Temples, Tamsui, and Taipei 101. Taipei part 2.

Today I was visiting one of the previous holders of tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 tower! I was super excited as I love the design and could add it to my list after visiting the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.

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I am getting a little ahead of myself though, as first up I was going to get a little culture, a little nature, and some amazing food. Taipei is huge, especially when you include the surrounding areas, but luckily the rail system is amazing. Today I planned to head North stopping off at some interesting sights along the way.

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My first stop was Yuanshan and the Taipei Confucius temple. Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who began the way of life or religion ‘Confucianism’. It’s a cute temple with lots of cool architecture, it also has a plaque inscribed by Chiang Kai-Shek which translates as ‘Education without discrimination’.

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Next up on the tour is something you’d never expect in a City, Mangroves! I took the same metro line to Hongshulin, and after a little education on the mangroves I wandered along raised wooden walkways looking for snakes and crabs. It is pretty cool that there are mangroves just a short journey from the centre of a huge City like Taipei.

The weather wasn’t great but I didn’t mind, I had my waterproof jacket and decided to walk along the water front to Tamsui, my next stop. Tamsui is famous for its Old Street, full of restaurants and shops but it was also the site of a Spanish colony. This was built in 1629 but in 1641 the Dutch expelled them from the island and took over the fort.

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It soon went to the Chinese and became a major port, but recently it has become a big tourist destination thanks to all the amazing food and waterfront views. On a clear day you can see an old volcano on the opposite side of the river too!

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I made it to the town and instantly fell in love with the seaside vines, architecture and especially this little side alley and staircase with amazing realistic artwork painted all over the walls and floor. It was a really pretty little area and even with the rain coming down I loved taking pics of it all.

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I walked along the waterfront and up to the old Spanish fort of Santo Domingo. This is just an okay tourist location. Some interesting history of the area but I wasn’t blown away by it.

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I followed the path up past the Oxford College and back down to the main street. I was starving and it was lunch time, so I did what any normal person would do, bought a whole cheesy egg cake and munched down! It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried wobbling about in its box.

I didn’t quite finish it all in the end, popping it in my bag for later, it was time to jump back on the metro to Jiantan. I had read you could do a little hike in some hills here in the middle of the City which really appealed to me. So I found the little path near the station and up I went.

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t was a nice walk through the trees and if it weren’t for the clouds it would’ve been an amazing view from up there. Luckily the walk coincided with another sight…The Grand Hotel. It’s one of tallest Chinese classical buildings in the world at 285 feet high. It’s pretty impressive, and several notable people such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Mandela, and Yoshida.

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My aim from here was to get to Elephant mountain on the East side of the City. Using google maps I organised a route to take that would go past a couple of points of interest, first up was the 823 artillery park memorial, dedicated to the conflict between Taiwan and China in 1958. There were a couple of military planes and guns and a memorial statue, and some weird bird that I got a little video of.

I saw there was some kind of arch of Yuanshan scenic area but that would have taken me back up into the hills I believe. SO it was onwards to the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ shrine. The building houses 390,000 spirit tablets of people killed in the various wars that the Taiwanese have been involved in. I was lucky enough to arrive there during the changing of the guard which was a great experience. I also loved the architecture with another wide avenue and interesting buildings surrounding it.

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Eventually I made it to Dazhi station and took the underground over to Xiangshan station. I was really looking forward to this as I wandered past a little ecological park for tree frogs, unfortunately I couldn’t see any. At the end of Xiangshan park is the trail up Elephant mountain. I wasn’t too concerned about the hike up and bought a pPcari sweat to keep me going. However it’s actually pretty difficult going up all the steps in the heat and you climb it quite quickly. I had to take a rest about halfway up before getting some amazing views….The reason you climb the mountain is to get a great picture or image of the Taipei 101 tower. At one point there are two rocks which you can climb up to get a really great shot.

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I really enjoyed this and finished walking to the top, amazed at the nature you can find in the middle of this massive place. After seeing the tower from afar it was now time to climb it! I walked over rather than took the underground and planned to go up for sunset. The problem was the enormous cloud coverage. So instead I opted for a night time view.

Whilst waiting I went to  food court at the basement of the tower and feasted on kimchi ramen, once done I was ready to go! It costs around £15 to go to the top, which is quite a lot but compared to a lot of places around the world it’s not too bad. I queued up before taking the lift up to the top, and the views were unreal. I love being so high in a City and being able to see everything for miles. I was glad I went after sunset too as I saw the City come alive with all the lights.

After a while walking around and learning a bit more about the construction of the tower, it was the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai. In 2011 it won an award for being the tallest green structure in the world, and it has amazing features to withstand earthquakes and tropical storms.

It’s design is based around the traditional Asian pagodas, along with a stalk of bamboo and Chinese money boxes stacked on top of one another. It’s truly an architectural marvel.

 

After such a big day of exploring I was ready for a beer, so after a quick change back in the hotel I walked over to the gay area behind the red house near Ximen station. I was surprised at how many bars and people were there. I enjoyed a few beers in one of the main bars in the square, then headed to a club called Commander D. It was fun but as one of the only Westerners there it was hard to get away from a lot of unwanted attention.

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I was soon back in my little underground bunker bed, hoping for a really fun day out tomorrow.

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Heading to Taipei, Capital of Taiwan.

Today I was off to my next Taiwan destination, the capital Taipei! It’s an easy journey from Taichung. I took the regular train which took around 2 and a half hours, but you can also take a bus or the high speed rail which only takes around 40 minutes!

I opted for the regular train from Taichung main station to save some cash but also to enjoy the Taiwanese countryside. If you want to take the high speed just hop over to Xinwuri and the high speed rail station.

The train journey was very comfortable and I arrived in Taipei around midday. The York hotel was just a short walk south of Taipei station on Nanyang St. It was also a bit of a shock! I’d only briefly glanced at the photos when I booked my room, so when I arrived I was given a key and room number and told to go down to the basement.

When I got there it was completely decked out like a nuclear bunker! It was actually pretty cool and fun after the initial shock and for less than £20 a night to have my own room in the centre was pretty good!

I dumped my stuff and checked my lovely planet guide and found an architecture walk I could take, so thinking I’d give it a try I headed out to explore Taipei.

The start of the walk was a little further from the hotel, so I incorporated the Huashan 1914 creative park into my little tour. It’s an art and film hub located in and around an old sake factory. It was pretty interesting to wander around with some cool exhibits.

So far I was impressed with Taipei, it was super quirky and futuristic but with a lot of traditional buildings around too. I started this self guided walking tour, and soon found myself extremely bored and regretting it. I’m not sure if it was my architectural ignorance or if it was just not very interesting.

The mayor’s residence art salon was ok, but probably the highlight. Luckily the tour didn’t take too long and it ended right by a much more interesting spot. First up was the East gate, a reconstruction of the old Japanese gate that once stood there.

Not far from here is Liberty Square. The central point of Taipei, not only is the Liberty Arch here but also the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Chiang is a controversial figure, a Chinese general who fought the Japanese in WWII but also ruled as a dictator. However he is seen as a hero on Taiwan for repelling the Communist advance from Mao.

It’s a beautifully created square, vast and open and I really enjoyed learning some history of Taiwan. It’s an interesting place as they take so much influence from both Japan and China. As you can see below the memorial building is amazing too.

From here I checked out the President’s office building and took a detour through the peace park nearby. Getting a little taste of tranquility in the big City.

My next destination was the north gate, and from here I wandered through a pretty interesting part of Taipei, with some great old buildings and a bit of street art to Ximen district and the Red house.

Built as a market in 1908 it’s now used as a theatre and for shopping, but it’s a pretty interesting building. Plus behind it is the main gay area in Taipei. Ximen as a district was also really cool, filled with little food stalls, futuristic shops and arcades and an awesome street art section.

It really reminded me of Japan, and the street art was out of this world, I probably spent an hour wandering the back streets finding more art stuff to look at, and I easily could have spent longer.

Once I’d had my fill of the graffiti, I needed my food fix. So I checked the maps and noticed a night market about 30 minutes all north. So off I went! On the way I discovered a cute little park that was a reservoir in WWII used to put out fires from air raids. A market was built on top of this and then demolished after years of decline.

Finally I made it to the market and was overloaded to the max with sights, smells and tastes. I had tasty vegetable gyoza, some more eggy pancakes, and ice cream to finish! It was late now, so I took the underground back to my hotel. After a little planning I was soon fast asleep.

24 Hours in L.A.

How do you spend a short amount of time in a City as vast as Los Angeles? Part of it depends on where you’re staying, and what you’re interested in.

Flying through from London on my way through to Melbourne, it almost felt like the pressure was off to see and do things in L.A. However, I was meeting Craig there and we had 2 nights and one full day to try and capture at least a small essence of California life.

Our hotel was a little far out (Woodland hills) and we knew traffic could be horrendous and time consuming, but after a chilled first night we were ready to go. The LACMA was high on our list, mostly for the amazing Urban Lights installation. A collection of lamp posts might not sound interesting, but check out the pics! Definitely an instagrammable spot.

The LACMA itself was actually closed on a Wednesday! So we had a little wander around the grounds, checking out some of the weird arty installations and the Brea tar pits, where I met a lovely giant sloth! I thought this was a cool little side quest to the main adventure of the day.

We then walked over to The Grove, an outdoor shopping area which is pure USA. We stopped at Sprinkles cupcake and picked the tastiest looking one.

Next up on our list was Monty’s burger, a purely vegan burger place that was recommended to me by a friend. Located in Koreatown it was so easy to take the bus along West 3rd Street. The best thing is that even the ‘plastics’ and containers are compostable.

Monty’s was amazing! A little pricey but the burgers and tater tots were soooo good, made from impossible fake meat patty’s we took 2 doubles and shared the tots. The vibe inside was very cool too. Another perfect Instagram moment.

Our next stop was downtown and the Arts District, so we hopped back on the bus, only costing us $1 each for the ride into the City. We got off near Pershing Square and walked over to 4th Street to start the Arts trail. This end of downtown is a little run down with some interesting characters, but there was some very cool street art to be found.

I had noticed a couple of brewery’s on Google maps and the Arts District brewery was out first stop. It’s located in an old warehouse and there’s plenty more street art to be seen around this area including a few pretty famous ones.

The beer was good, the weather was amazing and we sat outside watching the world go by. Angel City Brewery was next up and even better, their outside space is amazing, free water and some cool pieces of art to look at as you drink. I also had a great pineapple beer here and there was such a great vibe. If you are in L.A. for a while I’d definitely recommend it.

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Our plan was sunset at Santa Monica, and after getting a bus that didn’t really go anywhere, we checked and realised we could take a train the whole way. So we jumped on the blue line, and realised we were on the wrong blue line 😆. So we quickly got off and made our way onto the correct train.

It took about 45 minutes to get over to Santa Monica and there were some nice views over the City. We arrived just in time to get to Santa Monica pier for the sun to set. It was absolutely stunning and we loved wandering up the pier and being on the beach.

At this point we were starving, so we went to 800 degrees for pizza and salad, once you get over the weird ordering system the food was so good, it was pretty cheap, around £30 for mains and drinks total. After both of us flying across the Atlantic and Pacific respectively we were pretty tired so it was a cab ride home and bed.

The next day we only had a few hours to spare before flying on to Australia. So we decided to do the Getty museum, located on the 405 near Beverly Hills, it was built by the Getty family, a huge oil tycoon who loved art. The best thing? It’s free!

Our Uber took so long because of traffic, so always bear that in mind when planning L.A.

The architecture of the place is actually incredible, and there are some interesting pieces from Turner, Monet and Van Gogh. I liked the contrast of each building housing different examples of art such as photography or historical pieces.

The highlight for us was the central gardens, with beautiful landscaping and views over the City, we loved just wandering through looking at the different plants and flowers.

We had our lunch in the cafe, this was a nice food court type place with plenty of choice, even for vegetarians. Knowing the traffic could be bad we headed back to Woodland Hills and got some snacks and booze to take back to Australia from Westfield mall.

L.A. is so big it can feel a little daunting to get around and see things, but it’s definitely worth making that extra effort. If the weather has been a little less windy on our first day we would’ve hiked up to the Hollywood sign which is still on our list! I hope this gives you a little inspiration of things to do with limited time and budget.

36 hours in Berlin.

So an impromptu visit to Berlin was on the cards, I’ve visited before and loved it as a City. This time we were going over for a concert and a quick sightseeing adventure.

Arriving late we headed straight for our Air BnB before hitting a couple of pubs, wandered across check point charlie and grabbed some beers from one of the ‘spatis’, the famous late night shops you can buy booze and snacks from.

The next day we were up pretty early and headed in the direction of the closest piece of the Berlin wall, one of the most famous monuments in history. Walking along the wall gave a real perspective of this barrier separating a nation. We stopped for a quick breakfast where I had a matcha latte to die for.

Continuing our walk we found another piece of wall before wandering through Berlin, checking out some souvenirs and then sombrely navigating our way through the Holocaust memorial site.

The maze like structure takes up a good amount of space and it’s an interesting and haunting place as you walk between the various shapes blocks.

From here we found ourselves at the Brandenburg Gate, the famous Berlin landmark built over 200 years ago.

Moving on we spotted the memorial to Gypsies murdered in the Holocaust, a peaceful circular pool almost hidden away in the city park. It was a short walk from here to the Reichstag building, it was mostly burnt down in 1933 under suspicious circumstances which the Nazis used to their advantage against the communists.

We hung out here for a bit before checking the map and heading over to the Soviet war memorial in Tiergarten. It’s a pretty impressive monument and one of 3 you can find in Berlin. We stopped for lunch and had some yummy Asian food to fill us up, then wandered back through the City towards a bunker museum about Hitler and WWII.

This was actually super interesting, detailing Hitler’s life and how he changed into this maniacal dictator, and how the country and the political climate allowed him to gain such a control over Germany. We spent so long here we had to rush to get ready and go out to see The National.

The rest of the night was spent chaotically trying to find karaoke and then a bar to drink in! It was fun to spend a little break in Berlin and catch up on some sights.

Culture and Colonialism in Singapore.

Today we didn’t have any big plans, and instead decided to roam the City for interesting sights at random.

After an amazing breakfast again at the Park Royal we stepped out into the sunshine of Singapore once again. The only problem was that it almost immediately began to pour down with rain, after a quick check we were close to the national history museum, so decided to check out a bit of Singapore’s past.

The museum itself was fascinating and I really enjoyed learning more about Singapore’s history. Once we had made our way through how Singapore began, colonialism, the 2nd world war and modern Singapore we felt very knowledgeable. There were loads of cool installations to show you how Singapore has evolved too.

The best part of the museum was still to come though, an installation celebrating Singapore’s commitment to wildlife preservation. This involved a swirling light display that you walked through, it was completely magical and ended in a large room where you could lie back on bean bags and enjoy the forest around you.

Upon leaving the museum the rain had subsided and we found that Fort Canning Hill was nearby. Full of history and where locals believe the old kings of Singapore were buried, it’s believed to be haunted. However we didn’t spot any spooky goings on as we walked around and checked out the various sights.

Apparently Sir Stamford Raffles built his residence on the hill, and it was also the site of a fort built by the British. There were a couple of nice colonial buildings dotted around and it was pleasant to walk through the shade in the middle of the day.

From here we headed down towards the neo-classical old hill street police station, a historical building with interesting architecture. We quickly stopped for lunch and made a plan for our next stop, Chinatown. The Chinese and their culture is interwoven with Singapore’s and we had a great time wandering the streets and taking in the sights, smells and sounds of the busy district.

We checked out the Buddha tooth relic temple, where they unsurprisingly have a tooth which they claim is from Buddha himself. The actual building was amazing too, all red and gold. Then we walked around Thian Hock Keng, a gorgeous Chinese temple with towering skyscrapers looming above it.

Suddenly it started to rain again, so we found a little bar to stop for a couple of beers and waited for it to stop. We were now attempting to go full circle so took a route through the business district past huge buildings and back towards the hotel. Due to the F1 track being placed we missed out on a couple of colonial buildings, but did manage to see St Andrew’s cathedral and the war memorial park.

We walked through and you could get a real feel of what Singapore must have been like in colonial times, they even still have the old cricket pitch!


After taking a dip in the hotel pool and relaxing for a couple of hours we took advantage of the free drinks and food at the bar before heading to nearby Arab st, full of hawkers selling middle eastern goods and a beautiful mosque, from here we ended up on Haji Lane, a really cool little street filled with bars and restaurants. There was live music filling the place, prices were reasonable and it had some amazing street art.

Tomorrow we were up early to hit Singapore zoo and the night Safari, so we had an early-ish night back at the hotel.

Exploring Alfama, Lisbon in a day. 

After last night’s exploits there were some sore heads this morning so we didn’t really have much planned. The best thing about being abroad is that you don’t want to feel like you’ve missed out on anything….so using the lonely planet Lisbon guide I worked out a little walking tour we could do from the hotel. It was our last day so everyone was game as we left the apartment and emerged into beautiful sunshine. 

All the small cobbled streets are so beautiful as we made our way towards Sé, Lisbon cathedral. The girls stopped for a bit of souvenir shopping when I spotted a tiny place selling different types of sangria! It looked so good we just had to try it, I got white while the others tried different red flavours, it was so good! 

We walked up alongside the Cathedral and marvelled at the beautiful architecture. I spotted some cool street art too, we emerged onto a square where the impressive main entrance is situated. It’s such an amazing building and it was nice to properly see it rather than just from the tram. 

From here I cheated a little as we wandered down out of Alfama and towards Comercio square. A palace used to stand here but the 1755 earthquake completely destroyed it, allowing the square to be built as part of a remodelling of the city. The square has a good bit of history, being the site of an assassination on the penultimate king of Portugal. We entered through the Arco da Rua Augusta, a stunning triumphal arch built in 1873. 

The square opens out onto the river and in the sunshine it was gorgeous, with restaurants and bars encircling it. There is a statue of King Jose I in the centre of the square, notable because he developed severe claustrophobia the earthquake and never comfortably lived within 4 walls. In fact he moved his royal court into tents in the nearby hills. 

We also found the self proclaimed sexiest toilet in the world here, which the girls used and said was very nice with coloured toilet paper but maybe not the sexiest. 

It was very hot now as we walked back up the hill into Alfama district once again, stopping to grab ice cold drinks on the way. I checked Google maps and noticed another viewpoint so we headed towards the Miradouro de Santa luiza and after admiring some typical Lisbon tiles we took in the red rooftops and views out to the river that lay before us. 

The blues and reds were incredible as we walked around to second viewpoint, but not before taking some fun pictures. 

The next terrace was the Visigothic wall and the Portas do sol with more great views. We were getting hungry now and hasn’t had any Nata today! So we walked towards our end game, the Castelo de S.Jorge. 

As we walked up we spotted a cute restaurant called Miss Can which was incredible. Sardines, olives, breads and salads it was delicious and cheap too! Plus a beer refreshment to wash it down and Hannah tried lisbon’s famous green wine. 

With our hunger sorted it was time for more Nata from the same place we had got them from on our first day at the entrance to Castelo St Jorge. Once we’d had our Nata fill we queued up for the Castelo and wandered in to beautiful gardens within the castle. Perched up at the top of the hill Alfama is located around, the castle dates from the 10th century and has a heavy Moorish influence. 

The views from here were great over the City and there was a wine cart called wine with a view! So Lee and I got a Portuguese red and sat looking out from the walls of the castle. 

The Castelo itself is pretty big and the walls are fun to climb up and stand on the ramparts looking at a 360° Lisbon. Plus some fun towers to climb up to. It was getting towards evening and we had plans for a bbq fish dinner so we wandered back down towards the apartment to get ready. 


Our dinner destination was a place called Patio 13 which we had discovered accidentally by walking past and noticing a big queue and the amazing smell of bbq. It’s located in Alfama and it was only a 5 minute walk from our place. Arriving we queued up with a beer before being given a table on the patio. The restaurant is basically a load of tables and a huge now all outside. 

We ordered sangria and a selection of different bbq fish including swordfish and sardines. All the plates arrived with sides and we had bread and butter at the start. The food was out of this world and we all devoured it. We also got dessert and finally tried Ginja, a Portuguese cherry liqueur which was tasty too. 

It was really good value too, I think we paid less than £15 each easily for it. Once done we had a nightcap at a bar nearby and went back to the apartment…sad to think it was our last day tomorrow.