IT’S a wonderful warm day and I am ambling along La Rambla, Barcelona’s beautiful and bustling pedestrian street, before pulling up a perch for a sultry Sangria and some prime people-watching. I sashay on, in Spanish style, arriving at a teeming Tapas bar, all colour and life on this glorious day with customers politely pointing and seemingly shouting for these tasty treats. Dinner and a show? You had me at rioja. I have arrived in Spain’s sexiest city earlier this morning, having flown in fashion aboard Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900 aircraft from Brisbane, via Singapore, with a brief touch down in Milan, before my final destination…Barcelona. And I immediately fall in love.
This jaunty journey for me begins before I even leave the ground in Brisbane. Last September, Singapore Airlines turned the heat up on the competitive airline food market, launching its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. And I have done just that, booked the cook, a few days prior to flying pre-ordering a main meal from a selection of options with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of Chefs, including Matt Moran. I had the privilege of taste-testing these delicious dishes on the ground last year, but I had never tried them at 30,000 feet. According to experts, you lose 30 per cent of your ability to taste at altitude, so would the dish I chose stack up?
But before I board, I am ushered into Brisbane’s SilverKris Lounge, a place I last passed the Duchess of Cornwell, Camilla, who was in town earlier this year for the Commonwealth Games with Prince Charles. Camilla, bless her, took one look at me and sighed, just as it occurred to me from where I knew this familiar face flanked by police. I may not be a blue blood, but I am treated like royalty in the lounge, with staff remembering me from previous visits, enthusiastically encouraging me to try “every dish on the menu”. “But I’ve Booked the Cook onboard,” I plead. I defer and munch my way through the lounge’s Asian-inspired delights including delicious dim sum and some Aussie treats with a twist as well such as mac and cheese infused with truffles.
Sated, I take my Business Class seat on Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900ULR aircraft, bound for Singapore. Singapore Airlines is the launch customer of these beautiful birds, taking delivery in late-September. In October this year, Singapore Airlines used this aircraft to launch the world’s longest commercial flight between Singapore and New York, covering 16,7000km with a travel time of 18hours and 45 minutes. By comparison, I have around 8 hours on which to sip creamy Charles Heidsieck champagne, before ordering a full-bodied 2015 Bordeaux to accompany my lunch. I’ve pre-booked the lamb and it’s as plump and juicy as I remember trying on the ground. In fact, I could be at a five-star restaurant. The other great thing about the Singapore Airlines’ afternoon flight from Brisbane is that it’s a meal, movie, a nap and snack before you are touching down at Changi Airport. On board, the Business Class service is so impeccable, the crew fold and tidy your bedding whenever you rise to stretch your legs, meaning you come back to a fully-made flat-bed every time, something I’ve never experienced on any other airline.
In Changi, I am ushered to the First Class Lounge and it is a first-class affair with a swanky bar where the bar man mixes your drinks and delivers them to you, and food is cooked to order, before again, being served to your seat. On this connection to Europe, there’s time for a shower with pristine facilities and thoughtful toiletries you’ll need for the next leg, before boarding, just before midnight, to Barcelona (via Milan). On the second leg I’m in Premium Economy which is a great, affordable alternative with the same service and meal offerings you receive in Business Class. Here, the seats remind me of the first-generation Business Class seats favoured by airlines before flat-bed became the norm. The only quirk in this entire journey was the refreshment served between Milan and Barcelona which fell short of Singapore’s impeccable meals, with my tuna, mayo and lettuce sandwich tasting less like tuna and more like mayo and lettuce. The young Aussie girl in the seat beside me, who raves about Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy because of her long legs, says the same about her vegetarian roll, which is simply some soggy eggplant plonked onto bread. I note on the sandwich packet that it’s an Italian caterer, and may be something for Singapore Airlines to review, given this airline is excellent in every other way. I arrive in Barcelona early in the morning, and am ready to amble along La Rambla with a Singapore spring in my step following my flights.
My journey home, from Munich to Brisbane, via Singapore, is in Economy Class and is again, effortless. One of the reasons I personally book Singapore Airlines is that even in Economy Class, you are still granted that Singapore smile and service. There’s refreshing hot towels, speedy service, and on both of these legs, Singapore has taken the trouble to ensure every Economy Class passenger has a spare seat between them. This is something I’ve never seen any other airline do, preferring to let guests battle it out for space in the air. It’s little wonder this airline continues to win awards. In February in London, Singapore Airlines was awarded three top awards at Cellars in the Sky including the coveted Gold Medal for Best Overall Cellar. In April, it was crowned Best Airline in the World in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. And in July, it was named the World’s Best Airline in Skytrax’s World Airline Awards. And it’s easy to see why. Any airline can fluke good service once or twice, but you cannot fake that consistently supreme service offered by Singapore Airlines, regardless of which class you choose to fly. Consider booking your next trip with Singapore Airlines and treat yourself to an upgrade, particularly if flying long-haul. You, too, will disembark with that trademark Singapore smile.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
I’M gambling with God. Dicing with Dharma. Betting on Buddha. This adventure unravels in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, in Long Shan Temple. And I’m essentially playing Taiwanese two-up but it’s not money I’m chasing, it’s love. Of all the temples in Taiwan, it’s here that people flock to seek answers to their lives. Want love? Money? Health? Success? Come to the Department of Deities. I’m lured into the temple by the peaceful hum of devout Buddhists.
Around me, people are playing some sort of interesting game involving two blocks of wood. And just when I think it’s all lost in translation, out of no where, a Californian Chinese woman whose name I later learn is Su Lin, shows me how it’s done.
“First you take a stick which has a number on it. Then, in your head, you tell Buddha your name, where you are from and what you are asking for (in my case: love),” Su Lin says.
“Then you take the two blocks of wood. If they both land face up, Buddha is still thinking about your request. If they both land face down, your request will not happen. If one lands face down and one lands face up, your request will come true.”
I nervously drop the blocks of wood. One lands face up and the other face down. Su Lin and I jump up and down like we’ve just won lotto. She takes the original number I selected and goes to a little cabinet from which she takes a corresponding piece of paper, all of it written in Chinese characters. She still doesn’t know my wish.
“Oh, you are very lucky,” she beams. “You will marry a man of honour.” I am then required to thank the Goddess of Mercy. Thank her? I could marry her myself for such good fortune.
This is a story of love and lanterns. At Hsinshu city, south of Taipei, the 2013 Taiwan Lantern Festival is underway to celebrate the last day of Chinese New Year and the first day of the full moon. If you think you’ve seen lanterns, think again. Every conceivable object has been transformed into an object of art. Delta Energy has also constructed the world’s largest outdoor projection screen which is 100 percent recycled at a cost of US$2 million.
Yes, things are changing in Taiwan where it’s a spell-binding blend of old and new. Here, 2000 year old lantern festivals and traditional food from its diverse regions, combine with concepts like conservation. The yin and the yang. For more contemporary Taiwanese experiences, head to Kaohsiung MRT in the south-west, where its Dome of Light ceiling has earned it the title of the second most beautiful tube station in the world after Montreal. At the nearby Ten Drum Ciatou Creative Park, they’re calling it “A Revolution of Drum Art” where an enterprising group of Taiwanese drummers – who performed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics – are taking tourists on a new beat. If you’ve enjoyed the show, you can even take a drum class.
Back in the north, about an hour east of Taipei in the usually sleepy village of Pingxi, the Sky Lantern Festival also takes place at this time of year. The traditional festival is held here, the home of waterfalls and mountains, as to have the smallest impact on the environment. Around 200,000 people congregate to write their wishes on a lantern and send it into the night sky. In my case, again, it’s love I shoot off to the stars.
According to Su Lin, the woman I met at the Long Shan Temple, should I meet my love, I must return with him to Taiwan to thank Buddha for making my dreams come true. I’m writing out wedding invitations as we speak.
The Global Goddess travelled to Taiwan in pure style courtesy of Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy cabin. Launched in February 2012, the new Premium Economy experience features a more quiet, spacious cabin than the traditional Economy Class with between 26 and 34 seats per aircraft. The seat pitch is 38 inches – six inches more than Economy Class – and the seat itself is wider and has a bigger recline. Special features include a large meal table, a cocktail table, footrest, a 10.6 inch personal television, an in-seat power outlet, a multi-port connector for personal devices and extra personal stowage space. Premium Economy passengers are also allowed 25kg of luggage and have priority check-in at dedicated counters and priority boarding.
How to get to Taiwan from Australia: Cathay Pacific has multiple flights a week to Taipei via Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, including at least three flights daily from Sydney; three from Melbourne; daily from Brisbane; seven weekly flights from Cairns and Adelaide; and ten weekly flights from Perth.