This morning felt a bit weird/sad without hearing Nate waking up and calling our names. After an emotional night (for me), we woke up and got ready to go to Easter Mass at Holy Family Catholic Church. There is only one English Mass at 9:45am so we had to make sure we didn’t miss it! We power walked from the apartment and through Daan Park and got to church right on time.
The Mass was lead by Monseigneur Paul Russell, an American who has been in Taipei for the past 8 years working as a diplomatic representative for the Vatican. According to the announcements at church he has been very influential in trying to connect Catholicism to the Taiwanese population (Taiwanese Catholics only make up 1.5% of the population and Christianity as a whole is only 4.5%). It was announced last week that he was appointed by Pope Francis to become the Archbishop and nuncio (permanent diplomatic representative of the Holy See) in Turkey. The way members of the congregation spoke about him, showed he has made a significant impact on the church in Taipei and he will be greatly missed. We didn’t even know him and Tim got a bit teary eyed during his goodbye speech at the end (Tim: I get moved thinking about a person with no past ties to Taiwan, who can serve the people of Taiwan for 8 years of his life, and express a deep love for a country that I’m only tangentially able to connect with, even though I’m “Taiwanese”).
Our only plan for today was to meet with Austin (Tim’s cousin, in town for a wedding) for a late lunch. We finished Mass at 11am so we decided to take a walk to the Gongguan area, an area close to National Taiwan University (NTU). We planned on going to Gongguan earlier in the week with my sister but the gua bao (Taiwanese “pork burger”) place we wanted to try was closed on Mondays so we didn’t end up going.
Tim’s cousin, Karen, recommended two places in the area to try, the gua bao (Lan Jia Steamed Sandwich Shop) and a fresh milk with pearls (no tea) stand. It was easy to track the places down since they were across from each other and both had line ups. I stood in the pearl milk line while Tim went to the gua bao line. We took our drink and baos across the street to NTU and sat on the bench and ate.
After we walked around for a bit, we took the MRT to meet Austin at Zhongxiao Xinsheng station to go for beef noodles at a restaurant called 72 Beef Noodle (this was another Karen recommendation). The restaurant is called “72 Beef Noodle” because that’s how many hours it takes for them to make the soup.
After lunch, we were feeling pretty tired. We made our way back to the apartment and rested. For dinner we wanted to go somewhere casual and close by. We decided to just walk back to Tonghua St. and see if anything looked interesting. Nothing caught our attention so we decided to go back to Formosa Chang’s to have something small.
We walked back to the apartment through the night market and picked up some fruit on the way back from the quick fruit lady who Noel kept buying fruit from last week. We got one guava and an apple pear (one of my favourite fruits) for 75 NT = $3 CAD.
We’re back at the apartment now and going to start planning for our Japan leg of the trip. We’re planning on watching Batman vs. Superman tomorrow (or Tuesday) and then we’ll have dinner with Tim’s relatives. My family at home is having a big Easter dinner on Sunday (tomorrow morning for me), I’m sad I’ll be missing out on dinner. I always look forward to our big family gatherings and being surrounded by all my loved ones on Easter.
Today was our last day with my sister, Noel, and Nate here with us in Taiwan. We woke up to sun shining through the window blinds – which made for a good start to the morning and a perfect last day with them.
We walked to Daan Park one last time to play in the playground with Nate. I think we went there four times with them during their twelve day trip. It would have been more if not for the rainy weather and going to Kenting for three days. After the playground we walked through the park towards Yong Kang St. for lunch.
The plan for lunch was to go back to Yong Kang Beef Noodle since it was Noel’s favourite meal of the trip. We made our way to Yong Kang St. around 10:45am and headed for the restaurant. There was already a line formed and the restaurant was full. They hadn’t opened the upstairs section this time so we had to wait about 10 minutes before we were seated. Since we were on the first floor, there were no high chairs available and all the tables were way more cramped. Sitting downstairs is where all the “action” is but also made for a very different dining experience. My sister had to hold Nate while they both ate, which was a bit trickier, but Nate loved their noodles so he was happily slurping it down and wasn’t fussy.
Next up on our agenda today was to visit SunnyHills pineapple cake shop. Pineapple cakes are the most common souvenir people buy when they’re in Taiwan. There are so many shops around Taipei it’s hard to sift through which ones are actually good. On our first trip to Taiwan, Tim’s aunt bought us both Chia Te and SunnyHills to bring back to our families. Chia Te is the most internationally known pineapple cake shop and is often the only place people will buy their pineapple cakes from. After trying both of them, our favourite was SunnyHills. They use real pineapple rather than jelly or melon (which most places use), so depending on the season the cake filling may be tart.
At first, my sister and Noel weren’t planning on buying any pineapple cakes since Noel isn’t a big fan of them. He talked about how the first time he had a pineapple cake, it was so dry and turned him off from them. We tried to convince him that the SunnyHills pineapple cake were different than all the other ones he’s had before.
I did a bit of research on the SunnyHills store as it’s about a 15 minute walk from the closest MRT station in a residential area. Luckily we had google maps loaded on Tim’s phone because you can easily miss the subtle signage. When we found it, it looked like a little oasis in the middle of the city.
When we walked in, the very friendly and pretty ladies (Nate kept waving and saying “ni hao”) at the store led us to a table to sit down. The front room was full so they brought us to the back room and we got to sit at our own round table for four people.
The ladies there were so kind and kept pouring us more tea, which was nice of them. Noel, the former pineapple cake hater, had a change of heart after trying them here. After sitting and relaxing for about half an hour, we went to buy some pineapple cakes. Each pineapple cake is 42 NT = $1.70 CAD, and buying them in boxes of 10 or 15 doesn’t change the price per unit. Along with pineapple cakes they sell pineapple juice, honey cake (Castella cakes), and tea.
I would highly recommend anyone traveling to Taipei to go here for pineapple cakes. I have yet to try a better one. I haven’t been to Chia Te yet to look around but I can only imagine it would be a gong show of a store as Trip Advisor reviews all say to go early to avoid massive line ups. SunnyHills was seriously such a calm and relaxing experience that I wouldn’t mind just going there to have some tea and reading a book if they let people do that.
We headed out and decided to walk to our next destination – Breeze Shopping Center. The walk was about 30 minutes and it was nice because we were in a more residential area of Taipei. The streets were tree lined and very quiet. One of the major streets had multi-coloured pinwheels lining it, which gave it a community feel.
As we were walking along the “pinwheel street”, we found a Cama Coffee (I call it Taipei’s Starbucks). We have seen locations all over the city but my sister and Noel (who are coffee drinkers) hadn’t had a chance to try one. Interestingly, as much as Taiwan is a very tea-centric country, Taipei has a lot of really great coffee shops all around the city. Tim and I don’t drink coffee, but according to my sister and Noel, all the coffee places that they’ve tried were very good. Their iced Americano from Cama was 40 NT = $1.60 CAD.
We finally made it to Breeze Center, a mall filled with high end luxury goods as well as other stores. We were there for the other stores, like Muji, Uniqlo, and they even had a Maison Kayser (Paris bakery).
After a pretty full morning and afternoon, we made our way back to the apartment so they could do a final pack up before dinner and the airport. We planned on going to the Tonghua Night Market for dinner, since Noel wanted stinky tofu for the last time and my sister hadn’t tried an oyster omelet yet.
We went to the night market around 6:30pm and it was already really busy (it’s a Saturday night after all). Since Nate needed more of a sit down dinner place, we took them to Formosa Chang’s on Tonghua St. first. Formosa Chang’s is the fast casual chain restaurant that serves a good braised pork on rice. We ordered two large rice bowls, a stewed egg, a plate of vegetables and a pork chop for 242 NT = $9.80 CAD. After we ate at Formosa Chang’s, we got our night market eats and headed back to the apartment with about 45 minutes to spare before Uncle Albert came by.
We’re very fortunate that Uncle Albert has been so kind to us and to my family. Without even meeting them he offered to pick them up from the airport and now has dropped them off for their 11:55pm flight back to Vancouver. My sister and Noel said he parked and saw them off through the security gates.
Saying goodbye to loved ones, especially when we’re away from home for 4.5 months is hard. As most people know I’m extremely close to my family and see them more often than the average person, so being away from them for so long is harder on me – that and I’m a pretty emotional person. Saying goodbye was a teary affair for me and my sister. I think Tim was worried about how much I was crying when they left (I’m better now).
It was great having my sister, Noel, and Nate here. Things started off a bit rocky with Noel and Nate not feeling 100% but after that initial hurdle, the days couldn’t have been better (despite the rainy weather). It was awesome that they were able to come visit us in Taiwan and be able to meet some of Tim’s family and learn more about Taiwanese culture. I’m happy that Taipei was so baby/toddler friendly and we actually learned a lot about what it would be like to be a parent in Taipei (I’ll expand more on that in a future post). We all said we would come back in 10 or so years when we have kids – hope that happens!
It was the first day that was forecasted to have sun (a little peaked out but at least it was a lot warmer – around 26 degrees today), so we decided to take Nate to the Taipei Zoo. Noel was feeling back to normal, but Nate was still having a hard time adjusting.
The Taipei Zoo is on the south end of the brown (Wenhu) MRT line and about 7 stops away from our apartment. We headed out to the zoo around 10am. We heard the zoo was a great place to bring kids and they have pandas – which are their main “attraction”. The entrance fee to the zoo is only 60 NT ($2.40 CAD) for adults and Nate was free.
When we walked in, there were a lot of groups of school children on field trips, all with different coloured sweat pant track suits (school uniforms). The zoo grounds were great, and we were all very impressed by the variety of animals and the way the park was laid out. They had a good selection of food stands and stores (Family Mart, 7-Eleven, McDonald’s to name a few) sprinkled around the park that had the exact same prices as they would have outside the zoo. The zoo is surrounded by lush mountains which gave it a very “zoo like” feel.
There are a lot more pictures of animals that we saw, but I think everyone gets the idea. I just kept hearing they had pandas (two), but I was surprised at how many other animals they had. Nate fell asleep half way through the zoo, so it was really just for the adults at this point. We walked around the whole zoo and enjoyed it!
If we had more time and it was a nicer day (visibility wise), we would have considered taking the Maokong gondola up the mountain – the gondola base is right beside the zoo.
We left the zoo around 4:30pm, and headed to Lin Dong Fang for beef noodles. This was the place Tim and I had previously gone to our first week in Taipei, and it’s still my favourite one (so far). Nate was sound asleep so we thought it would be a good chance to go to a not so child friendly restaurant. He slept through loud traffic and a jack hammer (there’s construction beside our apartment) but as soon it was dead quiet in the restaurant, he wakes up!
We got back to the apartment around 6pm, and planned to go to the Shilin Night Market (the largest one in Taipei) to meet up with Tim’s cousin, Karen, who is also in Taipei for the week. I first met Karen during our trip to Taipei in 2013, and she has since moved back to the U.S. (Austin, Texas) and is just here for less than a week. It was great getting to see her for even a short period of time here.
The Shilin Night Market is huge and a bit overwhelming. There’s a lot of shopping, food stalls and carnival games to play. It was my sister and Noel’s first Taiwan night market, so we for sure had to get fried chicken cutlet and stinky tofu. We also had ai-yu jelly drink, a cranberry lemon juice that Karen bought for us (this was really refreshing), “big sausage wrapped in little sausage” (outside sausage is sticky rice), and bought some Taiwanese fruits at the end.
We got back to the apartment close to midnight – we were all exhausted, especially my sister who had to carry had a 30 pound toddler strapped to her for 4 hours. I don’t know how she does it, she’s superwoman!
Steps today was 30,000 ! No wonder we were pooped.
This morning started much like yesterday – early in the morning except this time I went back to bed after initially waking up at 6am. Everyone got ready to leave the apartment around 10:30am. Today’s weather was a bit better than yesterday’s – it was still overcast but at least it wasn’t really raining and if it was raining it was just a fine mist.
We decided to go to the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall – ticking off another Taipei attraction off the list for our visitors. Once we arrived, Nate immediately wanted to walk around the square himself. He was much happier today than yesterday. To be fair, I wasn’t too happy yesterday at the museum either so I understand his frustrations (Tim: always good to compare the state of your mood with a 1.5 year old). We took our time and walked around and up the stairs to the CKS statue. The Frozen exhibit was still set up and will run until April – it’s unfortunate that the exhibit is there as it’s a bit of an eye sore.
After we took our pictures, we headed towards Yong Kang Street in search of lunch. This street is about a 8-10 minute walk from the CKS Memorial. As we went up the street, we decided to try beef noodles at 品山西刀削麵之家 (Taiwan Yi Pin Ramen and Sliced Noodle) that was on CNN’s list of best Taiwan beef noodles and has won a bunch of beef noodle awards (which most restaurants have as well). This beef noodle specializes in their tomato beef broth, which is unique, but I prefer the beef noodles from Lin Dong Fang. We’ll have to take them there another day.
We also stopped to get another Taiyaki snack to share and a bubble tea to go. We’re averaging one and half a bubble tea per day.
We made our way back to the apartment so Nate and Noel (think he caught something) could rest this afternoon. My sister and I headed back out to buy groceries at Jason’s (a Singaporean based grocery store). They had a good selection of local and international items. We mainly picked up groceries for Nate’s lunches and dinners.
After Nate went down for the night, my sister, Tim, and I went to a restaurant close by, called Ya Meile. It was a place we got take out from yesterday for Noel. The lady recognized us and was probably wondering why Tim was always bringing his non-Taiwanese friends (as she called us) to this place. We ordered 2 bowls of meat sauce dried noodles, pot-stickers, pan-fried dumplings, boiled dumplings, green onion pancake with egg inside, and a congee (for Noel). All this food came out to $10 CAD.
After dinner we went to 50 Lan to grab some bubble tea to bring back to the apartment. We spent the rest of the night watching Netflix and relaxing.
We’re planning on going to the Taipei Zoo tomorrow since the weather is supposed to be sunny – we haven’t seen sun in Taiwan for over a week!
So we did what we said we were going to do. We woke up at 4:15am (without an alarm), got ready and left the apartment around 5:30am. It was about a 30 minute walk to get to the base of Elephant Mountain (which has the best views of the city and Taipei 101). As we were walking to the base, some food vendors were prepping food for the day. We noted which vendors to go back to for breakfast. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that a lot of people start their days at 5am, I’ve just never been one of them.
We got to the base of the mountain around 5:50am. We read online that if you’re in good shape can get to the top in 15 minutes. I think if you’re in good shape you could actually get to the top viewing point in 10 minutes or even less if you sprinted up. We got to the top in 15 minutes, which, shouldn’t be that impressive because a man that looked like he was in his 80s with a cane was inching up on me as I was huffing and puffing up the stairs (Clearly I’m out of shape). FYI, we beat him up the mountain.
After taking a bunch of pictures at the viewing point we walked around other trails. There are a few other trails around Elephant mountain, called the Four Beasts Mountains. We didn’t do any of them, we just walked around a few other trails and saw a lot of seniors working out. The majority of them were super fit. This guy in his 70-80s was consecutively doing curl ups while chatting up the ladies close by. Another interesting thing to note is that there were a lot of old men who would perch on viewing points and yell. Then other men from other viewing points would “call back”. I wanted to join in too. I just “roared” at a squirrel that got scared and ran away.
After we made our way down from the mountain, it was about 8am. We went back to a fairly busy area called Wu Xing. We walked past a “rice ball” breakfast stall that had a line up. We decided to try it out and were not disappointed! This was exactly what I was craving while huffing up the mountain.
After we finished eating, we walked down “Wu Xing Square” which was an open market full of everything: meat, poultry, seafood, produce, dumpling makers, clothing, pretty much anything you can think of. This was place was bustling for 8am!
We walked up and down the block and decided to have “oyster vermicelli” soup. The soup is a thick starchy broth with thin noodles, oysters and large intestine. I mostly just drank the soup with noodles and oysters, Tim ate the large intestine. I really enjoyed the soup, I could probably do without the large intestine.
After resting at the apartment for a few hours. We decided to check out “Lin Dong Fang”, a beef noodle restaurant that was suggested on CNN’s Taiwanese food list (also vouched by other friends). It did not disappoint! I don’t have the same nostalgic feelings towards beef noodle as Tim does, so usually I don’t order it; but I have to say this one lived up to the hype. The noodles were nice and chewy (which is the way I like) and the meat was very tender. I ordered just beef and Tim ordered beef and tendon.
We heard from Uncle Albert that there was a lantern festival going on in Taoyuan and he suggested we check it out as it was ending this weekend. We decided to make our way to Taoyuan tonight so after lunch we walked toward Taipei Main Station to catch the high speed rail train.
On our way to the train station, we came across a huge Disney Tsum Tsum statue in front of a complex called Huashan Creative Park. We decided to check it out and saw there was an exhibition going on. We were lucky to have been drawn in to check out the area because we had no idea what this “creative park” was. It was a pretty unique place with different exhibits and independent artist boutiques and hipster restaurants inside old buildings. The feel of the area reminded me a bit of the Distillery District in Toronto.
We made our way to the Taipei Main Station area and ventured around the area with the intent to get back to the station around 4pm to take the train to Taoyuan. We were craving shaved ice since we haven’t eaten that yet. We found free wifi at Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store, so we stood there for a while seeing if there was anything close by. Tim found a highly rated place on trip advisor that was about a mile away. We walked there only to discover it was closed. It was pretty disappointing. We’ll save that place for another day!
We walked back to the train station slightly disappointed (first world problems) and bought our train tickets to Taoyuan. Taoyuan is where Taipei’s international airport is, which is about 45km from Taipei. We bought the high speed rail ticket which costed $6 for a round trip and would only take 20 minutes.
As soon as we stepped outside the train station in Taoyuan, we were surrounded by the Lantern Festival’s exhibits. It was about 4:30pm when we got there so it was still bright out. We went to the food areas to eat an earlier dinner so we didn’t have to fight the crowds when it got dark. I won’t go into too much detail about the food, I’m getting a bit nightmarketed out. We had Taiwanese sausage, some BBQ’ed pork belly, squid and this drink with two scoops of this slushy ice in it. The drink and BBQ pork were my favourite. We went back for one more drink at the end of the night! We spent 275 NT or $11 at the food stalls for dinner.
We were planning on staying at the festival until the fireworks at 8pm. As soon as the sun set, the lights all came on and the whole area came to life. I loved all the hanging lanterns and I’ll share some of the lantern displays I liked the most.
We were worried that there would be a mad rush to get back to the train right after the fireworks ended so we made sure to stay close to the exit. We estimated that there must have been over 50,000 people there (the grounds were massive). After looking at the majority of the lantern exhibits (we didn’t look at all of them, there were probably hundreds), we were feeling pretty drained. It was 8pm and no fireworks came on, Tim asked one of the security guards when the fireworks were starting and he said they were cancelled for tonight but would be on tomorrow. That was let down as we were waiting until 8pm for the fireworks! Every half hour the huge monkey in the middle of the festival “came to life” and lit up and did a slow 360 degree rotation to everyone’s excitement (except mine, the monkey creeped me out).
I wished the festival was on for another few weeks, I think Nate would have really like it! This was the first time that we saw so many kids and strollers.
After discovering there were no fireworks we left and feeling more drained than ever. Luckily leaving the festival was super organized because at that point I don’t think we could’ve handled it. This was the latest we’ve stayed up since being here and we didn’t really even have an afternoon break! We both fell asleep on the train ride back to Taipei. When then had to transfer and take the MRT back to the apartment. We both decided that tomorrow is going to be a chill out day and my post will likely be a lot shorter. I’m finding it hard to be able to just relax and adjust to the fact that we’ll be here for a month.
Tim checked our steps for today, and it’s an all time high 44, 500. No wonder we’re beat!