Tuesday, February 28, 2012

week 72_Stone House Restaurant and Jinshan

After returning from Olympia, I had just a few more days to visit with my grandpa before he returned back to the States. Spent some time visiting new places and dining in a few new restaurants --- time well spent in my opinion.

My husband and I especially enjoyed being introduced to a new restaurant on Yangmingshan (National Park area on the mountain to the North of Taipei city), called the Stone House. It was truly an old stone house serving traditional Chinese family style dishes and offering a bilingual menu. For once I took pictures of the building instead of the food! [Even though the food was great too] The rustic setting is quite unique, and the location in the mountains is a great change of scenery from the everyday hustle of the city. Very neat place to visit, though very remote (inside the National Park... up the mountain), so we picked up a business card and hope that we might be able to reach it again by taxi sometime. For those who own a car, there is limited parking out front.

quaint Stone House interior
Can you see the tiny stone window open to the rain outside? (at right)
After our lunch at the stone house, we continued on to the nearby town/district of Jinshan and ended up stopping to check out a local temple. Specifically, we were checking out the glasswork on the temple exterior. Somehow I had never paid close enough attention before (after all, the details are so ornate on these temples!) to realize that the bright colorful sculptures are made from hundreds/thousands of tiny pieces of colored glass. For example - in the photo below, the dragon scales (at right) and the rose petals (at center) are pieces of glass wedged into a cement or adhesive base to create the beautiful colored reliefs.

A temple in Jinshan
Once we left the temple, we stopped off at a small coffee shop overlooking the ocean. A welcome sight! The water is only about a 45 minute drive from our home, but without owning a car, it is not easily accessible just any day of the week.

Ocean front on a cool and cloudy day 
Fancy cappuccinos, lattes and hot chocolates all around
Us enjoying our drinks ~ proof we were there!
All in all, cool and rainy or not, it was great to get out of the house for a bit and explore new ground. :)

Monday, February 27, 2012

week 71_Vacationing in Olympia

The Chinese New Year holiday is celebrated for an entire week here in Taiwan (5 days off work), and I am so impressed with every one's ability to set work aside and take the week off. Of course there are certain jobs that continue to operate through the holidays (sorry husband! ~ the newspaper still printed every day), but for the most part everything closes down and people understand that you will not be replying to those emails for at least a week. Because everything closes down, it also means that the city of Taipei becomes much quieter, and most people spend lots of time with family and friends at their homes. Your favorite restaurant may not be open, but Mom is sure to be fixing those Taiwanese holiday goodies.

Since I am not from here and have no family in the area, it is the perfect time for me to get away. So I did just that and spent a week of relaxation in Olympia, WA with my Brother, Sister-In-Law, adorable niece Zoe, and my Dad! My brother and sister-in-law may be wondering why (for the second year in a row) I chose Olympia WA as my Chinese New Year vacation destination, but for me it is the perfect quiet getaway - with good food, good company, a book to read, snow on the ground (the only snow I'll see all year!) and plenty of time with my favorite niece. :)

Snowy Olympia ~ even though it was 'on the way out' this is still a LOT of snow

Was waiting to post this until I got more photos from the trip (from other people), but time has flown, so you will have to enjoy the limited (and still very cute) pics of trip I ended up with!

My beautiful niece (#1 reason for the trip!)
and my furry companion Marcello (possibly #2 reason for the trip!)
Such a sweetie!
I had some great company while I was there! :D The week went exactly as expected - with lots of Zoe time, plus a little bit of catching up with my brother and sister-in-law, some quality time with my Dad, and lots of rest, relaxation and great food!

Giraffe musical rocker that J, Chrissie, & I sent Zoe for her first Christmas
Zoe and her Giraffe!
There were some fun times, and there were some fussy times, but I am so pleased to report that the Giraffe rocker is definitely a hit! It seems that even when other toys didn't work, rocking to the music would calm her down almost every time :D (hahaha)...and now I know all of the baby music songs by heart! Yep.

Tired baby
Think Zoe was tuckered out from all of the fun time with company?! Probably not... but she is very cute when she sleeps. :) Favorite Zoe moment of the trip - when she first wakes up from taking a nap lying next to you and she has a huge grin on her face, trying to wake you up, whispering "yeah" --- So cute!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

week 70_Another Okie Visitor...

Just one week after my Mom & Sister's departure, my Grandpa (Mom's Dad) arrived in Taipei for his own 2 week Asian vacation! My Grandpa came to Taipei (in truth) not only to visit me, but also to spend some quality time with a friend he's known longer than my lifetime --- my boss! :)

Being quite the world traveler, this was not his first visit to Asia - not even close - but it was his first trip to Taipei, so we tried to show him some of the best food and sightseeing during his visit. My Grandpa's schedule actually included a few leisurely days in Taipei, before heading to Cambodia & Laos for an adventurous trip with his friend - my boss - followed by a few more days in Taipei at the tail end of the trip.

I was amused that despite having other visitor's so recently, he still seemed to experience a whole new list of sights & restaurants --- evidence of the abundance of things to see and do in Taipei! For starters, my Grandpa stayed at a boutique hotel near my office called Hotel Quote. I highly recommend it! It was my first time to see the interior, though I've often noticed their 1st floor lounge through the picture front windows as I walk along NanJing East Road. This cute and well-renovated hotel was luxurious and affordable, as well as conveniently located for his visit. One night we decided to have dinner in the lounge at the hotel. It wasn't very "adventurous" considering there were endless places we could be exploring, but it was the first time I can remember that I have spent pure adult time with my Grandpa one on one. It was refreshing and fascinating to me... :)

Didn't take many photos those first few days, but we did eat well!

Beijing Duck, being prepared table side
Duck is served hot and prepared in front of you to show freshness.
Eaten with onions and sweet sauce wrapped in a tortilla-like rice bread...
One of my favorite meals!
Sweet Potato Dessert, being prepared by the waitress bending over me to reach the table!
Hot sweet potatoes and a thick sugary syrup mixed with nuts/seeds are then dipped in a bowl of ice
to set the syrup into crunchy candy. The shell tasted like peanut brittle wrapped around a sweet potato...
As usual - in real life here and on my blog - food was the main attraction!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

week 69_the Oklahomans in Taipei_DAYs 8,9,&10

After our road trip outside of the city, we all headed back to Taipei to spend the last few days of the ladies' vacation in Taiwan. By this point Mom & Chrissie had seen many of the highlights on our list... and I think they started to get more of a taste of what life in the city might be like! Surprisingly, over the last three days, they finally had some of the first-hand bizarre experiences that Jason and/or I encounter every day (like stumbling on a presidential parade, or getting having a stranger ask to take their photo with you)... We also spent some time loading up the girls' suitcases with plenty of goodies to take back home! :)

When we visited Dihua Street to stop by the Fabric Market,
we stumbled upon a street festival preparing for the upcoming Chinese New Year!

We also came across some immortals dancing (and selling tea). I am so glad that we ran into this while the Hyde girls were here so that they could see the real Taipei :) Chrissie also got lots of attention from the locals who wanted to take a photo with her and the immortals!

I introduced the Okies to some local desserts:
[ABOVE: Shaved ice drizzled in brown sugar syrup,
topped with red beans and yellow Jell-O,
BELOW: Chrissie enjoys a green tea frozen yogurt parfait,
including red beans] 

We showed the ladies our "Mexican" food restaurant - Macho Tacos...
It's not quite Tex-Mex, but still...Yum!

We toured another temple where people go to be healed, blessed, or pray for good health

We strolled through the historically famous Grand Hotel, sitting high on the hillside overlooking the city

AND - best yet - We accidentally walked into a presidential election parade, AND saw the president himself!
It was pretty amazing... not to mention, the locals were pretty amazed by us [and therefore showered us in political paraphernalia at every opportunity... notice the Taiwan headbands and flags] :)
Thumbs up to the white folk with the flags

I was of course sorry to see my Mom & Sister go, but I am so glad that we had such a great visit! :D And I feel like we had time to show them most of the things I had hoped they might experience on this first trip.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

week 68_the Oklahomans in Taipei_DAYs 5,6,&7

Well, from the looks of it, you would think that I had abandoned the blog by now or just gone missing, but in fact I have simply been swamped with 'living it up in the big city'... well that and visits with family throughout the month of January!

Finally have some quiet time to myself this evening (and have forced myself to set down the page turner that I've been racing through all afternoon) to catch back up on the blog!

Reminiscing on my Mom & Sister's recent visit to Taipei, there is still more to share - so here goes!

For days 5, 6, and 7 of the girls' Taipei visit, we decided to get out of town and head to the country. Taiwan is such a beautiful island with countless national parks and scenic attractions. Although I had already been to Taroko Gorge, it seemed like the easiest side trip for the 3 of us - considering that I knew how to get there, knew that it was definitely worth our time, and knew that it would show them a great diversity to the busyness of Taipei.

We rented a car, and Mom, Sis, & I set out for the beautiful Taroko Gorge. We drove the shorter route which is only half scenic combined with some very long tunnels through the mountains... but even half scenic was plenty to fascinate my tourist companions :) This video was taken accidentally, but it gives you an idea of what our car looked like and the views we encountered, driving along the winding East coastal road.

Once we arrived at our hotel - Silks Place Taroko Gorge, it was posh and comfortable as expected. We had actually planned to stay only one night in the gorge but upon arrival, the  ladies realized that it might be worth an extra day of exploring!

Plenty of stairs - but the paths are so well maintained!

Lots of bridges too
It was raining or misting the whole time - but still beautiful even in the rain
Eternal Springs Shrine - at base of mountain
Changuang Temple (Zen monastery) halfway up mountain
View from the monastery to the Bell Tower atop the mountain
Mom & Me: At the top of the Bell Tower - Good hike, and Great views through the mist!
After hiking the 3 attractions there, from the Eternal Springs Shrine to the Bell Tower atop the mountain, we enjoyed some of the best views of the gorge! The trip was a great success and a great time for all 3 of us.
Chrissie & I enjoying the scenery on the drive back
Even though I am still anxious to visit some of the other national parks throughout Taiwan, this is still definitely the top attraction on the island for me so far! :) I know the girls were impressed too!