The recent pause in posts has been due to a short break we've taken in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan.
The two and a half hour flight from Incheon with Asiana Airlines was a bargain 270,000 won each.
Our accommodation during the holiday was the remarkable Grand Hotel.
It may look very grand from the outside, but inside the rooms and facilities are of a regular three star hotel, still, the foyer was quite impressive.
Our first stop was the world famous National Palace Museum. We took advantage of the free guided tour in English at 10am. The well-spoken and enthusiastic lady lead us around the highlights of the museum's many precious artefacts including Chinese porcelain, ivory and jade. The museum has recently been renovated and all the rooms are well lit and all the objects had detailed English descriptions. The audio guide we used when going around for a second time, was also of a high quality and gave useful and interesting information. This is a view of the second building, currently housing an exhibition from the British Museum.
The title of "world's tallest building" is currently held by Taipei 101. This impressive skyscraper stands out on the city skyline and a trip to the observation deck was next on our itinerary. The elevators to the 89th floor take less than 38 seconds and reach a world record speed of over 63km/h (37 mph).
The weather was not particularly good, but the views over the city were still spectacular.
The clouds over the jungle covered hills were beautiful. The skyscraper also claims to have the world's largest 'mass damper' and they are proud to display the 660 metric tonne sphere in it's enclosure in the centre of the observation deck.
One of the most impressive squares in Taipei is the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall Plaza. This building is the National Theatre:
On the opposite side of the square is a similar building, the National Concert Hall, and between the two is the huge white marble building that is National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall:
We took a trip to the National History Museum and were delighted to discover an exhibition of the terracotta army of the Xian Dynasty. We were remarkably lucky to get in without queueing. After seeing the exhibits we came out to find hundreds of people queueing around the block to get in! The botanical gardens form the grounds of the museum and provided a welcome bit of greenery to enjoy.
Taiwan is well known for its green tea and we were keen to go to Pinglin to see 'The world's largest tea museum'. We followed the detailed instructions in our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook and took the MRT, Taipei's very modern and efficient subway system, to the southernmost station Xindian. From there we took a bus for a 45 minute ride further south to the small town of Pinglin and found the museum. There was a reasonable amount of English on the display boards and several rooms of exhibits that were interesting and you get to taste some tea in the gift shop. The museum is not huge, but we felt it was worth the trip.
During a walk along the river bank I spotted this hairy little creature:
In the evening we visited Longshan Temple, The photos on the wikipedia page do not do it justice: The intricate carvings and decoration are impressive, the lights dazzling, the smoke from the incense intense and there's a waterfall outside too!
We took a trip to Beitou on the northern edge of the city, at the end of the red line on the MRT, to get closer to the national park. We followed a road winding up the end of the valley through the dense vegetation and discovered this small temple which had great views of Taipei.
After coming back down into the valley it was time to sample the hotsprings for which the town is famous. We chose a relaxing hot bath in the Sweetme Hotspring resort hotel. [No Dr Fish this time!]
On our last day we just had time to visit the Fine Arts Museum of Taipei at the bottom of the hill from our hotel. There were four exhibitions on: The "Still Life" show of Taiwanese artists was very interesting; There was Taiwanese Photography on display in another room; A sample of ten contemporary Italian artists in another room, and last but by no means least A Retrospective of Su Hsin-Tien’s Cyclical Space Paintings whose style was sometimes very similar to a drawing of MC Esher, one of my favorite artists.
One memorable aspect of the visit was the large number of school children that were being taken round in groups. They obediently sat and listened attentively to museum staff explaining the pictures in front of them.
It was then back on the rickety public bus that goes out to the Taipei's international airport for our trip back to Incheon airport and home to Yeouido.