Time to say goodbye, Taipei… I’ll miss you!

It’s 10 pm.  I should be sleeping because I have to catch a taxi for the airport at 4 am.  In a moment of complete insanity, I booked a flight departing at 7.40 am.  And now, I am severely regretting the stupidity of this decision as 4 am looms.  The other flight to Sydney was at 11.55 pm but it would have meant booking the hotel for another night and only using it for half a day, so I decided to save the money.

Anyway, it’s my last day in Taipei and feeling a tad sad that I have to leave.  I wasn’t sold on Taipei at first.  It seemed like just a mini dirty Tokyo, but over the days I discovered many more layers to the city and really came to like it.  It’s a bit Japanese and a bit Chinese but still has very much it’s own unique special flavour.  The people are without a doubt some of the nicest I’ve ever encountered on my travels.  And there’s a real unpretentious, easy-breezy vibe to the place.  It is what it is and the people aren’t wannabes like those other people up the Han Peninsula.

On my second last night, I decided to ignore all the nay sayers on Trip Advisor and went to visit Raohe night market.  Night markets are a huge part of Taiwanese life.  They have unbelievable selection of foods.  I wish I ate meat… I could have gone to town on offal: pig’s fallopian tubes, tripe and chicken feet!

I had my Lucy Jordan moment… Not quite Paris in a sports car and not quite 37 either… But I got a ride to the night market through the streets of Taipei on the back of a scooter..

And today, on my last day… It finally stopped raining!!  The temperature maxed out at 29 degrees so I hot footed it down to Taipei 101 to check out the city view.  It’s funny… The Taiwanese appear to be really theoretical with their dress.  It was 29 degrees but because it’s still winter, they were all out in their hooded down puffer jackets.  Meanwhile, I was in shorts and a T-shirt.

Taipei 101 is a very nice building and definitely looks much better in real life than in pictures.  It was at one time the tallest building in the world but already in 2019, it has dropped to 10th place.  And next year when Jeddah Tower opens, it will drop another place.

Some random stupid Mainlander staging a one man protest against the Fallun Gong protest that was going on outside the building…

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The lift whisks you up to the observation deck on level 89 in a matter of seconds.  Level 89 is a windowed observation deck.  But then you go up 2 flights of stairs and you have the open observation deck.  When I got to level 89 and looked out the window, my first reaction was, “Why the f*** did they use smoked glass for the windows?” … But then a short while later, I went up to the non-windowed observation deck and noticed that the view looked exactly the same.  Of course the glass wasn’t smoky.  It was crystal clear.  It was just the blanket of smog hovering over the city.

Level 89…

Level 91…

Time for bed now… 4 am is certainly not going to be pretty.  And to add insult to injury, there is track work on my line when I get back to Sydney!!

And so my lovelies… That’s it ‘till the next trip!  I wish you all a wonderful 2019 filled with amazing adventures!

New Year in Taipei

It’s day 14 out of a 15 day trip to Taipei, and for 12 of those 14 days it has rained…  Not just a one hour monsoon shower in the afternoon, but it has pretty much rained for the entire day every day.  As such, I haven’t been on as many day excursions as I had anticipated… Well, the rain is part of the problem at least.  The other part of the problem is that the drinks here are really cheap and really strong and I have been indulging a little bit more than I should.  So, I haven’t been springing out of bed at 5 am like a Sealy Posturepedic model like I usually do.  My day excursions have been mainly limited to various restaurants and bars, with the odd museum thrown in for good measure.  But hey… It’s an urban vacation in an East Asian city in winter.

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I finally got to go to one of the restaurants that I’ve been wanting to try for a long time: The Modern Toilet Restaurant in Ximen. It’s a completely toilet themed restaurant.  The interior is set up like a bathroom with exposed plumbing and everyone sits on a toilet to eat their meal.  The food is served in toilet bowls and bed pans and the drinks are served in small urinals.  The menu features such treats as “Poop stuffed pancakes”, “Diarrhoea Cocoa” and “Taiwanese Urine Beer”.  It’s a restaurant that you go to purely for the gimmick of it, and as such, there were no locals there, only tourists.  Having said that though, the food wasn’t too bad.  I had a vegetarian hot pot served with rice and tea served in a small urinal.  The service is a bit slow… The problem is that the restaurant is on two levels and the wait staff have to lug these huge toilet bowls up and down the stairs… It’s not like you can stack a few plates on your arms and do it quickly.  They can only do one toilet at a time.

I was in Taipei for New Year’s Eve and went out to partake in the celebrations.  I have always maintained that going out partying on new year’s eve is just for amateurs and bogans.  It’s their one big night of the year.  The cool people stay at home on New Year’s Eve… But somehow, this year I managed to get caught up in the hype of it all.  New Year’s Eve parties always have such a build-up, but ultimately are a huge letdown.  This year was no exception.

The big ticket attraction for new year’s eve in Taipei is to gather around Taipei 101 and watch the fireworks.  Since it was raining quite heavily though, I opted to go to a night club and watch the fireworks on a screen there, rather than stand outside in the rain getting wet.  The word on the street was that this club “Cercle” would be fun… I contacted them via Facebook messenger and got a good vibe.  600 TWD for all you can drink all night and a screen showing the fireworks… Woohoo!!  This night would go off I thought.  You could reserve a table but I figured that wasn’t necessary.

It was a small club, about the size of two large classrooms.  As far as nightclubs go, it looked pretty cool and was set up very nicely with lockers, tables and lounges.  They had digital lava light type projections on the wall and the DJ was playing house remixes of 70’s, 80’s and 90’s songs.  Some of the songs and mixes were pretty cool, but you know, on New Year’s Eve in 2019, can we really not do any better than Sade’s “Smooth Operator” or The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby”?  Nice for nostalgia, but come on…

We rocked up at the club at about 10.30 pm.  I realize it’s very early to go to a night club at that time, but since the point of it was to do the countdown and watch the fireworks, I figured it would be ok.  When we arrived, there were only four other people there.  Thank God for the staff, because at least they boosted numbers and the club didn’t look quite so empty.  Up until the time we left at 12.30, maybe another 20 or 30 people arrived.   There were about 20 or so tables there and about 15 of them had reserved signs, but most of them remained empty for the whole time we were there.  No-one danced at all… All the Taiwanese people sat at their tables playing games and complaining that the music was too loud.  At about 11.10 pm, they stopped the lava light show and started to project a stop-watch on the wall in order to do the countdown.  It was a bit foolish to start the countdown already from 50 minutes I thought, because it just emphasized how boring the night was.    We all just stood there watching the clock for 50 minutes: tick, tock, tick, tock.

So anyway, the clock is ticking away… It gets to 11.52 pm and suddenly the clock freaks out an starts showing the wrong time.  It showed that it was 12.52 am rather than 11.52 pm.  Next thing, a skinny Taiwanese guy, one of the staff, flurries onto the stage, has a panic attack and screams, what I assumed to be the Chinese for, “Faaaaaark!!!  Has anybody got a watch?” He grabs a watch from a customer and starts doing the countdown.  At midnight he screeches, “Happy new year”, throws a bit of confetti in the air and then the other staff promptly race in with brooms.  Woohoo!!!

After that, we went to sit down at one of the unreserved tables… Not that it would have mattered if we had sat at a reserved table because there was barely anyone in the club and what’s more, the reserved tables were mostly empty … About 15 minutes later, the aforementioned skinny guy sashays up to our table and says, “This table is reserved”.  I didn’t need to sit down anyway, so we got up but I proceeded to point out to him in a less than diplomatic tone, that most of the reserved tales were still empty anyway.  10 minutes later, skinny guy comes back and says, “Oh sorry, it’s not reserved after all.  You can sit there”.  I’m trying hard not to react to people or situations these days… Clearly I need to try harder, because suddenly, my mood plummeted faster than a fat kid on a see-saw… I put my face into his face and pointed out to him in a less-than-kind tone of voice, that this was the worst club in not only Taiwan, but the whole entire world.  He apologized.  We left.

By this stage, I had drunk quite a bit, so we headed to the Ximen pedestrian area to eat some street food.  Ximen was buzzing … I ate lots of stinky tofu… It’s amazing what you’ll eat when you’re drunk.  Clearly however, the food vendors didn’t have licences because the police kept driving through with sirens chasing the vendors away.  The vendors merely parked in another spot and the customers followed.  After three plates of stinky tofu, and being quite wet, we called it a night and I went home.

The days since new year’s eve have just been spent eating more food!  I have branched out and tried some other vegetarian places.  Thankfully, there are a lot of nice vegetarian restaurants in Taipei. New Year’s Day, I had fake beef and real broccoli, fried noodles and dumplings at Xin Hong in Ximen.

And… on the day after, on January the 2nd, I tried a vegan burger at Ooh Cha Cha.

In between eating and drinking, I did manage to make it to the National Palace Museum.  It has an extremely impressive collection of Chinese Imperial artifacts and artworks collected by China’s emperors.  When the civil war broke out between the communists and the nationalists, Chiang Kai Shek decided to move the collection to Taiwan.  They only managed to get about 22% of the collection before the communists stopped them, but they did manage at least to get the best pieces.  And so, the National Palace Museum is one of the most impressive of its kind in the world.  As with any large museum, my approach is just to get a quick overview of the whole place and then just focus on one area.  I focused on the pottery, which was truly stunning.  The funniest thing though in the museum was watching all the (who I presumed to be) Mainlanders, hell-bent on cataloging the entire collection, not looking at anything, just going click-move-click-move-click-move-click-move-click-move-click-move….

And some leek filled pancakes to finish off the day…

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Akko

Meanwhile, I made the trip to Akko despite my Tel Aviv host’s discouragement  “It’s a dirty Arab town and not really worth the time and effort to get there” he claimed. It indeed did take a while to get there and I can understand… When people tell me they are going to go by train to the Blue Mountains, I’m like, “Whatever the hell for?” But as a tourist, it’s not like you have to rush off to work or anything.. So, I threw caution to the wind, threw on a pair of shorts and off I went.

Akko is in the north of Israel on Haifa Bay, about another thirty minutes on the train past Haifa.  Along with other cities, it claims to be one of the oldest continually inhibited cities in the world; about 4000 years apparently and is the holiest city for the Bahai faith.  It was initially meant to be part of an Arab state during the UN partition plan for Palestine, but it was captured during the war and annexed along with other parts of Palestine.  It then became a development town for thousands of Jewish immigrants mainly from Morocco and then later Russians and Ukrainians from the USSR.  However, the old city of Akko still remains very Arab Muslim and is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From a distance, the walled old city of Akko is quite attractive.  It sits on a peninsula surrounded by water that comes up right to the city wall.  In the centre of the old city is the very attractive Al Jazzar Mosque… and no problem entering in shorts either!  The rest of the town is a labyrinth of covered walkways, part market and part residential.  There are a lot of sweets and spices at the market and also an open fresh fish market.  I’ll pause for a minute, so you can fully imagine the aroma of fish wafting around the labyrinth in 40 degree heat…

 

To be honest, Akko was a bit shabby and it was mainly a case of take some snaps, tick it off your list and leave.  One good thing about going to places like Akko is that it makes Tel Aviv look a whole lot better when you return.  It makes it easier to appreciate what it has to offer and overlook the ill-mannered and entitled Tel Avivians and the horrible service you get in shops and restaurants.  At the better end of the spectrum, the service in Tel Aviv can be quite stern.  At the other end of the spectrum, it’s just downright rude.  I was tip shamed the other day at a club.  The barman shouted at me, “It’s usual to tip in Israel!” as I went to pick up my change from the tray.  I’ve worked in the hospitality industry so I totally get tipping and I generally DO tip … But at bar, when you’ve just paid an extortionate 65 shekels (that’s 24 Australian dollars!!) for an extremely ordinary drink and the barman doesn’t speak to you… He just scowls at you and flicks his face upwards as if to say, “What the f*** do you want?” … Can you explain to me WHY I should tip you?

And now from one extreme to the other:  From a dirty Arab town to staying in an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem… More to follow!

A day at the markets

Day 1 mezcal and beer + Day 2 deep fried street food = Day 3 feeling disgusting and wallowing in regret. Why do I do it? It’s time to take the bull by the horns, after tonight of course. No more deep fried goodies that’s for sure… except that I did manage to sneak in an empanada today that some guy was selling out the back of his car.   
Thank God I’m going to Cuba… As they say, “What are the three failings of the revolution?” … Breakfast, lunch and dinner! Hopefully, this will work in my favour and I’ll be able to reign the diet back in.

I spent most of the day just slothing around on the terrace watching the housekeeper over the fence prepare the room next to mine… Another guest today!!

Eventually I dragged myself out of the Sacristy of Solitude and went and checked out the markets. Puebla’s a popular weekend getaway for Mexicans… Lots of people come from the capital, so the weekends here are really pumping! People galore in the streets! There’s a definite tourist vibe here today, with all the good and bad that brings. The good part is that pretty much the whole Centro Historico turns into a big market! The specialty here seems to be antiques and all things retro and rustic. It was really fun browsing around the flee markets.  And who remembers the spirograph?   That thing that allows you to draw creative circle patterns… It’s alive and well in Puebla!!

Here are just some random snaps from the day at the markets…