19 January 2011

Singapore -- Crossing the 2.2 million mile mark

As I've indicated earlier, the Singapore run on United is one of the longest in their route from SFO (I think SFO to Dubai might be longer).  It is both easy and hard.  I like it because there is a very long segment giving you enough time to eat and sleep before landing.  They use the 747 planes on the route, so there business class is relatively large (although smaller with the newer seats).  The tough part of the route is that it is not a non-stop flight (there used to be a non-stop from LAX), with a stop in Hong Kong.  Also, the way the plane routes work, the SFO plane continues on to Vietnam and the plane from Chicago heads to Singapore.  So, an on-time connection is dependent upon another plane.  There are sometimes delays waiting for the Chicago plane to come in, especially during the winter.  And any delays just make the arrival that much later (scheduled arrival time into Singapore is 11:45pm).  But, I still do it, as Singapore has grown more interesting over the years.

This trip was scheduled to proved some relief from the cold weather.  This year has been especially cold, even in the Bay Area just prior to departure.  Surprisingly, while it was warm in Singapore, it was not stifling hot as it usually is.  It was nice enough that you did not always break into an immediate sweat walking around.  I was even okay wearing long pants outside during the day.

There are a number of things to do in Singapore if you have never been.  It's a very culturally diverse country, the crossroads of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and British cultures and a major trade and financial location.  All these elements make for mixture of experiences.  It is easy to get around.  The public transport is inexpensive and everything is in English.  There is still much evidence of the past British colonialism, but also areas distinctly representing the many Asian cultures that have settled in Singapore.  The stately Raffles Hotel, the Arabian, Indian and Chinese sections, and the slender skyscrapers are all part of today's Singapore.  And, of course, there is shopping and there is food.
New Year's Dragon of ceramic plates

Infinity pool on the Skydeck


Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands

Orchard Rd. at Christmas
Singapore continues to try and attract tourists from around the world.  Among the sites to see are:  Sentosa Island Resort, Singapore Flyer (largest observation wheel in the world), Orchid Gardens, Night Safari Zoo, Marina Bay Sands Skydeck and Casino, Fountain of Wealth (largest fountain in the world), as well as various events and festivals.  There are very nice hotels of every size and shape (I am partial to the Conrad at the moment) and a truly world-class airport (and national airline) with flights that can take you anywhere.

05 January 2011

Strasbourg, Leipzig, Berlin, Dresden, Worms

When you are constantly on the go, sometimes a short trip seems like a much longer vacation.  Over the holidays, I flew in and out of Frankfurt, away for about 7 days (5 nights).  I guess I was lucky in that I avoided any flight problems.  The snowstorms had already left Central Europe, but it was very cold most of the time.  After landing and checking into my hotel in Frankfurt, I rushed to the main train station to travel back to Strasbourg, France.  I had visited there over the summer and wanted to return to experience their Christmas markets since they were still going on after Christmas.  What should have been a 2+ hour trip turned into a 4+ hour journey one way.  The planned trains were running late (I'm guessing due to the weather and abundant snow still on the tracks and ground).  I was traveling on a German rail pass so I was not stuck with specific trains, except for the short train ride from Offenburg to Strasbourg.  Thanks to my trusty iPhone and the Deutsche Bahn (DB) app, I found alternative routings based on what trains were running on time.  Unfortunately, instead of taking the nice and fast ICE trains for part of the trip, I had to take multiple regional trains, hence the longer journey out.  Fortunately, my return back to Frankfurt that evening was much smoother and shorter.

It all worked out in the end.  I did get to Strasbourg much later than planned, but it was a good thing.  Since it was just getting dark by then, the lights came on and I could experience the festive atmosphere with all the light decorations.

After one night in Frankfurt, I moved on to Leipzig for three nights.  It was another rough time with the trains.  The train I chose to take ended up being half as long as normally run, and I had to stand for 4.5 hours (we were an hour late).  Even in First Class, the train was packed.  What was nice was that once I arrived at Leipzig station, the hotel I selected was easily found right across the street.

I settled in very quickly, grabbed a quick bite and drink in the Executive Lounge, and then took a walk around town to get oriented.  It was a little tough since many of the sidewalks had not really been cleared from the snow.  It was nice to be conveniently located in the old town section. 

I decided that my day trip the next morning would be to someplace I was already familiar with getting around -- Berlin.  I had a couple of agenda items I would try to do:  the Neues Museum and the Prenzlaurerberg area.  Train problems again prevented me from getting to Berlin as early as I had planned (it's only an hour away, but the train was an hour late).  It was also very cold (significantly below freezing the entire day, causing suburban train problems in Berlin as well).  I bought my timed ticket entry for the Neues and toured their fine collection of antiquities, including the amazing bust of Nefertiti.  By the time I was done, I did not feel much like walking around in the cold and snow, so I skipped P'berg and took train back to Leipzig.

Next day was dedicated to Dresden.  Trains were running better and not quite as cold outside.  It's a little bit of a walk from the Dresden station to the old section of the city.  The old section is very picturesque.  I went first to the Zwinger and enjoyed listening to the glockenspiel in the main courtyard (unsuccessfully tried to upload the video).

I then went into the Porcelain Museum and saw a very fine collection of Japanese, Chinese and German pieces very nicely displayed.  Unfortunately, no photos allowed, although I did sneak one from the outside. I saw a bit more of the town and then headed back to Leipzig.

I returned in time to tour Leipzig while it was still light outside, before any New Year's Eve festivities started.  Leipzig is a city of passages or Hofs, so it was fun exploring these areas all over the old section of the city.  As soon as it became dark, I discovered how much the Germans like to celebrate the evening with fireworks.  The sparklers, Roman candles, rockets and very loud fireworks started well before midnight.  To preserve my hearing, I decided to stay in for the evening.

For the next day, which would be my last full day, I traveled back to Frankfurt in the morning, checked in, and then traveled to Worms to check out the hybrid Romanesque/Gothic cathedral.
For the last day, I boarded an afternoon flight back home.