So, last week I told you a little bit about my recent visit to Taipei, starting with my first five highlights.
This week, the list continues…
Seriously, Taipei is a good contender for the capital of all things cute 2017.
Before I left, for instance, I found out about the Hello Kitty cafe and informed Jana we would be going there no matter what. Well, we spent pretty much a whole afternoon searching high and low and finally found it tucked away just beyond the bustle of a busy intersection.
Unfortunately it required a minimum spend of NT$300 per table (which isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things, but maybe a bit steep for snacks and drinks that probably look prettier than they taste), so we decided to take a few pics and head on.
Fortunately, Jana had some even cuter cuteness up her sleeve, in the form of the My Neighbour Totoro shop near Taipei 101. I remember watching this delightful anime as a student in Stellenbosch and being absolutely charmed by the forest creatures Studio Ghibli dreamed up. With a larger-than-life stuffed Totoro welcoming you as you enter, as well as a sleeping Totoro AND a Cat Bus you can actually climb into, the shop DID NOT disappoint.
Just a note on Totoro – the cuddly character is really popular in Taiwan right now, which is really interesting, as the film was originally released in 1988. I always wonder what inspires these sorts of crazes… and also how long it will take to reach our shores.
Sticking to the anime theme, rumour has it that the magical little mountain village of Jiufen (only about 35km out of Taipei) inspired the otherworldly theme park/bath house vibe in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (also a Studio Ghibli production).
Getting to spend the night here and see the strings of red lanterns lighting up the cobbled stairwells and alleyways was probably the ultimate highlight of my Taiwan trip.
There were just so many special moments during my and Jana’s stay: the winding bus ride to get there (and back); sipping soothing apple tea on the balcony of a understated family-run cafe; sinking my teeth into the softest, most delicious blueberry mochi ever; folding origami cranes in a glass house that served as one of our hostel’s communal dining areas; tucking into a traditional Chinese hot pot and washing it down with an ice cold pint of beer; buying two cold ones more at the 7-11 as we made our way back to our beds in the rain… and getting to share this all with a friend who knows my heart so well.
Maokong mountain adventures
One of the most amazing things about Taipei – especially in the context of Asian cities – is the fact that nature is never very far away. As mentioned in my previous post, it’s almost like vegetation is constantly at war with concrete, the greenery winning out more often than not.
Similarly, the city is also home to a number of impressive mountain peaks and a whole lot of trails to try out (if you aren’t afraid of sweating a river in the humid heat).
On the Saturday morning of my stay, Jana and I headed out to the Maokong mountain at cockcrow to undertake a 7km route from the extraordinarily large and ornate Zhinan Temple, on into the depths of the Jurassic Park-like jungle, and turning back at Miss Lin’s tea house, a well-loved refreshment stop for local hikers, to retrace our steps. During our walk, we were lucky enough to spot a curious Formosan rock macaque peering at us from behind a tree and enjoyed a constant soundtrack of birdsong as we went.
Upon our return to the temple, we caught a glass-bottom (!!) gondola up to Maokong’s peak, which is a hot spot for tourists to sample local teas and take part in a traditional tea ceremony. After grabbing a quick noodle lunch, Jana and I set out in search of a suitably picturesque tea house and sat down to a ceremony of our own.
The patient waiter explained the process to us, saying that once the hot water from the big pot had been decanted over the tea leaves in the little pot, we were to wait 15 seconds before pouring. As the tea is always still a little weak, the first round is strictly only for warming of cups and not for drinking. After this one follows the same process, waiting 5 seconds longer before pouring each round.
Yingge (prounounced Inge) is another one of the charming villages on the outskirts of Taipei, which I got to experience.
The wide cobbled streets are lined with classy cafes and souvenir shops, many of which stock top quality handmade ceramics.
Since this is the town’s main claim to fame, it’s also rather appropriate that you can join a pottery class and form a ceramic creation of your own. Always keen to get my hands dirty and experience the magic of making, I mentioned it sounded like fun and soon enough Jana had signed me up for a session at an authentic studio down an unobtrusive side street. The owner couldn’t speak a word of English and my Mandarin’s a bit rusty (okay, completely non-existent), so a soft-spoken and easily-flustered young man was appointed to interpret for us.
Somehow, between Google translate and fluttery hand gestures, I got the hang of the turning wheel and eventually shaped a curvy little vase. Unfortunately it had to stay behind for firing and glazing, but the experience was worth 10 000 hand-shaped pots.
Hanging out at Jana and George’s flat
It’s funny how a completely unfamiliar place can feel like home in a flash, with just a little bit of warm hospitality.
This is how it was at Jana and George’s flat. While most of our time was spent exploring, the few hours we did get to be at home were always special and memorable. My last night, especially, as Jana cooked up a magnificent wild mushroom pasta that we savoured while watching Spirited Away.
Also, they have a dreamy balcony, filled with bonzais and plants, overlooking the majestic Xindian River.
While a week is probably not even nearly enough to really get to the heart of things, I felt like my seven days of exploration were just perfect.
I’ll be forever grateful to Jana and George for welcoming me with open arms, introducing me to their Taipei with such enthusiasm and encouraging me to push my boundaries with food, naked spas and foot massages.