Christmas is just round the corner and stores have long stocked up on Christmas gifts and stocking fillers. Even though the Christmas lights along Regent and Oxford Street haven't been lit up yet, the shoppers are flocking to Selfridges to view its yearly Christmas window displays.
Fronting Selfridges' front facade are seventeen large glass displays featuring products and brands carried by the largest store along London's Oxford Street. It is almost impossible to get clear shots of the displays but I try.
After you have taken a look at Selfridges' display, pop into the store and check out its newly designed toy department on its top floor. While it isn't exactly Hamley's, it does try to squeeze in as many play stations as possible within the limited floor space allocated.
Also see John Lewis Christmas display further east along the same street.
Despite having some amusing scenes, Selfridges seems to play second fiddle to John Lewis for Christmas this year. Turns out that it's not a matter of how much display you can splash out but rather how you use them. In the creative department, John Lewis stands out in its electronics animals lineup.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
S.E.A. Aquarium at Resort World Sentosa (photo by Choo Yut Shing)
Just before heading back to London, TT checked out the largest aquarium in the world.
The S.E.A Aquarium is the latest offering from Resort World Sentosa. Not to be confused with the SEA chain of Aquariums in Europe (including that near County Hall London which I have somehow not managed to check out) it is currently the largest aquarium in the world.
It is possible to get there by public transport and its website provides detailed instructions but if you are traveling with children the easiest way is probably to take a taxi. The designated taxi drop off point in the car park is just a short distance away from the Aquarium.
I went with friends and their children on a weekend. The queues to purchase the tickers were long so it was fortunate that my friends had the foresight to buy advance tickets online. You can buy a pass valid for use on any day within a four month period for SGD 33 which makes it really flexible for people who have it on their to do list but who are just not sure which day they are not going to do it. Do check the website to make sure that the Aquarium is not closed for maintenance or private functions on the day of your visit.
The entrance to the Aquarium is a spectacular glass corridor which gives you the illusion of walking through the ocean alongside the sea creatures. This is a highlight for my friend's children who could have spent the entire day marvelling at the spectacle if not for the crowds pushing us on.
Jellyfish (photo by Aapo Haapenen)
The crowds on a weekend with the accompanying jostling and picture taking mar the illusion of being at one with aquatic creatures somewhat. Instead of feeling relaxed and at ease I felt harassed. Only a few exhibits left an impression on me given my haste to move on. The glowing jelly fish pulsating in the water was hard to ignore and equally mesmerising was the school of synchronised fish moving from one direction to another in perfect harmony.
Open Ocean display (photo by Choo Yut Shing)
The Open Ocean display is easily the star attraction. It offers a floor to ceiling panoramic view of oceanic giants. I was spellbound by the manta rays as they glided effortlessly through the water. It was however rather disconcerting to be able to look into hotel suites on the opposite side. These suites offer their residents a view of the Open Ocean but at the same time provide Aquarium visitors with an insight into the TV shows those residents are watching! Guess there is only so much fish gazing one could do.
One can only imagine how much better the experience would have been if it were less crowded. There were some interactive activities for children but we simply did not have the time to try them. I guess that just gives us another reason to return!
Sunday, October 13, 2013
The carbon neutral super trees at Singapore's Gardens by the Bay (photo by Eustaquio Santiman)
After a visit to the Zoo, TT went on to Gardens by the Bay, one of the key tourist attractions in Singapore's Marina Bay. Here's her take on whether it's worth a visit.
I have heard mixed reviews about the Gardens by the Bay. Too artificial say one of my friends referring to the cooled observatories. Worth a visit says another. Well I decided to go and check it out.
While the website provides detailed instructions on how to get to the gardens by public transport the easiest way to get there is by taxi. If you were to go via train you would have to either take a shuttle bus or take a walk which might not be the best idea in the heat or if you are travelling with children.
There is a variety of eateries and cafes within walking distance of the Gardens. There is something for every budget from fast food to fine dining. We had lunch at Peach Garden Noodle House which forms part of the Supertree Dining area (a mouthful but essentially a classier food court with clustered eateries instead of stalls) before moving on to explore the observatories.
Admission to the two cooled conservatories cost $28 for an adult and $12 for children over the age of three. Discounted rates apply for citizens and residents of Singapore.
We went to the Flower Dome first. It replicates the climate of South Frica, California and parts of Spain and Italy. What greeted us was a riot of colours. Vividly coloured flowers of all shapes and sizes imaginable. There are some markings to differentiate the various flowers but unless you are an expert in this area or opt for an audio guide you will be at a loss as to how to make sense of this kaleidoscope. It is all very pleasant but I fear I left the dome none the wiser about the flowers on display and how they ate adapted to their native habitat.
The waterfall in Cloud Forest (photo by Shiny Things)
Next up was the Cloud Forest. The moment you enter that zone you are greeted by a waterfall and mist all around. It sounds idyllic but I am afraid the reality is different. The concrete is there for all to see and rather than resembling a mountain covered in lush vegetation, I am afraid it reminds me of a multi storey car park. In fact you can take a lift right up to the top. This zone is meant to showcase plant life from tropical highlands up to 2,000 metres above sea level. Again there is very little explanation about the plants on exhibit so again we wonder cluelessly around. There is this model railway which aims to showcase how railways help to facilitate life in the mountains. I am afraid I can't see the link between the railway and this ode to nature and it was rather unfortunate that the railway set was not even very well put together - it does not seem to be to scale!
That said, the kids love it
While I am not a fan of the cooled observatories I can see how they might appeal to families. There are lifts for easy access and my friend who has a babe in arms loves the clean and spacious nursing rooms. Children can roam in the cooled domes which provides some weather proof fun. There are a number of interactive educational displays which will help to keep the small people entertained. It can easily keep restless children entertained for a couple of hours if you have run out of ideas on how to entertain them one afternoon.
These greenhouses are built to be carbon neutral which can only be a good thing. There is a sobering video about climate change at the end of your visit so while I have learnt little about the plants on display at least I left with a better understanding of the impact of climate change.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
An icy stare from the Hamadryas Baboon (photo by Ross Pollack)
TT heads to Singapore for a short visit and goes straight to one of the island's top attractions.
I have said it before and I will say it again. The number one destination for children (or for anyone) in Singapore is the Mandai Zoo.
The Singapore Zoo is well known for its beautiful rainforest setting where animals are allowed to roam in open and naturalistic environments modelled after their natural habits. Covering 26 hectares, the Singapore Zoo is home to more than 2,800 animals making it a must go for anyone who wants to be closer to nature.
On every trip back, I have always made it a point to visit the Zoo and each time I fall in love with it all over again.
Something for the adults
The Zoo has something for everyone. You don't have to be a kid to appreciate Treetops Trail, set close to the entrance of the Zoo with an elevated platform weaving its way through the forest canopy. Residents of the Treetops Trail include the free ranging brown lemur and the white faced saki monkeys but on my recent trip I failed to spot them among the trees. I did hear whooping cries though I must admit I have no idea who made those cries. I did spot the False Gavial (a crocodile like creature) lurking in the swamp beneath the broad walk.
Another favourite exhibit of mine is the free ranging area for the orang utans which is the Zoo's flagship species. My generation grew up with Ah Meng the orang utan bring the face of the Zoo. Breakfast with Ah Meng was the highlight of a trip to the Zoo. Sadly she has passed away but the orang utan would always have a special space in my heart. Seeing these giant gentle creatures swing and climb around or just sitting quietly chewing on their food is extremely therapeutic in my opinion.
The Orang Utan (photo by John)
The part of the Zoo which holds the most magic fore is the Fragile Forest zone, a bio dome with a 20,000 cubic metre flight area. It seeks to recreate the rainforest Eco system and brings the visitor close to the animals that are resident there. It is amazing how close you are to the animals and I kept worrying whether I might accidentally step on one of the sloths crossing my paths. The beautiful birdsong provides the soundtrack against which you can admire the stunning butterflies as they flutter around you. Leaving the Fragile Rainforest, I have a reinvigorated enthusiasm to do my bit for rainforest preservation.
Something for the Kids
Children would love the Kidzworld and I suspect most of them end up spending most of their time in this area. There are goats, ponies and bunnies on exhibit as well as goat and bunny petting sessions. Pony rides and carriage rides are on offer too. The key attraction though must be the wet playground where a giant tipping bucket and a multitude of water jets help to cool the kids in the blazing sun. If you forget to pack your kid's swimsuit don't despair. The souvenir outlet has swimsuits on sale. At 4 pm daily there will also be a kids' show at the amphitheatre where dogs are the star performers. Something to wind the kids down before you call it a day.
Kidzworld - a splash of fun (photo by Choo Yut Shing)
To make the most of your day at the Zoo, do go online to check out the times for the various shows and the feeding trails. Kids would be thrilled to feed the elephants of the proboscis monkeys though I thought having a go at feeding the giant tortoises would be pretty cool.
The giant tortoise (photo by Karl Monaghan)
The Zoo is also very accessible for families with children. There are buggies to rent (at $9 a pop) or wagons in which the children can be rugged around in. Or one can opt for unlimited tram rides which would save you a lot of walking!
Kids will love the souvenirs available ranging from cuddly softoys to glow in the dark key rings. The shops also stock T shirts some of which are quite tastefully designed.
Where to grab a bite
Food wise the Zoo has two KFC outlets - one at the entrance as well as one in Kidzworld. They also have a convenience store and An Meng Kopi (selling drinks and local favourites) at the entrance. There is also an air conditioned food court in the heart of the zoo so food is readily available at any point in your visit. Be forewarned that food prices are marked up in the Zoo) as with all tourist spots worldwide. A bowl of noodles in the good court will set you back around S$8 more than twice the price of an equivalent bowl elsewhere.
A tip - Do bring a poncho or a brolly. Large parts of the Zoo are not under shelter and when it rains it pours!
Also read about TT's verdict of Gardens by the Bay - yep, the one with the giant trees.
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Get ready to catch!
King's Cross Square finally reopens after a £500 million revamp that lasts five years. Although it comes more than a year late for London Olympics 2012, I am a bit gleeful that the first to enjoy the concourse are Londoners instead of tourists.
The event is marked by not one but two carnivals - one at King's Cross Square and another at the nearby Granary Square. The two are linked by a free railway coach - a apt nod to the illustrious history of King's Cross station, and a joy to kids.
Joyrides including carousel, spinning teacups, ferris wheel, a three storey helter skelter are only at £1 per ride. Game stalls and food stalls put up by the surrounding restaurants, performers sporting Victorian costumes entertained the crowds, face painters offer to do up faces for the "chimney sweeper" or "plague victim". Good fun, that one.
The sporadic slight drizzle, which is typical of London at this time of the year failed to dampen the spirit of it all. Always wanted to try riding a penny farthing? You have from 11am till 6pm on Sunday 29th Sept to do so at King's Cross carnival.
Suffice to say, King's Cross is no longer dodgy.
A carousel at King's Cross Square
Chilling out at Granary Square
Fancy being a chimney sweeper for the day?
Hanging it all out to dry...
Ferris wheel or the train? Decisions, decisions...
Horse drawn carriage go trotting on
Whee.... the swinging chairs are a delight to the little ones
Let us see your skipping prowess
This are real spinners...
There are the three of you and three of us... why not?