We’ve recently returned from a week in Taipei, Taiwan. This trip didn’t get its own day-by-day blog, as it was mostly a work trip. But, we wanted to capture a few of the memories from the trip before they fade into misremembered half-truths.
Our travel got off to a slightly rough start. De-icing and impending winter weather meant we left Minneapolis over an hour late. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but our connection in Seoul was scheduled to be 45 minutes. The math savvy among you will recognize that 45 minus 60 is negative 15, which is a bit tight. We crossed our fingers and hoped to make up some time in flight. We ultimately landed with 15 minutes before our departing flight, and got ourselves geared up to make a dash across the airport. However, Delta had less faith in us, and had already rebooked us on a new connection by the time we landed.
The Delta team on the ground in Seoul did a great job. They met those of us connecting to Taiwan at the gate, and escorted us along a secret path through the airport to meet our new flight, ensuring we got checked in OK. I do wonder whether checked luggage was as lucky, but fortunately that doesn’t impact us. Our updated flight made for an easy 2 hour trip to Taipei. From there, we hopped an Uber to our Airbnb.
We’ve become accustomed to the depersonalized Airbnb experience. Most of them nowadays are run by management firms, and they’ve been totally systematized, with automated checkins. This was the rare case in which an actual human met us at the curb, took us up to the apartment, and gave us an in-depth tour. There were also some added perks, including a couple Easycards (for mass transit) and a portable wifi hotspot.
Tuesday was our only unscheduled day of the trip – I wanted to have a day to acclimatize before the conference. We booked a food tour for the morning, as an opportunity to get oriented to the city. Taipei is a very manageable city – only about 2 million people, with density (but not extreme density). Owing to the prewar colonial history, it has a very Japanese feel, especially in the street design.
Our food tour introduced us to some of the local street food – scallion pancakes, fried tofu, bao and other dumplings, and soy milk. We also visited the Chiang Kai-shek memorial and museum. Our tour guide was great, and was content to just wander the city with us for a few hours.
In the afternoon, we made our way to the paper museum, a small museum mostly aimed at teaching schoolchildren about the process by which paper is made and the history of paper and its uses. It was a lot of fun, sharing a perspective on how different paper making is around the world, even today. From the paper museum, we used our Easycards to rent bike share bikes, and took a fun bike ride down to the Treasure Hill artist community. Taipei has robust network of protected bike lanes. Despite traffic driving on the right side of the street, Taipei bikers seem inclined to bike on the left when facing oncoming bikes. That took some getting used to.
Treasure Hill is an artist community, based in a set of buildings that was originally an illegal settlement founded by military veterans in the 1940s. It gradually changed to artist housing, and in the 2000s became official. Which meant the city came in and made it “safe”, removing many of the original families in the process. Today it hosts visiting artists and artists-in-residence, showing work in galleries and opening their studios to visitors.
We wrapped up our day with a wander through a night market and some Malaysian food, before an early bedtime.
Wednesday was mostly about the conference for me, and Kat focused on getting some work done in the apartment. In the evening, we had another food tour, focused on a night market. This one was a little more underwhelming – mostly because Kat and I were feeling jetlagged and cold.
Thursday, Kat had a chance to explore on her own, visiting the National Taiwan Craft Research and Development Institute and returning to the indigenous art exhibit at the Chiang Kai-shek museum, before settling in at a cozy cafe to get out of the rain.
For our last day in the city, I wrapped up some conference work and then we took a train out to Jianfeng, a small village about an hour outside the city. It’s often referred to as an inspiration for various buildings in the movie Spirited Away, and has an “old street” that winds its way through the village with shops and restaurants. It’s very tourist-focused at this point though. We settled in for a bit at a gorgeous tea house overlooking the mountains and coast. The rain was pretty intense all day, but we were determined not to let that stop us. Instead, we set our sights for the nearby gold museum.
A combination of bad Google directions and intense weather meant that our short walk wasn’t so short, and we finally made it to the museum dripping wet and cold. The museum is based at a decommissioned gold mine, and has been recently developed into quite a complex. It hosts multiple galleries with jewelry and metal artists, as well as a museum about mineralogy and gold mining, as well as a rebuilt mining tunnel. Kat was impressed by the quality of their mineral specimens. On a sunny day, it would be a fantastic complex to explore further, but we weren’t feeling super adventurous.
We ended up catching a bus back to the city, which got caught in rush hour traffic. We finally got off and took the metro to make it all the the way home, eager to get into dry clothes.
Saturday morning, we got up very early and flew to Seoul. Our layover gave us time to pop into the city, so we took the train to the Namdaemun area to explore the markets and street food.
Although Taipei had plenty of good food on offer, nothing blew us away and left us plotting our culinary return visit. However, Seoul was a different story – from our first street snack of fried dough with brown sugar to our lunch of fish and bibimbap, or our dessert of walnut bean curd dough balls, we were definitely discussing our need to get back for a proper visit. Alas, all too soon it was time to get back to the airport.