The Whole Shebang (Taiwan 4)

So although I said I wasn’t going to give you a chronological account of my trip to Taiwan I think I’m going to have to. The little grey cells need that kind of regime.

The Flight

The flight was hard work! I was petrified that I’d get DVT but I couldn’t get up as often as I’d’ve liked ’cause the guy next to me was plugged into a hundred devices which made getting past him to the aisle a real palaver. The food was fab, however. I love the little packages you get on aeroplanes and Cathay Pacific had very stylish red and white pots for everything. Sad as it is, I was hoping I could’ve bought some as a souvenir.

Yum! What's inside? Kung Po Chicken with Jasmine Rice and Choy Sum. Accompanied by a creamy vegetable salad with smoked duck no less! Ice cream for dessert.
Yum! What’s inside? Kung Po Chicken with Jasmine Rice and Choy Sum. Accompanied by Edamame, lentil and sun dried tomato salad. Ice cream for dessert.

The flight was double the length I’d previously flown 10 years before and so much noisier than I remembered flying to be. Stupidly I didn’t recline my seat which was mistake number 1. Number 2 was that I’d over dressed, so I was parched all the time…anyway this is boring….Rich loved the flight and lessons learned, I was able to prepare very well for the flight back which I must say was very comfortable and enjoyable.

Top Tips for flying:

  1. Use the inflight blankets and use them well! Roll them up as a next rest instead of an expensive travel pillow, cover your head with them so when you inevitably fall asleep no-one else can see your lolling tongue and you can relax into a deep sleep and finally, instead of over dressing use the blankets as well, a blanket.
  2. Recline your chair regardless of who’s behind you but be aware they might have food and drink on their tray so a polite statement of intention is much appreciated.
  3. Book an aisle seat so that you can get up as much as you like and more so (what with every one else wanting to get past you). Do those exercises that make you look like a marathon runner.
  4. Enjoy a whiskey. Savour the flavour and allow it’s ‘medicinal’ qualities to flow all around your senses. You’ll feel like George Clooney.
  5. 5 do all the other things they always tell you about keeping hydrated etc etc.
Take a gazetteer with you so that you can look up Yining's GNP and population and learn all the other places you've never heard of.
Take a gazetteer with you so that you can look up Yining’s GNP and population and learn all the other places you’ve never heard of.

Arrival

You’ve heard all about the negatives of the flight but I will let you know that we arrived on time and our experience of changing at Hong Kong was effortless and straight forward, even though I felt like a zombie from lack of sleep.

Gwilym was easy to spot on the other side of the arrivals barrier, dressed as he was in his favourite pastel trousers and matching pink face. He whisked away our luggage and scooted us into a waiting taxi before we felt as if we’d even said hello. More bloody travelling. Approximately 40 minutes along highways and flyovers in the darkening landscape with the first of what was to be an ever present drizzle.

After a reviving cup of English tea (with milk!) back at G&F’s new gaff we headed straight out for some of the famous beef noodles which I’ve been hearing about ever since I met Fiona. You’ll have already seen from some of the photos of that first night that we were totally lucky to be presented with a procession of deities from the local temples with accompanying floral displays on floats, music and firecrackers. It was the best welcome ever! Obviously the residents of Beitou hadn’t laid it on just for us, it was part of the Chinese New Year Celebrations.

Beef noodles
Beef noodles

 

Firecracker residue or 'petals' as I like to think of them.
Firecracker residue or ‘petals’ as I like to think of them.

The beef noodles were excellent and worth the hype! We ate out in a traditional outdoors/indoors place and were just able to get a seat. There was no English translation at this place so Fiona was in charge of ordering for us while I remembered that I’m hopeless with chopsticks.

Deities from the temples. Different colours represent different things.
Deities from the temples. Different colours represent different things.

Fed and by now very tired we headed back home to sleep. I was ready to drop and was looking forward to a night of deep heavy sleep. Prff! No chance! Of course there’s an element of jet lag that intervened here but mainly it was the cockerel (rooster for any American readers) that woke me up. Okay, that’s fine I thought. I’m from Devon, I can deal with that, but then the builders cranked up their drills and let rip with all manner of power tools. Hey ho! I was adamant that I was going to squeeze very last minute out of this holiday so begrudgingly and as if I had lead weights attached to me I slunk into the living room. Gwilym had made tea and bought the very first of many Dan Bing. Oh I miss them so much!

We were slow to get up and out also Gwil and Fi had things to do so in our haze we were pushed out the door to find our own way to Beitou Hot Springs Museum and the Eco Library. It’s actually very easy and by about day 3 we were seasoned travellers on the MRT but on this first day I was apprehensive and thought we’d end up very lost.

Me on the super clean MRT (red line)
Me on the super clean MRT (red line)

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Inside the Hot Springs Museum at Xinbeitou . Like Bath, UK and Baden Baden in Germany, Taipei, specifically Beitou, has a proliferation on natural thermal springs. The Japanese were first to exploit them in a big way back in 1896. This one was built in 1913 and was the biggest at the time allowing visitors the chance to relax and enjoy the space, either bathing, playing chess or admiring surrounding nature.
Eco Library Xinbeitou.
Xinbeitou’s Eco Library.

If visiting Taipei, this is a nice place to visit, walking as you do, through Xinbeitou Park, past the eco library and up to the Hot Springs Museum. The museum is FREE and a reflective place to learn about the history, geology and popularity of the area as well as a small insight into Taiwan’s film industry. Find out more on their website.

I think we spent far longer there than G & F imagined we would and they were quite concerned by the time we got back that lunch would be difficult (ish). Food is NEVER difficult to get in Taiwan but we were heading further into the city centre as Fiona had a nice surprise for us. Din Tai Fung! We were totally oblivious to the fame and popularity of this place, well we weren’t but we hadn’t imagined we’d be able to eat there. They’re famous for 2 hour queues! Tom Cruise has been there. I think they’re Michelin starred for gawd’s sake.

Because we were late the place was virtually empty so we were seated immeadieatly and then the difficult task of choosing what to eat. We were kept topped up with Jasmine Tea throughout and I have since developed a real passion of rthe stuff. Luckily there’s a great place here to buy nice teas so I don’t have to long for it as i do the famous Din Tai Fung Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings).

Wow! Where to begin. Sweet, oozing, hot, paper thin pastry and a bitesized ball of pork or prawns. Mix that with a little shredded fresh ginger and a vinaigrette mixed to your own taste and you have heaven in a mouthful. Totally delicious and I imagine the cheapest award winning food you’ll find anywhere. We also tried pickled cucumber (not like gherkins) and loads of other dumpling-ey things and rice. The theme of this holiday starring from here was that we were going to eat far more than we could possibly fit in but there was nothing we didn’t want to try and more importantly, nothing that Fiona didn’t want us to leave without sampling. Here’s some pics:

 How to eat your dumplings!
How to eat your dumplings!

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Inside the SOGO branch of Din Tai Fung.
Inside the SOGO branch of Din Tai Fung.

After this we toured the fancy SOGO department store food hall which is not disimilar to Harvey Nick’s, Galleries Lafeyette or Harrods’s food halls, all full of amazing things, gadgets, food that you just want to load up on. Rich bought a cute little sushi press thing for making smart ngiri. Gwil bought Japanese doughnut puff things. An enormous choux bun filled with vanilla custard cream. Hywel would die for these!

After this feast we headed to the famous Shilin Night Market. Famous for its food stalls can you believe! As well as clothes and technology and stationary and all the fun of the fair to be honest. I loved it. It was nowhere near as horrifically busy as I’d built up  in my imagination. Rain kept a lot of people away so we were able to browse and browse and browse. There is A LOT to look at! Amazing things….

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The foodie bit of Shilin. There's stalls outside but here is where you get to sit down. Much needed after a few hours of shopping.
The foodie bit of Shilin. There’s stalls outside but here is where you get to sit down. Much needed after a few hours of shopping.

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Fresh strawberries covered in a clear caramel. You can see the cherry tomatoes behind me. They were equally delicious. If not better as their slightly tarter flavour contrasted better with the sweetness of the caramel.
Fresh strawberries covered in a clear caramel. You can see the cherry tomatoes behind me. They were equally delicious. If not better as their slightly tarter flavour contrasted better with the sweetness of the caramel.

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The MRT stop you want for Shilin Night Market.
The MRT stop you want for Shilin Night Market.
A pet shop pretty much devoted to cats with this one seemingly the proprietor of the place.
A pet shop pretty much devoted to cats with this one seemingly the proprietor of the place.

Wigs

 

We hit the food stall and tried various delicacies but you’ll have already read about those in Part 2. I’ve written far more about a shorter amount of time than I would’ve liked so I’m finishing up.

So there you have the first 24 hours of our stay in Taipei. I won’t take this pace for the rest of the stuff I want to tell you about. We’ll whizz through!

If Gwil, Fi or Laurie have anything to add I’d be delighted to hear from them….There’s a few gaps in my memory of exactly what we did and when.

Tune back in next time for how Rich and I became giants.

 

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