Temples, Tamsui, and Taipei 101. Taipei part 2.

Today I was visiting one of the previous holders of tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 tower! I was super excited as I love the design and could add it to my list after visiting the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.

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I am getting a little ahead of myself though, as first up I was going to get a little culture, a little nature, and some amazing food. Taipei is huge, especially when you include the surrounding areas, but luckily the rail system is amazing. Today I planned to head North stopping off at some interesting sights along the way.

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My first stop was Yuanshan and the Taipei Confucius temple. Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who began the way of life or religion ‘Confucianism’. It’s a cute temple with lots of cool architecture, it also has a plaque inscribed by Chiang Kai-Shek which translates as ‘Education without discrimination’.

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Next up on the tour is something you’d never expect in a City, Mangroves! I took the same metro line to Hongshulin, and after a little education on the mangroves I wandered along raised wooden walkways looking for snakes and crabs. It is pretty cool that there are mangroves just a short journey from the centre of a huge City like Taipei.

The weather wasn’t great but I didn’t mind, I had my waterproof jacket and decided to walk along the water front to Tamsui, my next stop. Tamsui is famous for its Old Street, full of restaurants and shops but it was also the site of a Spanish colony. This was built in 1629 but in 1641 the Dutch expelled them from the island and took over the fort.

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It soon went to the Chinese and became a major port, but recently it has become a big tourist destination thanks to all the amazing food and waterfront views. On a clear day you can see an old volcano on the opposite side of the river too!

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I made it to the town and instantly fell in love with the seaside vines, architecture and especially this little side alley and staircase with amazing realistic artwork painted all over the walls and floor. It was a really pretty little area and even with the rain coming down I loved taking pics of it all.

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I walked along the waterfront and up to the old Spanish fort of Santo Domingo. This is just an okay tourist location. Some interesting history of the area but I wasn’t blown away by it.

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I followed the path up past the Oxford College and back down to the main street. I was starving and it was lunch time, so I did what any normal person would do, bought a whole cheesy egg cake and munched down! It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried wobbling about in its box.

I didn’t quite finish it all in the end, popping it in my bag for later, it was time to jump back on the metro to Jiantan. I had read you could do a little hike in some hills here in the middle of the City which really appealed to me. So I found the little path near the station and up I went.

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t was a nice walk through the trees and if it weren’t for the clouds it would’ve been an amazing view from up there. Luckily the walk coincided with another sight…The Grand Hotel. It’s one of tallest Chinese classical buildings in the world at 285 feet high. It’s pretty impressive, and several notable people such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Mandela, and Yoshida.

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My aim from here was to get to Elephant mountain on the East side of the City. Using google maps I organised a route to take that would go past a couple of points of interest, first up was the 823 artillery park memorial, dedicated to the conflict between Taiwan and China in 1958. There were a couple of military planes and guns and a memorial statue, and some weird bird that I got a little video of.

I saw there was some kind of arch of Yuanshan scenic area but that would have taken me back up into the hills I believe. SO it was onwards to the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ shrine. The building houses 390,000 spirit tablets of people killed in the various wars that the Taiwanese have been involved in. I was lucky enough to arrive there during the changing of the guard which was a great experience. I also loved the architecture with another wide avenue and interesting buildings surrounding it.

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Eventually I made it to Dazhi station and took the underground over to Xiangshan station. I was really looking forward to this as I wandered past a little ecological park for tree frogs, unfortunately I couldn’t see any. At the end of Xiangshan park is the trail up Elephant mountain. I wasn’t too concerned about the hike up and bought a pPcari sweat to keep me going. However it’s actually pretty difficult going up all the steps in the heat and you climb it quite quickly. I had to take a rest about halfway up before getting some amazing views….The reason you climb the mountain is to get a great picture or image of the Taipei 101 tower. At one point there are two rocks which you can climb up to get a really great shot.

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I really enjoyed this and finished walking to the top, amazed at the nature you can find in the middle of this massive place. After seeing the tower from afar it was now time to climb it! I walked over rather than took the underground and planned to go up for sunset. The problem was the enormous cloud coverage. So instead I opted for a night time view.

Whilst waiting I went to  food court at the basement of the tower and feasted on kimchi ramen, once done I was ready to go! It costs around £15 to go to the top, which is quite a lot but compared to a lot of places around the world it’s not too bad. I queued up before taking the lift up to the top, and the views were unreal. I love being so high in a City and being able to see everything for miles. I was glad I went after sunset too as I saw the City come alive with all the lights.

After a while walking around and learning a bit more about the construction of the tower, it was the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai. In 2011 it won an award for being the tallest green structure in the world, and it has amazing features to withstand earthquakes and tropical storms.

It’s design is based around the traditional Asian pagodas, along with a stalk of bamboo and Chinese money boxes stacked on top of one another. It’s truly an architectural marvel.

 

After such a big day of exploring I was ready for a beer, so after a quick change back in the hotel I walked over to the gay area behind the red house near Ximen station. I was surprised at how many bars and people were there. I enjoyed a few beers in one of the main bars in the square, then headed to a club called Commander D. It was fun but as one of the only Westerners there it was hard to get away from a lot of unwanted attention.

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I was soon back in my little underground bunker bed, hoping for a really fun day out tomorrow.

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Gili T and the Turtle

Today we decided to relax on the beach on the North West of the island and do a lot of snorkeling, so we met up with Liv and Jord and took the same track from yesterday up to the beach.

It was hot and beautiful as we walked along, showing the others the swings and pointing out a few of the more interesting parts of the route. We made it to the beach and, donning our masks we started off through the shallow rocky water to get to the good stuff. We did see a few starfish on the way, but as soon as we dove into that clear water a whole world was revealed.

We saw all sorts of colourful fish, definitely more than the day before and as we got further out huge schools of fish greeted us and we followed them around, spotting some pretty big fish in the depths.

I even saw a barracuda hovering near the surface only a few feet away. Thankfully we didn’t see anymore sea snakes, and it was nice alternating between snorkelling and sunbathing. I would say that you could do with getting some aqua shoes as the shallow part of the sea was pretty rocky and spiky.

After sunbathing and relaxing with a beer or two Jord and I headed back out to snorkel. We went pretty far out and saw some big fish and even tried to find some reef sharks to no avail. After about an hour or so we were about to give up our turtle hunt when I noticed something in the distance. Wildly gesturing to Jord we Sam like mad men in that direction and as we got closer our excitement grew. It was definitely a turtle!

It was so majestic as we swam alongside it, we took a few photos and the turtle seemed so relaxed. We followed it for quite a long time before realising the sun wax going down and we were a good 20 minute swim/walk from the others. So we said our goodbyes to the turtle and headed for shore, making it back just in time to watch the sun set behind Mount Agung. It’s definitely in my top 3 sunsets I’ve ever seen, the sky was such a deep red as we sat there listening to nice chill out music and sipping a cold beer.

After all the excitement and swimming we were pretty tired so headed back to the hotel and ate at the restaurant before turning in, wondering what tomorrow would bring.

Exploring Alfama, Lisbon in a day. 

After last night’s exploits there were some sore heads this morning so we didn’t really have much planned. The best thing about being abroad is that you don’t want to feel like you’ve missed out on anything….so using the lonely planet Lisbon guide I worked out a little walking tour we could do from the hotel. It was our last day so everyone was game as we left the apartment and emerged into beautiful sunshine.

All the small cobbled streets are so beautiful as we made our way towards Sé, Lisbon cathedral. The girls stopped for a bit of souvenir shopping when I spotted a tiny place selling different types of sangria! It looked so good we just had to try it, I got white while the others tried different red flavours, it was so good!

We walked up alongside the Cathedral and marvelled at the beautiful architecture. I spotted some cool street art too, we emerged onto a square where the impressive main entrance is situated. It’s such an amazing building and it was nice to properly see it rather than just from the tram.

From here I cheated a little as we wandered down out of Alfama and towards Comercio square. A palace used to stand here but the 1755 earthquake completely destroyed it, allowing the square to be built as part of a remodelling of the city. The square has a good bit of history, being the site of an assassination on the penultimate king of Portugal. We entered through the Arco da Rua Augusta, a stunning triumphal arch built in 1873.

The square opens out onto the river and in the sunshine it was gorgeous, with restaurants and bars encircling it. There is a statue of King Jose I in the centre of the square, notable because he developed severe claustrophobia the earthquake and never comfortably lived within 4 walls. In fact he moved his royal court into tents in the nearby hills.

We also found the self proclaimed sexiest toilet in the world here, which the girls used and said was very nice with coloured toilet paper but maybe not the sexiest.

It was very hot now as we walked back up the hill into Alfama district once again, stopping to grab ice cold drinks on the way. I checked Google maps and noticed another viewpoint so we headed towards the Miradouro de Santa luiza and after admiring some typical Lisbon tiles we took in the red rooftops and views out to the river that lay before us.

The blues and reds were incredible as we walked around to second viewpoint, but not before taking some fun pictures.

The next terrace was the Visigothic wall and the Portas do sol with more great views. We were getting hungry now and hasn’t had any Nata today! So we walked towards our end game, the Castelo de S.Jorge.

As we walked up we spotted a cute restaurant called Miss Can which was incredible. Sardines, olives, breads and salads it was delicious and cheap too! Plus a beer refreshment to wash it down and Hannah tried lisbon’s famous green wine.

With our hunger sorted it was time for more Nata from the same place we had got them from on our first day at the entrance to Castelo St Jorge. Once we’d had our Nata fill we queued up for the Castelo and wandered in to beautiful gardens within the castle. Perched up at the top of the hill Alfama is located around, the castle dates from the 10th century and has a heavy Moorish influence.

The views from here were great over the City and there was a wine cart called wine with a view! So Lee and I got a Portuguese red and sat looking out from the walls of the castle.

The Castelo itself is pretty big and the walls are fun to climb up and stand on the ramparts looking at a 360° Lisbon. Plus some fun towers to climb up to. It was getting towards evening and we had plans for a bbq fish dinner so we wandered back down towards the apartment to get ready.


Our dinner destination was a place called Patio 13 which we had discovered accidentally by walking past and noticing a big queue and the amazing smell of bbq. It’s located in Alfama and it was only a 5 minute walk from our place. Arriving we queued up with a beer before being given a table on the patio. The restaurant is basically a load of tables and a huge now all outside.

We ordered sangria and a selection of different bbq fish including swordfish and sardines. All the plates arrived with sides and we had bread and butter at the start. The food was out of this world and we all devoured it. We also got dessert and finally tried Ginja, a Portuguese cherry liqueur which was tasty too.

It was really good value too, I think we paid less than £15 each easily for it. Once done we had a nightcap at a bar nearby and went back to the apartment…sad to think it was our last day tomorrow.

How do you spend a Summer’s day in Andorra? Hike! 

Andorra is usually known for it’s skiing, but La Vella being the highest capital City in Europe I knew there must be some great hiking trails. I headed to the tourist centre by the river and gathered the info I required. Stopping off at a supermarket I grabbed supplies and had some very chocolatey croissants to energise me. 

I had been told to take a bus from Carrer de la Valira up towards de la plana. It was pretty easy using basic Spanish to get up there and the driver pointed me in the direction of a path up into the mountains. 

The view from here was pretty good so I couldn’t wait to get higher up. The first part of the hike was a gentle incline through  some shaded woods along a little stream. I had an idea of where to head towards but after hitting a couple of forks in the path I wasn’t quite sure where I was going apart from up. 

I got to a bridge and crossed over a mountain river I had started to follow. This was the first point of meeting some fellow hikers, a family of 5 walking up. They would be they first of only 3 groups I would see in 6 hours. I was completely surrounded by nature, and it was magnificent. I had my headphones in and my indie/folk playlist to keep me company as I continued up a path that was becoming steeper and steeper by the minute. To make matters more interesting it was also getting hotter and hotter. 

I went past an old stone church and farmhouse, the last piece of civilisation I would see for a while, and emerged out of the trees to views that were breathtaking. 

I had already climbed pretty high, following the path that wound up into the wilderness and stopped to re-hydrate with some spicy gazpacho. Another couple of hours into my journey I would be cursing the fact that I thought a 500ml bottle of gazpacho would keep me hydrated for 6 or 7 hours of hiking. Right now though I was thinking how delicious it was as I popped a few olives into my mouth and grabbed a babybel. 

I continued my walk, passing a stream pouring out of a crack in a rock, as it was getting warmer I splashed the ice cold water over my face. It was so refreshing as I began to walk through more forest, the dappled floor ahead of me dancing as the leaves moved slowly in the wind. 

The peacefulness of it all was great but by this point I had been walking for around 2 and a half hours I decided to keep hydrated by filling my empty gazpacho bottle with the fresh mountain water from the river. I wasn’t sure how much longer it was to the top, luckily Google maps was working up here! It said about 2 km longer but now it was getting steeper. I made my way (slowly) up, following the river before emerging into a beautiful mountain meadow.

The last bit of the climb followed the river up but it was now nothing more than a little stream flowing underground beneath me. It was really hard going now, I was tired and had to stop every 5 minutes or so because of the heat. I finally made it to the top, 2200 metres above sea level! 

I was hoping that the mountain but on the map would be similar to one I hiked to in Romania, with food and drinks and somewhere to sit and enjoy the view. Unfortunately it was just a camping hut with some beds, tools and signs of recent use. It would be great fun to camp out there in the Pyrenees with your mates. Exploring the area and having bbqs, another time maybe! 

I spent a little time up here catching my breath and recharging my batteries, knowing it was going to take at least 3 hours to get back down. Once ready I started the long descent down, it wasn’t actually so bad, I managed to emerge from the forest looking over the City and followed the roads down, I stopped at a shop and treated myself to an ice cream and downed a huge bottle of water. 

I followed the river back towards the hotel, going past more statues, and finally making it back after 7 hours of walking. I loved every minute of it and the best part was only seeing about 8 people in total. Great to have all of that nature to yourself, I collapsed on the bed and chilled out for a bit before going downstairs and having a couple of beers at the bar and chatting to the locals. 

At this point it was late but I was starving so I quickly googled nearby restaurants and found a cool sounding burger place called ‘and burger zero’ It was amazing, chilli cheese fries and incredible burger. Not sure if it tasted even better because of the hike though. It’s my last day of travelling tomorrow and another early bus journey down to Barcelona, Spain. 

Andorra, the highest capital city in Europe! 

Another early wake up this morning… there are no lie ins on this whirlwind tour! I had found information a little vague on transport to Andorra from Toulouse, so I went to the bus station located near the main train station early to get a 10am bus. I didn’t want to miss it so ended up being an hour early. 

In the end it was pretty easy to find, you just pay for the bus when you’re getting on and it was well signed posted. I caught up on a bit of sleep for the first part of the journey but wanted to take in the views when we started to climb up into the Pyrenees, the mountain range that separates France from Spain. They speak Catalan in Andorra and I knew a bit more than French so was looking forward to trying it out. 

Andorra itself is a small, independent principality which has, unusually, two heads of state, the Bishop of Urgell in Spain, and the French president. It is probably best known for it’s ski resorts, of which we drove through a few on the way to the capital, Andorra La Vella. 

The journey took around 3 hours and was pretty pleasant with the views, I finally arrived in the City centre and headed straight for my cheap ass hostel. On the way it was hard not to notice the giant portrait on the mountainside above the City. 

The actual City is a mish-mash of ugly tower blocks and pretty houses dotted around the mountains. The fact that it is completely surrounded by these mountains make the views amazing. 

There’s a fast flowing river running right through the centre and I followed this up towards my hotel, passing the impressively futuristic spa Caldea. 

The hotel itself was pretty dire, but for the price it was clean and the hosts very friendly, which is all you need really. 

As usual I ditched my stuff and went off to explore, following the river back down I passed a great Andorra La Vella sign and somw interesting statues. The air was so fresh and it’s such a clean place, I was starting to love it already. It was great to think I was staying in the highest capital City in Europe too. 

Since I had only had a snack for breakfast I was now starving, so being naughty I ended up in a McDonald’s after walking along the busy and modern shopping streets, Andorra is a tax haven and so duty free is meant to be good value here. 

My tour of Andorra continued towards the old part of town to see the Casa de la Vall, Andorra’s historical parliament building since 1702 and of course, Sant Esteve, another church. 

I walked up into the old town which is actually a lot prettier than the grey 70s looking buildings that the capital seems to love. 

The parlient building itself was okay but the terrace in front of it afforded me amazing views of the mountains I would be conquering the next day. 

I later found out that there’s a few more lookout type spots you can walk or drive to. One in particular with some interesting statues at the viewpoint. 

I found some hiking trails including one that spans the whole country! In all honesty there aren’t a lot of “sights” in Andorra La Vella, it’s more about getting out into the countryside. I decided after 5 days of walking I would treat myself to an evening in Caldea Spa. 

For 30E I got access to all the pools and saunas and at first I thought it was maybe a little pricey but the amount of facilities they have is incredible. It’s also nice sitting in a warm jacuzzi looking up at the mountains surrounding you. I imagine in Winter it would be even better. 

I enjoyed the Turkish baths the most, hot and steamy but with ice cold water available when it got too much. I would definitely recommend a visit especially if you’ve spent the day hiking or skiiing. There was even a musical water show towards the end of my visit. 

I spent an hour or so just wandering the streets, all lit up and people out and about playing games and doing salsa etc. It was really nice and it came across like a very peaceful place to live. 

Onwards to the next day and a full days hike!