Still going to be behind in this catch up travel blogging. I’m heading off to Thailand again tomorrow, and I still have to write about our trip to France after this post.
Saturday 28th April, 2012
As I left the last travel entry, we flew from Incheon airport in South Korea to Taipei in Taiwan.
It was already evening by the time we arrived, and the easiest way for us to get to our hotel was by taxi. I booked for us to stay at Hotel 73 (or Ho73l), and as our taxi nearly arrived, I spotted a cool looking entrance to something worth sightseeing, which I decided had to be our must-see first stop the following day, even though I had no idea what it was. Given I hadn’t had any specific plans for what to do in Taipei, and I mostly booked the trip because I thought it would be an interesting destination, not because I knew what you could do there, it made sense to do something we didn’t have to research first.
After I went to bed with the kids, Jeremy took the hotel’s car to and from the airport again, to pick up our friend Reileen, who arrived far too late for us to have just waited for her.
Sunday 29th April, 2012
Once we woke up in the morning, the rest of us got to meet Reileen, and then we all went downstairs to enjoy the buffet breakfast the hotel provided. I really liked the range of items to choose from, and there was enough for the children to also enjoy. I’m going to sum up the breakfast over all six days so I don’t have to write about it again. Leo, being only 20 months, tended to stick to peanut butter on bread, and chicken nuggets and sausages on the days those were provided. The restaurant tended to change things up a bit so it wasn’t the same dishes on offer every day, but I liked that. What I also liked is that it wasn’t even your standard continental breakfast as far as tea and coffee is concerned. They had extra flavours you could add to your hot drinks! Aside from bread/toast, the other food on offer tended to be Asian rice and/or noodle dishes, and Western food that isn’t necessarily what we’d have for breakfast, like the aforementioned chicken nuggets, though there were also scrambled eggs and sausages.
We headed out after that to find the sight I’d seen from the taxi. It turned out to be the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial, though we looked around the outer grounds of it first, and I spotted an interesting looking Taiwanese bird. I watched it dig for worms for a while before we headed closer to the memorial building.
As soon as we got inside, we were ushered to the lifts so we could go right up to the statue of Chiang Kai-Shek and watch the changing of the guard that was happening. It was a little crowded, and we missed the start of it, but we still managed to get a good look. It wasn’t as eventful as the changing of the guard we watched in Korea, and the guards wore all white uniforms rather than the colourful uniforms the Koreans wore, but in a way that makes it more interesting. I like getting to see how various countries do things differently.
After the crowd dispersed and the barriers were taken away, we took a few photos of the statue, and then walked outside to get a nice view of the memorial grounds. The National Theatre and the National Concert Hall are both in the same area, and they are absolutely stunning to look at, with bright orange roofs and the intricate designs. There was also some sort of demonstration happening with people wearing brightly coloured clothes in the space between them.
We were already getting a bit hungry for lunch after that, so we headed back downstairs and across the street to a small Taiwan-style café type place that we’d passed on our way there, which I’d found appealing. I don’t remember much about what we ate, though I liked it, and we also tried some interesting flavoured drinks. Doyle had chosen a sesame seed drink which he ended up deciding he didn’t like, alas!
When we headed back to the memorial, we went to the second/middle floor to have a look at the art gallery. At first it didn’t seem like much, until we noticed a room where an exhibit was just opening. We weren’t sure if we were allowed in, but I think either Jeremy or Reileen asked if it was okay, and then we had a look around. There were some really nice paintings in there, but I think Doyle was more impressed by the free cookies and cake they had!
Then we headed back down to the bottom floor to check out the museum that was all about Chiang Kai-Shek. For those who don’t know, this was the man who led the anti-communism movement, which ended up taking their government to Taiwan. It was pretty interesting to learn about because I didn’t know about all of that history, nor did I know about how the Japanese used to control Taiwan, so there’s quite an interesting cultural mix there. There were a lot of artefacts from his life spread throughout, from text he wrote, to furniture he used.
Also in the building was an animation exhibition, which we had to pay to see. Jeremy was particularly interested in checking it out, so we all went to have a look. It was about the history of animation from over the years, from the very beginning of it, to the computer and stop-motion animation of today. Clips were screened from different shorts and features where you could sit down and watch for a while. I mostly just followed Leo around and sat down and watched the things he was interested in, while Reileen, Jeremy and Doyle were able to take a more leisurely pace. I guess I was most interested in the models they had from the Wallace & Grommet Were-Rabbit movie.
By the time we got out of the exhibition, it was raining, so Jeremy and Reileen had a brief look at the little market they had on one part of the outside, while I stayed undercover with the boys. I also got to see the very start and/or end of the changing of the guard ceremony, before/after they were upstairs.
It was still raining a bit when Reileen and Jeremy met up with us again, so since it wasn’t really good weather for sightseeing, we just headed back to the hotel. We had various movies available to watch in the hotel, so I put Puss in Boots on for the kids, though that was more because it was something I wanted to watch too. It was quite a delightful tale, and better than all the other movies that followed on from Dreamworks’ original Shrek.
Since it was still a bit rainy for dinner time, we didn’t wander too far when we headed out for that. I can’t specifically remember what we had again. Then we brought the kids back and put them to bed, before choosing to watch 50/50 together. I chose this movie mainly because I’ve been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt since I was a teenager, though I probably should’ve paid more attention to the content. Due to its cancer theme, it was a bit triggering for me, thinking about my mum and how she died, but I decided to credit the film for that, and how well they portrayed what it’s like to go through such experiences.
Monday 30th April, 2012
After the previously mentioned excellent hotel buffet breakfast, we headed back toward the same memorial from the day before in order to take some more photos from a different angle. We walked around the outside of it to start with, which meant passing a maritime museum that I decided might be worth me checking out later, if there was time, seeing as I was still in the middle or writing a pirate novel then.
So we headed around to the main entrance and got to take some much better pictures of the National Theatre, Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial, and National Concert Hall. We weren’t really able to stick around for too long, as Doyle ended up wetting his pants because he’d forgotten to use the toilet before we left the hotel in the morning. Most of us stayed in the shade while Jeremy went off to find a toilet or restaurant with a toilet in which he could be taken to change his clothes. We hadn’t really counted on this happening, though, so when he did come across a toilet he could take Doyle to, Doyle ended up in Leo’s shorts, and Leo only had his nappy after that. Such is the dangers of travelling with small children under-prepared! Leo was asleep sometime around this time, because I remember he didn’t wake up until after we had arrived at the National Concert Hall’s café for our lunch. It was the closest place we could find, even though it was a little on the expensive side. We then had a brief look inside the bookstore and the main foyer before wandering around more of the memorial grounds.
After that, we headed back into the memorial building, since it had a post office, and Jeremy wanted to send his mum a mother’s day present from there. It had been closed the day before due to it being a Sunday. After that was all sorted, we headed back to the hotel for a bit of a rest and proper change of clothes for the kids. Hmm, this might’ve been when I put Puss in Boots on, rather, or I might’ve played something else.
I had a look at one of the maps we’d picked up at this point, also, so I could decide where we would go for the rest of the afternoon and evening. When we did head back out, I walked us in the opposite direction to Da-an Forest Park. There was a nice big playground there that both Doyle and Leo got to enjoy for quite some time. I do feel like when you’re travelling with kids then it’s important to make time for things they would enjoy so they’re not just doing everything you’d like to do, though Jeremy and I are lucky in that Doyle and Leo tend to fare well in museums and other cool sights we like to see too. It’s surprising how much we can get Doyle to walk when we travel sometimes, though! On this trip we fortunately brought the pram for Leo. Even at two he’s not quite at an age that is good to make him walk the kinds of distances Jeremy and I like to walk when we travel.
After the playground, and seeing the rest of Da-an park, I wanted to try and track down a night market so we could see if we could find the Taiwanese-style fried chicken we’ve tried in Malaysia. The map I had indicated a few places we should’ve been able to find them, though it was with much difficulty that we actually got there in the end. Of course, it was well worth it! Not only did they have the really tasty Taiwanese-style fried chicken, but a lot of other really nice Taiwanese street food we’d never seen before. It was all delicious.
Leo was however getting quite cranky and almost running into the street, worrying us, by this time of night, so we had to head back to the hotel after that. Once the kids were all settled in bed, the adults watched a couple of episodes of The Big Bang Theory, which Reileen had brought with her.
Tuesday 1st May, 2012
Today was the day that Jeremy decided he would make the plans for, so we weren’t to make any suggestions or ask questions about what we were doing. As I’ve said in the past, I generally like these days, because I don’t have to worry about figuring things out, and Jeremy generally likes doing the same things I do anyway.
We started out by taking a bus many blocks down the same street our hotel was on, but then got out a bit early in order to be a decent distance away from Taipei 101 in order to take photos of it. When this skyscraper was built in 2004, it was the tallest building in the world. I believe it is now second to only the Burj in Dubai.
When we crossed the street over a bridge, I looked down to see at one intersection, they had a special section just for motorcycles to wait for the lights to change. I thought this was a really good idea, and something that should probably be introduced in other countries — particularly Asian ones — where the use of motorcycles is quite high. I’m thinking mainly of places like Malaysia and Vietnam.
When we arrived at Taipei 101, I noticed that they had a Love sculpture just like the one I’d seen in Philadelphia. I hadn’t realised there were more of them! So naturally I had to get a photo of that. Then we headed inside the building, which was a mall on the lower floors, and up to the entrance to the top. One of the things Jeremy tends to like to do when we go to places with these tall structures is to go up them, so that’s what we did. It was a really good view, and we had an audio guide included, which described various other buildings we could see around the city. It also allowed us a good opportunity to see other sights we might like to visit before we had to go home again.
After the observation floor, Reileen, Leo and I headed upstairs to a theatre room, thinking that’s where Jeremy and Doyle had gone, but it turned out they’d gone downstairs instead to the floor where you could see the damper — a giant ball, basically, that keeps the building from being affected by the wind. Once we’d figured out we were in different places, we swapped around, and then I had a browse around the damper floor on my own, whilst also admiring some of the coral sculptures they had on display. They were really beautiful to look at, and it felt like an uniquely Taiwan experience, both because of the types of things that were carved, and because coral is one of their main industries. I hadn’t even known you could carve things out of coral until I’d seen them all!
I didn’t look through all of what was there until I got back with the rest of our travel party, however, as that was the way to the exit. The latter part of it was a store and there was so much I would’ve liked to have gotten, if it wasn’t so expensive. Of course, now Jeremy and I have seen coral will be one of our wedding anniversary themes down the road, I know what I’ll want!
It was lunch time when we headed back downstairs, though Leo was asleep by then (are you sensing a theme for when he liked to nap?) so we headed to the food court in the lowest part of the building. This time I actually happen to remember what I ordered! Because of the previous Japanese occupation of Taiwan, I figured it wasn’t that bad that I ended up getting a Japanese curry rice omelette. I don’t think I’d had something like that before, but I really liked it and decided I’d made a good choice. Doyle, however, ended up with McDonald’s, because kids are not quite as adventurous when it comes to food.
Leo eventually woke up, so we headed into the nearby grocery store and got some lunch for him there before heading outside where I could feed it to him, and Doyle could play in the fountain. After Doyle had gotten himself thoroughly wet, Jeremy took us back to our hotel on the bus again. We stayed around here until he decided it was time to go back out for dinner, which ended up being a little Taiwanese restaurant, and having to carry Leo upstairs. Our order wasn’t quite understood, and we ended up getting a small and large dish of the same kind of rice, but even though we’d thought we missed something, due to our large lunch, we didn’t need much for dinner anyway. It was still quite nice.
According to the order of my photos, this was the the night we amusingly found Malaysian roti being sold on a street corner. And I found a cute kitten curled up on a motorbike.
I don’t really remember what happened after that, aside from going back to the hotel. I think it took so long getting the kids to go to sleep that I ended up falling asleep with them.
Wednesday 2nd May, 2012
Today was probably our biggest day for sightseeing… because I planned it, and that tends to be what I do. I’d worked out from the map I had all the things that were closest to each other that I thought might be interesting to see. Even though I later found out the map I had was rather outdated for the MRT system (in that there was at least one new line that didn’t exist on my map), we still managed okay. I took us back past the maritime museum and the memorial toward the Presidential Building – close enough for a photo or two, but not too close – and then eventually found an entrance to the MRT we could take to get us to where I wanted to go. It wasn’t the one I’d intended to take, but at least I managed to get a few more photos on the way.
We took the MRT to Yuanshan station, and headed west toward the Confucius temple. I’d never been to a Confucius temple before and I was curious, but while we were there, we also discovered a Baoan temple… I’d never even heard of one of those before! Though prior to checking out the temples, there was also a cool Chinese garden opposite each of them, where it was the corner in an L shape.
What I liked about the Baoan temple (above, left) was all of the intricate wood carvings in the structure and the surrounds. It was really beautiful to look at. The Confucius temple (above, right) included a museum in the outer rooms, which was really cool. If we hadn’t had the kids with us, I might’ve spent more time in them learning more about Confucius. But, even with the little I was able to read, he had come up with certain ideas earlier than the European counterparts, for example mathematical theories like Pythagorus’ theorem.
Once we were done exploring the temples, and other nearby sculptures (there were some cute hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil bears), we went off in search of lunch. Due to the minimal cash we had left, we ended up picking up some items in a nearby bakery and convenience store, then walking to a small park to eat the food. Then we set back off toward the train station again, because I wanted to explore the area on the other side.
What we found there was a new exhibition centre, which wasn’t on my map, where we took cover for a while as it rained. As it settled down a bit, we had a look around the gardens for a little while, then went over a bridge to the next park area. From the bridge we were able to see The Grand American Club, which is a giant Chinese style building with the orange roof, and we had admired from the taxi on the way to our hotel.
Once we got to the other side of the bridge, we ended up at the Fine Arts Museum. Reileen was a bit tired of walking, and Doyle wasn’t particularly interested in looking around either. He just wanted to play games on my phone. I can’t remember whether Leo was asleep or not, but he came with me and Jeremy, though the looking around the art was mostly for Jeremy’s and my interest anyway. I thought they had some nice things to look at, and had an interesting film exhibit, too. Besides that, it was a good activity for us to do while it was still a bit rainy.
By the time we headed out, the rain had subsided, so I led us further into the park areas where we got to see an interesting bridge, and a plane about to land in the nearest airport. It flew very low! I also amusingly found a glass “smoking room” in the park, because I guess in Taipei they don’t want smokers to even pollute the fresh park air with cigarettes. In one of these parks we walked through, while I was trying to lead us to the closest MRT on the map (which was actually further than the closest ‘new’ station, which would’ve been better for us), I also came across a hedge maze. I’d never been in one of those before and wanted to give it a go, but most of the others weren’t interested so I just went in with Doyle. We had a lot of fun and managed to work our whole way around the maze rather than taking one of the early exits.
It had started to get much darker by the end of the maze, and people were getting tired and wanting to go back to the hotel, so we headed off again. I didn’t end up finding the MRT I was looking for, which was still a few blocks away, before the rain started back up. Given the conditions we were faced with, I decided getting a taxi back to the hotel instead was in all of our interests.
For dinner, we headed out to a restaurant called Alleycat, which was a downstairs Italian restaurant, where we ordered a couple of calzones and garlic bread to share.
By the time we finished there it was absolutely pouring with rain, but there wasn’t much we could do. We ended up getting pretty soaked on our short walk back to the hotel, and required baths to wash off by the end of it.
Thursday 3rd May, 2012
After the full day we had the day before, pretty much everyone else wanted to stay at the hotel in the morning, though for Jeremy and Reileen it was to catch up on some work, despite being on holiday. So I left the boys with them while I went off to the Evergreen Maritime Museum on my own. I hadn’t realised Evergreen was a maritime company, but I learned as much given the number of things they had in the museum. It wasn’t just their things though. In terms of why I was there – to do a bit of research and get inspiration for stories I was working on (not necessarily just my pirate novel, but also some of the spin-off mermaid short stories) – the trip was certainly worth my while. The first section had several models of ships from the appropriate century I had been writing about, and I got a bit of an idea about sizes and where the small boats went and so forth. Then the next section was for maritime artwork, which also had some relevant paintings. I ended up getting more inspired with ideas for mermaid short stories rather than the novel, but I jotted down several notes while I was in there.
The section on warships was also interesting to me, given my recent trip to Hawaii and visiting Pearl Harbor there. They had included a model of the USS Arizona, amongst other vessels that were used in WWII, both by Americans and the Japanese. In the past, I had rarely been interested in maritime history, but writing about the subject has certainly piqued that interest a lot more.
I only spent a couple of hours there because I wanted to be back early enough to make sure we had time to do something else together in the afternoon, with plans to go to the zoo. When I got back to the hotel around noon, and quickly checked the Internet, I’d had a message from my friend Tara to let me know she was thinking of me. At first, I didn’t understand why she’d sent the message, and then I realised it was because it was the anniversary of my mum’s death. I think the fact I was overseas meant that it didn’t trouble me as much as the date normally does, and perhaps I could feel her presence a bit as well. Keeping occupied and doing something both interesting and productive certainly seemed to help, though having cried over 50/50 a few nights earlier may have also lightened my mood.
We then all headed out for lunch, walking toward the MRT station I wanted to take to get to the zoo… and then it started raining again. So we ducked into a 7 Eleven to get some lunch, and I found myself eating more Japanese food. Since the weather wasn’t so good, we decided to change the plans for the zoo, and ended up taking the MRT to the Sun Yat-Sen memorial instead. The other map I had told us of a manga style art show near there that Jeremy thought would be interesting, so we decided to check that out.
The manga show (or Eshi 100 – Contemporary Japanese Illustration) was held in a warehouse at the Songshan Cultural and Creative Centre, and though we had to pay to look, I really enjoyed the art. I’m quite a fan of that style and it was all really well done. When we finished going through there (and Leo got tired of climbing over the mock bridge they had inside), we took a brief look around the rest of the Centre, before heading back to the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial.
We had previously been able to see the memorial from Taipei 101, but of course it was different up close. Sun Yat-Sen was the first President of the Republic of China, and thus also an important person in Taiwan’s history, even though they were initially based on mainland China, they were eventually pushed back to Taiwan. It’s interesting how it all works where the People’s Republic of China (ie the communist part/mostly mainland China) considers Taiwan under their control, and yet it operates apart from that and they seem okay with the fact Taiwan maintains these memorials as a tribute to them actually being a separate country. In some respects, it is like Macau and Hong Kong, as unlike mainland China, we didn’t need a visa to visit, and they also have their own independent currency.
Anyhow, this memorial also had a museum, which we had a look through, though it seemed more focused on historical Taiwan and how people lived. I was amused when I found a picture of a woman who looked exactly like Reileen, and we had previously seen that it was likely Filipino ancestors originated from the natives of Taiwan (the Chinese and Japanese are different from the natives). So Taiwan certainly has an interesting mix of cultures.
While Reileen and Jeremy spent more time in the museum, Leo, Doyle and I went outside and caught a fountain show. We also collectively managed to catch the final changing of the guards here, which included them taking down the flag. Their guards wore the same uniform as at the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial. Though this memorial wasn’t as interesting to look at, it was still worth the visit.
Much to my regret, as we had entered the memorial grounds, Doyle had spotted a McDonald’s logo and was set on having that for dinner. Again. So that’s where we ended up afterwards, just to get dinner for the boys. They also had a brief play in the McDonald’s playground. Us adults preferred something more substantial to eat, so we popped in to a Taiwanese/Chinese restaurant to get something to take back to the hotel to eat.
As we walked toward the same bus we had taken previously, we got to enjoy seeing Taipei 101 lit up at night – complete with giant LED Luis Vuitton ad going around the top.
During the night, both boys were quite sick, which included vomiting on the bed. Let me tell you, it wasn’t especially pleasant to sleep there! Thankfully it was our last night, but the poor maid(s) who would have to clean up the next day. I at least did my best to clean up what I could.
Friday 4th May, 2012
Due to the aforementioned kids being sick, we didn’t do much of anything on our final day. We stayed in the hotel and had a bit of a sleep in, and packed, before having a late breakfast.
I headed out for a little while to walk Leo in his pram, because he was getting a bit antsy cooped up in the hotel, and I wanted to look at the nearby market. Jeremy had taken Leo there the previous day when I was at the maritime museum, so he’d already had a look.
Then we all took the hotel’s car back to the airport, said goodbye to Reileen, and flew back home to Malaysia.