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.

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.

Part time traveller, how to make it work.

One thing I’ve heard a lot over the past few years is how do I manage to have so many holidays a year. I think most people think I’m secretly rich (I wish) I have no social life (half true) or Peter is my sugardaddy (again, if only!). The truth is, with good preparation, flexibility and a real thirst for travel, you can go anywhere/do anything you like. 

  • FLEXIBILITY

I am lucky in some ways, my jobs have all been shift work, which is more flexible. For instance, I could ask to work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday all day, but get Thursday to Sunday as my days off, then vice versa – have Monday to Thursday off and work Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I do understand that not everyone is in this position, but hey, on the flip side most people get every weekend off. 

Even without this measure of flexibility in work, flexibility with your travel destination is key. I like to use Skyscanner app for my flight needs, and I have the easyjet/ryanair apps on my phone. The best thing to do is use Skyscanner, use your local airports and select everywhere. You soon get an idea of where is cheap, and be mindful that weekend flights like Thurs/Fri to Sun/Mon will usually be more expensive…along with kids holidays etc.

My other recommendation is to think big…why go to one country/city when you could do two, or three, or more! Often the flight out to one country will be super cheap, but the return with the same airline will be much more expensive. I like to look at nearby places that are accessible from the place you’re flying to, and have flights back to your home airport. 

(Renting a car to travel through Romania)

Examples I’ve done are to fly to Sofia for dirt cheap, spent a couple of days there as it’s not a huge city, then got an overnight train (Well bus but that’s another story) to Istanbul. I also flew to Bratislava, but got a boat to Vienna and flew back from there. In Romania we flew to Cluj in the North, but spent 7 days driving through Transylvania, ending up in Bucharest and flew back from there. 

In April 2017 I’m flying out to Montenegro. I want to go to Bosnia and Serbia while I’m there but don’t want to do a round trip, flights from Sarajevo or Belgrade are expensive or unavailable so we’re flying back from Budapest for about £30. 

This is all a long winded way of saying be flexible, be adventurous and you will always find exciting opportunities for travel. 

  • PREPARATION 

This next one is also key to travelling on a budget. I have studied and studied books on travelling europe and the world and a basic understanding of geographical locations of places really helps. The main thing though is advance planning, find out when airlines release their flights for different seasons. The budget airlines usually release their flights later than long haul as people will book long haul flights earlier to pay them off etc. 

(Vang Vieng River – where infamous tubing takes place)

The earlier you manage to get your flights the cheaper they usually are. I try to book my flights first well in advance. I’ve booked flights 8 or 9 months in advance sometimes, and usually at least 6 months. For 6 weeks in SE Asia we booked our flights Jan 1st to depart October 20th. This meant we had 10 months to set aside our spends. 

This means I can allocate part of my monthly pay to the flight, then the next month maybe allocate money to the hotel. I always know then that I have months to save and book things that I maybe would otherwise struggle to afford.

  • ONCE YOU’RE THERE

Last but by no means least, is what you do when you get somewhere. Again this can take a bit of planning but things like, is there a bus from the airport rather than a taxi. In Riga it was less than 2E for a bus ticket but a taxi cost around 14E. On the flipside a taxi between 4 might be the cheaper option. 

Go for the cheaper hotels, I rarely stay in hostels but go for the low to mid range hotels. I find http://www.booking.com to be the one I go back to time and again. Not only do you soon become a genius member and reap some benefits but the reviews are usually pretty accurate. In Asia we trawled them for cockroach sightings and only ended up having one hotel that was filled with the little buggers. If travelling in larger groups apartments often work out cheaper and you can usually stock up on cheap supermarket food if there’s a kitchen. 

It’s also different depending where you go. In Europe last minute hotel deals are rare and usually the prices go up the closer to the date you get. In Asia we booked places the day before or even on the day a couple of times and it was still super cheap as they have the backpacker market to consider. 

(Package holiday to Bodrum – standing on the site of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus)

I find that eating out and alcohol really rack up the costs of holidays. Obviously there’s nothing better than a cold beer in the afternoon on a hot day in Europe but it does soon add up. We sometimes found that a cold drink or coffee was more than a beer though! 

Sometimes it’s nice to push the boat out in restaurants, in Bratislava/Vienna and Romania we treated ourselves to a nice big meal one night but then ate in normal range places the others. In Asia we really took advantage of the street stalls and small plastic cafe type places, we couldn’t believe how cheap everything was. Sometimes a package holiday can be the best and cheapest way to get somewhere, if you check what excursions or day trips out you can do you may get to see a lot of the country you’re in. 

If you have the thirst to travel but aren’t sure where to start, I hope this has given you some good tips to get started. 

(Travelling by boat along the Danube)