Photographers Kim and Greg Hull travel the world looking for cool adventures. CoolAdventures.com is the site for exploring amazing places to go and things to do across the world. From mountains to cities to beaches, join us as we roam the globe in pursuit of the best experiences the world has to offer.
While there are many spots around the world that transform into winter wonderlands during the holidays, the Midwest is home to one of the United State’s most beloved annual holiday traditions – the Plaza lights in Kansas City.
Dating back to 1925 when a single strand of lights was hung at the nation’s first suburban shopping district, the Kansas City Plaza lights have grown into a magical display that is now known worldwide for its beauty and grandeur.
Beginning on Thanksgiving, when the lights are illuminated in a huge lighting ceremony complete with fireworks, the Plaza lights shine brightly through mid-January. Each night beginning around 4:30 the 15-block shopping district is filled with festive, twinkling lights. Stores stay open late during the season and the shops are decked out with dazzling window displays.
Visiting during the Plaza lights season is also one of our favorite times for a stop in Kansas City, having done so numerous times over the past decades. While planning our December calendar this year, we discovered some available time between Cabo and Cuba, and happily scheduled a Kansas City Plaza lights visit.
Having stayed at the Intercontinental since it was the Alameda Plaza in the 70s, it is always our hotel of choice when visiting Kansas City. Conveniently located across from the Plaza, the hotel has a great staff, large stately rooms and stunning views of the Plaza lights.
The clip clop of the horses pulling carriages, the sound of laughter as friends headed for drinks and dinners, the wide eyes of children as they marvel at the magic of it all, and, of course, the shoppers as they bustle from store to store – it’s as if a holiday card has come to life.
The Plaza is a beautiful setting for a beautiful season. Happy holidays!
Disclosure: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
While gazing at the sparkling Singapore skyline from the incredible Marina Bay Sands, my thoughts turned to the diverse collection of activities we’d experienced during our time in the Lion City. From Chinatown to ziplining now standing atop one of the top resorts in the world, visiting Singapore had been a fascinating mix of old and new, urban and nature, simple and complex.
It’s hard to believe that just a little over 100 years ago Singapore was a tiny fishing village. Now one of the most prosperous countries in the world, Singapore is a dazzling, metropolitan home to over five million and a popular vacation spot for over 15 million each year. While spending a week on the island as guests of the Singapore Tourism Board, we’d been amazed at how the mix of cultures and heritages had blended so well to form something unique and vibrant.
English-speaking, spotlessly clean and easy to navigate, the bustling city-state of Singapore has countless things to do and see. While well-known for its magnificent shopping, Singapore also has fabulous food to devour, enchanting cultural districts to explore, and a wide of array of activities and destinations, ranging from the adventurous to the relaxing to the refined.
One of the busiest airports in the world, over 100 airlines fly in and out of Singapore’s Changi Airport transporting passengers to and from 300 cities worldwide. Home to a wide selection of restaurants and retail shops, Changi Airport also has showers, free internet, and, for those on a layover of at least 5 1/2 hours, offers a free Singapore Tour.
For our visit to Singapore, we flew Singapore Airlines, which began non-stop service from San Francisco to Singapore in October 2016 aboard their newest aircraft, the A350. The direct flight eliminates a stopover at Incheon Airport in Seoul, Korea and has three levels of service: business class, premium economy, and standard economy.
We also stopped and smelled the orchids, okay – they don’t smell – we photographed the orchids at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, ran into a couple of boa constrictors on Sentosa Island, went ziplining, checked out the art at the National Gallery Singapore, and, who wouldn’t want to catch a ride on the Singapore Flyer?
But, it’s now all about sightseeing in Singapore. In a place so culturally-rich with fascinating districts, stunning monuments, and iconic landmarks, one must explore the traditions, heritage and history that defines the beautiful Singapore of today.
Within its 276 square miles/716 square kilometers, which is about 2/3 the size of New York City, multiple cultures and religions peacefully co-exist. The city-state recognizes holidays from each of its religions and celebrates the fusion of cultures and the people that have combined to create the – to use a Singlish term – “rojak” – or mixture that makes it the wonderful place it is today.
To gain an understanding of the ethnicities, culture, and history that make up the Singaporean culture, we explored each of Singapore’s vibrant cultural districts. From Chinatown, with its markets, shophouses, foods, and temples, to the hip and beautiful Muslim district of Kampong Glam, to the overwhelming sights, sounds and tastes of Little India, to Katong/Joo Chiat and the Peranakans, we visited, and loved, them all.
Ask someone to name the one thing to do in Singapore and they will most likely say shopping. From luxury boutiques to market finds, it’s in Singapore. Orchard Road’s 2.2 kilometers of department stores, malls, and shops are dazzling, and yet, only the beginning of exploring Singapore’s retail delights. Over 270 premium retailers and restaurants call the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands home. Singapore’s largest mall, VivoCity at HarborFront has 1.5 million square feet of retail stores, food courts, spas, restaurants, and entertainment and numerous other malls line boulevards throughout the Lion City.
Beyond the behemoth malls, the markets and shophouses of the cultural districts area a treasure-trove of finds. Souvenirs, antiques, apparel, and electronics abound on the narrow streets and alleyways of the districts, offering a great opportunity to meander and explore.
We set out to eat our way through Singapore, exploring Chinese, Malay and Indian flavors, as well as trying some Singaporean treats. Chilli Crab? √ Kaya toast? √ Egg tarts, durian, and fish head curry? √√√ But then, we also stopped by the uber-cool Janice Wong’s & the gorgeous Violet Oon’s National Kitchen, checked out the most popular dish to hit Instagram recently, the #FlyingNoodles at Hana, indulged in Mille Crêpes cake at LadyM, and finished off our visit at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen.
The four official languages of Singapore are Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English, which is considered to be the working language for the city-state. A fifth “language” of sorts, Singlish, incorporates elements of many languages into an English-based creole language spoken in informal situations. Common phrases include:
shiok (shee-oke): an expression of pleasure
lah: used at the end of the words or phrases for emphasis
It is customary to remove shoes when entering someone’s home or a place of worship. Chewing gum is banned in Singapore, so leave it behind. Other things that could result in fines or imprisonment include not flushing the toilet, littering, jaywalking, racial slurs, smoking in non-approved areas, spitting, nudity, and drugs.
Singapore lies very near the equator and it rains on nearly half the days of the year (an average of 178 days). The average daily temperature range is usually a maximum of 32ºC/90º F during the day and a low of32ºC/90º F at night. May and June are the hottest months and December and January are the coolest, but the year-round variation is minimal. The mean annual relative humidity is 84.0%. It is tropical – in other words, hot and humid, most of the time in Singapore.
What to wear
Sunscreen and a hat. Singapore’s sun is strong and it is hot, so apply sunscreen often. Sunglasses and a hat are also a good idea.
Cool comfortable clothing. Dress cool in breathable clothing. Shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts are great. Casual wear for the evening is good – most of the restaurants and bars are not formal. A shawl is good in case you run into a heavily air-conditioned spot.
Umbrella. It rains at some point nearly every day, so bring an umbrella.
The Singaporean dollar is the official currency. Money changing locations are plentiful.
Singapore power voltage is 220/240 V 50 Hz. Power sockets are type G.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
There are so many places to visit when sightseeing in Singapore – the only challenge is fitting them all into your itinerary. While most visiting plan on spending a great deal of time on two of Singapore’s most well-known activities – shopping and eating – there are also countless adventures to undertake, cultures to experience, and captivating sightseeing attractions to explore.
Every visit to Singapore should begin with the world famous Singapore Sling at the place where it was created, the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel. Operating since 1887, the Raffles Hotel is a display of elegance and grandeur and has been declared a National Monument by the Singapore Government.
While the hotel is refined, the Long Bar is casual and absolutely the spot to sample the Singapore’s most famous beverage. Making its debut in 1915, the Singapore Sling is considered the national drink of Singapore and was created by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. The tasty gin cocktail is a combination pineapple juice, grenadine, lime juice, Dom Benedictine, cherry brandy, and Cointreau. The two story watering hole is also the only place in Singapore where littering is allowed, with patrons tossing peanut shells on the floor in the stylish establishment.
Experience nature and watch the light show at Gardens by the Bay
Experience an abundance of nature in the center of Singapore at the 101 hectacres/250 acres of the Gardens by the Bay. While open throughout the day and evening, the best time for a visit is a couple of hours before sunset, providing enough time to explore the Flower Dome, Cloud Forest and other areas of the gardens before the nightly Supertrees light show.
Showcasing a vast array of flowers, plants and trees from the Mediterranean and semi-arid subtropical regions of the world, The Flower Dome is the largest glass greenhouse in the world. Not to be missed are the thousand-year-old olive trees, the African Baobab trees, the intricate wood carvings, and the extensive collection of succulent plants and flower displays.
To best experience the Cloud Forest, take the elevator to the top of the plant-covered, 35-meter indoor mountain, climb one flight of stairs and then casually stroll the elevated walkway to the bottom. Orchids, pitcher plants, and the Venus Fly-catcher are highlights amidst the lush landscape of ferns and mosses thriving in the misty, rainforest-like environment.
Constructed with nearly 163,000 plants, the 18 Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay contain over 200 species of orchids, ferns, bromeliads, and other tropical flowering plants and reach heights of up to 16 stories or approximately 160 feet/49 meters. Twelve of the SuperTrees can be found in the Supertree Grove and the other six are located at various points around Gardens of the Bay.
One of the most spectacular spots to take in a sunset in Singapore is at the top of the Marina Bay Sands.
Built in 2010, the Marina Bay Sands is a destination unto itself, with a hotel, shopping mall, 80 dining options, a museum, a casino and a convention center. The hotel is comprised of 2,561 rooms and suites located in three towers capped by the Sands SkyPark, which gives the structure its unique design. The SkyPark is home to restaurants, gardens, an observation deck and the famous 57th-floor infinity pool.
While the pool overlooking the Singapore skyline is only accessible to guests of the hotel, the SkyPark and the restaurants are open to the public and provide a perfect spot for gazing at the twinkling Singapore skyline bathed in the warm light as the sun sets.
Approximately 3.2 kilometers in length, the Singapore River is divided into three areas: Robertson Quay, bustling Clarke Quay, and the historic Boat Quay. Singapore’s first quay, Boat Quay was the location of Singapore’s first trading houses and warehouses and the spot where Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles first stepped ashore in what is now the Lion City. Today, vibrant Boat Quay is home to numerous cafes, restaurants and entertainment spots.
Formerly a center of commerce, Clarke Quay is a bustling area of restaurants, retail shops, and entertainment venues. Further up-river, quieter Robertson Quay is also home to restaurants, alfresco dining, condominiums, and hotels.
While the Singapore River is now a lovely area with a beautiful promenade, the river was once polluted with sewage and waste. In 1977, Singapore launched a campaign to clean up the river. During the nearly 10-year-long project, the river and surrounding areas were cleaned and restored, revitalizing the area and attracting the numerous hotels, restaurants, and businesses now located along the popular destination.
While walking along the river, you can’t help but notice the colorful boats traversing its waters.
Dating back to the 1600s in Europe, bumboats, which were also called twakows and tongkangs, were originally used in Singapore for transporting goods and cargo. In present day Singapore, bumboats are small water taxis or tourist tour boats.
A pleasant and relaxing way to view Singapore via the Singapore River, 24 bumboats are operated by Singapore River Cruises, passing landmarks such as the Fullerton Hotel, Merlion Park, Esplanade Singapore and the Marina Bay Sands along the leisurely ride.
With the head of lion and the body of a fish, Singapore’s national icon, the mythical Merlion at the mouth of the Singapore River has welcomed visitors to the city-state since 1972. A combination of “mer” for sea and “lion,” the symbol represents Singapore’s heritage as a fishing Village and the city’s original name, Singapura, or “lion city” in the Malay language.
Standing at a height of 8.2 meters/28 feet, the Merlion statue in Merlion Park weighs 70 tons, spouts water from its mouth and is located near the Fullerton Hotel.
The first and only tropical botanic garden on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the Singapore Botanic Gardens are a lush oasis in the heart of Singapore that dates back over 150 years.
The current site of the gardens opened in 1859 and since has played an important role in Singapore’s agricultural history through collecting, growing, experimenting and distributing potentially useful plants. With over 10,000 species of plants located across three sections of the 82 hectacre gardens, the attraction draws both local botany enthusiasts as well as nature lovers from around the world.
A highlight of the gardens is the highly-acclaimed National Orchid Garden. Home to more than 1000 orchid species and 2000 hybrids, the National Orchid Garden provides an opportunity to meander through a floral paradise.
Located throughout the Orchid Gardens are the popular VIP Orchids, named after visiting dignitaries and other VIPs. Since it began the naming program in 1957, the garden has over 200 VIP named orchids, including the Dendrobium Margaret Thatcher, the Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana, and the Dendrobium Joe and Jill Biden. Open from 5 am to midnight, the best time of day to visit the Botanic Gardens is early morning or in the evening to avoid the intense heat of the day.
Sentosa is a popular resort island just off the main island of Singapore with hotels, beaches, golf courses, a theme park, and… ziplining!
Accessible by car, cable car, or a monorail from VivoCity, our method of transport, Sentosa is 500-hectares of fun. Immediately upon disembarking from the monorail, I spotted a man with a couple of baskets that apparently contained snakes. Hmmm. Of course, I did.
Meet Rocky and Tony, a boa constrictor and an albino burmese python. Both of the boys are only three years old and are very friendly. What a photo opp – plus I got to wear the uber-cool hat and Tony even tried to come home with me.
First up, we tried the ParaJump, which essentially is jumping from a platform 15 meters/49 feet in the air. Think of it like a free fall parachute jump without the chute – okay, the line slows you down near the ground.
Next up – time to zipline. From 75 meters/246 feet up, we stepped from the platform for an exhilarating 450 meter/492 yard long (the equivalent of nearly 5 American football fields) ride down to the beach.
If you wake up to a forecast for rain or simply would like an air-conditioned event for the day, head over to the National Gallery Singapore.
Located in two of Singapore’s national monuments, the buildings housing the artwork are attractions unto themselves. The former Supreme Court Building and City Hall are bridged by a unique design that incorporates elements that harmoniously bridge the old and new architectural styles.
With over 8,000 works of art, the museum has amassed the world’s largest public collection of Singapore and Southeast Asian art. One could roam the National Gallery for hours, as the museum has something for every interest. If hunger strikes, several restaurants are located in the museum, including the phenomenal Violet Oon. A beautiful, stylish restaurant that delivers authentic Peranakan cuisine, it is a delightful spot to linger over lunch, savoring the flavors and ambiance.
Catch a ride on the Singapore Flyer
Soaring to over 165 meters/541 feet, the world’s largest observation wheel, the Singapore Flyer, provides breathtaking, panoramic views of Singapore. Visitors to the Flyer board a 28-person capsule and then sit back and enjoy the ride, which takes 30 minutes for each revolution. Since its opening in 2008, the Singapore Flyer has become one of Asia’s biggest tourist attractions.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Singapore is a true melting pot of cultures. The integrated, diverse city of over 5 million people living harmoniously, while also treasuring their cultural heritages. Dating back to the early 1800s, Singapore was a trading hub for India-bound ships. The ships from around the world brought many foreign influences, as did its nearby neighbor, Malaysia. Many people migrated to the island from British, Indian and Asian countries, resulting in a mix of languages, religions, cultures, and traditions.
Modern Singapore was founded by Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles in 1819 and remained a colony of Britain until 1942. Following many turbulent times between 1942 and 1965, Singapore gained independence from Malaysia and Singapore’s first and beloved prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, set plans in place to transition Singapore from a troubled “third world country to a first world country within a single generation.”
Lee’s social and economic policies based on meritocracy and respecting the differences of multiple races created the Singapore of today. While English is the common language of Singapore, bilingualism is mandated in schools, a critical step in preserving identities. Singapore’s public holidays include Christian, Muslim, and Indian holidays.
The incredibly clean and safe city-state and accommodations make Singapore an attractive place for visiting, especially for English-speaking tourists. However, in parallel to the modern offerings, multiple ethnic-based districts still exist, providing an opportunity to explore the ethnicities, food, traditions, and history that make up the Singaporean culture
No trip to Singapore would be complete without a visit to Chinatown. The sights, smells and colors overflow from the shophouses that line the streets, spilling out into the vibrant neighborhood. With an abundance of restaurants, shops, temples, and attractions to explore, Chinatown is one of Singapore’s most popular areas.
A good place to begin your visit is at the Chinatown Heritage Center on Pagoda Street. Housed in three restored shophouses, the center provides a glimpse into the lives of the early residents of the area. The center has re-created a tailor shop and the tiny resident living quarters of both the owners and tenants. The guided tour provides the background to understanding how the dreams, hardships, sacrifices, and aspirations helped shape the culture of the area and its residents.
The street markets and shops of Chinatown offer a wide variety of shopping options. From silk robes and trinkets to custom-made suits, you’re sure to find affordable items from hundreds of markets and vendors. As with street markets around the world, remember that fakes and copies are prevalent, compare prices between vendors, check the product for flaws, and, if you decide to purchase, feel free to try to bargain.
The temple houses the Buddha Tooth Relic made from 320kg of gold. The relic is located in the Sacred Light Hall on the fourth floor of the museum and can be seen from a viewing area. The temple is a place of worship and, as such, respectful attire is required inside the temple (no bare shoulders or legs). Shawls and covers for legs are provided at the door.
Founded in 1827, the temple was built by immigrants from South India and was formerly known as Mariamman Kovil or Kling Street Temple. Now a national monument, a majority of the present temple is believed to have been built around 1862-1863. The temple is built in the South Indian Dravidian style and features a gopuram, with six tiers of Hindu deity sculptures and ornamental decorations, that marks the front entrance.
An eclectic district filled with food, history, and culture, Kampong Glam dates back to the early 1800s when it was a fishing village on the shores of the Rochor River. The name Kampong Glam stems from the Malay word “kampung” meaning village and a tree prevalent in the area, the gelam tree.
Today, the area is a bustling community with a strong Malay-Arab influence. In the shadows of the beautiful Sultan Mosque, the Muslim quarter is a trendy district filled with quirky shops, hip boutiques, restaurants and cafes, street markets and a rich historical past to explore.
A narrow street in the heart of Kampong Glam, Haji Lane is the center of fashion and trend setting in Singapore.
A visit to Haji Lane is a perfect way to spend an afternoon shopping in the small boutiques which have a good selection from independent labels and sought-after local designers. Take a stroll to admire the brightly-colored street art and pop into some galleries to do a bit of browsing. Pick up some cookies or pastries. Or, simply grab a coffee or glass of wine and do some people watching and soak in the artsy vibe.
Malay Heritage Center
Once the Sultan’s palace, Istana Kampong Glam was built in 1843 by Sultan Ali, the son of Sultan Hussein Shah. As part of the development of the Malay Heritage Center, the Istana Kampong Glam was restored according to its original design in 2004. The Malay Heritage Centre, which now includes Istana Kampong Glam, officially opened in 2005. The center’s museum serves as a showcase of the Malay heritage and culture, providing insight and understanding of the community’s history.
An iconic landmark in the Kampong Glam district, Sultan Mosque, or Masjid Sultan, is the oldest mosque in Singapore. Dating back to 1824, the mosque was first built for Sultan Hussein Shah, the first sultan of Singapore. In 1932, the mosque was rebuilt with the huge gold domes and the large prayer hall. During the construction, glass bottles were contributed by poor Muslims and the bottle ends were used in the base under the domes so that all could contribute to the building of the new structure. The mosque was declared a national monument in 1975 and is visited by thousands of people from around the world each year.
Singapore’s Little India
Vibrant and colorful, a stroll through Singapore’s Little India is a feast for the senses. As merchants hawk their wares, shoppers buzz about bargaining over everything from flowers to jewelry to electronics. Scents of curry waft out to the street from the countless restaurants in the neighborhood. Fruits and vegetables of all colors and varieties are on every corner. Stunning garlands constructed of beautiful, fragrant flowers hang over head. A wonderful place to simply wander, Little India is chaotic, beautiful and fascinating all at once and shouldn’t be missed on a Singapore visit.
The Festival of Lights, or Deepavali, is a Hindu festival occurring in the autumn to celebrate the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. An ancient festival and major event in the Hindu faith, participants illuminate their homes, temples, buildings, and communities for the vibrant celebration.
If in Singapore during Deepavali (dates are set by the lunar calendar, but are typically around October), celebrate with the Indian community. The streets of Little India are dazzling during the festival, with thousands of colorful lights decorating the community. Especially beautiful is Serangoon Road, with the arch welcoming all to the festival. Then head to the Deepavali Festival Village, where vendors sell flower garlands, traditional treats, and items to decorate homes for the celebration, craftspeople display their wares, and local artists offer to paint intricate henna body art.
Popular in the Indian culture, henna has been used for thousands of years to adorn women with body art for social events and holiday celebrations.
While visiting Singapore during Deepvali, I decided to get a henna tattoo on my left hand. After viewing the artist’s book of designs, some of which were extremely elaborate, I selected one and she began. The artist drew the design free hand and within 15 or 20 minutes I had my beautiful swirling tattoo. Upon leaving, the artist told me to make sure I didn’t smudge it and to let it dry for at least 30 minutes. She also said if I applied oil after it dried it would stay longer and make it darker, which I couldn’t imagine how that would happen since it was black already. Arriving back at the hotel, I used a hair dryer to make sure it was dry before going to bed.
During the middle of the night, I woke up to a bunch of little bumps that felt like tiny pebbles in the bed. Turning on the light, I realized the black part comes off, leaving the reddish brown color behind wherever the black henna paste was applied. After cleaning the bed, I applied some lotion (I didn’t have oil). I was careful with it while showering for the next few days and the pattern lasted about 5 days before it began to disappear.
Home of the Peranakans, the Katong/Joo Chiat area is a charming district only about 10 minutes from the city center with beautiful shophouses, amazing food and great shopping.
Who are the Peranakans? Peranakans are descendants of Chinese immigrants and local women. Peranakans are locally born, distinguishing the group from the China-born Singapore Chinese. Peranakan males are known as babas and females are called as nonyas. Well-known for their nonya food, referring to the women who prepare it, Peranakan cuisine is distinctly tasty, using unique spices and cooking techniques with Indonesian and Malay influences.
The perfect spot to explore the Peranakan culture is the Joo Chiat/Katong area, a vibrant district with authentic Peranakan restaurants and shopping. The Peranakan women are also well-known for their embroidery and beadwork, creating stunning clothing, shoes, and accessories that are works of art, which can be found in the colorful, well-kept shophouses in the Katong/Joo Chiat district.
Located in the heart of Joo Chiat, the Intan, is a must visit for learning about the history, traditions & lifestyle of the Peranakans.
Awarded 2016 Best Tour Experience by the Singapore Tourism Board, the Intan is an exploration of all things Peranakan. More than viewing the amazing collection of Peranakan furniture, apparel and artifacts in the owner, Alvin Yapp’s, beautiful shophouse, a tour of the Intan is an opportunity to gain an understanding of the Peranakan culture.
While visiting the Intan, we enjoyed the most amazing tea and a vast assortment of desserts as Mr. Yapp relayed the delightful story of his heritage with passion and dedication. The Intan offers both the tea experience and a dinner offering. Visits to the Intan are by appointment only and can be arranged on their website.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Known around the world as a shopping paradise, Singapore has one of the broadest ranges of products of any city, with almost limitless retail options.
From street markets to avant-garde boutiques to luxury brands, it’s all in Singapore. There are places that dazzle, hipster spots, and emporiums that overflow with character and charm. Where to start? We’ll start where most shopping expeditions begin in Singapore – on the legendary Orchard Road.
With 2.2 kilometers of department stores, malls, and shops filled with merchandise catering to every budget and desire, Orchard Road is the retail hub of Singapore. The world’s finest designer boutiques sit alongside small, unique shops in this diverse shopping haven. Pace yourself and allow some time to explore the 20+ shopping malls and department stores that call Orchard Road home.
When you do need a break from all that retail bliss, indulge in some fabulous food. Be sure to check out the flying noodles at Hana and the swing over to Lady M for dessert. We fit both in, then indulged in a bit of relaxation with a fish spa pedicure.
Popular in Asia and mostly banned in the U.S. for hygiene reasons, the Garra Rufa fish from Turkey eat the dead skin from your feet and legs. Something I’d always wanted to try, I found it a bit ticklish at first, but quite relaxing once you get used to it.
A spectacular shopping destination that over 270 premium retailers and restaurants call home, the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands is a luxury shopping experience in the heart of Singapore’s business district. Retail brands range from Prada to Tom Ford and, if hunger pangs strike while gathering treasures, you can stop in at one of the 10 celebrity chef restaurants located in the facility.
While visiting the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, be sure to check out the beautiful lotus pond near the ArtScience Museum, take a ride on a sampan boat on the canal inside the shopping center, and stop by the Rain Oculous, the large whirlpool in the center of the mall where water falls two stories into the pool below.
Roaming the tiny stalls and cramped shophouses of Chinatown is a fascinating cultural experience. From 3 for $10 souvenirs to cashmere Pashminas to custom-made suits, strolling and bargaining for goods in Chinatown is an experience not to be missed.
In addition to uncovering unique finds, be sure to drop by Tong Heng’s for egg tarts and other pastries, stop in at the Chinatown Heritage Center to learn about the district and its history and visit both the gorgeous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and beautiful the Sri Mariamman Temple.
Hidden away in the Kapong Glam district is a trendy little street that attracts in-the-know shoppers from around the globe. Rumor has it that Gwen Stefani dropped by when she was in town. A hipsters paradise, Haji Lane is a little shopping and dining enclave filled with vintage shops, avant-garde boutiques, coffee shops, bakeries, and galleries. The street art is fabulous and the district’s artistic feel will leave you feeling creative and upbeat.
Singapore’s largest mall, VivoCity at HarborFront has it all. Its 1.5 million square feet includes retail stores, multiple food courts, spas, restaurants, a gym, Singapore’s largest cinema, a promenade, sky park, amphitheater, a wading pool, a massive toy store and a children’s play court. The Food Republic at VivoCity is exceptional, offering a vast array of options. On the third floor, visitors can catch the monorail, Sentosa Express, to the island of Sentosa.
VivoCity is also home to multiple art installations including a 6-meter tall spherical bouquet of flowers by Korean artist, Choi Jeong-Hwa, a bright red rocket by Marc Ruygrok of the Netherlands and two installations by Inges Idee of Germany, a giant snowflake and a towering snowman.
Little India is open 24 hours a day for shopping, so it’s the perfect place to head for dinner followed by some after-dinner retail recreation. The stalls along Serangoon Road, Little India’s central street, are an incredible display of color, texture, and fragrances. Look for deals on jewelry, fruit, flower garlands, fabrics, brass items and decorative wares. As the night grows later, the shopping doesn’t stop – just head over Mustafa Centre, which is open 24 hours and offers everything from electronics to groceries to sari stores.
I love great airports. Maybe it’s because we spend so much time in them, but airports that have great amenities are so appreciated. Changi Airport is fabulous and a great place to do some last minute shopping on the way out of Singapore. Bally, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Hermès, Longchamp – they are all there, along with hundreds of other shops and restaurants. So, save a bit of your money, head to the airport early and enjoy.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Incredible food is everywhere in Singapore. A true food lover’s paradise, Singapore is a melting pot of cuisines, creating a unique blend of flavors and food traditions. From hawker fare to high-end dining, you could spend a month roaming the Lion City and never taste even a fraction of the available options. While you may have an appetite for everything, here’s a short list of 10 ideas to get you started on your Singapore eating adventure.
Our first dinner in Singapore was at Red House Seafood at The Quayside. Specializing in Asian seafood dishes since 1976, they presented a variety of delicious local dishes for us to enjoy. Well-known for their Chilli Crab, it is definitely the place to try the delicacy. Combining the freshest crab with a slightly sweet sauce, the iconic Singaporean dish was amazing. In addition to the Chilli Crab, we sampled Steamed Scottish Bamboo Clams with Minced Garlic, which were tender and not too garlicky – really tasty. We also tried a variety of vegetable dishes, a prawn dish, and our favorite dish of the evening, Mee Goreng. The service was great and the atmosphere was comfortable and fun.
Eating traditional dishes in an authentic environment provides a glimpse of the culture’s identity and, when in Singapore, having kaya toast for breakfast is a must. Granted, before experiencing it, the kaya toast thing is a bit difficult to understand. So, you take some toast and dip it in a runny egg and it’s fabulous? Yep.
Kaya toast is toast with butter and kaya jam, which is made from eggs, sugar, coconut milk and pandan leaves. The toast is dipped in a soft boiled egg. Alongside the toast, a fragrant coffee that resembles chicory coffee (think Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans) is served. It really is good. But, what makes it great is experiencing it at the original Ya Kun at Far East Square in Chinatown. The auntie (a Singaporean term of endearment for an older woman) that served us was an absolute delight.
So many of the stories behind the restaurants and food shops in Singapore are of people that migrated to the city-state around the turn of the 20th century with hopes and dreams for a better future. Through their hard work and determination, many succeeded in building businesses where their food has become a part of the Singaporean culture.
Such is the story of Tong Heng’s Egg Tarts in Chinatown, who create pastries and diamond-shaped tarts with flaky, mouthwatering crusts that are filled with a delicious egg custard. Why the diamond shape? So the delicate pastries fit together in a box tightly and prevent them from being destroyed on their way home.
We sampled a variety of the pastries, including a green bean paste pastry, moon cakes and, of course, egg tarts.
Regarded as the “king of fruits,” durian is a large, thorn-covered fruit that emits a repulsive smell and is frequently likened to road kill, rotten eggs or garbage. The odor is actually so strong that durian is banned from airplanes, hotels and mass transit in Singapore. When we tried it, they gave us plastic gloves so our hands didn’t smell afterward.
Native to Malaysia and Indonesia, durian grows from trees. In Indonesia, they cut the large fruit from the trees, but in Malaysia they let it fall to the ground before eating. We were told the ones on the ground were much riper – and smellier. Yay. Once opened, multiple seeds that look like mango pits are revealed. The pits are covered with a slimy pale yellow flesh. We attempted to eat one bite – it was awful. Looking around at the other tables at the durian stand, locals chatted and devoured their durian. Obviously, durian is an acquired taste.
Hawker fare at Food Republic
Singapore is known for their hawker food and hawker centers, which essentially are food courts. When you hear the term “food court” don’t think of the American mall variety collection of fast food chains serving barely edible offerings. Hawker centers in Singapore are a collection of food vendor stalls selling a wide variety of offerings. The hawker centers, which are regulated by the Singaporean government, provide a more sanitary, permanent location for food vendors than food carts offer. Most vendors provide inexpensive, local cuisine. Diners make their selections and then enjoy their meals on tables within the center.
Bringing the local hawker fare to a more upscale open dining environment, Food Republic has elevated the concept and operates numerous locations throughout Singapore, mostly in shopping malls. We visited several Food Republic locations along Orchard Road and had lunch at the Vivo City location. With a wide variety of stalls, it takes a bit of time to make your selection. At Vivo City, we ended up going with prawn noodles. The prawns were huge, the dish was tasty and the price was very affordable.
Food and art are one at Janice Wong’s at the National Museum of Singapore. Twice recognized as Asia’s best pastry chef, Chef Wong opened her latest in a string of highly-acclaimed projects, her flagship sweets retail shop and restaurant, in August of 2016. While we were admiring the vibrant colors and discussing the restaurant’s decor, Chef Wong dropped by our table and explained to us that the tables and the art on the walls are all edible, crafted from chocolate. She then moved on to speak with each table of diners in the restaurant, taking time to answer questions and pose for photos with guests.
We dined on Scallops Somen for lunch, a delightful combination of fish roe, ebi, scallops, salted egg yolk sauce and noodles. The dish was as beautiful as it was delicious. Dessert was Tiramisu, a creation I’d previously read that Ms. Wong learned to make from her mother and calls it her comfort dessert. A dreamy finish to the meal, the tiramisu was light with multiple layers of flavor and simply decadent.
In Singapore, an ice cream sandwich is really more of a sandwich than you may think. Served on a soft, rainbow colored Pandan bread, a slice of ice cream is placed in the middle of the bread and, voilà, an ice cream sandwich. We purchased ours from an uncle at the end of Pagoda street in Chinatown and opted for coffee-flavored ice cream, but cart vendors can also easily be found along Orchard Road.
Flying noodles? Hana Restaurant is the spot where noodles fly in Singapore. Served on two dim sum baskets with a side of salted egg sauce, cold Udon noodles are draped over what appear to be levitating chopsticks creating the illusion of… flying noodles.
While the flying noodles are trendy and fun, the star of our lunch at Hana was the Salmon Cheese Chirashi. Salmon scattered amidst a dish of fresh, high-quality ingredients and a pretty presentation.
A signature dish of the Lion City, fish head curry is said to epitomize the cultural melting pot of Singapore. Comprised of the head of a red snapper combined with vegetables in a stewed curry sauce, fish head curry is said to have been created in an Indian restaurant in the 1960s. As fish head is considered a delicacy in China, the Indian chef added it to the curry to please his Chinese patrons. Muthu’s Curry is considered to be the top spot for Southern Indian fish head curry in Singapore, where the dish is served with okra, pineapple, and an aromatic sauce. Not for the timid, the sauce is spicy – not a little spicy, a lot of spicy.
When shopping along Orchard Road a stop in Lady M is an absolute must. While technically a New York based enterprise, Lady M has 3 Singapore locations, multiple New York boutiques, and locations also in Los Angeles, Boston and Hong Kong. Lady M Mille Crêpes cakes are created with 20 layers of thin crêpes filled with the most amazing pastry creams you can imagine. The cake is delicate, gorgeous and decadent. We tried three flavors: the signature mille crêpes, a chocolate, and Earl Grey. All were amazing.
One of the most beautiful restaurants we visited is Violet Oon’s National Kitchen at the National Gallery. A luxurious dining journey through Paranakan flavors, lunch at the opulent National Kitchen is a special treat. As we were dining with a large group, the food was served communal-style, enabling liberal sampling of the many dishes served. While so many of the dishes were delicious, one stood out for me – an appetizer called Kuay Pie Tee which is served in little deep-fried cups that resemble an upside down top hats. Inside the cup is a delightful mix of julienned bamboo shoots and turnips poached in prawn bisque and topped with a prawn. Served with a chili sauce and a sweet fruit sauce, the Kuay Pie Tee is divine.
Closing out Singapore at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen
Always a fan of Gordon Ramsay restaurants, we had our final Singapore dinner at Bread Street Kitchen at the beautiful Marina Bay Sands. A casual dining experience, Bread Street Kitchen is a vibrant spot with spectacular waterfront views. The menu is British European with a few Asian twists.
We began the evening with some bubbly and several appetizers: seared scallops, a tomato tart, and flatbread.
As one would expect from a Ramsay establishment, the scallops were seared to perfection and the flatbread, with its caramelized onions and cheese, was fabulous. The tomato tart was sublime, bursting with flavor.
For the main course, we opted for parrot fish and sea trout, which we each sampled, accompanied by a nice Bordeaux Blanc. The spiced couscous that accompanied the parrot fish was fresh and flavorful, a nice contrast to the slightly sweet parrot fish. The sea trout, which comes from New Zealand, actually resembles salmon and was served with a white wine velouté and asparagus. While we both preferred the sea trout, the parrot fish was also enjoyable.
Time for dessert. Unable to make a selection, we opted for the sampler platter for the table to share – a delightful assortment of sweet treats to end our meal. We lingered over dessert and the wine, enjoying the conversation and the stunning view. A wonderful evening and a perfect ending to our time in Singapore.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
They had us at “exploring machine.” That’s what the email we received from Volkswagen called the new Golf Alltrack being introduced in the U.S. for 2017. Exploring machine – what an appropriate name for a car for us.
We’ve driven a Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited for the last four years and most of the miles we’ve logged were spent exploring. From coast to coast, through deserts, mountains, cities and the countryside, the car has hauled us and our loads of gear to ski, hike, bike, photograph and explore much of America.
Earlier in the year, we’d decided to check out buying a new vehicle, but couldn’t find something new that matched our lifestyle and performance needs. So, when we heard about Volkswagen’s new U.S. entry into the outdoor market, we wanted to see more.
Which is how we ended up in Seattle for a weekend to learn about the Volkswagen Alltrack and, ultimately, on Bainbridge Island, where we’d test drive the car along with taking in a bit of hiking and photography – all against a gorgeous Washington backdrop, complete with Mt. Rainier in the distance.
A Volkswagen Weekend in Seattle
The Pacific Northwest, commonly shortened to PNW, is an amazing place. A photography and outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, the PNW is home to some of the most majestic scenery in North America, with mountain ranges, rocky shorelines, and breathtaking views around each bend. In addition to fabulous outdoor activities, the area is home to cities with character, charm, and much to do. The largest city in the region, Seattle, was our base for this visit to the PNW and where we’d be introduced to the new Volkswagen Golf Alltrack.
Arriving in Seattle on a Thursday afternoon, we were whisked away from Sea-Tac airport by a gentleman driving a beautiful blue Passat and taken to our hotel for the weekend, the Kimpton Palladian Hotel in downtown Seattle.
After dropping our bags in the room, we headed down to our first activity of the weekend, a walking tour of Pike Place Market, located just a couple of blocks from the hotel.
Pike Place Market
The iconic Pike Place Market dates back to 1907 and is one of the longest running farmers markets in the United States. Each year over 10 million people visit the year-round market, which is home to over 500 small businesses that include bakeries, fishmongers, produce vendors, craftspeople, specialty food stores, restaurants, and shops.
From flowers to yogurt to fish to spices, Pike Place Market has been satisfying Seattle’s affinity for fresh, local goods since its inception. Around the turn of the 20th century, middlemen were drastically marking up prices on farm products sold to the consumer, with the farmers making little to no money and buyers overpaying. To counteract the situation, farmers began appearing near the waterfront, selling their products from wagons – the beginning of the Public Market in 1907. Eventually, buildings were built and over the next century, Pikes Place Market transformed into the top attraction in Seattle.
Following our walking tour of the Market, we took some time to roam the streets of downtown Seattle. The vibrant, eclectic city is home to a wide range of attractions, museums, shops, and restaurants. But, simply strolling the streets taking in the urban landscape, exploring Seattle’s unique atmosphere and quirkiness, can be a perfect way to spend an hour or an afternoon – with stops of course along the way at one of the coffee shops located on every block.
Introducing the Golf Alltrack
Upon our return to the hotel, the group gathered for an introduction to the star of the weekend, the Golf Alltrack.
So, what exactly is an Alltrack? The vehicle is based on the existing Volkswagen SportWagen, has a higher ground clearance, a more rugged exterior, and an Alltrak specific interior. Our initial impression that the Alltrack could be a suitable alternative for the Subaru Outback appeared to be on target, as the second slide of the presentation jumped straight in with a feature comparison between the two go-anywhere vehicles.
Comparing the Volkswagen Alltrack and the Subaru Outback
The standard engine in a Subaru Outback is a 2.5L naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine, although we opted for the 6-cylinder for our Outback. Comparably, the Volkswagen Alltrack comes with an EA888 1.8L direct-injected and turbocharged 4-cylinder TSI engine.
Size & cargo space
The Outback is slightly bigger than the Alltrack. The Alltrack has a roof rack height of 59.7 inches, while the Outback sits at 66 inches. With the rear seats in place, the Alltrack has 30.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity. The 2017 Subaru’s cargo capacity is 35.5 cubic feet. With the rear seats folded, there are 66.5 cubic feet of luggage space in the Alltrack versus 73.3 cubic feet in the Outback.
In the areas of style and comfort, the Alltrack excels in standard features.
The Alltrack includes Standard Car-Net App-Connect with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and MirrorLink on all model levels. The 2017 Subaru Outback has a similar package called Subaru Starlink™ on its models.
The Outback has a standard-sized sunroof available. The Alltrack has a huge tilt-and-slide panoramic sunroof available on the SE & SEL models that have more than twice the area of Outback’s.
Leatherette is standard on all Alltrack models. Cloth is standard on the Subaru, with leather optional and only available on the upper-level models.
Heated seats, mirror-integrated turn signals, cooled glove box, fog lights, and leather steering wheel & shifter are all standard on the Alltrack, while optional on the Outback.
Things that make you go “wow”
Both the Outback and the Alltrack have options that increase the comfort and up the wow factor. On the Alltrack, aside from that unbelievable optional sunroof, cool options include features such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning & Autonomous Emergency Braking and, for all those that still have nightmare flashbacks to parallel parking in driver’s ed class, Park Pilot and Park Assist.
Models and Pricing
The Volkswagen Golf Alltrack comes in three models, the S model which starts at $26,950, the SE beginning at $30,530 and the SEL that starts at $32,890. The Subaru Outback comes in 6 levels ranging from the entry-level 2.5i at $25,645 to the top line 3.6R Touring which starts at $38,195.
Dinner and late evening Lego fun
Following the Alltrack introduction presentation, we walked back to the Atrium Kitchen at Pikes Place Market for a reception and dinner. The Atrium is a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen available to in the heart of Pike Place Market available to local chefs for hands-on cooking classes, cooking demonstrations, tastings and private events.
The group enjoyed a wonderful feast of local specialties prepared from fresh ingredients from the market while socializing and sending a few shots of the delicious dining offerings and the event out on social, #VWGolfAlltrack or #VW2017. After dinner, some late night Lego fun was on tap back at the hotel before retiring for the evening.
The ferry to Bainbridge Island
A trip across Puget Sound on the ferry to Bainbridge Island is a must for any visit to Seattle. The 35-minute ride provides spectacular Seattle skyline and Mt. Rainier views and provides transport to beautiful Bainbridge, a 28 square mile island that is a great place to explore and the location of our Alltrack test drive.
After passengers and vehicles boarded the boat, the Alltrack made its entrance, sporting a bright green canoe. We quickly made our way to the vehicle deck to capture some shots of the car as we departed Seattle.
Time to test drive the Alltrack
We spend a lot of time outdoors. We ski, we hike, we bike…and getting there often means winding our way around back roads and through the countryside, so we planned to put the Alltrack to the test, checking out its performance, handling and fun-to-drive factor.
For our first test drive of the day, we selected a red Alltrack S model, wanting to start with the entry-level to see what the base model would deliver. The Volkswagen crew provided a detailed itinerary and overview, with three destinations around the island.
We took turns driving and we both enjoyed piloting the Alltrack. It was very responsive and handled well, taking turns with authority. The engine was energetic and the overall feel was both comfortable and sporty. After stopping for a short hike at Scenic Beach State Park, we headed for Port Gamble, our lunch spot for the day and the point where we would swap cars and try the SE model.
As expected, the comfort and gadget level increased with SE model. The SE added keyless entry, a premium audio system, the above-mentioned driver’s assistance package, and that mind-blowing sunroof, which alone would be our reason to upgrade.
We also gave Volkswagen roadside assistance a quick test when I tried to open the sunroof and accidentally pressed the “call for help” button instead. A nice female quickly responded and after advising her it was simply a case of pilot error, she wished us a good day.
As Subaru Outback owners, what did we think?
We loved the Alltrack. It is fun to drive and has quite a few features that we felt make it a great option for those seeking an alternative to the Outback. The Alltrack seemed quieter and handled the road extremely well. While we obviously didn’t have the opportunity to test it out over any 12,000-foot mountain passes, the engine responded well and the steering was highly responsive, a necessity for zigging and zagging up and down switchbacks in the mountains.
While we have both bike and ski racks for our Outback, we rarely use them, opting to throw our gear in the back. We tested out loading a road bike in the back with the seats down, and the Alltrack handled it with ease. The Alltrack also has 60/40 rear split seats with a center pass-through, providing ski hauling options as well.
Overall, the Alltrack was fun to drive, performed well, is super comfortable and is definitely worth a test drive.
Learn more about the Volkswagen Alltrack
The 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack is available in the United States beginning in October 2016. Learn more and get the details on the Volkswagen website.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Volkswagen USA for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Rich in history and natural beauty, the Mille Lacs area is only a short drive from the Twin Cities and a great spot for a getaway. From water-activities to games of chance, to learning about the history of the area, there are plenty of things to do in the Mille Lacs.
Things to do when visiting Mille Lacs
Explore Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post
The Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post in Onamia tells the story of the area’s first settlers, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, with a variety of interactive displays, exhibits, and learning stations. Exploring the large collection of artifacts and art is a wonderful way to learn more about the history of the area. The Four Seasons Room, which is not to be missed when visiting, is home to dioramas with life-size figures depicting the life for the Ojibwe people through the changing seasons.
Next door, the Trading Post offers a large selection of traditional and contemporary American Indian art and crafts from tribes across North America.
Grab a pack and head out for some outdoor exploration at one of the Mille Lacs area state parks. With 35 miles of trails and a 100-foot observation tower offering spectacular views of Lake Mille Lacs, Kathio State Park near Onamia is a perfect spot to spend a few hours or more. On the southeast shore near Isle, Father Hennepin State Park’s 320 acres includes trails that wind through hardwood forests and along the Lake Mille Lacs shoreline.
Go fishing with McQuoid’s Inn
One of the largest lakes in Minnesota, Lake Mille Lacs has 132,500 acres of stunning waters and is the place to catch four different species of trophy fish: smallmouth bass, walleye, muskie, and northern pike. It is also the spot where I caught my first fish – a walleye, quickly followed by a smallmouth bass! Guess I can check off two of the trophy fish species! Our fishing adventure on Lake Mille Lacs was with McQuoid’s Inn, who offers private and public charters aboard their comfortable, clean boats captained by expert fishermen. Bait, tackle, and equipment is all provided by McQuoid’s Inn – you just bring a camera to capture the pic with your catch.
With 1,500 slot machines, table games, video games, and a bingo hall, there’s something for everyone desiring to partake in a bit of gaming at Grand Casino Mille Lacs in Onamia. For the kiddos, the Grand Arcade has more than 80 arcade machines and when hunger strikes, there are four dining options ranging from coffee and snacks to steaks and seafood.
Shop ’til you drop in four quaint communities
Whether you’re interested in antiques, art, or unique gifts, there’s a wide assortment of quaint shops and boutiques throughout the four communities in the Mille Lacs area: Isle, Wahkon, Onamia, and Garrison. Stroll along main streets, explore specialty shops carrying clothing, gifts, wines and more, and pick up a few souvenirs, art, and local craft items.
Where to stay when visiting Mille Lacs
From campgrounds to resorts, Mille Lacs has a variety of lodging choices. For our visit, we stayed at the recently renovated Eddy’s Resort on Mille Lacs Lake. Cool and eclectic, Eddy’s has stunning lakeside views, comfortable, stylish design, a great restaurant and bar, the Launch Bar & Grill, and is easily accessible to the many activities and attractions throughout the Mille Lacs area.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota and Mille Lacs Area Tourism for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
While visiting the Mille Lacs Lake area, we stopped by the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post to learn more about the history of the area and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, who are believed to have settled in region in the 1700s.
A combination of beautiful exhibits, interactive displays, learning stations and educational information, the museum provides a view into the history and lives of the Ojibwe people and, next door, the Trading Post sells handcrafted American Indian arts and crafts.
History of the museum
Built in 1996, the museum is one of 26 Minnesota Historical Society sites and museums and is located on the southwest shore of Mille Lacs Lake near Onamia, Minnesota.
The museum resides on the former property of Harry and Jeanette Ayers who began renting cabins on the grounds in the early 1920s. By the late 1930s, the Ayers were running a full resort business with cabins, boats, a trading post, gas station, and even a boat factory and maple syrup refinery.
Avid collectors of American Indian artifacts, art and memorabilia, the Ayers amassed a vast collection over their years of procuring items for the Trading Post. In 1959, they donated their collection, the buildings and the land to the Minnesota Historical Society.
The donated buildings and collections served as the museum until 1996, when the current building was built as result of a partnership between the Minnesota Historical Society and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Visiting the Mille Lacs Indian Museum
Visitors to the museum are treated to a wide variety of displays and exhibits, including hands-on activities for children.
Exploring the spacious 22,810-square-foot museum, visitors learn the story of the Ojibwe people, from what their lives were like when they settled in the area to present day culture.
Many exhibits incorporate both the Ojibwe language and English in their descriptions and provide a glimpse into life on the reservation. We were fortunate to tour the museum with Travis Zimmerman, a descendant of the Ojibwe who is Site Manager of the museum.
Popular for school field trips, Travis pointed out that the museum provides a wide view of Indian history, accentuating the similarities, not the differences, in the tribes, customs, foods, music, and games.
The jewel of the museum, the Four Seasons Room contains beautifully designed dioramas with life-size figures that depict the life of Ojibwe people throughout the changing seasonal activities.
From depictions of harvesting wild rice in the autumn to making maple syrup to hunting and berry picking, the exhibits are exceptional.
While the dioramas date back to 1964 in the previous version of the museum, the life-sized mannequins were added in 1972.
Travis explained that casts of actual tribe members were used to create the figures. Imagine how amazing it must be for the children and grandchildren of those members when they visit the museum to see depictions of their parents and grandparents from decades before.
The Trading Post
The Trading Post is located next to the museum and offers a large selection of traditional and contemporary American Indian art and crafts from tribes across North America.
Home to an amazing assortment of artists’ works, the Trading Post’s items include beads, books, blankets, moccasins, birch bark products, paintings, sculptures, pottery, jewelry, dream catchers, and more.
In addition to the items for sale, an exhibit area can be found just inside the entrance with historical items from the Trading Post and those who have visited over nearly a century.
Know before you go
The museum and trading post are located at 43411 Oodena Dr., Onamia, MN 56359
When I was about 5 or 6 years old my aunt took me fishing. We hauled all the gear out to a small, nearby lake and, upon arrival, she pulled out a can of worms and demonstrated how to put a worm on the hook. There was no possible way I was going to do such a thing, so she did it for me. About 10 minutes later, she explained to me that my constant talking was scaring the fish away. About 10 minutes after that, I’d eaten all of the snacks we’d brought. 10 more minutes – we loaded up the car and, as we headed back to town, she said she didn’t think I was going to be much of a fisherman.
If Eleanor could see me now.
Fishing with McQuoid’s Inn on Mille Lacs Lake
In the land of 10,000 lakes, I think babies are born with fishing poles in their hands, so I’m not sure anyone in Minnesota really believed that I had never caught a fish. But, that was soon to change with the help of McQuoid’s Inn on Mille Lacs Lake.
After stopping by Lundeen’s Tackle Castle for a fishing license, we headed over to McQuoid’s Inn for an afternoon of fishing on beautiful Lake Mille Lacs.
We knew we were going to be in good hands with McQuoid’s Inn, who has offered launch fishing on Mille Lacs Lake for over 70 years. Their boat captains are expert fisherman and McQuoid’s offers both private and public charters on their comfortable and super clean boats. We were joined by a family for the afternoon, and with that, out we headed to fish.
No worries with bait, tackle or equipment – everything is provided by McQuoid’s Inn. Our guide and boat captain, Mike, was terrific. He worked hard to find all the best spots where the fish hide and I never once had to touch the bait, which by the way were leeches – the things they used to stick on people to suck their blood under glass cups!
We listened to 70’s rock (Eleanor definitely would not have approved) while we waited for the fish to find us – and it didn’t take long!
The family that was with us caught a couple of Walleye, then I felt a tug on my line. Mike came running with his net and… Voila! I caught a 14″ Walleye!
How much fun was that! Mike told me how to hold it – it was rather wiggly – and we snapped the photos.
Walleye is a hugely popular fish in Minnesota and found on menus in nearly every restaurant in the state. We even had it for breakfast in a hash one day (it was amazing). However, for the 2016 season on Lake Mille Lacs, Walleye were classified as “catch and release” to rebuild the population at the lake. So, after Mike measured the little guy, off he went back into the water, and it was back to fishing for this now-experienced fisherwoman.
It wasn’t long before I felt another tug and Mike came running again with the net. This time – a 16″ Small Mouth Bass! With the first fish, in my excitement, I’d forgotten what I’d learned from our resident Minnesotan at lunch – when you take the photo, hold the fish out really far, close to the camera and it makes the fish look bigger. Got it the second time!
Speaking of our resident Minnesotan, Caitlin Rick, who had organized the event, was still fishless as the afternoon was drawing to a close. But, we were doubting too soon and it was as if the fish knew she couldn’t go home without a catch. Just before we turned back to shore, Caitlin too got her catch for the day!
What a fun afternoon! If you are in the Mille Lacs Lake area, contact McQuid’s Inn to reserve a spot on one of their charters. The boats are great, the guides are professional and fun, and the lake is beautiful!
Know before you go
McQuoid’s Inn provides the bait, tackle, and expert fishing advice.
You bring your fishing license, camera, food and beverage, and dress for the weather.
Private charters are available for groups of 5 to 85 guests. Bachelor and bachelorette party groups must privately charter launch trips.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: Special thanks to Explore Minnesota, McQuid’s Inn and Mille Lacs Area Tourism for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Surrounded by the volcanoes of the western Andes, some of which are active, Quito sits near the equator at an elevation of 2,850 meters/9,350 feet making it one of the highest capital cities in the world.
Dating back to 1534, the historic center of Quito, Old Town, lies on top of the ruins of an Incan city and is considered to be the best-preserved colonial city in South America. Quito was placed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 1978.
Now a sprawling city and home to over two million people, Quito is a bustling metropolis with many hotels, restaurants, cafes, shopping centers, and parks.
Getting to Quito
The main entry point for international arrivals into Ecuador is Quito’s Mariscal Sucre airport (airport code: UIO). A quick four-hour flight from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale, Mariscal Sucre also welcomes visitors to Ecuador from numerous international destinations and serves as the largest hub of the Ecuadoran airline, TAME. Transportation into the city, which is approximately 18 km from the airport, is available via bus, rental car or taxi. Taxi fare is $25.
Things to do in Quito
There are many things to do in Quito, but the place to start is Old Town. The bustling historic district of colorful buildings lining hilly cobblestone streets are decorated with flowers, flags and, on occasion, artwork.
A mix of markets, Ecuadorian food vendors, cafes, shops, government buildings, museums, and churches, exploring Old Town is a true immersion into the culture of Quito.
Vendors at tables in markets sell goods ranging from handcrafts to food to toys, while others roam the crowds offering bananas, ice cream or lottery tickets.
Home to dozens of cathedrals, museums, and squares, a stroll through Old Town provides an immersion into Ecuadoran history.
Colorful historic buildings line the cobblestone streets, as crowds scurry along the narrow sidewalks and traffic slowly navigates the narrow passageways.
Plaza Grande – Plaza de la Independencia (Independence Plaza)
In the heart of Old Town is Plaza Grande, also known as Plaza de la Independencia. Surrounded by the Presidential Palace, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Metropolitan Cathedral, the plaza is also a central gathering point for locals and tourists.
On the northwest side of the plaza, is the Palacio de Gobierno, or the Presidential Palace. Serving as both the president’s home and office, the building can be toured when the president is not in residence. Formerly the Archbishop’s Palace, the Palacio Arzobispal has now been converted into an arts center and is also home to shops and several restaurants.
Continuing around to the southwestern side of the plaza is the Metropolitan Cathedral. Established as the Diocese of Quito in 1545, the Cathedral was elevated to the archdiocese in 1849.
La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
Considered to be Quito’s most ornate church and the most beautiful church in Ecuador, La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús is located close to Plaza Grande in Old Town on the Calle de las Siete Cruces (Street of the Seven Crosses). With a large sanctuary lavishly decorated with gold leaf and carvings, La Compañía took over 160 years to complete, with construction beginning in 1605 and not completed until 1765.
Mirador El Panecillo
High atop a hill above Old Town called El Panecillo an immense statue of the Virgin of Quito (La Virgen de Quito) keeps watch over Quito.
Constructed between 1955 and 1975, La Virgen de Quito is a Madonna with a crown of stars and wings, holding onto a chained dragon.
Inside the statue, stairs lead to several floors offering a historical account of the construction of the monument. Climbing to the top, it’s interesting to note the numbers on the backs of the panels used to construct the statue of La Virgen de Quito.
At the top of the stairs, visitors enjoy open access to a viewing platform providing panoramic views of Quito and the surrounding mountains.
Basílica del Voto Nacional
The largest neo-Gothic church in the Americas, Basílica del Voto Nacional is a spectacular church that technically remains unfinished to this day. Adorned with Ecuadoran animals such as Galapagos tortoises, iguanas, and penguins instead of the traditional gargoyles, construction on the church began in the 1880s.
Legend has it that when the church is finished a cataclysmic event will occur, and so, parts of the Basilica remain unfinished to the day. Visitors can climb to the top of the towers providing views of the city and the surrounding volcanoes.
Centro de Arte Contemporáneo
Housed in the Old Military Hospital of Quito in the San Juan district, the Contemporary Art Center hosts a wide variety of exhibits in painting, sculpture, photography, visual and digital arts as well as theater and dance.
Additionally, don’t miss the excellent street art in the areas surrounding the Contemporary Art Center.
La Mariscal / Plaza Foch
A popular meeting place, La Mariscal in north central Quito is home to numerous bars, discos, coffee shops, cafés and restaurants and Quito’s nightlife. At the center of La Mariscal is Plaza Foch, also called Gringolandia, which translates as hummingbird, because of a statue of a hummingbird in the area.
El Ejido Park
South of La Mariscal, El Ejido Park transforms into a large market on the weekends with vendors and artists offering jewelry, crafts, and paintings. On the north side of the park near Amazonas Avenue, the Arch of the Circassian, also called The Circassian Gate, serves as the entrance to the park. The arch originally served as a gateway to the gardens of the Palacio de La Circasiana in the northern center of Quito.
Jardín Botánico and Parque La Carolina
North of the Mariscal, the Parque La Carolina is a large green space where Quiteños gather to participate in sports and relax in the outdoors. The park includes a pond with paddleboats and a skateboarding park. Quito’s botanical garden, Jardín Botánico, is located in the park as well. The Jardín Botánico encompasses 18,600 square meters with plants representative from regions across Ecuador.
Where we stayed
Wyndham Quito Airport
On our way to the Galapagos, we stopped for one night in Quito, staying at the Wyndham Quito Airport. Built in 2016, the hotel is modern and luxurious, with large, well-appointed guest rooms, beautiful marble baths with rain showers, a bar and restaurant, 24-hour room service, and WiFi. A free airport shuttle is available (requires a call to the hotel to have shuttle sent).
JW Marriott Quito
On our return from the Galapagos, we spent two days in Quito at the JW Marriott. One of the top hotels in the city, the JW Marriott is a beautiful, luxury hotel located in the Mariscal district. The hotel is filled with tropical plants and flowers, especially roses, in abundance. A waterfall cascades from the lobby level down to the lower level, where one of the restaurants, the spa, and access to the pool are located.
The resort-size pool and hot tub are surrounded by multiple waterfalls, tropical gardens and immense palm trees – amazing considering the hotel is at an elevation of most ski resorts in the United States.
The JW Marriott Quito’s rooms are large with wood floors and accents, a marble bath, upscale bedding, an in-room safe, bathrobe, flat panel TV and sweeping city views. The coffee shop near the shops is a great spot to begin your day with a cappuccino and pastry and is very reasonably priced. We also had sushi in the bar and an excellent dinner in La Hacienda restaurant.
Know before you go
Getting around. Licensed taxis are yellow and marked with a green placard. Some taxis are not metered so inquire what the fare will be before leaving for your destination. Your hotel should be able to provide you with an estimate of cost. Quito also had a double decker tour bus running on a three-hour loop to many of the major attractions for a very reasonable fee of $15 per day.
Use caution when exploring the city. Theft is common in the streets of Quito, so strap your camera or bag around your body and be aware of your surroundings. If possible, don’t venture out alone and consider taking a taxi instead of walking, especially at night.
Altitude sickness. At such a high elevation, many people may experience some effects of the altitude – especially if arriving from sea level only a few hours before. Keep hydrated, avoid excess alcohol and take it slow when you arrive.
Use sunscreen. Quito’s location near the equator and high elevation can result in sunburn quickly so don’t venture out without sunscreen – even on a cloudy day.
Poor air quality. As with most large cities, Quito has significant pollution, especially in the narrow streets of Old Town, where the bus fumes can be considerable.
Disclosure & disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
There was a period of time when we only went on beach vacations. Our work lives were crazy at the time, so we escaped to an island every couple of months, even if it were only for a few days. Consequently, we visited quite a few sun-kissed spots around the globe, and have continued to do so, even though our travel destinations are now a bit less one-dimensional.
Throughout our journeys to islands located in varying oceans and seas around the world, one has stood the test of time and travels for the top spot on our favorites list – St. Barths. Over the last two decades, we’ve visited the island countless times, from day trips to week-long excursions. We’ve arrived by plane, ferried over by boat, stayed in hotels, rented villas, and watched the sun set while sipping champagne on a boat – ok, it was a small yacht (stay long enough, and these things sometimes happen).
Saint-Barthélemy, typically shortened to St. Barts or St. Barths, is, of course, the tiny gem in the Caribbean known for its celebrity visitors and conspicuous consumption. Like the Côte d’Azur, Bora Bora or Aspen, there’s a reason certain places are frequented by those with ample funds seeking a quiet retreat with posh accommodations and a bit of pampering. Extraordinary resorts and villas, stunning natural beauty, fabulous dining and libations, and the best in shopping usually top the “needs” list for these destinations – and are easily fulfilled in St. Barths.
But, can those not arriving to Gustavia harbor by yacht, still enjoy the 8 square miles of paradise without selling their house in advance to fund the adventure? Yes – it’s still not cheap, but there are a couple of ways to fit it into most travel budgets. Whether you sample the island on a day trip from St. Martin or visit during lower seasons when the hotel rates aren’t quite as outrageous, St. Barths deserves a place on your “where to visit list.”
When to visit St. Barths
As timing is closely linked to prices, your St. Barths’ dollars (yes, they accept U.S. currency) will go quite a bit further at certain times of the year. Of course, there are a few trade-offs for the lower prices – like the possibility of hurricanes.
Mid-November to March
The highest season (i.e., costliest) to visit St. Barths is mid-November to March. Most websites will say December, but in the last few years, it seems to be creeping back to mid-November or at least around Thanksgiving. The weather is perfect during this time, St. Barths is a gorgeous alternative to the cold, and the prices are off the charts.
If want to go around December holidays, plan on booking months in advance for hotels and restaurants and you better have a high limit on your credit card. That said, carnival is really fun in St. Barths. The harbor fills with yachts and the entire island shuts down for a parade.
Day trips are a good bet for saving costs during winter months. While prices are high on all islands when it’s snowing in the northern hemisphere, they are exorbitant in St. Barths. A day trip from nearby from St. Maarten can save thousands of dollars and accomplish many of the same activities – just with you sleeping on a different island.
April and May
April to May is a good time to visit – the rain is only occasional and hotel rates start to drop.
June to late November
Otherwise known in the Caribbean as hurricane season, prices are cheaper, but rain is more likely and your vacation could be interrupted by a hurricane. That said, historically, more hurricanes hit during August to October.
Days of the week
Most shops are closed in Gustavia on Sunday, so if shopping is on your agenda plan accordingly.
Getting to St. Barths
Typically, the first step in getting to St. Barths is to get to St. Martin / St. Maarten, which is about 15 miles away. Numerous flights arrive daily to at Princess Juliana airport (airport code: SXM) from the United States, Europe, South America and other Caribbean islands. Once in St. Maarten (the airport is on the Dutch side of the island), there are two primary methods of getting to St. Barths.
The first is by plane. Small commuter airlines deliver and return passengers daily via the short 10-minute ride between St. Maarten and St. Barths (Airport code: SBH). A little pricey and a bit precarious, the landing at St. Barths can be an adventure unto itself, as the landing strip is short and requires special training for pilots. A few commuter flights are also available from Antigua, St. Thomas and San Juan as well.
The other option is by water, with the most common being the Great Bay Express ferry that leaves from Philipsburg in St. Maarten. Far more economical, the trip takes about 45 minutes, and you don’t have the added time of security and waiting at the airport.
Luggage is no problem – it’s a common method of transportation for travelers between the islands. There are also a few other private charters and smaller ferries running from St. Martin / St. Maarten. For day trippers, the Great Bay Express has an option that leaves in the morning and returns in the evening, providing the option to explore St. Barths without paying the higher hotel rates found on St. Barths.
Upon arrival, whether by plane or boat, passengers must pass through customs. The airport is located at St. Jean and the ferries arrive in Gustavia. Taxis are available at both locations. Car rental locations are located at the airport, so those arriving by ferry and wanting to rent a car, need to cab over to the airport, which is about 5 or 10 minutes away. However, upon your return, most times the rental car company will transport you back to the ferry dock. For those staying on the island, the hotel will typically meet you at your point of arrival and provide transportation to the hotel.
When we first began going to St. Barths, Mini Mokes were prevalent on the island, followed by a period when Smart Cars were all the rage. Now though, everyone primarily gets around by regular cars and scooters.
Things to do in St. Barths
So, for the “Can I really afford St. Barths?” tally – the Great Bay Express is $80 RT from/to St. Maarten per person, a cab from the ferry port to the airport is about $10, and a one day car rental on St. Barths ran us $58 with tax. For our most recent experience, we did a day trip on a Sunday, so many businesses and shops were closed. Many day trippers don’t opt for the car rental – which I think is a mistake, unless you really can’t afford it. The only beach within easy walking distance from Gustavia is Shell Beach, which gets it name for the thousands of tiny shells that cover it. It’s small and nothing to write home about.
With a car, you can explore and, given it’s a tiny island, you can fit quite a bit into your day. Here are a few things that should be on your itinerary for the day….
Bask in the seclusion of Saline Beach
Saline is a stunningly beautiful, long, undeveloped beach with a laid-back, isolated atmosphere. The beach is deep, with plenty of room to find a spot far enough away from the water to not be bothered by those taking a stroll near the water’s edge.
While there is a parking lot at Saline, there are no facilities, so bring water and snacks. From the parking lot, it’s about a five-minute walk up and over the dunes to the beach. Although nudity is technically illegal in St. Barths, topless sunbathing is popular here and full nudity is common, especially on each end of the beach.
Languish over a luxurious lunch at St. Jean
After a morning of reading and relaxing on the pristine sands of Saline, you’ll wan to head to St. Jean for a bit of nourishment.
There are a variety of restaurants available in St. Jean, both across the street and along the beach. From pizza and casual fare to restaurants where the cuisine is only rivaled by the view, St. Jean has a fairly good selection of dining choices. We like to slip into French mode when on the island and enjoy a long, luxurious lunch – and decided to splurge on the experience. One of our long-time, go-to spots is Eden Rock.
A beautiful hotel, Eden Rock is perched on a rock overlooking the turquoise waters of St. Jean Bay. Constructed in the 1950’s, Eden Rock was the first hotel built on the island. Over the last 20 years, the hotel acquired adjacent properties and transformed into one of the most luxurious and diverse on the island with a variety of lodging types including standard rooms, cottages, suites, beach houses, and villas.
We’ve stayed at Eden Rock and it is a beautiful resort in a fabulous location – but on this trip, we just opted for lunch, which set us back $135 + tip for two drinks and two sandwiches. Yep – a little on the insane side of pricing for a fish sandwich. But, we essentially had a few hours at a resort where standard rooms were going for over $1000 per night during the time we visited.
Another beachside dining and drinking option at St. Jean is the famous Nikki Beach. If you plan to go, make reservations ahead of time and anticipate a price tag similar to Eden Rock. If the party scene is your thing, you’ll love it.
Take a walk along St. Jean
All beaches on St. Barths are public and free, so a walk along St. Jean won’t cost you a dime.
Located next to the airport on the Baie de St. Jean, the white sand beach curves around the bay and is home to an array of water activities. Snorkel in the calm waters near the shoreline or head further out for wind-surfing or surfing.
Head over to Gouverneur
After all the activity at St. Jean, it’s good to finish the afternoon with some quiet time on Gouverneur Beach.
More remote, Gouverneur is a beautiful, serene beach with amazing views. Like Saline, Gouverneur can be reached by a paved road, has a parking lot, but does not have any facilities, so bring water, an umbrella and anything you wish to eat. Also like Saline, beach goers may opt for that full tan, going au natural.
The drive to and from Gouverneur also yields some of the most spectacular views from the island, with a photo opportunity around each turn.
Throw back a cold one at Le Select
After dropping off our car at the airport, they brought us back to Gustavia and we decided to take a stroll around town.
The story has it that Jimmy Buffet, a frequent patron of Le Select back in the 1970’s, cut a deal with the establishment’s owner, Marius Stakelborough. In exchange for rights to use the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” line from Buffet’s famous song, Buffet would have his tab covered at the establishment for life. Over the years, Buffet has returned to the corner where thousands have downed a beer and burger, for an impromptu concert or an anniversary party at the bar on the quay, which has been in operation over 60 years. A great spot for people watching and enjoying a cool drink under the shade trees, Le Select is open Monday – Saturday.
Shopping in Gustavia
A duty-free port, Gustavia is home to over 200 boutiques that line three streets in the quant village. While the names of luxury retailers range from Louis Vuitton and Bulgari to Cartier, Hermès and Chopard, many small shops offering beachwear, accessories, and t-shirts can be found as well. The shops are typically closed from noon to three but open again in the late afternoon until 7pm. Most high-end retailers are also closed on Sunday, but a few of the stores offering casual wear and t-shirt open in the late Sunday afternoon hours.
Grab a drink and watch the sun set over the harbor
There are quite a few fabulous places to watch the sun set while on St. Barths, but we are always a fan of grabbing a cocktail and watching the boats return to the harbor as the sky fills with amazing hues of orange and purple.
For those leaving the island, the ferry returns at dusk to whisk you back to St. Maarten. For those staying on, the island changes after sunset. The day trippers leave, the stores close and a quiet settles over the island as visitors enjoy casually elegant dinners, before retiring to their hotel or villa or opting for a little nightlife at one of the late night cocktail bars.
How much did that day in St. Barths cost?
Let’s tally up our one day in St. Barths. Even with our splurge lunch, we spent just over $400 for the two of us. If we had opted for a not-on-the beach pizza for lunch, we could have easily cut it to $300. On the other hand, as it was high-season, if we had stayed on the island even one night, it would have run well over $1000. So, for us, an enjoyable day on one of our favorite islands for a couple of hundred bucks a piece was well worth it.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.