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Month: August 2016

Lessons in Taiwan

Lessons in Taiwan

We chose to start in Taiwan for a few reasons: tickets to Taipei were cheap, we have heard Taiwan is a foodie’s paradise, it is small enough that you can explore the whole country, and it was in Asia (our desired starting point). To be honest, I am not sure if I knew that much about this country when we signed up to come here.

We have walked until our feet want to fall off, tried out the food, sweated more than I would like to admit (hello humidity), visited temples, explored nature, and tried not to get hit by all of the scooters. There are a lot of things we have learned about Taiwan and ourselves in the past two weeks.

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The MRT (Metro) & Friendly People

The subway system that runs across Taipei is extensive and easy to use (well, once you figure it out). When in a metro station there is a certain set of rules that should be follow. A person would assume that these rules would be posted everywhere, but they are nowhere to be seen. I suppose it is possible these things might have been posted somewhere in Chinese, but we will never know.

I think it is amazing people actually stand to the right.

The best way to learn about that set of rules is to look very lost and confused while in the metro station and wait for one of the notoriously friendly locals to show you the ropes. We had heard the people in Taiwan are very friendly, but we learned so first hand when a local woman saw us and thought that it looked like we needed some help. For the record, we probably did need help. She rode to the station we needed to get to (she took a transfer to another line with us) and walked us to where to buy train tickets for our trip to our next destination in a few days. We were blown away by her kindness and overall very impressed with the metro system as a whole. Here are some of the things we learned about the MRT:

  • There is no drinking or eating allowed on the train or in the station. I understand why chewing gum or snacks might be against the rules, but not being able to take a sip of water seems a bit harsh.
  • On the escalator everyone stands on the right side so that the left is clear for people who are in a hurry. While this is a common courtesy a lot of places in the world, it is very serious here and everyone does this.
  • You must queue to get onto the train. There are painted lines and arrows that will show you where to stand. It is astounding to me that people actually do this and enter the train in the order that they queued.
  • They play classical music to indicate the train is about to arrive. I think it is lovely!

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Night Markets

Taiwan is very serious about their night markets. Going to eat or even just walk around the night markets are hands down the best thing to do at night in Taiwan. There is so much delicious food at these markets that there is really no reason to eat dinner anywhere else. There are night markets all over the country and each one is a little different than the next one. There will be a whole blog post on the night markets in the future…there is that much to talk about.

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Trash

We have quickly learned that trash cans are few and far between. Everywhere we have been in Taiwan is so clean and there is no litter on the streets, parks or sidewalks. There have been many times we stop and get a bubble tea. This is all a great idea until you have finished your tea and are looking to get rid of it. WHERE DO PEOPLE THROW AWAY THEIR TRASH? It is confusing and after almost two weeks here I have yet to figure out how this country is always so clean when they make it so difficult to ditch your garbage.

On another note, the garbage trucks that come around to collect trash from houses and businesses have been a highlight of our time in Taiwan. A song plays as the garbage truck drives around indicating it is time for people to come out and throw their trash bags into the back of the truck. It is like a disappointing version of the ice cream man, but we are so amused by the way trash gets collected here. Scott had actually learned about this on a podcast before we came. The first time we heard the musical stylings of the garbage truck we ran outside to get a good look (and take some videos). The ladies working at our hostel thought we were crazy for being excited about garbage collection, but overall I think they were amused by our excitement.

The Magnitude of Taipei 101

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View of Taipei 101 from Elephant Mountain

Upon completion in 2004, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest building. It now ranks as the 8th largest building at the time I am writing this. We took the world’s fastest elevator up, clocking in at 37.5 mph, to the observation deck on the 89th floor to catch 360 degrees of incredible views. It is surprising to us that for such a tall building it is pretty hard to see when walking around most of Taipei, but I suppose that with other tall buildings around the view just gets obstructed. The one place that gets an unobstructed view is Elephant Mountain, which is a short hike from the city (actually just a bunch of stairs).

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View from the Observation Deck in Taipei 101

We also checked out the tuned mass damper. In an effort to try to keep my nerd level in check, click here to learn more about the damper and how it structurally supports the building. My engineering heart was so full after seeing this! They had some videos playing of some of the largest swings the damper has seen due to high winds caused by typhoons…although it would have made it more exciting to look at, I am glad the damper was nice and still while we visited 🙂

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Tours

We have learned that we really don’t enjoy tours. It might be alright to do a half day tour, but you put us on a whole day tour and we feel like prisoners. We have taken one tour since we have been on the road to go explore Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s biggest tourist attractions. Nobody spoke English on our tour, but that was fine as we only needed the tour for easy transportation. Everything was going great until lunchtime when we were dropped off at a buffet that was horrible and expensive (at least relative to what he have been paying the $6.31 a person buffet was outrageous). After lunch we explored more places in Taroko National Park. We loved some places we visited, but being at the mercy of someone else’s schedule drove us crazy. If the tour would have ended right before lunch we would have called it a perfect outing. Lesson learned: if we do a tour, make sure it is for no more than a few hours.DSC_0316

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The day before the tour that never ended we decided to go independently to Mukumugi Valley to check out the scenery and go for a swim. This day was 10 times for enjoyable than the tourist “must do” Taroko Gorge as we were on our own schedule, we paid no money to see it (well, we did pay $3 round trip each for bus tickets), and we were not stuck with thousands of other tourists trying to see the same thing as us. Don’t get me wrong…Taroko Gorge was worth doing and we are glad we did it. It was stunning! We just have more fun seeing things independently and wished we would have skipped the full day tour. Our independent trip to Mukumugi felt much more authentic and it was a lot more fun. It also didn’t hurt that we could go swimming which was perfect in this oppressive heat and humidity!

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Plans Change

We have learned that plans can change at the drop of a hat. We were planning on traveling around the entire country, but after 4 days in Hualien we decided to go back to Taipei and stay for the next 11 nights. We found a nice apartment through AirB&B that has a couch/separate living room area which is a huge upgrade after staying in a room with only a bed and no windows for a few nights. We have decided to finish out our time in Taiwan here before moving on to China. Staying in one place will help us not burn out (the pace we were moving and trying to see things was far too fast) and maybe help us figure out a routine of sorts. There is so much to see around the Taipei area and we are excited to make it our home base for a while!

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Touch Down in Taipei

Touch Down in Taipei

The first day of our trip have been a whirlwind. One minute we were in New Jersey saying bye to family and the next (actually, more like 24 hours, but who’s counting?) we were halfway across the world. The only goal of the evening was to find our accommodations for the night, an Air B&B in the Da-an District. Our research, done on a layover in the San Francisco airport, told us there was a bus we could take from the airport to this area. Our research (or lack thereof) did not tell us which bus to take, where to buy tickets, or how any of this works. If we would have been on the Amazing Race, we would not have won. We are thankful that the Taipei airport has free Wi-Fi and that the internet exists. We did eventually figure out which bus to take and made it to our little corner of Taipei for the next 4 days. Upon arrival to our place, we knew we needed to find a beer after this crazy travel day. We found a bar steps from our apartment that looked perfect. The only problem was that they technically are not in business for another 2 weeks….lucky for us they invited us in to have a Paulaner beer and made us their official first customers! Thank you to the two British guys who are opening the bar who welcomed us in. IMG_4113

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Our rooftop terrace in Taipei

Being across the world and outside of familiarity takes some getting used to. It is sensory overload and we are trying to figure out everything one step at a time. These things include how to not get hit by a scooter when crossing the street, to figure out what is safe to eat, how to communicate when everyone speaks a language we don’t…the list goes on. We are working on getting used to the constant state of unfamiliarity.

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Our general plan for seeing the country was to start in Taipei for 4 nights, take the train all the way around the island starting down the east coast, back up the west coast, and then ending our stay in Taiwan back in Taipei. We have around 2.5 weeks total in Taiwan before we fly to Shanghai to meet up with my dad who will be there on a business trip. So far we have only have chosen our next destination, Hualien, and have booked accommodations there. Beyond that, it is up to us to figure out as we go!

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Although this Google map makes it look like we are driving, we will be taking the train all the way around!
Road Trippin’

Road Trippin’

After our crazy couple of weeks in Denver wrapping up at our jobs, spending some time with family with a quick trip to Texas, packing everything in our house, and several send-offs from our amazing friends…we needed some serious relaxing time. Thank you to everyone who wished us well on our journey in the past few weeks. I can speak for both of us when we say that we were completely overwhelmed (in the best way possible) and feel so loved. Thankfully we didn’t move to Mars so it is easy to keep in touch and we will be back living in Denver soon enough. There are so many things I could say about how hard it was to leave and our complicated thoughts on leaving, but words fail me. Instead, I will tell you all about our first week on the road!

USA Road Trippin’

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We have officially started our journey around the world with a bit of road tripping through the United States. Since I had sold my trusty Corolla just before leaving, we were left with Scott’s CRV to get us across the country. After two days, several states, and a lot of cornfields we made it from Denver all the way to Cleveland, Ohio to spend a week with my parents. We chose to drive a less direct route to stop along the way in Kansas City to get some BBQ at the original Oklahoma Joe’s, which is also called Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que, located in a gas station. The BBQ was so good that we weren’t even mad they were out of burnt ends and that we tacked on an extra hour or two of drive time. It was absolutely worth the stop!

Worth it.

Doesn't All Good BBQ Start at Gas Stations?
Gas Station BBQ is the Best Kind of BBQ. Photo via: Head First 

Cleveland

My parents did an excellent job spoiling us in Cleveland. Most of our time was spent eating their food, drinking their beer, sleeping-in late, swimming, and knocking off some items off our to-do list. It was a great change of pace to the chaos that comes with moving! We also had to check out some of Cleveland’s finest dining options, such as the all-you-can-eat Alaskan Snow Crab feast, and some trendy areas (The Flats & East 4th Street) throughout the week.

So much crab...

The Flats (East Bank)
The View from the Flats (East Bank) along the Cuyahoga River.

Niagara Falls

Horseshoe Falls

The highlight of the week with my parents was out quick trip to Niagara Falls is actually a collective of three waterfalls: Bridal Veil Falls, the American Falls, and the Horseshoe Falls. The falls straddle the international border between the USA and Canada so naturally we had to go to both sides. We made it to our first country (besides the USA) in our trip! The American side has more to do in terms of observation decks, waterfalls, and activities and is widely considered the more beautiful side of the falls. For this reason we decided to stay on the Canadian side so we could view the “prettier” side of the falls. I would highly recommend checking out both sides, but staying the night in Canada to get those killer views! We stayed in a hotel with an impressive view of all three falls…again, we were very spoiled and soon our expectations have to be knocked down about 10 levels for the rest of this trip!

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We split our two days in Niagara Falls with one day on the US side and the other on the Canadian side. On the American side we decided to check out the falls from below on the Maid of the Mist, the 20-minute boat ride that takes you right to the bottom of the falls. It was really crowded with tourists, we all got wet, and we all thought it was awesome! 🙂 On the Canadian side of the falls we explored the observation deck to see the falls from the top, checked out the Canadian casinos, had lunch with a view, and then said our goodbyes to my parents before getting in the car again to head east another 7 hours to Connecticut. We had the best time this week hanging with my parents and we cannot wait to spend out last week in the States (for a while at least) seeing more family, visiting friends, and packing our bags for the trip!
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Not the worst hotel room view I have ever seen