Saturday, 12 May 2012

Relaxing at Raffles

One place that is truly synonymous with Singapore and a place that just has to be visited was the world famous Raffles Hotel. Forget about those big name hotel chains with their modern generic designs, this is a hotel that is a throw back to the grand old days of exotic travel and the experience staying in lodgings that oozed class and sophistication. Such is it’s stature in Singapore that in the surrounding area there are a myriad of streets, plazas, shopping centres and offices that have all adopted the ‘Raffles’ name, yet there remains just one ‘Raffles Hotel’. It is simply one of the most famous and visited hotels in the world!

Heading down Orchard Road, we came across the famous white colonial building and entered it from the side entrance, however to fully appreciate the grand facade in all its glory, you really need to head around to Beach Road. From here you can truly appreciate the impressive Victorian architecture and the leafy circular driveway that has welcomed the rich and famous since it’s opening in 1887. Indeed, Raffles has attracted many a visitor over the years, including Charlie Chaplain, Noel Coward, Jean Harlow and Rudyard Kipling, not to mention heads of state such as Queen Elizabeth and George Bush Snr. Not surprisingly this historic hotel has become a Singapore institution, having witnessed the cities development from remote colonial trading post to a modern economic powerhouse. Considering its iconic status and its exclusive clientele, I was amazed and thankful that tourists were able to walk freely around the grounds to appreciate the hotel as a living and working museum. In the courtyard, the bar staff were mixing cool drinks under the glass and wrought iron gazebo while in The Tiffin Room, white-jacketed waiters were preparing settings for lunch. In the billiard room, where reputedly the last wild tiger in Singapore was shot in 1902, the green felt was racked ready for a game, while the ornate fountain in the courtyard provided a soothing cascade, much as it did over a hundred years ago.

Of course, no visit to Raffles is quite complete without a visit to the Long Bar to enjoy a ‘Singapore Sling’. After all, it was behind this bar that this world famous drink was invented (around 1915) and on a 32 degree day in Singapore, there was simply no better place to be. Sitting high on a bar stool with the pink liquid concoction in hand (although a little sweet for my taste to be honest), I imagined the stories that these walls could tell. Looking overhead, traditional rattan ‘punkahs’ (broad fans) gently moved back and forth providing us with a gentle breeze. Today they run on small motors but back in the old days, ‘punkah-wallahs’ (fan men) would have stood there manually pulling them back and forth as ‘well to do’ patrons sat back and sipped their drinks … a very different era! On the bar we are provided with a large box of peanuts, harking back to yet another Long Bar tradition of strewing the empty shells on the floor, something I couldn’t quite bring myself to do although looking around, it was clearly the expectation.

Much like The Windsor in Melbourne and The Empress on Vancouver Island, Raffles is a gem of a hotel that is delightfully rare and unique. Over the years, places such as these have often been torn down and replaced with slick high-rise accommodation more intent on profit rather than character. Thankfully, Raffles has been acknowledged as a significant place that is well worth preserving. It’s architecture, history and contribution to the wonderful world of food and beverage has certainly been recognized worldwide and its survival is assured. For a visitor to Singapore, such as myself, it was a must see spot that provided a unique insight into a bygone era, even if it was just for a refreshing hour or two.

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