Archives for category: Architecture

Nothing to say, just the photo.

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My recent Christmas holiday included Paris as our real travel destination. Paris is a city that I am quite familiar with having lived and worked there some years ago. It is a big, bustling, but also coy city. You might question the description, coy, but the majority of Parisiens keep to themselves and lead their lives in the midst of the Napoleonic grandeur doing their own thing.

So you can imagine my shock when we arrived only a few days in the wake of the tragedy of Charlie Hebdo. When the incidents occurred, we were over at Disneyland Paris and you could see an immediate and overt increase in Police and security presence. So when we got to the city centre for our last night before returning home, there was an uneasy feeling pervading the fabric of the city. Like I said, most Parisiens do their own thing and lead their own lives most of the time. Quite often neighbours have only one thing in common, that they are neighbours. But Charlie Hebdo was on everyone’s lips, and when red beret soldiers in flak jackets are walking around flaunting their automatic rifles around the prime tourist destinations something was up.

But I was not going to let that stop me or my family from touring the beautiful city of light. We stayed at the Pullman, Eiffel Tower and I wanted to walk around the locale of my old office. The tower itself was only a block away, right on our doorstep. Capturing it never gets tired.

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The Seine itself was quiet, but that was not surprising given it was the middle of Winter. As always there were several canal boats unassumingly moored on its banks.

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I was shocked to find the big ‘Je Suis Charlie’ banner draped on the Palais de Tokyo. Normally these pillars hold the banners for the latest exhibition of modern art.

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At Place d’Iena, the location of my old office, both the French and European Union flags flew at half mast in solidarity.

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I was surprised to see electric car charging booths on quite a few streets. I am a keen fan of Elon Musk’s Tesla, but these little electric buggies were new to me as were their berths. Maybe Australian politicians could learn a thing or two from where France is going with clean and sustainable transport. (I still want the Tesla – Model S P85D please…)

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Did I mention there were Police everywhere? If you look to the end of the platform you can see several gendarmes – they were everywhere.

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When we emerged out of the metro at the L’Arc de Triomphe, the first sight we were greeted with was… three burly gendarmes making their presence felt on the Champs-Élysées.

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The L’Arc de Triomphe itself was bearing the projection of solidarity for the whole city.

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Paris remains a city in love with movies since the time when Lumiere gifted the world with his new performance medium. There are more cinemas in Paris than there are pubs in Dublin.

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We were making our way to a restaurant that I dined at regularly when I was working there. Though it has changed hands and has a new proprietor Oscar remains a great restaurant which is well patroned by the locals. I think most tourists in Paris are hoodwinked by the overpriced eating establishments when all it takes is to walk off the main streets to find fantastic food and wine at half the price without the BS. The team at Oscar made us feel welcome even when we were dragging two children and a wet pram into their restaurant – so I (and many others on tripadvisor) definitely recommend this place to dine.

Even with all the unease and tension, the city remains the city of light. And when my boy saw the Eiffel Tower light up and glitter for the first time, for a brief few moments the tension was pushed away.

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Hopefully the next time I visit it will be under a different set of circumstances.

Addendum: I wrote this post last night and overnight tragedy befell Copenhagen too. Two worlds are colliding right now; one secular, modern, and liberal (but not necessarily without religion or morals) against the other ultra-doctrinal, intolerant, and archaic. Neil Degrasse Tyson tells us that colliding worlds are not a good thing at all.

This week’s travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack?’ is Doorways. Very late to the show this week, and the first time in a long time that I have posted to the travel theme.

I love doors and the efforts that people go to as a decorated entrance to their [choose type of construction] house, castle, temple, church, apartment… And I have so many door photos in my travel stash – no wonder my wife wonders what I shoot at sometimes. Here is my go…

Starting in the Royal Palace of Bangkok, Thailand. Yes that is real gold!

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Still in Bangkok, but really a world away, is this beautiful entrance into one of the buildings at Jim Thompson’s house.

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A little further east, to the beautiful city of Kanazawa, Japan. This is modern Japanese architecture at its best, and I love the curtain pattern.

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Further east, to the heart of the country is the imposing doorways at Nijo Castle in Kyoto. This was the power base for the shogunate for centuries.

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Over in Europe, and I could have done this whole post on doorways in the Old Town of Tallinn, Estonia. This was my favourite with intricate carvings.

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Across the pond by ferry, and this was the doorway entrance to our hotel in Helsinki, Finland on the same trip. The ceiling paintings are the highlight.

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In Paris, France, there is a treasure trove along every street of doors – modern, classical, and some antique. But this caught my eye in the 8e arrondissement. I love the metal work and the little critters all over the “branches”. Someone wealthy lives here!

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In the Mediterranean, the stunning island of Santorini, Greece has doors of all shades including pastels. Beautiful island…

 

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The historic university town of Cambridge, United Kingdom has some eclectic architecture. But these three simple entrances were what caught my eye.

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Finally the door with all the irony in the world. It was not the door so much at the Rockefeller Center in New York City, USA – but the stone carvings on either side. The symbols of communism at the very centre of heart of capitalism.

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Nothing to say, just the photo (with a little help from Pixlr on my Android).

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Nothing to say, just the photo (with a little help from Pixlr on my Android).

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This week travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack’ is Architecture. I have loved this week’s theme, so much that I thought I would do a second post. My first can be found here. As usual the images link through to the larger photos on Flickr.

This first photo is of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Monument in Washington, D.C., USA. This monument, unlike many of the others in the capitol, is one of beautiful landscape architecture that was designed as a place that the long passed president would have himself enjoyed. It is not a monument in memory of military sacrifice, and it does not impose a sense of awe in visiting the capitol of the global superpower that is the U.S.A. Instead, it is secluded tranquility on a human scale.

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On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in France is the town of Troyes. It is a gloriously preserved medieval town and is a showcase of the Aube département. The town centre is a beautiful and living example of medieval architecture with all the exposed timbers and crooked buildings. There is awesome eating too, with the region’s specialty being andouille sausage on many a restaurant menu. I wish we had spent more time here, would definitely go back.

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Back in North America, and when we visited my brother and his wife in Toronto, Canada we had a lot of opportunity to explore the nation’s biggest city. There are quite a few architectural gems in Toronto (not to mention the MASSIVE CN Tower), but my favourite piece would have to be the modern facade for the Royal Ontario Museum. The museum itself is pretty cool with some interactive displays that my son, The Pok, enjoyed trying to destroy.

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I love visiting Japan, and you could write constantly an entire blog on Japanese architecture and design. Tokyo itself is just epic. This building though is unique even for Tokyo. I have been unable to find out details of what is inside or who owns it other than what appears to be three letters on the upper facade spelling out NOA. It is one of my most popular photos on Flickr.

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We went to a few countries on our honeymoon, and one of the coolest cities we have ever traveled to would have to be Tallinn in Estonia. The old town is amazing, and only a quick walk from the ferry stop. But it wasn’t the many old buildings that caught my eye, but this small office building with its supports for its cantilevered upper floors. Cool, cool, cool.

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Singapore, Asia’s island city state, is exploding in new construction and its economy is booming. I have been so many times that I have lost count (as it is a good intermediate stopover on the way from Australia to Europe). The architecture of the Marina Bay Sands building is on epic proportions. The overall design is relative simple, and it produces some striking lines that fill the lens.

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Across the road from the new huge glistening hotel is another beautiful but more modern piece of landscape architecture, the Gardens by the Bay. I have blogged about this place before, even so the mega trees are cool.

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I used to work for an American software company and this involved annual training trips to the USA, particularly Silicon Valley in California. Driving past the Oracle Headquarters is pretty impressive. The campus of towers is gleaming over a lake, and the cylindrical shapes have a dual meaning as the architectural symbol for a database is a cylinder. The window cleaning here must be some job.

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England is a treasure trove of Architecture through the ages, and Shrewsbury in the midlands is a prime example of a town where you see a lot of architectural history in one place. The old town, not too dissimilar to Troyes, is well preserved and I love the exposed dark wooden beams against the white plaster walls. Many of these old buildings have new modern businesses now occupying them and plying their trade.

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Shanghai in China was one of the other major destinations on our honeymoon, and it was a bit overwhelming to say the least. I think China is moving so rapidly economically that people are forgetting the cultural challenge of maintain a link to the past while accommodating the demands for growth of the future. This shot for me typifies the architectural mish-mash that is Shanghai.

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San Francisco, in California U.S.A, is one cool city. It is vibrant and hip, and this is reflected in the “Painted Ladies” opposite Alamo Square – a set of terrace houses beautifully maintained and not far away from the city centre. I hope that they are earthquake proof.

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My final shot is from the small town of Porvoo in Finland, about an hour out from Helsinki. The town is famous for the row of red painted houses by the river and its church. The houses were painted in honour of a visit by the King of Sweden back some time in the 19th century. While not architecturally stunning, I think it is quite unique for the country.

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Why have so many of my photos from my travel’s got grey sky? No fair weather exploring for this traveler.

I have really enjoyed this week’s travel theme, hence my two goes at it. Check out some of the other posts that you can find posted in the comments by the other bloggers.

On a side note, since blogging my Flickr account photo views have shot up. I have now had over 10,000 photo views and it is climbing rapidly. This amateur photographer is quite happy about that.

 

This week travel theme from Ailsa’s blog ‘Where’s my backpack’ is Architecture. What a tough challenge this week. Not because I don’t shoot architecture photos, but because I shoot WAY too many architecture photos. My wife often complains when we travel that I have taken another photo of a building. But the challenge for me is that I am an engineer of the built environment by profession. I see beauty in the design and construction of buildings and the myriad of materials that are used to realise the architect’s vision. Often, my favourite architectural images are obscure buildings that are not known globally, but are striking in their design.

But given the number of “architecture” photos I have shot, I think I have to do this in two parts.

This first photo is from the Olympic Park in Athens, that I took at the time of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work on the games and see Santiago Calatrava’s handiwork in the flesh. This is the modern interpretation of the ancient Greek agora – or marketplace.

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Next, in Southeast Asia is Thailand’s absolutely gorgeous national treasure known as the Royal Palace. It is a place of religious worship as well. When we went it was not long after some internal political strife that scared the tourists away. This allowed me to take so many shots of the Palace grounds without many other tourists in the shots. The tile work and gold leaf gilding the towers is absolutely stunning and almost too much to take in.

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Closer to home, in Australia, on the Northern New South Wales coast is the small town of Bellingen (not too far away from Coffs Harbour). What I found unique about this town was the Art Deco buildings that lined the main street, a perfect compliment to the local artisans who also ply their trades in the town. Even though the many of the buildings have modern fixtures and fittings, the locals make a very big effort to maintain the essence of the buildings as seen below.

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Further South in the Australian capital city of Canberra is our national parliament house. When the old parliament house exceeded its useful life, a new design was done by  Italian architect Romaldo Giurgola with the assistance of landscape architect Peter G. Rolland. What I find unique about this building is that it was built into our capitol hill, and sunk underneath. It blends in with the land, and while massive I think typifies the Australian ethos of being one with the land and the desire to protect our environment. It is both a simple and complex design at the same time.

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Further South still in the city of Melbourne, Victoria is Federation Square. This set of buildings at the heart of the city features what I think is one of the most complex geometric facades on any building that I have seen with the “fractal” tiles arranged in an aperiodic tiling pattern. It was controversial at the time of construction, but what a building!

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Back to Asia and the Hong Kong skyline is dominated by one of the new kids on the block, the International Finance Centre Tower number 2. It is huge! At 420m tall, it is only the second tallest building in Hong Kong – but for my money it is the most elegant. Christopher Nolan thought it was suitable enough for a certain caped crusader to launch from. Walking next to it is certainly a humbling experience.

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Further East of China is the medieval gem that is Himeji Castle, in Japan. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and the most stunning example of Japanese military architecture. It was never taken by siege. It is known as either the White Egret Castle or White Heron Castle. The six storey central keep is imposing over the cityscape of Himeji, and when I wandered through the castle grounds it was like stepping back in time to feudal Japan.

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Still in Japan but on the Western side of Honshu is the coastal city of Kanazawa. Also a city of artisans, arriving at the train station one is greeted by the modern day interpretation of a Japanese mon (or gate). The wooden construction is huge and elegant at the same time. I wish more train stations were as beautiful as this one.

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Continuing with the train station theme is the art nouveau design of Helsinki, Finland’s Central Railway Station. Its imposing figures holding aloft their globes are classic in their designs, and the building’s clock tower is beautiful. It was designed by the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen back in 1909. I would love to see more new buildings constructed with this level of detail and design, but the period and style is probably lost to time.

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I lived in Paris, France for a while back in 2004 and I could have pulled up any number of buildings for this post. But I chose a set of buildings that reflect a lost architectural direction of its era. The Forum des Halles in the 1er arrondissement of Paris is a collection of architecturally designed buildings built on the site of the old Paris markets. But they have remained soulless since their construction in the 1980s. The site is currently being redeveloped, but it still represents an attempt at architectural rebirth that is odd, but striking… in my opinion. What I love about the French is that they are not scared of attempting to reinvent their future, while still respecting the past history.

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Staying with the French speaking world, but on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean is the city of Montreal. Montreal is FUN! I can only imagine what it would be like to get up to mischief in Montreal without a 2 year old in tow. Another city of artisans, where there are numerous examples of architectural wonder. One highlight for me was the Palais de Congrès and Mario Saia’s multi-coloured glass facade. Big and bold.

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Lastly in North America, one cannot travel to New York and not be knocked over by the plethora of architecture on display. But the architectural heart and soul of New York would have to be the Rockefeller Center. It is a complex of 19 buildings, which at the center is dominated by the GE Building at 30 Rock. On our last trip to New York, my wife gave me a pass out to do the internal tour of the Rockefeller Center and I must have shot at least 400 photos of the building. This shot is simply the tower and its stepped sides.

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More to come in part two.

A couple of weeks ago I posted about one of our many trips to Singapore where we visited the Gardens by the Bay. We first saw these gardens from the spectacular Marina Bay Sands hotel complex. It is surprising how cheaply you can grab a room if there is no special event on at the hotel. We were fortunate that when we went we got a few nights on the cheap prior to the city revving up for the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix. The building has become a new icon of the city state, and has received a great amount of attention from other bloggers. Its high level design is simple and yet immense in its scale. For someone trying to photograph it, the many lines and curves offer something almost other worldly.

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But what struck me more were some of the artistic decorations for the hotel. The simplicity of the buildings design couple with its scale called for decoration that matches this. In some cases, the building itself is the art. Maybe these caught my attention because they were more human in scale than the massive towers and pool deck  the size of an aircraft carrier. I shot these four “pieces” at the hotel for their striking simplicity and their uniqueness. As usual, these images click through to the large photos on my Flickr site.

The first piece shimmered with the wind, making this facade of the building look like a rippling water of metal.

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The buildings large towers with their internal split create a fascinating ceiling which is an art piece in itself. The horizontal ‘beams’ are corridors for guests and staff to get from one side of the hotel tower to the other.

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The high ceilings called for down lights that filled the space. The glass on these lights was something special that only really came alive at night.

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But I think that I saved my favourite piece for last. This tall, simple water feature kept me fascinated watching the path of water constantly rotate the channels dipping and rising when empty – keeping the sculpture constantly in a state of flux.

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You may not like it, but the building and its decorative art are stunning and elicit a response. I would like to stay there again at some point in the future to see whether the hotel has stood the test of time.

I am not an art aficionado, but I do enjoy fine art for what it does. It inspires me to look at an interpretation of the world through someone else’s eyes and elicits a response from me as well. One of the best know Australian modern artists is Jeffrey Smart, who is still alive and spritely in his 90s. He would have to be one of my favourite artists. His style is described as “precisionist”, but I do not quite believe he can be categorised as such – particularly given that the main proponents of this style were mainly American and (Ralston Crawford aside) the colours were mainly subdued pastels. In my opinion, he views the world in a truly unique architectural perspective while still seeing the art of the form. The colour in his paintings is bold and in your face. My favourite painting is one of his titled simply “Reflected Arrows” (1974), as seen below.

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“Reflected Arrows” (1974)

His earlier pieces contained many portraits, including famous Australian authors of his generation – David Malouf, Germaine Greer, and one could say Clive James in “Cahill Expressway”. But there are two of Smart’s paintings which were burnt deep in my memory for their form and symmetry. The first being “Holiday” (1971) and the second being “Housing Project no. 84” (1970). Who would have thought that an artist born in the early 1920s would interpret the built world in the 1970s in such a way – and it would appear life imitates art in modern architecture today.

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“Holiday” (1971)

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“Housing Project no. 84” (1970)

So my amateur photographer’s eye caught the patterns and shapes of a few buildings over the last two weeks that immediately brought me back to the memory of these paintings. While Smart works with canvas, I work with light and pixels (on a sensor). Obviously the tone of the mediums is different, but I hope I captured the essence of what Smart did in his paintings. BTW – as usual my photos images link through to the larger size photos on Flickr.

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On a side note – someone had a look at pretty much all my public photos on Flickr a couple of days ago. This was some 420 photos in total. Whoever you are, you made an amateur photographer feel happy that he could share his photos with you.

For many of us celebrating the Easter weekend, it is a religious occasion. One theme of Easter is that of new life (hence the tradition of the Easter egg). For me the rejuvenation of gardens and public spaces is akin to this. I have been to Singapore nine times now and enjoy immensely travelling to the city state. It has a buzz and energy about it, while presenting beautiful gardens that are boosted by the tropical climate and rains. Singaporeans enjoy presenting their gardens in new and innovative ways. The Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay are no different, and they are truly magnificent. We saw them under construction a couple of years ago when we took the opportunity for a stopover in Singapore on the way to Europe, staying at the Marina Bay Sands (you can get amazingly cheap rates on the rooms if there is not a big event on at the same time as your visit). I didn’t know what I was looking at from the hotel balcony view until I got back home and found this article on inhabitat.com . So I said to my wife that next time we go to Singapore we have to see these gardens and their super vertical garden “trees”. Below are a couple of shots of the gardens under construction. BTW – as per usual, all these images link through to my larger photos on Flickr.

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Late last year we finally got the chance to go back and visit the gardens, open to the public and in full bloom. To get there you have to walk past the imposing Marina Bay Sands hotel complex, and over the bridge that separates the gardens from the uber-size hotel-casino. When you finally arrive it is like being sucked into another world full of flora and colour. The Supertree vertical gardens greeted us, and I must admit I was awestruck by the genius of their design and construction.

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The elevated deck that allows you to walk through the “trees” looks awesome. I think we will take the walk on the deck next time we go, now that the Pok (our son) has properly found his feet.

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There are several themed gardens located throughout the site, in many ways reflecting the diverse cultural backgrounds of the people of Singapore. We stopped for a rest in the Chinese Gardens, where the backdrop was the three huge towers of the uber-size hotel-casino. We could see the storm clouds approaching in the distance and it rained briefly on us several times while we were walking around.

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You can’t get away from the Supertrees and there are some 18 in total at the gardens. You can go right up to the base of these structures and there is excellent information about the trees and how they work – truly impressive!

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There are a few other themed gardens with different plants that are being nurtured. Turning a corner sucks you into what at first appearance would be a completely different garden from the one you just left.

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The Pok had an excellent time running around the gardens and spent a lot of time doing laps around the base of the Supertree above. At the time, with him being so young, he found it quite a novelty that he would walk the base of the structure and see Mummy and Daddy again, and again, and again.

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Finally, the proper tropical storm approached and brought an end to our visit. We had a fantastic time, and will definitely visit again to see a lot of the parts that were still being finished and maybe seeing the greenhouse too. I think a visit at night would also add a different dimension to our next visit, with the whole site lit up under the different coloured lights. I would definitely recommend a visit to these Gardens if you are spending 48 hours in Singapore. One tip, bring water! The humid Singapore climate coupled with all the walking you will do when visiting the gardens will leave you parched. If you want to know where the gardens are in Singapore, I have inserted the Google Maps link below.

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For all of you that are celebrating Easter, have a happy one with family and friends.

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