Sunday, January 29, 2012

Scenic Hualian, part 3

Today, we wanted to head over to the Ruisui hot springs area. So we hopped on to the local train. Little did we know the local train was a historic relic. It seems to me the train harked back to the 1970's era aluminum sided passenger trains. Inside, they had old squeaky iron seats with some really old oscillating fans on the ceiling. Along with the pea green lacquer and the finely detailed tin wallpaper, I felt like it was a museum. It was a rather cool and unexpected experience though. I appreciated it. Apparently several other people did too as I wasn't the only one taking pictures. There was even a man at the front of the train recording a video through the front window. After a while we also moved up to the front to get the full view going in to and coming out of dark tunnels. It's such an old train, the engineer's (driver's) cabin is right next to the front seats. So you can see him flipping and turning levers while the train huffs along the rails. Unfortunately halfway through the trip, the train broke down. From what I could understand in Chinese, the train's armature broke. It would have taken another hour and a half before they could get it running again. So they called a passing by express train to stop and pick us up. With the delay and the time saved by the express train, we miraculously ended up at our destination on-time as scheduled. Once we got to Ruisui, we took a taxi over to the hot springs which is a few kilometers down the road. The Ruisui hot springs are known for their muddy nutrient rich waters, as opposed to the usual clear hot spring water I've tried before. We ended up at a small hot spring. They only had three pools. One was cold, one was luke warm but very shallow and the large one which was around 41 degrees celsius. It cost us $150 NT for entry. Cheap! It may have just been the springs that we chose, but it seemed to me that most of the springs were small. I was expecting a larger park sized hot spring with multiple pools of varying temperatures. It may have been the light rain too, but most places were very empty. Although the hot springs were soothing, I think i'd prefer a larger more expensive park sized hot springs location with restaurants, snack bars, massage rooms, saunas. Thus ends my Hualian weekend, and there's still much to plan and see for next time. Back to Taipei!


a modern japanese styled one, seemed cleaner but we didn't choose it.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Scenic Hualian, part 2

On our second day in Hualian, we decided to take it much easier. No long hikes, confusing buses or waiting in line. After a leisurely breakfast at our hotel we headed to the train station. Directly in front and across the street from the train station is a scooter rental place. It's called 小馬 or Pony Rentals. They're special because it's one of the few places that will rent a scooter to foreigners. Bring your passport and ID and International driver's license if you have one. It ended up being $500 NT for one day. However I find that Taiwan doesn't mean 24 hours when they say 1 day. They mean you have to return it by end of their business day. Which in this situation was 8pm. Since I usually ride a 600cc motorcycle with a different seating position, it took a few minutes to get used to riding a 125cc scooter. Shortly after that, we headed out of town to highway 11. It only took about 15 minutes. It probably would have been shorter if I was more used to riding in Taiwanese traffic and knew where I was going. Once on highway 11, it was a very straight and smooth ride with limited traffic. Riding down with the sea on the left and the greenery on the right was a rare experience. I think riding a scooter is the best, so you can really take in the fresh sea air and the smells and sounds of the open road. After a while we decided to take a bathroom break at a rest stop. The rest stops along the shore are very different than the ones i'm used to in the States. The ones in the States are so dirty, dark and general lack of anything nice. These rest stops are more like visitor centers. With a beautiful courtyard, vending machines, clean bathrooms and a very helpful staff. The one we went to had several large verandas for picnicking under shade. They also had a room with a miniature road running around the circumference of the room. Along this miniature roadside were the miniaturized version of major attractions along the way. It was a representative of Highway 11. Each miniature stop had pamphlets, pictures and brief descriptions of the destination (in Chinese, English and Japanese). I was so surprised! This is such an amazing over-the-top effort by the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. For lunch, we asked the helpful staff for some pointers and found a local seafood restaurant just down the road called 055. After heading in, we picked a nice table outside on the patio and picked some fresh (some live) seafood from the tank at the front. The meal turned out to cost around $800 for two people. But that's really good for some fresh seafood, sushi and even a small lobster. We thoroughly enjoyed the view and the food. After lunch, we headed further down HIghway 11. However we didn't have enough time to make it to where we wanted to go. We turned around and headed back to town. All in all, Highway 11 doesn't have much to offer other than some nice visitor centers and beautiful vast aqua colored seas and a large water park. Next time, I'll have to better plan a definitive destination like the water park or 055. I heard Shi Ti Harbor was a great place to stop by along Hwy 11. There are also some natural caves around the area that was open for tours. Next time.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Scenic Hualian

For the last few days of Chinese New Year, Yuki and I decided to spend private time with just ourselves. So for the last weekend of the long holiday, we headed down to Hualian (花蓮). Hualian is a beautiful seaside city on the east coast of Taiwan. It's no large city, but still has a few things to offer. But honestly, most of the tourists that visit here aren't here for the shopping and the night life. Heading just a few minutes out of town and you get to really enjoy the reason why it's such a popular attraction. The spectacular seaside views, the coastal highway, the gorge, the hiking trails, and abundance of nature is the reason. Speaking of the gorge, that was our first stop. Taroko National Park. It's a huge gorge filled with rocks, marble, waterfalls, forests and crystal clear blue rivers. From the Hualian train station they have a convenient bus that takes you directly to the many sights in Taroko gorge. It's not free and a little expensive (between 50-100 NT per ride depending on where you want to go) and was very confusing to us to find the right bus. There were not only several other buses at the train station to confuse us, but there is also a free shuttle bus to Taroko gorge, however that one has limited stops. I couldn't help anyone with this in the future, as we just asked our way into the right bus. Anyhow, some of the major stops in the gorge are: Shakadang Trail(砂卡噹步道), Tunnel of Nine Turns (九曲洞 Jiuqü Dong), Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠 Changchun), Swallow Grotto (燕子口), Jinheng Park (靳珩公園), The Bridge of the Kind Mother (慈母橋), Tiansiang (天祥), Jhueilu Precipice (錐麓斷崖), Lioufang Bridge (流芳橋), Hill of Yu the Great (大禹嶺), Buluowan (布洛灣). We went to Shakadang trail and Swallow Grotto. Two different sceneries. Swallow Grotto has a wonderful panoramic view of marble rock faces leading down to muddy rapids snaking down the valley. This is viewed from the roadside cliff platforms that's carved into and through the mountain. Shakadang trail was a long 7.5 km path with an great view of a crystal clear blue river winding it's way through a rock valley. The pedestrian trail is the longest and winds through the rock ledges cut along the mountain face with some forest paths at the end of the trail. Lunch was also enjoyable on this trail as there was a small rest-stop along the trail owned by what I assume are aboriginals. There we had some salty black mountain pork (鹹豬肉) and aboriginal vegetables on a small makeshift riverside table. Get your hiking shoes on, because this is a must place to visit if you've never seen it before. We were fully exhausted getting back on the last bus to the train station. So after getting back into town and checking in to our hotel, we cleaned up and headed out to 自強夜市 and 南濱夜市 night market. 自強夜市 has more food and would be my recommended market if asked. Although the other market in town, 南濱夜市, has more games and less food, it is oceanside. Unfortunately we got to the oceanside market too late to see how the view was. But I suspect it would have been a nice place to be to see the sun set. Therefore we didn't stay long, because 自強夜市 is where the food is at. Walking through the 自強夜市 night market, the majority of the food stalls were very similar to what you can find in Taipei. However they do have three BBQ shish-kabob stands (第一家烤肉串) that had very long lines. We later learned that they are so popular that when you order, they give you a keyring with a number on it. You can come pick up your order when the LED sign outside displays your number. Two hours later, our order was finally ready! Two hours! There is also two very popular fruit drink stands. Get ready to stand in a long line. Lastly, there's a grilled oyster restaurant right at the front of the market. They serve grilled oysters, clams, jumbo shrimp and other various seafood. They have beer in the back which you can serve yourself. The tables are old school desks and the interior resembles a straw hut with christmas lights and other paraphernalia hanging all over the place. Guess what...more long lines. However I think this one was well worth it. This is definitely something I haven't seen at any other market. We waited about 30 minutes in line and another 30 minutes inside. The prices are a bit expensive, but it's excellent grilled seafood in a uniquely and vibrantly decorated dining area right at the front of the night market. If you're not up for the waiting, there is also a notable brick oven pizzeria in the night market and a hong kong porridge stand right behind it. They both did not have a line, but was still packed with customers. Thus ended our day with more relaxing coastal motorcycle riding and hot springing to look forward to.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mala Village

Lets start this off by saying it's been was a crappy evening. It was goose-bump raising chilly evening with my partners in culinary exploration. To add on top of the dreariness, Taiwan's bi-polar weather decided to pour on us. We decided on a late dinner because we had a late lunch. So as everyone else was happy and warm inside their restaurants eating their meals, we were wandering the streets killing time, walking off the last of our luncheon meal. Our first choice was to just have something light, to compensate for the lack of hunger. However walking over to Yuki's favorite shabu shabu place in Dongqu came with disappointment as the store was closed for the holidays. So we turned tail and headed back to the main street. Everyone was thinking of a place to eat at, but we couldn't decide on a single place or knew of a local place we wanted to go to. Undecided in mind, we continued to walk around and check store by store. Things were looking dim, rainy, closed and late. Until we encountered a unique little 8 story building. Yuki said it reminded her of a japanese building. Narrow and tall, which each restaurant taking up a flat (one story). There was no lobby or hallways, the elevator is the front door. Sorry, that the best I can describe it. We ended up on the top floor of Bistro 98 (I'm not sure if thats the building name, but it is in the address). It as called Mala village (麻辣一材). After all that disappointment and walking, we went from not that hungry to I can eat four horses. So even at the price rate of $500+10% tip, we signed up for some All-You-Can-Eat hot pot. This AYCE place orders by menu, but buffet. You get 3 orders, so don't worry about over ordering on the first round. Food wise...awesome! They have several meat types and cuts. Several seafood choices, vegetable choices and mushroom choices. The sauce bar is eclectic! They have about 40 bowls of ingredients, so you can customize your dipping sauce to your hearts content. Moving on to the desserts. They have Meiji and some russian brand ice cream. But the topper is, freshly made waffles. Top your waffle with some ice cream for that ultimate hot and cold marriage. Thats what we did! As for the environment, It's a small place, but it's fairly clean. Although they have nice big windows to view outside from the 8th floor, due to insufficient ventilation, the humidity fogs over much of the window. Overall an excellent and cute little place. I feel that it is less popular and more hidden, so it may be a great option when other restaurants in the Dongqu area are packed. However I ate my self full 'till my jean button burst. My Chinese New Years resolution is: No more AYCE...under my own free decision. So this may be the last AYCE hot pot for a while, I'd glad Mala Village made it a good experience for me. Now to take a quick shower, hop into bed and cradle my stomach in a fetal position.

*Photo from Google Image

Mala Village(麻辣一材)
weekdays: 11:30-3PM, 5:30-1AM
weekends: 11:30-1AM

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Irodori 鮨彩 @ Megacity

There's a new mall that has opened in Banqiao. It's part of the FE21 chain and is called MegaCity 大遠百. It's right accross from the Banqiao MRT station and New Taipei City City Hall and fairly close to the original FE21 mall. The new mall is a very modern took with outward slanted windows. The courtyard in front has been remodeled to include a lower level atrium and a giant Christmas tree in the middle. The Interior design of the food court area is awesome. It's modeled after Venice. So there are Venetian boats in a water filled canal, a 3 story Venetian building facade and lamps, pillars and walkways all tying into the theme. In fact I shouldn't say it's the food court, but the restaurant avenue. The basement floor is the food court. Don't worry, they created another themed world of visual delight there too. The Food Republic, the name of the food court, is painstakingly modeled from ceiling to floor to resemble the 40's era of China/Taiwan. They have rustic store fronts, with wood paneling, clay shingles and wooden beams. The old wooden chairs, lanterns, and various decorative items (including some old rusty bikes and straw baskets) help bring the atmosphere back 70 years. It's part museum and the coolest food court I know of in Taipei. But moving on, my parents, my cousin and I decided to try out one of the restaurants on the Venetian floor (9th i think). However it's Chinese New Years and most of the restaurants were booked, limiting our choices. Fortunately we were able to get a table at Irodori Sushi, one of our top choices. The interior resembles a simple and humble Japanese restaurant, not thing to elaborate much about. After sitting, we quickly decided on a set meal for 4. It turned out to be way too much food. After the salad, vegetables sticks and loads of sushi, there was still the hot pot. The beef that the hot pot came with probably weighed in over 2 kilograms. If you click through to the original image size, you may be able to make out the thickness of the pile 'o meat. Consequently, less than half way in, we all quit and called for a doggie bag. The quality of the sushi was excellent and the presentation was great. The bill ran into just under $1000 NT per person, so it's not going to be a cheap meal unless you stay away from the sushi. But note for the future, the set meal for four can definitely be split more thinly with 5 or even 6 people. The price will definitely be worth it for five people. Nice place overall and recommended. Great Venetian atmosphere, great service and perfect for a lazy saturday after some shopping (for people with fat wallets). Perhaps I appreciate it more that it's not on my checkbook. So big thanks, Mom and Dad!

*MegaCity Venetian floor and Food Republic picture credit goes to Thank you!

Irodori Sushi 鮨彩 in the Banqiao Mega City Department store

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Silver thread bread

This is actually dinner from last night. But I thought it was appropriate to separate them out. My parents and relatives, which are visiting over the holidays, decided to bring me along for dinner to a local restaurant. It's somewhere in Tianmu. Since we took a bus and I didn't pay much attention, I'm unable to reproduce the exact location. Sad since the food turned out to be quite excellent. Of the two most notable, was the duck blood hot pot and the silver thread buns. Both I think are of Beijing origin and may also be of relation to Hakka cuisine. I'm a fan of duck blood. Looks and sounds disgusting, but it really doesn't have any strong taste. It there is any taste, it's only a very mild irony taste. The texture has the consistency of hard jello. It's not meant to be eaten alone, but dependently with a soup or a supplementary part of a larger dish. Much like the hot pot you see in the picture. This hot pot though is pretty thick to be called a soup. And that thick soupy gravy really goes well with that duck blood and white rice. Next is the silver thread buns 銀絲卷 (yinsijuan). Delicious! A crispy buttery skin on the outside with extremely soft and fluffy white bread inside. Steamed silver thread buns are named because of the unique noodle-like threads inside the buns. I hear the process is also equally unique, in that you steam it first then deep-fry it later. Silver thread buns can be served with peanut powder or stir-fried pork with preserved vegetables, but I love it just the way it is. I pick it apart thread by thread, then eat the crispy skin (the best part) for last. Yum!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Candies, snacks, dried meats oh my!

Yes, It's Chinese New Years time! And today my friends invited me to join them in going to the 年貨大街 or New Years Street. Every Chinese New Years, DiHuaJie 迪化街 turns into a giant block party. The streets are closed and the venders come out in hordes to solicit their candies, snacks and dried foods. It's tradition to buy bags of individually packaged Taiwanese (and some western) candies and put them in a bowl at home. During this holiday season, in Taiwan, you'll undoubtable be receiving many family members and friends into your home. So it's always a kind gesture to offer them something to nibble on. I'm still a little vague about this tradition, so perhaps some one can fill me in. Apart from the candies, you can find many other venders hawking other Taiwanese snacks and dried goods. The most popular among them being peanuts, chinese beef jerky, flavored corn puffs, mandarine oranges, milk taffy 牛軋糖, dried mullet roe 烏魚子, dried fish and shrimps and sticky rice cake 黏糕. It's a huge event and the streets are packed with people and cars trying to find parking. They have cooked food stalls for when you get hungry too. But you don't need that, because you can get full off the samples. All venders are very eager to hand out samples. You can walk the event vender by fender eating whatever peaks your interest. This was my first experience as I skipped it last year. My mistake. It was quite fun and I look forward to attending next years. Now that I have a better idea of what they offer, I look forward to coming with more money to spend on the goodies! Everyone says it's impossible to lose weight during Chinese New Year and it is TRUE. Especially in asian countries, with the numerous family gatherings, friend gatherings, the New Years Street and festivities. It's like Thanksgiving over the span of a week. Happy New Year everyone, 新年快樂, Gong Hei Fat Choi!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lunch in Yingge (鶯歌)

Hooray, it's make your own pottery day. I've been planning this one for a while. I've been wanted to bring some of my friends back to Shu's pottery to attend another one of their pottery classes. The first time I went, it was with my Chinese class at Shida. It was the end of the semester field trip and it was a blast. However I wanted another hand at this pottery wheel. It's A LOT harder than the instructors make it out to be. But in the end, everyone asks for help from the instructor. So some people's pottery end up being made by the instructor entirely or at least partially. That's ok, because the fun part is messing up the first few tries yourself. Shu's pottery also has a wonderfully modern and large storefront that sells unique and sometimes very expensive porcelain gifts. After washing off, we headed out for some lunch in the old town of Yingge, which isn't far. Shu's pottery is pretty much in the old town, so it's convenient. First restaurant we came across has a line forming out front. So we understood it as a clue that this place had something special to offer. After waiting for about 15 minutes and goofing off on the rickshaw in front of the store, we headed in to our seats. It's a small restaurant and you'll most likely have to share your table with others. But the interior design was cool. It resembles an old Chinese shanty town with an old telephone pole, old 40's era Chinese movie posters, antique nick-nacks, wood shingles and discolored lamps. We asked what the speciality was and the cashier said, fried pork/chicken steak over rice with vegetables and tofu. So thats exactly what we ended up ordering. It's not a fancy dish by any means, just a local blue collar worker's meal that this place has done right. It's simplistically delicious and wish all 便當 (bento) tasted this good. I usually find typical 便當 oily, but this wasn't. If your in the neighborhood checking out the pottery (or making pottery), I'd definitely drop by this place for some down to earth, simple and cheap Taiwanese cuisine. It's called 厚道飲食店 (no english name), look for the bicycle rickshaw in the front.Afterwards, I bought some Taiwanese ox horn croissants. There are several bakeries around here that sell it and it just smells so good to pass up. Some even offer ice cream on top. If you see some of these around, buy one. It's cheap and tastes awesome. It's not light and fluffy like a french croissant, but thicker and more doughy like a (American) southern butter biscuit.

新旺集瓷 The Shu's Pottery


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Dim Sum in Yonghe?

I often visit the Yonghe area because I have several friends that live there. However I always seem to come to the same dilemma. What is there to eat around here? There used to be a nice AYCE hot pot train restaurant next to the DingXi MRT station, but that has been replaced by a large stationary store and Thai Town. Besides thai food, cake shops and a few traditional fried rice/noodle places, there isn't much to offer. Until my girlfriend told me of a Dim Sum place very close to the station. She discovered it with some friends a few weeks back. It's called 大大茶樓. So made an afternoon of it and invited some friends over to join us. It's on the third floor of the building. Ironically, you need to use the elevator in the large stationary store I spoke about earlier. Note* Upon exiting, we discovered there is another private entrance next to the Starbucks. Anyways, upon entering the restaurant lobby, we were surprised by the design of the place. It was upscale and pretty. YongHe is sort of the ghetto of the Taipei area. It's not the cleanest or most well sorted part of Taipei. So it's a change to be in a relatively upscale restaurant in YongHe. My friend said she felt like she wasn't in YongHe anymore...and she lives in YongHe. The host (later we learned he was the general manager), greeted us and offered us seats and tea. All tables were full and we had to wait for about 10 minutes, so it seemed to be a popular place. After being seated we started ordering immediately. They push the food around on carts. I truly love this old style. It's slowly being fazed out as more and more Dim Sum restaurants are converting to ordering from a menu. But I love ordering my food seeing it. Not because there's a language barrier, but with food, a picture says a thousand words! Better yet when it's actually in front of you. Moving on to the food. The restaurant's selection seems to cover the most common of dim sum offerings that I'm used to. They are missing a few, but from what was available, it wasn't bad. They still stick a few Taiwanese menu items in there, but I won't devalue them for that. In the States, you'll still find egg rolls and fortune cookies on the menu at Dim Sum. It was a delightful experience and so far one of the best, if not the best, Dim Sum places i've been to in Taiwan. The price tag ended up being about $350 a person. Not too shabby. I wouldn't mind coming back here another fine weekend afternoon. Afterwards, a few of us headed over to the LeHua 樂華 night market (still partially open during the day) for some dessert at Yu's Almond Tofu. We tried something new. Their almond soft serve on a cone with almond crumbles. Deliciously awesome as usual. Highly recommended! And I end it here, so have a good weekend everyone!


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

11 hours in Hong Kong

Due to passport issues, I needed to take a quick day trip over to Hong Kong. It's my first time there alone. Although my chinese is a lot better and I can read chinese characters now, it just made me nervous. It's a big city and pretty congested with people, traffic and public transportation. Since I onyl had 11 hours on my hands, I had a pretty full schedule of places to visit and things to eat. So I was hoping to not get lost. Never the less, I still did. Thankfully there are some helpful Mandarin/English speaking people in Hong Kong to steer me int he right direction. Thank you. I ate at 4 places (3 meals + 1 snack). For brunch I headed to a famous 茶餐廳 (basically HK style fast food restaurants). This place, 永合成茶餐廳 - 蘇杭街 was famous for this egg/beef over rice dish (煎蛋牛肉飯). $40HKD I think. First off, the place is your traditional Hong Kong hole in the wall joint. Dated walls, chairs, tables, counters, lighting and messy. You can probably add slightly dim and dirty too. But thats just how some of them run it here in Hong Kong, and I like it. However the meal turned out mediocre. Afterwards, I realized I should have added a separate order of pork bone soup (i think) to the dish. The gentleman across from me did that, and I'm guessing thats how the locals do it. Because the 煎蛋牛肉飯 alone was lacking a bit in flavor. For dessert I headed down the street to a famous milk company. They serve this awesome milk and egg custard/pudding in a rice dish. Superb! Creamy and full of flavor! If your ever around the area of 蘇杭 you need to visit Yee Shun Milk Company (義順牛奶公司) and order both the 馳名雙皮燉奶 and 冰花燉雞蛋. Finally as my last stop before my flight, I made the tram trek over to North Point for their famous Eggettes (雞蛋仔). If your not familiar, they're a crispy, eggy, bubble-wrap looking waffle. Best served fresh and hot from 利強記北角雞蛋仔. No dining room or fancy stools, just a small shop on an indistinct street corner. Expect a line of hungry patrons waiting for their delicious 雞蛋仔to be handed to them through a small window. They're some of the best 雞蛋仔 I've had. Crispy on the outside, not too thick, and warm and soft on the inside. It has a hint of egg taste and not too doughy. However eat this fresh because after it cools, it becomes mushy and chewy.

香港島上環蘇杭街113~115號一樓 (Hong Kong Island)

義順牛奶公司 (Yee Shun Dairy Company)
佐敦庇利金街63號 (63 Pilkem St, Jordan)
2730 2799

Google it, they have multiple locations

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ginormous dumplings soup

Simple hidden hole in the wall shop serving soup with oversized dumplings near SYS memorial (國父紀念館). Really, this place looks like any other mom 'n pop establishment here in Taipei. Old peeling white wallpaper, with cheapo stools around a heavily scratched table. But the lack of environment is overshadowed by the great dumpling soup. Calculating in at a measly ~$50NT (i think), the soup and dumplings have that simple traditional taste to really works on a cold rainy day and you don't have a lot of change to spare. And don't forget the gigantic dumplings! They're huge! It looks like a normal dumpling that was subjected to radiation and mutated into a three headed dumpling monster. I forget how many dumplings they give you, two possible three, but that's enough to fill my stomach for the evening. They have mala 麻辣 flavored ones too. That makes me happy!

106台灣台北市大安區忠孝東路四段312號 (No exact address, but this address is Capone's which is next door)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Café Puzzle Caffeine

Yuki has been wishing to try this cafe out for a while. With the popularity of cafe's around Taipei and the need to make them unique and attractive to the Taiwanese, this one is no different. The owners created a puzzle cafe. Coffee/Tea + Puzzles. Walking in, you'll experience a quiet and rarely busy room with large tables accompanied by an eclectic selection of comfortable "flee market" chairs. They're not cheap chairs, just chairs i'd see in an old grandparents home in the States. I'd say the furniture reminds me of the old tudor style. Moving on to their menu, they offer a nice selection of coffee, espressos, traditional teas and fruit teas. I believe they have some snacks you can order in case you want something to nibble on while your fingers are puzzling away. Prices range from $140+. The large tables really make for a nice surface for those big puzzles. Note: Pick a puzzle appropriate for your table realty. Unfortunately you cannot save your puzzle in case you can't finish it. So come in with some help :). Or go across the street to the puzzle store (same company) and buy a puzzle to bring home.

Café Puzzle Caffeine (拼圖咖啡因)
No. 28, Lane 44, Tàishùn St, Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106

Monday, January 2, 2012

Zee Live House

After that long week of bike riding I was ready for a proper meal. Like a big hunk of meat proper meal. Fortunately my parents wanted to go to a restaurant that my mom liked. She went to it with her friends the day before for lunch and was quiet impressed by it. It's in the Dongqu area 東區 (near Zhongxiao DunHua MRT station). We went for dinner and found out the dinner and lunch menu are different in meal as well as pricing. It's a difference from $500NT to $800 NT+. It's a quaint place until around 10 pm I think. Around 10pm they dim the lights, close the curtains, put away the buffet and the live band comes in and starts to warm up. But before that, you can enjoy the quiet atmosphere as well as the splendidly european decorated design of the first and second floor. After ordering my german pork knuckle dinner, they informed me I can help myself to the small buffet in the back. The small buffet table, in front of the glass windowed kitchen, has a salad bar, fruit bar, some cheese and an assortment of western cake desserts (ie. tiramisu). My dinner...superb. Nice crispy charred skin on my pork knuckle that peels away to reveal the juicy tender burgundy pork meet underneath. I do have to mention that they could have cooked it slower, to allow for a more fall off the bone meat. If you want that fall off the bone pork knuckle meat, i'd suggest going to Waterfront restaurant in Danshui. Excellent example of pork knuckle there! Overall it's a nice two level European style fusion restaurant with a live band with a warm well decorated atmosphere. Pricing is a bordering expensive (for a local), but it won't break the bank. It's in a great location in Dongqu, a very popular and rich area to venture out to. There are plenty of other upscale restaurants, boutiques, cafe's and delicatessens here much like Zee Live House.

Zee Live House
(02)27118766 and (02)27710260

Sunday, January 1, 2012

9 day trip around Taiwan 環島

From December 24 to January 1, I partook in a 9 day 900K+ bicycle trip around the island of Taiwan. It's hosted by a wonderful company called 鐵馬家庭. It costs $25,000 NT and includes lodging, food, snacks, bicycle, helmet, gloves, gps, insurance, medical follow vehicle and any repairs necessary. I ended up still needing an extra bike shirt, rain gear, padded bike pants (highly recommended) and other extra materials. You start from Taipei and ride for about 8 hours a day with 5-6 checkpoints (rest periods). You end up riding on average 100+ km a day. I chose to join this at the last minute and had minimal training time. But my father was in town and I don't know when the next opportunity for quality time like this is going to happen now that we're living continents apart. In the end, it was an experience and a challenge, but something I never regret.

The scenery. If you have the time to join in on this journey, I'd highly suggest it. It is by far the best way to fully experience the many sceneries of Taiwan. Speeding by in a train or whizzing by in a car is not the best way. Via bicycle, you get to experience the smells and climate too. You take it slower and have more time to take in the sights and sounds. You have the freedom to stop whenever you want. Finally you get to visit far more towns and country roads that you ever could using a car. We must have passed through and stopped at over 40 towns in 9 days. Each unique in their own way. Some of the major towns that we had the pleasure of visiting, were Taichung, Tainan, Taidong, Chiayi, Pingtung, Taitung, Miaoli, Taoyuan, Hualien, Yilan.

The food. Arriving at most checkpoints, we were greeted by friendly faces and rare local snacks. Sometimes it was fruits, sometimes it was candies. But throughout the trip, 鐵馬家庭 has it well planned to introduce some of the local snacks that can't be found elsewhere in major cities. It's not just a biking experience, it's a food experience too. Some of the members were locally raised and help introduce the local snacks, which is something I think you can't get out of a road trip.

The experience. I joined into this activity thinking it'd be a huge physical challenge. While it is no doubt a physical challenge, you do not have to be a tri-athlete or marathon runner to attend. We had members that may not have been in the best physical health, but had a strong heart and a strong mind. And that sums it up right there. You have to have a strong heart and a strong mind. Through the arduous 24km lengths of open road, through the grueling cold, windy and rainy stretches of road on the east coast, through the torturous up mountain have to have a strong heart and a determined mind. There were so many times I wanted to rest and curse myself with regret, but it's all just a mind game. You don't have to be fast, just take your time. Mind over matter and that's what I experienced!

The camaraderie. Our group had over 60 riders. Through the trials and tribulations of this 9 day trek, you have no choice but to form friendships and bonds with your fellow rider. We watch out for each other and encourage each other. We laugh together and cry out in pain with each other. We do everything as a group, from waking up early in the morning and doing morning stretches to lunch time naps to evening dinner together. They are there for you cheering you on up that hill, across the day's final stretch. And it is so well organized, there's aways a hot bowl of soup or cup of water for you as soon as your off your bike. I won't forget these steadfast group of rider's for the rest of my life.

I encourage anyone with the time and heart to spare, to definitely join this activity. 鐵馬家庭 holds about 11 of these activities throughout the year. December being one of the better months to choose, as summer would be too hot. I experience more of Taiwanese scenery, food, snacks, people, culture and challenged myself more physically and mentally than I have in the past 18 months in Taiwan. It's an experience I will never forget! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Everyone!!!