13.12.16 Walking tour of Taipei

After checkout, MRT, left luggage and MRT we were confronted by dozens of Santa’s helpers, some of which handed us presents!

Today we are following the Lonely Planet’s Taipei walking tour. Sun is out, smiles are on.

First up, we go off piste to Fong Da coffee shop which Al has found. It has a working bean roaster in the entrance. With the coffee, we have a side order of toast, ham and eggs. It’s a well frequented, locals cafe which takes coffee seriously and we enjoy it.

We walk from Ximen to Bopilao, an historic street where modern brides have their photos taken.

Past some temples to an old burnt down monastery then to the old market which is now a creative quarter where designers sell boutique gear. Al buys a “Do you like my buns” T-shirt.

Further along, we reach a two storey Japanese colonial building with a mansard roof. It has an exhibition of photos of Tamsui in the 1980s which looks like a different world. They have a roof farm where we’re excited to see rice growing.

On the route, Al spots a deep, rich, saucepan.

We stop.

The texture is soft, melting, braised, pork fat. Mmmmmmm. Its accompanied by pickles and cabbage which soften the richness of the pork. Its good, but still not as good as Qufu.

We see more colonial architectural sights and the wide boulevards that the Japanese modeled on Paris and we divert off the tour to the botanical gardens. They are lovely. Al is in her element. She spends a long time in the “food” section where garden beds demonstrate crops we eat that people no longer recognize due to convenience food. 

We go to the ginger garden. Al desperately looks for a sign to photo me in front of but thankfully there isn’t one.

We MRT across town and walk through Da’an park to the Wisteria Tea house where we sit on tatami mats and learn to make tea. We order two different Oolongs, both from Taiwan,  Gao shan cha and the lighter Tie Guan Yin. The pot is warmed, leaves washed, then a pot is brewed for 2 minutes before being emptied into aroma cups which are decanted into tasting cups. The leaves can be used 6 times. Its a relaxing, fun hour.

We return to the first Airbnb we stayed at in eastern Taipei hosted by the fabulous Fiona. It feels like going home. For tea we go to the local night market and have beef sizzlers with peppers sauce. The beef is really tender.

12.12.2016 Pingxhi and JuifenĀ 

Coffee was allowed this morning, being arty types (!) we went to the Dance cafe, it was empty apart from mosquitos and staff. The menu looked so good we decided to have brunch, smoked salmon salad, it was fresh, tasty and delicious. 

It was now 12 noon and we had done no tourism. We dashed to the station and got on the train to Pingxhi, whilst checking out the local drink machine and wanting a dolphin drink.

The train was busy, this set the tone for the day, busy and crowded. We got to Pingxhi, the tourism here is to sit on a train, so we did that. The scenery is amazing. As usual there was an engligh language leafet with all the sights listed, most of which are food related, being tourists we obliged and had a miners lunchbox.

And a pancake, and had photo taken.

We watched the other tourists send their Chinese lanterns and wishes into the air.

Then onto the crowded train back to Ruiling, then the bus to Juifen, which took the prize for most tourists you can squeeze in an alley way, the alley was full of tourist tat shops and food stalls, obviously.

 A seemingly endless alleyway walk ended up with the photo opportunity of sunset over Taipei, Guy duly obliged!

Once back at the apartment we happened upon a bottle of Waitrose red wine and sichuan pepper nuts, so settled down to watch Troy…….. oh, yeah! 

11.12.16 Taichung to Taipei – An End Has A Start

So, someone rustled plastic bags at 4.30 and left,  and the cyclist rustled more bags at 6.30am so we didn’t need an alarm.

As we were making our way back to Taipei we were in a really good mood, despite the lack of sleep!  Guy had a Mos Burger breakfast, my stomach was feeling ok again so I had cheese straws and cake! 

We swiped our ezy cards and went to our usual platform for our usual train to Taipei. Well, maybe usual is a little strong, but we had done this same trip about 2 weeks earlier so felt like we knew what we were doing! Only the train was heaving, absolutely rammed, we got seats and settled in for a 3 hour journey stopping at every station on the way with a constant flow of people.

Arriving at Taipei main station the place was full of people and many Muslims, there was a lovely smell of clove cigarettes outside, we had no idea it was a Muslim holiday, but knew about it now. Taipai Main Station is like a familiar old friend, there are enough food vendors there to keep you going for a whole year, and they all look amazing.  A little different to the sad Pumpkin cafes in UK. We had seen a Japanese curry house there previously, Coco curry, and headed there. It was delicious! 

We eventually found somewhere to leave our bags and went on a fruitless search for a phone in an electronic geeks paradise, Guanghau market, the smell of testosterone was overpowering! 

Phones were no cheaper than home so we decided I would do a social experiment and do without a mobile phone for a couple of months, no WhatsApp communication for me! I still have email and Facebook if you wish to contact me. 

We had a rendezvous at 4.30 with our Air Bnb hosts and were taken to a fab little apartment which was our home of a couple of nights.

It was airy, clean and had a TV with movie channels, we contemplated staying in all night but stomachs were rumbling so we headed out and got shredded chicken on rice with the aid of pointing and lonely planet phrases. Simple and delicious. 

We got back to our apartment to see the 5th element followed by Guardians of the Galaxy, and slept like babies  (although really babies don’t sleep so that phrase is nonsense).

10.12.16 Sun Moon Lake

With no one in our dorm we sleep in, so a later start than we wanted to go to Sun Moon lake. 

For better info on how to get to the lake, have a look at this blog – lazygirlideas

We take the tourist shuttle bus which goes via the HSR station and takes about 2 1/2 hours. The journey drags and I’m wondering if its worth it when we round a bend and see sunlight shimmering off the lake which is surrounded by green mountains. With the blue sky above, it’s nature at its finest and I’m glad we came. 

I’ve never visited the north Italian lakes which are supposed to be beautiful but the scene in front of me reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of them.

We arrive at shuishe pier where the bus leaves us. It’s a busy tourist village and there are many bike rental shops, restaurants and tea shops. Al is off food but I dive into a leek pancake with egg. The vendor tops it with chilli sauce and its really good. Sweet, savoury and greasy, perfect for breakfast.

We follow one of the walking trails along the lakeside. It’s Saturday morning, so there’s a lot of weekenders enjoying the sunshine and glorious scenery. We read the information boards and learn about trees, plants and birds and drink in the views.

Al isn’t so feisty so I know she’s ill, and we divert from the radiant sunshine to a cafe where I try my first proper bubble tea. I love it! Sweet milky tea and toffee tasting tapioca tadpoles hoovered up through a wide straw. Riding a sugar wave, I get carried away with my travel skills and order tofu with preserved egg and scorched greens. The scorched greens are welcome but the preserved egg is more flavoursome than the last one we tried. This one smells of ammonia too but also tastes of it. I only eat half.

We stop for the loo in the tourist village before we catch the bus back. In the gents, above the urinals are quotes from Socrates and Nietzsche. Amazing.

Back in Taichung we wander round the downtown area. We watch a hip hop dance contest then crawl around bakeries. Smitten with bubble tea, I have another.

In our room we have new flatmates. A Taiwanese guy who is going to England to learn English, a guy from Hong Kong who is cycling round Taiwan and two young fellows who don’t speak. We chat to the guy learning English and try to give him advice.

Eventually, everyone goes out and Al feels better so we go for Japanese noodle soup. We get home first, followed by the cyclist who rustles carrier bags till 2am, the English student who quietly does stuff on his laptop till 3am and the quiet couple who come back separately after 2.30am. 

Cyclist snores like a vibrating bass drum amplified into a cavenous disused warehouse where the echo resonates loudly enough for seismic activity. 

Occasionally, he wakes himself up, rubs his face and starts the rhythm again, like Ravel’s Balero, starting slow and building slowly, adding bass and depth until the wallpaper vibrates.

9.12.16 Alishan trip then Chiayi to Taichung

A good nights sleep and no curtains means I’m up at 6am and I carry my stuff in stealth mode on tip toe to the communal area. Al joins me and after packing we walk to the bus station and catch an earlier bus to Alishan National Park.

The journey is 2 hours with the final 1.5 hours snaking up mountain switchbacks where vertical drops mean sections of the road have disappeared here and there. Views are breathtaking though, with morning mist sitting in green valleys and blue skies above.

From Alishan village there is a well developed network of signposted walkways which we spend the morning following. Although the sun is beaming, we have climbed a lot, so jumpers are donned. We see the old Japanese narrow gauge railway used in colonial times for logging and a huge, busy temple before we stop for tea.

Alishan is also renowned for tea due to perfect growing conditions, especially oolong. We try an oolong which is delicate and slightly sweet and a Alishan black tea which is very floral.

We follow the ancient tree trail through the atmospheric cypress wood which is dappled in sunlight. Dragonflies hover, ferns gently unfurl in a prehistoric setting where trees and rocks are covered in moss and some cypresses have stood for 2000 years. In front of us, Chinese grannies scream at each other piercing the forest stillness.

The trail turns steep and the grannies turn off and we enjoy the mossy quiet. Its an old, old environment, a reflective and thoughtful place.

Back in Chiayi we walk to the train station and an older fellow starts chatting to us. He asks what we’re doing and if we’re enjoying Taiwan and then helps us with the train and platform we need to get to Taichung. He also tells us we can use our ‘easy card’ which saves us a lot of money. Another example of how kind and helpful the Taiwanese people can be.

A short walk to our hostel and its tea for one tonight of Japanese noodle soup. Alishan has a poorly stomach.

8.12.16 Tainan to Chiayi

A short train of less than an hour and we arrive in Chiayi. The hostel checks us in but as we’re in a dorm and its 9.30 we leave our bags and head straight out.

Our destination is the National Palace Museum Southern Branch. In the gift shop of the Taipei branch were replica models of a rock shaped like pork which is a national treasure. We asked where it was and were told Chiayi, so here we are on a museum/food pilgrimage.

A free shuttle bus to the High Speed Rail station and another 10 minute bus later and we’re staring across an artificial lake at an architectural marvel. The museum was opened in 2015 and has a curved bridge over the lake to a stunning steel and glass building which houses the museum.

The huge glass atrium is light and airy and aircon cool. We ascend the curved marble steps as if we are going to a ball. An information on old stuff ball. 

There is a film about Asia and one about the history of Chiayi then we’re onto Buddhist art which all museums seem to start with. There are beautiful copies of the sutras from the 1400s.

There are exhibitions on Korean pottery and Japanese pottery which in my ignorance I can’t put into context.

An exhibition on Asian textiles with some amazingly intricate costumes and including a film on how to wear a sari.

Finally, before the exit is a history of tea which explains how the method of preparing tea has changed with historic examples of the equipment required.

The whole museum is very engaging with information in English and unbiased appreciation of how other countries (Japan, Korea, India) have influenced the Asian arena which we have not seen before.

We get to the exit and haven’t seen the pork shaped rock. We ask the attendants. They don’t understand our eloquent English or mimes of pork shaped rock so get over an English speaking colleague. “Meat?” she shouts at us and points behind the exit.

I’m amazed. Its worth the trip.

Back at Chiayi station we buy bus tickets to Alishan National Park for tomorrow. (Alison loves to be referred to as Alishan by the way so remember that in your texts and emails)

We try the local delicacy of turkey rice which is topped by a fried egg. 

In the hostel we are invited to the launch party of a new local restaurant which will sell savoury food in a waffle cone perched on a pineapple drink. The hostel owner translates the precedings to us and we see photos of the organic pineapple farm and the building where the restaurant will be. After the speeches the guests tuck into various flavours and we share a chilli pork one. It looks so colourful and tastes good.

We chat to our dorm mates which include two Swiss girls, a Canadian/Hong  Kong bloke and a Chinese man who is cycling round the whole of Taiwan in 12 days on his foldable commuter bike. Chapeau!

We crash first in the quietest, most considerate dorm we’ve stayed in.

7.12.16 Tainan Odyssey

Tell me, Muse, about the man of many turns, who many ways wandered when he had sacked Troys holy citadel.

Today we planned a voyage through Tainan to the original Dutch port area of Anping. The first street in Taiwan is said to be here. Along the way were many distractions, threatening our course.

First was chilled oolong tea. Refreshing, sweet and fruity.

Further along the road we saw a girl perched on a bamboo stool on the pavement with a bowl of braised pork rice. We pulled up tiny stools and asked the stall holder for two bowls of this food which she explained was called Ro Zao Fan. It was melting and rich.

When we paid, the stall holder gave us a gift of chilled hibiscus tea which was sweet and sour. Her husband fetched a bag of the dried flowers to show us. Such wonderful, kind people.

We continued and stumbled upon Tainan market. Piles of really fresh fish were being cleaved into pieces or filleted. Sushi stalls next door shouted “hello” and looked very enticing but people had already been drawn in and there were no seats left. The meat, veg and fruit produce on all the stalls looked very good quality, the freshness was visible. Best of all were the friendly, smiley stall holders making us feel welcome. We were tempted to stay, admiring the produce and eating but the pull of our quest drew us away.

We dropped down to the canalside and admired the garden designs. Old fishermen said “Niii Haaaooo” in a drawn out, relaxed fashion.

Our next challenge was public exercise equipment which you see in residential parks all over China. We were delayed by them for some time until minutes later we managed to subdue our inner athletes and continue our stroll.

By now the sun was high in the sky and fierce. We followed the exposed canal, grateful to the Gods that we had avoided the danger of cycling into it.

We saw trolls in a park but quietly bypassed them.

Alas, we cannot say the same of the modern sculpture garden where one shipmate was enticed by the ancient banyan tree, white bamboo and a mirrored walkway. Only the thought of food got her back on course.

Has the sun affected our minds? We pass a tree growing out of a building.

Finally, we pause for refreshment and taste the local fare. Local food gathered from land and sea, eaten by the locals for generations. Oyster omlet, shrimp rolls and fried oysters with ketchup.

Praise Poseidon we reach our destination and stroll around the ancient streets admiring trinkets designed for tourists and packaged sweets worth many gold coins.

Our adventure does not cease now though, for we must return back to our fourteenth floor abode. The hot sun has warmed the earth and with full bellies we hide in shade as we chart our course home. 

After 100 metres we see a Creme Caramel shop. Our bellies are full but our legs are weary and the thought of rest overpowers us, so reluctantly we pull ashore and taste the soft sweet goo.

With bellies so full we are in danger of capsizing we set off again but soon we see a MANGO creme caramel shop and cry out to Zeus –

“Holy Zeus, why do you curse us so?” “We just desire the hard Asian mattress and slightly damp smelling aircon of our room but you keep delaying us!”

The mango creme caramel is fruity, sweet, creamy, very wobbly and very good. To ensure product consistency we also share a lemon cheese cake. It is consistent.

Zeus must hear our cries, for our voyage is mostly smooth sailing from here, as we roll our bellies homeward. The market is closed when we pass and most food stalls are closed.

The heat has parched our throats, so nearly home, we pull ashore for one last stop of iced Heineken Green Tea. (Well, it had to be done)

Does the adventure end here you ask? Do adventures ever really end?

After dark we attempt to find a night market for supplies but our sea charts fail us and alas we are off course, so we settle for an eel restaurant. Sour eel soup and fried eel with noodles.

The End.