Travel tips, food and advice for Singapore

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Returned from Singapore this morning after a painful 18 hours or so of travel, long time readers (if I even have any) may know that this is the third time I’ve been, and so not going to bother doing traditional holiday blog posts, however i’ll probably upload some pictures.

I guess i consider myself somewhat of a seasoned veteran of Singapore now, and so, for anyone interested to go, here are some tips and tricks, as well as must sees/do’s during your stay on the island.

Must do list

In no particular order, attractions you definitely have to see are..
There are of course tons of other attractions, but the ones listed below are the must do’s imo.

Gardens by the bay
The conservatories in particular are $20 SGD and air conditioned inside, I’ve been at least twice and it’s still breathtaking inside, well worth the entry price, flower dome is more traditional (and runs some limited time exhibitions) and cloud forest is just stunning.
The rest of the park is mostly free, and also stunning, the supertrees are unreal up close. Check the website as they frequently run events in the park. The marina bay sands mall food court nearby is your best bet for lunch if you want to dine on the cheap.

Light and water shows
Do them all if possible, well worth your time.
– Gardens by the bay supertree show – 7:45pm and 8:45pm , runs 15 mins, free, plenty of viewing space but come a little early to find a good spot, there is a nearby grass bit which gets filled up early but I think being in the heart of it all is more fun.
– Marina Bay Sands show (Spectra) – 8pm and 9pm, runs 15 mins, free, loads of public seating, good spots will go early but easily viewable from far. There is a walkway in front of the seating area which you can use if you get desperate but you’ll probably get sprayed by the water.
– Sentosa Wings of Time – 7:40pm and 8:40pm, runs 20 mins, 15 Sentosa Tokens. Gates open 1 hour prior, free for all seating, aim for as front and center as possible.
– Changi Jewel rain vortex – Once per hour on the XX:30, from 7 to 11, runs 5 mins, free. You’ll be at the airport at some point, so watch it while you’re there.
– Suntec City Fountain of wealth
Not a full show, but a lovely free fountain at a shopping mall, go during the day to complete ritual for good luck, and/or go at night and take the stairs to street level to stare at the water/light patterns for a while. No specific show or music, but very pretty.

Eat at the hawker centers and try all of the signature dishes
Feel free to use this as a checklist, would advise trying the relevant dishes from the stalls listed later in this post:
– Hainanese Chicken Rice – $4-7 – Simple chicken and rice, but done to perfection
– Char Kway Teow – $3-6 – Wok fried flat noodles with veg/meat
– Laksa – $3-6 – Coconut based spicy curry noodles
– Kaya Toast – $1-5 – Crispy toast with sweet coconut jam and butter
– Congee – $2-5 – Breakfast rice porridge, try eating with You Tiao
– Ice Kacang – $2-5 – Shaved ice with various toppings
– Black pepper / Chilli Crab – Self explanatory, seems rare
– Nasi Lemak – $2-5 – Coconut rice, meat, chilli and various toppings
– Satay – $0.50-$1 per stick – BBQ meat on skewer, served with peanut dip

Sentosa Island
Sentosa market themselves as the island of fun, and it’s hard to disagree. Activities are unfortunately quite expensive and 2 days on the island can easily run you $150 per person, I’d recommend looking into the Sentosa Fun Pass, we did Universal and 80 tokens which is $140.
Here are some personal island highlights
Adventure Cove – 35 tokens – Really fun few hours, plenty of slides, best lazy river i’ve been to, and includes snorkelling with fishes. Lockers are $10 you can just about cram 2 ppl’s worth of stuff in. Bring some slippers as the floor will grate your feet away quickly otherwise.
SEA Aquarium – 35 tokens – Best Aquarium I’ve been to, and i’ve seen a few.
Segway – 10-20 tokens – A fun way to use up any remaining tokens and great experience if you’ve never done it before.
Universal Studios Singapore – Great fun, though a little small, you’ll still need almost whole day for it just because of the ride queues though. Battlestar Cyclon is a really good rollercoaster.
Luge – $24-30 – Gravity based karts with multiple downhill tracks, really good fun. Use the chairlift to go back up and try a different course, they have 4.

Other Tips

All public transport can be done with the EZlink card, this includes to/from the airport ($2) , buses, all metro ($0.80-$2.30) , and the Sentosa express ($4). I’ve seen people using monzo cards to tap in/out but I think the EZlink card is safer personally. You can get it from stations.

Hotels – I recommend staying in Chinatown, the metro station has 2 of the most common lines, and it’s walking distance to both the Maxwell and Amoy hawker centers which will save you a bunch of money on breakfast/lunch. If you’re looking for a hotel I can vouch for the Bliss Hotel, but it can be quite expensive (though, that’s Singapore in general to be fair).
As an added bonus, there is a supermarket, Din Tai Fung (famous dumplings) and Daiso (Japanese actually good poundshop) in the nearby Chinatown point right by the MRT.

Money/Budget per day:
Hawkers and small businesses/cafes/food courts are often cash only.
Most restaurants and brick and mortar stores will take card, we used our monzo as often as possible and had no problems.
We exchanged $350 for 9 days and that was about right – no alcohol, but heavy food spend, and spend on souvineers.

– Hawker Centers $2 to $8 for food, you can easily get a good meal for $5 but some seafood dishes or premium dishes can be around $10. A typical noodle/rice and meat is usually $4/5/6 for S/M/Large respectively
– Drinks – $2 fruit juice in many hawker centers, $4 bubble tea at shops, special drinks max at around $7.
Alcohol seems very expensive, $10 for beer seems the common rate, even buying at a 7-Eleven isn’t much cheaper.
– Clothes – Can be cheap at bugis street market ($10-$30), relatively normal priced everywhere else

Not to sound like a little bitch but…
Vaguely plan for air-con during your sightseeing.
Singapore is hot and humid AF (lows of 28^C at night), malls are very common so be sure to make use of them every now and then to cool down – heat stroke is a very real thing, sit down and get a drink/snack every now and then to prevent yourself from literally burning out.
I would say carry water, but I hate warm water so just make sure you have some cash on you for vending machines etc. if you are out on a park or beach day.

Have some spare suitcase space for souvineers or things to bring back. It also sounds really stupid, but if you are from the UK i’d really recommend visiting a Daiso, it’s basically Japanese poundland, everything is $2 but jesus they have so much useful shit in there, it’s like a small supermarket and IKEA rolled in to one and you’ll be shocked at some of the products which just make a ton of sense but we don’t have easily available here.

Make a day of the airport
We had no idea, but the mall at Changi airport is absurd, I think you could genuinely spend a whole day at that airport – Waterfalls, nature walks, interactive exhibits (the sales rep claimed 90 mins), bars on the rooftop garden, extra exhibits/activities on the top floor, free food samples at some shops, a pokemon center, loads of dining…
We were there for maybe 2 or 3 hours and it went by so fast, not allotting more time to explore the airport is my biggest regret of the holiday.

Food Reviews

We were lucky enough to try a fair few of the Michelin bib hawker stalls during our 2019 visit, and also got to try some other popular places… Here are my recommendations.

Tian Tian Chicken Rice
$5 – Maxwell food Center
The chicken was really tender and the skin delicious, rice flavourful, add some spice and it’s easy to see why theres frequently a queue here.

A Noodle Story
$8/11/14 – Amoy Food centre
Best meal we had in Singapore maybe? Big queue as soon as it opens so get there early. Spring noodles, Wontons, pork slice, perfect boiled egg, prawn wrapped in potato, oh yeah. Order extra prawns because they are incredible. The small size is enough for most people.

Hong Kee Beef Noodle
$5? – Amoy Food centre
Bit like a pho? Amazing beef broth with beef slices and noodles. Really friendly staff. one of the few places in this hawker centre open on a sunday so I recommend fitting them in for your sunday lunch.

J2 Famous curry puff
$1.50 per – Amoy food centre
Flakey pastries filled with curry potato or a black pepper saucy chicken, holy shit so good. Must try for sure.

Din Tai Fung
$30-50 per person – Chain store
Famous dumplings, you have to try the Xiao Long Bao at least once in your life. We ordered a few carbs but they were pretty mediocre tbh, so if on a budget i’d actually advise just sticking to the dim sum stuff and then maybe having second meal after if you’re still hungry.

Monster Curry
$12~20 pp – Chain store
Didn’t expect this one to be so good tbh, gigantic plate of curry rice, big cutlet, good taste, good spice, good price point. Spice level of 2 was about right for me, I wouldnt dare go past 3 unless you’re a real spice lord.

Best Satay 7+8
$0.70 per stick – Lau Pa Sat / Satay street
There are like 8 different satay places next to each other, all harassing for your business – except 7+8, who already have all the business. Tasty, plenty of sauce, good char, if you order the prawns they are already deshelled which is nice.

328 Katong Laksa
$5 – East Singapore
Few different locations to try this one, you can find them all online.
The laksa here is really creamy and almost thick, they cut the noodles so you can just eat it with a spoon. I’m not sure if its worth the travel on its own as it was pretty far out, but if you’re in the area its definitely worth a visit.

Ramen Champion
$10-25 – Bugis+ shopping mall
We really enjoyed this place, we went in expecting a restaurant but its actually a small japanese themed food court almost, with a few different mini restaurants inside. The ramen at place right at the back was awesome, and the snow ice from the drinks/desserts counter was one of the best we’ve ever had.

Barcelona 2019 – Day 2 – Gothic Quarter, walkabout, Castle, Magic Fountain

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Day 2 turned out to be absolutely mental, especially compared to the rest of our group. Once again we were among the first to awake, even though we woke up around 9am, nobody else was really stirring. Cath declined to go out with us for morning exploration so off we went to find breakfast. The first place we had on list turned out to be closed or out of business so we ended up at a place nearby called Cremat 11 for some amazing breakfast, I had a fluffy batch of pancakes with crispy bacon on the side, served with caramelized banana and berries, so lush.

Pancakes with caramelised banana, berries and crispy bacon @ Cremat 11

We’d walk over to Ciutadella Park and barcelona’s version of the Arc de Triomf to meet the others, and had a nice walkaround in the sun with everyone. The fountain in the park was particularly impressive, especially with the pure blue skies as a backdrop.
The Gothic quarter was right next door and so seemed like an obvious next destination, a few of the group wanted to go to the Chocolate museum so we went inside there to have a look around. My expectations for the chocolate museum were super low, so i guess I was impressed by it all? there were lots of chocolate models and scenes, including drogon from GoT and some scenes from the smurfs, asterix, etc, it was almost like one of the comic book museums we went to in Brussels. We had a little snack/smoothie afterwards and saw the outside of the cathedral (couldn’t go in because of my slutty shoulders on show).

At this point (1:30pm ish) the others wanted to go back to the apartment and then go to the beach (again), this being our last full day we decided to split off and do some more sightseeing, each trip to and from the apartment was half an hour we didn’t feel like losing.
And so off we continued, on our own, we’d hit up the ‘Palau de la Música Catalana’, ‘Plaça de Catalunya’ and do some window shopping in some of the nearby shops to cool off (we came across some crazy hippie shop, pics below)

A few stops on the metro and a ride on Barcelona’s funicular later, we were riding up the cable car to Montjuic castle. The castle gardens and structure were interesting, with flower arrangements and old cannons still in place, but the views were really what you were paying for with that castle entrance fee – that and the breeze, being on top of the mountain the wind was super strong and actually just what you want after a hot day, we’d walk about and take in the views for an hour and a half or so before getting a cable car all to ourselves for the return journey back to the city.

Given that we arrived late on day 0 compared to everyone else (they already went to the beach on Day 0) we felt like we hadn’t seen much of it yet, so we took a bus down to check out the beachfront shops and walked out down the pier to chill on the marina, before eventually heading to the beach to meet up with the others, hoping to get dinner or similar.
We found them (or rather, Cath found us) still sunning away and playing in the water at 8pm or so, their plans were to go back to the apartment again to shower and freshen up before dinner, considering there are 7 of them – travelling for half an hour and then waiting for 7 people to get ready when there are only 2 showers? – Didn’t really feel like waiting around for 2 hours and so even though we just reunited, we split off again to continue our adventure.

Final location for the day and one of the highlights of our trip, the magic fountain situated around plaza espanya and near the museum. The fountain runs shows from 9:30 to 10:30 – we were surprised to see massive crowds already forming at 8:40 when we arrived, how big was this show going to be exactly?
Given that we hadn’t properly eaten since 10am or so, we were pretty hungry now and so went off to find dinner in the nearby converted bullring – now a shopping center, the inside was surprisingly modern and really nice looking, i wish we had more time to look around, but in a rush we just ended up grabbing some tapas in a restaurant on basement level (which was very average to be honest).
By the time dinner was finished and we got out, it was 9:50 or so and the sun had finally set, the main road towards the magic fountain had exploded into life, with lit fountains on both sides of the street, security staff and loads of people, with the big fountain at the back lit up in rotating colours in front of the museum. It was really impressive and felt surprisingly intimate and romantic despite how busy it was. We’d stick around for a while to watch before heading home, grabbing some churros and packing for our departure early next morning. Fully exhausted.

Barcelona 2019 – Day 0 + 1 – Sagrada, Monumental, Park Guell, Beach

Day 0 – Arrival

My latest travel would take me to Barcelona for 2 and a bit days, departing from gatwick on the Thursday and leaving on the sunday morning.
Our outbound flight was delayed unfortunately – I have no kind words for Vueling airlines and would honestly advise others to avoid at all costs.

Despite leaving the house around 10am, we would only arrive at our Airbnb in Barcelona at around 6pm local time, this trip has been dubbed ‘Book Club on Tour’, there are approx 9 of us in this bookclub and we meet up maybe once a month or so to mostly eat and drink, on occasion we discuss a book though this is usually something we can actually read on the day – so it’s a very serious book club as you can tell.
The first night everyone was so tired from travelling that we decided to order in – which turned out to be a disaster on multiple levels as the deliveroo guy was given the wrong phone number, and then when it eventually did turn up, it was painfully overpriced and plain awful, a selection of tapas which – I think it could probably make better myself to be honest.
We got the short straw when it came to the airbnb as well, having arrived last we effectively got the bitch room, a small windowless room with no air-conditioning and some awful single beds, sleeping over the next 3 nights would be rough, and unsurprisingly, we would turn down multiple group plans of “lets go back to the apartment and rest in our rooms”.

Day 1 – Sagrada, Monumental, Park Guell and Beach

Cordelia and I were among the first to wake up on the Friday, Cath was also awake. Eager to get out and actually see some of Barcelona aside from the apartment, we set out to find some breakfast and do some early sightseeing, the other 6 could catch up later. Tripadvisor directed us to a nice little brunch spot not too far from our apartment, called Billy Brunch, small and cosy with friendly staff, we had some amazing eggs benedict, I thought i’d order some sausages as well to get some protein in and they gave us 5 for 2.5eur which was a nice surprise.

We’d hit up the famed Sagrada Familia cathedral next as it was nearby, still not set to be completed until 2032, the Sagrada is truly a baffling architectural piece – being under construction so long that it already has an old and new side despite the whole thing itself not being finished, you can really see the differences in construction and weathering, to the point where I wonder if it’ll have 3 distinct sides/ages by the time it’s done.
I think the most exciting bit of construction finally finishing is that people will be able to photograph it without the ugly cranes

The other 6 members of book club I believe were still in the apartment at this point I believe, so rather than going back we headed to the next nearby flag on our google maps which was ‘Monumental’
I wasn’t actually sure what Monumental even was when we approached, its name isn’t particularly descriptive and from the decor outside I actually thought it was a synagogue – upon further inspection though it was an old bull ring – still holds some shows apparently, but for the most part it is now a bullfighting museum and landmark. Tickets were fairly cheap and I’m really glad Cath initiated us actually going inside because it was pretty interesting and relatively empty inside, Cath gave us a little history on bullfights (unexpected bullfighting expert?) and we walked about and took some nice pictures, the sky was so very blue in contrast with the arena, i think it made for some nice shots.

We had tickets booked for Park Guell in the afternoon, so we headed there next, I had been before and as far as my memory serves nothing much had changed, unfortunately there was a fair bit of renovation work being done to patch up mosaics, but it was still nice.

We headed back to the abnb to freshen up a little before heading out to the beach for the remainder of the afternoon and stayed until early evening, had a nice walk around the beach and watched George dig his big hole.
Eventually we headed off down the beachfront to find some Paella – and find it we did! Tasty stuff! We had some churros afterwards at a place a few doors down from our apartment – open 24hours (thank god I don’t live nearby or I would be obese)

Budapest 2019

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So, initially I actually wanted to try and use my phone to do a vlog or video overview of my holiday, but I don’t think I really took enough footage to do this, coupled with the fact I don’t actually have any gopros etc, didn’t shoot any of my meals, and apparently I don’t even have Sony Vegas on my computer.

So instead, have a quick summary, some pictures, and some travel tips

 

Oh, I want to add that this is the first holiday in literal years where i’ve not taken my Canon DSLR with me, all these pics were just shot on my new phone, is it super obvious? I didn’t touch them in post either, I know the phone does some weird filters and stuff also so some shots aren’t artistically mine!

 

Day 1 – Arrival, Airbnb, went for dinner and then went to sleep because I felt a bit ill

Day 2 – Walked around the park, saw Vajdahunyad Castle, did a loop around the outside of the spa, saw Heroes Square, home for a nap, Went out to catch the sunset over the danube, walked along the danube for a bit just taking in the sights, saw the Budapest eye, went to Caviar & Bull (£90 per person, most expensive meal of my life, #3 on tripadvisor)

Day 3 – Went over to the castle district, Fishermans Bastion (very cool), walked around trying to find some gardens before it started raining, went to Central Market to have a look around, was going to eat there but way too busy, went to a local hungarian place for Goulash, Went out to a huge ruin bar, there was a small food cart street nearby where we tried Langos (traditional hungarian snack) and some chimney cake

Day 4 – 6am Wakeup to go to the famous Budapest Spa (no pictures), went over to St Stephens Basilica, food at Meatology (#6 on tripadvisor) where I had an amazing pork belly burger, long walk across to the other side of budapest to see the church in a cave, dinner at a Thai place

Day 5 – Lazy morning, tasty BBQ beef sandwich at Smokey Monkeys BBQ (#11 on tripadvisor), went to the highly disappointing 3d museum (0/10 would not recommend) and then went over to see the parliament building before starting to make our way back home.

 

 

Travel tips:

  • Széchenyi Spa ‘Cabins’ are actually just a changing room that you can use to lock your stuff in, the lock seems pretty robust and so you’re probably safe, they say you need to have slippers but nobody called us out on it
  • Cash is king for smaller businesses, but larger restaurants and chain stores do all take card – the rate on ,my revolut card was actually much better than the exchange rate when we tried swapping cash.
  • Budapest is very walkable, but I do suggest grabbing some travel tickets, we used 10 in 5 days (each), the shuttle bus tickets are separate
  • Budapest is pretty affordable as long as you don’t go fine dining, most nice meals with a drink will cost less than £10 per person, if you want to go really budget you can easily do £5 per person per meal. We saw beer as cheap as £2 for a litre.
  • Whilst you can technically get lunch at Central Market, I’d recommend making a plan B as it was mental while we were there

Brussels 2018 – Day 2 + 3 – Atomium, Little Europe, Christmas Markets, Comics!

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Day 2

 

Day 2 would have us head away from the city in search of the gigantic Atomium – the Atomium is probably the only actual attraction which I had seen before and was aware of that was in Brussels, however after taking the tram over, I was still unprepared for the sheer size of this thing. Pictures make it look big but honestly when you are travelling towards it, you can really see it tower in the distance, especially as that portion of Belgium lacks many tall buildings, making it look even more surreal.
We opted not to go inside, even though you can, there are some exhibits and such inside but the entry fee seemed a little steep for what we believed to be inside, similarly I’m not convinced that Belgium has a city skyline to die for and so the observation tower at the top probably wouldn’t have been worth it either (I suppose everywhere is small beans now anyway since visiting the Burj in Dubai).

We did however take a trip next door to Little Europe, basically a small representation of all of the major landmarks in Europe – however after journeying through the choice of what was and wasn’t present seemed a bit odd, for example, for the UK they had a P&O Ferry labelled ‘Pride of Dover’, yet didn’t fancy putting in Stonehenge, London Eye, Tower of London, or even Buckingham palace? I feel like I’ve seen a lot of Europe and yet still didn’t recognise half of the buildings on show. Still, it was an easy way to kill an hour or two and gave us some food for thought on future holidays.

We’d catch the metro back into the city and end up walking around for a bit looking for lunch, eventually ending up in a coffee shop for a bagel and drink.
Our next stop was the Comic Book Museum – Belgium is (apparently) famous for it’s comics, and has a large culture around them, with muiltiple museums and street murals dedicated to comics. The comic book museum was interesting but also a little alien to us as majority of the strips were in french – we did discover a love for Boerke however – a belgian comic which doesn’t have text and so perfect for foreigners like us. Here’s an example of the kind of tone majority of the strips are – https://meng.s-ul.eu/PiIjMOWN

We’d spend the remainder of the day walking around and just taking in the sights, by chance following a string of small christmas markets and signposts, we came across the main christmas market – we were actually kind of disappoiinted in how small the christmas market seemed to be – having only seen the one at Beurs around the museum, but it turns out that was just a small one, this second Christmas market went on for ages.

Eventual dinner at Mozart, which specialises in bottomless ribs, highly recommended, for 18eur you get eat as much as you like ribs coated in a sweet bbq sauce and accompanied by veg and jacket potato

 

~~~

Day 3

 

We didn’t really know what to do on our final day in Brussels, we had already done all of the A-list attractions, and majority of the B-List attractions we were interested in.
We had to check out by 11am which was a bit of a pain as our train was at 7pm – for anyone else who runs into a similar situation, you can store luggage at Brussels Gare du Nord for 5eur all day.

Cordelia decided to take us to the MOOF Museum, or Museum of Original Figures – basically models and figures from comic books and some stuff from graphical novels and manga, it was short but interesting, I didn’t think it was worth the money personally however.

Belgian meatballs are apparently a thing? Or one restaurant wants to make it a thing at least, we had one for lunch – literally just one huge one in a small pan of sauce and accompanied by chips, it was pretty good to be fair, the sauce made from a cherry beer (though there were other options).

I’ll be honest not much else really happened for the rest of the day, we went to Poechenkelder on recommendation of a friend, which was a small quirky bar near the Mannekin Pis – who had a wardrobe change over night it seems. Cordelia got to try Kwak Beer which was recommended to her, and it came in a really weird glass which was almost like a round bottom flask – it needed its own wooden apparatus to prevent it from falling over. We had waffles, we saw the pissing dog, and walked around the Christmas market some more before eventually heading back to the station to go home.

Brussels 2018 – Day 0 + 1 – 3 laps round the city centre

Day 0

We arrived later than expected on the monday, by the time we actually arrived in Brussels and caught the tram to our Airbnb, it was going into 7:30-8:00 in the evening, initially we were planning to drop our bags and then head back into the city for food and exploration but we were way too tired for that. Instead we ended up just chilling in the airbnb, and grabbing food from a local grill shop – to Cordelia’s surprise, she ordered a kebab sandwich thing and then shovelled a portion of chips into the roll as well, I grabbed a kebab meat platter thing with salad and chips, pretty unhealthy but tasted damn good.
The airbnb itself was well sized, though we think the host is leeching wifi from somewhere else, as the signal was atrocious, I was hardly able to connect and Cordelia couldn’t get wifi at all.

~~~

Day 1

An early start for us, considering we went to bed at like 9pm with not much to do, we popped out to the local supermarket to stock up on drinks and get breakfast for the next few days, before heading out to the central Brussels.

The city was fully christmas’d up, with plenty of decorations and lights around the street and shopfronts, as expected all around central brussels were waffle shops, loaded waffles lining the window frame and topped with fruit, chocolate and cream. Chocolate shops were in equal abundance, we went into a few just to grab some samples – can confirm, pretty damn good chocolate.

We spent the majority of the first day doing all of the A-list Brussels attractions, hitting up Grand Place and taking in the views of the buildings lined with gold, the town hall, Notre Dame du Sablon and St Michael’s cathedral were all also equally grand and impressive though obviously only so much I can say about them.
We accidentally stumbled upon the mannekin Pis, which is (rather worryingly) Brussels main attraction? A statue of a small boy taking a piss, he was naked during our visit – for those unaware, Brussels has an unhealthy obsession with statues that piss – along with the Mannekin Pis, they have Jeanekke pis (a girl doing a squat piss) and one of a dog taking a piss on a pole as well.

We also spent a good hour or so in the Delirium Cafe, previously held a guiness record for most beer on offer in a bar, it has since lost it but still serves some 200 different drinks, including 3 types of ‘Delirium’ beer, all of which sit around the 8.5% to 9.5% range.  The Bar we went to was only one of many, they are all kind of down an alley together, and I think all the bars have the same owner so it’s literally just a dead end alley filled with bars on both sides. The decor was pretty interesting, with ceiling filled by beer trays, even all of the lighting was provided by beer lamps.

Dinner at a small place called Baogo, which served burgers but on chinese bao buns, I had a pulled pork one with coleslaw and it was pretty damn good.
On the way back towards the station and christmas market we stumbled into a light show happening in Grand Place – music playing and the entire square lit up in a variety of colours, the size of the crowd was insanity. We’d wander around one of the Christmas markets (Beurs) for a bit before heading home, exhausted from a full day of walking around the city.

 

Taiwan 2018 – Day 8+9 – Shopping, Shilin Market, Miniatures Museum and departure

posted in: Dubai/Taiwan 2018, holiday | 0

Day 8 – The designated shopping day

We had finished mostly everything on our extensive list, and so decided to dedicate the day to shopping and other smaller things we hadn’t had a chance to do yet. After a long lay-in, Ultimate Noodle (Ximen Branch) was our first major stop, we arrived just after it opened and after sitting and filling in our ballot card of ramen choices (neat little decisions like: how rich do you want the broth, how hard/soft do you like your noodles, how spicy, etc) had a lovely bowl of garlic, black sesame and squid ink ramen – the Jet Black ‘Kuroo’ bowl, it was really good, best ramen I’ve had in ages.

We didn’t even manage to get down one street before Cordelia bought a bag from a nearby shop, a Taiwanese brand ‘uma hana’ had been catching her eye all week and I guess ‘shopping day’ was all the go ahead she needed to get the purse out. I took the opportunity to drag her to a nearby arcade I saw previously though (Hyper gamer in Ximen) where I pumped a few credits into Drummania, da best game and sadly one we still don’t have access to in the UK.

We would poke through a few underground malls and such before eventually deciding to turn our efforts to the ‘Wufenpu shopping district’, known for it’s wholesale outlet shops, in my head I thought this was going to be like a wide strip of some brand outlet shops, this was not the case.
After exiting the MRT and walking around in the rain for a bit, we found the shopping district, which promptly lead into a deep web of narrow roads and alleys filled with clothes shops, some of it was covered whilst other parts had been patched with makeshift tarps overhead to make it so shoppers could go through without being affected by the rain, which was perfect for us. I lost count of how many stores we looked through, we both got headaches from flipping our heads around so much checking out all the styles. Prices ranged from dirt cheap 100 TWD (£2.5) to more normal high street prices, but we found plenty of good deals around the £5-8 per item mark which seemed to be the sweet spot between cost and quality.

After shopping, back to the apartment to nurse my headache, I think I may have had a nap in a familymart and on the train back as well, so probably a fair chance I was pretty tired as well.

In the late evening, we set out north towards Shilin, for what I believe to be the biggest night market in Taiwan – and if it isn’t, i’d hate to see one larger.
The market sprawled for entire blocks, with different intensities and niches, there was a clear food street but we also found ourselves venturing down an indoor area filled with carnival/festival games aimed at kids and adults alike, with games where you fish live prawns, and plenty of some sort of mahjong game which we didn’t understand, a bunch of airsoft places too, I was really tempted to try the bow and arrow one but decided against it.
The market was really fun, though busy and hot as usual, though that said, much more spacious than the Raohe market from the other night, Shilin market was much more relaxed by comparison. We did end up seeing some sort of japanese TV show being filmed, with a few female jap presenters, no idea who they were though.

On the food street, I found a black pepper bun stall, they were inbetween batches and so we had to wait and queue for what felt like 10-15 minutes, the bun is made by folding marinated pork into dough with a bunch of spring onions, and then they stick it to the side of a clay oven filled with burning charcoal, and then scrape them out when the buns are done. I was so hungry, I ended up buying 3 as I was scared they would sell out and I wouldn’t be able to buy another without queuing again (the queue was very long due to the slow cooking process). Totally worth the wait, crispy flaky shell, soft bread on the inside coupled with juicy meat and a surprising amount of juice.
We’d also end up pigging on torched beef cubes, sweet potato puff balls, mango smoothie, a mango jelly thing, and then on our way walking back we got enticed in by the liquid nitrogen shop – these guys were having great fun just spraying the liquid nitrogen vapour into the crowd, creating a lovely cool whiteout (which sounds rude and obnoxious on paper, but in 33^C heat? very welcome.), we bought some biscoff cookie ice cream and some of the nitrogen puff snacks, which were kind of like corn puffs (think hard wotsits) which were swimming in a small pool of liquid nitrogen, you shake off the excess and then bite into it and all the white vapour pours out of your mouth/nose, nice and cooling too (though I think Cordelia got a cold burn by not shaking it).

I think we grabbed some bubble tea and another mango shaved ice on the way back, to mark our last night in Taiwan, there was a weird japanese amateur idol group dance/rave going on in Ximen which was also pretty entertaining.

 

~~~

Day 9 –

We had to check out of the airbnb so unfortunately rushed out to Taipei Main in the morning to try and find a luggage locker, thankfully there are plenty there, and the lockers were pretty cheap too (about £5 for 9 hours storage for 2 large suitcases).

Lunch was a bit of a disappointment, a sushi place in one of the metro malls. From there it was on to the Miniatures museum of Taipei, an underground private museum filled with miniature houses and scenes, ranging from 1:12 scale to much smaller. Some of the exhibits were really impressive in scale and detail, I completely forgot to take my camera (locked it in the locker by accident without thinking) so only phone camera, which made things less fun. Still, hopefully you can appreciate some of the stuff from even the phone pictures.

I can’t really remember if we did anything afterwards, but the next thing I remember is going to the Guanghua electronics district – I was hoping to find a hard drive or maybe a new 140mm fan for the PC, but the amount of shops was a bit overwhelming. Many of the shops also didnt have clear pricing and I was too scared to try and ask. We did get to see tons of ridiculous gaming PC’s and monitors though, decked out in their RGB and water kits. We ventured into one of the older buildings which was filled with specialist shops, as a few examples, one shop had thousands of connectors and jacks, another specialized in walkie talkies, one had a huge microscope (i presume they did mobo or phone stuff?), data recovery experts, etc, it was kind of neat to see, though they didn’t seem to be doing too well in terms of business.

The last major stop was at the Shin Kong Mistukoshi department store near taipei main, where we had a little go through of the basement food levels for snacks and souvineers for the journey home (Cordelia bought loads of mango pocky) and we also had dinner in the basement food court (Ramen followed by a traditional almond tofu dessert for me).

The trip home was a painful one, taking almost 24 hours, an 8 hour flight to dubai, followed by 6 hour layover (delay) and then another 8 hours back to the London, a bus ride, etc. Absolutely exhausting and I didn’t get much sleep through it. Still, it could have been much worse, none of the plane journeys had children behind me etc so I guess there’s that.
That pretty much wraps up this holiday, thanks for reading! Now if you’ll excuse me, i’m going to sleep as i’ve got work in the morning :(

Taiwan 2018 – Day 7 – Red line to Tamsui, with Guandu Temple

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Day 7 – The long trip to Tamsui

Once again, we struggled to find breakfast this morning, this seems to be a surprisingly common occurence, not so much because of lack of places which offer breakfast, but our inability to understand the menu on these kind of establishments, which are primarily aimed at locals and run by locals who care not for the tourists who come to butcher their language and communicate by pointing. Somewhat depressingly we just had a quick snack stop at Familymart before moving on to the 228 Peace Memorial park around central Taipei.

The park was quite grand in scale and featured a strange modern art style obelisk thing at it’s centre, along with some more traditional pagodas and such, the memorial structure was quite impressively crafted and unfortunately impossible to capture in pictures. We didn’t actually know the background of the 2/28 event which this park stands for, but it was apparently an anti-government uprising in 2/28 1947, in which the government responded by slaughtering tens of thousands of civilians, which is obviously very tragic and depressing in contrast with the park’s artistic feel.

Todays main event was the trip to Tamsui, at the very end of the red metro line some 20 stops away, a town by the coast which is now a popular tourist destination and home to a fishermans wharf along with an old street which sells plenty of street food, but along the way, we decided to stop at Guandu.
Guandu temple was an agonizing 15 minute walk or so from the station, through residential old roads with little shade, the weather was peaking at around 34 degrees or so today and as usual it was humid as F.

Guandu Temple is almost like a small town of temples of various sizes, it’s very possible that temples from across Taiwan apply to join and then move over if they pass the entrance exam. Despite that, I was really struggling to enjoy the temple when we first arrived as it was just too hot, all I could think about was tearing my skin off – we found some fans in the toilet and I ended up squatting by it for a good few minutes, only leaving because a family came in.
Thankfully one of the temples lay at the end of a long underground tunnel which was working nicely as a wind tunnel, similarly a bunch of the other temples were higher up, and apparently Guandu is pretty high already – the extra elevation made it nice and breezy and let me finally cool off a little. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for the temples, as we genuinely went into and saw about 7 or so, and temples are temples (though they were certainly intricately carved). A neat thing Guandu temple does is has a bunch of stamp pads for if you want to stamp your passport (I never even thought about stamping my passport with anything other than official stuff), unfortunately I didn’t have that with me, but I still had fun stamping my hand each time like some sort of serial night club reject. After finishing up, we were about to walk home when a taxi passed, which I promptly hailed down – $70 or £1.75 to not have to do that long walk in the sun was money well spent.

After some more stops on the train we arrived in Tamsui, the terminal stop, we set off down a random road to try and find some lunch, didn’t have much luck initially but eventually stumbled upon a chinese restaurant which served sim sum along with rice and bubble tea in gigantic 1L glasses. After lunch we walked the riverfront and took in the sights and sounds, shopped about in some of the quirky shops there before eventually deciding to keep walking north until we hit the fishermans wharf and lovers bridge – this was a mistake, as the walk turned out to be about an hour long and probably 3+ miles away. By the time we arrived, I was doing the open leg walk that men do to prevent balls sticking, the lovers bridge and fishermans wharf were certainly nice, as was the view, but if you are ever in the area, just take the bus or hire a bike at minimum. We caught another cab back to the station before finishing off Tamsui after the sun went down, with the old street and riverfront again for some street food – some cuttlefish and octopus along with some more bubble tea. To our surprise a lot of places were closing by about 8pm so we caught the train afterwards and finished up our street dinner at Ximen with a Gua bao and yakult slushie, while Cordelia sampled the Ay-chung rice noodles which I had yesterday.

Taiwan 2018 – Day 6 – Maokong, One Piece Cafe and Raohe market

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Day 6 – The 4km Cable car ride

A bizarre dream about starting a fire in my house and then being sucked into the past, followed by an angry girlfriend complaining that I ruined her sleep by rolling over and stealing the covers all night. I left her home to sleep a little more while I went out to try and shop about a bit and find some breakfast, it seems weds morning is a bit of a down day for Taiwan, with many of the usual shops opening very late or not opening at all, I wasn’t really able to do any clothes shopping like I wanted. I did manage to catch the famous ‘Ay-Chung rice noodles‘ shortly after its opening, every night we’ve passed by this place there has been a huge queue down the road, many online blogs and food lists have this place down so I thought I had to take the opportunity and ordered a large bowl, its a bowl of slippery rice noodles in a thick sauce and served with some intestines and served with a spoon (which makes eating it incredibly difficult), it was really flavourful however a bit hardcore to eat steaming hot noodles while walking around on the 30 degree streets of Ximen, which detracted from the enjoyment somewhat, I brought it back to finish off in the aircon of the apartment.

Main destination of the day was the Maokong district, high up in the mountains and filled with teahouses, we rode the metro to Taipei Zoo station and then got the Maokong Gondola up (pay by Easycard 100 TWD), we were lucky enough to get a car to ourselves and got to take plenty of pictures as the Cable car rode up and down the mountains of Taipei, the car travelled some 4000m and went up to a maximum height around 280m, enough to see the city and even Taipei 101 peaking over one of the other mountains.

Once actually in the maokong area we took the tour bus over to one of the temples for a vista, before riding it back to the cable car station and then hiking around the mountain to see the tea houses and tea centre. There really were plenty of places to drink tea, all with fantastic views of the city, the prices of course were a little higher than usual due to most of the visitors being tourists and I suppose the added difficulty of bringing anything up there. We had tea ice cream in one of the teahouses, as well as a cold milk tea made from some tea blend I can’t recall. There were a few temples up there as well, and the aforementioned tea promotion centre where we got to see some info on how tea is made, and sample some as well, There was a koi pond inside as well which we took some time to feed.
I’m unsure if I was just hungry, but theres an old woman selling Taiwan sausages near the gondola station, and they were SO good, barbequeued and coated in a slightly sweet sticky sauce and fatty and just the right amount of crisp and chewiness, 10/10 recommended.

By the time we got back to the city after taking the gondola car down and hiking about the mountain, we watched a nearby dancing fountain show and then headed off to find dinner. We ended up in the Taiwan one piece restaurant, which I’m personally not a fan of, but I do enjoy seeing the effort to theme it, to my surprise the cafe was completely empty and we had the whole place to ourselves, which made taking pictures significantly less embarrassing (I mean, probably judgement by the staff but surely they are used to it). I’ll let the pictures do the talking, but it was all pretty neat and one piece themed, I just wish I recognised more of it.

Last stop was Raohe market, surprisingly our first night market this holiday in Taiwan – a manic street filled with food and honestly not that much else, whilst there were a few shops for socks, bags and clothes, the majority of Raohe market was street food. We really made a big mistake of eating first as there was such a massive variety of stuff on offer, but I didn’t have the appetite for any of it, in particular I really wanted to try the black pepper bun but there was only one stall and it literally had a shop sized area just for queueing for it. The random wafts of stinky tofu was rampant here too, and there was really nowhere to run due to how busy it was, I wish I could read Mandarin as there were loads of foods on offer which I wasn’t familiar with.

Taiwan 2018 – Day 5 – Shifen and Jiufen

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Day 5 – A trip into the mountains

Found out that my last post didn’t upload properly, looks like the post is gone and the website has killed itself as well, hope that sorts itself out as I can’t really do much from here as our Airbnb is on some third world internet connection.

After yesterday’s relatively uneventful day, we were going for a large excursion out today, a trip to the Pingxi district far east of Taipei in the mountain region. Navigation was a nightmare, as it seems to be way underdocumented online and signage in the station is painful at best, but that’s maybe getting ahead – i’ll start with breakfast.
Also prepare for a long one.

Doing some research the past night for places to eat in Ximen, a few common stores kept popping up, alongside hot-star fried chicken, the other chicken place we ate at, and the mango shaved ice shops we already visited, a frequent contender was a small local looking place called 365 something, about as shabby as it gets for a brick and mortar, with a hot plate out on the street where they attract people in and simultaneously cheekily expand their shopfront out onto the road, we were always put off by the lack of any proper english on the menu at the front, but we thought we were feeling brave today, I wanted to try the taiwan staple Lou Rou Faan – Braised pork rice. After confusedly seating ourselves, and then realising we would have to place our own orders, I went back to the front to pick up what was essentially a self serve form, a bit like a multiple choice ballot paper where you can order food – it was all in chinese. We basically had to play ‘match the character’ with each dish we wanted to order until the form was complete and then out came the tasty food – we ordered 2 bowls of the braised pork rice, some fried turnip cake and a tasty mysterious thick noodle soup, along with some bubble tea, all of it delicious and came to a daylight robbery-esque price of only £6 or so.

As we reached the station, I realised I hadn’t yet ‘relieved’ myself of the buffet food we ate yesterday, there was probably a small childs worth of cake and sashimi waiting to come out, and it was making itself known. Unfortunately for me, the metro toilets were squat style – I’ve never had to use one before, or at least, never for number 2. I Prepared for the worst, hanging my shorts and underwear on the door (surely people dont normally just drop trou to ankles? what if you shit inside the back of your shorts?), I took up the best squat I could and braced onto the pole attached to the wall (mildly terrified of ‘what if the pole comes off from the wall’). I can tell you that squat toilets are disgusting. It was shitting on the floor or something, it stuck out at weird angles before flopping down sideways, I must have missed a bit as there was a bit stuck to the rim and it fell down afterwards, i’ve save you any more details but I was mortified and glad that at least I didn’t shit onto my sandals.

After plenty of stress work in and out of the toilet, we arrived at Shifen – a town practically in the middle of nowhere, where people walk on the train line and the shops all surround it, the train was blasting its horn to get people out of the way as it rolled into town. Shortly after arriving I got to try a peanut icecream roll – made by using a wood planer on a solid block of peanut brittle, and then putting the shavings onto a kind of crepe with some ice cream and other bits, it was delicious.
A little further down the track, masses of people were enjoying the main attraction of the Pingxi district, releasing lanterns into the sky, the huge colourful paper lanterns come in various colours (for luck in different fields) and you write your wishes onto them and then release them from the train track – there are masses of shops specializing in it, and they all get business because it really did seem to be a constant activity. We bought and painted on one from a more professional looking shop, costing only $200 TWD (£5) and releasing it into the sky.

The other thing people come to Shifen for is the waterfall, which was a painfully long and hot walk for what must have been at least 2 miles down and up staircases, across suspension bridges and all sorts, really scenic but god was it hot and humid. I hope the pictures were worth the sweat.

We arrived back in town just in time to see the train roll up, we jumped on and headed to Ruifang station, before catching the bus to our next major stop of the day Jiufen. Jiufen is an old mining town up in the mountains, like waaay up the mountain. It’s also allegedly some of the inspiration towards spirited away, though how much truth in that, i’m not sure, it certainly had it’s fair collection of ghibli themed shops around.

We went up the old street, a narrow collection of alleys surrounded by shops which went up the mountain before ending around a giant temple. The tight streets and close proximity of the shops meant business was fierce, with plenty of food, snack and tea shops offering tasters as you went up, there were also some quirkier shops along the way as well like the condom shop, a weird place filled with masks, and a shop filled with cat things. The tight streets also meant smells were intensified too, both the good and the bad, i’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but the first few days we were in Ximen, we’d get whiffs of sewage or something and would try and work out where it was coming from, turns out it was Taiwans infamous Stinky tofu – now imagine that, but strategically placed into a narrow alley, just before a long set of stairs upwards, so the smell drifts up and follows you as you climb – Why Taiwan, Why.

An alright dinner towards the top, and then a slow climb back down before catching the bus and train to go back home, we were exhausted from walking all day and the sun was coming down. We went on a bit of a food spree as we got back to Taipei, grabbing some cheap sushi, bubble tea, and ‘taiwan burger’ which is like pulled pork and crispy veg in a steamed bun, topped with some sweet and spicy sauce, it was really goddamn tasty and totally worth it for £1.25.

 

 

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Travel Tips for Shifen / Pingxi and Jiufen which would have been useful to know:
– Pingxi is both a town and a district, while you can ride the pingxi line to Pingxi itself, the lantern experience most people describe can easily be had at Shifen, which has the waterfall as well.
– Approx 40 mins to Ruifan Stn from Taipei Main Stn, and then 20ish mins to Shifen, i think
– Cost from Taipei Main to Shifen was only 61 TWD
– Lantern cost anywhere between $100 and $350, ours was $200 but they charge based on colours and include photography and paint for you
– Shifen waterfall walk is about 30-45mins maybe? There are toilets and food/drink along the way
– Bus to jiufen from Ruifang Stn is route 827 or 788, catch it from next to the police station – Exit main entrance and take a left at the Wellcome supermarket, police Stn on opposite side of road. Bus itself takes about 10-20 mins
– The train to taipei from Ruifang will be written just past the main gate, the train might be flagged as a North destination line even though it goes to Taipei.

Taiwan 2018 – Day 4 – Longshan Temple, Daan Forest Park, 101, Shin Yeh buffet

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Day 4
This was initially a lot longer, but the blog didn’t post it for some reason, and it was lost, so im having to type it up again at a later date, some details probably missing.

The sky was threatening to fall again this morning, so we got a move on for the outdoor things as soon as possible.
Initially we were going to do the gondola today but apparently it’s closed on Mondays, so good thing we found that out before departing for it.
We grabbed some small snack things from 7-Eleven, the convinience shops in this country double as snack places in most cases, selling Bao, tea eggs, sausages, oden and ramen, along with seating and a microwave for if you want to heat up and eat microwave meals in the store.

First major stop of the day was Longshan temple, a weird mix of old and new – you can’t help but look and wonder when you see the contrast between ancient classical looking chinese gate, and huge LED ticker underneath it, similarly there was a massive artificial waterfall just inside the entrance – beautiful but odd.
The weather was another scorcher, so we’d wander around the temple taking shade and stealing gusts of air-con from the staff building where possible. I suspect Monday is a day of mourning for the Taiwanese, as we saw plenty of fire buckets along the way, and inside the place was heaving with locals praying with joss sticks, we tried to stay out of their way where possible, but for a change the locals vastly outnumbered the tourists.

Not too far away, we skipped along the metro to Daan park, which we didn’t actually have on our list but thought we’d do anyway – seemed to have a wide selection of trees, with a strange one which I hadn’t really see much before, kind of growing whisker branches out and then they fall down and turn into roots, making the tree look like it’s trying to rise out of melted cheese.

We were desperate for a cool down, and so headed to Taipei 101, sure that they would have a nice shaved ice place to cool down, and they did! The bottom few floors of Taipei 101 is a mall apparently, complete with massive food court, we grabbed some tasty shaved ice with mango and tapioca, it came with a pudding too. We’d savour the aircon a little more while wondering around, opting not to bother going up the tower itself as we already did the Burj Khalifia this holiday, and another £15 each to go up.

Back to Taipei Main station to waste time before the primary event of the day, I forget if I mentioned yesterday, but before settling on Coco Curry we went to a japanese buffet place which was fully booked, we made a reservation for tonight and basically planned our entire day around it.
We had an hour to burn so we walked the Taipei metro mall, an underground mall which goes on for maybe a mile or so, got to try the new Bemani music game Nostalgia which was interesting. We also found a ton of gacha machines and spent some time looking through them, I got a little hotplate beef keychain.

We had arrived, Shin-yeh is a fairly expensive (£25 pp) japanese themed buffet with no limits except time, eat as much as you like on sushi, sashimi, roll sushi, roast meats, shabu shabu, beer, tempura, grilled fish and meat, cakes and puddings and loads more I can’t even begin to remember. Almost everything was in mandarin so for us it was also a mystery pick and mix which made things more fun – a prime example, little shot glasses of stuff near the sushi, is it sake? a dip? alcohol? vinegar? nope, just apple juice (i think!?). They give you 2 hours to eat, which seemed like loads at the time, but after eating our fill and watching the chef come out to carve the fish for the sashimi, etc, we stayed almost the whole 2 hours.

We waddled back home to Ximen afterwards to walk off the food, in the heavy rain. We took a few random turns to see where we’d end up, It turns out what we thought was Ximen was actually just a small slice of it, there were whole blocks of neon shops which we had never seen before, we got kind of lost until we eventually found our way back.

Taiwan 2018 – Day 3 – CKS Memorial and weekend markets

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Our day started with us going 6 floors up to a restaurant which wasn’t even open yet, the information we had read on the internet was wrong and so there we were all ready to eat and nowhere to go – thankfully Ximen has no shortage of places to find food – we settled on Taiwans famous fried chicken breast, which could basically be considered a gigantic chicken nugget depending on how you look at it, we coupled it with some iced tea as well for an authentic experience (Lychee black tea, mmm).

The forecast this morning said 80% chance of rain, with 100% chance of rain from 2-6pm, but venturing out to find breakfast we found clear blue skies and toasty 30 degree heat, I decided to head back and grab my sunglasses etc. before taking advantage of the skies (while they last) to go to CKS Memorial hall, a few stops away on the metro.

We weren’t really expecting the scale of the CKS area, with 2 gigantic temple structures straight outside the metro station, and a massive white and blue tower thing towards the end of the plaza, opposite an equally large traditional gate, was thankful I had a chance to grab my snuglasses as the heat and sun were really out in force today (I probably should have put some sun lotion on as well). We were in time for the changing of the guard ceremony again, or 15 minutes early, enough time for us to wait behind the barriers as they were set up, and get prime location for the ceremony – which lasted for a shocking 15+ minutes, consisting of marching, shouting, gun twirling, gun inspection, lots of stomping, and so on, honestly kind of repetitive by the end and confusing as to why it would go on for so long for a simple changing of the guard ceremony which happens every hour or so. Cordelia started feeling a bit sick by the end so we went and chilled for a bit and grabbed some drinks before continuing.

Wanting to make the most of the weekend, I found out about a flower market and we set off to go find and explore it. The market is actually a car park during the week, set under a suspended motorway and goes on for literally at least a mile, maybe more, we didn’t get to the end of it because it just kept going and going, definitely the longest market i’ve ever seen. Mist was being sprayed from pipes in the ceiling for the plants, which was cool to see but obviously made the place incredibly humid.

On the opposite side of the junction where the flower market starts was the weekend Jade Market, this one I had never actually heard of, but being that we were literally across the road, we headed in to take a look. This one was smaller but much more densely packed, with hundreds of individual vendors with small tables packed into another parking lot – this one was smaller but also air conditioned thankfully, as everyone inside would have almost certainly died by now without AC. As you would expect, the majority of the booths were selling Jade goods – bangles, earrings, carved pendants, etc. However all other gemstones and jewellery were also on sale. I don’t think many of the sellers get much business, as they seemed tired and happy to play on their phone in front of you, I do wonder how or if any of them make a profit with 200ish similar stalls around.

Another thing which wasn’t on our list but we visited anyway, was the huashan 1914 creative park – described as an old winery turned creative hub, the winery was now a strange mix of old architecture and modern trendy shops and cafes, with some amateur performers and plenty of youngsters roaming about, I imagine it’s quieter on weekdays but we had come on a Sunday and the place was very busy. Not a massive amount more to say about it, we had a good wander but didn’t stay too long as it was just so crowded.

Dinner at coco curry, a Japanese chain specializing in katsu curry and then a long walk back to Ximen from central station. We did initially plan to go to a Japanese buffet restaurant but it was booked out, so we’ve reserved it for tomorrow, the only English name on their reservation sheet. We also passed by an ‘Animate’ store on the way home, filled with super cheap manga and anime/idol goods, it’s a shame the books are all in Chinese because £2.50 per manga volume is crazy cheap and they had a massive selection.

 

Taiwan 2018 – Day 1 and 2 – Arrival and temples

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Day 1 – travel from Dubai and Arrival

Our first day in Taiwan was basically a throwaway, the plane departed Dubai at 3:40am so we already wasted a bunch of time in the airport just waiting for take-off time to roll around.
The flight thankfully didn’t feel too long, I didn’t feel like I slept for much of it, but at the same time I think I was drifting in and out of consciousness, as it only felt like I was fully awake for 1 or 2 hours of the 8 hour flight.

After arriving in Taiwan, doing immigration and waiting a long time for our luggage to appear, we set off to try and work out how to get to Taipei central by train, before going to Ximending where our Airbnb was, stepping out of the metro system to Ximen was crazy, reminding me of the time we came out into Tokyo for the first time. In particular it felt so crazy considering we just came from Dubai, whose city vibes seemed almost professional – I guess they don’t bother putting much out because nobody really walks around outdoors there as it’s too hot.

We dropped our bags off and got acquainted with our home for the next week – sporting a pretty barebones setup, super hard bed and noisy air-con unit. It’s not really the nicest place I have to admit, but it’s in a fantastic location at least and the price was pretty good.

After freshening up, we headed out to explore Ximen, and eat dinner, we thought we’d make it memorable by going to the famous ‘Modern Toilet’ restaurant, themed around toilets – you sit on toilets, eat out of toilet bowls, get drinks served in urinals, eat chocolate ice cream shaped like… you get the idea. The food was decent, though obviously the main attraction was the decor. We had a little shop around afterwards before heading back home for some much needed sleep.

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Day 2

The night was noisy, even with the earplugs I was wearing, the aircon was loud and a nearby dog wouldn’t stop howling at the moon.

After a sleepy start, we would go in search of a restaurant recmomended to us by our Airbnb host, a place a short walk away called ‘Lao Wang Ji beef Noodles’, the actual name of course was entirely in mandarin, and so pretty difficult for us to try and find, especially as that road had 3 different places all specializing in beef noodles. We found our place in the end, or rather, we found the queue for it. From experience, the best places to eat in asia are the ones with queues outside, just follow the locals. It was amazing – super soft chunks of braised beef with slippery noodles, in a flavorful fatty broth, worth trying if you are ever around Ximen in Taipei.

We’d head up north a bit to try and do some sightseeing, first major stop being the Martyr’s Temple, a huge temple ground with grand gate, we arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guard as well, a march which seemed kind of comical to watch as they freeze in time at the middle of their marching step, the result looks more like a ‘World order’ music video than a military march.

We didn’t really know how to get back to the station and so ended up just jumping on a random bus, in the hopes that it would get us back to any metro station, the buses in Taiwan aren’t particularly frequent, nor are they easy to read for the chinese impaired, it ended up dropping us outside Yuanshan station, featuring a farmers market and underpass area filled with teens practising dance routines, naturally one of them was doing a choreographed routine to All-star by smash mouth, I guess somebody once told them as well.

Was initially going to take the train to another area but on a whim decided to try and find a cafe or something where we could cool down and have a drink, we instead stumbled upon the Confucius temple and Dalongdong temple across the way, and so stopped to take pictures.
Also had my first proper bubble tea, which was delicious and also dirt cheap at only £1 for a large cup.

Still desperate to cool down, we headed for Main station and the adjoining mall for a bit of shopping and lunch, the basement 3 level of the mall was filled with food shops so we’d end up having an assortment of baked goods before doing some general shopping around – I was told that the clothing in Taiwan was pretty cheap so I only actually packed 2/3 of a suitcase, as I hope to refresh my wardrobe.

We were pretty tired by this point, and so walked back to the airbnb, I quite needed a shower after walking around in the heat, came out to see Cordelia had fallen asleep so and so we had a little while to rest before heading out for another wander around Ximen, this time however we decided to sample some of the street food instead of having a traditional dinner, and so had some fried chicken, squid, ‘onion cakes’ and then some mango shaved ice for dessert.

Dubai 2018 – Days 1 and 2 – All the touristy things

An intense smell of body odour welcomed us to our seats on the plane, which was not a fantastic welcome present to the start of our big 2018 holiday. We had planned to sleep through the 6.5 hour flight and wake up to be greeted by beautiful hot Dubai, instead we both got pretty minimal sleep and arrived in Dubai feeling like shit.

A train across the city and then a long nap in the hotel then, we’d awake around 4pm or so, and head off towards the Burj Khalifia which we had booked tickets for prior.

The Burj is attached to the gigantic Dubai Mall, so we headed there first for a good walk around and quick snack. We hadn’t planned it this way, but we had arrived during ramadan – the holy muslim month where everyone fasts from sunrise to sunset, as a result the mall was somewhat quiet and a large amount of the food and drink shops were closed or had huge blackout curtains or wooden dividers around the shopfronts, with accompanying signs saying saying non muslims and children only. it was a strange sight and environment, but I can appreciate not wanting to see a KFC when you haven’t had anything to eat since 6am, eating and drinking in public during Ramadan is basically an offense – we didn’t feel like pushing our luck to see what is and isn’t allowed.

After having a nice walk around and seeing the huge aquarium fish tank, biggest OLED screen in the world, and the comically large indoor ice rink, we headed to ajoining Burj Khalifia for our booked slot at 6:30. if you’re ever in the area, 6:30 slot is the way to go, you essentially get the sunset view and the nighttime view for the price of one, though an unexpected side effect was that we had to queue ages for the lifts to get out. The Burj really was seriously high, the skyscrapers below look so small it kind of pulls you out of how high you are because it almost doesn’t feel real, but of course, everything looks small when you’re up 125 floors. The night view was definitely worth staying for, and I think worth the price of admission £40ish per person including Aquarium.

After a lengthy queue for the lifts back down, we went out to watch the Dubai fountain show over the beautiful man-made marina, which was really nice – not quite a singapore ‘laser projection on water mist’ level of complexity but a really solid lit choreographed water jet show with some of them really shooting up high.

Burger and frozen custard at shakeshack for dinner, which was somewhat underwhelming but oh well. We would have normally gone for something more locationally specialized but we couldn’t find any arabic food restaurants (and honestly, aren’t really sure what Arabic food would even consist of).

We’d walk around the aquarium and underwater zoo for a while afterwards, there were some impressive exhibits which are less common – huge crocodiles, sea otters, and large sharks to name a few.

by the time we decided to come home, we discovered that we had just missed the last train back to the hotel – at a surprisingly early 11:30pm.
it turns out the trains run at different times depending on the day, but we at least expected them to run until midnight. We had to catch a cab home which thankfully wasn’t too expensive at around £8 – if he wasn’t doing meter and said £20, we probably would have accepted it and paid him. Speaking of less expensive than expected, I should mention that the Dubai metro is also very reasonably priced, charged on a zonal basis, the cost is 3, 5 or 7.5 UAE Dirrhams (equal to 60p, £1, £1.50 respectively).

A late shower and then bed for us, to prepare for our second and last day in Dubai.

 

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Day 2

 

We overslept.

Granted we didn’t actually have a massive amount planned for today but waking up around half 10 was a minor concern for us.

We’d actually start the day the same as yesterday, heading to the Dubai mall to go to the IHOP we scouted out yesterday, I’m not sure i’ve ever actually been to an IHOP before, even when I was in America, so whilst I imagine quite lame to some readers, we were genuinely quite excited to have some big american fluffy pancakes with bacon.
We’d end up both ordering a combo of eggs, bacon, hash brown and then an entire plate with stack of pancakes and topping – it was way too much for brunch, or any meal of any day for that matter.

From the mall we’d head back for the metro to check out the old town, heading for the spice souk and gold souk, it would all be outdoors, and it was about 39 degrees outside.

Whilst you can kind of mentally prepare yourself for 39 degrees heat, the real deal was genuinely super draining, I have no idea how the people that live there, are able to do manual labour in that kind of weather. Even a brief walk for half an hour made us want a shower.

The spice souk was smaller and less busy than we anticipated, I kind of thought it would be a bustling hub where old women bartered for cinnamon pods but it was actually just a covered alley/street with few locals and even fewer tourists, and a whole lot of spice sellers trying to grab you to visit their shop. Personally I got a whole lot of ni hao’s and konnichiwa’s whilst Cordelia got called Shakira more times than I can count (we can only assume because her hips don’t lie), I also got called a professor, which is a new one to me.

The gold souk was honestly not that much different either, except the staff wait for you to look at the diamonds in the window before coming out and trying to entice you in with their allegedly cheap prices and (more importantly) super cool air-con. It was around this point (about 45 minutes after we left the station) that our bodies were properly sweaty, so all the small licks of air-con we got as staff came to greet us was so very lovely. I actually found a shop which had an air-con leak in the corner, just spewing out cold air, we took advantage naturally.

The next thing on the agenda was the Dubai ferry, an hour long ferry trip which goes round to the palm jumeriah and Burj al arab, unfortunately the Ferry only sails if there are at least 10 patrons – which our timeslot failed to reach, so instead it was back on the train, unsure what we were going to do next.

We ended up at the other massive mall in Dubai, the Mall of the Emirates. We got to see the arcade which had a bunch of games i’ve never seen before (a rabbids 4 player lightgun game, and a tomb raider 4p lightgun game, amongst others), and the super cool looking indoor ski area, complete with toboggan run, little hot cocoa stands and all sorts. Had a small dinner and then back to the hotel to pack and start to prep for the airport. We still have a few hours to burn, but honestly not sure what else to do with such a small amount of time left, we’ve done all of the major inner city stuff so we’ll likely just end up chilling out until it’s time to head to the airport for the next leg of our journey.

Would also like to point out that i’ve been annoyingly ‘ill’ during this holiday, with a dry cough situation and what I presume is an eyelash hair stuck somewhere in my eye which I just can’t rid of, it’s driving me crazy!

Italy 2018 – Day 6 – Vatican city and Rome

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The beginning of the end, our last full day in Italy.

The vatican was top of our priority today, we took a bus over from our Airbnb and was almost immediately stopped by a tour guide providing ‘advice’ about how long the queues are, and how they conviniently have a fast pass to skip the queues – they said we’d be waiting 4 hours around the block, which seemed absolutely ridiculous.
This was promptly followed by us walking down the road and seeing the gigantic snaking queue to get into St Peters Basilica – literally going around the entirety of the Vatican courtyard and then coming back in towards itself like some sort of pretzel made from back pain and suffering instead of flour and whatever else goes into pretzels. We’d end up waiting 2 hours in line, majority of that in the sun – thankfully the weather that day was forgiving, being in the low 20’s rather than the scorching 28 degrees only 24 hours prior. Indians would constantly roam up and down the lines to sell drinks and selfie sticks – the water actually being a surprisingly cheap 1 euro for a half frozen 500ml ,best euro I’ve ever spent, genuinely.

I had already been inside last time and so no surprises, though worth noting that it was about as big as I remembered – which is to say really goddamn big, with each wing of the basilica being the size of ‘huge’ cathedrals in other cities. We were too tired to bother to climb up the steps to the dome (again, I did it last time so when Cordelia said she didn’t want to, I certainly didn’t argue).

We spent some time hunting around for lunch afterwards, eventually eating some mediocre pasta in a small cafe, as we were waiting in line so long that most of the proper restaurants had already closed. I’m not sure if i mentioned already, but Italy is really strict with their eating times, after 2:30pm be prepared to struggle with finding a good restaurant for lunch. By chance, I stumbled upon a small takeaway pasta place which I saw on tripadvisor, I greedily ordered some pasta to go – i’m on holiday, I can have 2 lunches if I want.
The takeaway pasta was shockingly nice, considering I wasn’t even hungry. You could really tell that the pasta was legitimately fresh and cooked just right. I’ve never had paparadelle before but man it was good, like an inch wide chewy egg noodle pasta, served with a ragu meat and tomatoes sauce.

We’d return home to rest for a bit before heading back out, hoping to hit sunset at the Giardino degli Aranci – an orange grove atop a hill overlooking Rome, we were a little bit early, but it was late enough in the day for us to get that yellow glow at least. We checked out the Circus maximus as well on the way down, which looked like a massive track and field area in a small crater.

Dinner first at ‘I Monticani‘ which served an amazing bruschetta, lasagne and tiramisu (gf had the panna cotta, which I can confirm is just as good), followed by one final visit to the Trevi fountain at night, hoping it would be less busy than last time, unfortunately not really as relaxed as we were hoping, but less people than during the day at least – enough for me to set up tripod, and for us to go down and take some selfies by the fountain edge.

Italy 2018 – Day 5 – Rome

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Train journey from Florence to Rome in the morning, which took about 2 hours, followed by the meeting our Airbnb host Isabella. Our room in Rome was really impressive compared to the last 2 we had stayed in this holiday, with a 3 meter tall door, high ceilings, air conditioning, memory foam bed and bunch of other small nice touches – we were ready to finish off our holiday.

Our Airbnb was near to Lepanto, sort of close to the river, Isabella advised we should start by walking down the riverfront and visiting the outside of the castle, before going into central Rome via the bridge – we followed her advice and really enjoyed it, the sun was a toasty 28*C that day, and the riverfront was shaded by trees as we passed the supreme Court building and Castel Saint angelo.