Friday, 28 February 2014

A Bag For Arthur

Good Day Everyone,

Happy Friday! 

Like most girls, I have more than a few handbags / purses but ever since Arthur (aka arthritis) decided to set up camp in both my shoulder joints and collar bones I’ve found that most of the handbags I own are simply too heavy for my joints… and that’s when they’re empty!!! The bags weigh my shoulder joint down causing severe pain, aches, built up tension that tenses up my right shoulder (I’m right handed / sided with everything). The final result is that I end up looking lopsided as my right shoulder is up by my ear whilst my left is more relaxed and not hunched up – not a pretty look let me assure you!

For a few months now, I’ve been looking for a new everyday bag, something lightweight, versatile in how I can carry it, goes with most of my clothes and looks good without making me look lopsided. After many a day spent perusing the shops of Singapore, when I’d all but given up and was starting to come to terms with the fact that a cloth tote / beach bag maybe my only viable option, I randomly came across this little beauty!
I found this in the sale section of an Accessorize store that I had already been to, twice, and not seen this on either of those occasions! Arthur simply loves this bag, as do I. I like that it has a long strap so as well as carrying it on my right shoulder (I cannot wear bags on my left shoulder as it feels unnatural and they just fall off), I can also wear it cross body over both shoulders as it’s not going to fall of my left shoulder that way. This means that if one shoulder starts to get tired and weighed down I can swap the weight on to the other shoulder. The strap is removable which means that I can carry the bag in my hand or under my arm like a clutch too – love the versatility. The bag itself is incredibly lightweight :o)

I like that the gold chain is just at the bottom part of the strap, which is adjustable lengthwise, as chains can often be heavy and it reduces the blingy-ness of the bag making it daytime appropriate. The gold zip and the two gold triangles on the bottom of the bag just add a nice little touch and stop it from simply being a boring plain black bag.

Now at the risk of sounding like my mother (it happens to the best of us lol), the outside of the bag is easy to keep clean as it can be wiped down with a damp cloth and I like that the bag is not just one main compartment inside, which can often be the case with small bags. There is a zipped pocket, almost as wide as the bag itself, in the lining which is great to keep small things, such as keys, safe and separate from everything else.
All of the above is great but the real pièce de résistance with this bag is that it’s actually two bags! Yep you heard (read) me… two bags that can be used as one… or two. On the other side of the black bag is the same bag but in blue that hooks into the strap and buttons onto the black bag itself. The end result is two bags joined together to make one where one side of the bag is black and the other is blue. It’s kind of like handbag Lego, I can pull it apart to have two pieces or join them together to make one! How cool is that?!

The bag is very lightweight, even when the two are attached which is great for my shoulders. So depending on how much stuff I have to take with me when I go out and what I’m wearing, I either take the blue or the black or both together, with or without the strap. Day to day, I tend to take the bag as a single (rather than twin) as it is large enough to fit my essentials like wallet, phone, keys, mirror etc. On occasions where I’m going to be out longer or simply want to take more with me then I take it out as a twin, and will wear the black or the blue as the visible / outer side of the bag, depending on the colour of my outfit.
Given the versatility of this bag I know that I will get sooo much use out of it and best of all Arthur’s happy which means less pain for me which makes me happy... as well as the fact that this bag was 50% off :o) Have you found any good bag buys lately?

Love Sheen xxx

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Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Dining Out: Dolce Vita Restaurant (Mandarin Oriental) Singapore

Good Day Everyone,

For a while there I’d gotten into a good routine of posting blog posts on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday but I missed this Monday – I’m sorry. I’m struggling a fair bit at the moment with my right hand. Another finger has become arthritic and my wrist just seems to be getting weaker so I’ve been avoiding typing for a few days but I’m hoping to get back on track :o)
Mandarin Oriental pool and view of the Singapore Flyer
On the weekend my hubby took me for dinner at the Dolce Vita restaurant based in the Mandarin Oriental (MO). Whilst we’ve stayed and dined at the MO in Kuala Lumpur (amazing!) we’ve never dined (or stayed) at the MO in Singapore and so I was super excited. The Dolce Vita restaurant is a poolside restaurant that serves Italian cuisine. As we were going for a romantic meal, I didn’t have any intention of taking photos, other than a few for myself but not for my blog and so I didn’t take my grown up camera. However, as soon as we arrived and I saw the stunning views I immediately (mentally) kicked myself.  So I only have photos taken with my iphone which are pretty rubbish but hopefully they give you a bit of an insight into our experience.
Pool view indoor table
My hubby had reserved an indoor table with a poolside view so that we could take in some of the Singaporean skyline as the sunset (the restaurant is on the 5th floor). We had partial views of the Singapore Flyer (London Eye equivalent) and the famous Marina Bay Sands (MBS) hotel. It was lovely to see the colour changes in these landmarks as we transitioned from daylight into darkness and the Flyer was colourfully lit up and room lights came on at the MBS. We even saw parts of the laser light show that happens from MBS three times a night. 
View from our table of MBS
View from our table of the Singapore Flyer
 I loved how comfortable the dining chairs were. Being a pool side restaurant the chairs were beachy-esque in that they had thick padded yellow and white striped cushions to sit on and as backrests. One of my biggest gripes is uncomfortable restaurant chairs and that gripe has only gotten worse since I developed arthritis in my spine and hips because my joints start to ache if I’m sat down for too long esp. on a hard surface. The chairs made me very happy indeed… what can I say, I’m easily pleased ;o)

The service was impeccable, as you’d expect from the MO. Our waitress asked about any dietary requirements and advised accordingly. She also highlighted dishes where ingredients could be omitted so that they were in line with our dietary requirements. Whilst we are not vegetarian per se, both my hubby and I eat a predominantly vegetarian diet. We’re not keen on fish, don’t eat seafood and rarely eat meat. Typically, in a lot of restaurants I often feel that vegetarians get the short straw. The food options tend to be rather predictable and boring. However, the Dolce Vita did an amazing job!

One of the things that I love about dining at the MO restaurants is the old school practices from the waiter/waitress draping the cloth napkin over your lap to the complimentary table water and breadbasket through to the amuse bouche and asking how we enjoyed each course. These little touches really make you feel well cared for and special. I really could not fault the service or the experience at all.
Amuse bouche of tomato gazpacho
Bread basket with an assortment of spreads
 Once seated and having placed our order, we were brought the complimentary bread basket with an assortment of spreads as well as balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The bread rolls were warm and firm on the outside whilst being pillowy soft on the inside. I particularly enjoyed the rosemary bread roll and the basil cream spread was divine. My hubby enjoyed the black olive bread roll and both of the tomato based spreads.

To start, I had the wild mushroom soup with mushroom duxelle and white truffle foam. When the starter was served it came minus the mushroom soup which the waitress brought separately and poured into the white truffle foam from what looked like a teapot... it felt like a bit of a soup ceremony ;o). Whilst the portion size of the soup may look small, partly down to the huge rim of the bowl it is served in, I can assure you it was not a small portion. This has got to be hands down the best mushroom soup I have ever tasted! I cannot put into words how tasty and altogether delicious this was. Even my hubby, who is not a fan of mushroom soup in the slightest, was compelled to admit that this was incredible and he even said that he would be ordering it next time!

My hubby started his meal with the traditional Apulia burra ta mozzarella cheese served with heirloom tomatoes, black olive soil, micro rocket cress and basil pesto. The mozzarella portion was simply huge, and according to my hubby it was the best mozzarella he’s had since we moved to Singapore. Needless to say he thoroughly enjoyed his starter.

For main, I decided to have a pasta based dish. I rarely eat past (don’t like the effect it has on me) but I figured if ever I was going to have good pasta, an Italian restaurant based in a five start hotel would be the place and so I had hand crafted tortellini stuffed with semi-dried tomatoes, pecorino and pine nuts, served with basil pesto. The serving came with five large pieces which were crafted to resemble swans (I think). The stuffing was full of flavour and very generous in size, and on the whole the pasta was cooked to perfection. The corners of the tortellini were a little bit too al dente for my liking but the actual stuffed part of the pasta was cooked perfectly. Having had way too many bread rolls and filled myself with the amazing mushroom soup I could only manage three of the five pieces of tortellini. Our waitress did ask whether there was something wrong with the dish, as I hadn’t finished it but it was simply a case of lack of belly space. My hubby had penne pasta with cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and parmigiano reggiano which he enjoyed but also struggled to finish. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo, not even a rubbish one, of his main course but as you can see from the other photos the presentation was beautiful.

After a bit of a breather, we opted to share a dessert between us and had this fantastic mango and pineapple custard encased in a soft yet firm, but not kept for hours in the fridge firm, short crust pastry base with coconut ice cream. As well as tasting the coconut you could also feel the shreds of coconut within the ice cream which was very nice indeed. The dessert was decorated with meringue and fruit pieces and coulis.

The service throughout the meal was excellent. Our waitress asked how each course was and if everything was ok after she noted that my hubby and I did not finish our main courses. We were given enough of a breather between each course, our table water was topped up regularly, and we were offered black pepper and Parmesan for our starters and main courses. All in all it was a wonderful meal and experience. After we finished and my hubby settled the bill, we stood out by the pool and took in the stunning views of Singapore by night. 

Being the MO the Dolce Vita isn’t cheap, as you’d expect, but it wasn’t as expensive as I thought it might have been either. After trying a few of the hotel buffets around Singapore where we’ve paid upwards of SGD$100 (£50) per person for food that has been luke warm and bland we’ve come to the conclusion that buffets are just not for us, not even at the five star restaurants. Buffets are great if you have a large appetite and/or love seafood as that’s where people get value for money, but my hubby and I don’t eat seafood nor are we big eaters and so we would much rather go for a fine dining a la carte experience. Our meal at the Dolce Vita cost less than SGD$100 per head and we had two (non-alcoholic) drinks on top of the aforementioned food.

With delicious Italian food coupled with stunning views and excellent service, the Dolce Vita makes for a wonderful dining experience whether it’s a special occasion or not. I have recommended it to so many of our friends and am eagerly looking forward to our next visit… after all my hubby did say he would have the mushroom soup next time… so I guess there will be a next time ;o)

Have you dined at the Dolce Vita? What was your experience? Which other restaurants would you recommend in Singapore for a great dining experience?

Love Sheen xxx

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Friday, 21 February 2014

Luscious Langkawi

Good Day Everyone,

Since our move to Singapore, almost three years ago we’ve been trying to make the most of being so close to some amazing places (when I can get my hubby to take time off from work!).

Langkawi is the main island of a cluster of 104 islands in the Andaman Sea, off the northwest coast of Malaysia. It is officially known as Langkawi the Jewel of the Kedah (Kedah being a state in Malaysia) and is a lovely place that we’ve been to a couple of times just for laid back long weekends when we want a change of scenery. It’s just a two hour flight from Singapore (or an hour from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) and is a great contrast to the uber modern city state that is our current home. The island still has that rural, back in time, feel about it and isn’t too over developed other than a few hotel resorts situated around the coast.

Langkawi Island was given a World Geopark status by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) in 2007 which seeks the promotion and conservation of the Earth’s geological heritage as well as encouraging sustainable research and development by the island itself. This was reflected in the hotel resort we stayed at, Berjaya, which is sandwiched between the sea and the edge of a rainforest sanctuary with lush green mountains making for a stunning back drop. 

The Berjaya hotel resort is situated on the west side of the island (making for beautiful sunset views) and the resort offers accommodation in the form of wooden chalets, some of which are situated on stilts in the water of the Andaman Sea itself and some in the tropical rainforest, providing beautiful views of the jungle. The décor of the chalets strike a lovely balance of fresh modernity blended seamlessly with rustic Malay architecture. The resort spans a huge 70 acres and has over 400 rooms which means it has facilities to match its vast size. There are six restaurants and three bars (including a sunken pool bar) as well as a spa and a whole host of other recreational activities including water and beach sports to keep everyone entertained. 
Rainforest chalet at Berjaya resort
Rainforest chalet at Berjaya resort
Rainforest chalet at Berjaya resort
Due to the vast area that the resort is spread over the hotel has several little green shuttles, like large golf carts, to transport you around the resort. Therefore, if you’re staying in one of the chalets further away from the main part of the resort, you can simply call for the shuttle to come pick you up and take you to the main building. We actually enjoyed the morning stroll to breakfast from our chalet and I’d also recommend taking a stroll around the resort itself on foot just to take in the stunning views. 
Shuttle transport around Berjaya resort

As the resort is at the edge of the jungle it is quite common to see monkeys around the resort especially if you’re staying in one of the rainforest chalets. The hotel does advise you to keep your chalet windows and doors closed especially when you’re not there as monkeys are known to come into the chalets and create a bit of havoc in the rooms. When we checked into our rainforest chalet we saw monkeys hanging off the chalet roof and some would even come and play on the patio decking. They’re clearly accustomed to having people around.
Water front chalet on stilts
Berjaya private beach

I would definitely recommend having breakfast at the beach restaurant for beautiful sea views rather than the main indoor breakfast room. We also dined at the beach restaurant one evening which provides extensive Western and Indian cuisine and had a lovely meal. We spent mornings chilling on the private beach where my hubby and brother went kayaking and played beach volley ball with some of the other guests. In the afternoons we entertained ourselves with exploring the island and all the different tourist activities on offer.
Berjaya resort private beach with water front chalets on stilts
The Oriental Village which is just a few minutes walk from the Berjaya resort, situated at the foothill of a large mountain, is home to many activity providers, places to eat, souvenir shops, spa and galleries. The main attraction is the cable car ride up the mountain. The base station of this is located within The Oriental Village and the cable ride is over two kilometres to the top station. There is also a middle station where you can get off to admire the views before continuing to the top. At the top station there are stairs to two viewing platforms as well as the amazing sky bridge, a 410 foot curved pedestrian bridge above Mount Mat Chinchang.
Stunning views
Langkawi Sky Bridge and the cable car viewing platform at top of photo
You do have to walk along a stepped path from the top cable car station to get onto the sky bridge and so I’d recommend you wear your trainers but once you get there the views are simply breath taking. I, personally, did find the path a bit tricky to walk as I’m not very good with heights, have a fear of falling (not like off the mountain as obviously there are barriers but just generally in everyday life) and I'm not the most steady on my feet due to the arthritis in my knee and feet but the views did make it worthwhile. Just a cautionary note, as we found out the hard way, if you ever plan on visiting Langkawi and want to do the cable car ride and the sky bridge then be sure to check the website as they are both routinely closed for maintenance and during bad weather. 
Langkawi Sky Bridge
Cable car ride down to The Oriental Village (the orange blob)

In addition to the cable car ride and sky bridge, we rented Segways and went on a Segway guided tour along a jungle path. The first time we visited Lankawi I refused to go on the Segway tour as I don’t feel stable with my feet off the ground (and as you know have a huge fear of falling). So I sat it out as my hubby whizzed off into the jungle with our friend and came back covered in mud as he did fall off, but according to our friend, it was because he got a bit too confident on the Segway ;o). On my second visit I did go on the Segway, primarily because my hubby somehow managed to persuade my mum (who doesn’t even wear high heels and is a very nervous shy individual) to go on it and so there was no way I would be able to live it down if my mum went on it and I didn’t – I’d be called chicken for the rest of my life by my brother ;o). I was surprised as to just how rocky some parts of the trail were but the instructor does let you have some practice on the flat ground within The Oriental Village before you head of into the jungle, and of course you wear a helmet, and elbow and knee pads.

My hubby tried the fish foot spa at The Oriental Village but couldn’t bare it for more than a few seconds and so opted for some foot reflexology. Our friends thoroughly enjoyed the fish foot spa whereas I couldn’t bring myself to do it. The thought of little fishes nibbling at my feet was just too freaky for me!!!

We went to the main town, Kuah where the jetty point is located with ferries to mainland Malaysia. The main tourist attraction in Kuah town is Eagle Square where there is a huge brown eagle statue. Langkawi means island of the reddish brown eagle in colloquial Malay, hence the statue. As Langkawi is a duty free island, you can stock up on chocolates and perfumes etc from the stores at the jetty point mall. There is a Starbucks in the mall…for those of you that are feeling a bit to disconnected with the Western world ;o). There are several shopping malls in Kuah town and night markets which make for a pleasant evening out where you can try some local cuisine and peruse around the different stalls and their offerings.
Eagle Square in Kuah Town

There is the Underwater World which is located at Pantai Cenang, a beach area to the south of the island which is worth a visit and a good way to spend a few hours if you need a break from the heat. There are a large variety of animals from penguins to stingrays to jellyfish and reptiles. There are also daily feeding sessions so it’s worth checking the times of these if you want to see cute penguins having their lunch ;o). Pantai Cenang seems to be quite popular with backpackers as there are numerous bars along the beach, cheap accommodation and many independent shops offering sarongs, swimwear, massages, clothes etc as well as market stalls. The beach at Pantai Cenang is west facing and makes for the perfect location for sitting back with a cool drink, and watching the colours of the sky change as the sun sets.
Pantai Cenang beach
Pantai Cenang is about 20 kilometres from the Berjaya resort but the taxi prices are very reasonable by Western standards and are a fixed price which is great for those of us that don’t like to barter. Other ways of getting around the island are to rent a car or moped which a lot of people do. We didn’t like the idea of being responsible for a hire car / moped and just relied on taxis. One of the main benefits of staying at the Berjaya was its proximity to The Oriental Village which houses the main tourist attractions. 

Just 3 kilometres from the Berjaya resort is Telaga Harbour Park which has some lovely restaurants along the marina making for a romantic setting with all the lights and the yachts. There’s a wide range of cuisines on offer from Japanese to Spanish to Italian to Russian restaurants. We dined at The Loaf restaurant a couple of times which does European and Asian fusion food as well as a variety of pastries and baked foods. It’s great for breakfast, lunch or supper. We also had lunch and supper at the Spanish restaurant, Tapaz a few times which is just a few doors up from The Loaf on the marina front. On all occasions the food was pretty good but it was the waterfront setting that made both of these restaurants a wonderful experience.
Tapaz restaurant
Telaga marina

The above are just some of the places we visited and ate at during our trips to Langkawi. In addition to the above there are many more tourist attractions such as the wildlife park, waterfalls, craft and culture complex, rice museum, diving excursion which go to the nearby islands and the list goes on and on but I hope the above has given you a bit of an insight into what this Jewel of the Keddah has to offer.
Have you ever been to Langkawi? What did you enjoy the most? Where did you stay / eat and what activities / touristy things did you do?

Love Sheen xxx  

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