Yehliu Geopark

May 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

Taiwan has fascinated me with its beauty. I anticipated the hustle and bustle of Taipei city prior to our relocation, but not the natural beauty of its surrounding areas. Last weekend A surprised me with a day trip to Yehliu Geopark. The trip involved an approximately 1 hour bus trip to Jinshan, and then a short walk along the harbour before we reached the park.

Yehliu Geopark is famous for its beautiful coastline, mushroom-like rock formations and sea-trenches. These are consequent of sea erosion and earth movements. I was taken aback by the whole experience. Each rock formation resembled something different, from a calculator to a dragon and to the popular “Queen’s head”. The waters were so beautifully blue and had we been allowed to, we would have dived at the opportunity of experiencing them first hand in the scorching heat. Cracks along the coastline reveal the unique shading of each layer of stone and together they form stunning patterns. I could go on for paragraphs about the harmony amongst sand, stone and sea, but instead, I will allow the pictures to speak for themselves.

Tourists

 

rock formations

 

!!!

Yehliu Geopark is definitely worth the trip for tourists, even if only for an hour or 2. One can take the Kuo Kuang Hao bus headed for Jinshan from Taipei Main Bus station. There is a small market area selling refreshments and local dried fruits, nuts and fish just as you exit the park. I would suggest that you take some water along into the park because there is a lot of walking to do and it can get pretty hot, especially in the summer.

Day Trip to Xin (new) Beitou

February 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

Sunday was probably the most productive day we had all of last week, even though we only left the apartment after 12. We took the MRT to Xin (new) Beitou. It is only 20 minutes out of the Taipei Main Station, but it feels so detached from the city, because of the mountains, greenery and general peaceful environment.

We visited the Ketalagan Cultural Centre, which is dedicated to the Aboriginal culture that once flourished in the Beitou area. Although there is some English commentary, a lot of the information provided is only in Chinese. This is understandable, given that most tourists to Taipei are from mainland China anyway. Check out the outfits, all coloured with natural dyes. A made an interesting observation – the dyes they used were made of the same foods we try to never get on our clothes, viz. turmeric, pomegranate juice and others.

We then headed to the Beitou Hot Springs museum. On the way, I noticed these children. Shame, they were in a bit of a problem with their ball in the water. I photographed them instead of going to help 😉

The information in the Hot Springs museum which was in English was really interesting. It is so interesting to see how the hot springs are formed. Look at the cute slippers we were given to wear in the museum – red for her and blue for him 🙂

Finally, off to Geothermal Valley we went. This is where one can actually view the natural hot spring. It was amazing to see the actual source of the hot spring. We knew we were close when we smelt the rotten eggs. Because the hot springs contain natural sulphur, they smell like eggs or fireworks. It’s actually really funny, I was laughing all the time as we got closer. The  natural hot spring is so beautiful – look!

Can you see the holes in the sand? That is where the water comes up from.

There is also the Puji Temple to see in Beitou. It is one of the very few well-preserved Japanese temples in Taiwan. We strolled in the area twice, but just couldn’t find it. I don’t think the labelling is very good. We gave up after the second time and went to do what we do best – EAT!

Bye Bye Beitou Buddha…

Hong Kong Highlights

January 28, 2011 § 4 Comments

A had to travel to Hong Kong last week and there was no way I was going to miss out on a travel opportunity. We ended up making it a four day trip. It was a fun-filled weekend with good food and good weather. I did the usual touristy things. My favourites were:

1. Kowloon Park

Firstly, I was fascinated by it’s location. It is smack-bang in the middle of Tsim Sha Tsui which means that the beautifully tranquil park is surrounded by skyscrapers. It is positioned along the main thoroughfare of Hong Kong, Nathan Road.  Because Kowloon Park was the first place I visited, I didn’t manage to go walk through it in its entirety, because I was antsy to see the rest of Tsim Sha Tsui. The park hosts an abundance of exotic plants and birds. It’s the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the madness that is Hong Kong, both because of its location and atmosphere.

Notice the skyscrapers in the background:

2. Hong Kong Museum of History
This museum is also very conveniently located just a few metres off Nathan Road. I didn’t expect too much walking in. I think I may be somewhat biased towards museums in Asia. It beat my expectations on all counts. It is big, covers an extensive range of topics and is very interactive – just the way I like them. It’s no wonder, considering that it cost the government of Hong Kong HK$390million to put up. It covers the geographical, ecological, political, social and economical history of Hong Kong. It is both entertaining and educational and the whole experience is enhanced by the special light and sounds effects. I was more than impressed. I think that even little children will not get bored at this museum.

 

3. Victoria Peak

The mountain that Victoria Peak is located on is on Hong Kong Island, where we spent very little of our time. It is the highest mountain on the island. We took the “peak tram” up the very steep mountain. Even though there was a lot of haze in the sky on that particular morning, the view was breathtaking. A was quite amused at the mall set up at the peak of the mountain. He said “only in Asia will they build a mall at the tip of a mountain”.

4. Jackie Chan’s boat

During our tour on Sunday, as we were approaching the Aberdeen fishing village, our tour guide pointed out that the black yacht was infact that of Jackie Chan’s. I could just picture him doing some funny action movie things on the deck of the boat 🙂

5. Ladies’ Market

I was not particularly interested in doing much shopping in Hong Kong. My friend actually said to me, “only you would visit a museum in Hong Kong”. I know, I know! I just don’t fancy shopping as a hobby. When I need particular items of clothing, I am more than open to the idea, but I rarely just shop for fun. Sure, I do get those shopping highs occasionally, but that hasn’t happened in a while. I also have a moral issue with buying “fake” products. So I didn’t plan to buy anything at the Ladies’ Market. I just wanted to see what it was all about. It was so much of fun to observe European tourists bargaining, and to see all of the same products that are sold at much higher rates in branded stores at fractions of the price at the market. I did buy a really cool leather covered notebook. I have serious weakness for stationary shopping, I must admit. I also bought a bright green non-branded handbag and a fridge magnet, because I collect magnets.

I did plan to buy gym pants in Hong Kong. Both the Ladies’ Market and the errrmmm exercise clothes road (Fa Yuen Road) are perpendicular to Argyle Road, so I thought I’d kill both birds with one stone. The exercise clothes road was a big disappointment, mainly because only 1 store on the entire road has a fitting room. I will never buy gym pants without fitting them on. There are few things in life more annoying than uncomfortable exercise wear. I ended up going to a traditional sports store at a shopping centre to get the pants.

Hong Kong was lots of fun overall, but somewhat too busy for my liking. I live in Taipei now, so that alone says a lot. I’d like to go back for another weekend in the future just to visit Disneyland Hong Kong and Ocean Park.  I must mention that there are so many dodgey characters standing around on the pavements trying to woo you into their stores in dingey alleys where they sell fakes. They can be so annoying. A swears that the trick is to give them no eye-contact. No prize for guessing where they’re from- hint: the same place as that of my ancestors 😉

Shida Night Market

January 9, 2011 § 5 Comments

Yesterday saw a night out on the town with A’s colleagues. I decided before we stepped out that I would experiment with Taiwanese speciality foods, because it’s not everyday that we have a group of Taiwanese friends guiding us through the market and explaining to stall owners that we do not consume certain animal products.

The Shida Night Market is positioned close to my Chinese school, yet we had not been there previously. Taipei has many night markets, which often stay open until the early hours of the morning. As soon as we walked out of the MRT station, we were in the midst of crowds of youth, many of whom probably attend the National Taiwan Normal (don’t ask) University close by. Our group of 7 managed to keep together through this:

The market hosts a range of stalls and stores. There are many xiaochi (small eat) stalls, jewellery stores, fresh fruit and fruit juice stalls, clothing stores and even a stationery store. Our first stop was a famous Crepe stall. This was not the conventional type of French crêpe that I am more familiar with, but a more firm “crêpe” which is rolled into a cone and stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings of your choice.  The menu was in Chinese, so we asked his colleagues to order what they felt was fitting for first-timers. We were presented with this a few minutes later:

It was HUGE! This picture does not to justice to the size of this monstrosity. The fruits inside were really fresh and juicy. The ice-cream was so-so and the crêpe was not very crêpe like, but is tasted pleasant nonetheless. The fresh cream was slightly sweetened and it went very well with the crêpe and fruits. I was happy we got to sample this baby.

I was not as happy to sample one of these poor excuses for food:

I mentioned to one fo the girls that I had not tasted Stinky Tofu as yet. She immediately rounded up the troops and directed us into a little alley leading to a busy restaurant. My suspicion that the horrid smell on the road of our hotel a few weeks back was in fact the Stinky Tofu, was confirmed. Once the fried tofu arrived, the girls casually picked up their chopsticks and began to dig in, one by one. I followed suit soon afterwards. If they swallowed one after the other with such ease, it couldn’t be so bad, right? WRONG! I broke my block in half and bit into it. The texture was similar to halloumi – not bad at all. It was also crunchy on the outside because it was deep-fried. It was fine, until I started to taste the smell (if that makes any sense). It’s almost as though the stinkyness of the Tofu comes into the taste at some stage while you’re chewing it – hard to explain. A managed to snap a picture of my expression while I was biting on it. I did not know that my face could look that ugly. No, I will not share. At least I didn’t almost throw up, like he did. Luckily his colleagues mistook his almost throwing up for almost crying. I don’t know which is worse.

We ventured back into the market after the tofu experience. I bought some hand cream which costed much less than it would in a regular chain store. The girls mentioned that if you buy products in a store (no matter the size), they are generally originals, but we should be wary of what the street vendors sell.

Once our stomachs had settled from the half-a-tofu we each consumed, we braved ourselves through the doors of another little restaurant. This time, we sampled a stew of mixed vegetables, which is supposed to be similar to Hot Pot (another Chinese speciality). I think A‘s colleagues were set out to feed us something more appetising than the ‘Tofu. This dish did not disappoint.

It is pretty much made up of a hot water with spices and herbs, into which fresh vegetables are dipped. Very simple, yet very delicious. The vegetables were mostly local favourites, such as a variety of mushrooms and baicai (Chinese cabbage). Even though it was hen la (very spicy), I probably ate more than anyone else on our table. The restaurant did not serve any cold drinks, so we went to the 7/11 down the block and got some drinks to sooth our taste buds. I had a papaya milk drink . It was perfect.

 

 After much deliberation about where to visit next, we settled to go to a tea emporium close to our home. I will write about that in my next post.

How to get to Shida Night Market: Take the MRT to the Taipower Station stop and then just follow the crowd. You will find it 🙂 If you’re still battling, walk down Luosifu Road in the direction of Guting MRT station and turn left onto Shida Road.

A tour away from Rome -Day 3

November 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Day 3 in Italy was also the most enjoyable. We were fetched from our hotel at 7am for a 13 hour tour of Pompeii and the Amalfi Coast. It was beautiful. The coastal area was breathtaking. I was in awe for so much of the drive and I even managed to stay awake for a lot of the journey, despite my urge to sleep in a moving car.

We passed by Naples and got a wonderful view of Mount Vesuvius.Our first stop was the ancient city of Pompeii, where we were guided through the ruins of the city. Our tour guide was fabulous. He was full of humour and very proud of his Roman heritage. He always maintained that the Romans were both practical and looked after their communities. They were most definately practical. Walking through what was left of Pompeii, we were able to see how they had two-way lanes, pedastrian crossings, cats-eyes on their roads and alleys, shopping centres, bakeries, swimming pools and saunas. They also had fresh running water. It amazed me to see that despite our level of progress as a human race, the Romans 2000 years ago were not very far from where we are today. In fact, there are certain communities in my home country South Africa who still don’t have access to clean, flowing water and decent sanitation. The funniest part of our tour in Pompeii was when we went into a then brothel. There were paintings depicting the services they offered – hilarious! Here are some of the pictures I took in Pompeii.

Mount Vesuvius - the volcano is still active today

The white stones served as reflectors for carriages travelling at night

 

An oven - looks just like the pizza ovens we still find today

On offer at a brothel *ahem*

A tap with running water

We then went on to drive along the Amalfi coast until we eventually stopped in Positano for lunch and some time at the beach. Positano was so serene and the air so fresh. There are quaint little stores along the coast and narrow pathways. Lunch was delicious; authentic,simple Italian pasta served with garlic, chilli and olive oil. It was the first time I walked on a pebble beach. I managed to collect some colourful gemstones. The water was brrr, freezing, but I couldn’t resist wetting my feet (and jeans). Here are some pictures from the drive to Positano – which involved a long windy roads and picture-perfect views, and the time spent in Positano.

Wow!

I cannot describe how incredible this was

Positano

From Positano we proceeded towards the town of Amalfi. This was our last stop along the coast – and luckily so, because it started to storm just a few minutes after we reached Amalfi.

I love the contrast of the green and blue in this picture

Amalfi in the evening

It stormed all the way home, but our tour guide did not seem perturbed by the weather. He kept driving around the bends at high speed. His passengers on the other hand, were praying softly, as there was hard rock on the one side of the road and a dip leading to the ocean on the other side. Thankfully, we made it! 🙂 I definately recommend a tour to see the ruins of Pompeii and the Amalfi coast for anyone travelling to Italy. You will not be disappointed.

Rome – Day 2

November 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

This must be hard to follow. I have been switching my posts from city to city. Just so you know, I spent the previous weekend in Rome (whilst still living in Gothenburg), and I have now moved to Taipei. I’m just catching up on old, but interesting things to share.

On our second day in Rome, we visited amongst other sites, the very touristy Piazza di Spagna and Trevi Fountain and their surrounding areas. I was not so impressed by the Spanish Steps. They’re wide and there are lots of them, but other than that, I just didn’t get the hype. There were so many tourists there (even more than elsewhere in Rome, and believe me, there were tourists all over). Maybe because I am not such a crazy shopper, I didn’t enjoy the area much. It is jam-packed with designer stores. I did however have the most delicious pizza in the area. It was actually what A ordered, but since my lunch was not as appetising, I opted to have a chunk of his instead. Hmmm.. Delicious tuna pizza.

3 Spanish Steps

The Trevi fountain was pretty. I more enjoyed the area around it. There were many narrow alleys and I had some delicious gelato. Notice how the food is always the highlight for me. There was also this amazing English book store in the area. (It’s a pity I don’t have my Rome travel guide with me in Taipei, or I could have provided more names.) I read the Bastard of Istanbul a couple of months back, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found another novel by Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love at the store and I am currently enjoying it just as much.

Trevi Fountain

During our walk from the Trevi Fountain to the Vatican City, we caught sight of the Tiber River. It was beautiful. I was more interested in observing how close to the banks people jogged. One wrong step and they would be washed away, brave Italians!

Tiber River

We only looked at the Vatican City from the outside for a few reasons. 1 was that the queue to enter was just too long. A and I have issues with long lines. In Paris last winter, we didn’t go up the Eiffel Tower for the same reason.

Nee Hao Taipei

November 15, 2010 § 6 Comments

We arrived in Taipei on Friday evening after a long day of travelling. The flights were not too bad, I watched movies and slept for a lot of the way. The plane food was decent. I think I should start requesting vegetarian meals instead of Muslim meals, because I usually leave the meat behind anyway.

It was raining quite a lot on Friday evening in Taipei. I was especially hungry (after sleeping through lunch on the flight), so we headed out in the direction that looked busy. We ended up grabbing some pasta and heading back to the hotel. I went to bed after a long hot bath. My first impression of the city was that it was busy and full of lights. I was suprised to notice that cars didn’t always stop at pedestrian crossings. Coming from Sweden, it will take some getting used to.

On Saturday morning, I was most startled when we went down for breakfast. Taiwanese eat rice, soup, stews and stir-fry for breakfast. I was disappointed because there was no yogurt or muesli to be found. I must start to adapt to the Taiwanese breakfast menu. We settled on toast, cereal and tea. Later in the day we were picked up by a colleague of my husband for a mini-tour of the city. We first had lunch together at a traditional Taiwanese vegetarian restaurant. The lunch buffet was extensive and we didn’t know what the half of it was. I somewhat enjoyed the sticky brown rice. The rest of the flavours were different. I wouldn’t say that they were bad, but again, they will take some getting used to.

 We then headed to his work office, and then to the Mosque, where we conversed briefly with the secretary of the Masjid. He was very friendly, welcomed us to the city and provided us with a much-needed list of Halal restaurants. He also mentioned that Eid ul Adha would be celebrated on Tuesday 16th November. With all of the packing and moving, I hadn’t thought much of the Hajj season or the Eid festivities. I usually yearn to go back to Mecca and perform pilgrimage during this period.

The next stop was the Taipei 101; the second tallest building in the world, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It was so tall – duhh! We took a high speed elevator to the top of the building. It took only 37 seconds to climb 89 floors – insane! At the top, we listened to some general facts about the geography of Taipei whilst looking out the windows of the high building. Taking the elevator down was not so pleasant. Because of the high speed at which the elevator moves, my ears got blocked within the first few seconds- highly uncomfortable. I kept stretching my jaw and swallowing until they opened up again. After the Taipei 101, we took the metro home. It was Sunday afternoon, but still jam-packed! I wonder what it will be like during rush hour.

This morning, the jet lag seems to have finally passed.  A starts work today, so I will be exploring alone. I plan to start taking pictures of my adventures again. Post-flight, it was the last thing on my mind. Wish me luck with the new city 🙂

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