9.04.2015

Hobbiton tour: a journey to The Shire

touring Hobbiton in New Zealand
a hobbit hole with a bright yellow door
touring Hobbiton in New Zealand | rolling hills of The Shire
touring Hobbiton in New Zealand | a very famous hobbit hole

when embarking on an epic journey through Middle Earth New Zealand, there is one place you must go to indulge your inner nerd: Hobbiton. we made a two-hour drive down from Auckland on route to Whitianga, and it was definitely out of our way. but worth it.

the Hobbiton tour takes you through the actual set from the Hobbit movies. the set was in the same location [and pretty much identical] for filming the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but the entire thing was disassembled and then reconstructed between the two.


the attention to detail here is insane - the props set up outside each home to tell the character's story, synthetic moss added to all the fences to age them just so, plants being brought in and even altered to fit the imaginary world.

I kept my nerd to a "take a million photos" level, but some people go all out - quizzing tour guides on their Tolkien knowledge and sporting full elf regalia. if that's your thing, I say go for it. what better place than Hobbiton?

take a peek inside Bilbo Baggins' hobbit hole

being immersed in the set - feeling like you were IN the film - was really a fun and unique experience. even if you aren't a diehard LOTR fanatic, you can still enjoy the lush gardens and rolling hills. New Zealand landscapes never seem to disappoint.

touring Hobbiton | The Green Dragon
touring Hobbiton | a map of The Shire inside The Green Dragon
touring Hobbiton | ale and meat pies at The Green Dragon

we poked our heads in a few hobbit holes, wound our way through the shire and ended up at the Green Dragon - the pub straight out of the films. I had a tasty hard cider while Husband indulged in some meat pie and a cookie with his ale.


if you're planning a visit to New Zealand and would like to visit the Shire, you can book your Hobbiton Tour online. I would definitely recommend it if you find yourself in the area and are familiar with the books or movies. seeing Hobbiton come to life made for quite a magical afternoon.

9.01.2015

this blogging thing


starting this new chapter in Taipei has me drawing all kinds of comparisons to our first arrival in Taiwan. one thing I've really noticed [thanks mostly, I think, to the three years of experience abroad] is that I'm not nearly so panicked when meeting new people. when we first arrived, I had no plan and no idea what to say when I was asked the inevitable "so what do you do?"

I've had three years to figure out how to answer that question. and I consider it a major personal accomplishment that now - instead of just shrugging and mumbling "I don't know" - I can confidently respond that I am a writer, a travel blogger, and am working on a book manuscript. and every time I say it, it gets easier.

but of course, saying that this blogging thing is what I "do" probably means I should be taking this seriously, right? I should stay on topic and relentlessly market myself on social media. I should pay close attention to my follower counts and bloglovin rankings. but I should also be myself - honest, authentic, original, relatable. am I the only one who finds that sometimes these things are at cross purposes?

as I've been trying to ease back in to regular-ish posting after a crazy summer, I've been considering this and other existential blog questions. it seems like everyone is doling out advice on how to grow your blog and gain more followers across social media these days. you don't want to be wrapped up in numbers, but some level of marketing is necessary if you want to attract readers.

the internet is so saturated that just being a good writer or having great content isn't enough anymore. sometimes it feels like self-promotion is really self-preservation, because you can't just write and expect people to show up and read it. [as many great but largely unknown writers can attest.]

and it IS important that someone shows up to read it. deny it all you want. say you write only for yourself. but the real reason we write is to show our truth to others. in the words of one of my favorite literary heroines, Amelia Peabody: art cannot exist in a vacuum. the creative spirit must possess an audience. it is impossible for a writer to do herself justice if she is only talking to herself.


maybe some days it's only one person reading [hi, mom!] but it's a bit like that tree in the woods. we write to be heard, and we write to be seen. we write because we crave community. we need interaction - and sometimes though we might not want to admit it - validation.

who we are and what we share doesn't have to always fit into a molded niche, because we are real people. multi-dimensional and often contradictory. I'm going to give you awesome list-y informational posts, and I'm also going to give you posts like this. guys: that's just me being me, and trying to share it in the most honest ways I know how. some days it's empowering and some days it's terrifying - but for me at least - there is a visceral need to share my story either way.

even when my story is just me sitting in a coffee shop, writing a little ramble about this blogging thing.

8.27.2015

101 things to do in Taipei


Taipei is a city just bursting with things to do [and see, and eat!] though I've visited a few times over my expat years, now that I live here I'm ready to dig in and explore what this city has to offer. in the interest of staying organized - and because I have a deep love of lists - I've compiled and categorized 101 things to be done in the Taipei area.

and as a bonus - at the bottom I have links to websites and blogs where you can find more information and even MORE things to be done in Taipei.

my list is heavy on hiking and mountains to climb [mostly in Yangmingshan National Park] because I live nearby and well... I have a thing for mountains. but there are plenty of city activities as well. though I've already checked a few of these off [links included where applicable] you can go ahead and consider this my Taipei bucket list for the next few years.

things to do in Taipei | visit the impressively sized Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

buildings and monuments

Lin An Tai Ancestral Home
Taipei 101
Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall
Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall
Grand Hotel
Taipei Film House
National Martyr's Shrine
Fort Santo Domingo
Lin Family Mansion and Garden
Beitou Public Library
Chiang Kai-Shek Shilin Residence
Plum Garden
Taipei Guest House
The Red House

museums

National Palace Museum
Taipei Fine Arts Museum
Suho Memorial Paper Culture Museum
Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei
Beitou Hot Springs Museum
Taipei Astronomical Museum
Shung Ye Museum
National Museum of History
Miniatures Museum of Taiwan
Museum of Drinking Water
National Taiwan Museum
Taiwan Folk Arts Museum

things to do in Taipei | incredible landscapes at Yehliu Geopark

parks and gardens

Yehliu Geopark
Zhishan Ecological Garden
Taipei Zoo
Maokong Tea Plantations and Gondola
Yangmingshan National Park
Daan Forest Park
Xinsheng Park
Huashan 1914 Creative Park
Jinguashi Gold Ecological Park
Taipei Botanical Gardens
228 Peace Park

events and festivals

Taiwan Lantern Festival
Dragon Boat Festival
Pingxi Lantern Festival
Chinese New Year
New Year's Eve Fireworks at Taipei 101
Yangmingshan Calla Lilly Festival

things to do in Taipei | visit the dragons at Longshan Temple
things to do in Taipei | explore the many temples in the city, decorated with colorful dragons

temples to see

Quingshan Temple
Bao'an Temple
Longshan Temple
Hsing Tian Kong
Taipei Confucious Temple
Xingtian Temple
Zhishan Huiji Temple
Guandu Temple
Beitou Puji Temple
Zhinan Temple
Songshan Ciyou Temple

mountains and hikes

Elephant Mountain/ Four Beasts Trail
Xiaotzukeng Old Trail
Tianmu Trail
Mount Shamao Trail
Juansi Waterfall Trail
Jinmianshan/ Little Gold Face Mountain
Teapot Mountain
Lion's Head Mountain
Dalunwei and Daluntou Hiking Trails
Guanyin Mountain
Xianjiyan Hiking Trail
Menghuan Pond Trail
Battleship Rock
Pingding Historical Canal
Caoling Old Trail and Wankengtou Mountain
Jinbaoli Trail
Qingtiangang Circular Trail
Jiantan Mountain Trail
Qixingshan/ Seven Star Mountain
Erziping Trail
Da Tun Shan Hiking Trail
Mount Miantian
Mount Caigongkeng Trail
Zhong Zhen Shan Hiking Trail
Mount Ding and Mount Shiti Trail

things to do in Taipei | escape the city with a refreshing trip to Wulai Waterfall

waterfalls and geothermal activity

Xiaoyoukeng Recreation Area
Wulai Waterfall
Lengshuikeng/ Milk Lake
Shengren Waterfall
Beitou Thermal "Hell" Valley
Shifen Waterfall
Sandiaoling Waterfalls
Longfenggu Geothermal Area
Yuemeikeng Waterfall

night markets

Raohe Street Night Market
Shilin Market
Miaokou Night Market - Keelung
Ningxia Market
Jade and Flower Market
Wufenpu Market

neighborhoods to wander

Juifen Old Town
Bopiliao Ancient Street
Dihua Street
Dadaocheng Wharf
Ximending Shopping District
Bitan Scenic Area
Danshui/ Tamsui Waterfront

things to do in Taipei | explore markets by day and by night

this is by no means a complete list of things to do in Taipei... I actually had to stop myself from adding more. I tried to stick with items I could find information on by a simple google search, and of course things that I legitimately want to see and do. I also left out things like "hot springs" and "eat beef noodle soup" because while these are great things to do, there are a LOT of options. I considered adding restaurants and food to try, but that would have been enough for a book.

and of course I promised you some resource links. there is actually quite a bit of information out there, but sometimes tracking down what you want can be tough. I've mentioned before that the romanization of names in Taiwan is not standardized [multiple spellings of the same word i.e.: Mount Cising / Mount Qixing] and some sites refer to places as a literal translation [ie: Seven Star Mountain.] I've done my best to eliminate any duplicates, and to give you a spelling/translation that will bring up some good results. the list below includes sites and blogs I've visited both in the past and during the compilation of this post. again, there are many more helpful sites out there, but this is a sampling of what has been most useful for me.

things to do in Taipei | get a top-notch view of the city from the Taipei 101 observation deck

where to find information [in English]

Taiwan's tourism website
Yangmingshan National Park
Travel.Taipei
Guide to Taipei
Trip Advisor
Lonely Planet

informative expat blogs

Taiwan Photography Blog
Lao Ren Cha
The Daily Bubble Tea
Hiking Taiwan
Hungry Girl's Guide to Taipei
Taiwan Adventures Online Guide
and about a thousand others.

I hope this post will be helpful for anyone living in or planning a visit to Taipei! please let me know if you have any questions, I'd love to help. if you've been to Taipei before - what was your favorite thing? did I miss anything on my list? 
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