and back to our waiting car and the long drive home. Although the clouds had gradually moved in, the weather had remained overall pleasant and it had been a great chance to catch up with my brothers properly as well as a great introduction to this beautiful coastline. Goodness knows if I’ll ever get round to doing the other sections, but I’m sure they’ll be just as stunning.

Reunions

In 2011 I made the decision to move to the opposite side of the World. Although my official plan was to go for a year, deep down I knew this was likely to be much more long term than that, and so after selling as much of my belongings as I could, and boxing up the rest, I left my friends and family behind in December of that year for an unwritten future. I spent a month volunteering in the South Pacific before arriving in New Zealand and within the first couple of weeks of reaching Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, I knew this country was to be my new home. As I had a return ticket, I used the flight home to spend Christmas with my family in 2012, and then I didn’t see them again until 2016. The long gap in between had become increasingly difficult, and I vowed to do my best to get back every couple of years if I could. With a nephew to meet and friends continuing to move forward with their lives, I had returned to Scotland in September last year with 2 weeks and no plans, so that I could dedicate my time to reunions and family time.

After a last minute change of plans in Amsterdam meant I arrived in Glasgow a day earlier than expected, it was finally time to meet my nephew. He had been in NICU during my visit in 2016 and so this was our first official meeting at the age of 2. I’d travelled for days to get there and I was met with a look of uncertainty followed by a prolonged cautious stare before eventually he decided that I was acceptable to interact with. That was the first time that my entire family were all together with my nephew, and whilst it couldn’t be further from my normal style of holiday, this epitomised exactly what this trip was all about: family.

The next day, after having some culinary reunions with some of the foods I miss from home, several of us went with my nephew to the Sea Life Centre at Loch Lomond Shores. Having moved away from Glasgow in 2006 to seek work, this was a place I had never been to, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a bit of a drizzly day so we headed straight into the centre out of the rain. I’m not a massive fan of zoos and aquariums, preferring to see wildlife in the wild, but for my nephew he was fascinated, and there was certainly enough things to keep him interested. He watched the otters swimming around and we hung around for their feeding talk. I love otters, and was lucky enough to have an encounter with one on a beach in the Outer Hebrides in 2010, but as they are usually wary of humans in the wild, it is not easy to see them in their natural habitat.

Passing through a short tunnel with fish swimming past us, there were some smaller exhibits before we reached the ray pool. There were some swiftly swimming rays and a couple of giant eels in there too. Nearby were some clown fish which are always a popular find. After my nephew had had his fill and the grown-ups had gotten an appetite, we headed back outside where it was now dry but still overcast. Although tucked away towards the end of Loch Lomond, there was still a hint of the surrounding mountains and forests and the paddle steamer Maid of the Loch was moored up nearby. Even with the threat of more rain, it was a pretty prospect. We headed into a cafe nestled amongst the row of shops before heading home for some haggis, neeps and tatties.

 

My parent’s back garden is very wildlife friendly which meant breakfast was often accompanied by some visitors outside to watch. Later on that next day, we took a family trip to Calderglen Country Park in East Kilbride. The weather really wasn’t that great so we weren’t able to make use of the park itself or go for any walks. Instead we headed to the glasshouse which had some meerkats and small monkeys amidst the plants and fish tanks. The meerkats were very active, digging and foraging whilst one stood on guard and their constant activity kept my nephew engaged. There was an ant colony nearby that had a rope system rigged up for them above our heads so you could watch the ants walk above you as they performed their daily chores of bringing back vegetation to the colony. When finally there was a break in the rain, we headed outside to the aviaries where we were all caught off guard by an African Grey parrot demanding some chips in a Glaswegian accent. It fascinates me how well these parrots can perform mimicry, and hearing one talk with a Glaswegian accent was just hysterical.

 

After ending the day with a friend from school and her partner, the following day was a sibling day where my two brothers and I headed to the east coast for a day of walking. We had done a similar thing in 2016 when they had joined me for day two of the West Highland Way. It is a rare occurrence for the three of us to be in each other’s company for more than a few hours since I moved out of home. We’ve spent longer time together in two’s but it was great to have a catch up as the three of us. Walking a section of the Fife Coastal Path took a large chunk of the day and aside from never having walked it before, I hadn’t been to this part of Scotland for a long time which was an added bonus.

 

I headed back into Glasgow city centre the next day to catch up with a couple of friends. I lived and worked in Aberdeen for 5.5 years before emigrating to New Zealand, and two of the friends I made there were able to meet up in Glasgow. I was amused by a comical busker on Buchanan Street as I headed to Queen Street Station to meet my friend coming down from the Granite City. As she wasn’t familiar with Glasgow, I took her to the Duke of Wellington statue and up to the observation deck at the Lighthouse so she could get a bit of a skyline view. When our other friend arrived from down south we headed to Princes Square for lunch. Full of designer shops and posh eateries, this was never a place I frequented when I lived in Glasgow during my student days. It felt like a total novelty playing ‘ladies who lunch’. Glasgow is a city full of familiarity but yet it still feels foreign to me. After eventually seeing my friends off on their respective transports, I took the familiar route to Central Station to catch a train to the south side. There was a new statue outside and a few new shops inside since last time I’d been past, but otherwise it was the same station I remembered from my nights of socialising in the city.

 

The weather the next day really wasn’t great so I hung out with my nephew indoors at his house. That evening, my friend from uni picked me up and we headed for dinner in Blantyre. The gastropub that we went to is famous for its desserts and has a large cabinet full of giant cakes. After a delicious meal, it was rude not to get a cake, but after ordering a chocolate eclair, I was presented with a foot long eclair loaded with cream. As divine as it was, there was no way I was finishing it, so the remains came home with me for my family to help me finish.

One of the tourist things I hadn’t gotten round to doing on my trip in 2016 was visiting Glasgow’s Transport Museum. It is one of the vague memories I still retain from my childhood, and the museum was moved and revamped some years ago, now a distinctive building on the bank of the River Clyde known as the Riverside Museum. Although autumn, we were still in the season for the boat that crosses from Govan on the south shore, so whilst my brother, sister-in-law and nephew drove straight to the museum for parking, my parents, other brother and myself drove to Govan and caught the little ferry over. I recognised many of the exhibits on display from the original museum, and whilst a little jumbled and cramped together in places, it was interesting enough to keep the various generations engaged. My parents could reminisce about the Glasgow of their childhood, and my nephew was enthralled with the trains and trams.

Moored up immediately outside is the Tall Ship Glenlee, which can be boarded and explored. We’d got there later than planned so unfortunately didn’t have time to get on her before it closed, but the promenade outside meant I could get a view of the river and Glasgow skyline that I hadn’t seen for so long. Some much needed investment in the city ahead of the 2014 Commonwealth Games has really revitalised the river bank which I always remember as being such a dump when I used to live there. The distinctive outline of the SECC on the north shore, and the science centre with its infamous tower on the south shore framed the river Clyde. Eventually, as the museum was reaching closing time, we caught the ferry back across to Govan to head home. My brother and I later went out to see Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont talking about his cycling adventures around the World.

 

After a day spent hanging out with my school friend and her kids, my nephew was in hospital for a routine visit the next morning, so I wasn’t going to be able to see him till later on. I decided to go for a walk round the suburbs I grew up in, and knowing that my high school had been bulldozed and replaced, I walked first to there to see how it had changed and beyond there I couldn’t believe how much housing and development had occurred. When I was young, my parent’s house was about a 10-15 min walk to the edge of the city and after that was miles of countryside. Fast forward a few decades and it is now a 30min walk to reach the countryside, and the paddock with the horses is gone, and the farm where I used to milk the cows is now a housing estate. The southern suburbs of Glasgow have exploded so much that for the people who live there, there is really no reason to go into the city at all with entertainment and shopping complexes all within easy reach.

 

I found myself eventually at Rouken Glen Park, location of various school events. I found wood carvings, maintained gardens and round the edge, a wilderness area through a woodland. Hidden here was waterfalls and old stone structures, and despite being a weekday, there were many people making use of the trails that cut through. Towards the southern end, I found myself at one of the park’s more well known features: a multi-tiered waterfall that flows under a stone arched bridge. I was amused to discover that the railing on the bridge had become the local ‘love-locket’ site. Copying the more famous locations in Europe where loved ones are immortalised on an engraved lock that gets attached to a bridge, there were plenty of them here too, and I read some of the engravings with feigned interest before walking round the nearby pond and then heading home.

 

After an afternoon playing with my nephew, my mum and I caught up with my aunt and cousin for dinner at Intu Braehead. I hadn’t been here before so my cousin gave me a tour to show me the indoor ski slopes and ice climbing centre that she takes her kids to. Next to the climbing centre near the entrance, I’d been eyeing up the giant helter skelter whilst my mum and I had waited for them to arrive, so I didn’t need much encouragement to have a go on it, and my cousin joined me for a slide down before we went for dinner. I hadn’t seen my cousin since her wedding in 2010 so it was great to have a chinwag after all these years.

But all good things must come to an end unfortunately and all too soon it was the last day and we spent it as a family together. Every time I go home, I insist on a group photo and this was the first time to include my nephew. I had an early morning flight back to Amsterdam the next day, so as always it was a sad farewell, this time before even going to bed as it was too early for my parents to get up the next morning. My brother kindly offered to get up and drive me to the airport at stupid o’clock in the morning, and before I knew it I was leaving Scottish soil behind once more.

Return to Glasgow

With my last minute plans to leave Amsterdam a day early, I threw my family for a bit of a loop, but thankfully they were still able to pick me up from the airport when I flew into Glasgow in the late afternoon. It had been over 2 years since I’d last seen them, but it took no time at all to slip back into the usual family dynamics as my dad drove us home through the rush hour traffic. My visit home last September was over 12 years after I’d moved away from the city and although I will always think of Glasgow as my home town, it is almost as foreign to me now as any other city I visit. The Glasgow that I remember from my student days has continued to morph and grow in my absence, and as such I love to play tourist every time I return.

On my previous visit in 2016, I spent 6 weeks gallivanting around Scotland and Iceland and although I had a fantastic time, by the end of it I felt that I hadn’t spent enough time with my family. So this time round, with just 2 weeks in the country, I went with no plans at all in order to have quality time with them, and especially to get to know my nephew who had spent the entirety of my last visit in NICU, completely oblivious to my presence. Emigrating to the other side of the World has meant sacrificing being present in my family’s lives and I have often felt jealous hearing about their time spent together and especially missing out on my nephew growing up. But meeting my nephew properly for the first time would have to wait as my unexpected early arrival meant he had plans the day after I arrived.

In 2016, I had a cracking day in Glasgow walking the Mural Trail, and there had been some new additions to the route since then, so I headed into the city on my first full day at home to take a wander around. I wasn’t so lucky with the weather this time unfortunately, but it could have been worse, so I spent the day making use of my legs and walking everywhere. I headed first to George Square which is surrounded by some iconic buildings, and was busy with people taking breaks from their work day. The distinctive pink banners stating ‘People Make Glasgow’ adorned the many lampposts surrounding the square and nearby the entire facade of a building had been turned pink with the same statement emblazoned on it. East of here was the beautiful mural painted by artist Smug of St Mungo as a baby. It ties in with Smug’s other portrait of St Mungo which I’d seen on my last visit to the city.

 

From George Street onto Duke Street I found myself at the Tennent’s Brewery. I’m not really a lager fan, and was just here for some more mural spotting, but on a whim (partly because some rain was threatening) I decided to sign into a brewery tour. A small group of us got shown round the various parts of the site before being taken back to a bar for a tasting session. My pint of Tennent’s lager was presented with a much more acceptable head than the Heineken I’d received in Amsterdam a few days prior, and we also got to taste some specialty brews including some much stronger ales. Suffice to say I was a little tipsy by the time I headed back out on the streets, cutting down the east-end streets of Glasgow to reach Glasgow Green, a place I hadn’t been to for an incredibly long time.

 

I found myself at the large Doulton fountain which was framed by the People’s Palace, one of the city’s museums. The sun was trying desperately to break through the clouds again, and after circling round the fountain to look at the ornate depictions on its circumference, I headed into the People’s Palace to look around. I’m a bit of a museum snob: I’m easily disappointed by them, with only a handful rating highly in my mind, so I wasn’t really fussed spending much time looking at the displays. I circled through only glancing at them, heading to the conservatory to wander around the plants before stopping for a late lunch in the cafe. I was excited to find they served coronation chicken sandwiches, one of those things that despite loving, had forgotten even existed. I’ve never seen it anywhere other than Scotland, so was quick to order and shovel one down when it came.

 

I had meant to wander through Glasgow Green to see the monument that had been erected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games but forgot about it, so instead of cutting through the Green, I headed back up to the main road to head west back into the city. On route, I found a couple more murals that I hadn’t seen including 1 of 3 that depicts Billy Connolly, or the Big Yin, one of Scotland’s most famous comedians and personalities. This first one I didn’t actually like, and the paint that had been used was too reflective so it was actually difficult to photograph. The rain had arrived by now, so I didn’t linger long, continuing on to the Merchant City.

 

Whilst Edinburgh is often lauded over by many foreign visitors, Glasgow has so many beautiful buildings and is brimming with statues and monuments. At the start of the Merchant City is the turreted clock tower which is faced by a mix of old and new style buildings. Whilst the Trongate at eye level looks like a collection of pubs and shops, a simple raising of the eye to the top half of the buildings reveals some stunning architecture. Heading along the Trongate towards Argyle Street brought back many memories of shopping trips with my mum when I was a kid, as I used to get brought to this part of the city to get clothes for the new school year.

 

Nearby was another Billy Connolly mural, my favourite of the three, and past here I headed into the St Enoch Centre shopping mall which had been revamped since I’d last been there, which was when I used to still live in Glasgow. Out the other side was the final Billy Conn