February in Venice

Cover: Sestiere of Castello, Venice, Italy
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


We shouldn’t love Venice. It’s touristy. It can be very crowded. It can take forever to go a short distance as packed water buses slowly navigate canals. Yet, as our train pulled out of station toward Milan as our month in Venice ended, we were leaving somewhat reluctantly as we departed the charming city that had stolen a place in our hearts.

We’d chosen February for Venice for one reason – Carnival. The world-famous pre-Lent celebration is said to date back to 1162 and has always been a source of fascination.

In the end, Carnevale di Venezia was magical, but it was the quiet time before Carnival and chance to live amongst the Venetians that had us yearning to stay a bit longer.

Leaving one City of Love for another

We arrived in Venice after spending January in Paris and were ready to get out of the bustle of a big city. While stunningly beautiful and always overflowing with activities, the City of Love is still a major city with noise, pollution, a high cost of living.

Arriving to an exceptionally empty Venice, the first 10 days of our stay were filled with quiet strolls under an umbrella on rainy days, un-crowded vaporetto rides, and stops in tiny cafés for a spritz or cappuccino where the only other patrons were locals.

Our previous Venice visit was a year and a half ago during the summer, so the contrast was quite amazing. The quieter side of Venice was a delight and a reminder of why Venice gives Paris a run for the money for the title of the City of Love.

Living as Venetian

Slow travel is very different from the experience of visiting a place for a few days or a week. For a vacation, more expensive options may suffice for convenience sake, but when one is a “resident,” finding the less expensive transportation, communication and dining options becomes a series of tasks to be completed soon after arrival.

Venice pocket WiFi

Our customary day one schedule in a new location includes acquiring a pocket WiFi and evaluating long-term local transportation options. In Venice, there are several pocket WiFi providers available and the one we selected provided the ability to pick up the device at a hotel near the train station. Our plan included unlimited connectivity for a month for about 100 euro – a much cheaper option than the $10/day plan + standard plan pricing and data usage available through our US carrier.

Venice transportation

Our next stop in Venice was at the Unica Venezia office at Piazzale Roma, which is the transportation hub near the train station.

Whether getting around central Venice on the Grand Canal or venturing out to one of the numerous outer islands in the Venetian lagoon, transportation options hiring a private or shared water taxi or taking a water bus, called a vaporetto, operated by the ACTV. Water taxis are very expensive, so vaporetti (plural of vaporetto) are heavily used in Venice.

While single ride vaporetto tickets (biglietto) are available, a pass can also be purchased at a much better rate for multiple days, such as 2, 3 or 7 days. The tickets are available at most of the ACTV stations at counters or from the vending machines.

For longer stays, the Venezia Unica card is a bargain. We obtained our cards at the Hellovenezia ticket office at Piazzale Roma. Purchasing the Venezia Unica card itself requires a passport, completing a form and paying 50 euro. The card is good for 5 years and can have fares loaded as needed (stored value). At the time of our visit, the rate for Unica card fares was 1.5 euro per fare or 37 euro per calendar month for unlimited use, which we opted for.

While most visitors things of the vaporetto as the #1 or #2 on the Grand Canal, however, there is an extensive network of boats covering the Venetian lagoon, including lines to the outer islands such as Murano, Burano, Lido, and Giudecca. The card can be used on any of the vaporetti, as well as on the buses and the train that run between Roma and Mestre. So, for 87 euro you have unlimited transportation for a full month.

Markets

When living somewhere for a month, one quickly discovers the market/grocery store situation. Our Airbnb apartment was on Giudecca, with a couple of small markets on the island. As we speak some French, but little Italian, the WiFi, and Google translate frequently came in handy when shopping. Compared to the US, food and beverages at the market are much less expensive, but the selection is also more limited.

In addition to the grocery stores like Coop and Prix, there are many small neighborhood specialty shops, such as pasticcerie (pastry shops), salumerie (delicatessens) and produce stores. There are also outdoor markets, with the Rialto Mercado being the largest.

Shopping at Rialto Market is an experience not to be missed and definitely worth the vaperetto ride. With a huge fish market, countless produce stands, and vendors offering everything from lentils to nuts to dried peppers, Rialto is the place foodies head to in Venice.

The prices are very reasonable as well. We picked up items for a couple of days’ meals, including nice cuts of salmon and tuna, for about 20 euro.

TV and streaming

When vacationing for a few days or a week, television is generally not a consideration – it can be a pleasant escape from day to day events. However, when on the road for extended periods, it is nice to catch the news or a movie or show in English now and then. While many hotels have extensive cable offerings, many Airbnbs have limited options or just local channels.

AppleTV to the rescue. A vaporetto ride to Piazzale Roma, a train to Mestre, and a bus ride to the Nave de Vero, home of the Venice Apple store, and we were in possession of an Apple TV.

Couldn’t we have just brought ours from the states? Yes, but ours was an older version and we didn’t. So, we are now owners of an Apple 2 with an Italian power cord. Streaming from the US doesn’t work in Europe, so you can use a service to make it look like your IP is in the US or simply sign up for Euro Netflix. We also used one of our iPads to access news sites. And – kudos to CBSN for streaming news around the world.

Where we stayed

We chose an Airbnb on Giudecca (pronounced joo-dek-ka) and it was one of the nicest apartments we’ve rented through the service. The décor was beautiful, the apartment was bright and cheerful, and the views from both the couch in the living room and the bedroom were amazing. On clear days, you could see all the way to the Dolomites and Alpes and every day we fell asleep watching the vaporettos and ferries going back and forth on the canal below.

The apartment was in a building attached to the Hilton Molino Stucky on the island of Giudecca. With the exception of the hotel and a few small businesses, the island is primarily a residential community and very quiet. Access to central Venice is via the Hilton shuttle that runs to and from San Marco or by using the #2, 4.1, 4.2, or N Vaporetto lines from La Palanca.

The pros of staying on Giudecca – it is a quiet escape from touristy central Venice and you get more for your money. The cons of staying on Giudecca? The constant boat/vaporetto rides. Would we recommend it? In high season or during carnival – if you want to escape the tourists and chaos of central Venice – yes. However, if you are only visiting for a few days, you will spend a good deal of time waiting for and riding boats back and forth. Additionally, far more hotel, restaurant, and shopping options are in the Dorsoduro, San Polo or San Marco districts, or sestieri as they are called in Venice.

The Castello district

After a few days of rain, we awoke to a brilliant day, gathered our camera gear and headed to the vaporetto. First stop, the Castello district.

The largest Venetian sestriere, the Castello district reaches from San Marco to the eastern tip of Venice. As many times Venice is described as shaped like a fish, the Castello district is located in the tail.

The Castello district has a bit of everything – residential building, the Giardini Pubblici (public gardens), the Arsenale, neighborhood cathedrals, the impressive Santi Giovanni e Paolo, restaurants, bars, shopping and the hospital. It can be reached by walking east from San Marco square or by Vaporetto 4.2 and take the Fondamente Nove stop.

While in the Castello district we stopped in a mask making shop, L’artista della Barbaria, which is operated by a couple that make handmade paper mache masks. They took the time to explain the mask making process and the difference from the cheap masks found throughout Venice and those made by true artisans.

Upon selecting my mask, they sign it and dated it. Very cool!

Murano & Burano

We’d been to Murano and Burano before but didn’t have as much time as we would have liked and wanted to return.

After visiting Costello, we continued on to Murano and spent the afternoon exploring the magnificent glass shops on the island. All glassmakers were moved to the community in 1291 and, since that time, Murano has become synonymous with fine glass making.  is a charming collection of islands connected by bridges and home to some of the world’s finest glassmakers.

Murano is actually a collection of islands connected by bridges and a wonderful place to visit while in Venice.

On another sunny day a few days later, we headed to the Burano, where the homes are brightly colored and highly skilled ladies create exquisite lace products. One of the most photographed spots on the planet, Burano’s colors are said to be a result of the fisherman painting their homes in a specific color so they could easily make their way home after a day’s hard work at sea.

Whether the legend is true or it is simply a charming fable of Venetian lore, Burano is a must visit spot, especially those with an interest in photography.

Venice Carnival – Carnevale di Venezia

By the second week of February, the quiet pathways where we strolled began to fill as tourists arrived for Carnival, or as it is called in Italian, Carnevale.

Amidst the revelers, mysterious masked characters appeared in the crowds. Elaborately costumed Venetians strolled the winding pathways of the floating city, usually with a trail of selfie-seeking tourists following nearby.

Numerous events are held throughout the Venetian islands during the celebration, but the main events such as the Flight of the Angel, the Eagle Flight, and the mask contests occur in St Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco), the center of Carnevale di Venezia activity.

While official Carnevale events are held throughout the 10 day period, the majority occur on the weekends, when the crowds are the largest as well. Many visitors from Italy and France arrive on Fridays and depart on Mondays to experience the major events held on the weekend.

Know before you go to Venice in February

Temperature: The average temperature in Venice in February is 5°C / 40°F, with an average high of 8°C / 46°F and an average low of 1°C / 34°F.

Rainfall. February is typically one of Venice’s least rainy month, with a historic average of 50mm of rainfall over 6 days of the month. By comparison, April generally sees the most rain, with 90mm and 11 days.

Hotels and Airbnbs. If you plan to visit Venice during Carnival, book early. The best hotels and Airbnbs sell out months in advance.

Cost of Venice during Carnival. Carnevale official events are free. Lodging prices are at some of the highest prices of the year. Balls and parties can be very expensive.


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.

Weekend getaway to Prague in January

Cover: Prague Castle at night
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


View our Prague photo gallery


You are probably thinking, “Prague in January – are you crazy?” Yes. It was quite cold, but we were rewarded with incredible discounts on hotel rooms and far fewer crowds.

We’d never been to Prague, so when a friend stopped by Paris to visit on her way to the Czech Republic, we tagged along for a long weekend in Prague.

DN7R9723Municipal House, Prague, Czech Republic Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Dating back to medieval times, Prague is stunningly beautiful. Walking through Staré Město (Old Town) with its castles, towers, colorful buildings and cobblestone streets is like walking through a fairy tale.

Home to the Astronomical Clock, the Town Hall Tower, the Church of St. Nicholas, and Týn Cathedral, Old Town Square is one of the most beautiful squares in the world and is a hub of activity with musicians, street artists, food vendors, and tourists.

The third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest still in operations, the Prague Astronomical Clock was first installed in 1410. The four figures next to the clock face come to life each hour and represent vanity, death, lust, and greed who are greeted by the 12 Apostles. The performance ends with a crowing rooster and the ringing of the clock tower bell.

For a bird’s eye view of Prague, visitors can ascend to the top of the Old Town Hall Tower

On the other side of the square, Týn Cathedral majestically fills the sky with its high towers and spires.

While it was a whirlwind of a weekend, we managed to take in many of the top Prague destinations.

Strolling from Old Town across the Charles Bridge, we stopped to rub the 30 statues that line the bridge for good luck.

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Tredelnik shop in Prague, Czech Republic Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We stopped along the way for a Trdelník, a rolled pastry wrapped around a stick and baked, then topped with cinnamon and sugar. They serve them plain, filled with ice cream or, how we had ours, filled with Nutella.

DN7R9831Tredelnik, Czech Republic Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Moving on, we climbed the steps up to Hradčanské square with the Gate of Giants – the entrance to Prague Castle. In addition to helping work off the calories in the Trdelník, the stairs offer a stunning view of Prague. As we reached the top, it started to snow, so we moved on to the shelter of the castle.

DN7R9904Stairs to Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Prague Castle is the largest castle in the world with courtyards, palaces, museums and St. Vitus Cathedral. Architectural elements where the cathedral now stands date back over 1,000 years.

DN7R9972Statue of Friedrich Johann Joseph von Schwarzenberg Cölestin, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Returning to Old Town, we wandered the winding shops that offer a wide variety of items, including stunning glass creations.

DN7R0112Statue of Friedrich Johann Joseph von Schwarzenberg Cölestin, St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In Prague, English is spoken nearly everywhere and it is a highly walkable city. We would love to return to Prague and spend a month when it is warmer, giving us much more time to explore the city of a hundred spires.

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Prague skyline along the Vltava River, Prague, Czech Republic Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


View our Prague photo gallery


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.

January in Paris

Cover: Gardens of Versailles in January
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Is January a good time to visit Paris?

If you don’t mind the colder weather and prefer a quieter Parisian experience with far fewer tourists, then January is perfect. Monuments and museums have no lines and you can actually walk up and see the Mona Lisa.

Like fashion and bargains? The Soldes d’Hiver (winter sales) begin mid-January, with discounts to 70%. And, of course, there’s Paris Fashion Week.

Add to that bargain airfares, cheaper hotel rooms, and a wide selection of Airbnbs available in the best districts, and you may be penciling a trip on your calendar for next January.

Our month in Paris in January

We left the United States on the first of January, arriving at Charles de Gaulle on the morning of the second. Looking outside, huge snowflakes were falling – a rarity in Paris. While January can be a bit rainy, it doesn’t snow much in Paris.

We grabbed an Uber and headed to our Airbnb in the 3rd arrondissement. We’d chosen the 3rd because we wanted to experience daily life in the city in a neighborhood near, but away from, the tourist areas. The 3rd is also home of the Marais, a lively area filled with bars, restaurants, shopping, and entertainment.

Having been to Paris numerous times in the past, we’d actually only experienced short stays in the City of Light, typically tacking on a few days at the beginning and/or ending of our time elsewhere as we arrived or departed France.

Where we stayed

Our Airbnb was located on a quiet street with great access to markets, shopping, and the Metro. Not the typical Paris flat, the apartment was creatively renovated from a former storefront and consisted of three floors. The entry, kitchen, and dining were on the main floor. A large living area with a desk was downstairs in “the cave” and upstairs were two bedrooms and the bath. The owners and property managers were attentive and the apartment was a good home base for us for the month.

Daily life in Paris

On lengthy stays in one place, daily life falls into a norm, with trips to the market, pharmacy and, when in Paris, bien sur the patisserie.

As with any city, visits to the market are more frequent because you carry your groceries home instead of loading them into the car. In Paris, there are several grocery store chains that have smaller footprints in the city. We frequented the Monoprix (kind of like a Super Target) and even got our first French loyalty card.

For fresh fish and produce, we frequented the Montorgueil markets. Located only about a kilometer away from the apartment in the 2nd arrondissement, it is a foodie’s dream street. Imagine Pike’s Place Market in Paris – that’s Montoguil with fishmongers, incredible produce markets, boulangeries, tea stores, floral shops, and more.

We walked or took the Metro everywhere, only taking Ubers to and from the airport or the train station. The Metro system is very efficient, inexpensive and is relatively clean compared to subways in some other major cities.

Soldes d’Hiver

In Paris, sales are regulated by the government in France and occur twice each year, once in summer (soldes d’été) and once in winter (soldes d’hiver), and are the only time businesses are legally allowed to sell items at a loss. The sales last 6 weeks and the dates are set each year by the government.

This year, the sales began on the 11th of January and our day began at 10:00 AM when they opened at Forum Les Halles and in the shops near Etienne Marcel. In the afternoon, we then moved to the beautiful Galleries Lafayette.

Galleries Lafayette Paris Haussmann is a beautiful shopping mall in the 9th arrondissement near the Opera Garnier. Dating back to 1895, Galleries Lafayette is well known for its stunning domed ceiling which was completed in 1912. The shopping mall is a destination for practically anything one could want, with a wide range of brands and price ranges from bargains to haute couture.

When we returned to the apartment that evening with countless shopping bags, our Apple watches said we’d walked nine miles. Over the next few weeks, additional discounts occurred and, by the time we left France at the end of January, 50% – 70% was the common discount level in many stores.

Sacré-Cœur and Montmartre

It had been years since we’d been to Montmartre, so one Sunday morning we set out to visit the famous cathedral and potentially discover a new treasure at the Marché aux Puces flea markets.

Our first stop was Sacré-Cœur Basilica. Designed and built between 1875 and 1914, the beautiful church is the highest point in Paris, majestically sitting above the city on the butte Montmartre.

Leaving the cathedral, we wandered through the quaint streets of Montmartre, stopping in shops and visiting the artists in the square. During the Belle Époque at the turn of the 2oth century, Montmartre’s inexpensive rents and avant-garde atmosphere drew many artists to the area. Vincent Van Gogh, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and many other artists of the period lived and worked in Montmartre.

Stopping in the Espace Dali museum, we wandered amidst the surrealist’s sculptures, drawings, engravings, and furniture creations. The museum also is home to the Art Gallery of Espace Dali which offers a large collection of sculptures and graphic artworks by Dali for sale.

Marché aux Puces

Heading down the hill from Montmartre, we made our way to the massive flea market in Saint-Ouen de Clignancourt, the Marché aux Puces.

Since its beginning in 1870, the market has been home to antique dealers, artists, importers and, in more recent years in the bordering areas, knock-off products galore. We strolled the winding aisles of the 15 markets that make up Marché aux Puces, picking up a few small treasures along the way, and having a fun, albeit cold afternoon of bargain hunting on the outskirts of Paris.

Let them eat cake

A short RER train ride from Paris, the Chateau Versailles is a perfect way to spend a day experiencing 350 years of history and French opulence.

Famously home to French kings and the royal courts throughout the ages, the Palaces at Versailles date back to 1623 when Louis XIII built a hunting lodge on the grounds.

Between 1661-1678, Louis XIV oversaw the first transformation of the site of the former lodge into a grand palace, with the king and his court moving into the palace and making it the home of the government of the Kingdom of France in 1682.

During a second phase of expansion, additions continued to the enormous and extravagant palace until 1715. In 1770, a theatre was built for the marriage of two of the palaces most famous residents, Austrian Archduchess Marie Antoinette to Louis-Auguste Dauphin of France, who would become Louis XVI.

Continuing palace additions and living a life of extreme luxury, the couple fell out of favor as France fell into serious financial difficulties. It was sometime during this period that, when told the people of France were starving and had no bread to eat, reportedly Marie Antoinette stated, “Let them eat cake.”

The royal family abandoned the palace and were forced to return to Paris, three months into the French Revolution in 1789.

Between 1789 and 1950, the palace and grounds fell into decline and disrepair, suffering through wars and the lack of upkeep. In the middle of the 20th century, restoration began with an objective of restoring the palace and grounds to its state in 1789.

Today, the palace is one of France’s most popular tourist attractions, with 8-10 million people visiting the palace, as we did this cold, but clear January day.

Strolling through the Hall of Mirrors, the King’s Chamber, and the Mesdames’ Apartments, one can only imagine what life was like for those that walked the same halls and viewed the gardens from the same windows so long ago.

In addition to the main palace and gardens, the estate includes the Palaces of Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s escape from formal palace life, the Queen’s Hamlet.

We enjoyed a delightful lunch at one of the onsite restaurants, Angelina. While we didn’t eat cake, we did have the signature dessert Mont Blanc dessert, enjoying the decadent delicacy under the watchful gaze of an oil painting of Marie Antoinette.

Bubbles in Epernay

While sparkling wine is produced around the world, Champagne only comes from a small region about an hour by train east of Paris.

The majority of Champagne houses are located in Epernay and Reims. Reims is pronounced, “ranse” not “reams” and, if you say it wrong, they’ll have no idea where you want to go. Simplify things and go to Epernay, a charming town where some of the most well known champagnes in the world are produced.

Along the Avenue du Champagne, you’ll find Moet e Chandon, Perrier-Jouet, Paul Roger, and many more.

But, don’t just stop there – be sure to visit Nicolas Feuillatte located on a hill overlooking the town. Founded in 1972, Nicolas Feuillatte is a co-op of over 5,000 growers.

Now the third largest Champagne producer in the world, Nicolas Feuillate is one of the few facilities in Champagne that provides a full tour of the production facilities. The winery also opens a large new visitors center for the 2017 season.

For lunch – we recommend Le Banque in downtown Epernay – fabulous food, a lovely atmosphere and a by the glass champagne menu that is out of this world.

Weekend getaway to Prague

A friend from the Czech Republic stopped by on her way through Paris, so we decided to go to Prague with her for a long weekend. We’d never been to Prague, or Praha as it is called in the  Czech Republic, and having the chance to experience it with someone from Czech was priceless.

Prague is magical – even in the coldest month of January. Check out how our weekend went…

Paris Fashion Week

Flora Carter
Flora Carter, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
John Paul Gaultier Show, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France
John Paul Gaultier Show, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We knew we were in Paris during one of the two Paris Fashion Weeks of the year when designers hold fashion shows to display their new lines, but hadn’t looked at the event calendar.

John Paul Gaultier Show, Paris Fashion Week 2017
John Paul Gaultier Paris Fashion Week 2017 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Leaving the apartment one day to pick up some sandwiches for lunch, I noticed a gathering of people at the end of the block near a beautiful building we’d admired all month.

Walking over to the crowd, I discovered the building was Jean-Paul Gaultier headquarters and that their Paris Fashion Week show would be held a couple of hours later. I picked up some sandwiches at the patisserie, hustled back to the apartment, grabbed my camera and headed across the street and jumped in with the photographers shooting the event.

Car after car arrived and simply stopped in the street as the fashion crowd ascended on Gaultier headquarters.

John Paul Gaultier Show, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France
John Paul Gaultier Show, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Attendees ranged from the eclectic to the famous to the iconic. Chloe Mortaud, Miss France 2009 arrived with Flora Coquerel, 3rd runner up Miss Universe.

Flora Coquerel, 3rd runner up Miss Universe, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France
Flora Coquerel, 3rd runner up Miss Universe, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Chloe Mortaud, Miss France 2009, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France
Chloe Mortaud, Miss France 2009, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

French dancer and choreographer, Fauve Hautot, was a crowd favorite, as was French dancer and choreographer, Fauve Hautot, and former model, Majda Sakho.

Fauve Hautot, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France
Fauve Hautot, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Majda Sakho, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France
Majda Sakho, Paris Fashion Week 2017, Paris, France Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After capturing the attendees arriving, I went to the apartment to warm up until the show ended. Opening the door of our apartment, Catherine Deneuve was standing a few feet away waiting for her driver. Only in Paris.

Catherine Deneuve, John Paul Gaultier Show, Paris Fashion Week 2017
Catherine Deneuve, John Paul Gaultier Show, Paris Fashion Week 2017 Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Museums, strolls and happy hours

Rounding out the January activities were museum visits, strolls along the Seine and countless happy hours. Most cafes and bars outside of the tourist areas offer happy hour specials, attracting the after work crowd on their way home from the office.

Museums are also a perfect activity for a January visit -they are far less crowded than in the summer months and they’re warm.

The best way to really get to know a city is by walking it and walk we did. On sunny days, we walked – sometimes up to 9 miles in a day.

As our time in Paris drew to a close, we packed up and caught a very early train to Italy. It was a fun, busy month in the City of Lights. Until next time Paris – which, will actually be at the end of February.


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.

American Travel to Cuba: A Guide to Traveling to Cuba

Cover: Havana, Cuba at night
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


View our Havana, Cuba photo gallery


Sitting on the tarmac in a Southwest Airlines jet, I looked out the window as an American Airlines plane rolled by. Across the runway, passengers were disembarking from a Frontier jet and next to it a United Airlines plane was parked.

Havana, Cuba airport
Havana, Cuba airport Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

From the look of the airport, we could have been in any Caribbean destination – but we had just landed at José Martí International Airport in Havana. For the first time in over half a century, commercial air service to Havana from the United States was once again underway.

The lure of Cuba

With the easing of travel restrictions to, we knew we wanted to get to Cuba before the crowds.

We wanted to experience and photograph Cuba in its authentic state before American tourism took its toll on the country where much of life remains tied to 1959 and the time before Castro’s revolution and the embargo.

What did we find? Havana is a vibrant, charming city filled with friendly, welcoming people. Not yet overrun by tourists, everyday life plays out before you in the narrow streets lined with colorful buildings.

Was it what we expected? In some ways, yes; in others, no, but in a good way.

Can all Americans travel to Cuba?

No. Tourism is still officially prohibited for U.S. citizens with travel only permitted for those journeying to the island nation for a purpose that falls into one of the approved 12 general categories, which are listed below.

We were asked our purpose of travel when obtaining a visa and at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter when checking in, then never again. Per U.S. government requirements, travelers must keep a schedule of their activities for five years after their return from Cuba.

Southwest Airlines Havana, Cuba counter in Fort Lauderdale
Southwest Airlines Havana, Cuba counter in Fort Lauderdale Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In other words, your activities log shouldn’t include catching rays on the beach or dancing away the nights in Havana clubs.

Visas are available for purchase online at the time of ticket booking (recommended, as it speeds up the process) or they can be acquired at the airport. At the time of our flight, the cost was $50 per person.

The Visa has two parts, which need to be completed carefully. If you have an error in filling out your name and date of birth, you have to purchase a new one. One part will be taken at immigration in Cuba, the other is kept with you while in the country and then retrieved at immigration upon exit.


Update: Due to changes implemented in 2017, check the US State Department for current travel restrictions.


The 12 approved categories for American travel to Cuba

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. Government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activities
  4. Professional research or meetings
  5. Educational activities and exchanges
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic/other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. Humanitarian projects
  9. Support for the Cuban people
  10. Activities of private foundations, research, or educational institutes
  11. Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or information material
  12. Certain authorized export transactions.

Before heading to Cuba

Get and bring cash… and more than you think you are going to need.

Credit cards issued by U.S. banks and U.S. ATM cards do not work in Cuba. Americans rely so much on plastic – you will be surprised how much cash you need that you’d normally just pull out a card to pay for. Taxis fares, food, beverages, tips, internet access and more all add up quickly. When traveling, things don’t always go as planned and the last thing you want to do is be stuck in Cuba with no money, so bring double or triple what you think you may need.

A few hotels can be booked and prepaid online. We found some of the room prices are significantly higher than rack rates displayed when arriving at the hotel. For example, for one hotel where we stayed, only had suites available for purchase online, with standard rooms available at the hotel for almost half the rate.

The benefit of prepaying is the ability to pay in advance with a credit card. If you do so, make sure the reservation is clearly identified as prepaid as some hotels take credit cards to hold the room but require cash payment at the hotel.

Getting to Cuba

Major cruise lines and airlines began regular service from the United States to Cuba in late summer 2016 with flights to cities in the outer areas of Cuba such as Varadero and Santa Clara. Prior to this change, flights had been via much more expensive charters.

In December 2016 commercial flights to Havana with bargain prices –mostly around $150 roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale or Miami. We booked our flight on Southwest Airlines for a few thousand points during the second week of their service to the capital city.

Local Cuban health insurance is required by the Cuban government and, at least with Southwest Airlines, was included in our airfare. Your boarding pass is proof of health insurance so don’t toss the boarding pass into the trash once you land.

If you go – arrive at the airport a minimum of two hours in advance. We flew from Fort Lauderdale, where Southwest has set up a check-in counter on a separate floor for Cuba departures. Stop by the visa counter near the main counter and pick up a visa prior to heading to the main check-in counter.

Nearly everyone in line had piles of large duffel bags to check for the flight. It was the holiday season, so we’ll assume they were taking a vast amount of Christmas presents to family and friends in Cuba.

As with any new service, there are generally bugs to work out in the process and it appears new flights to Cuba apply here. We departed nearly an hour late – primarily due to the vast amount of stuff people were bringing with them.

The instant the wheels touched down on the 45-minute flight cheering erupted from the passengers. Before we reached the gate, an elderly man rushed to the front of the plane and quite a few others quickly followed him.

After a quick immigration process, we departed to the arrival area to a crowd of hundreds waiting on arriving passengers outside a barricaded area. A family rushed to greet an elderly woman who made her way with a walker to the end of the barricade. Watching the families reunited it was well worth the delays and slight chaos associated with the short flight.

Currency exchange

The Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC, is the currency of Cuba. The exchange booth at the airport is located near the arrival check in area and was the place where we received the best exchange rate of 90 CUC to 100 U.S dollars. At the hotels where we exchanged currency, the rate was 87.3 CUC to 100 U.S. dollars.

Getting around Cuba

Cuba is a huge island, with a land area of 42,426 square miles or 109,884 km2. If you are considering venturing into areas other than Havana, make sure to calculate the estimated cost of the transportation before arriving on the island to ensure you have sufficient funds.

For example, the resort area of Varadero, which is also an alternative airport to Havana, is about two hours away from Havana. Cab fare between the locations runs between 100 and 120 CUC.

Cab fare from the Havana airport to Old Havana in an official cab runs 25 CUC. Negotiate taxi fare, whether in a metered taxi or not, prior to departing.

The most common word heard when walking in Havana is “taxi?” and there are numerous taxi options…

Official taxis are yellow, newer automobiles that can be metered or flat rate. They are a good choice to and from the airport as they are typically air-conditioned and the ride is about 20-30 minutes. The standard fare to a major hotel is 25 CUC.

Unofficial or illegal taxis are the older cars that can be found in popular areas and outside hotels. Fares are fully negotiable.

The convertibles are a great way to tour Havana while snapping some photos and are available by the hour for a flat rate. We found the range between 30 and 60 CUC.

Greg and Kim Hull in Havana, Cuba
Greg and Kim Hull in Havana, Cuba Photo: © Chasing Light Media

Little yellow cocotaxis are a scooter-powered rickshaw-type vehicle for two plus the driver. They are cheaper and, albeit zipping around the Malecón can be a bit harrowing, they are fun and a bit cheaper than the cars.

Bicitaxis are quite prevalent in Old Havana. The three-wheeled, human pedaled vehicles are also a less expensive method for short trips around the city.

Additional transportation options include buses, horse carriages and, of course, walking – which is truly one of the best ways to explore the city.

Communication

As far as coverage from your existing phone provider, check with your cellular provider prior to departing for Cuba to determine coverage and rates. Upon landing in Cuba, I turned off Airplane Mode to check if I’d receive the standard text we typically receive from Verizon advising of rate information in the country where we are visiting.

It came through immediately. At the time of our trip in 2016, Verizon’s rates on our plan (provided only as an example) were $2.99 per minute for voice calls, $ .05 text sent or received and $2.05 MB for data. My phone went back into Airplane Mode.

WiFi in Cuba is through ETECSA, the government-owned telecommunications provider. Cards providing one hour of internet time can be purchased at most hotels and at Cyber Cafes. Rates vary – at the Hotel Nacional cards were 7 CUC and at other hotels, the rate was typically 2 CUC.

Lobbies of the hotels, and outside on the curbs, are typically filled with countless people looking at their phones. The reason is that the coverage doesn’t extend to hotel rooms so, if you want to get on the internet, you do it in the lobby.
As far as television, we were surprised with the variety of television coverage at hotels. Available channels including CNN, BBC, and the Denver Broncos were playing on the big screen in the café when we stopped by for a pizza and a beer.

Where we stayed

We choose to split our time in Havana between two hotels – the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba and the Iberostar Hotel Parque Central Havana. Both were wonderful hotels and deliver a completely different experience.

Hotel Nacional de Cuba

The Hotel Nacional de Cuba was built in 1930 and on a hill next to the sea in the middle of the Vedado section of Havana. The most famous hotel in Cuba, it has been declared a National Monument and proudly displays numerous photographs throughout the hotel of the many famous personalities that have stayed at the facility throughout its history.

We stayed in a large room on the seventh floor with sweeping ocean views.

Iberostar Hotel Parque Central Havana

Located across from Havana’s Central Park along the Paseo del Prado, the Parque Central contains two buildings, several restaurants, shops and a rooftop pool and restaurant area that offers stunning views of the city.

Rooms are located in either the modern tower or the colonial section, with the building linked by an underground tunnel. Our time at Parque Central was in a large suite in the modern tower.


View our Havana, Cuba photo gallery


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.

Kansas City Plaza Lights, a spectacular holiday tradition

Cover: Kansas City Plaza Holiday Lights
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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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.

Plaza lights in Kansas CityPlaza lights in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


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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.

Tower decorated with lights at The Plaza in Kansas City
Tower decorated with lights at The Plaza in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Plaza lights after dark in Kansas City Plaza lights after dark in Kansas City Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Visiting Kansas City at Christmas
Visiting Kansas City at Christmas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Hotel Intercontinental at Christmas in Kansas City Hotel Intercontinental at Christmas in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Strolling through the Plaza in the crisp early evening air is a wonderful time to simply enjoy the joy of the season.

Carriage rides at The Plaza in Kansas City Carriage rides at The Plaza in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

BM3V8934 Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza at Christmas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kansas City Plaza Lights
Kansas City Plaza Lights Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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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.

Sunrise to sunset in Cabo San Lucas

Cover: Sunrise on the beach, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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Sitting at the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, the former fishing village of Cabo San Lucas is a popular destination for those seeking sun and fun in a laid-back atmosphere.

DN7R9271Resorts in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With luxury resorts, a wide variety of activities, great dining options, a vibrant nightlife and, of course, miles and miles of beautiful beaches, each day in Cabo can be filled with as much adventure or relaxation as one desires.

Here’s how we spent a bit of our time in Cabo…

BM3V8725 Sailing at sunset in Cabo San Lucas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Let the day begin

BM3V8689 Sunrise in Cabo San Lucas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As the sun hinted of its quickly approaching presence, it was time to head out to the ocean. With the exception of a scattering of fisherman and a few early risers, the beach was quiet as the waves made their way to the shore.

DN7R9220 Beaches at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Waiting for the warmth of the day to begin, I dug my toes into the cool sand underfoot and simply took in the beauty of the simplicity of the morning. Dozens of fishing charters headed out of the marina, gliding by on the azure waters of the Pacific. A dolphin playfully jumped in the distance. The buildings on the hills basked in the warm glow of the early dawn light.

The sky continued to fill with a myriad of oranges and yellows until, in an instant, the sun reached above the horizon and a new day in Cabo San Lucas was underway.

DN7R9213 Early morning fisherman at Cabo, Mexico Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Do everything or nothing at all

Beach time in Cabo San Luca Beach time in Cabo San Lucas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

One thing about Cabo – you can fill your day with as much or as little as you please. The resorts have calendars overflowing with activities ranging from blackjack to yoga to pool exercise classes. Not quite your thing? Grab a chair and a book and relax as the Baja sun warms your body and the stresses of the real world melt away.

DN7R9229 Playa Grande Resort, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While it may be tempting to simply while away to the sound of the ocean for your entire stay, an array of pursuits also await outside the gates of your resort. Spend an afternoon shopping in San Lucas or San Jose, play a round of golf on one of Cabo’s numerous golf courses, or if you are seeking something more daring, several adventure companies offer activities ranging from scuba diving and snorkeling to ziplining to camel rides.

Throughout our stay, we took in our share of beach time, explored San Lucas and opted for a bit of adventure with an afternoon at Wild Canyon.

Take a ride on the wild side at Wild Canyon

Riding camels at Wild Canyon, Cabo San Lucas
Riding camels at Wild Canyon, Cabo San Lucas
Photo: Miriam Fiol

Camel rides in Cabo? You bet! Located about 20 minutes outside of Cabo San Lucas, Wild Canyon is home to ziplines, ATV and UTV touring, a bungee drop, an animal sanctuary and Camel Quest camel riding tours.

Feeding the camels at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas
Feeding the camels at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas
Photo: Miriam Fiol

Our Cabo Camel Ride adventure began with an introduction to the camels we would be riding and some riding instructions. After a fun ride through the canyon, we took a short hike for an up-close view of an unexpected waterfall – something thoroughly enjoyed by the wild animals that call the canyon home.

Feeding the camels at Wild Canyon
Feeding the camels at Wild Canyon
Photo: Miriam Fiol

Following our hike, we rode the camels back to their habitat, where we fed them and learned more about these beautiful creatures.

Camel kisses at Wild Canyon
Camel kisses at Wild Canyon
Photo: Miriam Fiol
Greg Hull at Wild Canyon
Greg Hull at Wild Canyon
Photo: Miriam Fiol

Next up was a tour of Wild Canyon’s Kingdom, an animal sanctuary, where we held….
an iguana

Greg holding an iguana at Wild Canyon in Cabo
Greg holding an iguana at Wild Canyon in Cabo
Photo: Miriam Fiol

and a baby crocodile

Kim holding a baby crocodile at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas
Kim holding a baby crocodile at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas
Photo: Miriam Fiol

and love birds

Love birds at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas
Love birds at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas
Photo: Miriam Fiol

and parrots.

Parrot naps at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas
Parrot naps at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas
Photo: Miriam Fiol
Parrot kisses
Parrot kisses
Photo: Miriam Fiol

We finished our afternoon of adventure with a drink and snacks at the Lion’s Den before being whisked back to our hotel on the Wild Canyon shuttle.

Wild Canyon sunsetSunset at Wild Canyon in Cabo San Lucas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As the sun retires for the day…

DN7R9243 Sailing in Cabo, Mexico Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As nightfall draws near, a new set of options await. Restaurants in Cabo range from quiet to chic, with cuisines spanning the culinary continuum. Many of the larger resorts also hold themed dinners each evening, providing dinner and entertainment without venturing into town.

BM3V8723 Cabo San Lucas marina Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

An additional evening option that combines drinks, dinner and a beautiful way to view the Land’s End is a sunset cruise. Several leave from the San Lucas marina each afternoon and we decided this would be the perfect way to end our last day in the Baja.

DN7R9238 Sailing at Land’s End in Cabo, Mexico Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As we boarded the boat, we were handed cocktails, which were replenished as often as we wished throughout our evening’s journey. Our first stop after leaving the marina was Lover’s Beach and the El Arco de Cabo San Lucas.

BM3V8726 Lover’s Beach, Cabo, Mexico Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Arch is a rugged rock formation at the very end of Baja Peninsula, referred to as Land’s End.

BM3V8728 Land’s End, Cabo San Lucas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The spot is called Land’s End because it is just that – the end of the Baja Peninsula and the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, also called the Gulf of California. Lover’s Beach, or Playa del Amour, is the beautiful, secluded beach next to the Arch.

BM3V8715 Sea lion, Cabo San Lucas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After our stop at The Arch, we left the Sea of Cortez and made our way up the Pacific Coast shoreline, with dolphins and sea lions playing in the waters along the way. The crew said whales also could be spotted between late December through March, when the migration brings humpback whales to waters off the shore of Cabo San Lucas.

DN7R9253 Resorts near Land’s End in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We continued parallel to the shoreline, passing resorts and mansions high on the hills before we turned and casually headed back toward San Lucas. As we gently glided along, the chefs prepared dinner on the grills along the back of the boat.

DN7R9268 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Following a spectacular sky bursting with thousands of shades of orange, the sun disappeared for the day.

DN7R9279 Cabo San Lucas, Mexico sunset Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Anchoring in the bay outside the marina, we enjoyed a delicious dinner of fajitas, an assortment of side dishes and dessert. Following dinner, we enjoyed a glass of wine and some conversation as the lights from the resorts sparkled along the shore.

BM3V8770 Cabo San Lucas at night Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go

Airport: The San Jose Del Cabo International Airport (SJD) is located about 29 miles / 48 km) from Cabo San Lucas and about 8 miles /13 km from San Jose del Cabo. Transportation to the resorts can be arranged via car rental, taxi, shared shuttles or private shuttles.

Currency: The official local currency is the Mexican Peso but U.S. dollars are widely accepted in Cabo.

Power: Cabo San Lucas uses 110v electricity so power adapters from the U.S and Canada are not required.

Language: Spanish is the national language of Mexico, although some amount of English is spoken by most Cabo locals.

Timeshares: Timeshare sales agents are prevalent in Cabo and are tenacious. You will be offered everything from free cab rides to free activities or even cash for attending a presentation. Unless you want to dedicate half of your day to a high-pressure sales presentation, just say no and enjoy your vacation.


View our Cabo San Lucas photo gallery


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.

Sunrise to sunset in Cabo San Lucas
Sunrise to sunset in Cabo San Lucas Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visiting Singapore

Cover: Supertree Grove trees at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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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.

Singapore Skyline View From Marina Bay Sands Rooftop, SingaporeSingapore skyline view from Marina Bay Sands Rooftop, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

View of Marina Bay Sands From the Boardwalk, SingaporeView of Marina Bay Sands From the Boardwalk, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Getting to Singapore

Moving sidewalks at Changi Airport, SingaporeMoving sidewalks at Changi Airport, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Things to do in Singapore

Explore Singapore’s famous sites

Sightseeing in Singapore
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A captivating city of contrasts, Singapore has so much to see and do. Where to start? We’ll make it easy – take a journey with us sightseeing in Singapore »

Purple array of Supertree Grove trees at Gardens by the Bay, SingaporePurple array of Supertree Grove trees at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

What’s on the agenda? You’ve probably heard of a Singapore Sling, but do you know the history behind it? Head over to the Raffles Hotel with us and discover how it’s made and the history behind it. Of course, there’s a stop at the Gardens by the Bay for the Supertrees light show, a sunset from the top of Marina Bay Sands, a stroll by the Singapore River, and a Bumboat ride.
National Orchid Garden, SingaporeNational Orchid Garden, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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?


Sightseeing in Singapore »


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.

Discover Singapore’s cultural districts

Exploring Singapore's cultural districtsPhoto: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If Singapore is nothing else, it is diverse.

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.

Sultan Mosque, SingaporeSultan Mosque, Singapore Photo, Cool Adventures: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media

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.


Exploring Singapore’s cultural districts »


Shop ’til you drop

Shopping in SingaporePhoto: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

ION Orchard Mall, SingaporeION Orchard Mall, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.


Put on some walking shoes and grab your wallet, we’re going shopping in Singapore »


Devour some fabulous food

One of Asia’s hottest dining destinations, Singapore is a foodie’s paradise.

What to eat in SingaporePhoto: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.


What to eat in Singapore »


Know before you go

Language

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
  • rojak: mixture
  • lah: used at the end of the words or phrases for emphasis
  • ta pau: take out, as in carry-out or to-go food
  • steady: agreeing with an idea or suggestion

Want to learn more Singlish? Check out the SinglishDictionary.

Local laws, customs, and etiquette

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.

Climate

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.

Currency

The Singaporean dollar is the official currency. Money changing locations are plentiful.

Power

Singapore power voltage is 220/240 V 50 Hz. Power sockets are type G.


View our Singapore photo gallery


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.

Visiting Singapore
Visiting Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sightseeing in Singapore: Exploring Singapore’s famous sights

Cover: View of the Skyline through the glass dome at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


View our Singapore photo gallery


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.

Singapore Skyline View From Marina Bay Sands walkway, SingaporeSingapore Skyline View From Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

With regard to the latter, here are ten of the top attractions that are a must for your things to do in sightseeing in Singapore list.


We’d like to thank the Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests and providing an expert guide for us to experience all that Singapore has to offer.


Have a Singapore Sling at the elegant Raffles Hotel

Making Singapore Slings at Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel, SingaporeSingapore Slings at Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Gardens By The Bay, Singapore
The Flower Dome, Gardens By The Bay, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Gardens By The Bay, Singapore
Flowers at Gardens By The Bay, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Wood carved dragon at Gardens By The Bay, Singapore
Wood carved dragon at Gardens By The Bay, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Next, a visit to the Cloud Forest unveils plant life ranging from tropical highlands up to 2,000 meters above sea level and features the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

Illuminated Waterfall at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Illuminated Waterfall at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Cloud Forest, Gardens By the Bay, Singapore
Cloud Forest, Gardens By the Bay, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As the evening approaches, find a seat in the Supertree Grove and prepare to be dazzled as they come to life nightly at 7:45 pm and 8:45 pm.

External view of the Gardens by the Bay dome at night, Singapore
Night view of Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Supertree Grove illuminated in blue, green and red at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Supertree Grove at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As the sky darkens, the Supertrees come to life in a stunning display of colors, dancing to the music against a beautiful backdrop of Singapore and the Marina Bay.

Singapore
Gardens by the Bay, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Watch the sun set at the top of Marina Bay Sands

View of Marina Bay Sands From the Boardwalk, Singapore
View of Marina Bay Sands From the Boardwalk, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Boardwalk at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Boardwalk at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Singapore Skyline View From Marina Bay Sands Rooftop, Singapore
Singapore Skyline View From Marina Bay Sands Rooftop, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Take a stroll along the Singapore River

A walk along the Singapore River, which winds its way through the center of the city, is an excellent way to get to know Singapore.

Sailboats and Bumboats on the Singapore River, Singapore
Sailboats and Bumboats on the Singapore River, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Bumboats on the Singapore River, Singapore
Bumboat on the Singapore River near Clarke Quay, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Alkaff Bridge over the Singapore River at Robertson Quay, Singapore
View of the Singapore River at Robertson Quay, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Five Boys By The River, by Chong Fah Cheong
Five Boys By The River art installation, by Chong Fah Cheong, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The long promenade that was constructed along both banks of the waterfront during the project is a perfect spot for a stroll in Singapore.

Alkaff Bridge illuminated at night over the Singapore River at Robertson Quay, Singapore
Alkaff Bridge over the Singapore River at Robertson Quay, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Cruise the Singapore River on a Bumboat

Bumboats on the Singapore River, Singapore
Bumboats on the Singapore River, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Bumboat on the Singapore River, Singapore
Singapore Bumboat on the Singapore River Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Stop by Merlion Park

Merlion Fountain in front of the Singapore skyline
Merlion Fountain in front of the Singapore skyline, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Visit the Singapore Botanic Gardens

National Orchid Garden, Singapore
National Orchid Garden, Singapore Botanic Gardens  Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Purple orchids at the National Orchid Garden, Singapore
Purple orchids at the National Orchid Garden, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

National Orchid Garden, Singapore
National Orchid Garden, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Adventure to Sentosa Island

Tanjong Beach, Sentosa Island, Singapore
Tanjong Beach, Sentosa Island, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim Hull with two burmese pythons, Singapore
Kim Hull with a boa constrictor and a burmese python, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim Hull with an albino burmese python, Singapore
Kim Hull with an albino Burmese python, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Onward to MegaZip, the adventure provider on Sentosa island.

Kim Hull ready for the MegaZip zip line, Sentosa Island, Singapore
Kim Hull ready for the MegaZip zip line, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim Hull descending the ParaJump at MegaZip Adventure Park, Sentosa Island, Singapore
Kim Hull on the ParaJump, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim Hull snapping shots on the MegaZip zip line, Sentosa Island, Singapore
Kim Hull snappoing shots on the MegaZip zip line, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Reaching speeds of 6o kmph/37 mph, it is an amazing way to view Sentosa island, the jungle canopy and the spectacular beach of Fox Finish Point. Sentosa sightseeing CoolAdventures style!

Greg Hull shooting Hetal Vasavada at MegaZip Adventure Park, Sentosa Island, Singapore
Greg Hull shooting Hetal Vasavada at MegaZip Adventure Park, Sentosa Island, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Check out the National Gallery Singapore

Structural art at the National Gallery, Singapore
The National Gallery Singapore, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Inside the National Gallery Rotunda, Singapore
The National Gallery Rotunda, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

View of the Singapore Flyer from Gardens By The Bay, Singapore
The Singapore Flyer at night Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


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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.

Sightseeing in Singapore
Sightseeing in Singapore Photo: © Chasing Light Media

 

Buddha To

Places to visit in Singapore to explore Singapore’s culture

Cover: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, Singapore
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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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.

View of Singapore from the Singapore River, Singapore
View of Singapore from the Singapore River, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim Hull enjoying a walk at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Kim Hull enjoying a walk at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Boardwalk at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Boardwalk at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


We’d like to thank the Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests and providing an expert guide to ensure we experienced all that Singapore has to offer.


Singapore’s Chinatown

Chinatown, Singapore
Streets of Chinatown, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Chinatown, Singapore
Chinatown, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Chinatown Heritage Center

Chinatown Heritage Center, Singapore
Chinatown Heritage Center tour, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Chinatown Heritage Center, Singapore
Chinatown Heritage Center, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Chinatown street markets

Shopping in Chinatown Singapore
Colorful Chinatown Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, Singapore
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum is housed in a beautiful four-story structure located in Singapore’s Chinatown.

Buddha with mustache, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, Singapore
Highly ornate, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Completed in 2007, the temple was built in Tang dynasty architectural style and is highly ornate and visually stunning. On the first floor, are the Hundred Dragons Hall and Universal Wisdom Hall.

Buddha with flower, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, Singapore
Buddha statue at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum in Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, Singapore
Singapore’s Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Prayers offered at Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, Singapore
Worshipers at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum in Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sri Mariamman Temple

Entrance Tower of Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore
Entrance Tower of Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, the Sri Mariamman Temple, is located at South Bridge Road and Pagoda street in Chinatown.

Chinatown, Singapore
Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Chinatown, Singapore
Worship service at Sri Mariamman Temple, Chinatown, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Kampong Glam and Haji Lane

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.

Haji Lane

Singaporeevening, Singapore
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media[/caption]
Haji Lane in the evening, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Sultan Mosque

Sultan Mosque, Singapore
Masjid Sultan or Sultan Mosque, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Deepavali festival

Deepavali Festival of Lights, Little India, Singapore
Deepavali Festival of Lights, Little India, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Deepavali Festival of Lights, Little India, Singapore
Deepavali Festival of Lights, Serangoon Road, Little India, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Henna tattoos

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.

Kim Hull Getting a Henna Tattoo in Little India, Singapore
Henna Tattoos in Little India, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim Hull admiring her finished Henna Tattoo in Little India, Singapore
Henna tattoo in Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Joo Chiat/Katong

Shoe display in a Peranakan Shop, Singapore
Peranakan slippers in Joo Chiat/Katong shops, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

The Intan

The Intan, Singapore
Exploring all things Peranakan at The Intan, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Tea and Dessert at The Intan, Singapore
Tea and Dessert at The Intan, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim and Greg Hull at The Intan, Singapore
Kim and Greg Hull at The Intan, Singapore
Photo: © Chasing Light Media

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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.

Exploring Singapore's culture

Shopping in Singapore

Cover: Shoe display in a Peranakan Shop, Singapore
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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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.

ION Orchard Mall, Singapore
Shopping in Singapore at ION Orchard Mall Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


We’d like to thank the Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests and providing an expert guide to ensure we experienced all that Singapore has to offer.


Orchard Road

Brightly illuminated shopping mall hallway, Singapore
Shopping on Orchard Road in Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

On ground that once was a plantation with nutmeg trees, pepper farms and fruit orchards, Orchard Road has grown to what is now considered one of, if not the best, shopping boulevards in all of Asia.

Kim Hull amused by the giant handbag at Hermès, Singapore
Kim Hull at Hermès, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Fish feeding at Kenko Fish Spa, Singapore
Fish spa pedicure at Kenko Fish Spa, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim Hull watching the fish at Kenko Fish Spa, Singapore
Kim Hull at Kenko Fish Spa, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands

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.

Kim Hull enjoying a walk at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore
Kim Hull at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Chinatown Street Markets

Shopping in Chinatown Singapore
Shopping in Chinatown, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Chinatown, Singapore
Chinatown, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Haji Lane

Singapore
Haji Lane, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kim Hull buying a bag of Al' Frank cookies, Singapore
Kim Hull buying a bag of Al’ Frank cookies, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After finding that special something when visiting, be sure to wander over to check out the rest of Kapong Glam, including the Masjid Sultan and the Malay Heritage Centre.

Sultan Mosque, Singapore
Sultan Mosque, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

VivoCity

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.

Singapore
Inges Idee art installation at VivoCity, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Little India

Deepavali Festival of Lights, Little India, Singapore
Deepavali Festival of Lights, Little India, Singapore
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

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.

Changi Airport

Changi Airport, Singapore
Changi Airport, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.


View our Singapore photo gallery


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.

Singaporean ice cream sandwich, Singapore

What to eat in Singapore

Cover: Singaporean ice cream sandwich, Singapore
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


View our Singapore photo gallery


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.

Hannah Russin and Greg Hull
What to eat in Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


We’d like to thank the Singapore Tourism Board for hosting us as their guests and providing an expert guide to ensure we experienced all that Singapore has to offer.


Chilli Crab at Red House Seafood

Singapore
Chilli Crab at Red House Seafood, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Singapore
Steamed Scottish Bamboo Clams with Minced Garlic, Red House Seafood, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Ya Kun Kaya Toast

Ya Kun, Singapore
Ya Kun, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Egg tarts, moon cakes and pastries at Tong Heng

Green Bean Paste Pastries in Chinatown, Singapore
Green Bean Paste Pastries at Tong Heng in Chinatown, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Egg Tarts and Green Bean Paste Pastries in Chinatown, Singapore
Moon Cakes and Green Bean Paste Pastries in Chinatown, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The king of fruits, Durian

Durian, Singapore
Durian, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Food Republic, Singapore
Food Republic, Singapore
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

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 at Janice Wong

A sous chef prepares an ice cream dessert dish at Janice Wong Restaurant, Singapore
Janice Wong Restaurant, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Janice Wong Restaurant, Singapore
Scallops Somen, Janice Wong Restaurant, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Tiramisu, Janice Wong Restaurant, Singapore
Tiramisu, Janice Wong Restaurant, Singapore
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

Ice cream sandwiches from a street cart

Singaporean ice cream sandwich, Singapore
Singaporean ice cream sandwich, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

FlyingNoodles at Hana

Hana, Singapore
Flying noodles at Hana, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Hana, Singapore
Salmon Cheese Chirashi, Hana, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Fish head curry at Muthu’s Curry

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.

Let them eat cake at Lady M

Lady M, Singapore
Lady M, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Kuay Pie Tee at National Kitchen by Violet Oon

Singapore
Kuay Pie Tee at National Kitchen by Violet Oon, Singapore Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Seared scallops at Bread Street Kitchen, Singapore
Seared scallops, céleriac purée, apple, celery cress
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

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.

Tomato tart at Bread Street Kitchen, Singapore
Tomato tart, caramelized onions, burrata cheese, balsamic glaze
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

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.

Dessert platter at Bread Street Kitchen, Singapore
BSK dessert platter to share
Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

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.

Singapore Skyline View From Marina Bay Sands walkway, Singapore
Singapore skyline view from Marina Bay Sands, Singapore Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


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.

2017 Volkswagen Alltrack test drive on Bainbridge Island

A new outdoor vehicle: Checking out the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack in Seattle & Bainbridge Island

Cover: 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack on Bainbridge Island
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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.

Volkswagen Alltrack vs Subaru Outback
2017 Volkswagen Alltrack
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Mt Ranier, Seattle, Washington
Mt Ranier, Seattle, Washington
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Volkswagens the Kimpton in Seattle
Volkswagens at the Kimpton in Seattle
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Welcome to the Volkswagen Alltrack Drive in our room at the Kimpton Palladian Hotel
Welcome to the Volkswagen Alltrack Drive in our room at the Kimpton Palladian Hotel
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Pike Place Market sign, Seattle, Washington
Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Pike Place Market Urban Garden, Seattle, Washington
Pike Place Market Urban Garden, Seattle, Washington
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Introduction to the Golf Alltrack
Introduction to the Golf Alltrack
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Engine

2017 Golf Volkswagen Alltrack engine
2017 Golf Volkswagen Alltrack engine
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Trunk space in 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack
Trunk space in 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In the areas of style and comfort, the Alltrack excels in standard features.

Smartphone integration

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.

2017 Volkswagen Alltrack interior
2017 Volkswagen Alltrack interior
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Sunroof

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.

2017 Volkswagen Alltrack sunroof
2017 Volkswagen Alltrack sun roof
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Seats

Leatherette is standard on all Alltrack models. Cloth is standard on the Subaru, with leather optional and only available on the upper-level models.

Interior 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack
Interior 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Comfort

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.

Comfort featurees of the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
Comfort features of the 2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Park Pilot, Volkswagen Alltrack 2017
Park Pilot, Volkswagen Alltrack 2017
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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

Dinner at Atrium Kitchen at Pikes Place Market
Dinner at Atrium Kitchen at Pikes Place Market
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Late evening Lego fun, Seattle, Washington
Late evening Lego fun, Seattle, Washington
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The ferry to Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island Ferry
Bainbridge Island Ferry
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Alltrack boarding the Bainbridge ferry in Seattle, Washington
Alltrack boarding the Bainbridge ferry in Seattle, Washington
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack on the ferry to Bainbridge Island
2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack on the ferry to Bainbridge Island
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Greg Hull on the Bainbridge ferry, Seattle, Washington
Greg Hull on the Bainbridge ferry, Seattle, Washington
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Time to test drive the Alltrack

Mt. Rainier from Bainbridge Island
Mt. Rainier from Bainbridge Island
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Red Volkswagen Golf Alltrack S model
Red Volkswagen Golf Alltrack S model
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Heading out for a test drive of the 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack on Bainbridge Island
Heading out for a test drive of the 2017 Volkswagen Alltrack on Bainbridge Island
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Scenic Beach State Park, Bainbridge Island
Scenic Beach State Park, Bainbridge Island
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

2017 Volkswagen Alltrack in blue at Port Gamble, Bainbridge Island
2017 Volkswagen Alltrack in blue at Port Gamble, Bainbridge Island
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.

Lineup of Volkswagens the Kimpton Palladian Hotel in downtown Seattle
Lineup of Volkswagens the Kimpton Palladian Hotel in downtown Seattle
Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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.