Singapore: Tanah Merah station

A few hours in Singapore

Backdated. Posted 7/11/2017

We’d booked with Singapore Airlines, so unsurprisingly our stop-off back from Europe was in Singapore, where we landed at 6pm local time.

Our connecting flight wouldn’t leave until 2am, so I decided to see if we could leave the airport for a few hours and have a quick look around the city.

It was no issue to exit; the hardest bit was knowing what to say on the “How many days are you staying?” question on the immigration form. Turns out, if it’s only a few hours, but it spans two calendar days, the answer is two.

Singapore MRT train

It was actually easier to enter the country than to buy a ticket for the MRT (metro). We had two smartcard tickets from my previous visit, but needed a third. The ticket machines wouldn’t sell me a ticket. The counter staff could, but not by paying using a credit card.

I went back up to the ATM, which decided to refuse me a cash withdrawal. Eventually I had to do a cash advance off my credit card. Only after all that mucking around, I could finally buy the third ticket.

We headed for Gardens By The Bay, which I’d thought would be an interesting introduction for I+J to Singapore – that and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel are quite unlike anything they’d have seen before – though now I think about it, perhaps the latter is no big deal given they’ve been to Vegas.

As if to prove that even someone familiar with a city, who can read a map, can also misread a map, I led us on a trip that involved more changes of train than necessary.

Singapore: Gardens By The Bay

But we managed to arrive just as the 8:45pm “Garden Rhapsody” light and music performance was starting. It was warm and muggy outside, and there were big crowds. It’s very kitsch, but fun.

After the show we headed back into the MRT station, but diverted to a 7-11 to buy some cold drinks – as did much of the rest of the crowd, meaning we had to wait a while in a queue.

From there we caught a train to the city centre, close to last year’s accommodation, and exited the station for a few minutes to look around on the streets.

It was fairly quiet outside, but despite it getting late, it was still pretty warm.

We were all feeling a bit fatigued, so despite having scads of time before our plane, rather than keep roam aimlessly exploring, we headed back to the airport.

Singapore Changi Airport

Changi Airport is huge, very modern, and is an international-only airport. (I wonder if Singapore even has domestic flights?) I also found it interesting that each gate has its own security screening. Perhaps that’s handy with so many transiting passengers.

It was cooler back inside the airport. We found some snacks, rode the inter-terminal monorail, found powerpoints to charge phones, and generally killed time until our 2am departure.

It was an uneventful flight home, getting back into Melbourne Tullamarine on Monday just before lunchtime. Skybus to the City, train home, and we were back. Back from European summer to Melbourne winter.

Flying over Melbourne, approaching Tullamarine Airport

You get home from these great holidays, and for a few hours everything seems a bit other-worldly. Or maybe it’s the jetlag.

But actually the jetlag wasn’t too bad – we managed to stay up until the evening, then slept it off.

It was a great holiday. Not everything went exactly to plan. And we had a few too many late starts, even once the jetlag had worn off. But it was still great.

It drained the finances a bit. Occasionally in the past I’ve tried to catalogue all the costs in detail. I won’t this time, but for the four of us, all the accommodation, travel, meals and attractions added up to about $9000 plus airfares of about $2500 per person. Though I did get a refund on the train fare from Exeter to Penzance!

Holidays always cost money, of course. It was a great escape from the Melbourne winter, a visit with numerous relatives, and terrific sightseeing along the way.

I can’t wait to go back.

Thanks for reading if you made it this far through!

European holiday: Escaping the winter

(I am prone to do long overly-detailed blog posts about my holidays, perhaps more for my benefit and enjoyment than yours. Here’s the first instalment. This post is backdated. Published 26/7/2017)

This holiday was a long time coming. Co-ordinating with my sons (including university holidays) and work and M and relatives, let alone getting the money together, took some time… in fact it would be my first time in Europe since 1999.

But the day had finally arrived. After a flurry of packing, and wondering what would be forgotten*, we left the house about 11am, train to the City.

On the way through, I noticed some of the scaffolding had come off at Flinders Street Station, and showing the new, less mustardy yellow colour. I snapped a photo of it to post to Twitter.

A few days later the Premier’s Department rang asking if they could use the picture. Heh, you’d think own their media unit could get one, but oh well — maybe I happened to snap it just as it was in transition and nobody else did. They added some captions and posted it to Facebook:

I do like the new colour. Apparently the section on the right is also zinc sheeting rather than the brick, which explains the different look.

To the airport

Anyway, we hopped off the train at Southern Cross, then Skybus to Melbourne Airport. It’s expensive (currently $35 return, times three of us), but as long as you avoid peak times, it’s usually quick and convenient.

The Skybus driver said the trip would be about 30 minutes, depending on traffic. I timed it: it was actually 23, though I still felt a bit jipped because we didn’t get a double-decker bus.

While on the Skybus I noticed one bloke up the front was constantly looking through his bags, murmuring to his travel companion and looking ever more concerned. Hopefully he hadn’t forgotten anything important.

M met us at the airport, and there was plenty of time for a silly selfie in the departures area — but first we had to get our luggage and boarding passes sorted out.

Silly selfie at Melbourne Airport; about to be over by a tram

Airlines and check-in

I’d booked with Singapore Airlines, based on the loose criteria of: wanting one of the better airlines, availability on the dates we needed, and not some weird route taking 40+ hours to get to Europe. They also have WiFi in their planes, though this is a paid extra.

It wasn’t particularly cheap – nothing is in July, thanks to Australian school holidays and European summer. But with other contenders such as Qantas/Emirates and Etihad all being a similar price, Singapore won out thanks to having slightly less cramped seats – apparently an extra inch of space.

I’d checked-in online the day before. The flight was pretty full, so there weren’t any practical choices of seats.

But I this I find a bit puzzling: The queue for those needing to check-in was really long. The queue for “Internet check-in” was really short. So we got to bypass the queue like rockstars despite booking Economy.

Once at the desk, they weigh your bags, ask you questions about what’s in them, tag them, and give you boarding passes. So what’s the difference between this and checking-in at the airport? Just the lack of seat selection, which wasn’t an option anyway? Oh well, it certainly saved us a bunch of queuing.

After grabbing a sandwich and a drink (at the predictably incredibly exorbitant airport prices – maybe next time we should just make a sandwich at home), we headed through the departures gate (quick selfie against the tram-themed backdrop – see above) and through security.

Unbelievably, at the automatic gates at passport control, the bloke in front of us had left his passport in the scanner. Perhaps he expected it to zip through the machine and come out the other side like an old school mag stripe ticket gate. We called out and passed it to him. That’s not a mistake you’d want to make without realising until later.

Then the looooong walk to gate 14 via the duty free shops.

Melbourne Airport in the drizzle

Melbourne to Singapore

Despite some rain outside, the flight was away on-time (3:40pm).

The food on the flight was pretty good – with actual metal cutlery! I read for a bit, watched some classic West Wing.

Note to self: always grab the airline earphones. They’re hopeless, but your own snazzy earphones, which actually cut out some of the flight noise, won’t work – you get mono sound unless you have an adapter. Honestly, would it kill them to wire the plane sockets up so they provide stereo sound for stereo earphones?

Before we knew it we were landing at Changi. Two hours to kill in the huge transit lounge, browsing the shops. You can also watch a free movie or visit the in-terminal butterfly house. Notably, one shop was running a promotion to win a trip to Melbourne.

Singapore Changi Airport - win a trip to Melbourne!

I tried to sign on to the free airport WiFi. It wanted to send an SMS activation code to my phone, which would normally not be a problem, but this was when I discovered that my phone roaming wasn’t working.

This would be a problem for another three days, as I tried repeatedly to contact Telstra to get it resolved. Their Twitter people are very helpful but unable to actively fix very much directly. Their online chat people try to be very helpful, but anything complex tends to outfox them.

In this case (I think on the second contact attempt, a day or two later) one of their so-called solutions was a suggestion for me to ring up another department. DUDE, I CAN’T RING ANYBODY BECAUSE MY ROAMING ISN’T WORKING. And even if I could, it’d be costing me $2 a minute to make that call.

Having a fully-functioning phone was important to me. Although I was planning to buy a second SIM (my phone can take two), some of the services I use, such as banking, use SMS for two-factor authentication. I also wanted to receive text messages and calls from home.

The hassles I had with getting it fixed is probably the sort of issue that convinced the Australian Government MyGov web site to suggest turning off 2FA when going overseas.

After a number of sessions on their online chat system over several days (well into the holiday proper), it was finally resolved, though frustratingly I don’t even know why it didn’t work in the first place, since roaming is meant to be on by default.

And there was a sting in the tail of this problem. Stay tuned.

So anyway, a little while later we boarded a huge bulbous Airbus A380 to continue on, departing Singapore at 11:30pm local time. I don’t quite know how these ridiculously big planes manage to get off the ground, but they do.

After the “supper” meal, I slept for a bit, though light from toilets kept made it difficult to get back to sleep once awoken.

We flew on into the night, headed for London.

*What got forgotten? My sun hat. Would I need it to prevent getting sunburnt? Yes, as it turns out.