Pre-dawn Singapore peace

I am sitting here on the 8th pool deck just after 6 a.m., waiting for the hotel restaurant to open.

The Singapore sky is a beautifully muted blue, with large white cloud fragments drifting steadily toward me from over the tall modern buildings off in the distance, blown by a wonderfully soft, almost cool pre-dawn breeze.

Further off to my right, a heavier, larger and elongated cloud seems to billow up like smoke from behind two skyscrapers, speeding out as it drifts, a white soupiness across the sky.

The aerator system in the pool creates a constant stream of dripping sounds like a water meditation. And the air is a soft kiss on my skin.

I’m in no hurry for breakfast, not even coffee, and certainly in no hurry to see the sun rise.

This is a piece of heaven.

Hello Singapore

Landed at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning- 2 pm Monday Chicago time, after a 16-plus hour flight that was more pleasant than many eight hour flights I’ve been on. Quickly got through customs and took the MRT rapid transit line from Changi Airport out to the Serangoon neighborhood. It’s hot and huuu-mid here. But I love it.

View from the Hilton Garden Inn pool deck. Great location from which to explore Singapore’s numerous neighborhoods.

Front desk staff at the Hilton Garden Inn Serangoon were wonderful when we walked in at 8 a.m., all sticky and sweaty and a full seven hours early for check in. Nick gave us two comp breakfast tokens and showers up on the pool level washrooms.

We were showered and fed and unpacking in our room by 9 a.m. Top floor with a great view of the tropical cloud formations over part of the downtown skyline on the back side of the hotel from the pool.

That’s a cricket club down below in the foreground. Wonder if I’m going to get to see any wicked googlies while we’re here. Not that I’d know what one looks like.

Anyways, off to an auspicious beginning.

A gorgeous Saturday in beautiful San Francisco

Downtown San Francisco viewed from the park on Mission Delores.

Flight to ‘Frisco on American was meh, but had a good sleep at the Hilton Garden Inn and are heading out on a three or four hour jaunt to the San Francisco Mission District. Then hang out at the hotel before leaving for the airport after dinner.

The weather here is absolutely gorgeous.

Looking forward to our 10:20 pm departure tonight.

9,358 miles, 13 time zones

We depart Saturday afternoon for a 4 1/2 hour flight to San Francisco. The next night we board an A350-900 for a 17 hour flight to Singapore.

That’s both on the other side of the world and on the other side of the clock- I’ll be watching “Morning Joe” on Live Stream over a glass of wine at 6pm in the evening.

Asia. Ancient temples overgrown by jungle. Urban rivers crowded with myriad water craft, gleaming modern cities and timeless rural settings where people have dwelt for millennia. Wonderful foods and flavors found no where else.

Getting excited. This will be an adventure. I haven’t been in Southeast Asia since 1974, when it was a very different place. And we get to fly Singapore Airlines, the best air carrier in the world.

Many posts to come. Hope they capture what we experience.

Jun 8 Sat- Depart Chicago 2:30 pm – arrive San Francisco 5 pm

Jun 9 Sun- Depart San Francisco 10:15 pm

Jun 11 Tues- Arrive Singapore 5:55 a.m. 

Jun 11 Tues – Jun 15 Sat: Singapore

Jun 16 Sun – Jun 22 Sat: Bali

Jun 23 Sun – Jun 27 Thur: Bangkok

Jun 28 Fri – July 1 Mon: Siem Reap, Cambodia/Ankor Wat

July 2 Tues – July 4 Thur: Singapore

July 5 Fri – Depart Singapore 9:25 am- arrive San Francisco 9:40 am

July 5 Fri – July 7 Sun: San Francisco

July 8 Mon – Depart San Francisco 2:20 pm- arrive Chicago 8:18 pm 

27 days plus 17 flight hours to Singapore

Less than a month away from my first flight – and a looong one – on Singapore Airlines, voted the best airline in the world now the past two years. And premium economy, yet. Starting to feel the anticipation.

Actually, I’d like to stop traveling as much, but I have to stay ahead of intrepid globetrotter Nikki D. 🙂

Seriously, I may not be able to ever again endure flying on a US domestic carrier after getting spoiled by Singapore’s legendary service.

It’ll be Singapore 5 nights, then Bali for six, Thailand for five, Ankor Wat in Cambodia 4 nights, and back to Singapore for 3 nights. With three days in fabulous San Francisco at the end.

This is all gonna be fun to write about. Stay tuned.

A city of low, grand vistas

I’m sitting on the broad sidewalk outside Hotel Mediodia, right next door to El Brillante Restaurante. 

It is a gorgeously sunny and cool early spring mid-afternoon in Madrid, right off the huge roundabout where the Paseo del Prado is spun off, left and right, into Paseo de la Infanta Isabel and Plaza (though it’s a street) del Emperador Carlos V. 

Who knows what lies beyond them- streets here seem to change name every few blocks. 

On my first go around looking for a seat, there were none- absolutely zero- among the some 100 chairs around 25 to 30 tables. So I walked left around the corner, turned left again onto the small street 150 feet away and walked over to the restaurant’s rear entrance, where I counted the tables there- exactly 28 – and found they too were all occupied, with all of maybe two or three empty chairs among the 100 or so there. 

Sixty-some outdoor tables, and more than 200 chairs, and nowhere to sit. Madrid does love lolling away its afternoons over coffee and wine and beer and bocadillos on the countless sidewalk cafes. 

Luckily, as I turned left twice again and rounded the other corner to return to the front sidewalk, a small round table had just cleared out, and I quickly sat down, feeling as if I were in some huge game of musical chairs. 

Madrid is a city of low, grand vistas. Unobstructed views of buildings 300 and 400 feet in the distance across hundred foot wide boulevards, with the exception of the odd monument or fountain- sometimes both, standing between viewer and object.

Sidewalks that are 30 to 40 feet wide, with tall shade trees growing up from four foor squares cut out of the slate or stone, allowing water to the roots, and providing a place for dogs to pee and cigarette butts to land. 

Center greens with numerous trees separate broad one-way streets each with four lanes of traffic. 

This is Madrid Retiro, a sprawling area of the city directly east and just a bit south of Madrid Centro, a couple or three miles away, with it’s legendary plaza and the Gran Via . 

A hundred feet away is the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sophia, a major art museum. Yesterday in the plaza it shares with the Hotel Mediodia out back, there was a major rally for the Podema party. I watched from my top floor window as the second largest political party in Spain held a rally. For two hours more than 5,000 people cheered and chanted and waved flags as more than a dozen people spoke. 

At the other end of the block is the Estacion des Artes subway entrance- one of them. Across the two broad avenues of traffic, maybe 500 feet distant, is the Atocha Train station where trains from near and far stop in Madrid. 

Off to the left of Atocha if the magnificant Minestero de Agricultura building, four massive stories clad in red brick and cream stone and terra cotta. 

Atop which sword weilding angels ride winged horses in honor of… something. Agriculture-related, I’d guess. 

Maybe 2,000 feet to the east, is a massive park, once a royal estate, that allows you to forget you’re in a major city. Or any city.

More cultural, historical and natural treasure than I can recount is within a few hundred feet to a mile away.

In my immediate environment, all about me, the industrial, the commercial, governmental, human and natural worlds are woven seamlessly together into a marvelous tapestry of movement and chatter and noise under a soft blue sky dotted with cotton clouds. I search for a seam, a stitch, a dropped loop, something, and I can’t find one. 

It is perfection. An unpainted Seurat work on a far grander scale. Something the band Chicago would have written a song about if they’d been to Spain in the early 70s. The foundation for a novel if Nelson Algren had ever wanted to step away from the winter gray of Chicago’s post WWII neighborhoods and draw inspiration from sunlight and wine and tapas and architecture that Chicagoans see only in their dreams, despite their pretensions. 

I’m in heaven, or at least its suburbs. 

Life here doesn’t happen in certain places, here and there; it happens all around. All over. Everywhere. All at once. Like a rich dye soaking into cloth. 

I guess there are dicey neighborhoods somewhere, though I didn’t pass through one. I saw personal lack and broken people. I saw political dissatisfaction. But it is nowhere near what I’ve witnessed in Chicago.

An hour after returning to my room, I went down in search of something on which to spread left over Brie. Walking back to the front of my hotel, I stopped and stared at the facades of two buildings, their red-brown surfaces glowing like a Moroccan desert in the late afternoon North African sun. 

Someone knew what they were doing when they selected the material for those two buildings. 

Back up in my room, I opened the six foot window and let the sounds drift up from the plaza below and the streets beyond.

A mechanical rumbling somewhere off in the distance. Vehicular traffic hissing across the pavement in all four directions. A lone shout. Children’s joyous yelps as some game played out across the plaza. The dull, indistinct impact of an inflated ball on the stone pavement. 

As the cool evening air wafted gently into my room, I felt a slightest hint of sadness at knowing I was leaving soon. Not Spain just yet. But Madrid. Retiro and Centro. the central city. This incredibly, uniquely yeasty, fulsome, both calming and exciting mix of the elegant and the average, the exceptional and the mundane. 

Beauty of all sorts in every direction.

On the street, in the street, contained in parks and behind ornate walls.

And sometimes on walls.

Throughout an urban and cultural life that roils and rolls from early morning to late into the evening. 

Unlike some cities and some some countries, Madrid never obesesses about being great. It doesn’t have to. It just places its greatness on display, day by day. More than greatness, ongoing magic. 

I’ll miss it. But only for a while. I’ll be back.