Category Archives: Travel

The Great EU Quest: Latvia – Exit Via The Art Gallery

It’s become a tradition now for me to sign off the final night post of one of these travelogues with stuff about how I’ll miss the country and that I won’t be doing enough on the following day to warrant a post – and then have enough to make an additional ‘final day’ post. Guess that’s the hazard of writing these each evening, you never really know how the rest of a trip will turn out.

The day began with a final breakfast in the hotel and packing away the toiletries after my last minute panic last night ended up with a midnight packing session. Since we had about two and half hours before we needed to be at the bus stop I figured that it would be worth the Latvian National Museum of Art. I mean, the art museum we saw two days ago was nice enough, but it didn’t give an indication of what Latvian art was.

In the various walks around the Old Town and Christmas markets we’d passed the museum building a number of times already. It’s a grand and gorgeous looking building, like many of the others I have already come across in a Riga that has recently had a renovation – so we’d arguably be getting the best experience that we could. Still, I went into this thinking that it would be a good way to kill time and that, if worse comes to worse, there’s a café to eat up any extra time.

We ran out of time. And it was a bloody shame.

I’ve seen a lot of regional galleries and they border from the okay to rather interesting. This one in Riga was extraordinary and has opened my eyes to how great Latvian art can be – keeping in mind that the oldest piece that they have here is from the late 18th century.

Since the whole museum runs the gamut of older to modern art, you get a really interesting quick tour of various styles and how the rise and fall of these are linked to Latvia’s history. I’ve come away with a list of Latvian artists that I need to learn more about (including Ludolfs Liberts, Uga Skulme and Janis Rozentāls whose works spanned multiple movements) because there were things here that I would love to grab prints of.

Until then I took a lot of pictures of my favourite pictures and I can get some joy of having these on stored on a hard disk so I can have a flick through from time to time.

As if the art wasn’t good enough, but the setting was exemplary. The top floor, rafters and all, was kitted out with speakers playing bird calls and nature sounds to compliment the pictures of dead birds. Also, the staircases and adjacent hallways were brightly coloured and covered in gorgeous landscapes.

It’s such a pity that we ran out of time that we didn’t manage to have a good nose around the basement ‘great exhibition hall’ galleries, but we did have a chance to sprint through and even see a display of where some of the non-exhibited paintings are stored. The mind boggles at how many paintings are acquired by galleries and museums to just have them stored away to not be seen again. Reminds me a bit of the song ‘All The Rowboats’ by Regina Spektor and makes me grateful for places like Taipei’s National Palace Museum that actually rotate their piece.

Right that’s enough of my soapbox. We’d spent so long in the museum that we didn’t have enough time in the gift shop or to really say goodbye to Riga’s old town before collecting our bags and getting to the airport. Good thing we did that last night went there was still snow on the ground and the Christmas lights were illuminated.

Lunch was at the airport at a local chain that I went to last year in Tallinn. If any Latvians are reading this they’re probably going to roll their eyes at my enjoyment of Lido. We don’t really have anything quite like it in the UK, other than the restaurants than the semi-self service places you get in department stores. However, because this serves regional food and had a large number of reasonably priced options in a setting with wood carvings and themed decor… I’m a bit of a fan. Also, the soup and filled pancakes that I had were pretty delicious.

Now that’s really it for my trip to Riga. The clouds outside the aircraft look like cotton candy since we’re chasing the sunset and I’m enjoying the generous legroom provided by Air Baltic. I don’t think I have been so pleasantly surprised by a city since Vilnius and even then I knew I had the Hill of Crosses and Trakai castle coming. Thanks again Riga, maybe I’ll see you again when it’s warmer.

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The Great EU Quest: Latvia – Snow In The Forest

For those who may note be aware, being a tourist in Riga on a Monday is being a tourist in a city where the majority of museums and other sites are closed. I’d already cottoned onto this, so made sure that today’s itinerary would reflect that.

Starting off was a trip to Riga’s Central Market as we did not have time to fit it in. However, we first went back to the Blackheads’ House. Last night, having read up on the building, I found out about there being some sort of monument to the site of the first Christmas tree from 1510. Being that we are in advent, the city have put up a little model Christmas tree to ensure that people are aware of the history. Coming back to this building again really reminds me just how beautiful it is.

The Central Market was a bit of a blustery walk away down the riverfront, which might be the coldest that I have felt all holiday. The market itself is situated in a number of large warehouses where it seems that different warehouses lend themselves to different food types. For example, we found ourselves in a huge building where nearly everyone was selling meat. Some of the sausages looked and smelled amazing, if I was a native I wonder how often I would end up buying things here.

This wasn’t the longest trip, as there wasn’t really anything we could buy, so it was time to find the bus stop that would take us to the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum. A bit of a stress because the bus we were looking for (the 6822) isn’t listed on any bus stops, so it’s a bit of a miracle that we found it at all.

So, what is the Latvian Ethnographic Open Air Museum? Well, this is a place that was inspired by Skansen in Stockholm and contains a large number of preserved buildings in a natural setting. For this particular one on the outskirts of Riga, the setting is in a forest on the edge of Lake Jugla and the buildings were gathered to preserve homesteads from four cultural areas of Latvia.

As you can tell from the photos, this open air museum was practically deserted. Also, the lack of footprints in some of the snow mean that there hadn’t been many visitors here in the last few days, which really did make us feel like we had this vast park of abandoned homesteads all to ourselves. Being winter there were only two buildings that were open for entry, but that worked out fine as we still spent nearly 3 hours here.

Seeing how today was the first time in a while that the temperature was due to go above freezing, Lake Jugla was frozen solid. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a frozen lake and this really did add the beautiful bleakness of the snow covered surroundings. Oh, and I’ll mention this before I forget, it started to snow heavily when we were in the park and it seemed to stop the moment that we left. That was cool, a bit weird and like something out of The Truman Show (so, thank you television overlords I guess).

The crunch of fresh snow beneath my feet, whistling of wind through the trees and the tapping of what sounded like a curious woodpecker made this whole experience in the park a bit otherworldly – especially when you factor in over 100 empty historical buildings.

Seeing the buildings of these previous generations of potters, fishermen and farmers really does make you appreciate how we live today – although I wonder how many houses built today will still be standing after 2-300 years. The most interesting buildings, however, were the old churches and windmills that came up periodically (especially the little Orthodox Church) as well as an unusual two story granary that stood near the lake and a warehouse from the 1600s.

If I ever find myself in Riga in spring or summer I think it would be great to come back to this museum. The experience in warmer weather with more of the buildings open would be entirely different to the snowy ‘last humans alive’ vibe that I felt today.

A long bus ride later (as the more express bus just drove right by the station without stopping) and we were back in central Riga to get a really late lunch. After our folk restaurant yesterday (as well as some pretty sodden boots) having some hearty traditional Latvian fare felt like the right way to go. So, we went into a restaurant called Province and had a delicious filling meal – what you’re seeing is pork and vegetables with cheese in a pot, which I really want to learn how to make.

After a rest and a drink in the hotel room it was time for a final browse of the Christmas markets… the first stop being the bunny village in the park market. Seriously, I know I have been there every day, but this weird little showcase has so enchanted me whilst staying in Riga. If it wasn’t for the time, weather and some remnants of self-respect I could see myself as having accumulated a few hours over the last few days.

Instead of dinner there was a quick snack of a crepe from a market stall – mine contained cheese and sunflower seeds. Perfect market food to eat as you look up at the Christmas tree and marvel that 0 degrees is feeling perfectly mild after the freezing weather in the previous few days.

That basically it for Riga. There’s some time in the morning tomorrow so am going to see if we can fit in a museum before leaving for the airport. Have to say that Riga has certainly surpassed my expectations. Really made me wonder if I need to be back here in the summer so I can see more of the country than the capital city – then again I feel the same way about Estonia, Lithuania and Poland so a bit of a line is forming.

The Great EU Quest: Latvia – Exploring The Old Town

It’s weird to have a day where the temperature is the coldest in the morning and steadily warms up all evening to the point where it is the warmest as you turn in for the night. Weird, but that’s precisely what happened today as we went from -8 in the morning to a relatively balmy -4 at 9 in the evening. Even weirder is that, apart from when the wind began to blow, I still haven’t felt too much of the cold. Not even put on my gloves.

So after a good breakfast at the hotel (so much variation… although not too sure who’s having Caesar salad this early in the morning) we set out on our self guided tour of Riga’s Old Town. We started at the Freedom Monument, built to commemorate when Latvia declared independence in 1918 and fought for their right, only to have it stripped from them not too long afterwards. An impressive looking Art Deco monument symbolising the three historical regions of Latvia breaking free of Russian rule.

Down the road from here, past the McDonald’s, you can find the Rigan plaque to the 1989 Baltic Line protest. With us spotting this granite set of footprints we have now seen the plaques in Vilnius, Tallinn and now Riga. I wonder how many Brits can say that they have visited all three of these monuments? Kinda makes me weirdly proud to have sought all three of these out.

From here we walked down the road to Līvu laukums, one of the bigger squares and a host of one of the three Christmas markets in Riga. The architecture surrounding this square is beautiful, but the eyes do stray in the direction of the Cat House (whose forms have become the source of many a souvenir here in Riga). Weird to think how these cats have become a city landmark after being erected as a sign of protest for not being allowed in a guild (as part of the protest, he had the anuses of the cats facing the guild hall; the turning around of the cats being a condition of his admittance into the guild).

Since the Cathedral was closed for services (it’s a Sunday after all) we went across the road to the Riga Bourse Art Museum, which is housed in the former stock exchange building whose clock can still be heard chiming in the nearby Doma Square. Rather than this being a collection of Latvian art, the items on display are from all over the world and seem to have mostly come from the private collections of Latvian citizens.

There are a lot of interesting pieces, most of the interesting ones from the Western collections being porcelains and sculptures – although it was a treat to find a random Monet painting here. Also, amongst the Oriental art, I found another ivory piece carved into concentric spheres – like the one from the National Palace Museum – which was a real treat.

The temperature had gone up by 1 degree during our time in the museum to -6, which was appreciated as we made our way over to the Blackheads’ House. This impressive building was once the home of the Blackheads Guild – so-called because of their use of St Maurice as a symbol. The outside is chock-full of reliefs and sculptures and begs for you to come in. Sadly the only original section of this building left is they cellar, after the German bombing laid waste to most of it… only to have the Soviets blow up anything that remained.

The cellars help to tell the story of the Blackhead Guild – whist membership was composed of bachelor merchants who liked to get drunk. It is alleged that it was outside this house that the members of the Blackheads decorated the first Christmas tree in the 1500s, before burning it to the ground because japery.

Of the restored/newly built areas the real highlight is the Conference Hall, which is vast and contains a wonderful ceiling painting. There is also some exquisite silver-work on the ground floor – in a room next to the temporary headquarters of the Latvian president (back when they were renovating the president’s usual place of work).

Next on the list was St Peter’s Church, whose tower seems to make up most of the height. We didn’t go up the tower, because cold and cost, but we did have a look inside. It’s a Lutheran church, meaning not a lot to really see – but we did luck out and catch the rehearsal of a local music group. It was a nice unexpected treat to be able to listen to some live music.

We were hungry after this visit, so we went for a late lunch at Folk Club Ala. This restaurant is underground and serves traditional Latvian food in a fun and folksy surrounding. The service is a bit on the slow side, but the restaurant is very long so what can you do. The atmosphere really helped to make up for this.

Since it was on the menu I had the grey peas and bacon, the national dish of Latvia. Served in a large hollowed out chunk of dark rye bread – this is exactly the sort of warming food that you would want on a cold day like today. Might be something that I want to make when doing Latvia for my world cooking challenge, but I’ll need to find a way to source or substitute the grey peas.

By this time the cathedral was definitely open so it was time to look around what is said to be the largest medieval cathedral in the Baltic States. This is an evangelical Lutheran place of worship, so the inside isn’t exactly full of ornate design. What there is, however, is one of the most interesting organs that I have ever seen with its light blue and black colouring. We also came across the pew build for the Blackheads, which is cool considering that I now know a bit of the background.

There was also some cloisters open for walking through, which was made all the more atmospheric with the fallen snow on the ground and the dark sky post-sunset. For renovation reasons there were a bunch of statues standing freely in the central courtyard with orange tape on them. Made the whole thing look like a modern art take on Michelangelo’s Prisoners.

 

My visit to this cathedral marks the first time where I have been chased out of a place of worship because it was closing for the day (they did this by turning out the lights until I got out). No matter though as just next door was the main Christmas market in Doma Square – tonight being the night that the tree was officially being turned on.

Picture the scene: a bell choir playing ‘Carol of the Bells’, snow beginning to fall and a weird (yet awesome) light and sound ceremony to light up their beautiful tree. Everything combined just made it one of those great holiday moments and for a long time afterwards there was live children’s choirs singing Latvian Christmas songs.

We temporarily took leave of this market to go around and explore the other markets (including a repeat visit to the Christmas Bunny village) where we bought some ornaments and other souvenirs – as well as taking some pictures of the markets now in full swing.

Dinner was sausage and sauerkraut from the main market with a chocolate banana for dessert – like with the cathedral the market started to close around us, so we took a stroll through Kronvalda Park and a local shopping mall (open until 9pm eve on a Sunday, marvellous) before heading back to the hotel.

Tomorrow the main sight is further afield, which will be great to see – especially as it is forecast to be snowing when we get there. It’s getting ridiculously late so I should be heading to bed. Looking forward to breakfast already.

The Great EU Quest: Latvia – Minus 9 and Feeling Fine

If it looks like I have been on a ridiculous amount of trips recently… it’s probably because I have. It’s currently December 1st and I am rounding off the year by crossing off another EU country by going on a long weekend to…

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 21/28

I am getting so close to finishing off this ‘visit all the EU countries challenge’ that I have real ideas about the ways I want to cross off the remaining nations as they have entries in the Lonely Planet list. Unlike Latvia, which is the only EU country with nothing in that Top 500. But you know what, I travelled around long before this list help point me in interesting directions so I can just do it again.

Country: Latvia
Year first visited: 2018

The reason for coming to Latvia at this time of year is obvious: Christmas markets. Did I book this thinking that the weather we’d be getting would end up being -9 (-14 with windchill) on our first night? No, because who does that. Cue a bad night’s sleep before flying out and that would explain why I am so tired as I’m writing this.

Anyway, we arrived in Riga in the late afternoon after a surprisingly comfortable flight with Air Baltic (seriously, their legroom is unparalleled) and was presented with a carpet of almost fresh snow. At no point did we see in the forecast that we would be arriving to snow, which really is a tonic for many a cold weather blues. Unless you’re commuting to work, then snow is the work of the devil.

Our hotel for this short trip is in the Old Town and our room came with a pretty spectacular view of Riga Cathedral. Tomorrow will be the time for a proper exploration for this area, but as we hadn’t exactly had any lunch – an early dinner was imperative. I’d found a place in Riga called Zivju Lete that would net me a food item, so this felt like a good choice.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Lamprey
Progress: 767/1001

Right, so this wasn’t the food item I was talking about. When we got the menus, and had taken off three layers of clothing to prevent heat exhaustion, I noticed that this place offered lampreys as a starter. To be honest, as hungry as I was, I hadn’t come here with the intention of having a starter.

If you know what a lamprey is then you might have felt slightly apprehensive at trying out these blood sucking eel-like fish once favoured by British kings. I probably should have been more squeamish, but it’s amazing what some good dark rye bread can help with.

The lamprey, as presented in jelly, flaked really easily and had a spine that had become somewhat jellified in the preparation process. The taste was somewhere between freshwater eel and tinned salmon. Meaty and worked well with the dark rye bread. Makes me wonder what they’d be like in a Henry VIII style pie.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Sterlet
Progress: 768/1001

This impressive looking fish was what I was after. It’s a type of sturgeon and is on the smaller side, although try saying that to me after presenting me with this plate. It kinda feels like whole fish is how I’m going to be seeing a lot of the remaining fish from the food list – I guess it helps to ensure that I give it a proper try

So yea this fish was giant and had some impressively scales skin on its backbone. The flesh itself was plentiful and was a whole lot milder than I’d expected, with a mineral aftertaste which makes me wonder whether this was from the sea or had been seasoned well.

One issue with having a fish like this is the diminishing returns on the taste. Luckily this place put tomato, basil and lemon on the plate which meant I could play around with the flavour profile. I also had some of the sour cream that my mums herring, which went wonderfully – which I guess shows how flexible sterlet is.

The temperature had dropped by the time we left the restaurant to the point that I needed to put my hat on, but not to the point where I needed my gloves. Either I’ve become more robust, or I’ve dealt with worse temperatures in Vienna and not been aware of it. In any case the weather was cold and crisp, perfect for late night Christmas decoration explorations.

We first came to Esplanade Park, which features a small Christmas market… But that’s not why I was here. I was here for the bunny village. That right, there is a recent tradition in Riga that the Christmas market in this park set up a giant rabbit pen containing small lit buildings and a lot of rabbits. Sounds like something form a bad sitcom, but it’s one of the cutest things I’ve seen in a very long time. Rabbits were sleeping in the small churches, chasing each other around the replica castle and nibbling on carrots provided by onlookers. I circled the entire thing a few times, taking notes a lot of pictures, before heading off. So cute.

One block of walking away is Kronvalda Park, a large urban park centred on a (currently frozen) canal that has been impeccably decorated. There were moments walking through here where I felt so overcome with the magical Christmas feeling that I was awash with goosebumps. The star decorations in the trees, the blue lit up bridge, the volume of snow on the ground. It all adds up to something truly beautiful when seen at night.

We climbed up Bastion Hill to get a better view of the surrounding park and all the lights. It was a little bit icy, but if the locals can make it up with their fluffy Pomeranian dogs then you know it’s fine. It was lovely to look down and get a slightly better vantage point of the nearby buildings (more on those tomorrow – but Riga old town has some pretty dramatic looking buildings that look so cool lit up and surrounded by snow).

We finished the evening at the main Christmas market (of the advertised three) which happens to be just down the road from the hotel. Technically the markets are being properly opened tomorrow, making tonight a bit of a test run, but the main one near Riga Cathedral was already giving me the feels. Hopefully we can be there tomorrow when they turn their Christmas tree on and declare the markets properly open.

Walking around with a hot blackcurrant in my hands, I’m not sure if I can see much in the way of decorations or Christmas goods to buy… but that might be different tomorrow. There were, however, some nice looking pieces of food – so that’s dinner tomorrow sorted.

Not bad for a first evening with some pretty low temperatures. Its not set to climb out of the minuses tomorrow, but at least the sun will be on our side as its forecast to be clear for our walk around the old town. Ending this now as I am exhausted, see you tomorrow!

Taipei Time!: Day 7 – Last Day in Taipei

To be honest, I toyed with having this joined with the previous post, but I saw the word count and thought it best to split them up.

With only the morning and early afternoon available before I had to be on my way to the airport it’s not as if I could venture too far from where the bags were stored. Luckily today’s places of interest aren’t exactly too far away.

As nice as it would have been to have gone back to the Expo Park and see more of the pavilions (assuming that they are more likely to be open on the weekend) we instead made the two bus journey to see the National Martyrs Shrine.

Regrettably a lot of it was closed for maintenance (not that we saw any workers around at all… which is a little bit suspicious) so we couldn’t go into the shrine itself or even really too much of it from the outside. However, I think we got the picture. This is a grand set of buildings with a beautiful backdrop of the tree-covered mountains.

It was nice that it was practically deserted when we were there, apart from the guards, which meant that there really was an eerie silence with the exception of our footsteps and the occasional car passing by all the way on the other end of the shrine area.

Now, last night – because I like to procrastinate as I write these posts, much to the chagrin of the hub – I started reading up on the UK’s policies with regards to the import of fruit and vegetables. I mean, I brought back myoga from Singapore so did I think it was okay then? Turns out its fine as long as it’s under a certain weight. Yippee.

So, from the Martyrs Shrine we travelled down to the intersection of Xiongxiao Fuxing  to pay a return visit to the food section of the massive Sogo department store. By some miracle I got the last pack of water bamboo and even snagged another list item at the same time (both will probably have to be cooked tomorrow as I undergo the worse part of my jetlag… Ack).

It was lunchtime and, since we hadn’t had breakfast, we paid a return visit to the Yamasaki Cafe in Zhongshan for some delicious pastries and an ice cold chocolate soy milk.

And that’s about it for my time in Taipei. I’m writing this towards the end of the hop between Taipei and Hong Kong before the horrendous 13 hour flight back to London… and have no idea how I’m going to stay awake long enough to I shock myself back into my time zone.

A week ago I felt like jumping up and down because I was so thrilled to be in Taiwan and now I cannot help but feel really sad having left. It’s only been about 30 years since Taiwan went from martial law to one of the shining democracies, but apart from the scars of the shrines and memorials you cannot tell.

Walking around Taipei, it really feels like this is a city on the rise. Lots of work is being done in improving things for residents, which has the knock on effect of increasing the likelihood of more tourist bucks. In my time here I really didn’t see that many Westerners – probably enough to count on two hands and a foot – but that’s probably going to change.

I don’t know what’s in store for Taiwan in their future, but for now things feel bright and I can only hope that it stays bright for a long time to come. Next time in Kaohsiung!

Taipei Time!: Day 6 – More Exploring Taipei

How is it my last full day in Taipei already? If only holidays could last as long as the hype leading up to it, right? Still, this is what makes trips like this special and why it’s important to stay as present in the moments as possible. So where do we begin?

After successfully buying breakfast from a random seller yesterday, I felt able to do the same this morning and bought some very delicious scallion pancakes with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper. These little strips were exactly what I had been fancying and, who knows, might go back to him tomorrow and try one of the cheesy-looking things he has for sale.

It’s another multi-site trip today, which started off at the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial. Going into this I had no idea who he was other than a former leader of Taiwan – now that I’ve looked up a bit more about him, I’m glad I went into this semi-blind. At least this way I could admire the grandeur… and it might explain the lack of any information in the site about who he was and some of his actions as leader.

The whole area is huge and magnificent. It’s composed of the Memorial Hall itself as well as a large entrance gate, two large cultural venues and a large amount of green space. Within the Memorial Hall there is a large smiling bronze statue of the former leader as well as two militarymen standing guard.

There’s a changing of the guard on the hour every hour, which was really interesting to see. Towards the end there was a bit where the two incoming and two outgoing guards pointed their guns outwards into the gathering crowd… which was a bit startling as I was pretty much in the direct line of fake fire.

After the changing of the guard finished we walked around some of the accompanying green space and fed some of the fish in the pond. It’s a pity that we couldn’t go inside the concert hall and see the architecture inside, but I guess that’s a perk of actually buying a ticket to a performance.

From here we walked a few blocks to 228 Peace Park, a park dedicated to the thousands killed in the February 28 massacre of 1947 and the following dark events in Taiwan’s history. The park itself is lovely and the central monument dedicated to the victims is really interesting. It’s a very different looking memorial and has features such as a hexagonal paved walkway over the surrounding water and a central waterfall down to a lower level.

This park also has a number of pavilions and some dancing fountains, not sure how often these go, but they started whilst we were there so we couldn’t help but watch. I think you might know from previous posts that I’m a sucker for a water show.

Next was a trip to the first of the two buildings of the National Taiwan Museum. Sadly, two of the four floors were pretty much off limits because of refurbishment, which I would be annoyed by if the tickets weren’t priced at just 75p per person. For that little pretty much any museum is a bargain.

Apparently, during outer visit, it was the more permanent exhibitions that were under refurbishment – so we got to enjoy some interesting temporary ones (as well as one that seemed permanent). The two temporary ones on offer were about microscopic fossils and on the evolution and conservation of elephants, the former featuring some really beautiful images of what these fossils look like. The permanent one talked a bit about the history of the museum and the different people whose research into the Taiwanese aboriginal peoples and fauna helped to further understanding. It was cool how the museum used music to support this exhibit by evoking relevant moods.

Before venturing into the next building we really felt the need for lunch. We walked down the street and were drawn into a ramen joint called River 13… where we literally ordered by picking a number at random as everything was in Chinese. Man could that have gone badly, thankfully it didn’t. The hub got a rather delicious ramen with a garlic pork stock, mine was a more traditional chicken based one. If we were here longer, we probably would have started doing this more often in restaurants… then again we haven’t always been having lunches.

Refuelled with ramen (and some Cranberry Sprite) we went into the second building of the National Taiwan Museum… that it shares with the Land Bank Museum. Two museums for the price of one, if you’re interested in learning about Taiwanese banking. Aside from the exhibit that was set up in the old vault, we pretty much walked through the bank-related ones.

The National Taiwan Museum section is one gigantic room that features an inordinate amount of fossils. Seriously, the central space is shared by multiple velociraptors, a T-Rex, ankylosaurus and some kind of sauropod. From the ceiling there are pterosaurs and plesiosaurs hanging as well as some things I cannot name. Very informative and kinda insane, but in a good way.

It was when I was standing looking at some of the skulls that I must have had the most stereotypical exchanges that I am likely to have on holiday (other than an American in America remarking on how nice my accent is). A middle-aged Chinese man tapped me on the shoulder in order to remark on how tall I was, ask where I was from and then went on his merry way. It was weirdly heartwarming, specially as there was a fuck off massive sauropod directly behind me.

Next on the list was a few stops away on the red line: Daan Park. Some websites list it as Daan Wood Park because of all the trees, which would be an accurate description as many areas of it feel like a well manicured forest. As with all other parks in Taipei, I was in complete awe of the number of birds that could be seen in this park; the most common it seems would be the white egret (whose taking flight is meant to be evoked when viewing Himeji Castle).

It was great to see, at 4pm on a Friday, the large number of people using the park in various ways. Older residents were doing tai chi amongst the trees, others were using the free cycling equipment (where the pedal action was link to waster squirters) and there was a very young Chinese girl singing her heart out to the English version of ‘Let It Go’. Aside from when they’re in motorbikes (where they’re a pain), the Taiwanese people have been so lovely, helpful and well meaning. I have so much admiration for them and hope there is an increasingly bright future for them considering what they’ve been through.

The final stop before dinner(s) was the Longshan Temple. Like with yesterday’s Baoan Temple, the focus of worship in this temple is mostly on folk religion, but there are also places for Buddhism alongside the Chinese gods and goddesses. It was really busy when we arrived with large numbers of worshippers rubbing shoulders with a lot of Chinese tourists (honestly, I’m not sure I saw anyone else there who was neither Chinese or Taiwanese).

The inside was a flurry of activity that it was difficult to know who was in a queue to worship and who was standing around sight-seeing. It was that bit easier outside of the main temple, which had a waterfall on one side and a dragon fountain on the other. Honestly I think I preferred this section, maybe because it was calmer and it allowed me to enjoy the roof decorations whilst not being in the way of worshippers.

It was dinner time and time for our final night market: Huaxi Night Market, also known as the tourist night market. That was our destination, but we actually walked down the bordering Guangzhou Night Market for the most of it.

Here we enjoyed a wonderful plate of fried eel noodles (man I wish I could get non-jellied eels back in the UK for a decent price) for about three quid, a baked pork and scallion bun (not as good as the one from Roahe) and a custard filled round cake (better than the red bean version that we had in Juifen).

We did find the Huaxi Tourist Night Market, but turned back really quickly. There were no real stalls, it was mostly massage parlours and there was a place with life snakes behind glass… which also sold dishes containing snakemeat. I mean I know that this is the old red light district road… but come on. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t realised our error and went on thinking that Guanzhou Night Market was our destination.

A bit of souvenir shopping at the Longshan station underground mall later and we were back near Taipei Main station looking for a top up. Now, since I have been in Taipei there have been a lot of local fried chicken chains staring me down – so today I relented and got myself a really good chicken sandwich from Dico’s to finish off dinner. That was, by now, nearly three hours ago – so it’s time for dessert:

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Date Plum
Progress: 762/1001

To be honest – I bought this a few days ago, but I wanted to make sure that I had a thing form my lists that could be ticked off today. It’s been a long time since I checked off the hachiya persimmon, or had any sort of persimmon, so I had forgotten just how honey flavoured these could be. The flesh was crisp and I really wish that I’d bought more than one. Oh well, maybe when I’m back in the area – which I hope won’t be too far in the future.

So that’s it for my final full day post, but it’s a late flight tomorrow and I have a major site to see that had to be cut from yesterday’s line-up for timing issues. Oh I wonder what it could be? See you tomorrow!

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.

Taipei Time!: Day 4 – Yehliu & Jiufen

When we did our initial planning for this trip to Taipei the weather forecast was something akin to Noah’s Ark. Compare this to what really happened today, which was incredible sunshine and 31 degree weather. So at least I made use out of my umbrella to help shield me from the brunt of the UV rays.

Today was our big venturing out of Taipei day with visits to two of the big tourist areas outside of the city. In order to fit both of these in (and accommodate a potential 2.5 hour connection in between) we set out earlyish to catch the 1815 bus from Taipei Main Station to Yehliu – which was there waiting for us… so that was a no to buying a bus snack/breakfast.

Yehliu is about an hour out of the city and appears to make its living via two things: fishing and tourism. Its mostly situated in a bay and is surrounded by forest covered mountains. That alone would probably make it a target for tourists, but Wanli has something pretty interesting: the Yehliu Geological Park (which we got to after buying a snack at a nearby market stall, mine was four battered squid balls on a stick).

Walking through the streets of Wanli (the district that houses Yehliu) you’ll see the symbol of the geological park everywhere; a rock formation known as the “Queen’s Head”. A lot of the tour groups seem to come just for a photo opportunity with this formation, but the geological park really is a lot more than that. For example they’ve named a lot more of the rocks.

The more famous section of the park is made up of a large number of weird and interesting rock formations, all down to freak acts of weathering. The first part you get to is dominated by formations known as ‘mushroom rocks’, the weirdest looking being the aptly-named “Ice Cream Rock”. Further down towards the cliffs you’ll also find weird formations called ‘candle rocks’ because of how they resemble lit tealights.

Now, when visiting this first section it is very important to look down. Not just because it’s a safer way to secure your footing on sometimes slippery rocks, but also because the floor you are walking on contains a large number of fossils – most of the ones we saw being sea urchin fossils. To be honest, the first one I saw made me think some woman had dropped her compact, but no the precise flower pattern was actually indicative of it being a sea urchin way back when.

The second part of the first section is where you’ll find the “Queen’s Head” and the huge line of people waiting to have their photo taken with it. To be honest, as cool as it to have a rock that looks like the Nefertiti bust in profile, I had no desire to queue for 15-20 minutes in order to take a picture with it. Instead I spent more time on the rest of the section with such rocks as the “Fairy Shoe” and a pretty nifty one with a hole in the middle.

This is where a lot of the tour groups appear to end, but there is a whole second part to the park. You can climb up, past the “Marine Bird” formation and walk to the end of the promontory. There are some great views of the surrounding area to be had and, apparently, it’s a great spot for birdwatching. Whilst we didn’t see too many bird, we did see a lot of beautiful butterflies. I wish I knew more to say what type the best ones we saw were, but they were large, white and floated around like a paper airplane caught in an updraft.

By the time we’d reached the end of the promontory both of us were drenched in sweat. I don’t think I’ve ever known it to be so windless when by the sea. It was around this time where the temperature had reached 30 and we weren’t even close to lunchtime. We headed back down through the park (slowly because, you know, tour groups) and went to catch our next bus of the day.

This is where the long connection came in. We caught the 862 to Keelung, walked around a lot because Google Maps wasn’t able to zero in on our location and eventually found the bus stop that would allow us to catch the 788 to Jiufen.

Jiufen is an odd duck and an example of how a town can turn itself around. The town grew rapidly after the discovery of gold nearby and then, once the gold was gone, nearly went bust. However, the location was so beautiful (I mean,some of this views you can get from Jiufen are gorgeous) and the narrow streets so old timey that it was used in the 1989 film A City of Sadness. With this,and the fact that some said that these streets resembled those from the spirit-world town in Spirited Away, Jiufen is now a major tourist attraction.

Aside from the sea views, the reason that people come here is the shopping – which is all concentrated in the narrow winding Main Street that saved the town. It’s a bit insane and feels likes the closest I’ve been to a bazaar since when I was in Cairo some 20-odd years ago. The place is awash with different foodstuffs, trinkets and Studio Ghibli knock-offs. I really loved it, the buzz was incredible.

We, of course, had to partake in some of the food being made around us. First was a red bean filled round cake that had just come off the fryer, then some bubble milk drinks (mine being strawberry flavoured) and freshly steamed pork buns. To be fair we hadn’t had lunch (or breakfast) and it was nearly 3.

After eating we paid a visit to the nearby Shengming temple before doubling back and purchasing a few souvenirs – like a rather cute owl ocarina that I will probably never learn to play. I also bought something for the lists:

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Stinky Tofu
Progress: 760/1001

I almost didn’t do this today because I didn’t really feel like stomaching it after feeling all gross and sweaty. However, I have to try this before I leave as there may not be another chance… so I paid the 35$ and made sure there was a drink available should I need it (good old Apple Sidra, the official drink of this trip). The taste isn’t as bad as you would expect from the smell of it all being cooked together, but it does have the distinct flavour of something that’s been fermented and, like the smell of garbage, there was a weird sweet element to it. I didn’t manage to finish the whole serving, but at least I tried it.

That was it for Jiufen. We were luckily able to snag seats on the 1062 bus directly back to Taipei. As nice as it was to be out of the city, it was also nice to be going back to it. Especially at night when Taipei is all lit up and looking at it’s best.

We roamed around Taipei for a bit looking for a place to eat before recalling a recommendation I’d read online for a place called QSquare that has a rather fancy food court. Fancy it was and we both had trouble deciding what to eat. In the end, the hub settled on braised beef and noodle soup with extra tendon (thanks to yesterday) whilst I had this sizzling beef and squid portion you can see above. A nice hot, hearty meal.

For dessert we went to a Dutch-themed cafe not too far away called Poffertjes and had, well, poffertjes. Mine came with a coconut cream and a mango-passion fruit sauce whilst the hub went for the oolong flavoured toppings. Great way to end the day before heading back with a cold bottle of Apple Sidra and typing this up.

I did buy some list foods today, but those can be eaten and gone into another time, sadly I also found some water bamboo (on the list as wild rice stem), but as I cannot cook it or bring it back to the UK… well it’s going to have to be one of those sad near misses unless I see it on a menu before I leave. So frustrating, but that’s the nature of the list,

Still, let’s not let that put a dampener on, what was otherwise, another excellent day.

Taipei Time!: Day 3 – Taipei Zoo and Maokong

After a night full of dreams of being harassed by a stalker named Andrew Miller (how did I know his name? He left his mail in the mud behind the garden fence) I awoke feeling incredibly chipper. No more threats of jetlag or migraines, I’m now on Taiwanese time and the sun was blazing.

Since we, stupidly, practically skipped yesterday’s  breakfast it was time to make amends. A visit to a Yamazaki Cafe in Zhongshan Underground Mall yielded some delicious breads – the puffy pork floss bun was my favourite – and a nice big serving of iced soy milk. There was no way that hunger was going to ruin my time at Taipei Zoo.

If, like us, you primarily use public transport on holiday, then you’d appreciate the driverless rubber tired Brown Line that takes you all the way to Taipei Zoo. The bulk of the journey is overground and you get to see the incredible differences between the various parts of Taipei City. It also afforded me my first view of Taipei 101, a building I hope to become better acquainted with soon.

When reading up on Taipei Zoo, there are a lot of things talking about how it is the biggest zoo in Asia. I can believe this now that I have been and am still perplexed as to how the entrance fee is the equivalent of £1.50 given how incredible this zoo is. If you’ve read my other travelogues you’ll know that I really love zoos and that I probably know what I talk about when I say that Taipei Zoo is exceptional.

Even at 104 years Taipei Zoo is still doing so much to improve the, already large, enclosures of their animals. The downside of this is that some animals were not around or had moved to temporary new housing (for example the hippos had to be moved next to the Asian elephants after their frisky behaviour resulted in the enclosure becoming too small to deal with the increased numbers).

Speaking of getting frisky (and not talking about the fact that we managed to see some rather large land tortoises doing the very loud nasty) Taipei Zoo has so many baby animals to see that it’s pretty incredible. Sadly the baby panda wasn’t out, but there were some really cute baby meerkats, alpaca, tortoises and a very photogenic baby bongo. I guess baby animals are a sign of a good zoo.

Seeing that it was 29 degrees and bright sunshine, a lot of the animals were asleep. This meant that visits to the orangutans, tapirs and sun bears were a bit more lethargic than usual. Also, a few of the animals were hidden in shade (thanks again to the large enclosures) to stay cool. This didn’t seem to stop the siamang for swinging around everywhere and making it impossible to take pictures, but in the end that’s his prerogative.

Since we wanted to see as much as we could, we had a lunch snack of corn dogs about halfway through the visit. 50$ (£1.25) for two in a zoo, which is more than a steal when I think of how much snacks were when we went to Skansen in Stockholm.

It was after this that I parted ways from my ornithophobe husband to visit the free-to-roam bird exhibit… where I was immediately beset by a crowned crane (culprit pictured above) and had to find shelter amongst a crowd of people further up the path. Probably didn’t help that other visitors were taunting him, but that got pretty hairy.

Pretty soon, after visiting the Australian section (with emus and koalas), African section (with rhinos, chimps, giraffes, zebras and a massive gorilla) and penguin house we glanced at our watches to see that time really was marching on. This meant that we ran through the final section (featuring grey wolves, black bears and red pandas) so that we could catch the shuttle bus/mini train to the Maokong gondola service.

The trip from the zoo up to mountains of Maokong appear on so many suggested for itineraries for Taipei, and for good reason. The gondola trip up the mountain was beautiful and, as with everything here in Taipei, lasts a long time for how little you lay. You also get some spectacular views of southern parts of the city (not more as there is a mountain in the way) and of Taipei 101 towering over everything in the distance.

The area of Maokong was historically the big tea growing region in Taiwan, which means that there is no shortage of teahouses or references to the tea-growing past. We knew we had to have tea up here, but first we wanted to to work for our late lunch with a walk along the winding mountain road of Maokong. This lead to some more great views, a peek inside a temple to see a very happy Buddha and something that could well be the high point of the holiday.

Honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rainbow as large, complete or vibrant as this one. Sadly the picture doesn’t do the whole rainbow justice, but it’s something I’ll never forget. What made it all the more special is that we were there for the birth, life and death of this rainbow – which was started due to the fluke of having a sudden slight drizzle start at the same time as the sun was setting. The ending was weirdly beautiful as well, with the rainbow being scrubbed out of existence by a passing cloud – much like how a board eraser can remove a chalk drawing.

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Sea Cucumber
Progress: 759/1001

We eventually settled on a place to eat and drink tea called the Redwood Teahouse. It had a great position on the mountainside and, somewhat miraculously, served a dish containing sea cucumber! The dish was called sea cucumber with pork tendon and it was so good. The sea cucumber itself, much like jellyfish and bird’s nest, is one of those things eaten for texture rather than any inherent taste. It’s slightly gelatinous, tender and takes up the flavour of the sauce it has been stewed in – which meant it tasted really good. Also, I was previously reluctant to try anything that listed ‘tendon’ as a main ingredient – but no more, that stuff is tender and delicious.

I shared my sea cucumber and pork tendon dish with the hub, who shared his gorgeous spicy aubergine and ground pork dish with me. Since this was a bit tourist trappy, the price was on the higher side – but this was still cheaper than what you’d get in London and was probably better tasting. The accompanying caramel iced milk tea wasn’t too shabby either.

The sun had completely set by the time we left the teahouse, so we decided to make our way down as I bemoaned the fact that the beautiful city lights couldn’t be captured on camera. We managed to catch a glass-bottomed gondola down the mountain, which was just the two of us. The glass-bottomed nature was a bit useless in the pitch black, but the view and the privacy made the ride feel incredibly romantic.

A busy metro ride later and we ventured to the Taipei City Mall, which is located underground beneath the main train station. There are so many shop fronts across a number of levels that it is easy to spend a long time here checking out all the different wares. I’ll probably be back here for some souvenirs at some point, maybe something from one of the many capsule machines, but not this night. Tonight was time to browse.

We rounded off the day with a takeaway order from our favourite Japanese chain: Mosburger. For the first time, I actually tried their burger in a rice bun and was really impressed. As usual the burger is delicious and the rice bun adds that little bit extra to make it feel special when compared to a regular burger bun. I wish we had this chain in the UK. Maybe one day?

So that’s a day I’ll never forget – especially the rainbow over Maokong. This trip is already feeling like something truly special. I hope it continues tomorrow.

Taipei Time!: Day 2 – National Palace Museum

Woke up this morning with the following realisation: I skipped jetlag and managed to score a normal night’s sleep! The trade off? A migraine that lasted until about lunchtime which meant I had to wear sunglasses for two hours because of light sensitivity. If this had been a regular day I would have called in sick and just closed my eyes until it went away – but I’m on the other side of the world and we kinda overslept.

 List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 83/100Sight: National Palace Museum
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Position: #397

Now, we had planned today to spend the bulk of the morning and early afternoon in the National Palace Museum and then hike around one of the national parks. Yes, we were still going to do this despite it raining all day. This didn’t happen because we ended up spending over six hours inside the main exhibition hall – so we weren’t even able to go into the special exhibition hall or the nearby gardens (the sun had set by the time we exited).

To put it simply, the National Palace Museum is an extensive and impressive collection of Chinese culture. What they have on display is a fraction of what is within their archives and, unlike a lot of other museums, they rotate a lot of these around to the point where (if what I overheard was correct) you could visit every three months for ten years and still not see everything they have on offer. The only other museum I can think of that boasts a similar timeline for seeing everything is The Hermitage in St Petersburg.

Of course there are some particular artefacts that are never moved into storage because they are considered such national treasures. One of these is a cabbage carved out of jadeite and was the thing I was looking forward to seeing – but we missed it as it has been loaned to an event in Southern Taiwan just two days prior.

Sad cabbage times aside – this is an incredible museum. I don’t know quite how the suggested time for it on Google is 2.5 hours, unless you have very limited time and only want to see the greatest hits. However, if you have the time there is so much that can be gained from going on a proper deep dive.

The main exhibition space of the main museum is set over three nearly equally sized floors and features a seemingly comprehensive look at the different types of artefacts that an outsider would consider as quintessentially Chinese – as well as a host of other things that you would never have imagined.

By the latter statement in the previous paragraph I am referring to one of the most impressive things I saw in display – nested balls of concentric openwork free-moving spheres that had all been carved from the same piece of ivory. I know it isn’t politically correct to be wowed by a piece of ivorywork, but the work that went into this is so mindbogglingly precise that I couldn’t help but stand in awe at it (whilst nursing a throbbing migraine).

These ivory balls were part of the ‘A Garland of Treasures’ gallery which gathered some of the most impressive pieces of handicrafts within the collection. Other things including olive pit carving (like, how?), beautifully ornate curio boxes, a goose-shaped censer and a planter featuring an incredibly dynamic coral carving of a civil service deity. On average this was probably the most impressive of the galleries, and it’s one of the first you’re likely to see.

There are also multiple galleries that offer a near encyclopaedic look at the different forms of Chinese ceramics. I began to wonder if I would suffer some sort of content fatigue with there being three huge ceramic galleries one after the other, but they found new ways to engage and impress me. It really goes to show how what a westerner like myself knows about Chinese ceramics (and jade) really is the very top of the iceberg.

Before I go further into the exhibitions, just want to reap some praise onto the restaurant. We went there for lunch (where I had my first bubble tea) and the prices were incredibly reasonable. I think we paid less than 200$ (about £5) each for a hot sandwich and a bubble beverage – the latter of which I think was the cure for my migraine.

Anyway, even with the jadeite cabbage gone – three of the four big beloved attractions were still available for viewing. The most interesting (and weird) of these is the meat shaped stone – a piece of carved jasper that looks like a beautiful piece of roast pork. I knew this was here and thought the idea a bit daft, but no this is a uniquely strange piece of art that left me hungry and confused.

There other two treasures include a perfectly preserved two-tone bronze bell from the 9th century BC and a bronze cauldron that contains the worlds longest engraving in bronze. Both are very impressive pieces, but I think my memory of the meat stone will outlast both of them.

Being a museum of Chinese culture there was always going to be a bountiful supply of calligraphy, ancient books and paintings. I honestly think we spent too long in some of these rooms as the dim light (due to the perishable nature of the pieces) made me want to nod off. Also, I have no knowledge to allow me to appreciate the works of calligraphy… some of the paintings were great though, but these were some of the rare galleries that allowed no photography whatsoever.

All this and there are still the vast collections of jade and bronze work that I could go into! I hope that you can see how, upon exiting the museum, it was dark. I am aware that, when this post goes up, a number of the things I marvelled at may no longer be on display and instead be replaced by some new marvels.

So by the time we left via the gift shop it was gone six in the evening and we took the bus from the National Palace Museum to Shilin Night Market. Now, where yesterday’s night market was a bit on the small side – the night market at Shilin is vast. It’s a warren of food, clothes and tech stores where you could easily get lost or spend all your savings on the cast array of carnival games (if I had decent shooting skills I would have tried for one of the big plushies). Not to mention there is a large subterranean food court.

It was in this food court that we had the bulk of our dinner for the cheap price of 310$ (£7-8) for two. Considering that we have more night market visits to come we thought it would be worth getting the safer options out of the way first, this meant another plate of delicious steamed dumplings, pork fried rice and the quintessentially Taiwanese beef noodle soup. For the price we didn’t quite expect the large portions that we received, but boy were we happy to have our first proper meal in 2-3 days.

We roamed the streets for a while, picking up some cheese filled sweet potato puffs and sugar cane juice along the way. If we get a chance to come back here before leaving Taipei, there are a number of stores I would want to hit up for souvenirs. Not just the ones with all the Studio Ghibli and anime merchandise – but I wouldn’t be opposed to buying a bunch of things from there

List Item: Try as many of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die as possibleFood item: Conch
Progress: 758/1001

Now here’s something I did not expect to find on this holiday, and there were two stands selling this within spitting distance of each other. Grilled conch meat on a skewer with your choice of sauce – I went with the one with Taiwanese in its name because the others looked like they might blow my head off. The taste was somewhere between scallops and squid with quite a rubbery texture. It was also a bit gritty, but I’m guessing that more down to the conches not being thoroughly cleaned out before being slapped on the grill.

So here I am now. Two hours after starting this write up and, thankfully, migraine free. Tomorrow shouldn’t be a rainy day so we’ll be actually venturing outside. Time for sleep, Lord knows I need it.