Heart to Beat #36 Singapore

Published on June 29, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Wow we are on the road for a whole year, and at this very moment, the one to look back, we ride into paradise. Paradise is called Singapore. The way it looks here, that’s how it will look in heaven, if it exists: beautiful, clean, peaceful, multicultural, clouds but not gray, oh yes and also expensive !? It’s our 25th country on our world bike tour and it makes quite an impression on us. The boat to Jakarta takes a while: in the meantime we enjoy two weeks of city, park, house, swimming pool, cooking, netflix and … cycling.

From Malaysia Singapore can be reached by bridge via the city of Johor Bahru. There is a special “pedal cyclist & motorcycle” lane and there are efficient booths for the necessary customs stamps on both sides of the bridge without having to get off the bike. The speed on the carriageway is regulated by an impressive number of speed bumps in a bike-unfriendly format.

Everything is different on the other side of the bridge. The road is of excellent quality, sidewalks are covered, the public space is immaculately decorated and maintained. Everywhere are texts on the road and signs to explain the applicable rules. Our route app directs us to the Park Connector Network (PCN), a bicycle network that connects the parks in Singapore. We first need to cycle to the Hollandse School to collect something extremely nice. The PCN goes in a different direction but not to worry, our route app tells us that another cycle path leads from this PCN through a park directly to the school, without the use of the main road network. However, the cycle path appears to be a mountain bike track; a technical trail full of relief, rocks, stumps and mud. Dear komoot app, this red bull-like path may be fun for full-suspension MTB riders, but is really not suitable for long-distance cyclists with 20 kilos of luggage each! We only have to follow it for 3 kilometers, but it takes endlessly and to make matters worse, the last part of the mountain bike route turns out to be a prohibited area due to construction work. The park is probably a little bit smaller and there will soon be a few skyscrapers on the edge of the park.

After all that muddling in the mud we use the main road network to end up at the Hollandse School. At the reception there is a pass waiting for us which gives us access to a beautiful Singaporean apartment with swimming pool. The apartment is home to the Dutch couple Walter and Raoul. Thanks to Hermie – ex-sister-in-law of Harry who lived in Singapore 20 years ago – there was a message from her in the Schools newsletter whether someone could accommodate us cyclists with a limited budget in this expensive city. Among others, Walter, a teacher at the Hollandse School, responded very nicely to the message and offered a place to stay.

With more than 300 children, the Hollandse School in Singapore is the largest school outside the Netherlands. It is located on a hill in a area full of beautiful villas and the school itself fits in perfectly. The school is a beauty. On the sports field children run around who speak Dutch, in the sandbox children crawl around who speak Dutch. It all looks and sounds quite unreal to us after all those months in Southeast Asia, but that now fits in with the first impressions we get from this city: completely different from what we have seen and experienced in recent months.

It looks like we have to stay in Singapore for at least ten days before we travel by boat to Jakarta, Indonesia. Singapore, however, is rather expensive and cannot, in principle, fit into our daily budget, but thanks to the lovely teachers at the Hollandse School we do not have to worry about the overnight costs. With the access pass in our pocket, we cycle to the condominium where a guard stops us. He is a bit grouchy and we do not make things better if we can not immediately name names and numbers of the apartment we want to visit. We are tired, stinking of sweat and of course not wanting any trouble now, but gradually the Indian-looking guard shifts mood when he finds out that we came all the way from the Netherlands by bicycle. He asks many questions and is completely caught up in our adventure and offers cold cans of Schwepps. In the end he explains where we can park the bicycles in the garage under the complex. The parking garage accommodates unprecedentedly expensive cars including Ferrari’s, Porsches and Maserati’s. Our titanium Pilot Vamos fits in perfectly with that, because that is of course the Ferrari among bicycles. We proudly enter the elevator and easily find the door to the apartment thanks to the doormat of the Amsterdam flag.

Not much later, first Walter and then Raoul come home and we get to know the hosts better. Walter and Raoul are … wonderful! Walter did some long-distance cycling himself. Raoul liked to work abroad for another long period as he did before and was given the opportunity by his employer Philips. Walter of course came along and was, once in Singapore, accepted at the Dutch School as a teacher. They moved a year ago and are having a great time in Singapore. They tell us everything about the city, rules and customs, while Walter prepares a delicious pasta meal for us.

The next day the swimming pool beckons but we put ourselves to end and publish the blog about Malaysia and delve into the Lonely Planets of Singapore and Indonesia that we pull out of the bookcase. In the evening we board the bus to the chic 5-star Grand Park City Hotel. We have a date! Jan, the brother of Roelie, happens to be in Singapore for his work at ING. How nice to see and catch up! Jan has already done a pre-exploration and while talking we walk past Padang, The Esplanada with the stand for the F1 grandprix pit stop to Marina Bay, the striking hotel of three separate skyscrapers connected at the top by a roof park and swimming pool in the shape of a ship. Really unique! Via the exclusive shopping center The Shoppes below the hotel we walk to Gardens by the Bay, the botanical garden with futuristic vertical gardens. We marvel at the decor. It seems like we are walking around in a kind of Disney park instead of a city. The architecture, the public space, the plants, everything is slick and perfect. More beautiful than theme parks, more beautiful than where we have ever been before… and all to discover without paying any entrance fees.

We are just in time to see the light show in the Garden by the Bay and in all enchantment it is a bit disappointing. Apparently it’s a children’s festival and the light show has a Toy Story theme. Before the show comes to an end we already walk to the food court in the Park, which is called “Satay by the Bay”. There we continue to have a nice chat with Jan while enjoying a snack and a drink.

On the way to the supermarket the next morning we notice a branch and some leafs on the sidewalk. ‘”Maybe not swept for an hour”, we joke. It is bizarre how clean and tidy it is here. Chewing gum is forbidden, eating and drinking is not allowed in buses and subways (nor at the stops either), no graffiti anywhere, smoking is also almost banned in public areas, cameras everywhere. And, a big difference with the Netherlands, everyone abides the rules.

Relatively speaking, there is also little traffic in this millions of cities. A car is a luxury. To be able to drive here you have to buy a certificate. The price of the certificate is determined by bidding and depends on the number of certificates that come available, in accordance with the maximum number of cars on the Singapore roads. At the moment, such a certificate costs more than 25,000 S$ (or € 17,000). It gives the right to have and use a car for 10 years, but you don’t have a car yet. Driving is therefore more of a hobby for the better-off or a gift from one’s employer. All others use a perfect and punctual public transport network or take a taxi, which both are really cheap in Singapore.

Cycling costs absolutely nothing, at least if you obey the rules (and if you happen to have a bicycle). We sometimes get a bit paranoid with all those cameras: can we cycle on the road here or on the cycle path or do we have to walk on the pedestrian path? Can we park our bikes here? Can we freely turn left at the traffic lights? At some bicycle bridges there are signs “dismount and push” with the occasional “fine S$ 1000” sign underneath. Dismount is difficult because these bridges are great for cycling. But yes, there are a couple of cameras on every bridge and if S$ 1000 (€ 650) is the standard fine for a bicycle violation, then we should stick to the rules as far as we know the rules, well at least Roelie does.

We cycle a lot through the city. One of the first trips takes us to the Apple store with the last broken iPhone, the third that was killed by the Busch & Müller inverter. In Thailand we have already bought a replacement phone and unfortunately we do not get a refund, but a new iPhone and one without the sales box and without cables and other usual accessories. So not one that would be easy to sell for a good price. In any case, we ourselves would not trust it if such a one is on E-bay. We decide to keep the phone as a sort of reserve.

On other cycle trips we cycle to Little India where a lot of color and street art (see photos at the end of this blog) can be found, to Arab street with small shops and restaurants, Chinatown in the middle of the glass skyscrapers of the banks, Waterpark in the north, which is full of cranes due to all construction activities and of course we also return to the Gardens by the Bay and the Marina Bay hotel, the icons of Singapore, in daylight. God, what a special city! We can’t get enough and eventually cycle more than 250 kilometers through the city.

On one of our days our laptop crashes and we visit the Apple Store again. It is busy and the waiting time turns out to be two and a half hours. We queue up virtually and board the metro to Changi, the airport of Singapore. Recently, a new tourist attraction can be visited situated centrally between the various terminals. Besides the metro ticket it costs nothing. The attraction is called Jewel and is a gigantic round waterfall from the open glass roof surrounded by a vertical garden with tropical plants and flowers interspersed with balconies to dwell, look at and take photo’s.

In the meantime we moved to Jaap and Bianca’s apartment. We thought in advance that Walter and Raoul would probably like to have their house for themselves again after two nights. But it was great fun staying with them and Walter and Raoul did not mind that we stayed a little longer. It became four nights. To thank them somewhat, we spend an afternoon in their kitchen and spoil ourselves and the great hosts on lasagna bolognese according to our own recipe. That means working in the kitchen for a few hours, and we are happy to do so. We take the lasagna to the 19th (which isn’t the highest) floor where we sit among the trees, outdoor kitchens and the jacuzzi at a large teak table with the Singapore skyline sparkling around us. Magic, never to be forgotten! We would love to cook again the next day, but when Walter proposes to eat Dutch fries at Martin Zwerts (“potato-daddy”) in Holland Village, we can’t get it out of our head anymore. Our last evening with Walter and Raoul is celebrated with frikandel special, fries with mayonnaise and bitterballen. Lol, we are in Singapore. Everything is for sale here (except Bavaria)!

On Friday afternoon we will meet our next benefactors: Jaap and Bianca. Jaap teaches group 6 at the Hollandse School and his girlfriend Bianca got a job in the after-school care also at the Hollandse School. They just finished their last day working and will board the plane to the Netherlands in the evening to catch up with their family and friends back home. They offered us to stay in their apartment while they are nit there. The apartment lies on the edge of the nature park named Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. Funny thing is that the mountain bike route that we “enjoyed” on arrival in Singapore runs under the balcony. From the living room we can see monkeys and chipmunks jumping from branch to branch and birds sing beautifully. Actually they live in the jungle in the midst of Singapore, so special!

Jaap and Bianca are super relaxed and soon make us feel completely at home in their nice apartment. We therefore dare to ask them a cheeky question before they take off to the airport. Walter tipped us to watch a Dutch-Belgium netflix serie “Undercover”. In addition to the fact that the series is quite exciting, there is wonderful Limburgish and Brabant spoken in it, so we should like it. Walter knows that Jaap has also seen the serie and therefore probably also has a netflix subscription. So these two world cyclists, who claim that they miss a thing from home, ask if they can watch some netflix. Jaap and Bianca find it no problem, show how we can activate netflix and spotify and also give additional netflix tips. We end up making gratefully use of both Netflix as spotify the following days. As we enjoy the huge swimming pool.

Another temptation we cannot resist is the assortment of cheeses in the supermarket. As if after a long cheese addiction we concurred it, and we have been clean for sometime and now experienced a huge relapse. Gouda, cream cheese, blue mold, brie, Gruyere, Comte but also the tzaziki and hummus are calling at us from the shelves and end up in the shopping basket every time. The same happens with our favorite breakfast of yogurt, fruit and granola. At the checkout it is always a shock. Our € 50 daily budget can easily be used for daily shopping, luckily we spend the night for free. But we cannot and will not continue to this luxury life in beautiful Singapore for too long. We have to go further, we want to go further! There is so much more to discover on this planet. We are going to Indonesia: Java and Bali are waiting for us!

No doubt about it, we love Singapore! Hence some more pics below of our street art tour.