Sunday, May 27, 2012

Kenny and Annemarie Come to Taiwan: Episode I - Kaohsiung

… Not that long ago in a city not that far away, our good friends Kenny and Annemarie came to visit us in Taiwan, first landing in Kaohsiung. Amanda and I met K&A at Kaohsiung Airport and therewith our “Island-Style” adventure began. 

We started with three days in our favorite city, showing K&A all the things we love so much about Kaohsiung, and why it has become a home away from home for us. 

On the way to our hostel from the airport, we stopped at Formosa Boulevard MRT stations’ “Dome of Light”, recently voted the second most beautiful subway station in the world (although there are differing opinions and rankings on this most controversial of matters). After a short photo shoot, we headed on to the Tuntex Skytower (85大樓 Ba Wu Da Lou) where we had made a reservation at the restaurant on the 77F so that we could celebrate Kenny’s fortieth birthday. 

Dinner was really nice, albeit a fairly “deep-end dive” into Taiwanese cuisine. We all had a set meal that included a number of small courses such as abalone, ducks foot, langoustines, sharks fin soup, steamed grouper and then for dessert, a sweet soup with fresh fruit and pastries. Kenny was the only person in the right frame of mind to eat the ducks foot, and when it came to clearing that course from the table, our waitress was very concerned (borderline distraught) that we had not eaten our ducks feet. We assured her that everything was great and that our stomachs weren’t used to such food. For ethical reasons, we opted out of the shark’s fin soup course and we were presented with additional langoustines to make up for the difference. Although, after the fact, a Taiwanese friend of ours assured us that it would have been shark’s fin “style” soup and that serving real shark’s fin is now illegal in Taiwan. 

The following day, we took K&A to the Lotus Pond, then met up with our good friend, Stanley, who took us to one of our favorite spots, a cafe on the ocean-side of Cháishān 柴山. There, we had some iced tea, coffee and biscuits, and enjoyed watching the sun slowly descend as a multitude of large container and freight ships came and went into/out of Kaohsiung harbor. By this point, we were “well-basted” from the +30C temperature and the +90% humidity, and so, we retired to our hostel to freshen-up before again heading out to be taken to a “very Chinese hot-pot restaurant”, as described by Stanley. This turned out to mean that it was spicy enough to burn a hole through a NASA space shuttle’s reinforced carbon-carbon heat shield. It was a delicious meal, albeit, Amanda and I elected to “temper” our spices with the addition of some dairy-based broth intended to lessen the effect. 

On our last day in Kaohsiung, we visited the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, the Love River, Lao Song Beef Noodles Restaurant (one of our favorites), Yuánhēng Temple, went for shaved ice, and finished the day at Central Park at a small live outdoor concert put on by a local band. After the concert, as if we hadn’t eaten enough that day already, we then had some delicious snacks and sake at a Japanese BBQ restaurant in Central Park. Quite bloated and ready to burst, we then said our farewells to Stanley and Vicky and retired for the evening, ready to start our Penghu adventure the next day with our train ride to Taipei (to be penned by Amanda).

Kenny, Annemarie & Amanda at Formosa Boulevard's Dome of Light
The Lotus Pond
Annemarie & Amanda at the Lotus Pond
The Spring Pavilion at the Lotus Pond
Amanda, Annemarie & Kenny
Lotus Pond Temple
Cold drinks at a cafe on Chaishan
View of the ocean
Vicky & Stanley at the spicy Chinese hot-pot restaurant
Kenny, Brett & Amanda
Kenny can read good and do other things good, too!
Yuánhēng Temple
Yuánhēng Temple interior
Shaved ice with Stanley (angry Stanley)
Japanese BBQ Farewell meal

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Din Tai Feng 鼎泰豐

I like Din Tai Feng. It is delicious. If I could export one restaurant from Taiwan back to Canada, it would be Din Tai Feng. I will miss it dearly, think of it often, and send it postcards.

Each time I calculate how many days Amanda and I have left in Taiwan, I can’t help but consider the corresponding number of possible opportunities we have left to eat at Din Tai Feng... and then I shed a single tear, and somewhere, a beautiful flower withers and dies.

Amanda at Din Tai Feng 鼎泰豐
Delicious Shrimp Fried Brown Rice 蝦仁炒飯
Xiao Long Bao 小籠
Beef Noodle Soup 牛肉湯麵
Crazy Face. Can you blame me, with all that delicious food in front of me?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Drive to Dasyue Mountain [大雪山]

It has been a while since we’ve updated the blog. Apologies for our extended silence.

The weekend following my birthday in Taipei, Amanda and I were in Taichung, with no plans in particular, and so, on a sunny Sunday, we decided to go for a long drive and explore outside the city.

In trying to decide “Where to drive?”, I had resorted to looking at pictures on panoramio and google maps, geotagged in the mountains to the east of Taichung. There was an area on the map where some great pictures were taken with beautiful views looking out on the mountains and hills as they descend down to Taichung city. It also appeared as though there was a pretty impressive gain in elevation, hence it seemed the perfect candidate for our Sunday drive.

Our drive took us out of Taichung along Wenxin Rd. and past the popular hiking trails of Dakeng Scenic Area (大坑). We also drove through an area where mushroom farms were clearly the primary industry. There were mushroom themed cafes, shops and restaurants, as well as mushroom shaped buildings, street lights and street signs. To top it off, there was even a mushroom themed Go-Kart track, but no Mario-Kart characters that we could see or speak of.

After about an hour and a half on the scooter we reached a town called Dongshih (東勢). At the turn off to Dasyue Mountain is where we really began to gain elevation. We stopped at a tea house/restaurant partway up the mountain and shared some pork and rice as well as some black tea.

After lunch we continued our drive and gained approx. 1000 metres in the space of about 1 hour. We agreed to turn around and start our way back home since the gain in elevation was accompanied by a significant drop in the temperature as well as some fairly ominous looking clouds.

The weather that day was really great and we definitely plan to repeat the drive one more time before we leave Taiwan.

Stacks and stacks of mushrooms to the left.
Mushroom Village
River Valley by Dongshih
Amanda on the patio at our lunch stop
Pork and rice for lunch
Lunch with Amanda
View from the cafe
Zoom Zoom
Zoom Zoom
Zoom Zoom
Zoom Zoom Zoom
Zoom Zoom
Oh, hi there!
Brett with the Juggernaught
Getting chilly, time to turn around...
Heading home...
Back across the river valley...
More river valley...
We caught the sun as it was setting over Taichung City
Hi, my name is Brett. I like long walks on the beach and kittens.
Pretty wife eat cheese. Ok then.
Just an interesting steak house in Taichung that we passed on our way back home.

Monday, May 7, 2012

“Thirty-something” is the new “twenty-something”

One Friday May 4th, I left Taichung shortly after work, taking the HSR up to Taipei where I roamed the streets a little and took some pictures. I stayed at the same hostel where we had first stayed when we arrived in Taipei on April 28th 2011, and quite incredibly a member of the staff recognized me upon my check-in. I’m just going to assume that it is because I have an unforgettably handsome face. 

Unfortunately, Amanda had to teach a morning class the following day, so she caught the HSR on Saturday and we met shortly after noon at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial. Later that afternoon, we met up with a good friend and old work colleague of mine as well as his wife and two traveling companions. The last time I saw my friend Pierre was when we had stopped in Vancouver before flying to Beijing, so it was really great to catch up. We all went up to the Taipei 101 observation deck and took in some spectacular views. Later, we all went to the Taipei 101 Din Tai Feng where we enjoyed beef noodles, dumplings and xiao long bao amongst other dishes. Later that evening, Amanda and I went for a short walk and I took a few night shots from a pedestrian bridge overlooking an intersection by Taipei 101. 

The following day, we met our friends, old and new, for a coffee before saying farewell. It was a beautiful day, in fact we were lucky with the weather the whole weekend and so Amanda and I caught a cab and headed for the Maokong Gondola (貓空纜車). When we arrived at the gondola station next to the Taipei Zoo we were a little disappointed to see that it was shut for maintenance and would not be reopening until June 2nd. At that point, the obvious alternative was the zoo. Despite it being a very busy Sunday at the zoo, it was still an enjoyable experience and we had much better views in the panda habitat than we had last time we visited. 

All in all, it was a great birthday weekend. It was wonderful to see old friends and make new ones and I don’t think I had ever seen such clear blue skies in Taipei.

I took this a short walk from our hostel. Floats were being prepared for a religious festival.
A shrine close to our hostel
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Gate
National Theater
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall
Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall Guard
Brett and sea coral in Taipei 101
Derek, Jason, Mihoko, Pierre and Brett
Intersection near Taipei 101
The pedestrian bridge is a good spot for taking pictures.
Zoo crowds
Bearded Dragon
Panda Habitat