29 November 2013
Today we switched from fauna to flora, starting the day with a visit to the Botanic Gardens. They are huge here in Singapore, splendid and fragrant – a real riot of tropical greenery. The reason why they are called “gardens” and not “garden” is that in fact there are several themed gardens gathered in one place: the Fragrant Garden, Healing Garden, Ginger Garden, a few others, and – the crown of all – the National Orchid Garden. The territory between those gardens is actually park as well, with ponds, swans, and so on.
We started off very briskly, stopping next to each plant, but then our fervour and enthusiasm somehow began to diminish. The sun was beating down, even though there was a black cloud looming in the sky and mercifully hiding the sun behind it from time to time. For some reason, in the Healing Garden we were attacked and cruelly stung by all sorts of insects – seemed like they had been healed there and were now full of energy.
Once again, for the umpteenth time in Singapore, it started raining just as we entered a restaurant to have lunch, as if the rain had been waiting for us to take shelter under the roof. The restaurant, which was obviously right inside the Gardens, was called Halia, meaning “ginger” in Malay, so, as one may guess, this spice was present in abundance in all the meals. The portions were strikingly small, but delicious. On leaving the restaurant, which we did after it stopped raining, we were provided with free raincoats, which we didn’t have the chance to make use of.
Having taken a liking to plants, we left the natural gardens just to head to artificial ones – the famous gardens at Marina Bay, with large conservatories. We feared that we would have an overdose of the monotonous tropical flora, but these gardens had a very different spirit. The conservatories, which could be accessed via a quite peculiar viaduct, were very interesting in design, looking like giant blooming bouquets or trees.
We visited only two of the conservatories: the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest (a term for a very humid tropical montane forest). The first one contained a variety of roses, geraniums and other flowers and, for whatever reason, vegetables of giant sizes, such as aubergines, peppers, cabbage and tomatoes.
The second one was designed as basically a mountain, with diverse vegetation on its slopes, and it was so moist there that the air was filled with drizzle. Atop the mountain there was a little garden called the Lost World, which could be accessed by lift, and there was a circular path descending to different levels from that garden. The last thing to see before exiting was a video with gloomy forecasts that by 2100 the temperature on Earth would rise by an average of 5 degrees, which would result in all sorts of disasters, such as the extinction of many species of animals and plants, reduction of the amount of drinking water, spread of diseases – although it ended with a reassurance that all this could be avoided.
What’s not a problem in Singapore (well, not that anything at all is a problem here!) is that everything is constructed and designed very conveniently and user-friendly. Places to eat can be found literally everywhere. Wherever you go, whether it’s a garden, a mall, a museum or a theatre, you can be sure that you won’t stay hungry. So, quite naturally, we found where to have dinner just as we exited the Gardens and turner around the corner. It was a Chinese restaurant, mainly seafood oriented, and, to spare ourselves from difficult choices, we decided to go for a set meal, where we were continuously served small portions of different dishes to sample, which seemed to be the right decision, as everything was delicious.
Since it was our last full day in Singapore, we definitely felt the urge to go see the famous Raffles hotel and taste its signature cocktail, the Singapore Sling. The colonial style hotel, of course, claims to be chic. It’s a white-stone building, with a courtyard and a shopping arcade full of fashion boutiques. The hotel is certainly impressive, but not drop dead impressive. A small detail: in the glamorous Long Bar, where most of the guests buy this very cocktail, on each table there is a basket filled with unshelled peanuts. Guests throw the shells right on the floor, and if they leave them on their tables by mistake, the waiters whisk them to the floor when clearing the table after them. As a result, the entire floor is littered with those shells.