Road trip to Fukui and Kanazawa

A younger, very social, Japanese colleague of mine recently got his driver’s license AND a car. It isn’t cheap or easy to get your license in Japan, especially if you’ve never had a driver’s license. I wrote extensively about it, as has every gaijin with a blog who bothered to get their license. Araki-san invited me and some others to go on a bit of a road trip to visit the 百万石祭り (hyakumangoku festival). The hykumangoku festival commemorates Lord Maeda Toshiie’s move to Kanazawa castle. But it always seems like it is the journey, and not always the destination that is what the trip is about. Indeed, we had a good time on the journey.

Hyakumangokudori

 

We met around Nagoya Station early on a Saturday morning. Well, not that early but 8:00 am felt early after a nomikai the night before. Until this weekend, Japan had special rates on their highway system – you could get on and off for only 1000 yen, and I believe it was twice in one day. It was set up for economic stimulus. We were able to take the tollway the entire trip.

This was how we rolled.

 

Japan has a number of SAs, or service areas, so you can take a break along the way without getting off the tollroad. We even had a guide to the service areas along the way so we could understand the specialties that each service area would have. We didn’t expect one of the service areas to have special sauce for ice cream like miso. According to one of the signs, “it taste’s like caramel!” Why not just get caramel instead?

Typical service area.

 

Soy sauce and Miso ice cream topping.

Why not chocolate?

Why not caramel?

 

We did get off the tollroad for an excursion into the mountains in Fukui prefecture to enjoy some delicious soba. Rice was being planted by hand across the street from the restaurant. The menu was simple.

Inaka soba restaurant

 

The extensive menu

 

Too arty of a shot of soba

 

Araki-san

 

Outside the rice was getting planted.

Rice planting

Rice planting

 

Continuing back on the highway, there was another big SA right by the sea of Japan. We could even walk down to the water.

Sea of Japan

 

When we got to Kanazawa, we decided to “Park N Ride” because we knew the city center would be crowded. We hustled to the bus stop, and got on the bus the attendant told us to board. Araki-san is from Kanazawa, but about 5 minutes in to the ride I had to say, “Are you sure this bus is going the right direction?” Araki-san replied, “I am starting to wonder …” So leave it to the gaijin would had never been to the city before to figure out we were definitely going the wrong way! But honestly, since I can’t really read anything in cities in Japan (of course I can but it is more dramatic to say I can’t), I probably rely on more intuition than if I was Japanese. We showed a giant act of defiance and refused to pay for the bus. I’m not sure if I am allowed in Kanazawa again, but we were rebels (and grabbed a taxi instead – and with 4 people it cost about the same).

The taxi dropped us off at the edge of the Nagamachi Samurai district, and we wandered through the area until we got to the parade route.

Nagamachi Samurai District

 

Nagamachi Samurai District

 

Nagamachi Samurai District

 

We followed the parade route up to the castle, and spent a little time hanging around the castle grounds and having unhealthy festival food. I had karaage of course and my stomach hurt afterwards, but how can you refuse karaage at a festival?

Kanazawa Castle

 

Kanazawa Castle

 

Araki-san showing us his home

 

From the castle, we went to 兼六園 (kenrokuen), one of the three best gardens in Japan. The famous gardens are 後楽園 (kouraken) in Okayama and 偕楽園 (kairakuen) in Mito. I have already been to Kairakuen when I lived in Mito. I’m lucky to have been to two of the three best gardens! Unfortunately, Kairakuen is closed after the Great Eastern Japan.

Kanrokuen

 

Kanrokuen

 

Kanrokuen

 

Kanrokuen

 

After the garden, we were able to watch the parade. It had the requisite bands, parade queen, but had a few elements that you do see in parades in the US. For example, firemen performing acrobats on ladders erected in the middle of the street by a team of firemen, or samurai walking down the street. Fun.

Hyakumangoku Parade

 

Hyakumangoku Parade

 

Hyakumangoku Parade

 

Hyakumangoku Parade

 

We had wanted to visit a gold leaf shop as the area is famous for gold leaf but unfortunately the shop was closed because of the festival. Ooops. We surprised Araki-san’s parents, especially since they didn’t even know he had a car, failed at visiting a sushi restaurant (too long of a wait) and headed home.

It was a really good time and I am thankful that I was able to spend the time with good friends

“Paradise, is exactly like …

…where you are right now, only much, much better.” Or so says the Laurie Anderson song. I think I had a good preview of paradise though on my recent trip to Bali.

Bvlgari Hotel and Resort

My idea of travel typically is going to a major metropolitan area, staying in a hotel, and going out to various sites and taking in all the city has to offer. The idea that going to a resort can be fun, just hanging out, seemed like a colossal waste of money. As Tomo said a friend of his would say, “If I just wanted to sit around and read a book I could do that at home.”

Bvlgari Hotel and Resort

I never thought I would enjoy an isolated resort. Just like I’ve never really liked the idea of a cruise. But, I guess I’m getting older or opening my mind a little bit. I still haven’t been on a cruise since I was 14 years old, but I have ended up hitting various resorts. Since I’ve moved to Japan, I’ve been to a resort in Karuizawa (Hoshinoya), a resort at Hakone, a visit to a resort in Thailand, a ryokan in Matsumoto, and recently a resort in Bali.

This past weekend was spent at the BVLGARI Hotel and Resort in Bali. I’m almost embarrassed to say that, because it seems so over-the-top. I don’t really even like much that Bulgari has to offer as a brand. But the resort looked really, really nice and we were not disappointed.

The trip from Japan is a lot easier than trying to get to Bali from the US. And the best part of all – there is a one hour time difference. That’s it! Interestingly, when I was still in Japan around Christmas time, freezing, Tomo and I made plans to come to Bali. We had tried to go in the past, but it didn’t work out. This time it did. We made reservations at the Bulgari, vowing to explore other options. We marginally explored.

I can’t say I had any experience about Bali while in Bali, and for that I have some regrets. In some respects, the resort could have been anywhere. But we did have Italian influenced Bali architecture, traditional Indonesian food available on the menu, and the warm Indonesian people as our hosts.

So what did we do? Relaxed, ate, went to the spa. The resort had about 70 individual villas nestled in rows on a cliff. But even with so many villas, each villa was very private. The villas were about 300 m2 of indoor and outdoor space, and consisted of 3 huts, two of them enclosed and connected, and one outside. The outside hut was where the living room was, and looked out to a sweeping view of the Indian Ocean. We had two lounge chairs in front of our own plunge pool. The plunge pool was clean, a great depth, and a nice temperature. Yes, we used it (as opposed to Thailand where we thought it looked a little scary).

The entry to our villa

 

Bvlgari Hotel and Resort

 

Bvlgari Hotel and Resort

 

The door to the interior space

 

The bedroom was completely windowed on three sides, with large sheers and heavy curtains. The roof was thatched grass, and did have a tendency to drop a few things at times. The colors were dark, the lines simple but still felt Indonesian-esque to me (whatever that means).

The bedroom

 

The bedroom

 

The bath area was the same hut style as the bedroom, and it too was completely windowed on three sides. But this has no curtains! It was wide open to the outdoors, although there were privacy walls to protect others from seeing in. I didn’t imagine that I would like the huge, open bathroom, but in the end I loved it. I was even able to take advantage of the outdoor shower.

The bathroom

 

The bathroom

 

Our neighbors were monkeys, and they stopped by for a visit.

Hey, hey!

 

The resort did have a private beach, but since it is situated high on a cliff (the resort, not the beach), accessing could have been difficult. To ease the burden, there was an incline rail to take you up and down. I had never seen a 6 person incline rail before, but there you go. We went to the beach twice – both times at high tide. The water was really rough and swimming is not allowed. We were still able to enjoy the view though.

Incline rail

 

The beach

 

Limited usage

 

The bar was well situated, and in the evening it was very peaceful to enjoy a drink and a snack. The staff was kind enough to offer to reserve a table for us for sunset on the first evening there, and that was good because it was the only night with a visible sunset.

The bar

 

Sunset

 

Sunset

 

At the spa, I had an exfoliation scrub, a foot massage, a facial scrub, a scalp massage, and then a long stroke hot stone oil massage. Although I’ve grown to like shiatsu massages, it’s hard to top a hot stone massage. Basically, the massage incorporates palmed hot stones as part of the massage stroke. We were in an open air hut with waves crashing below and a really nice breeze blowing though.

The spa

 

The spa

 

The spa

 

The pool was very beautiful, and never crowded. I think people were hanging out in their villas.

The pool

 

The pool

 

The pool

 

The pool

 

The pool

 

The Indonesian Rupiah has suffered from inflation over the years, so now, as a rough order of magnitude, 1 USD = 10000 IDR (actually around 8600), and 100 JPY = 10000 IDR (ish). I had a lot of zeros floating around in my head, and prices were often listed in 1000s of IDR. When I got my massage, I wanted to leave a tip. Afterwards, I was fuzzy as I often am after a massage and had to write in the tip. I wanted to leave about a $30 tip for the two therapists, and so I wrote 30000 IDR. Later, as I was looking at the price of something on the menu, I wondered to myself, “Did I really just leave a $3 tip?” That’s almost an insult! The next day we went back to the spa, checked out my bill, and sure enough, I had given them a $3 tip. Ooops. I made it easy and handed over some cash and offered my apologies.

I can go on and on, but I’ve been reminded more than once that nobody really wants to read that much in a blog. If the entry is too long, people will be bored and skip it. Or just look at the pictures, which is what I figure actually happens with this blog.

But if people are reading the whole thing, I do have a few more comments. When we were checking out this resort, I read some really negative reviews. People complaining about the beach, about bugs in the room, about it being too dark, about the restaurants being expensive compared to other places in Bali. I guess if I wanted to, I could complain about things. Yes, there were bugs here and there (it is the tropics, after all), yes you can’t swim on the beach, and yes you are paying premium prices at the bar, restaurant, and spa. I’m not sure how to measure value, but I felt that I got great service, I wasn’t “nickel and dimed” on every service provided, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Maybe since I am now calibrated to Japanese prices, even the high prices didn’t seem THAT high. So I highly recommend the place if you are not going to stress out over the money you are spending. If you are going to stress out about it, then don’t go.

Moss on a wall

 

A glimpse of Hokkaido

Where does the time go? A couple of weeks ago I went to Hokkaido for the first time. It’s not really accurate to say I visited Hokkaido. I went to ニセコ (Niseko) in Hokkaido to go skiing. To say I had a feeling for Hokkaido would be a bit of an overstatement.

I’ve wanted to get to a snowy place in Japan, and certainly there are closer places than Hokkaido to see snow. However, a few colleagues from Tokyo were going, I was invited, and it seemed like a great opportunity. The only difficulty was that the tour was arranged out of Tokyo so I had to get to and from Tokyo.

At first, I really had no intent to even ski – I was planning on just enjoying the ambiance of a ski area and resort town. However, the more I looked into where we were going, the more I realized that maybe there wasn’t much else to do except for skiing. It had been at least 10 years, maybe closer to 15 years since I last went skiing. I would say the last time I went skiing was when I was living in Europe and had a weekend getaway to Wengen. 15 years is a long time ago.

Our flight was from Tokyo to Sapporo (Chitose) and then we took a bus to ニセコ. Although it was dark once we got properly on the road, it was become increasingly obvious that it was snowing. Hard. Looking out the front of the bus, I was mesmerized by the snowflakes in the lights. I love when it snows, and I don’t often get to see it in Nagoya, and definitely don’t see it much in LA.

The obligatory rest stop / shop.

The obligatory shop

 

And some dangerous icicles waiting to impale someone.

watch for falling objects

 

We checked in to the Hilton Niseko VIllage and picked up our pre-arranged rentals. It was great that we could rent everything, including pants, jacket, goggles, helmet, and gloves. I had my own gloves, actually, but everything else was welcomed. I rented a helmet for the first time. Things have changed a lot since the last time I skied and helmets are a lot more common. All I could think of before skiing was totally tweeking my knees, and the Natasha Richardson accident. I couldn’t do anything to protect my knees, but I figured a helmet was a good idea.

Our first night we just ate in the hotel as we all were keen to eat and be relaxed for a full day of skiing the next day. I really can’t remember what we did the first night, but I know that I visited the onsen. It had a rotenburo as well (outside bath), that was unfortunately covered and only open at one end. There is nothing like sitting in an pool of hot water, surrounded by snow, and watching it snow. I will never tire of that. And although it was cold enough to snow, it wasn’t SO cold. One of the cool things about this ski area is that it is not really at a high elevation. It has a ton of snow, but is maybe at 1000 m. That’s it. So it isn’t like skiing Winter Park at 10,000 feet, freezing and getting winded just picking up your skis.

Fresh for the day.

watch for falling objects

 

The resort we were staying at was a ski-in resort. We walked out the ski valet area and hopped on a gondola. That’s the way to do it. My colleagues seemed like they were much better skiers and one had been at the resort for a few days and was telemarking. Yikes. I was glad to send them on their own way and decided to ski on my own. Admittedly, I was pretty nervous on my first run. Would I remember how to ski? The answer is … mostly. On the first run I had one of those falls where my skis ended uphill from me, one attached and one detached, and I kept sliding. Oops. I made it up to my ejected ski and spent the next 20 minutes trying to re-engage the binding. That’s so frustrating, and I probably ended up 20 feet down the hill by the time I got the ski on. It turns out I was on an intermediate run anyway. Oh cool.

The view from the top of the gondola.

Before the snow got heavy

 

And a picture after my first fall. Notice the snow on my goggles.

After the first fall

 

I have a tendency to do the same run multiple times – the first time I’m rather timid because I don’t know the run, the proper way, what is over the next ridge, etc. On subsequent runs I can ski a little more confidently, and that confidence translates to more aggressive skiing. I had plenty of tumbles, and I did tweek both my knees and I really hit my head. I was glad I had my helmet on.

Coincidently, the whole crew met up at lunch, and so we decided to ski together in the afternoon. It turns out that most of the rest of the crew was better than me, but not all, and not significantly better. In the afternoon though it was snowing really hard, my knee was hurting, and I could feel myself making mistakes and I figured the opportunity for further injury was increasing, so I forfeited my last run and called it a day (and headed straight for the onsen).

I didn’t know The Village People had a restaurant in Niseko.

Go West!

 

A picture towards the end of the day. The snow was heavy at that time.

At the end of the day

 

We were able to find the village and enjoyed a little nightlife. We went to a great seafood restaurant run by an Australian bloke and ended up at a bar / hostel / ryokan called the Half Note which appeared to have been taken over by gaijin. The proprietor and his wife and two others performed jazz standards while guests watched, played pool, or just hung out (check out the website). Eventually our team left, went back to the hotel, and closed down the karaoke room. Then I went to onsen again. Hey, I was treating my knee.

I think I was pretty tired.

Enjoying a nice meal

 

Dinner pictures of oysters, crab, sashimi. Yum.

Oysters

 

Crab

 

Sashimi

 

Enjoying the local pub.

The Half Note

 

The Half Note

 

Unfortunately, I had to leave the next morning due to flight constraints, while 3/5 of the crew remained and skied another day. I couldn’t have skied very well anyway, as my knee was very tender. I bought the requisite omiyage at the airport (a ton!) and headed home.

Tomo met me at Haneda, we checked out the new International terminal, and then I headed back to Nagoya.

A great weekend – full of fun from start to finish. Do I know Hokkaido? Not really. Maybe I’ll make it back sometime to see more than a single ski area. But what I saw was beautiful and I have great memories of my weekend there.

The view at breakfast

Catch Up Post – Shanghai – October 2010

Last year at the beginning of the year, or maybe even earlier, Tomo and I were walking through Nagoya Station and walked past a bunch of images of some of the country pavilions for the upcoming World Expo in Shanghai. They looked really cool, and we decided that we would visit Shanghai and the World’s Fair in 2010. Tomo did some quick checking, and we booked a trip in June. It is really easy for Japanese to travel to China – they just get on a plane and go. Americans still need to get a visa. I was quite fortunate that I had a trip to LA coming up, so I was able to arrange for my visa there. Otherwise it would have been much more difficult and slightly more expensive to get in Japan.

World Expo 2010 - Shanghai

In the end, we had to cancel our trip in May due to work scheduling conflicts. Everything was refundable except for our Expo tickets. After some investigation, we decided to give it another shot and book again in October. We were minutes away from cancelling again due to scheduling conflicts, but decided that the proper work / life balance was more important. In the end, there was no major issue going, but sometimes you just don’t know.

We figured that the place may be less crowded in October compared to May since the initial excitement of the event would be over. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. We were wrong.

But first, before we even got to the Expo, we were in Shanghai and that was cool in itself. We were staying at the Portman Ritz-Carlton, which sounds a lot fancier than it really is. Sure, it is a very nice hotel, but it isn’t a small, little boutique hotel. It has over 600 rooms. However, I am not complaining.

I had been to Shanghai before, and there were definitely some areas that I wanted Tomo to see. We started walking, and Tomo had picked out some interesting places along the way too. The goal was to walk from the hotel, eventually getting to the walk street area of Nanjin Road, and then ending up at the Bund for a view across to Pudong. From there, the night would be whatever it turned out to be.

Shanghai

10 years ago, on my first visit to China, walking along the streets of Shanghai was amazing to me. The fact that I was actually in China, walking down the street, was cool enough in itself. Now, I live in Asia, and everyone around me is Asian, and walking down a street in Shanghai is kind of like walking down a street in Japan, or Taipei, or Bangkok, or Singapore, or …. Of course, the cities I mentioned are extremely different, but they are all starting to merge into a similar style of “major Asian city.” Still, even on this trip, I found it exciting to be in Shanghai, walking down the street.

We first stopped at a restaurant that served soup and dumplings. It was incredibly cheap, and really good, and soon got very crowded. If you can imagine, I was the only white guy to be found.

Shanghai restaurant menu

 

Shanghai restaurant crowd

 

We made it to Nanjing and continued to walk to the Bund. The last time I was here was during the day, and I got some interesting pictures at that time.

Older pictures.

Shanghai Nanjing Road

 

Shanghai Nanjing Road

 

Recent photos.

Shanghai Nanjing Road

 

Bund at night

 

Of course, when we finally made it to the Bund, the experience did not disappoint. The old of the bund contrasted against the new of Pudong across the water. Interestingly, I found the view to Pudong very interesting the first time I was in Shanghai, and yet at that time there were only a few buildings, primarily the TV tower. Since then, other buildings have been built that are quite spectacular.

Pudong

 

While we were wandering around, we split up taking pictures. As I was peering across the water, I was approached by three girls who started chatting me up. They had just graduated, were from Xian, had been to the Expo that day, and so on. I’m always a little cautious of wily strangers but I chatted back. Tomo joined me and they continued to talk and next thing we knew they were inviting us to a cultural exposition just down the street. Why don’t we come with them? Ahhhhh, no thanks. I have no idea where that was actually going, but I think they probably weren’t from Xian, probably didn’t go to the Expo, and were out gathering people for something. I doubt it was anything to serious, but we elected not to go. Instead, we went to a restaurant / bar on the Bund for a light snack and a great view at a sky high price. It was worth it though.

View from cafe

 

We wanted to check out the view from the Pudong side as well, so we rode a really cheesy “train” underneath the river to Pudong and enjoyed the “art” exhibition on the way. After accomplishing our mission, we returned across the river, to the subway, and back to the hotel after a remarkably full first day.

The next day, a Thursday, we planned on going to the Expo. The weather was pretty miserable in the morning. Rainy and not so warm. That did not deter us, or hundreds of thousands of others as well. What we had heard turned out to be true, the place was PACKED! The grounds are huge, so at first it seems pretty wide open. But then you start making your way to the pavilions and it is crazy. Of course we went to Japan first, and the girls had told us that you can jump the line if you have a passport of that country. Japan did NOT have that policy. The same treatment for all people. And the line was about 4 hours to wait. That didn’t sound fun and we were living in Japan anyway, so what’s the point? Next up, Saudia Arabia. 6 hours, and jammed packed with pushy people. That didn’t look fun either. At this point, there was a little tension.

Gateway

 

The line for some exhibition.

Exhibition line

 

I got a big kick out of the signs reminding people of proper manners. As if it would help.

Manners, please

 

Manners, please

 

Be careful

 

Thank goodness for New Zealand. They were our gateway to smaller, more accessible pavilions. We finally started going into some of the smaller country pavilions and at this point I can’t remember all the countries we visited. I will try: New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Finland, Croatia, Slovenia, Canada, USA, Mexico, Brasil, The Netherlands,

Switzerland.

Switzerland

 

UK.

UK

 

Luxembourg.

Luxembourg

 

For my space geek friends out there, Slovenia.

Slovenia

 

France.

France

 

Architecturally, Finland was my favorite. Australia had the best “show” but Canada’s Cirque de Soleil designed experience was cool as well. Slovenia had the coolest exhibition, Croatia’s was by far the cheapest and most lame, and Brasil was disappointing as well. Mexico was very interactive and fun, the Netherlands was just trippy, and the USA tried really hard to be gracious.

In and around Finland.

Finland

 

Finland

 

Finland

 

Canada.

Canada

 

I will say that the passport trick worked really well at the US pavilion, and while others queued for a long time, I waived my US passport, got a friendly, “Where are you from?” and was given immediate access, +1.

USA

 

One of my biggest excitements, which I paid for dearly later, was discovering Mexican food at the Mexican pavilion. Ooops. The Mexican pavilion was full of interactive art.

Tomo in Mexico

 

Me in Mexico

 

Mexico

 

In spite of the rain, we had a long and complete day in the country pavilion area of the expo. To say it was huge is an understatement. Am I glad we did it? You bet.

World Expo 2010

 

Prior to going to China, everyone was telling me to bring Immodium or some other intestinal troubles masking agent. I told myself I would be careful, I was only there for a few days, I was in a major city, and there would not be any problem. Until Friday morning. Yikes! I was miserable and could not keep any food in my stomach. Nothing like spending a vacation day timing trips to the bathroom. I ended up sending Tomo away to do his own thing because I could not imagine being away from the room. Fortunately, I started feeling better and by 3:00 pm was ready to risk an adventure in the city.

Tomo really wanted to go to another restaurant in his excellent Japanese guidebook. Since I couldn’t find any English language guidebooks for Shanghai in Nagoya, how could I overrule his request. We took a taxi to the general area and arrived to see that the entire block where this restaurant was supposed to be was now a giant construction zone. That’s progress! And also really frustrating. With guidebook in hand, we went to a different restaurant in a different part of Shanghai that turned out to be right where we were the night before. Anyway, the food basically was a great choice, and was basically chicken and noodle soup. My stomach was on the road to recovery.

Not an easy menu to choose from.

Choices

 

Coca-Cola products, Coke and Sprite.

Coke

 

Sprite

 

We still had one more ticket for the Expo, so we decided to go to the technology and commercial side of the Expo across the river. We had heard that it wasn’t crowded. Whoever told us that was completely mistaken. It was even MORE crowded, perhaps because it was a Friday night. The most popular pavilion? The Coca-cola pavilion – a 5 hour wait. We wandered through a few pavilions, and then wandered around the grounds for a bit, and decided we had saturated on the Expo.

Coca-Cola Happiness Factory

 

Other interesting pictures from the commercial pavilions.

World Expo 2010

 

World Expo 2010

 

Our plan was to go back to Pudong and go to the top floor observation deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center. I never imagined walking across a glass catwalk at the 97th floor of a building, but I did. For someone who doesn’t like heights (me), it was surprising easy. Maybe it’s only open heights that bother me. I think it is a beautiful building.

Shanghai World Financial Center

 

Trying to get THE picture

 

At that point it was pretty late, and we were tired and hungry, so we ate at some western place on the lower levels of the building. Whatever I ate was good for my stomach so I was happy.

Our last day was easy, we took advantage of the hotel spa and then went to Din Tai Fung, this time in Shanghai and right next to the hotel, and were able to meet up with ex-colleagues of mine who are now living in Shanghai. That was cool.

Finally, to put the finishing touch on the trip, we rode the MAGLEV train to the airport, reaching a top speed of 430 km/hr (267 mph).

MAGLEV train station

 

Not quite 430 km/hr at this time, but close.

Speeding to the airport

 

Again, a very good trip – one of the great advantages of living in Asia is to be able to take a long weekend to Shanghai.

Catch Up Post – Taipei – September 2010

In September, I took a trip to Taipei with Tomo and his parents. Tomo and I had planned to go, but then Tomo thought it would be fun for his parents to come along too. So three native Japanese speakers, one native English speaker, in Taiwan. The communication challenges were potentially difficult, but we learned that a LOT of people in Taipei speak a little Japanese (might have something to do with 50 years of Japanese occupation (I didn’t know that)), Taiwan uses traditional Chinese characters instead of simplified Chinese characters, and folks speak a lot of English as well.

Taipei

Since the trip was over three months ago, I can’t pretend to remember all the details. I can say it was a terrific trip, and I really enjoyed Taipei. It was a friendly city.

Taipei

Of course, upon arrival and check-in, our priority was to get to Din Tai Fung. There are Din Tai Fung everywhere these days, and I was first introduced to it in Los Angeles. There the wait is almost always over one hour. We went at a strange time, so we were seated pretty quickly. Of course, the food did not fail to satisfy me. I love the soup filled dumplings. Interestingly, in LA, most of the kitchen staff were Hispanic. In Taipei they appeared to be Chinese.

Din Tai Fungi

What to order

The kitchen

 

When we left the restaurant, we were hit with some pretty hard rain, so we shopped around a little and then made it back to the hotel. The rain went away and then we went to the dried food part of town. These shops are really popular with the Japanese, and it seemed that dried squid was the most precious commodity. I had some, and absolutely hated it. It reminded me of strongly fish flavored shards of glass. Sound good? I thought not.

Dried food shop

Dried food shop

Dried food shop

 

From the dried food area we went over to another area where we did a bunch of tea sampling. The shop had a whole tea sampling course, starting from weak teas to really strong teas. It was very interesting. The hostess spoke Japanese very well, so I just nodded and pretended I knew what was going on and looked to Tomo for a translation.

Tea sampling

Tea sampling

Tea sampling

 

Following the tea sampling, we made a scramble to one of the night markets – Shilin. We wandered through the market and ended up eating some “big chicken.” Apparently this is pretty famous. The night market was impressive – the sounds, the smells, the tastes. I don’t think I bought anything but we had a good time wandering through.

Big Chicken

Big ChickenGoldA City of Sadness” and apparently like all places made famous it has become a big tourist attraction. We were able to walk around and enjoyed a nice lunch there before making our way back to Taipei.

JuifenJuifenTaipei 101Taipei 101 damperConstruction barricadesBreakfastBreakfastGrounds at the National Palace MuseumNight marketNight market