Journal 12-7-2014

From 29 May until 9 July I have been back in the Netherlands. During that period I have been so busy  that I had no time to update this blog. Here is a journal about what I have been doing. More detailed reports will follow. I arrived on Ascension day and had not much time to overcome my jet lag because two days later Yolanda, Paul’s sister, celebrated her 65th birthday with an afternoon party. Here she is showing her youngest grandchild. It was an animated party, where I met several old friends. The picture to the right shows our former music group, numerous times we have come together to play (classical) music and enjoy  the fellowship (and the food!). Yolanda My friends The next few days Paul and I have been done some long-distance walking, an activity we also started decades ago. We had planned to walk three days, a part of the Pelgrimspad  in the southern part of the Netherlands. But the first day I developed a few painful blisters, so we had to cut short our trip. Beautiful countryside, here is a detailed report: The Dutch Pilgrims Path Pilgrims Path When I am back in Amsterdam, one of the first things I do is to call Inez, my long time friend and soul mate.  We had a nice dinner together in a Turkish restaurant. She is also a proud grandmother now…:-). By the way, don’t laugh at me that I am always complaining that I gain weight when back in Holland (this time it was only 2 kg) Turkish food Inez Turkish food     Aric arrived a few days later, just in time for the family gathering. My siblings and I always try to have a reunion during my visits, and this time we decided to do it in a grander way, because we had much to celebrate. My brother-in-law and I turned 70 this year, my brother Ruud 65 and my brother Pim 60, nephew Jasper 40, nephew Stefan 35, twin nephews Xander and Aswin 15. And there were several relationship celebrations. So we rented a number of bungalows in a recreation park and spent there the Whitsun weekend. Here is part of the crowd Family meetingAnd here a few more pictures

We had decided to make a trip to Norway during this visit. I had seen pictures of the Preikestolen, near Stavanger in Southern Norway and had become fascinated by this rock, rising 600 meter above the water of the Lysefjord. So we booked a flight to Stavanger and climbed this Pulpit Rock! Here we are. I can tell you that It is quite scary to get close to the edge…:-) Preikestolen Preikestolen As it was our first visit of Norway, we also visited a few other places, Bergen and Oslo. Traveling from Bergen to Oslo by bus, boat and train is quite spectacular, beautiful fjords, numerous waterfalls and still a lot of snow in the higher regions. Stavanger and Bergen are picturesque towns with their brightly-coloured wooden houses. In Oslo we visited the famous Vigeland park, an ice-bar and the local nude beach. Our overall impression of Norway is positive, we like to come back. But the country is really very expensive. I took about one thousand picture, here a few. Of course there will be a separate report

After we came back in Amsterdam, we took two days absolute rest, because the trip was interesting but also tiring. The last day of Aric’s visit we decided to go cultural and visit two musea. Not sure if you can call the Erotic museum and the Marijuana museum cultural, but it was fun…:-) After lunch with a pancake, we went to the beach. At 7pm it was still warm and sunny.

Although the water was still very cold (~ 16 C) I even took a bath. It happens not often that you have the beach completely for yourself…:-)! Beach Time flies, so the last two weeks of my stay were quite hectic. One day I met Nellie, my friend of 50 years, in Zwolle.  It was a real cultural visit, the Nijenhuis castle (part of the Fundatie museum) had two interesting exhibitions. We also visited the bookshop Waanders in de Broeren, I was very impressed by the way this old church had been given a new destination.

The next  weekend I did another long (20 km) walk, with two of my former students and the partner of one of them. After heavy rain at the start, the weather became sunny. From the train station of Amersfoort we took a bus to Woudenberg and then walked back to the station. I have documented the walk in an EveryTrail report

Heiligenbergerbeek wandeling

Another tradition during my stay in the Netherlands is that I visit my (only) sister and my brother in law. They live in a nice bungalow near Schagen and this time they took me around the countryside. We visited a plant nursery, specialised in unusual/exotic flowers and got a private guided tour by the friendly owner. Also a windmill, where the miller explained finally what had puzzled me for a long time: why do rotate windmills always counterclockwise! He is living in the mill and was so kind to give us permission to have a look inside. We also went to the seaside. In that particular region there are no dunes, so the hinterland has to be protected by a dyke. And the next morning we visited my brother Arie and his wife Ineke, who proudly showed us their new house in nearby Alkmaar.

Here are a few more pictures of my activities. From left to right, visiting my former vice-principal and good friend Dick, dinner with Yolanda, lunch with Edmund and Johan and dinner with my ex-student Raoul and his Thai husband Aunn.

On the last evening for my departure I had dinner with Pim and Inez in a restaurant in the northern part of Amsterdam. A pleasant surprise, we had to cross over the river by ferry to an industrial area, the restaurant was located in a former machine factory. Delicious food and very friendly service. The name of the restaurant is Hotel de Goudfazant

Then it was time to go back. The last days it had started raining, maybe the country was crying to see me leave…:-) But I was looking forward to Malaysian food and to celebrate Aric’s birthday…:-) Rain Hokkien Mee IMG_9011

The Dutch Pilgrims Path

In medieval times pilgrims from all over Europe walked to the shrine of the apostle St. James the Great in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain. Nowadays there are still pilgrims, but also many people who like long-distance walking. My late friend Yian walked the Camino, as it is called, from the French border to Santiago, a couple of years ago and kept a fascinating diary of this pilgrimage. Four years ago my friend Paul and I walked a part of the Dutch Pilgrims Path, which starts in Amsterdam and connects near Maastricht to the Belgian Camino. You can find a report here. We walked from Weert to nearby Heerlen in four days. This time we wanted to continue our “pilgrimage”, so we took the train from Amsterdam to the small village of Nuth, where we had ended our walk four years ago. Walking in the southern part of the Netherlands is a pleasure, it is an undulating landscape, mainly agricultural, with picturesque villages and castles. Pilgrims Path Here is a collection of pictures showing the paths we have been walking. It is not always possible to avoid the tarmac, but most of the time we walked on unpaved roads

The Limburg province is famous for its asparagus. Easy to recognise. Potatoes also no problem. But the different kind of grains? The two grain varieties in the middle picture could be rye and oats, but I am not sure
Asparagus Grains Potatoes

Nature was in full bloom, it was a pleasure to see so many flowers. Here is a small collection

On our way we passed small villages and nice manor houses. Each village with its church and sometimes a windmill. Farmhouses in the characteristic black and white architecture.

On many crossroads you will see small shrines with a crucified Jesus. The Limburg province has a very Roman-Catholic background. Shrines We always try to find accommodation in the villages we pass, but this time there was nothing suitable, so we took a bus to the nearby town of Heerlen, where we enjoyed a beer on the main square and nice (Greek) food.

Our original plan was to walk three days and reach Maastricht, but on the first day I got painful blisters on the soles of both feet….:-(  The next morning I bought Second Skin in a pharmacy, but it did not help enough and after a few hours walking/limping I decided to stop and take a bus and train back to Amsterdam. Paul continued that day and came back later. So we still have to complete the final leg of the Dutch Pilgrims Path Limburg

Taiping May 2014

The main reason to visit Taiping was this time the excursion organised by the Taiping Heritage Society. See the separate post THS excursion. But there was more. I also wanted to visit the recently opened “Old House Museum“, located at Market Square. And an old house it certainly is, built ~ 1880 by a Chinese merchant Lim Ji You, after the big fire that destroyed much of Taiping. Old House Museum Side view It is a nice example of Peranakan architecture. Left a frontal view, right a side view. Notice the three storeys of the back house , unusual in those days. Inside the museum you will find a large collection of antiques. The museum is a private one, I really hope they will succeed! Here a collection of pictures

The two nights I stayed in Taiping this time, I had dinner with my friends. It is never a problem to find a suitable place for food, be it a food court, a small stall or a more posh restaurant. Dinner Dinner Dinner Of course a visit of Taping is not complete without a visit of the Lake Gardens, the most beautiful gardens in Malaysia. The Lake Gardens Here a few more Taiping pictures. One of the old bridge near the Indian temple and the Coronation pool. I am still trying to find out who built this bridge and for what purpose. One picture of a rain tree. And finally a picture of one of the eyesores of Taiping. The remains of the Casuarina inn, on the location of the former British residence. Shameful that this historical place has gone down the drain. The old bridge Rain tree Ruin of the Casuarina Inn Mural art is becoming a trend in Malaysia these days, after the Lithuanian artist Zacharevitch created the first nice “paintings” in Penang. Here are two examples I found in Taiping. Not that special, copies of Lao Fu Zi cartoons Street art Street art Street art More interesting is what is happening in Gopeng, south of Ipoh. In the past a famous tin-mining town, now a sleepy hollow, but with a lot of historical interest. Along the Jalan Pasir and Jalan Tasik, unknown(?) artists have recently created a number of mural paintings and also street art in the style of Zacharevitch. Definitely worth a visit!

THS excursion

When you have been following my Stuif’s adventures, you know that Taiping is my favourite town in Malaysia. So it is not surprising that I am a member of the Taiping Heritage Society (THS). Recently they organised a day trip to the Lenggong region and I decided to join. Actually I had visited most of the attractions on the program already, but it was a good opportunity to get to know more THS members…:-)

Departure was at 7 am from the Taiping Tesco. About 40 members took part in the trip, so a bus was chartered for the transport. After signing an indemnity form, we received our seat number and off we went. (click on a picture to enlarge it)

Meeting at Tesco

Signing an indemnity form

Ready to go

The first stop was at Lenggong town for a dim sum breakfast. Next we went to the Lenggong Archeological Museum, where we were welcomed by the Assistant Curator, Puan Nuraidah. We watched a nice, well-made documentary about the archaeology of the Lenggong valley, where in 1991 an 11.000 year old skeleton was found in one of the many limestone caves. Now known as the Perak Man. During my earlier visit of the museum, only a copy of the skeleton was shown, but in 2012 the Lenggong Valley was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and just a few months ago, the original skeleton has been brought back to the museum.

When the museum was built, an artificial cave was created for the (copy of the) Perak Man. Now it is still there, but half in the dark, while the original has been placed in the same cave. A rather messy layout, hopefully temporary. When the Perak Man died, his grave will have been decorated by burial gifts. Now his skeleton is surrounded by modern technology. He would have been very surprised if he had known..:-)

The Perak Man

Originally the plan was to visit the Gua Runtuh, where the skeleton was found, but it is out of bounds now, probably will become a tourist attraction. When I visited the caves in 2007, you still could enter freely, although after a stiff climb. Here is a picture from my archive.

Gua Runtuh

Instead we visited another cave, the Gua Tok Giring, near Lenggong. To enter the cave you need proper equipment, so we just had a look at the outside, while our guide Neal was giving information about various aspects of caves.

Then it was time for lunch. Lenggong is well-known  for its freshwater fish restaurants and the famous fish balls. THS had booked an eight-course lunch, organiser Sharon had warned us that there were six fish balls for each of us, three fried, three in the soup…:-) Of course we obeyed her! The food was plenty and delicious.

Our next destination was the Kekabu waterfall, between Lenggong and Kuala Kangsar. The experienced bus driver managed to manoeuvre the bus to the parking near the waterfall, from where it was an easy walk to the falls. Unfortunately the hanging bridge crossing the river had collapsed. Only a few daredevils managed to reach the other side.

After the waterfall we proceeded to Sayong, a small village near Kuala Kangsar, famous for its pottery, the Labu Sayong. Here too our driver had to prove his expertise, because the factory was located deep in the countryside. We got an interesting demonstration how to decorate the pottery, for many in the group this was the highlight of the trip.

The way the guy was decorating the pot in a free style, was really remarkable.Here is a short video

Then it was time for tea, in a restaurant in Kuala Kangsar. The Ipoh Chee Cheong Fun was delicious, but the coffee….  Never in Malaysia (or even in my life…) I have had lousier coffee…:-)

The last item on the program was a visit of Kuala Kangsar, with the beautiful Ubudiah mosque and the Istana Kenangan but everybody was getting tired after a long day, so we had only a look at them from the bus….:-)

We arrived back in Taiping at 6:00 pm.  A well organised trip, looking forward to the next one. Nice group of people. What especially pleased me, as a Kwai Loh, was the racial harmony, nowadays often lacking in Malaysia.

 

Pos Dipang revisited

In 2009 my friends Siang Hui and Harry (†) discovered beautiful waterfalls in the Dipang river. A few months later I visited these falls myself, here is a report. During this trip I met Jinnah, a friendly Semai from Pos Dipang. He told me that that were more waterfalls upstream. Within a period of a few months, I came back three times. The last time Jinnah took my friend Rani and me to the very remote upper falls. The report can be found in Three times Dipang.

That was four years ago.Time to go back, with a group of friends. A camping weekend. We met as usual at the mamak near my condo for breakfast. From left to right Aric, Janine, Edwin, Teoh and Nick.

Breakfast

On our way to Pos Dipang we picked up Eddie at Tanjung Malim. After we arrived in the Orang Asli kampung, we asked for Jinnah, as I had not been able to contact him earlier. It was nice to meet him after four years, but at first it did not look good, because somebody had died recently in the kampung and he was not sure if he could guide us into the jungle. We went with him to the penghulu to ask permission to camp.

Meeting the penghulu

That was no problem, but the penghulu asked us to report at the police. While Edwin went to the police station, we went already to the campsite where Rani and I had camped four years ago. At first Jinnah was not happy with the location (too close to the river) and suggested a location a bit further upstream.

Where to camp?

But after some discussion we decided it was better to camp at this spot. Hurriedly we put up our tents, as the sky was darkening.

We had to provide extra rain cover. I had none for the tent borrowed from us byTeoh and Nick. That was not a success, it turned into a swimming pool…:-(

We had planned to explore the nearby falls in the afternoon, but we had to take shelter in our tents. Fortunately the rain stopped around 5 pm, so we had a relaxed evening.

After the rain

The plan was that everybody would take care of his own food, but on the spot we decided to have a shared meal. With a pre-dinner drink and a glass of wine. That is what I call luxury camping…:-)

Pre-dinner drink

Shared dinner

Jinnah came to tell us that he would guide us to the upper falls. That was good news, I had GPS tracks taken during my visit four years ago, but I expected the trail to be overgrown, as Jinnah told us that almost nobody ever visited these remote falls.

Here we are, the next morning, ready for a long hike…:-)

Ready to go

Jinnah guided us on a different route, because after my last visit a logging road had been opened. A steep climb, but very fast compared with the old route. Nice views of the surrounding jungle.

When we entered the jungle, we first followed a rather clear trail to a pettai garden. After that, our two guides had to do a lot of chopping until we reached the river. There were legions of leeches, Jinnah used tobacco as protection. River trekking is fun, but also slow.

After 2.5 hours hiking we reached the bottom of what I had called fall nr 4. The real name is Lata Cheroh. During my 2010 trip I had seen this waterfall only from the top, so this was a new fall for me. Very impressive, but my pleasure was spoiled by the large number of bees…:-( So we took only a few pictures before we continued.

Lata Cheroh

Lata Cheroh, pic by Aric

To reach our final destination, we had to scramble up a really steep slope until we arrived at the top of this waterfall. From there it was an easy, short  river trek to the bottom of Lata Merjur (fall nr 5). Because of the rainy season the water flow was spectacular. What a waterfall!

Lata Merjur, pic by Aric

But also here there the bees were all over the place. Because it was the flowering season, Jinnah explained. Almost everybody in our group was stung one or two times. Instead of frolicking around, I kept myself mostly submerged in the water. Hardly took pictures, here are a few , taken by Aric and Janine

Here is a video of the fall.

Because of the bees we did not stay long at the fall. As the weather was still good, Jinnah decided to go back the same way, river trekking. With (heavy) rain, that would have been too risky. In that case the best way back would have been a jungle trail with a lot of chopping. Now we were back around 3 pm.

We were very lucky with the weather, it became cloudy and a bit threatening, but no rain until we had reached our cars. Beautiful landscape

Dipang jungle

After saying goodbye to Jinnah and the penghulu, we drove back to Kampar for a very late lunch (more like an early dinner). Kampar is famous for its Roti Ayam . During our meal, there was a huge downpour, probably our tents would not have survived the strong winds…:-)

It was a wonderful trip, with a very pleasant group. Pity that there were so many bees. These falls are very remote, if anything happens, you really have a problem. Actually, although I had not noticed it, I must have been stung, as both my left cheek and right foot were swollen when I came out of the jungle.  Maybe it is time for me, at my age, to slow down a bit..:-)

On this GE screenshot you can see how remote the location of the waterfalls is.

GE screenshot

Rock Climbing

In a recent post, Down Memory Lane , I have written about my mountaineering past. In those days I went during the summer holidays with my friends to Austria. To get additional training we also visited several times, during weekends, a rock climbing site in Germany, the limestone hills of the Kanstein . Here are a few pictures. The two pictures to the left show me (yes, this slender young man is me, lol) climbing a route up the Sudostlicher Buchensluchtfelsen and in the picture to the right I am abseiling from the Liebesnadel (the Love Needle, guess why it was named that way!)

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing

Abseiling

And here I am climbing the Vogelbeerfels. If you look carefully, you can see that I am secured by a rope, after all I was a beginner. But the rappelling was unsecured, if you would loose your grip, you would just fall down…:-)

climbing

That was fifty years ago.

Last week, one day after my seventieth birthday, I went rock climbing again. My friend Chadel had invited a few friends for a climbing practice day at Bukit Takun, a rock climbing site near Templer’s park. After a thorough instruction we would climb up the steep rock face, and then rappel 30 meter down.  It was especially the rappelling that attracted me…:-)

Bukit Takun is a conspicuous rocky hill. To reach the rock face, a steep climb was needed. In the right picture Chadel is pointing out the route we were going to follow. An almost vertical wall, rather overwhelming..:-)

Bukit Takun

Steep access

The climbing wall

We would start at the lower yellow cross, first climb halfway, then up through a so-called chimney (second cross). Finally abseiling down from the red cross.Click the pictures to enlarge them

Climbing up

Rappelling down

First Chadel explained rope handling, some useful knots and how to secure (belay) a fellow-climber. He is an experienced guide and has brought numerous clients to this hill.

Chadel went up first. In the left picture he has almost reached the ledge, where he will prepare the safety anchor for Edwin and me. In the middle picture it’s me on the ledge and in the third one Edwin. To be honest, I found it not easy and almost gave up, but thanks to Chadel’s pep talk I made it..:-). Click on the picture to enlarge it, so you can see how Edwin is belaying me.

Chadel

Me

Edwin

From the ledge Chadel lowered us down to the base, where we took a rest and had our lunch. Because this was just a practice climb..:-).

The second half (pitch) of our climb was easier but had a “chimney” as a bottleneck. In a chimney you have to use a different climbing technique and here it helped that I had some experience from my mountaineering past.

After this second pitch it was an easy scramble up to where we were going to rappel thirty meter down to our starting point. Not taking any risk, Chadel prepared an extra safety rope, in case we would loose our grip on the abseiling rope. The abseiling technique is very different from what I have been doing fifty years ago, Mark the tiny red gadget, that does the trick.

I think from my face it is easy to see how happy I was.

I also took a few videos. Here Chadel is starting the climb, belayed by Edwin.

In this video I have already climbed to the ledge abd I am watching how Edwin is coming up

And here Edwin is abseiling down. Can you hear the funny buzzing sound? There were a lot of annoying sweat flies..:-)

Thanks for a wonderful trip, Chadel!

St Matthew Passion

This week is Holy Week for Western Christianity. On Good Friday Christians celebrate the Crucifixion of Jesus and on Easter Sunday his Resurrection.

Throughout the ages people have been inspired by these events to create works of art. The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci (1498) is world famous.

The Last Supper

For me the most impressive musical work of art about the last days of Jesus’ life has been written by Johan Sebastian Bach in 1727: the St Matthew passion.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Mattheus Passion

 

When I was a school boy, my father took me for the first time to the Matthäus-Passion as it is called in German. It was performed in a church, and the atmosphere was religious. No applause for example after the concert! At that young age it was a long session, more than three hours. Still I was impressed.

When I moved to Amsterdam in 1961 for my studies, I became a regular concertgoer, mostly listening to the Matthäus Passion in the Concertgebouw. I think I must have attended it more than 40 times.

Although I am an atheist, Bach’s music still can move me to tears. For example this aria: Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben (Out of love my Savior is willing to die)

Now that I live most of the time in Malaysia, I can not always attend live performances of the Matthäus Passion, as the work has never been performed here as far as I know. But no problem, I have a few recordings on CD and we have now YouTube!

You can find there a large number of recordings. Here is my favourite: a recording by Dutch conductor and harpsichordist Ton Koopman in the St Joris church in Amersfoort, March 2005. Very clear and transparent, impressive soloists

The orchestra is playing on authentic Baroque instruments, as is common practice these days. Also considerably faster than in the past. The (beautiful) recording in 1971 by Karl Richter takes 3 hours and 18 minutes, more than half an hour longer than Koopman’s recording.

One more recording deserves to be mentioned. In 1989 Gustav Leonhardt, Ton Koopman’s teacher, recorded the Matthäus Passion, with the female parts (alto & soprano) sung by males (counter-tenors and boy-sopranos/altos) as was a common practice in Bach’s time.

Bach has written more Passions, but of those only the St John Passion has survived. More dramatic, shorter, for many years I did not pay much attention to it. But that has changed…:-)  Here is a recording by Ton Koopman . My favourite aria in this Passion is “Es ist volbracht”, written for alto. In Koopman’s recording it is sung by Andreas Scholl.

Listen to the performance by Panito Iconomou, boy alto in the Tölzer Boys Choir. Harnoncourt is the conductor. Try not tot get emotional…:-)

One closing remark.
It has always intrigued me that for Bach (a Lutheran Christian), it seems that the death of Jesus is the end of the story. There is no expectation of a resurrection. In the final chorus of the St Matthew, the choir starts with: “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder” (“We sit down in tears“). They continue with “Ruhe sanfte, sanfte ruh!” (“Rest gently, gently rest!“)

Happy Easter!

MH370

Just now I did a Google News Search for MH370. I got “about 276 million results” That is an amazingly huge number. It reflects the interest of the whole world in the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, now more than one month ago. Here is the plane in better days. MH370 Until now the search for the black boxes of the MH370 has been a lot less successful, with no results at all the last two days. After a lot of confusion during the early days, it has now been generally accepted that MH370 has been diverted deliberately from its original course and finally crashed in the Indian Ocean, about 1000-1500 km west of Australia. Here are some maps of the search area, based on a complicated analysis of satellite data. A bit surprisingly, until now no debris has been found.

These maps are available for everybody and very interesting on this website: Marine Traffic In the top right corner you will find an option “Go to Area” where you can choose MH370 Search Area. The site has many options, just find out for yourself. In the picture to the right, you see the recent tracks of the Ocean Shield, an Australian vessel that has recorded a number of “pings”, possibly coming from the black boxes. But the last few days contact has been lost. Searching the Internet formore  information,

I found another very interesting website, this time not covering the marine traffic, but the air traffic. Flightradar24. Be warned, this site is addictive…! You can follow a flight, from the take off, live, as long as it is wihin reach of the radar. Click on a plane icon and you will get detailed flight information about speed, altitude. This is the information sent by the transponder on  board of the plane.

It is this transponder that was switched off on board of MH370, when the plane was about to cross over from Malaysian to Vietnamese air space. Just after the transponder was disabled, the plane diverted from its course in a western direction, and later turned to the south.

After the disappearance of MH370, MAS has decided to rename the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing from MH370 to MH318. I followed this flight from the start, last night, until it was about to leave Malaysian airspace. It is the last picture below.

After a few days of optimism, when several “pings” were recorded, now there is doubt whether  the black boxes will ever be recovered. In that case it may remain forever a mystery what has happened to MH370…:-(

Taiwan trip videos

During our recent trip to Taiwan, I have take quite a few video clips, which are now available on YouTube. Here they are presented with some additional comments and links..

The first clip was taken in the Longshan temple in Taipei. This temple was originally built in 1738 by Chinese settlers from Fujian, It was destroyed many times by earthquakes and fires, but every time rebuilt. The last time was after the Americans had bombed the temple in 1945, claiming that the Japanese had hidden weapons inside the temple. It is an iconic example of classical Taiwanese architecture.

Also a temple, but in a completely different style and much more recent: the Shell Temple in Dangshui. In the hills, north of Taipei, remote, we hired a taxi to get there. Completely built from sea corals and shells. Amazing.

During our trip we had lots of nice and often unknown food. One of them was this dish with I think  is called Milk Mochi. It has a Japanese origin and was very refreshing. Aric shows here how to eat it.

One of the tourist attractions of Taipei is the Maokong Gondola. It connects the Taipei Zoo with the Maokong hill. Opened in 2007 it was closed in 2008 after structural damage of the supporting pylons was discovered. Reopened in 2010. Some of the cabins have glass bottoms.

Maokong is a tea growing region, so one of the attractions is to drink tea in one of the many tea houses that can be found near the gondola station. It was misty, so the famous night view of Taipei was disappointing. But we had tea and here Aric is showing how to do a tea ceremony (more or less…haha)

In Xin Beitou I took two videos of the geothermal activity there. The first one on our way back from our  hot spring bath experience in the remote location. Note how there is a small stream with cold water just next to the boiling water and the steam. Transported with numerous pipes to the baths.

In Xin Beitou itself, walking distance from the center, there is a “Thermal Valley”, a small lake of hot water, greenish colour, with a lot of steam coming from the water.

Our next destination was Jiaoxi, on the north-east coast of Taiwan. Here Aric had discovered during his research a nice waterfall, the Wufengqi falls. Walkable from the town.This is the lower tier

The upper tier is quite impressive, a tall vertical fall. We were not the only visitors, although it was  a steep climb. This is a popular tourist attraction.

One of the must-visit places for food in Jiaoxi is the Wengyao Roast Chicken restaurant . Their specialty is chicken, slowly smoked over tropical longan wood.

WengYao restaurant

First here a video about how they prepare the chicken.

What a job! The chicken is cooked in its own fat, with some herbs. You can only order a whole chicken. They bring it to your table with two pair of gloves and you have to dissect it yourself. Here I am doing that, it became a kind of slapstick video. Watch it full screen and have a good laugh.

By the way, I have never in my life eaten a more juicy and delicious chicken!

From Jiufen, the last village where we stayed, we made a few trips in the north-eastern hills of Taiwan. One of the places Aric liked to visit was the grave of Teresa Teng, a Taiwanese Chinese pop singer, passed away at a young age in 1995 and still very popular in Malaysia and other Asian countries. Elaborate grave, with her songs being played. Interesting.

On our last day we explored the Pingxi line, a single-track railway line, built in 1921 to transport coal. Now a major tourist attraction. On a day ticket you can stop at each station, walk around and then proceed to another one. From the Shifen station you can walk to what is considered the most scenic waterfall of Taiwan, the Shifen fall. Kind of Niagara falls in miniature.

The Shifen station itself is an interesting one, with the railway tracks running in the middle of the village main street! When no train is arriving these railway tracks are a center of activity with people preparing huge Chinese lanterns, writing messages on them and then let them go up in the sky.

Chinese lanterns

Taiwan trip

For quite some time Taiwan has been on our list of countries to visit and this year we finally booked an Air Asia flight to Taipei for a 12-day trip. To be honest, our primary reason was… the Taiwanese food! Aric likes to watch Taiwanese TV programs about food and had collected a large number of dishes to try out. But of course there was also culture and nature..:-)

As usual Aric had done  a thorough research for the trip. He suggested that we should not  try to cover the whole country (size a bit less than the Netherlands), but limit ourselves to the northern part, Taipei and surroundings. Here is the map of our traveling in Taiwan. The GPS tracks are often broken, in the town because we used the (underground MRT) a lot and in the mountains because of the many tunnels. Click on the map to enlarge.

Map

Actually we could have stayed in one hotel in Taipei center and  make day trips from there out. Instead we decided to move around to various nice boutiquehotels. We started in Ximending, the entertainment and shopping district of Taipei. After three days we took the MRT(!) to Tamsui, a suburb of Taipei where we stayed two nights in a nice “room with a view”. Back to Xin Beitou, one night, for the hot springs. After that by bus to the East coast, Jaoxi, two nights in a beautiful apartment with our own private hot spring!. The last three nights up in the hills, in Jiufen, another apartment with a view.

Room with private hotspring!

Our apartment in Jaoxi, in Japense style, with a private hot spring bath!

When you visit Taiwan, of course you have to visit the Taoist/Buddhist temples. Taipei has a number of famous ones, but you find them in every town and village. They are well maintained and beautiful, but also basically the same…:-). So after a number of temples your reach your saturation level.  Here only  a limited number of pictures. Below is the entrance decoration of the Qingshui Temple in Taipei

Temple facade

The (modern) architecture of Taipei is rather monotonous and a bit boring. Of course there is the “outstanding” landmark of the 101 tower, until a few years ago the tallest building in the world. Personally I think the Petronas towers are much more impressive. Of course we had to go up in the ultra-fast elevator (600 m/minute!) to the observatory on the 91st floor.

101 tower

The 101 tower as seen from the nearby Elephant mountain

More impressive is the Memorial for Chang Kai-shek, the former president of the Republic of China. It was opened in 1980, on the fifth anniversary of his death. During our visit there was an amusing panda event in the huge square in front of the memorial hall, attracting a big crowd of spectators. Many school children, it was nice to see how disciplined they behaved. Same with the people waiting for the MRT in an orderly queue. Our general impression of Taiwanese people is very positive, they are friendly and eager to help.

Chang Kai Shek memorial

We had a busy program, especially the first few days. We visited Sanxi (Old Taipei) where the “Old Street” was built during the Japanese occupation (1895-1945). The Red House is another example of Japanese architecture. Of course we went to the Shilin night market with its underground foodcourt. The MRT transport system makes traveling easy, but you also still have to walk quite a lot!

After three days in Ximen we took the MRT to Tamsui, a sea-side town, but still part of what is called New Taipei City. Different atmosphere, university town, a bit artistic. We visited the Santo Domingo fort, dating back to Dutch colonial times, and the nearby British Consular Residence. And we took the ferry to the harbour to see tne famous sunset, but it was cloudy. You can not have everything…:-)

Tamsui

We had chosen this time of the year for our Taiwan visit, because we were hoping to see the cherry blossom. The season lasts only a few weeks and is not really predictable. We were a bit late, but still we could see some. And there were other flowers as well, as it was the beginning of spring.

Cherry Blossom

From Tamsui we made a trip to a remote, little known jewel: the Shell Temple (Fufuding temple), completely constructed from sea shells and corals. Quite unbelievable. We had to hire a taxi to go there, but it was worth the effort.

Dingshan Shell Temple

Here are a few pictures of the interior. There is even a kind of cave behind the shrime, where you can crawl through. Good that there were no other tourists…:-)

One of the famous tourist attractions in Taiwan are the hot spring baths. The public bath culture was introduced during the Japanese occupation. Originally they were free of charge, with a separate pool for men and women, and you are bathing naked. These traditional ones are getting less in numbers, being renovated and modernised, mixed, you have to pay and you need swimwear.

A famous hot spring region is Xin Beitou, where we went next. There is a lot of geothermal activity around there and Aric had discovered a remote traditional public bath. We were quite shy to enter, because we were warned that you have to follow the rules, or you will be scolded…:-). But it was a nice experience and I was scolded only once. Mainly older men, who prepare their tea, and chit-chat a lot. We tried another one in Xin Beitou, also a traditional one. And we went to the original Japanese one, now a museum.

Geothermal activity

After Xin Beitou we took a bus to the West Coast, to Jaoxi, another hot spring center. Here Aric had booked a room with a private hot spring bath! In the town on several places there are popular public foot baths. We even had lunch in a restaurant while soaking our feet in the hot water! Also here we found a traditional bath and I even managed, a bit sneakily, to take a picture inside the bath hall…:-) Of course we also used our own private bath. It is easy to get addicted!

Public foot bath

Our last stop was in Jiufen, a small town in the hills. Popular tourist attraction but most visitors came on a day trip, so in the evening it became quiet. It was good that we had brought our jackets, because it was a lot colder here. From here we made two day trips. For the first one we hired again a taxi. First we went to…. a museum!

Ju Ming is a Taiwanese sculptor with an international reputation. He has created his own museum in the hills north of Taipei. I had never heard about him, and the museum was really an eye-opener for me. We spent quite a long time, walking around as many of his works are in the open air

Ju Ming museum

After the museum and lunch we visited the Yehliu Geopark, another surprise. Erosion has over the millions of years created an amazing collection of strange rock shapes. The most famous of them is the Queen’s Head. In earlier days you could just touch this rock formation, but now you can only view it from some distance, because unscrupulous visitors scraped some of the soft rock to take home, causing the neck of the queen to become thinner and thinner.

Yehliu geopark

The last day we took the train into the hills. In the past this was a coal mining region, now it has become a popular tourist destination.When there is no train coming, the tracks are used for walking. Couples leave bamboo cylinders behind with love(?) messages, a variation on the love locks you find in for example Paris. Another popular activity is to paint a message on a Chinese lantern and let it fly away as a hot air balloon.

Bamboo cylinders

The most famous tourist attraction along this train route is the Shifen waterfall, considered to be the most scenic waterfall of Taiwan. A real beauty. From Jiaoxi we had already visited two other waterfalls. Here are the pictures.Shifen fall

It was a wonderful trip, and we are already looking forward to visit Taiwan again.

But wait, I almost forgot to mention the food…:-) And I started this blog, mentioning the Taiwanese food. Well, we have done our best and tried as many different Taiwanese specialties as we could find…:-). It was a pleasure every day. Lots of pork, lots of delicious oysters. Menus are in Chinese, so I had to trust Aric. Here is a collage of what we had,  I don’t know the names.

Taiwan food

I also shot a number of video’s, but I will put them in a separate blog, as this one is already longer than usual.