Category Archives: Misc.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 6 – Ocean Park

Despite its size, Hong Kong boasts two substantial theme parks. There’s Hong Kong Disneyland, which I’ll be visiting on my final day, and then there’s today’s destination; Hong Kong’s very own Ocean Park. Thanks to the South Island line stopping directly outside, there was only 18 minutes between my hotel room and some theme park fun and frolics – with a stop for breakfast of course.

Now, with these two buns I think I have now crossed off everything major from my “what to eat in Hong Kong” list. First there’s the pork bun, a classic and always a pleasure when the meat-to-bun ratio is in your favour. Then there is the Pineapple bun, a local specialty with a hard cracked sugar topping that tastes nothing of pineapple, but just looks the part. Perfect way to start the day really.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 16/25

Like with Everland, Ocean Park is part zoo and part theme park (which, given the size of Hong Kong, makes sense). It is also split into two sections because of topography, which means you have the Waterfront and the Summit areas, which are connected by a scenic cable car and an underground funicular. These different factors make Ocean Park a pretty unique visit and a varied one at that. Also, they were playing Christmas songs all day, which felt very weird given the differently themed areas.

Since it’s the closest to the entrance, our first visit was to the Grand Aquarium. It’s one of many aquaria in the theme park, but this is the one without any certain theme other than “here’s some fish”. Lots of different sea life here including spider crabs, a tower of milk fish, octopus and all matter of tropical fish. You also had a whole room with different types of seahorse and the overarching educational message that these should not be used for medicine when other things work better and are sustainable.

Next was a building referred to as the Hong Kong Jockey Club Sichuan Treasures. This large building contains two types of animal. Firstly there’s the oldest panda currently in captivity who, at time of writing, was 33. It was nice to see a panda just wandering around and being bear-like, especially an old gent like himself. Next to him were the Golden snub-nosed monkeys – including a baby who was born this year. I first saw some of these in Everland and, like now, find them so strange to look at. However, I did fall for Little Peanut (the baby) who was swinging everywhere and annoying their parents.

In the next park area, titled Amazing Asian Animals, you get even more animals to enjoy – including the two current breeding pandas at the zoo who were both asleep leaning on boxes. There are also exhibits featuring red pandas, Chinese alligators, otters and a strangely interesting room continuing many different breeds of goldfish. I’m ignorant in the way of the goldfish, but I had no idea there were so many variations.

Since the Emerald Trail was closed, we made a visit to the Adventures in Australia exhibit – containing wallabies, kookaburras and a rather obese koala before getting in the only queue that we were going to experience today – the one for the cable car.

When you come to Ocean Park, the one attraction that you absolutely have to do is the cable car. Not just because it’s one of the two ways to visit the other park (because the funicular is more efficient), but because the views you get en route are spectacular. Like, the type of beautiful where I was compelled to tell the seascape to “shut up” because it was being so beautiful. We ended up doing this trip twice, because when you are at Ocean Park when everything has next-to-no lines you ride the cable car twice.

The Summit level of Ocean Park is where you find the vast majority of the rides, a bunch of them were shut for upgrades (the perils of off-season) but we got in a bunch of the available ones. First was the rapids ride in the rainforest area, as those tend to be my favourite kind of rides. We strolled straight onto a tube and both got summarily soaked since, as my husband put it, “this ride cheated” when it comes to getting you wet as there are jets spraying directly at the riders. Still a lot of fun though.

We finished off the rainforest zone by looking at the animals in the Expedition Trail area – including electric eels, frogs and the most satisfied looking iguana that I have ever laid my eyes on. They also had a few arapaima, which are the largest freshwater fish in the world and look like something out of Jurassic Park.

Since we’d both dried off a bit, it was time to scratch the roller coaster itch by riding the two that were not currently under maintenance (sadly the other two were closed). First was the gentler of the two, the Arctic Blast. We managed to stroll on and get underway almost straight away. It’s one of those coasters that is a good in between to make sure you don’t accidentally bring your kid on a particularly rough one (the uncontrollable crying of the girl in Everland still makes me laugh).

Then there was the Hair Raiser, whose Luna Park inspired facade gives off a ‘can’t sleep, clowns will eat me’ kind of a vibe. As with the other coaster, we got on straight away and the experience was so extremely joyful and full of g-force that it left us both with smiles and headaches. Time to take a rest from the rides and head for the highlight of the day.

List Item: See a walrusStatus: Completed

I love walruses. You very rarely see them in captivity and the closest I’d ever seen one was in a Seaworld show when I was 10. So, to say that my reaction to seeing two of these beautiful animals swimming an arms reach away was a bit extreme is… well I cried. I managed to keep myself together to not go completely ridiculous, but I was very obviously overwhelmed and so stood there staring and snapping pictures for an inordinate amount of time. Towards the end of the day, there was a walrus feeding demonstration so we returned and I videoed the whole thing.

We finished up in this section by seeing the other polar animals on display – spotted seals, arctic foxes and three types of penguin. The Gentoo Penguins were especially interesting as it looked like they were in the process of nesting, so the male Gentoos were gaily running around gathering pebbles and bringing them back to their partner. So very very cute.

Two more rides (on the Rev Booster and the Whirly Bird) and then we went back to the lower level via cable car in order to get lunch. Since we had a two for one code, we grabbed a rather delicious sausage before settling down with some dumplings and dan dan noodles. Apparently, this vendor in the park is mentioned in the Michelin guide, which is really cool for an affordable food stand in a theme park.

We went back to the summit via the Jules Verne inspired Ocean Express tram and took in some more of the aquaria. First was the small one dedicated to Chinese sturgeon, then there was the better shark-themed one. So many things are better with rays and sharks, and this aquarium had quite a few of them. I ended up becoming especially fixated on the guitarfish and the sawfish. Sometimes it’s just amazing to see these oddities swim.

By this point it was nearly an hour to closing, so we watched the walruses being fed, had a second go on both roller coasters and bought some souvenirs before heading out. Our eight hours really flew by, but that wasn’t it for the day.

We’d always intended to go back up The Peak at night during our final full day, but geographically this just worked perfectly – so that’s just what we did. Only this time, we paid the extra 50HKD to go to the main viewing platform and made sure to get as much use out of it as our increasingly colder selfs could.

The uniqueness of Hong Kong’s geography and building density really makes for some incredible views from high vantage points. Also, at this point of view, everything is this futuristic metropolis – which is a stark contrast to the view I got from Sky 100 which showed some of the less attractive buildings in Kowloon. This particular platform also gave me the weird association between this night view and a photographer repeatedly ravaging a rubber chicken in order to get a smile from a child. I don’t know what to do with that.

Dinner ended up being a bit odd thanks to a curiosity of mine to try food from Filipino fast food chain Jollibee. I’ve seen them mentioned online before, and I heard the episode of Doughboys where it received low scores. Still though I was curious enough to get a combo meal of the Aloha burger and their spaghetti and was pleasantly surprised. Especially by the spaghetti which, at first, looked really suspect but ended up tasting really good. Even if we did have to eat it with spoons.

Tomorrow is the last technical full day (the day after, we fly out at just before midnight) and it’s going to be a bit of a weird round up day. There’s things we never got around to because of the protests and police brutalities requiring rescheduling, but tomorrow should make for an interesting one.

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Two Weeks in South Korea: Day 3 – Climbing Hallasan

We woke early today to a rather foreboding sky. The weather reports had been telling us for ages that today was going to have a few hours of rain… but they were wrong about yesterday so we figured it might not be too bad. So we demolished some instant ramen sans cutlery (mine being a black bean noodle pot), bought energy bars and water from the convenience store next door and started making our way to the beginning of the trail.

Hallasan is the tallest mountain in South Korea and has a number of trails that allow you to scale it. We went for the Seonpanak trail as it got us to the top whilst also being the gentlest (and so the longest at 10km). In preparation for this I actually bought some hiking poles because I heard the terrain was uneven at the top and wanted to make sure that my knees didn’t turn to mush partway through the ascend. Well, these purple poles of mine might be the best £20 I’ve spent for a holiday as not only did they save my knees but they gave me some confidence with balance when my confidence was failing.

The reason we even decided to climb this mountain was for a view of the gorgeous looking crater lake but, as you can see from this picture, the mists had rolled in. Still, we remained optimistic as sometimes mountains can punch through the clouds. Everyone else on the trail remained optimistic too. There was a man blasting ABBA from his phone, to the point that I started to sing along to ‘Andante, Andante’. People smiled and were considerate of overtakers and passers by. Hell, there were times where people were telling us how well we were doing, or I just initiated the Korean cheer of “Fighting” as I climbed down in order to spur on those going up.

I’m not going to mince words though, we saw absolutely nothing. I think we actually climbed into a cloud as it was actually hailing and extremely windy near the summit. There was a point where a gust caught me the wrong way and I could feel it trying to wrench the glasses off of my face, which made me feel incredibly scared for my own safety. At that point I knew all the crows at the bottom of the trail were making the flight up for my potential corpse.

List item: Climb a taller mountain
Progress: Completed

Still though, we made it to the top and to say that me, who is not in great physical shape (although I have recently lost 55 pounds) got to the climbable peak of South Korea’s tallest mountain is something that I am so incredibly proud of. Not sure I would do this again though, but at least I can say I’ve done it.

The way down was a lot easier than the way up… and drier. On the way up I got soaked to the skin and on the way down I started to dry off. It gave me the chance to take some pictures and appreciate the beautiful surroundings that I had climbed through, which was nice. Just wish it hadn’t taken another four hours to reach the bottom again. However, I did get a neat certificate out of it stating that I’d climbed the mountain, which I kinda want to frame and hang with my hiking poles.

We refuelled with some local orange juice (or is it mandarin, I’m not sure) and powerade before returning to the hotel and having a good rest and shower before heading out again for the evening. Where to? To Love Land, one of Jeju’s weirder attractions.

Essentially, Love Land is a sculpture park filled with depictions of sex or things of a sexual nature. However, in an over the top and quite tacky way. It’s a bit of a throwback to when Jeju was a top honeymoon destination, so you have this and the museum of sex as a way to spur on the production of offspring. It begins seedy and funny enough with some of the really weird sculptures, but things take a turn at the end of the tour.

The person who commissioned or made these statues at the end would have been a favourite patients of Freud. They all appear to depict the same man being coerced into sex with the same older woman – with titles like ‘You Can’t Escape’. Granted this is a park that began with a funny gimmick and just pounded it into the ground, but man did these sculptures get dark toward the end.

By the time we left Love Land it was eight in the evening and we hadn’t had a proper meal all day. Originally I wanted to go to a famous seafood place in the city that was known for their seafood stews with abalone, but then I learned how the octopus and abalone was cooked alive in front of you and tried to escape the pot. I know it makes me a hypocrite, but I can’t do that.

So we ended up going for a different place… and then for the address wrong completely as we ended up with this gorgeous spicy beef stew whose name I later found out was yukgaejang. It was exactly the hearty sort of meal that we needed at the end of the day and it came with a gorgeous plate of fish cakes on the side and the most lovely server ever.

Seriously, this Korean woman was in full auntie mode with us, telling us it was okay if we found it too spicy because a customer in the corner was clearly having trouble. She even gave us extra fish cakes and some warm milk with black pepper to help my husband with the afterburn. It was such a wonderful experience and I want to adopt her.

And that’s the end of the final full day in Jeju. We really haven’t been here for long enough to see everything we wanted to see, but we fly out to Busan in the later afternoon, which means we can squeeze in one more attraction as long as I finish this post quickly enough and get to bed. And on that note!

I Built A 3D Puzzle!

List Item: Complete a 3D Jigsaw puzzle

Do you remember being a kid and looking through the catalogues in December to look for things to ask for Christmas? I sure do and I loved the Argos catalogue for this as it had such a huge toy section. This is where this slightly oddball entry on my bucket list comes in.

You see, I was always very intrigued by Puzz 3D puzzles (I think they were advertised on the television as well). However, they’re very expensive and complicated and I see why I never received one of these for Christmas. In the end, whatever I got for Christmas was probably a better shout than one of these anyway. Still though, this is something I had always wanted to complete – ergo the entry on my list.

About six months ago I walked by a local charity shop that had not one, but two Puzz 3Ds in store. Keeping in mind that some of these can be well over £80 on Amazon, these were a steal at £6 for two. I had to buy them and just wait for an empty afternoon to complete one in… which is what I did today.

This puzzle is the Bavarian Mansion puzzle and I figured it would be easier to complete than the Millennium Falcon (which is nearly double the amount of pieces). It took an afternoon to complete and now I don’t really want to take it down… so it’s pretty much taking up the dining table as I write this. It may not look as polished as on the box, but wow the sense of achievement when I got the roof attached.

You might notice on the corner of the table that there is an extra puzzle piece. Turns out, that there was an extra piece in the box… from the 1000+ Taj Mahal set. To make matters worse, it’s the top of the central dome. This means one of two things. Either the donor gave both puzzles and this piece ended up in the wrong box OR the volunteer who tests the puzzles made a mix up. Either way, I might go back to the shop at the weekend to hand it over…

Status: Completed

So, I Wrote A Cookbook

List Item: Write a bookStatus: Completed

Okay, so when I set this as a goal when starting this blog I never quite banked on me writing my own recipe. Then again, I never thought I would end up learning to cook so many different dishes as the result of different challenges and my own general amusement.

It was about a year ago that I thought about finally collecting all the different recipes that I have been making and making up over the years. I mean, one of my best friends was finally getting their own place and, as they’ve always complimented me on my cooking, I thought this was make for a nice housewarming present.

This project ended up consuming so much of my freetime for the last 6-7 months that I began to want to expand this book further and further to the point that I’ve now had my own version printed and my husband got two as presents for his family back in the Netherlands.

I’ve only had this in the house for little over a week, but I’m already finding myself using it very often. After all, it’s better to get part of a cookbook wet than your mobile phone… man I’ve really been asking for trouble for years on that count.

So yes, months of effort and learning how to do page layout have really paid off. I’ll probably continue to make more of these as I accumulate more recipes down the line… like the Beninese massa and Korean matdongsan that I made for world cookery challenge.

Paris Je T’Aime: Day 2 – Dodging the Yellow Vests

When we booked this trip to Paris we hadn’t banked on the continuing Saturday protest by the yellow vests. However, in mid-March they began escalating activities to the point where a number of attractions that we’d want to visit were either closed or no-go areas. So, today is made up of the ‘non-vest’ activities whilst tomorrow is filled with things we couldn’t do today. All in all, it made for a bit of a messy day.

So the day started with a long trip on the metro up to Montmartre. To be honest, and I can’t believe I am saying this, but I think I’ve finally found an underground system that makes me view London’s in a positive light. I guess it’s because it’s one of the older systems out there, but it really could be a lot better.

Anyway, first stop of the day was the Sacre Cœur right at the top of Montmartre. I hadn’t realised just how steep this hill was, but a work out before breakfast is a good thing I guess. The basilica itself is so much bigger than I had expected and, on a clear sunny day, I can imagine this huge white church shines like a real beacon (like I saw when in Helsinki).

The insides are more modern and arguably more beautiful than Notre Dame, but I guess it doesn’t quite have the big pop culture presence. Technically no photos are meant to be taken inside, but about halfway around the church thus rule seemed to go out the window and everyone had their cameras out. The only guard on duty was so preoccupied with shushing people that he didn’t really have time to enforce the camera rules, which was good for us.

After this we went down through the adjoining park and garden (where we were accosted and had to push our way past some very pushy women with clipboards asking for email addresses, which it turns out is part of a pickpocketing scam) in order to procure some breakfast. The hub really wanted to go for something more French than grabbing one of the many attractive filed baguettes…

…and he was right. A hot drink, an orange juice, a tartine and a croissant. Really a great way to kick start the day, plus the chance to have hot chocolate in the morning and not be judged too harshly is fantastic. We took the opportunity to roam around the nearby streets (where a lot of shell games were going on with many a tourist being fleeced) before getting back onto the metro in order to make our way south.

The best laid plans still didn’t mean that we couldn’t completely escape the yellow vest protests. Then again, there doesn’t seem to be a central organisation, so it’s little wonder that there are pockets of these people all over the city. Anyway, we had made our way south in order to visit The Paris Catacombs.

It feels a bit glib to call a place like this ‘a bit mad’, but this is an underground system containing neatly piled bones from nearly 2 million people. It’s an interesting solution to the overcrowding of the Parisian cemeteries, as well as finding a use for the network of abandoned limestone quarries. Doesn’t stop this entire attraction form being a bit weird… and I loved it.

About half of the attractions tunnels contain the bones, the entrance to that section having a sign that says ‘Stop, this is death’s empire’. For the most part the bones are stacked in a similar way with mostly femurs on the bottom and the top being mostly skulls. It is when this pattern is broken that you really notice it. There’s a group where skulls have been arranged to make a heart shape, but the biggest anomaly is the “barrel” formation where them bones have been organised around one of the support pillars. If you are not comfortable being surrounded by old skeletons them maybe this isn’t the attraction for you, otherwise it’s really interesting.

The exit is quite far from the entrance, so we browsed our way through a number of beautifully arranged food shops in order to get to Montparnasse Cemetery. It keeps with the morbid theme, but this came recommended so why not. We roamed around a bit to find some names we recognised. Thanks to the map we managed to find the graves of Jean Seberg, Samuel Beckett and Camille Saint-Saens, but some of the most interesting were those of people who weren’t on the map and just had the money to have some really interesting gravestones.

I’m going to take a bit of a time jump here. We did a lot of walking back and forth thanks to some things being closed that we hadn’t expected to be closed, so we pick up later in the afternoon when we reached the Panthéon. I’ve actually been to the one in Rome already, but this one in Paris takes the cake when it comes to audacity.

Much like the Sacre Cœur the outside is stunning to look at, but the insides are truly something else. Floor to ceiling paintings depict scenes from the life of people like Joan of Arc and Charlemagne as well as other saints and kings. Large statues at various ends of the interior provide interesting accents and the many domes of the ceilings keep drawing your eyes upwards. It’s a real site to behold.

Then there’s the crypt, which is done in the mindset of glorifying French citizens that have had great achievements for their country, in the name of their country or had brought fame to their country. Aside from the many generals and politicians down there you can find Marie and Pierre Curie (which got me so excited, even if no one else seemed to be paying any attention to them) as well as Louis Braille and Alexandre Dumas.

A short walk from here brought us to Paris Grand Mosque. This was listed in the hubs’ book of interesting buildings so thought it would be worth seeking out. It’s been nearly 20 years since I was last in a mosque, so I did feel a bit self-conscious about doing something wrong that might be taken the wrong way.

The blue tiling on the inside was lovely, but the thing I liked the most was the garden in the central courtyard. Here you can see the minaret and walk around the greenery. I’m guessing from the empty pools that there is some water here in the summer, but since we’re still in early spring it makes sense that these have been turned off.

Time for another fast forward as we have another walk through the botanical gardens in order to reach Gare de Lyon, that would enable me to reach…

List Item: Visit a town twinned with your hometown
Status: Completed

Right so this is one of the weirder items on my bucket list. The borough of London that I’ve spent that bulk of my life is twinned with three places. One is in the suburbs of Melbourne, one is slightly awkwardly positioned in Germany – this one is 40 minutes outside of Paris and so makes for an interesting way to fill an evening.


I don’t know why, but it felt a bit surreal walking around here knowing that it’s twinned with where I currently live. Compared to my hometown there are fewer restaurants, but where it lacks in restaurants Evry makes up with a very weird looking cathedral and a sizeable shopping centre. The plan was to roam around and grab some dinner, but instead we bought a bunch of things from the huge Carrefour to bring back to our respective offices and then headed back to central Paris.

For dinner I could have gone for steak, but I wanted to have something that felt more French – so I went for a Croque Madame. It’s been a lot of bread today, but this Croque Madame really did hit the spot.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Tarte Tatin
Progress: 776/1001

After a long drought, I’ve finally been to cross off another thing from the food list. For the most part I’ve been thinking of putting this on ice as it’s becoming very hard to do without some specific international journeys. However, when I come across it there is no reason to not eat it, especially when it’s as delicious as this little personal tarte tatin. Those apples were so warm, sweet and melty – perfect with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Tomorrow will be the big tourist day with some of the big icons of Paris being visited. It’s another late one today, so it’s time to end this post before I fall asleep at my tablet.

Actually Winning At Mini Golf!

Whilst these big lists are fun, there are a number of smaller things on my list to cross off. It helps keep things interesting for me and gives me more reasons to actually get out of the house on the weekend other than “because you need Vitamin D”. So let’s cross one of these mini-items

List Item: Win a game of mini golfStatus: Completed

A few months ago one of my best friends messaged me to say that she was holding her birthday at Swingers, an indoor miniature golf themed bar near Oxford Circus. It has been years since I last went mini-golfing and way too long since I last saw her. So on the calendar it went and now, some three months later, the day has been and gone and I had such a great time.

So myself and the hub were paired up with a couple that we’ve never met before. I swore that I wouldn’t get competitive with strangers as, after all, this is just a bit of fun. Then Hole 6 happened and I realised that I could actually win, so I had to suppress my competitiveness so the other people in the group wouldn’t think I was an utter psycho.

I ended up 7 above par, which I think is pretty respectable when you have years between games of mini-golf. I hope I don’t have to wait so long because even if I hadn’t have won, it would have been a lot of fun.

I Escaped A Room!

List Item: Successfully escape an escape roomStatus: Completed

I have been wanting to do an escape room for many a year, long before my husband went and did one as part of his bachelor party. The idea of being given a bunch of puzzles to solve as part of some longer narrative has always appealed to me – but these always tend to be geared to larger groups and those can be hard to get together.

So imagine how happy I was to see a two-person escape room in London! It made a perfect start to the weekend, which was also the weekend of my husband’s birthday! Given my slight competitive streak and that I’ve never actually done one of these before, got to admit I was more than a bit nervous about completing it.

As you can see from the photo I needn’t have worried. Not only did we complete it (in one of the fastest times the guy working there has ever seen), but it really did scratch all those puzzle itches of mine. Also, it was cool to have an escape room that relied so much on collaboration rather than just solving puzzles by yourself, which  probably helped us to complete it all the faster.

Obviously I can’t talk too much about the specific escape room other than it being set in the London Underground, because that would spoil things for an activity that should really never be spoilt. I just know that I am definitely keen to do more of these in the near future.

Taipei Time!: Day 5 – Exploring Taipei

Despite this being my fifth post about my time in Taipei, I think this is the first time that I had a proper time exploring different parts of the city. Probably should have had this a bit earlier in the itinerary, but that’s just how it happens sometimes.

Breakfast was a quick grab on the way to the MRT station. For them past few days I’ve seen someone selling some great selling fried meat buns and, finally, got the courage to go and buy a beef one for breakfast. Nice, hot and peppery – exactly what I needed to start off the day.

We headed north on the red line to Yuanshan Station to get some proper temple time in. There are two big ones in the area that area handily next to each other. Since one of them opened at 10, the choice was made for us to first go for the Baoan Temple. Before that, however, was a visit to the temple’s gardens with its dragon fountain and other sweet models mixed in with the well maintained plants.

After a turn about the garden, we entered the Baoan Temple itself. There was clearly something going on today as there were a lot of food offerings being prepared, but I have to hold my hands up about my ignorance of Taiwanese folk religions. In terms of look, this has to be the first time that I have seen an East Asian temple featuring so many paintings. This was in addition to the dragons and other wonderful carvings that I have come to expect from these kinds of temples.

From here it was a quick walk down the road to the Confucius Temple complex, which is part temple and part museum explaining Confucianism (something I appreciated as I only really about it from my games of Civilisation. Since this had more of a museum feel to it, there was more freedom to have a proper wander around, point things out to each other and take a few photographs of the Pan Pond, gates and the central Dacheng Hall. We also learned a bit about the changes in form of Chinese characters, which was interesting.

It isn’t just the temple where Confucianism is found in this area. Outside of the complex there are a lot of cute bear statues. There’s a set with the classical see/hear/speak no evil post, but my favourites were the six depicting the six main tenets of Confucianism. I kinda wish a smaller version of these were sold in the gift shop as some of them would have been perfect for my desk at work.

We then ventured back to the station and, on the other side, entered the Taipei Expo Park – set up in 2010 when Taipei held an international gardening and horticulture exhibition. Now, when we entered from the Yuanshan Station side we had no idea just how huge is park was.

By the time we left the first part, which we thought was the whole park, it was a little disappointing – not least because the flower landscapes were either out of season or no longer in operation. Although it is worth mentioning the number and variety of bird species that live in these parks. I swear I haven’t heard such a cacophony of bird calls in any city that I’ve visited before.

However, before we had a explore of the coolest section of the park (sadly not the pavilion on the indigenous peoples of Taiwan as that was closed), we paid a visit to the Lin An Tai Historic House. This is an actual private house and garden built based on the concept of Fung Shui – that was relocated and rebuilt in its current spot.

Keeping in mind that this faces a large road and is in the middle of the city, the sense of calm and peace you get here is otherworldly. They’ve also done this thing with there being 9 stamps around the house and gardens and, when you enter, you can collect them as you explore every nook and cranny. Made for an interesting impetus to not leave any corner of the house and gardens unexplored – oh and the whole thing was free.

We then got back to exploring Taipei Expo Park with a visit to the only open pavilion that we could find: the Future Pavilion. This, again free, area was a series off indoor gardens containing plants from different climates – which meant some much desired air conditioning.

List Item: Successfully navigate a mazeProgress: Completed

Right so this was a welcome surprise and makes for an interesting thing to cross off of the bucket list. I’ve done a hedge maze once or twice in the past, but I wouldn’t be able to tell where and when. Thus, when I saw that there was a hedge maze in this section of the park, it felt like destiny. It took less then 10 minutes to do and we both had a lot of fun completing it – the touch about having to cross set open areas with mosaics kept it interesting. As you can probably tell from the photo, I beat my husband.

Time was marching on and we were getting hungry. I’d read a lot on the web and in a few guides about a really good place next to the Taipei Fish Market called Addiction Aquatic Development and thought this would be the perfect time. It’s more than just a restaurant, but also a place where you can buy gourmet ingredients and some live seafood of your own if you felt so inclined. Me, I had my eye on the prize.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Hairy Crab
Progress: 761/1001

Just to get this out of the way – this crab cost the equivalent of £50. I hadn’t been quite expecting that we’d need to buy a whole crab, but we’d reached a point of no return and this isn’t something you can really get in the UK. My poor husband didn’t know what to do with the implements we received, so I got my hands dirty with a lot of cutting and crushing – which was more than fine by me. It also gave me a first hand chance to understand the crab’s name – it actually feels like it is covered by soft hairs! Not going to lie, I stroked my dead crabs limbs for a bit too long.

As someone who has historically liked crab, I was really concerned about kissing away. £50 like this. Shouldn’t have worried, this crab tasted exquisite and there sure was a lot of meat to find. I finally get the idea of crab tasting sweet, especially in those claws. The leg meat was firm, not too stringy and had such a subtle flavour that I’m glad that we only had this with a squeeze of (green) lemon. We also enjoyed some of the tomalley, but it really was too rich to eat too much of. This might inspire me to give crab more of a go in the future, but maybe at a cheaper price tag.

It took us about 40 minutes to finish off the crab so we had to shift some stuff in the itinerary in order to beat the setting sun. We made our way south on the red line to Xiangshan to something rather ill advised for when you’ve been on your feet all day – climb a whole bunch of stairs.

The stairs themselves belonged to the Xiangshan hiking trail, which takes you up Elephant mountain so you can get a spectacular view of the iconic Taipei 101. I’m not exactly the fittest person, but I felt gratified that I was beating a lot of thinner people up these steps; even if I was absolutely dripping by the end of the climb. Keep in mind that it was humid and nearly 30 degrees.

Sadly it was hazy, as it had been all day, but it sure was gratifying to get a super view of those stacked noodle boxes. Seriously though, this might be my favourite looking building in world and is the reason that a visit to Taipei entered my mind in the first place. Time to go up it don’t you think?

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 84/100Sight: Taipei 101
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Position: #448

For a few years this was the tallest building in the world and for a few years after that it had the fastest elevators – the journey up to floor 88 taking just over 30 seconds. Pat the time we got up there the sun was just finishing setting, which meant that we got to see the view at dusk and at night. Sadly the haze limited the view somewhat (just like with Tokyo Skytree) but I still got a real buzz of actually being inside and looking out over the city.

To be honest I didn’t want to leave, but all we’d really eaten today was crab and it was time for dinner. So we paid a visit to the big wind damper as we made our way down and out of Taipei 101. Even a few hours later as I write this, I can’t quite believe I’ve been inside that building.

A bus ride took us to our final destination of the day: Roahe night market. Whilst this is not as big as the night market at Shilin, this might have had the best mix of food and other stalls (although there was still a lot of stinky tofu around polluting the air space).

Upon entering we immediately got in line to have some of the famous baked pork buns. The wait was truly worth it, those were some flavourful and juicy pork and green onion buns. In a way, these made me think that these are like the Chinese cuisine version of Cornish pasties – just with less vegetables and a lot juicier.

This was followed up with some Taiwanese fried chicken steak (which was delicious) and a Chinese sausage on a stick (the hub misunderstood the vendor and tried to take his off then grill before they were ready). As the hub doesn’t eat chicken (apart from the bites I offered him) he had two of those sausages and a peanut ice cream roll. We ended the visit with some souvenir shopping and a juice before getting on the MRT back to the hotel.

A lot in a day right? This will likely be the busiest day of the holiday and, boy, are there a lot of good memories. This trip to Taipei is shaping up to be one of my big top tier holidays. Let’s see what a rainy Friday can bring.

Freiburg & Forests: Day 2 – Europa Park

So yesterday I made a bit of a point around setting foot in four countries in one day. Today I visited a place that has themed areas from all over Europe – the amazing Europa Park. It was a happy coincidence that this trip to Freiburg would allow for this visit – we originally booked this trip as it was on the edge of the Black Forest. I guess things happen for a reason sometimes.

The trip from Freiburg to Europa Park takes less than an hour (depending on your connections), but we still got up before seven so we could get breakfast in the hotel and still be at the park for when it opens at nine. The bus section of the trip was jam-packed with teenage boys, which brought to mind the scene in Pinocchio where they make the trip to Pleasure Island. Thankfully I did not come back as a donkey.

One thing that I want to properly draw notice to is just how lucky I was today with the number of people in the park. I see people on TripAdvisor talking about how they often had to wait at least an hour to get on a bunch of the rides (similar to my time in Tokyo Disneyland). However, in the 9 hours that we spent in the the park, we managed to fit in about 25 rides – the longest wait being just over half an hour with many others being almost immediate.

I won’t go over every ride I went on (otherwise I would be here for hours) but there are a number of highlights that I want to get down for some sort of posterity. The first cluster of highlights happened in the Austrian section of the park, which is where I actually managed to tick off something for my main bucket list.

List item: Ride a record breaking roller coaster
Status: Completed

I think it’s fair to count a first as a record, and in that case the Alpine Express helps me to check this off as it was the first coaster to use virtual reality. It’s set us you would expect, you get in a physical roller coaster with a headset on that plays a 360 video which is synced up to the twists and turns. We picked a video that had you flying around on some sort of glider and, surprisingly, it was incredibly immersive to the point where I thought I’d actually gone upside down. We re-rode the ride straight afterwards without the VR and got a completely different experience with the original runaway train through a goblin mine setting.

The next big highlight was two rides in the Iceland section. Both of them were some of the parks bigger coasters and yet,between them, we only waited for 45 minutes. I also made the potentially stupid move of riding these even though I had pulled my lower back 3 weeks ago and still had residual soreness. Weirdly, this soreness has disappeared after riding Wodan (a gigantic wooden coaster) which was like some sort of miracle.

Blue Fire, the other coaster in the Iceland section, is probably the best coaster that I rode whilst in the park. It doesn’t reach the heights of Silver Star (which was previously the tallest coaster in Europe), but it has more interesting twists and loops that help you have those thrilling extended moments of weightlessness.

We did a lot of the smoother rides in the park too. There are so many well themed rides that are fun for the family, but the runaway winner for best theme and experience was the Madame Freudenrich’s Curiosities. It’s an indoor track ride where you see lots of cute dinosaurs wearing kitted items and making cakes. Sounds weird but it is adorable and makes me marvel that Europa Park is able to make these mini-worlds without having the intellectual properties that Disney have to fall back on.

Of course we visited the England zone. There weren’t really many rides here but it was funny to see what stereotypes were used here. Mostly it was London based with the black cabs, double-decker buses and Paddington station, but there were also arcades like you’d find at the seaside.

In terms of best whole world (for rides, decor and available food) the winner for me has to be Greece. It had the best water ride, a cool coaster and a really fun laser shooting game. The place was done up as a mash-up of Ancient Greece and present day Santorini and you could smell that they were cooking gyros.

Speaking of food – we didn’t really have any meals today but just had snacks every now and then. This included a hot dog in England, burger and Olivier salad in Russia and a visit to the Foodloop restaurant in Luxembourg. Food Loop has a bit of a queue to get in, but the gimmick of having your food delivered to your table by mini-roller coaster is worth the wait. We had Mezzo Mix and Black Forest gateau, with the cake being a pleasant surprise.

We finished the day by going on the panorama train for one final look around the park before getting onto the last: Voletarium. We weren’t event going to go on this originally, but our interest was piqued as I bought myself a keychain in the ride’s gift shop. To think I almost missed out on the best experience of the day just goes to show how an amazing day can unexpectedly get even better!

To describe Voletarium is to make it sound a little bit twee. It’s essentially a large indoor cinema were it feels like you are flying through the air and the landscapes that you see. For this ride it is a number of different places in Europe (sadly none in the UK) and you are soaring through the sky between different scenes. Now, I don’t know if it was the music, my love of Europe or some other factor… but it made me cry (in a similar way to the water show in Singapore). I was just so moved and it really was the perfect way to end the day.

As you can gather from this entry, not only am I considering this trip to Europa Park as my best ever day in a theme park – but also in the top ranked of holiday days that I’ve had with my husband. We still have two more days here in Germany, both of which are set to be incredibly different to today. Tomorrow I’ll be seeing more or Freiburg itself – and will also be getting a well earned lie in.

Just as an FYI I’m finishing this post with a list of the rides we managed to fit into our day with a few notes if not already mentioned before. I’m trying to do this in order, but it’s already getting a bit fuzzy:

1) Jungle Rafts – gentle boat ride around some (possibly insensitive) depictions of African culture (Adventure Land)
2) Alpine Coaster with Sky Riders VR Experience (Austria)
3) Alpine Coaster as originally built (Austria)
4) Tirol Log Flume – which goes through the same goblin mining scene as the coaster (Austria)
5) Feria Swing – an inside spinning ride where the controller yelled Spanish exclamations in an extremely strong German accent… which made the whole experience hilarious (Spain)
6) Fjord Rafting – River Rapids ride where I stayed dry… but the man opposite got absolutely soaked (Scandinavia)
7) Blue Fire – best coaster of the park (Iceland)
8) Whale Adventures – water shooting ride (Iceland)
9) Wodin – a huge wooden coaster, possibly the largest I’ve ever been in (Iceland)


10) Euro-Mir – a spinning coaster themed around space station Mir, but is also unapologetically nineties with its blacklights and techno music. Really fun, even if going backwards down a coaster is moderately terrifying. (Russia)
11) Snowflake Sleigh Ride – gentle indoors ride where you’re sat in really cute sleighs (Russia)
12) Cassandra’s Curse – my first revolving room ride. Cool and trippy (Greece)
13) Poseidon – a water coaster where I got absolutely soaked. Totally worth it (Greece)
14) Pegasus – a coaster that I hoped would help to dry me off. It didn’t. (Greece)
15) Atlantis Adventure – laser shooting ride with a lot of cool sea creatures. Absolutely thrashed my husband with my score (Greece)
16) Monorail (between Luxembourg and Iceland)
17) Puppet Boat Ride – gentle cruise around a bunch of puppets depicting folk tales (Germany)
18) Elf Ride – another cruise ride where my main memory is signs of crying flowers saying “Let Us Live” as a way to stop people picking them (Germany)
19) Ghost Castle – similar idea to the Disney haunted mansion, but actually pretty gruesome in places (Italy)
20) Picollo Mondo – cute gondolier ride where animatronic animals take on different Italian stereotypes (Italy)


21) Swiss Bob Run – bobsleigh coaster where you do the whole thing when lying down (Switzerland)
22) Silver Star – previously tallest coaster in Europe, had one hell of an initial drop (France)
23) Madame Freudenrich Curiosities – super cute indoor ride with dinosaurs, cake and laundry (France)
24 Panorama Train – for a final look around the park via a train with not a lot of leg room for someone who is 6 foot 3 (Germany-England-Spain-Russia)
25) Voletarium – breathtaking indoor cinema flight ride (Germany)

It Just Needs More Duct Tape…

Okay so this feels like a silly thing from my list, but as a man it really feels like a right of passage to fix something with duct tape.

List item: Fix something using duct tape
Status: Completed

Right so a bit of backstory here – for the last year or so this light fixture was hanging a bit from the ceiling from the kitchen, to the point where I couldn’t pass underneath it without the bottom of the shade touching the top of my head. It got knocked by my husband when something frustrated him… and it had been getting lower and lower ever since.

I know that this is a temporary solution, but this can wait until we have the chance to give the kitchen a bit of a face-lift. I’m just happy (and a bit surprised) that you can get duct tape in white – if it wasn’t for some of my clumsy folds then you wouldn’t notice the fix. I guess I can count that as a victory. A manly victory. With duct tape!