Dunedin, New Zealand

As last post we were down under in Sydney, I thought we’d just skip across the ditch and visit New Zealand, specifically the place I called home for a year, Dunedin. Alright, I’ll wait a moment while you get out your map. South Island, find Christchurch then head south, got it? Now, the other thing to clear up, the pronunciation, it’s not dune-din as I first thought when told we were moving there, it’s du-nee-din.

 

Dunedin has heaps of scarfies at uni, translation the town has lots of students attending the university, the oldest in the country. I myself went to University of Otago for a year, studying French and Russian, and loved it. Would have liked to have finished my degree but my visa was only for a year so when that time was up I had to leave. Pause for small sobbing episode.

 

Irrelevant fact number one about Dunedin is that it is called the Edinburgh of the south. I’ve been to both cities and can’t say there is a strong resemblance, some of the street names, perhaps and some of the older buildings are constructed in the same colour stone as some in the Scottish city. Irrelevant fact number two, Dunedin claims to have the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street. I’ve been down it, and it is indeed pretty scary.

 

There are also some amazing buildings in Dunedin, the train station, the university Clocktower, the City Hall…the list goes on. But don’t come to Dunedin for the buildings, or the fabulous cafés and bakeries, wonderful St. Clair beach—come for the people. Dunedin-ites are a quirky, delightful bunch and I made friendships during my year there that last until today. I can’t say that about all the places I’ve lived or visited.

 

And when you’re done with visiting the art gallery and Cadbury World (yum, chocolate) then go for a tramp. No, it’s not dumpster diving as we’d say in North America, it’s the Kiwi term for hiking. There are heaps (sorry, couldn’t help myself) of great hikes around Dunedin, or drive up and down the coast for some amazing scenery.

 

So, next time you’re in NZ and find yourself on the South Island, don’t just go to Christchurch and Queenstown, spare a couple days for the Edinburgh of the south and recharge your mind and heart.

 

 

Sydney, Australia

 Continuing my theme of the world’s most desirable cities in which to live, today I’m revisiting Sydney, Australia. I’ve been to Sydney twice, but I admit not for a long time. So I am sure it has changed substantially since my last visit, as it had between my first and second times there.

 

The first time I went to Australia, I was a mere slip of a girl and accompanied by my parents and younger brother. We stayed in the Kings Cross neighbourhood, which was undergoing a transition at the time, from red-light to trendy tourist. My second visit was in my twenties and I stayed first at a youth hostel in Glebe and then with some girls I met in Crow’s Nest.

 

I did all the normal tourist fare, the ferry ride to Manly Beach, visiting the Rocks, the Opera House and Darling Harbour. I’m not a huge city fan but there is enough adventure within Sydney to keep a person happy for days. Then, when you get tired of the city, jump on the train and go up to the Blue Mountains, so named for their blue hue, due to the amount of Eucalyptus oil in the air. The fresh air and stunning scenery will leave you breathless. Definitely do some of the hikes, being mindful to let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. More than one person has gone missing in this incredible landscape.

 

So, you’ve been delighted at the sights of Sydney, exhausted your body in the Blue Mountains, where else can you go to get the full New South Wales experience. My suggestion would be the wineries of the Hunter Valley. Head up to Newcastle, itself a great destination for beaches and eclectic culture, then head inland. With amazing wines, local produce, and interesting art galleries there is plenty to experience.

 

Yes, I could definitely live in Sydney. How about you?

 

Geneva, Switzerland

Geneva, Vancouver and Sydney often trade rankings as the most desirable city in which to live. As the last post I raved about Vancouver, I thought I’d devote this one to the wonders of Geneva. If I could live anywhere in the world, except Vancouver, then Geneva would by my first choice.

 

Although lacking the ocean that I love in Vancouver, Geneva is situated on a lake and surrounded by mountains, so it has a similar environmental feel to the Canadian city.  Where Geneva wipes Vancouver off the map, however is in its history and culture. Geneva dates back to the second century and has 82 buildings or sites that are listed on the Swiss national heritage register. 

 

The accompanying photo is taken from within Chateau Chillon, on the eastern end of Lake Geneva, near the town of Montreaux (which is an excellent town to visit). The castle has a dark past, and one of its most famous visitors, Lord Byron, even carved his name in the stone. Another plus for Geneva is the close proximity of vineyards. Nothing like sampling a bit of vino, while watching the sailboats on the lake, with snow-capped mountains in the back ground.

 

I often think of Geneva as Paris, run by the Swiss. This may be an unfair comparison, but Geneva has a lot of the flair and ambiance of the French capital, without the strikes and other social unrest that disrupt the lives of Parisians and tourists on a near daily basis (strikes at the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, on the metro, need I say more?).

 

However, as a global financial centre and the home of many of the United Nations agencies as well as the Red Cross, a significant proportion of Geneva’s residents are foreign nationals, up to 44% according to one survey I read. English is the second most common language spoken, after French. So if you are a linguistically challenged tourist, Geneva may be the city for you.

 

As with most of Switzerland though, it’s not the cheapest place to visit. However, if you can live off baguettes, cheese and local wine and don’t mind wearing out your shoes as you wander around, guide book in hand, it can be managed on a budget.

 

Unfortunately, I haven’t spent enough time in Geneva to comment further on the mundane aspects of living there, the little annoyances or secret spots that make the city special. If you know of them I’d love to hear from you.   

Vancouver, BC, Canada

After the whirlwind tour of Asia last post, and all the shenanigans with the launch of Singapore Fling, I’m ready for a staycation. If anyone hasn’t heard of this word, it’s a vacation where you stay at home. I am privileged to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Yes, there are more vibrant cities than Vancouver, cities with culture and history and a food scene that will have your mouth watering just walking down the street.

 

And despite the fact that I tell my husband every three months that I want to move abroad again, I know we won’t. At least not until the children all finish school. Yes, Vancouver isn’t perfect, but it’s home. And the positives far outweigh the negatives. It rains—a lot—especially in the autumn, winter and spring and sometimes the summer. But that’s why everything is so green. You can’t have verdant foliage without copious amounts of rain.

 

When someone asks how my husband and I got together, I tell them that we were friends for four years. Then he found out that my family lived near Whistler. As he was an avid skier, suddenly I became much more attractive to him and he asked me out. The sad thing is that now that we’ve moved here, we ski much less often than when we lived in Europe.

 

I’m a beach person. Not that I like to lie on the beach for endless hours perfecting the ultimate shade of toast. I am far too pasty to change colour beyond a faint joining of my freckles. But I could walk barefoot for hours on the soft sand, with the water lapping at my feet. Unfortunately, I don’t live near enough a sand beach at the moment to indulge my love of beach walking. But if I’m ever desperate I can drive to one in less than an hour. And I can always get my fix of brackish salt air anytime I want by just driving down the road.

Vancouver likes to tote itself as a city where you can swim in the sea and ski the same day. I’m not sure why you would want to do both, but I guess it would be possible. If I had just one day to spend in Vancouver, and the weather was fine, I’d hire a bike and cycle around Stanley Park, stopping to admire the north shore mountains. Then I’d take a walk on Jericho beach, if I have time, wander around the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, before heading up to Grouse Mountain for dinner. As the sun set over the ocean, and the twinkling lights of the city filled the night sky, I’d inhale deeply of the pine scented, fresh air. But don’t take my word for it, come and see for yourself.

Singapore Fling Launch Party

In honour of Singapore Fling releasing on Monday, June 3rd, I'm going to do something a little different with the blog post today. We're going on a lightning quick tour of Asia, culminating in a party. And you're all invited. So, grab your virtual passport and away we go.

 

If you're a regular reader of this blog (thank you, thank you), you know that the story starts in London, England. "Wait," I hear you shout, "that's not in Asia." True, there's no fooling you. Although I think if I blindfolded you and took you to certain parts of London, or the Midlands for that matter, you may think otherwise. However, the story starts in London, at Claridge's Hotel. I wonder if setting the opening scene there will get me a discount on their room rate? From central London we quickly move on to Docklands before getting ready to depart for Asia. Got your neck pillow for the long flight?

 

First stop, Singapore. We'll spend a few minutes here, let's have a refreshing Singapore Sling in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel. Mmmm, now, slightly light-headed we're going wander around the Botanical Gardens for a moment, enjoying a last minute of tranquility before we start our whirlwind tour.

 

It's a quick hop up the peninsula to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Although not mentioned in the book specifically, this is where Jeremy gives his second presentation (after Singapore). No time to waste, we're back on the plane and heading to Hong Kong. A vibrant, diverse city, I recently visited here and will blog about this destination another time. But we're on a mission, or a business trip rather, so we can't linger.

 

China is our next stop, we'll spend a few days here, visiting several of the cities, unfortunately, there's not time to see the Great Wall, that will have to wait for a personal trip. One of the downfalls of business travel. Tired yet? Wait, we've got Japan next and visits to Tokyo and Kyoto.

 

Indonesia is next on our itinerary. Fabulous beach resorts, gorgeous scenery, too bad we're stuck inside an office building in Jakarta. Getting restless yet? Need a break? Don't worry, we'll come back to Indonesia for a little unwind in a few minutes. I hope you packed your virtual bathing suit.

 

First, we make a two day trip to Manila, Philippines. For once, Jeremy and Lalita get to spend an evening alone. Will they make the most of it? Too soon, we're back on the plane and heading for Mumbai, India. The last stop on our itinerary, from here we can fly back to London or Singapore, depending on where we call home. But Mumbai is where the secret gets revealed, so sightseeing is once again put on hold.

 

Right, I need a break. This trip has been not only physically, but mentally exhausting as well. What do you say we take a few days and head off to Sumba, Indonesia, stay at one of the world’s finest eco-resorts. Have a cocktail at the bar before wandering along the white sugar-sand beach. Watch the waves crash over the barrier reef. Ah, what to do tomorrow: snorkel, lie on the beach, go horseback riding? Choose your favourite, we've got two days.

 

Too soon it's time to go. Jeremy has to get back to London and Lalita has an emergency to deal with in Manila. Where are you heading off to? Wherever it may be, safe journey. See you back here on June 15th. Thanks for travelling with us today, hope you didn't catch any nasty bugs. Make sure you eat plenty of yoghurt when you get home.

 

Oh, one last thing before we air kiss at the airport. I'm giving away one electronic copy of Singapore Fling to a blog reader. If you'd like to enter, please fill in the entry form below. The contest runs from June 1st to 9th, I'll announce the winner on June 10th. I am also doing a blog tour to promote Singapore Fling, with other opportunities to win books. To see where I'll be when, check out the front page of this website, under Recent Blog Posts, or click here for my schedule.

 

Thanks for visiting today. I've had fun. How was it for you?

 

Hapao & Hungduan, Philippines

We finished the last post after an epic ten hour journey to Banaue. Now, I’ve spent many, many years backpacking around the world and my first instinct is to save every penny and do things the most economical way. But now, in my 40s (don’t tell anyone), traveling with a friend in her 60s, and accompanied by my pre-teen daughter, I thought a little luxury was the order of the day. So we hired our own jeepney and driver and trusted that he would show us the best sights. We weren’t disappointed.

 

I had gone to Banaue with the intention of seeing the rice terraces of Batad, which are considered the world’s most striking. But our driver/guide said that the rice planting wasn’t very advanced in Batad and that most of the terraces were still brown and not as attractive. So, instead we went to Hapao and Hungduan. If the terraces in Batad are considered better than the ones I saw then they must be absolutely amazing because the areas that we went to were spectacular.  I am going to include a few pictures with this post so you can get a better feel for the place.

 

Along the road, which was just a quagmire in places, there were women planting small flowers along the edge. An edge completely unprotected. If you had a crash or lost control it was game over as there was nothing except a few trees to slow your decent to the valley hundreds of feet below. The sight of the pretty flowers, when the road itself was barely more than a dirt track, made me smile. At least there would be something nice to look at before plunging to my death.

 

When the road became impassable, we went the rest of the way on foot. Walking on terraces that had been built over 2,000 years ago was incredible. Each family’s territory was marked by a distinctive plant. As the culture is to give each son a portion of the family land, the plots now are so small that a family can’t even grow enough rice to feed themselves, never mind have any to sell to get money. For a little protein, they eat the eels and snails that also live in the rice paddies and every part of the rice plant is used in some way. It is a very poor existence and was a real eye-opener for my daughter. Many of the people also suffer from debilitating arthritis as they have to stoop over for so long to plant and tend the rice.

 

I wished we had longer to spend in the area, but the wedding— the whole reason we had come to the Philippines, was being held the next day. So we got a night bus back from Banaue to near Baguio City before transferring to another bus back to Gerona. The journey was much more comfortable, although still fairly primitive by western standards, and still took over 8 hours. Would I do it again or recommend it to friends? In a heartbeat.

 

As Singapore Fling, my debut novel, releases on June 3, I’m planning something special for my next blog post. Meet me back here on June 1.

 

Banaue, Philippines

I was going to blog about some places I’ve been to in Russia, but then I thought I’d have to explain, again, that I was there years and years ago. So, I decided that maybe I should talk about someplace I’ve been more recently. Thus, today we are going to Banaue. “To where?” you ask, puzzled, reaching for your atlas.

 

Banaue (pronounced Ban-ow-ay, at least that’s how I pronounce it) is in the northern part of the island of Luzon in the Philippines. The village itself is quaint and worth a visit, if you have lots of time in the country, but the real draw is the nearby rice terraces, built over 2,000 years ago. You know my love of history, how could I resist?

 

It all starts with an epic trip. You’ve all seen Romancing the Stone when Kathleen Turner gets on the wrong bus, you’ll know what I mean. Well, it wasn’t quite as bad as that, but not by much. First we had to get the bus at 5 a.m. If I was to walk downtown Vancouver at that time of the morning I wouldn’t meet many people. However, in the tiny town of Gerona in central Luzon where I was staying, it was bustling. Girls in skimpy dresses were crawling out of the karaoke bars, workers were eating breakfast in tiny road-side cafes and trike drivers were cruising the streets, looking for fares or sharing their previous day’s tales with fellow drivers.

 

Once on the bus, the back of my seat was broken, requiring me to hold myself upright for the whole seven hour journey, and we weren’t even there yet. Now, bearing in mind that from Gerona, Central Luzon to Banaue, in the Cordillera region is only approximately 240 km, you’d think it would only take 3 or 4 hours max to get there. No. Seven hours on the bus to Solano, then we switched to a jeepney for another hour trip, complete with boxes of dead chickens on the roof. And we still weren’t there.

Transferring to another jeepney in Lagawe, we made the final trek on narrow mountain roads and I think I was rather glad I couldn’t see out the window, given the state of the road and the lack of barriers to the valley far below. One lady had brought fish for her dinner, putting it on the floor, only to have the lady next to her put her new air conditioner on top of it. Air conditioner 1 – Fish 0, malodorous rest of the journey with a fish scented backpack (mine) end of game.

When we finally arrived in Banaue, more than ten hours after we’d left Gerona, we were exhausted, nauseated, and starving. Accommodation in Banaue is fairly basic, although the hoteliers are friendly enough. By the time we got there, the choice was moldy or sewer-y. We went for sewer-y, and after a decent meal we thought we’d lay down for an hour or so and then explore the town. Next thing I knew it was six the next morning.

 

But despite the horrific journey, the aromatic accommodation and the rooster that starting crowing across the street at four in the morning, the sights and experiences were so amazing I’d do it all again. Next post I’ll talk about the reason why, if you’re ever in the Philippines, you should make the monumental effort to visit Banaue and area.

Petra, Jordan

Riding a short, ill-tempered horse, sun barely peeking over the horizon, the chill of early-morning-desert air pricking my skin, I thought I was prepared for my first sight of the Treasury, the iconic image of Petra. I was wrong. Despite having seen it hundreds of times in movies, especially Indiana Jones, I expected just another blasé experience, another snapshot to put in my world-traveller photo album. What I got was a shiver down my spine that had nothing to do with the cold and that I remember to this day. Petra is definitely on my list of the top ten places I’ve been in my life and if you ever get the opportunity, I urge you to go.

 

The tomb known as the Treasury, because it was thought to contain hidden treasures, is only one of the amazing sights to be seen. Half way up the 800 stone steps to the Ad-Deir Monastery you’ll wonder if the climb is worth it. Take lots of water, pace yourself and before you reach the last step take a deep breath because you won’t be able to draw another one when you see this magnificent monument carved into the mountain. When I was there, more than a few years ago, I was able to climb right up onto the dome at the top. I imagine they will have stopped that now, conservation and all that. There was also a little tea “shop”, more of a tea tent actually, where you could get a drink before tackling the descent.

 

From what I’ve read on Trip Advisor, the standard of accommodation near Petra has also greatly improved. I remember a hostel type hotel which, after a day trekking through the dessert heat was not the level of luxury my body, even as young as it was then, had hoped for. Then again, maybe a little bit of roughing it added to the experience.

 

Have you read any contemporary romances set in full or part in Petra? If so, I’d love to know about them. If not, perhaps I should write one…

 

Ephesus, Turkey

Seriously, it’s April 1st. Who’s going to believe anything I post today. So, really, it gives me license to make up a completely ludicrous story and pass it off as an April’s fool joke. Or is it?

 

Having no other direction, I have decided to spend one last post in Turkey. Today, we’re visiting Ephesus, probably one of the most well-known tourist sites in the country. Cruise ships docking at Kușadasi have daytrips to Ephesus so if possible, it’s best to time your visit for when there are no ships in port.

 

I guess, in reality, the Greco/Roman ruins at Ephesus are no more spectacular than many others in the Mediterranean, although the façade of the library is spectacular. You can park your butt on ancient Roman public toilets, sit in the top row at the theatre and hear someone on the stage, sixty six rows away, speak in a normal voice or stroll along one of the marble roads. For history buffs, it’s a feast for the senses although the intrusion of the modern tourist makes any long-term sojourn into an historical reverie short lived.

 

One last place I’d like to give a shout-out to before I leave Turkey is Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. You may think, in your jaded vicarious world-traveller mind, that it’s just another palace and can be missed. But I would honestly caution against passing up this bounty of Ottoman historical treasures. I remember seeing a huge emerald, real or fake I have no idea, but it started a love of the green gem that has lasted to this day. And I defy any romantic to not stroll through the Haram courtyard and imagine the women that lived there and wonder at their stories. Were they princesses of distant lands sent to the Sultan for political favour or perhaps they were the most beautiful girls in the land and presented to the court as gifts (or slaves) in hope of getting the Sultan’s attention. One thing you can be sure of, there were probably many tears shed in those rooms over the centuries.

 

There are other places to visit in both Istanbul (the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar to name a few) and Turkey in general. I could possibly spend an entire year blogging about the sights, smells and tastes of this country that straddles Europe and Asia. But I think for the next post I’ll move on to Jordan, unless I receive a request to jet off to another land.

 

Cappadocia, Turkey

For me, Cappadocia was probably the most Turkish of all the places I visited, bearing in mind that my travels were restricted to the western part of the country. Cappadocia wasn’t trying to be a typical Mediterranean resort, it wasn’t trying to recreate an ancient Greek or Roman site, or a world-class city, it was an area to be explored and enjoyed at your own pace with a truly Turkish flavour.

 

The main reason to come to Cappadocia is to visit the fairy chimneys and underground cities. However, you can also hike through rose-coloured gorges, shop in a covered bazaar that dates back to Ottoman times and watch whirling dervishes in an atmospheric caravanserai and dine in fine restaurants while being entertained by lithe belly dancers.

 

The area was first settled by Hittites over 3800 years ago, but it was during the 4th to 11th century when Christians were being persecuted that many of the area’s most amazing tourist sites were born.  Entire underground cities complete with animal storage facilities can be toured. However, if you suffer from claustrophobia or a fear of the dark you may want to make sure you don’t go too deep into the rabbit warren of passages.

 

I think it would be very easy to feel romantic in Cappadocia. The fairy-tale nature of the topography, the historicity of the area, the exoticism (for me) of the culture and food would definitely put me in a mood for love. Dang, now I really need to set a book here or visit again with my husband—except he’d likely complain about something and ruin my mood. So, I guess it’s vicarious travelling through my characters, once again.

 

Pamukkale, Turkey

Due to overwhelming demand… Okay, so no demand (not even one single request), I went through some of my travel photos and was reminded of this interesting place, Pamukkale in Turkey. Of course I was there many years ago so it has undoubtedly changed. This area was designated a World Heritage Site in 1988 and I understand has undergone a revamp with some of the roads being diverted and the hotels that were built right on the terraces removed.

 

Pamukkale is Turkish for “cotton castle” and refers to the white travertine terraces covered in calcium carbonate with pools of warm water. It is in the Denizli Province in southwestern Turkey. It is also next to the site of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis where thousands of years ago the sick came to soothe their ailments in the warm, mineral rich waters.

 

When I was there, in the early 90’s, one of the hotels had its swimming pool right over some of the ruins. You could swim amongst the remains of the ancient city in the naturally heated water.  I believe these are now called the Cleopatra Pools.  Bathing there is not without risk. Not only did I sustain a rather nasty bump on the knee on a Roman column (not something that normally happens while swimming) but also ended up with a painful UTI. If you don’t know what a UTI is, don’t look it up, just take my word for it that they are unpleasant. But would I do it again? Probably.

I was thinking of incorporating this area into one of my novels, then I read the following from the Pamukkale.net site under Legends: There was a young girl who was unmarried and ugly. As no one wanted to marry her, she decided to commit suicide and she threw herself off the travertine and fell into a natural pool but did not die. Because of the water in the natural pool she turned into a very beautiful girl and caught the attraction of the lord of Denizli while he was passing by. At that moment, the lord fell in love with this young and beautiful girl and they soon got married.  Seems it’s already been written.

 

Pamukkale is only one of the Turkish sites that has me eager to return to this fascinating country. Next post I’ll share with you some information on Cappadocia. If you’ve been to either Pamukkale or Cappadocia I’d love to hear your thoughts or experiences.

 

Sumba, Indonesia

Ah, yet another place I’ve not been, and not from a lack of desire to visit, I might add. This photo is courtesy of my sister-in-law who has just returned from a holiday in Indonesia. So, why did I choose to include a place I’ve never visited in my novel, especially, for the most romantic portion? Let me tell you a story (and despite my husband’s promptings, it doesn’t start with a dark and stormy night…)

A couple of years ago, while recovering from surgery, a friend brought me a magazine called Islands. It’s full of exotic destinations that, unless everyone in the English speaking world bought my books, I would never be able to afford to visit.  Please, everyone in the English speaking world, do buy my books when they become available so I can go to these places. But I digress, within the pages of this fantasy inducing periodical, was an article on Sumba and a special resort there called Nihiwatu. Okay, take a moment now to check out their website, but make sure you come back here, okay? http://www.nihiwatu.com/

Enjoy the dream? Nihiwatu is not only a fantastically beautiful and romantic destination but it is also one of the world’s best eco resorts. So, having researched this amazing destination, how could I not send one of my couples there?  I did say that many of these places would be vicarious adventures. Therefore, when Lalita and Jeremy from Singapore Fling need a break following the dramatic events in Mumbai, Sumba was the first place that came to mind.

Of course for my story I did change some of the facts about the resort, it is, after all, a work of fiction. I made the proprietor Australian and made it much more difficult for my couple to get there than in real life. However, I hope the ambiance and beauty of the place come through in my descriptions and you can feel you are there, along with Lalita and Jeremy.

I’m afraid that’s about it for the exotic locations mentioned in Singapore Fling. The novel has been sent to several publishers and I’m just waiting to hear if anyone is interested in acquiring it. In the meantime the story I am currently writing, Dare You to Love Me, takes place in Britain. As I’ve already posted a couple of entries about London I think I’ll take a wee break from story inspired destinations and blog a bit about random places I’ve visited.

Mumbai, India

Yet another shocking confessional, I’ve never been to Mumbai! I have spent three weeks in India, though, so I feel somewhat qualified to write this post. Besides, I did say I would be writing about places I’ve researched as well. And, I know, this picture isn’t of Mumbai, but Palace of the Winds in Jaipur. However, as it’s the cover photo on my copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to India I felt it was indicative enough of the country to use here. If it’s good enough for Lonely Planet…

 

For anyone that’s been, India leaves a lasting impression. In any one given day you can feel like you never want to leave, you want to explore every inch of this fascinating country. Then twenty minutes later you’re checking flight schedules to see when the next plane leaves. I spent the majority of my time in India in the countryside of Rajasthan, visiting many of the raj palaces as well as some of the poor farmers scrapping a meagre subsistence off the land.

 

For research specific to Mumbai, I watched several documentaries and movies that featured the city. The History Channel’s show Trashopolis was particularly interesting. You can see it here: http://vimeo.com/30695759 And yes, I did see the Top Gear special that started in Mumbai, some research  is more entertaining than others.  Another source, and this is possibly cheating relying on another author’s research, I read Nicola Marsh’s Busted in Bollywood. Although her story dwells a lot more on Indian food and the Bollywood scene, she also included general descriptions of Mumbai which corroborated my research.

 

In Singapore Fling, Lalita and Jeremy spend a few days in Mumbai, not only in the office but also visiting the slums of Dharavi where Lalita searches for her birth mother. Following the emotional upheaval of the events in India, my couple next head off for some rest and relaxation on the Indonesian island of Sumba.

 

 

Manila, Philippines

Mount Pinatubo, PhilippinesOkay, another admission, I’ve cheated with the photo. Who knew this blog would turn into a confessional? I couldn’t find a decent picture of Manila in my album, possibly because I didn’t see anything in Manila particularly attractive to photograph.  Now before everyone sends in their photos of Manila’s delights, I am sure there are wonderful parts of the city, I just didn’t see them. Then again I was only Manila for one day, the rest of my time in the Philippines was spent elsewhere. So, that’s why I’ve chosen a photo taken at Mt Pinatubo, which, in my defense is fairly near Manila. I did want to go to Tagaytay and Lake Taal, south of the city, but I just couldn’t fit it into my schedule. It’s definitely on the list for next time.

 

Jeremy and Lalita, the hero and heroine in Singapore Fling, only spend a couple of days in Manila, and that at the office and in meetings. Although, there is one scene at the hotel involving a red dress… and leopard print shoes… Oh, excuse me, where was I? Oh, yes, Manila.

 

So, what can I say about the capital city? Traffic.  Even though there are only three lanes marked on the road, it’s not unusual to see cars, vans, busses, jeepneys, mopeds, etc. five or six abreast. And I’m sure the pedestrian crossings are simply there so the ambulance only has to go to one spot to pick up bodies as driver’s completely disregard anyone who dares try to cross the busy streets. 

 

Another hint about visiting Manilaunless you are desperate to visit European stores or have a wad of cash to spend you can give the Mall of Asia a miss. I don’t see the point going all the way to the Philippines to shop at Marks & Spencer or Dorothy Perkins, especially as the prices are the same as in London.

 

A final note about visiting the Philippines, although I am sure to come back to this wonderful country in later posts, regards bringing money into the country. By law, as of 2012 anyway, you are only allowed to bring in PhP 10,000 in cash, which when converted to GBP or Canadian $ is not very much money at all. You’ll have to find some way to change it when in the country.

 

I had a fabulous time in the Philippines, especially visiting the 2,000 year old rice terraces in the Banaue region of northern Luzon. I am still trying to figure out how I can incorporate this fascinating setting into a future story. Even if I can’t, I’ll be sure to blog more about some of the places I visited during my two weeks in this land of 7,000 islands.

 

Where to next? Mumbai!

 

Singapore

Okay, I’ll admit it, it has been *clears throat* twenty-odd years since I was last in Singapore. As a mere slip of a girl on her first world-wide adventure, the ordered cleanliness of Singapore was a welcome reprieve from the rest of Asia’s chaos. There were lines on the road and, for the most part, drivers stayed within them. No cows wandered in the streets, chickens were nowhere to be seen, or heard, and I could read the signs, always a bonus. That’s not to say that Singapore has been completely cleansed of its Asian-ness. I stayed with friends while I was in Singapore so was able to experience the “real Singapore” rather than just the regular tourist fare. We ate lunch at what I now realize is called a Hawker Center, although for me it was an under-apartment-building-food-court. If you go to Singapore I really suggest you try this at least once.

 

However, as it has been such a long time since I was there, I did have to do quite a bit of research for the elements in my story, Singapore Fling, that take place in the city-state. The skyline has definitely changed since my visit, the Marina Bay area and Waterfront Promenade have all been built since I was there and the Singapore Flyer is new as well. However the Botanical Gardens, which I enjoyed, have been around for more than 150 years and are worth a visit as is the iconic Raffles Hotel. Even if you are staying elsewhere, have a drink in the Raffles Long Bar, home of the Singapore Sling. Or if you’re a writer, dream up your next masterpiece while imbibing a suitably inspirational beverage in the Writers Bar.

 

With Singapore’s diverse population, Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English speaking, with lots of ex-pat British people, there is something to interest everyone. Whether it’s listening to a Chinese opera performance, shopping at the market stalls of Little India or the luxury boutiques of Orchard Road, or thrilling to the spectacle of Formula 1’s only night race, Singapore is an exciting, diverse city sure to enthral even the most jaded traveller.

 

For the next post, however, we will leave Singapore and move on to Manila, Philippines. Join me there on January 15th. In the meantime, leave a comment with your Singapore experience, I’d love to hear what you thought.

 

photo credit: Conjunction of Moon, Venus and Jupiter over Marina Bay and Singapore skyline via photopin (license)

London Part 2

Hampton CourtThe opening scene of Singapore Fling takes place in the ballroom of Claridge’s Hotel. I’ve never stayed or even dined at Claridge’s, it’s a little beyond my price bracket, but its art deco elegance has been immortalised in both literature and film. I did work in Mayfair for a few weeks on the same street and would walk by the iconic hotel’s unassuming façade, only vaguely aware of the beauty within. The exclusivity of the area is reflected in the refined architecture and the ultra-rich clientele who frequent the shops or patronise the restaurants or hotels. If it’s a lovely day in I can highly recommend wandering around this beautiful part of London, although you may want to avoid the queues of people waiting for visas outside the US embassy. Many of the now hotels and offices were once homes to the rich in Regency times. If the day is not so fine, a stroll through covered Burlington Arcade for a little window shopping will keep the rain off for an hour or so, depending on how long you salivate in front of the window displays.

 

From the elegance of Mayfair my story then moves on to the commercial hub of London, Docklands. Twenty years ago there were a few avant-garde companies who moved there for the lower rental rates and the promise of what was to come. I had a friend who lived in the area and on the weekends it was almost deserted. Now Docklands is a vibrant, tempting place all week long with world-class restaurants, interesting pubs and innovative architecture. A short ride on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) will take you to the Isle of Dogs from where you can walk through the Greenwich foot tunnel and visit that ancient borough with its homage to Britain’s nautical heritage, not to mention the “start of time” (GMT).

 

Southgate is another area of London mentioned in my book. I describe it as a nothing suburb of London which may garner me a few critics, but having lived there for two years and nearby for many more, I think it’s a fairly apt description. Sure, it has a few interesting buildings, especially the walk down the High Street from Southgate station to Alderman’s Hill. If you do end up in Southgate, most likely because you’ve fallen asleep on the Tube and woke up there, check out the Wimpy hamburger restaurant across the street from the station. Let me know if you see anyone in there.  I’m sure it’s some kind of front business as it’s been there years and I’ve never seen anyone eat there or know of anyone that has ever gone in. I mean what kind of legitimate business can occupy prime real estate with no visible patronage?

 

I have a not-so-secret conspiracy theory that it is really a clandestine MI5 operation, whatever you do, don’t order combo meal 007.

 

So that’s it for London, for now. Many of my stories start or end here so I’ll be back to talk about some of those places in later posts. Next I’ll move on to Singapore, the first destination for my couple in Asia.

 

London

I was privileged to call London home for almost ten years. It’s a vibrant, dynamic city, rich in history and culture. And probably best of all for a travel addict, it’s an international hub with low cost flights and holiday packages to the world’s exotic destinations.

 

The one problem with living in London, as I guess is true for most places, is that you rarely visit all the tourist sights. Although even the most jaded Londoner can appreciate the eclectic sights of Leicester Square on a Saturday night. My favourite was a man in his mid-twenties, wearing lingerie (complete with stockings) and carrying a single red rose. I wonder what bet he lost and about the reaction of his intended rose recipient.

 

One of the best things about London, however, is that it can be a different city for everyone. Music lovers can enjoy everything from local bands heard at the neighbourhood pub or world-class opera performances at either Covent Garden or the ENO. Shoppers can wander the local markets or second hand stores for one-of-a-kind treasures, or wander along Bond Street or around Knightsbridge and play spot the celebrity.

 

History lovers are overwhelmed with choice, having a veritable cornucopia of places to visit—Tower of London, King Henry VIII’s Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, to name a few. But for me, history was found on every corner, wondering who walked down a street or used to call that converted office building home. By the way, if you are planning a trip to London, or even if you’ve lived there all your life, I can highly recommend Edward Rutherfurd’s London the Novel as an entertaining read. I have no idea how historically accurate it is but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

For me, however, my favourite thing about London is the green spaces, whether a tiny patch of grass in a tucked away square, or the acres of Hyde Park, not to mention Hampstead Heath. My personal preference was for St. James’s Park. I worked nearby and would often stroll around the “lake” (really, as a Canadian, it’s more a large pond), especially in the spring. I remember reading a story somewhere that a royal commanded that all the flowers be removed from nearby Green Park because she caught her husband picking flowers for another woman, so they planted twice as many in St. James’s Park to make up for it. I can find no verification for this tale but I did enjoy the abundant blooms in St. James’s, whether it was by design or as a deterrent for marital infidelity.

 

My novel Singapore Fling starts and ends in London. In my next post I’ll talk about a few of the places I’ve mentioned in the story.