We watched our last sunset in Asia from the Avenue of Stars in Kowloon today, gazing over the water at Hong Kong Island. While we strolled toward the Star Ferry, Steve offhandedly remarked that this had been a great visit to Hong Kong – we’d hit all our old highlights, and we’d also seen some new things. We had made one extraordinarily bad decision, but everything else turned out pretty well. It was a net positive in total!
Lesson #1: Oldies are goodies. This was Steve’s fourth trip, and my third trip to Hong Kong. We have the restaurants and the places that we go to every time. This time, we reveled once more in Branto Pure Veg, a delicious, delicious Indian restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui that was recommended to us by close friends Kate and Erin. Branto is amazing Indian food that really spoiled me for actual food in India – so good and so flavorful! We ordered peas palak, chana masala, and a paper masala dosa, a giant crunchy roll stuffed with mashed spicy potato. The last time we were here, it was a year and a half ago on Christmas Day, during our visa run from Taiwan. Today, we visited another oldie but goodie location – the Central to Mid-Levels Escalators, which is the longest covered walkway in the world. We traveled some ways up, saw the Jamia Masjid, a lovely celadon-green mosque, and then went halfway back down to sit at a bar with great seats overlooking Shelley Street and the escalators. Steve enjoyed a beer while I had a mojito (okay, it was already 2 pm, you know?), and we people-watched for a while. While Asia is always full of Engrish shirts, we saw our favorite today – a woman whose shirt said “In memory of when I cared”. Man, those good old days! Continue reading Lessons from Hong Kong.→
Written on the 513 train Taichung to Kaohsiung Tuesday, July 21, 3:45 pm
The slow train south just pulled in to Changhua, just south of Taichung. We’re on our way back to Kaohsiung, a city that we haven’t seen since we stayed there for three months in 2013-2014 and left in the (relative) cold of Taiwan winter. It’s the middle of summer now, and Kaohsiung will undoubtedly be warm, but we’re excited nonetheless to revisit the place and continue our vacation! As of this past Friday, July 17, I finished my internship, and now for the next month, Steve and I are involved in the serious business of enjoying ourselves.
Our vacation from this summer started on Saturday, when we sold all of our belongings in Taichung and took a bus from the train station to Sun Moon Lake. Last time we were in Taiwan, we made a brief overnight trip to Sun Moon Lake, and found it lovely but the experience lacking, the entire time being quite a rainy misty mess. This time, I booked us three nights in a hostel on the south side of the lake in a smaller town called Ita Thao, mainly inhabited by Taiwanese aboriginals of the Thao tribe. The result was a very relaxing and satisfying vacation. We arrived on Saturday, and collapsed into our hostel for a nap before emerging to make sense of the street food situation. For dinner, we had a guabao each, a sandwich of slices of mountain boar with pickled vegetables and fine julienned cucumbers, all in a fluffy white bun, and a deep-fried pasty with cheese and more mountain boar meat. We enjoyed our dinner with beers out on the pier, watching the mist-cloaked lake. From our vantage point, the mountains that surround the lake were no more than outlined in varying shades of monochrome blue. Continue reading Hiking Sun Moon Lake.→
For me, Edinburgh will always evoke an image of calm and comfort, a cup of fragrant earl grey, and a scone piled high with butter and jam. Steve and I spent almost three days here (July 14-17), walking through very historic streets and scaling its heights to see the surrounding scenery, and braving the occasional showers. We left too soon, but I have hopes that we’ll be back.
We stayed for three nights at an apartment in Edinburgh’s Old Town, and spent most of our time wandering up and down the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a gently sloping road which bisects Edinburgh, dividing the New Town (not so new, dating from the 1700s) in the north from the Old Town in the South. On the western end is Edinburgh Castle, and after walking by about 45 stores specializing in kilts and cashmeres, on the eastern end is Holyrood Palace, where the Queen keeps her apartments when she comes to Scotland. Just south of the palace is Holyrood Park, a vast inverted green bowl that rises hundreds of meters into the air. It is punctuated by brown rocky craigs and hills, and from street level, you can see people climbing their way up the hill like so many ants. It is an imposing height, but not at all an imposing hike, as we covered the highest peaks of the park within three hours (including a half-hour nap!). Continue reading Wandering down the Royal Mile.→
Written on the TGV Narbonne, France to Barcelona, Spain Saturday, June 7, 20h00
I am writing from the train once more. At the underground station where we are stopped temporarily, “Benvenidos a Girona/Benvinguts a Girona/ Welcome to Girona/ Bienvenue a Girona” scrolls across the display screens. We have crossed into Catalonia, the region of Spain at its northwest which some would say overlaps with French territory as well. I haven’t seen “Salida” on an exit sign since we left Chicago, and the signs in Spanish simultaneously convey that we are in a new country, but somehow echo memories of walking around Pilsen or Little Village in Chicago, where the Mexican community is the majority.
Outside, at first glance, the landscape does not look different. Our train has tunneled through the Pyrenees that divide the two countries, but it is still hilly and mountainous, with small villages and towns. Our train is full of English speaking visitors, some young college-age girls and some older English retirees. Steve and Lele both look tuckered out by our travels, and doze a little despite the bright evening sun. It is 8 pm, but of course, because we are traveling further west in the same time zone, we can look forward to more and more hours of sunlight in the evening. Tonight, I predict the sun will set around 10 pm. Continue reading Crossing the Pyrenees.→
I felt like I have barely slowed down in the last three days. Our days have been filled with hiking, making food, driving around the south of France, talking, debating, and listening to music, punctuated by brief stretches of silence gazing into the endless mountains or the blue, blue surf of the Mediterranean sea. But here is a bit of free time, before we check out for the night, so I will try my best to recount our trip thus far.
Two days ago, we drove out of Lyon as a party of three, joined by our friend Lele, who is a friend from college and from Chicago. We’ve been planning this trip in France for a while to coincide with his vacation, and thus far, it has been quite memorable! We met him at Part-Dieu, which is Lyon’s main TGV station, and breezed on south for a few hours, exchanging stories and updates from Chicago, until we came to the Pont du Gard.
I had been researching this Roman-age aqueduct since I realized it lay on the road between Lyon and our first destination of Perpignan. It was an absolutely thrilling experience to see in person this kind of historical monument, which is so austere in its beauty but simple in its function – it was built as a part of a 50 kilometer aqueduct carrying water to the city of Nîmes, and bridges a wide gap over a river, and has survived first as a toll bridge and now as a UNESCO world heritage site. Some of the things we have seen in the world improve with intimacy – the closer you get, the more you are awed and moved by the structure you see before your eyes and feel under your fingers. Others, most notably for us like the Taj Mahal, are almost better seen from afar, like a scene out of a storybook or a dream. The Pont du Gard is one of those former structures, and walking across the bridge that was built parallel to it, dipping our feet in the river beneath it, and climbing the hillside paths on either side that bring you so close you can touch the stones of the arches truly makes you realize that you are standing in the presence of something that has been here for nearly a thousand years and will perhaps be here for a thousand more. Continue reading Between the mountains and the ocean.→
On Tuesday, we boarded the HSR (high-speed rail) outside of Tainan and speeded into Taipei barely an hour and a half later. This is the way to travel! It felt just like the bullet trains we’d taken in Japan, and made for an ultra smooth ride. We trekked our way with heavy bags through the unreasonable cold to Da’an District, where we had reserved five nights in a hostel. That evening, I made Steve stay up with me to debate how to travel about in Thailand and reserved a few hostels and flights before we fell asleep.
Yesterday morning, bright and early, we left our hostel for the Taipei 101 Tower, just a 20-minute walk away. Once you get onto Xinyi Road, which cuts east-west, it is hard to miss the Tower because it looms over everything else for dozens of blocks. For comparison purposes, the Sears (never the Willis) Tower in Chicago is 442 meters tall, and Taipei 101 Tower is significantly taller at 509 meters. (Though both are small potatoes compared to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai at a lofty 828 meters.) We took the fastest elevator in the world (deceptively labeled “a life-changing experience” according to a quote from CNN in the lobby) and emerged onto the 89th floor, a 360 degree viewing observatory. It was a beautiful day to see Taipei — slightly cloudy, but not oppressively so. Taipei lies in a basin on the very northern tip of Taiwan, and we could see mountains in several directions as well as a city (Taoyuan, maybe?) to the southwest on an elevated plateau, surrounding the sprawling metropolitan area.