Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Palermo, Italy Day 3 of MSC Preziosa Cruise

Today was Day 3 of our 7N cruise. The ship MSC Preziosa was due to dock at Palermo, Italy. Check out the MSC Daily. Arrival was 10am and all aboard at 1630. The day in port wasn't too long, but we'll make do.
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Palermo is the capital city of Sicily, and I am sure it had a glorious past. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We had some time in the morning and we certainly did not have to wake up early. So we woke up and had a leisurely breakfast in the suite restaurant. I took this photo with the little bottles of jam. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

This video shows you some snippets of the breakfast we had. And thereafter we went to check out the One Pool and Top Sail lounge to see what else there was to eat! I know, greedy. But hey, we are on a cruise.

At the aft of Deck 15, you will find the Garden Pool Image and video hosting by TinyPic

In this video I show you the Garden Pool, which is at the aft of the ship. Nobody was swimming this morning. This being winter, it was a bit cold.

Plenty of deck chairs for you to choose from! Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The MSC logo on the MSC Preziosa. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A view of the Vertigo waterslide. MSC claims that the Vertigo waterslide is the longest single body water slide at sea - 394 feet! I rode the slide once and screamed a lot. That video follows this picture. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Watch me take the Vertigo waterslide and scream my lungs out.

A picture of the main pool. I count a grant total of one person swimming. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

This was taken in the One Pool area. You can see the ash trays on the tables. This section of the One Pool allows smoking. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Snapshot of what was available for breakfast at the One Pool. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Thereafter, we went back to our cabin to rest, and watch the sail in to Palermo! Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We were getting close. I could see the port from our balcony. There was a ferry leaving port. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As we were docking, another ship came in. It was a Costa ship and here is a video.

Like our ship, the Costa ship came into port, did a turn, before backing in. This was to facilitate easy departure later this evening. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Costa ship came right by us. They were so near, we could throw something over, I think. Anyway, I didn't try. Plenty of people on the sun deck, watching the sail in. If you watched my video, you could hear me yelling. Yeah, I get crazy sometimes. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Alright, it was time to disembark. It was a bright, sunny and rather warm day. We have never been to Palermo before. The plan was to take a long walk into the historic city center (yes, you read correctly, walk) and then find our way to the Palatine Chapel. Thereafter, maybe even walk back to the ship. Sounds very strenous? I guess it was somewhat energetic, but we decided that we needed more exercise. Anyway, the distances didn't look too far. Just walk at a leisurely pace.

This video shows you snippets of the walk. As we head out of the ship, there were many private tour vendors and tuk-tuk drivers canvassing for business. So, plenty of private tour options, and there was no real need to book a ship's tour. This is the video of the walk.

In case you are wondering how I navigated the walk, I was using the GPS on my phone and an app called CityMaps2Go. The cost of this app is marginal (less than $5 i think) and I have used it very successful for many trips now. The app does not need data, so no hefty roaming charges. However, you must remember to download the map for the city that you are visiting before your trip, otherwise there is no map on your phone for the GPS signal to map against.

From the historic city center, I think we did turn and kept walking along a straight road that would bring us to the Chapel Palatine. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A photo of the junction at the historic center. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

In this video, some snippets of the walk and I observe some of the architecture along the way.

More pictures of the scenery along the way. We are headed towards the chapel. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We made it! Cost to enter was 15 Euros. Today we could see many things. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

There was a group from MSC too, at least I think so. I say some of the with tour stickers from MSC, and this chap carrying an MSC bagpack. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

I was pretty sure this group in front of us was from the MSC Preziosa, I think a ship's tour. Ah, I remember now, I was holding my tickets and as my family approached the gate, the tour guide for the MSC group looked at me and then told the gate attendant that I was not part of her group. Haha. Yeah, I just waved my tickets at her. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We were behind the large group from the ship, and behind us there were no more visitors. That is the good thing about travelling in winter. Not too many people. We were told that during summer, this place could get really packed. Looking behind us, there isn't that much space to stand in line either. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Getting in took a bit of time because they did security checks like airport. We had to put our bags through an X-ray. We got through that quite quickly, and went through some restoration exhibit before heading up the stairs towards the chapel. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The entrance to the Palatine Chapel is on the left. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

This is the video I made while inside the chapel. It is quite a gorgeous chapel with a small an intimate feel. Dating from the 12th Century, this was a chapel for the Norman Kings. Quite a sight. Glad we made the trip, as this chapel is quite different from what we have seen in all our travels so far.

Here are some still pictures from within the Chapel. It has an intimate yet awesome feel. You can see the MSC group here. The guide was giving them a very thorough brief of the mosiacs and the history. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Given that this place was build in the 12th Century, I guess there must be many stories over the years. This is a picture of the ceiling. Look at the detail! Amazing. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Glad that this chapel has been preserved through the centuries. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We didn't stay for too long. The kids were getting restless, can't blame them. I caught this sign on the way out. Made me pause. Who was King Ruggero II? Year 1130 AD? Wow. Back home, I googled the name. From wiki, I learnt that this King was Roger II of Sicily. He lived from 1095 to 1154. He became the King of Sicily in 1130. He went on to become one of the greatest European Kings of those times. It appeared that this King was very open to learning, and capable men of diverse nationalities served under him. I am sure books have been written about this era of history. But what struck me most was Kings come, and Kings go. Here I am, in 21st Century, looking back at a chapel commissioned by a King way back in 1130. We are alive for a season, but Christ is eternal. This is not our world, this is our Father's world. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Oh well, I guess the more cynical among us would say, if you want to leave a legacy for the future generations to remember you, just built a nice chapel. Haha That is another way to look at the issue. For some reason, I took a picture of the tickets. Useful? Perhaps. A 21st Century ticket to visit a 12th Century icon. I can almost write a song. (Side note - there were 4 of us, 2 adults and 2 kids, but I got a bunch of tickets like these and I didn't know how to read Italian so I didn't know which ticket is for which attraction. So I ended up handing the whole pile at the entrances to the various exhibits within this tourist attraction.) Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Alright, we didn't spend too long in the Chapel. After the chapel, we could also visit some residence/meeting rooms of the government (or was the President), I can't remember already but those rooms weren't memorable and since they didn't allow me to take photos of that place, I have long forgotten what they were all about.

This picture was taken just outside the tourist attraction. We are on our way back to the ship now and I spotted this cactus (?). I think it was a cactus but I paused for a moment because I hadn't expected to see a cactus here. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As we were walking, this mini train came right past us. Pretty cool. Not sure where to board the train from though. I didn't see this at the port gates earlier. Maybe next time. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Back at the historic city center, just around the corner, there was this fountain structure which apparently was rather famous. Officially, this was a Renaissance fountain in the Piazza Pretoria in Palermo by Francesco Camilliani. However, this fountain is also known as the 'Fountain of Shame'. Why? Plenty of nude figures, in lewd poses, with lewd stares etc. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Another picture of the fountain before we move on. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Now we begin to walk back to the ship. By this time, we were a bit tired. Still, there was plenty of time. So we could take a leisurely walk back. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

From here, you can see the ship in a distance. From the historic center, we took about 30-40 minutes to walk back. Weather was very nice for walking. Kudos to wife and kids for keeping up with the walk. Plenty of exercise chalked up, but that was the plan anyway. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Almost there. We can see the ship. MSC Preziosa. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The two ships in port. MSC Preziosa and the Costa Mediterranea. Both MSC and Costa are Italian cruise lines. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A closer view of the aft of the MSC Preziosa. You can see the aft cabin balconies. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Spotted some passengers embarking at this port. Check out the luggage. Not sure where the cruise terminal to embark/disembark is. Didn't go through the cruise terminal on the way out. Looked like these passengers came here via some Port Terminal bus.

When I first saw these staircase up the ship, I was like... whoa... that looks rather steep doesn't it? I don't recall having to climb down such a steep staircase when we got off the ship earlier, and in fact we did not! If you check out my earlier video on walking to the Chapel, you will see the video start from when we scanned our sea pass cards to get off the ship and the most gentle ramp slope to get off the ship. So what was this all about? Turns out that these staircase was for embarking passengers! Ok. Good luck. We re-entered the ship by the way we exited earlier, a nice gentle ramp. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

We got back on board very easily because the lines were very short, as it was still early. It was definitely before 2pm as we headed to the suite restaurant for lunch. After the lunch, we stepped outside and saw the long lines of passengers waiting to get back on board. Check out this video. The all aboard time was 4:30pm and this video was taken at around 3pm. Unfortunately, this is one feature of cruising MSC. The lines to get off and get back onboard can be very long, especially during peak times. Fact of the matter is that this ship is big and packs in many, many passengers.

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Back on board, it was lunch time! This was a short video I made of the lunch experience.

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Seafood pasta. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Grilled beef, very nice! Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Back in our balcony. Watching the Costa ship as we sail out of port. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Soon, it was time for dinner. Yeah, eat again. I know. Hence the long walk this morning. Even with all the additional walking, I would still gain weight after this cruise. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

It was Gala Night tonight. We would have two gala nights this cruise. This was the menu. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The House Red for this evening Image and video hosting by TinyPic

A video I made of the gala dinner experience.

To be continued.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Singapore Garden City - Forest Walk, Canopy Walk, Henderson Waves, Botanic Gardens

To the outsider or foreigner who knows little about Singapore, he may have heard that Singapore is an economically vibrant city, but what is less well known is that Singapore is also a Garden City. We are a beautiful city, with many gardens, parks and nature reserves. In my free time, I have made some videos of some of these awesome park connectors and unique aspects of our Garden City. Feel free to share this blog link and video links with your friends, especially those who are not familiar with Singapore!

Henderson Waves This is the tallest pedestrian foot bridge in Singapore. The design is really unique and the architecture is beautiful. There is a different feeling when you come in the night, versus the day. This video shows you the Henderson Waves during a bright and sunny day.

Forest Walk Near the Henderson Waves, you can find the Forest Walk which will bring you down to Alexandra Road. They have built a metal zig-zag bridge, right through a secondary tropical forest. You are high up in nature, and you can see the trees up close. Amazing.

Canopy Walk As the name implies, in this walk, you are high up in the Canopy of a rain forest. Very interesting. Feels like I was flying!

Botanic Gardens Now a UNESCO Heritage site, the Gardens have a long history. Within the Gardens, there is the National Orchid Garden and within that a VIP Orchid Garden. All worth a visit.

Thanks for watching!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Singapore Airlines SQ 317 London to Singapore Upper Deck Economy SG50 Plane

This review is just for one flight - London Heathrow to Singapore Changi on SQ 317, in Upper Deck Economy. This was the end of our holiday in Europe. We were thrilled to be able to ride on this special Airbus A380 painted in SG50 livery. SQ has only 2 planes in her A380 fleet that are painted this way and it was quite fortuitous for us to ride in one, before they removed the SG50 livery.
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What is SG50? This is the short form for Singapore 50. In 1965, we became an independent nation and in 2015, we celebrated our 50th birthday on 9th August. It was quite a blast. On a sadder note, our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew passed away in March this year, which meant he never lived to witness our National Day Parade 2015. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

His passing had a profound effect on many Singaporeans, especially the younger generation who had grown up in relative affluence, and never knew how tough life was back in the 60s and 70s. SG50 was also a good time to remind ourselves that our existence as a sovereign, independent nation cannot be taken for granted. Will there be SG100? Only God knows. Meanwhile, we cherish what we have, and contribute to make things even better. Image and video hosting by TinyPic

As our SG50 year draws to a close, it was especially poignant for me and my family to be able to ride this special SG50 Airbus A380 back home, after a wonderful holiday in London and Europe. Imagine, if not for Lee Kuan Yew, would I be here writing this review today? Probably not. Let me proceed with the flight review. I made two videos, part 1 and 2.

In the first video, I show you the boarding, and getting seated.   

In the second part of the flight review, I show you the meals. It was a day flight, so it was rather difficult to get much sleep.

Thanks for watching!