I have a thing for mountains. it started way before my thing for dragons, probably back when I visited Colorado for the first time. when we moved to Hsinchu 3 years ago it was the closest I had ever lived to mountains and I was thrilled! but due to the often cloudy and hazy climate of Taiwan [and the nearby buildings] the mountains are rarely visible from my neighborhood.
there is a hill that I scoot over on my way to/from downtown. as you crest the hill you can see towards the mountains. so I developed a [very scientific and professional] rating system for the visibility based on how many "layers" of mountains you can see. sometimes it's zero. usually one or one and a half. I've seen it go as high as four or five on an amazingly clear day, but only a handful of times.
today was one of those days. so even though it was hot as heck and the light was harsh, I turned my scooter for the mountains.
in three years, I have yet to find the perfect vantage point for shooting mountain photos. part of this I blame on the weather - how am I supposed to figure out a good place to photograph on a day I can't see anything? but the other issue is that I know the best places are out closer to the mountains, past where we has our scooter crash. and I have avoided that area for two and a half years, ever since the crash.
but today was the most clear weather I've ever seen. and we are moving in less than two weeks. if I didn't go out and try today, it would never happen.
suddenly, this scoot became something more. not just about getting a great shot of the mountains or going on a quest for adventure. it was about overcoming that last bit of fear, crushing that lingering panic that settles in when I think of the day we crashed. and also - saying goodbye to Hsinchu and closing this chapter of our lives.
I had to go do this.
I thought about stopping at the place we crashed... but that just seemed like asking for trouble. so I kept driving. out past anywhere I'd gone before.
from time to time [when I found a nice wide shoulder] I pulled over and whipped out my camera. the roads back that far aren't crowded. there's not much around but farmland and rolling hills. and a few buildings - either gone dilapidated or managing to do that Taiwan trick where it only looks like it's about to fall over [yet has probably survived more earthquakes and typhoons than anything on the island.]
at one point, a middle-aged couple pulled off on the side of the road near where I was standing. as they got out of the car I wasn't sure what to expect. would they yell at me in indistinguishable Mandarin for being on their property? did they think I was lost? was this whole wandering-the-countryside-alone thing about to turn into a horror story?
come on guys, this is Taiwan.
they walked over and asked what I was looking at, in perfect English. I gestured towards the mountains and they seemed surprised. they thought I was looking at the water - the reservoir a few kilometers back. I said I thought the mountains were beautiful. they were unimpressed. "oh. well, goodbye!" and they got in their car in search of something else.
it was a perfect "Taiwan moment" to conclude my perfect Taiwan moment.
I almost didn't want to share these photos, because no matter how I tried to edit them, they just don't do it justice. but I think that happens sometimes when you are wrapped up emotionally - it looks better than it is, or maybe just better than you're able to describe. but I remember what it looked like in person, and what it felt like to be there. and that's what counts.
though these next few weeks will be crazy, I'm looking forward to Taipei and what comes next. I'm excited for a fresh start. there are things and people here that I'll miss, but I'm ready to go. and I'm so glad that Hsinchu decided to give me a beautiful send off.
Queenstown New Zealand is a beautiful little city tucked along the shores of Lake Wakatipu. it is surrounded by the Remarkables mountain range and known for adventure sports of all kinds. we didn't go bungee jumping or skiing or skydiving or even parasailing during our visit there. but we did ride the Queenstown Gondola up to the top for an incredible view.
which, of course, turned out to be quite an adventure.
we arrived shortly before sunset. words like "stunning" and "incredible" and "gorgeous" started spilling out of our mouths. the sun was throwing beams across Lake Wakatipu below, but it was chilly up top. so we bundled up and wandered, content to have the trails mostly to ourselves.
despite the chill, we were all smiles. with gorgeous views like this - how could we not be? [obviously we had no premonition that we'd be getting stuck in the gondola on the way down for over 2 hours.] the fluffy clouds, the shifting light, the remarkable mountains that truly live up to their name... it felt like we were on top of the world.
some people might be disappointed to visit the "adventure capital of the world" and have their biggest excitement be getting stuck in a gondola. they might want to take advantage of all the adventuresome options there are to experience in Queenstown.
but. willingly jumping out of a plane isn't my idea of a good time. I'm just not that kind of person. and you know what? that's ok. a sight like this is all the thrill I need.
Beitou is one of the northernmost neighborhoods of Taipei, nestled into the base of Yangmingshan National Park. most visitors come to Beitou for a soak in their famous hot springs. but if you aren't into relaxing in near-boiling sulfuric water, there are still plenty of other sights to see in the area.
a few weeks ago I met up with a friend to go and explore Beitou for an afternoon. we had a long list of things to see in Beitou that didn't include a dip in a hot spring [though we did try to put our feet in the river- and were foiled since it is currently closed off to the public.]
the Beitou Public libraryeven if you've never heard of Beitou, this building might look familiar. it's been featured and celebrated all over the internet for it's green design. we went inside to explore, though there were giant signs up banning photography. I loved that they had balconies and outdoor seating - something I've never seen in a library before. but my favorite part was how amazing it smelled. everything inside is made from wood - from managed, renewable sources. it feels more like a treehouse than a library.
the thermal valleythis hot spring pool is the source for many of the hot spring hotels nearby where you can take a dip. the water here is too hot for soaking [around 80-100 C] though apparently, visitors used to boil eggs in the water. the day we visited, the steam was so thick we could hardly see across. it was a bit like walking through a sulfur-scented steam room. this area is also known as Jade Spring Valley [due to the color of the water] and Hell Valley [ because of all the steam?]
the hot spring museumright across from the library, you can find the Beitou hot spring museum. this building dates back to the Japanese occupation, when Beitou was first developed as a kind of resort town north of the city. water from the nearby springs were piped down and into the bathhouse. now, there are several nearby establishments where you can visit instead - ranging from open pools to small tubs in private rooms. the museum lets you tour its no-longer-used facilities, and has an interesting exhibit about the Hokutolite rocks that are naturally occurring in the area. these rocks emit low levels of radiation which are said to aid in the healing properties of the waters.
Japanese Puji Templethe Japanese influence of Beitou continues here at this Buddhist Temple. it was a little difficult to find - you follow some stone steps off the side of a narrow road and go through a wooden gate to get here. but the Puji Temple is an interesting sight. the white walls seem so minimalistic compared to most of the brightly colored and dragon-topped temples we normally see in Taiwan.
Liuhuangku and Longfenggu [Longfong] Geothermal Areasconfession: there's going to be another full post on these areas because I have too many pictures. but I thought I would share them here because they are just a short bus ride up the mountain from Beitou. but if you're looking for things to see in the Beitou area, these geothermal valleys are interesting and also less crowded than the central area.
getting to beitouto get to Beitou, take the red MRT line [line 2] north towards Tamsui. transfer at the Beitou station for a short ride on the hot-spring themed train to Xinbeitou station. everything on this list [with the exclusion of the geothermal areas above] is easily walkable from the MRT station.
ps - you might have noticed I have blog design ADD and things are looking a bit different around here. I know I made a huge deal about my last redesign but something about it just wasn't sitting right. I loved the painted/watercolor element thing but the coral and black was too harsh. or messy. or something. this feels better, so hopefully it will last longer than 2 months! I still have a few small tweaks to make, but let me know if you run into any broken links or issues.