After a short train ride further down the East coast, we arrived at Hualien. Dawin’s parents split off to see some friends and visit a doctor they knew, so the rest of us hopped in with a local tour guide for the day. 

After a quick lunch, we got a taste of Taiwan’s history. There are a handful of big companies that pride themselves on being among the oldest in the country. We visited one of them which has set up a mini museum focused on showcasing the everyday lives of the people of Taiwan in the 50s and early 60s, the first decade or two after breaking away from China as communism took over. 

And as we walked out of the museum, we learned that not every aspect of that way of life has been left behind. Immediately next door, a man was plowing his field with the help of a water buffalo. 

Next up was a scenic overlook of the coast. There were little pull offs all along this road but this one had a walking path along the cliff face with a nice tower for better viewing the scenery, and a background of steep mountain faces reaching into the low clouds. 

We then ventured inland along one of the river gorges. There were warning signs up everywhere for rock slides, but it didn’t hit home until we drove by a rock about the size of a semi cab perched on the edge of the road which the driver told us was one of the smaller boulders that had come down last year in a huge rock slide. The house sized boulders lying in the river gained some perspective, and a short while later we stopped at a roadside stand loaning out free hard hats for use if you wanted to get out of the car and explore. Before we knew it, we were walking down a road carved out of and into the sheer rock face. Avi wasn’t feeling the hard hat so we had keep her away from most of the fun spots, but there were still places she got to see a great view. 

For reference, the larger rocks are about the size of our house.

So I guess big rocks fall here often enough to warrant a permanent structure to catch them?

Finally, it was time for dinner. We did hot pot for the second time this trip, but at a place which has a special twist. They’re known for their floral hot pots, where flowers are used as a base for flavoring, and especially the lotus flower. And when the flower is put in the pot, after a couple seconds it opens up and “blooms” right in front of you. 

Tomorrow: a land trek down the East Coast National Scenic Area, and a lesson in making tofu. 

In the morning we headed to the train station and boarded a train to take us to Yilan. Yilan is the northernmost of the cities along the east coast of Taiwan and is surrounded by agricultural area. The area we stayed in was dominated by rice patties and onion fields. It’s not quite rice planting season, so instead of fields of rice to look at, we had endless flat rectangular tracts of flooded land, providing the perfect mirrors for the sky and mountains, with small footprint, multi-story houses spread among them. 

We hired a driver/tour guide for the afternoon and the first stop was lunch, which was at a kitschy little diner decorated in the style of 1960s Taiwan, full of little trinkets. It also had some absolutely amazing pork. But perhaps the most dramatic dish, visually, was dessert. It was just tapioca in sweet water, but it looks like frog eggs. 

We then got a taste of the local industry by learning about the onions that are grown here (they’re a special variety that’s very expensive) and then picking some onions and learning how to make the local version of what I can only refer to as onion pancakes. We all donned traditional hats (which appear to still be in use today) and rubber boots and ventured into the field. Everyone got a turn harvesting an onion or three and washing them. 

Once we had our onions picked, we learned how to use them to make a local onion pancake. Turns out they’re super simple. A handful of dough, rolled out into a rough square, a lot of onions (and I do mean a LOT of onions), and some salt/pepper. Then toss it on a hot skillet with some oil and wait. 

While the pancakes were cooking, everyone got to feed some bunnies! 

Then, it was time to eat. 

After the onion pancake we obviously needed something to drink, so the driver took us to the Kavalan distillery, which has become a fairly internationally respected distillery in recent years. The tour was fun, and needless to say I’ll be bringing home some whisky with me. 

Dinner was a trip to one of the local night markets. It was supposedly the small one, but was a huge maze of alleyways with vendors hawking everything from cheap electronic accessories to stinky tofu (which I learned doesn’t taste nearly as bad it smells), and was absolutely packed with people. 

Tomorrow: Hualien

Pretty low key day today. We’re staying within a couple blocks of Taipei 101, which will be the centerpiece of the New Year’s festivities. As such, roads were progressively closed throughout the day in a wider and wider circle around the building, and public transit was packed. So we stayed in the area, just relaxing. Avi especially seemed to enjoy her day. She started with some video watching:

Then moved on to playing her ocarina:

That thing is definitely upside down

And wound up down the street at the park, where she got to play and watch Mina go up the climbing wall. 

Later in the day a few of us ventured into the fray around Taipei 101, doing a little shopping and getting some snacks. 

This entire floor at Taipei 101 is full of shops I can’t afford; probably why it was still fairly empty when we went shopping.

For dinner we had beef noodles from a shop that Dawin’s mom has been going to since she was a little girl. They give you fresh uncooked noodles and the sauce and you bring it home to finish the prep yourself. It was delicious, and to finish the meal we went down the street to get some shaved ice and red bean soup with mochi. 

Those of us that managed to stay awake got to see Taipei 101 lit up with fireworks and lasers at midnight. People were crowded everywhere there was an open view of the building. 

Tomorrow, we set off for the East coast. 

After a hearty breakfast foraged from several nearby shops, we spent much of the day on a day trip to Yingge, which is know in English as Clay Town. It’s about an hour train ride from Taipei, and is a fairly quiet little twin with one big claim to fame: pottery. There’s an area of a couple square blocks that is one pottery store after another, primarily featuring tea sets. The pottery is generally local, or at least from Taiwan, and there’s everything from teacups for a dollar to individual teapots for many hundreds of dollars. 

A display at one of many dozens of shops

We also stumbled onto an ocarina shop (little flute-like instruments in just about any shape you can imagine). Avi got a nice plastic non-breakable one, while Mina got a ceramic cow version. Mina immediately started trying to learn to play her new instrument, and Avi was perfectly happy to fake it alongside her. 

That night, we headed to a buffet at one of the local shopping malls/department stores. Don’t let that fool you, though, it was amazing. Lots of food from around Asia, with a few plates of dessert to top everything off. 

Tomorrow: New Year’s Eve! 

We spent much of today at the National Palace Museum. We visited the museum on our last trip as well, but they rotate the items regularly, so we got to see plenty of new stuff in addition to some of the best items that were there last time as well. 

However, we also ventured into the children’s area of the museum for the first time. Avi got to touch a few of the actual historical pieces and tried her hand at some calligraphy. 

By the time we left, it was time to head out for dinner. We went to a traditional Taiwanese restaurant, lots of chicken, duck, and seafood, along with an oddity or two in the form of kidneys and the like. All around, a tasty dinner. 

Tomorrow: Clay Town

Today pretty well revolved around food. Well, to be honest, most days of vacation end up revolving around food in some manner. 

After waking up to a very typical 7-Eleven and street vendor breakfast and slowly getting the entire family on the move, we ended up needing to eat again. This time we ended up at a fast-ish food (not really fast at all) type of restaurant that revolved around rice buns. We ended up with a combination of pork, beef, and fish fillers in a couple different kinds of buns, but it was all delicious. 

Then it was off to Mango Cha Cha. Though it’s spread to various locales overseas, Mango Cha Cha is originally a Taiwanese eatery. It’s over the top mangos. Mango ice cream and shaved ice, mango pudding, mango gelatin, mango wine, mango beer, mango liquor, the list goes on. We settled on a mango shaved ice and ice cream monstrosity to share, with a couple mango beers to wash everything down. 

We then lounged back at the condo for a bit, during which Avi showed that she wants to grow up to be just linksl like her cousin Mina by stealing all of her stuff and wearing it outside. Shoes, gloves, and hat (we made her put on her own shoes to go outside though, despite her protestations). 

To finish out the day, we took a slight detour to see the Red House, which is Taiwan’s version of the White House, before going and getting some hot pot. 

The hot pot was delightful, a mix of mild and hot broths, with all sorts of seafood, meat, vegetables, and noodles to get dropped in and cooked. All you can eat, but only for 90 minutes. I think we got our money’s worth though. 

That was it for Day 4. 

Tomorrow: the National Palace Museum. 

After starting the day off with some food at the condo, we ventured forth to…….eat more food! We joined Dawin’s family for lunch at a spectacular buffet. I definitely should have grabbed some photos but was way too busy stuffing my face with food. 

We then wandered through a local mall that was apparently built buy some extremely rich guy for his daughters. It’s full of stores so expensive that no one can afford anything. Our entire time there I didn’t see a single person enter a single one of the shops. However! They had a really nice Christmas village built in the atrium, so we took a few pictures with Avi. 

After some more wandering and a sidebar for some fried chicken and squid, we reinvented at the condo. Avi was tired, so we left her in the capable hands of Dawin’s brother and father. The rest of us then marched off in the direction of a night market. 

We headed to the food section of the market, looking for something interesting to eat. After browsing the fare at hand, we settled on some dumplings and crabs, which were fried whole and you’d pop in your mouth all in one bite. 

But it wouldn’t be a night market without something weird. So a couple of us bought some chicken butts to top everything off. 

On the way home, a few of us peeled off and hit up a craft brewery, which featured exclusively beers brewed in Taiwan. Some good stuff. 

That’s another day in the books. Until tomorrow…

We find ourselves in Taiwan over the winter break once again. Only this time with a tiny child. Let the fun begin! 

First up was the flight. We kept Avi awake as much as possible leading up to the flight, and boy did it pay off. Strapped her in and she was asleep before we even left The ground, and stayed that way for half the flight. After waking up for some food and a couple hours of fun, it was back to sleep for most of the remainder of the flight. I was dreading the 15+ hour plane ride, but it was actually an easier flight than the last time even though we added a toddler. 

Thumbs up, ready for take off!

…and she’s out.

Practicing to be the next EDM DJ.

The first day was mostly comprised of the family slowly trickling into the city from the Midwest, LA, and Denmark, so not much excitement. 

Day 2, once the final stragglers joined us in Taipei, we explored some shops and malls around Taipei 101. The condo we’re staying at is only a couple blocks from the skyscraper. 

We ended up in what I’m told is a bookstore but in which I didn’t see a single book. But there was plenty of shopping to be had. 

Ultimately we broke for an early dinner at everyone’s favorite dumpling house: Din Tai  Fung. 

Much food was eaten. Avi also learned how use chopsticks, by attempting to eat mommy’s hair. 

Afterwards we wandered home, where everyone retired early. Nice start to the trip.  

With the info gleaned from our tour yesterday, today we headed straight to the Jewish quarter. This whole area had been a closed of section of Prague for hundreds of years, keeping the Jews away from everyone else and keeping everyone else away from the Jews. However, it was also in an area that was prone to flooding, so the inhabitants were constantly dealing with disease. However, the population still grew to the point where more than 18,000 people were living in about a dozen square blocks of space. However, in the 1800s, the walls were torn down and the Jews were given additional freedoms in Prague. Read the rest of this entry »

So, let’s start with what to do and not do when booking an overnight train through Europe. Read the rest of this entry »