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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jeff and Barbara Do Taiwan, Part VII

The final act of Jeff and Barbara's visit to this fair isle was played out this past weekend in Taipei 台北. Having taken the train from Fengyuan 豐原 after work on Friday evening, I joined my friends for a dinner of "Thai Fusion" that was pretty good, and coined the buzzword for the rest of the weekend. After listening to their impressions of T'ainan 台南 and their first two days in the capital, we returned to our rooms (same hotel), and met up early the next morning for the train trip to Fulong 福隆, the start of the Caoling Historic Trail. The weather would prove to be less than amenable for the entire day, but kitted out with rain ponchos courtesy of the Fulong 7-Eleven, we were ready to go:

The 9.7 kilometer (6 miles)-long trail that exists today is the last remaining section of an early-19the century stone trail that linked Tamsui 淡水 in the west with Yilan 宜蘭 in the east. Both the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet books describe the walk in glowing terms, with the LP guide going so far as recommending it as THE route to take if you only have time to do one hike in Taiwan. Unfortunately, thanks to the weather, we weren't able to enjoy the "mesmerizing views of the ocean" or "the high grassy bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean that make this trail such a treasure". The fact that it was a Saturday meant the trail was crowded despite the inclement conditions. The guidebooks also neglected to mention that getting to the start of the route from Fulong Station 福隆車站 meant a long walk along a busy highway, with tour buses and trucks brushing close by us at high speeds (though it was much easier to find the trailhead than the Rough Guide made it out to be).

All things considered, however, it was still a worthwhile trek. The scenery that we could see was splendid, with several historical sights along the way, such as the Tiger Tablet - somehow, inscribing a large stone with the character for "tiger" resulted in some serious wind control back in 1867:

Descending towards Dali 大里, the rain started to let up, and the views improved, with even Turtle Island becoming visible. Passing by the large Tiangong Temple, we made our way to Dali Station 大里車站, and the return trip to Taipei:

Back in Taipei, the evening turned into one of frustrating searches topped off with alcoholic rewards. A long walk along Dunhua Road failed to turn up a promised brew pup, but we did end up having some drinks and appetizers at a Dan Ryan's Chicago Grill. From the restaurant, a taxi took to the area near the Shilin Night Market 士林夜市. However, from where we were dropped off, we couldn't see the building where the majority of food stalls had been relocated to a few years ago, and spent most of the time walking the around the vicinity of the original market (which I remembered from a couple of visits in years gone past). Beer at a roadside food stand saved the evening (having the Asahi Beer アサヒビール girl pour our drinks didn't hurt, either), and we did manage to find the new building and have a walk-through before taking the subway back to our hotel (I preferred the old market layout before things were "improved"):


Sunday opened with a walk over to the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall 中正紀念堂, where Jeff was afraid his Slovenian soccer jersey might be judged as "slovenly dress", but we managed to make it out of there before anyone could take umbrage:

Next up was the Chienkuo Holiday Flower and Jade Markets, with some tasteful items for sale:

Following lunch, we took the MRT 台北捷運 to Guandu 關渡 and the nature park. Unfortunately, an event of some kind was being held. While it was free to get in, the noisy crowds ensured that not much wildlife was going to be hanging around in close proximity. While the mass of humanity was a drawback at the nature reserve, the hordes only added to the atmosphere at the nearby Guandu Temple, one of the largest and liveliest I've seen in Taiwan, with great views looking out from the front and back:

It was getting late in the afternoon, and I had a train to catch back to Fengyuan, so the three of us headed back into central Taipei, and dinner at a Korean restaurant in the Breeze Mall at Taipei Station 台北車站. A final cup of coffee and dessert, followed by a walk around the neighborhood, and then it was time for the final goodbyes:

I can't even begin to describe how wonderful it's been to see my old friend Jeff again after all these years, and getting to spend more time with his lovely wife Barbara was an additional pleasure. The two of them really seemed to have enjoyed their two-week stay on the island of Formosa, and I hope all the memories they take back with them of their trip to Taiwan will be good ones. With talk about meeting up in Tōkyō 東京, along with an invitation to visit them in Belgium, I'm sure it won't be that long again before I get to meet up again with Jeff and Barbara.

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