I’ve been in Taiwan for five months now. It’s gone by so fast and yet, in some ways, it feels like I’ve been here forever. Since this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I have been visiting places in Taipei that are listed as “must see” spots. I’ve been to the following over the past few months: Danshui, Treasure Hill, the Grand Hotel, and Yangmingshan National Park. I’ve even been to a hospital although that was left off the “must see” list. I can’t imagine why!
Danshui/Tamsui is only a 20-30 minute MRT trip from my apartment. The day Jon and I went was overcast and rainy. The area where we started, Danshui Old Street, has cobblestone roads and a quaint feel. It is right on the water with a volcano on the opposite side – an impressive view even with the fog from the rainy day. There were colorful, wooden boats lining the coastline, ferry boats and fishing boats cruising slowly past.
There were vendors with carts, small restaurants and small shops away from the water. They were selling fried calamari, fried mushrooms, and other types of seafood. Everything appeared fresh and enticing. As we walked away from Danshui toward Fisherman’s Wharf, the scenery changed to seaside cafes. I could’ve been anywhere in the world. Other than some Chinese characters on signs, there was nothing Asian about the area where we were walking. Trees grew out of the stone walls and water slammed against the shore, spraying up on bridges and café porches. Pedestrians, bicycles, scooters and cars kept the area lively but not too crowded.
Fisherman’s Wharf was busier. We walked over the Lover Bridge of Tamsui, a Subway sign the first sight then a tour bus that pulled up near the restrooms. Anything worth taking pictures of was covered with people posing and taking any shot they could get. Even crossing the bridge was an obstacle course of people staring up at the bridge to get the best shot. I’ll admit that I did pause to take one, but I didn’t linger long.
We had a beer at a café outside on the water then headed to Din Tai Fung for the “must eat” pork xiaolongbao or soup dumplings. They were worth all the rave reviews I’ve read about them. They have a very thin skin that bursts in your mouth, flooding it with the savory soup and minced pork inside. Absolutely delicious along with a unique experience – but make sure they aren’t too hot or you will burn your mouth!
Treasure Hill was far more interesting than I expected although be prepared to walk up a lot of stairs as you explore. Originally a settlement of military veterans, it is now an artist’s community. The settlement is tucked into a mountain with all these rooms off stairs and built with a maze-like feel. There were old people shuffling around inside rooms right next to shops selling metal jewelry or paintings so you never knew what you’d find around the next corner.
I didn’t know much about it before I went, and the most interesting part for me was a documentary randomly shown in one of the rooms. It didn’t hurt that they showed the documentary in a cool, air-conditioned room on a very hot day, but I enjoyed learning about the place. Like most of Taiwan, their history seems closer to them somehow. I think they work harder to preserve it and retain it than we do in the US. I walked away feeling thoughtful and humbled by how easy my life is.
The Grand Hotel is grand indeed. The architecture on the outside is a stereotypical Chinese building. I pass by the hotel every day on my way to work and, the first few weeks, I would strain for a view of it every morning. It is awe-inspiring. The inside is just as good. The detail in the carvings and the designs just blow my mind. I’ve heard that there are comments that the building is outdated, but I wouldn’t change anything. The history brings even more beauty to an architecture that is not considered modern but deserves respect. We didn’t eat there, but that is on my “must do” list as well so I’ll be back! They have an afternoon tea that I want to try.
Yangmingshan National Park: I didn’t even know that’s where I was headed as we got off in Beitou. It wasn’t until later that I realized we were on one of the many, many trails in the park. The hike was a killer on my legs as I am not in hiking shape, but it was worth the views. I’m not sure my hiking partner, Jon, would agree with me as he had to keep waiting on me to catch up, but I loved it! The trees, the foliage, the people, the hidden stone building falling down off the beaten path, the vegetable stands popping up occasionally on the side – it was peaceful and relaxing (when I ignored the burning in my thighs!). If you are interested in more details about how to get to this trail or what some of the trees are, visit Jon’s blog. I’m more like, “Oh, pretty” then I move on.
Although I am trying to see as much as I can, I have been doing less sight-seeing in the last month than when I first got here. I am finally settling in and have realized that, as much as I enjoy the sight-seeing, I also need to enjoy the day-to-day. Everything is a different experience than in the US. Some things are finally becoming mundane, and I’m noticing far less of the day-to-day than I was because it is becoming ordinary to me. That’s both good and bad. I don’t want to lose the awe I felt when I first came so I keep reminding myself to look around and not get stuck too much in a routine. Every moment of every day offers something new if I just look for it.
Now that we’ve kicked 2016 off, I am looking toward the year ahead with excitement and wonder what I will see around the next corner. For this year, I’m leaving exact planning on the side of the road and heading off to explore the known and the unknown. I’m learning that even the familiar can bring new things if I look for them.
What do you hope to see this year?