Monday, May 30, 2011

week 36_Smith & Hsu

Tea time seems to be a fairly common afternoon pastime here in Taiwan. Somehow, whether it be of British origin or the more likely Japanese influence, people here enjoy sitting down to a nice hot cup of tea with one another for an afternoon chat. There is a lovely & fairly modern tea shop near my home that I have been intrigued by for some 8 months now, so on my birthday weekend, the husband and I decided to try it out!

Smith & Hsu Afternoon Tea Shop, Zhongxiao E. Road, Section 5
Clearly it is all about the tea here, and we may be amateurs, but we definitely had some fun picking out our tea and crumpets! :) First, you must begin with the tea...

Tea menu & Tea leaf samples
We were treated with a tray of clear glass jars containing all kinds of tea leaves from the world over. We took our time sniffing each concoction, debating if we should go with the crazy or safe options...? As we browsed the menu, we were treated to a sample of Oolong Tea... Not my fave, but I already knew this from previous encounters... In the end, we decided on an Afternoon Tea set (a set meal that comes with both food & beverages), which came with 2 pots of tea. The husband chose a Black Vanilla Tea, and I chose a Black Orange Tea... We must have been in the mood for black tea at the time (and our two choices seemed pretty safe)! In the end, we must have done quite well, because I preferred my choice as he preferred his selection.

Tea pots, with tea leaf canisters set to the side.
Leaves can be added to the tea pot or set to the side, depending on how strong you'd like your tea...
Of course, being the Americans we are... tea time would seem somehow empty without food, so we were thrilled when our tower of goodies arrived! In truth, I was expecting the middle tier to be my favorite, but actually the scones were the best! The only scones I've ever eaten have been stiff and dry... but these were warm, slightly moist and fluffy... and with the clotted cream (whatever that is?) and fresh honey they were amazing! 

Top tier: Finger sandwiches - smoked salmon, roasted chicken, & prosciutto
Middle tier: NY Style Fromage Cake (cheesecake), Apple Pie, cranberry jelly & tea cookies
Bottom tier: Warm scones with honey, orange marmalade, and clotted cream
Smith & Hsu was a great place for a lingering lunch of treats & chatting. It would be the perfect place to take an old friend to catch up. I think the husband and I will definitely go back sometime. We might even go just for the tea next time - it really was good. We enjoyed this first little afternoon tea time together. And best of all ~ it was only the first part of my extended birthday weekend celebration! :)

Birthday. Girl.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

week 36_birthday weekend, day 1

Another year, another Memorial Day weekend (U.S.) = another birthday for me : )

Since at least the age of sixteen, I have established a pattern of traveling on my birthday. My first memory of being away during my birthday, although the edges of the memory are becoming a little hazy with time... was for my 16th. Our family was on a summer road trip. Pretty typical during my teenage years. We would pile into our van and drive - yes, drive - across country to explore new states unknown. My mom hoped that we might be able to see all 48 contiguous states before I graduated from high school. We never quite reached the goal, but we sure gave it a solid effort!

Maybe it stands out to me because it was my "sweet sixteen" and I found myself miles away from home, no chance of a big birthday bash. It was a long ways from Oklahoma to Plymouth, Massachusetts. The night of my birthday, I was obviously not wanting the occasion to go unnoticed, and my Dad offered to take me out for dessert. There were limited choices in the tiny town, but we stumbled upon the 'Run of the Mill Tavern' where he and I shared a delicious chocolate something. We left Mom & my sis behind, which - in retrospect - I think, is why the memory is so clear. How many times in my life have I had the opportunity to sit down with just my Dad and no one else present? After we finished our celebration, we returned to the hotel where we found Mom & sis swimming. We brought them candy bars, I guess to make up for the fact that they missed out on our awesome dessert!

That was the beginning. Since then I have spent birthdays in Paris (I remember lunch in the Eiffel Tower!, and being offered champagne repeatedly since the drinking age in Europe is 18)... St. Lucia (where we got to horseback ride on the beach!),  Oklahoma (more horseback riding!), Taiwan, Venice, and more... it's an interesting variety of places, and the list keeps growing with time :) 

Now, I find myself again in Taiwan for a birthday. My husband and I considered traveling, but this year it just didn't work out. Too many road blocks to our plans. So... without leaving Taipei (but I guess in truth, we are already here in Asia - that has to count for something!) we are enjoying a fabulous birthday weekend. For part I (Saturday), we enjoyed tea time at Smith & Hsu, bowling, and a visit to Shilin night market. Pictures and posts to follow :D

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Week 36_Keeping Busy

Hello world,

I know I haven't been blogging as much recently, so I just wanted to post up at least a quick note. My husband is here for good now (yay!) as mentioned previously, and I have also been completely swamped at work! Who knew so many people wanted to "go green"?!

It's a good thing really, but it also means that I have not been taking as much time for myself. Between husband and work, I've been trying to give most of my time to other people. So I'm certainly hoping I can get back to the blog a little more, maybe after this week is over?.....Maybe be after next week is over?

This coming Monday is my birthday ~ yay, again! ~ and I have been trying to come up with something fun to do. That should mean great adventures and blog photos coming soon! :) We will most likely celebrate this weekend... and I think we have an idea of where to explore/what to do...

Other than that, all is well in Taipei. I've been hearing about SO MANY natural disasters in the US on the news lately. Hope my many American readers are keeping safe & sound. In other news, my in-laws recently moved to Australia, so I've been hearing more about Australia lately too. I can't wait to visit and check that off my long list of hopeful travel destinations! [I used to tell myself that I wouldn't be ready to have kids until I've visited at least 5 continents (minimum). Yes, believe it or not, I actually have a much more extensive list of the things I hope to do before I have kids... all mentally recorded for my own personal reference]. So far I have visited/lived in North America, Europe, & Asia... Australia would make 4... and I'm hoping I can visit South America at some point to make 5! :)

Happy travels, happy reading, and I hope you're all having a great week!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

week 35_this & that

Mostly, I haven't had any major adventures this past week, but here are a few pictures of the day to day...

I came across this creature...
Can you see that face on his back?
I was pretty impressed with the design on this little guy!
I swear, it looks like a face staring right back at you!

Even this building here looks rather buggy...
Yes, that is a building! And I think those are supposed to be two women with flowing hair...
That's not what it looks like to me. 

I love that my building is sure to post the "New!" sticker on our announcements
in English for me!

Apparently, Cheerios may lower your cholesterol in the States,
but here, they just lower your ---------
(And just think, it is someone's job to go through and mark all six sides of every box!)

Spring fashion to drool over!
I love the designer window displays here!
I wonder what occasion warrants such a dress?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

week 34_buddha birthday

It has already been a week since our overly adventurous outings last weekend, but I have been so busy that I still haven't even gotten around to posting everything! Aside from the mountain hiking, and bus tour of the city... there was more!

By the end of our very lengthy bus ride, we had the good sense to find an MRT station and find our way home. We hopped on the train and were chit-chatting along the ride, when I think we both realized we still weren't quite ready to call it a day yet - after all, we had just taken an hour and a half rest sitting on a bus... so we decided that we should take advantage of the MRT we were already on and get off at one of the more scenic/touristy stops, Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall. Jason had never seen it, and I hadn't been there in a few years, so it was a perfect spot to stroll and observe a little bit before heading back home (saving the full tour for another day, simply because the grounds are quite large - there is plenty to see!)

North gate entrance to Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
Memorial Hall in the distance beyond
At first we were there, snapping some photos - like any good tourista would do. Jason had worn a Fuzzy's shirt that day, knowing that if we got any good pics and sent them in, Fuzzy's posts photos of their fans from around the world. [We did send in at least one pic after this outing! Will be watching the Fuzzy's website for it!]

Jason, sporting a Fuzzy's Taco Shop Tee
Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall beyond
After we had been walking for a few moments amidst the 3 main buildings of the site... we noticed something a little out of place... more specifically, that we were a little out of place... as we realized that everyone around us was wearing the same clothes...

Notice the sea of navy blue & white clothing...
Now picture us in the middle of it...!
Once we had finally noticed this minor detail, we decided to move a little bit further out of the spotlight. There is a long garden area in between two buildings leading up to the main building (pictured above) and we had been wandering smack dab in the middle of the open plaza/gardens - so we found our way to the edge of the grounds and began walking toward the main building, hoping to climb the stairs and get a better view...

It wasn't until we reached the top of the stairs, looking back towards the North gate, that we could fully grasp the magnitude of the crowd. Yes, we had been standing somewhere just in the middle there... It turns out, we had stumbled upon a celebration of buddha's birthday & mother's day! Wow. [This was Sakyamuni Buddha's 2,633rd birthday, by the way]. 

When we reached the top of the stairs, the crowd had taken their places and began to sing in unison, using pink lotus flowers as a prop with small sways, bows, and gestures throughout the songs. Politicians, diplomats, and buddhists filled the grounds and we just stood there in awe watching as the sun set in the distance.

This ceremony was amazing to have stumbled upon! Here is a video from the event... but it could never match the experience of being there in person. It was a beautiful and serene ceremony, and what a way to end a weekend.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

week 34_bus ride to Beitou

Somehow, we had taken our time last weekend on Saturday and so the Elephant Mountain hike didn't happen until Sunday afternoon. We were pretty beat after the hike - mostly just because of the heat! So, mistakenly thinking that we should catch a bus ride home instead of walking the 15 minute trek... we hopped onto a bus whose route included a stop at Taipei City Hall MRT station (that's typically our stop).

Shame on us! We should have walked!
It turns out the bus had just come from our stop - woops - and was headed along the rest of it's route. At first we were unsure, but even once we determined as much, we figured "What the heck? We'll just ride along and get a mini tour of the city until it loops back, right?" WRONG! As it turned out, our bus continued on a one-way journey to the suburban mountains outside of Taipei for an hour and a half before ending the line at the Bus Depot and the driver more or less booted us off, finished up his shift and parked the bus. Yep!
(No pictures... we were just on a bus... with Taiwanese people... maybe you can picture that?
Oh - and picture the end when the bus was finally empty, and the bus driver looks in his mirror at the two moron foreigners just sitting in the back and starts speaking to us loudly in Chinese... Yep...)

We had ended up at the base of some mountains - which could have been cool - but having just finished a hike elsewhere, we weren't exactly ready to go again yet.

Because we had traveled so far, it was going to be pretty pricey to hail a cab home, so we crossed the street to the opposing bus stop and got back on another bus. Wow. Thankfully, this time we had the good sense to get off at the first MRT station we came to and boarded the train to head home. But... after having sat on the bus for an hour and a half, I was ready to be out exploring once more; we decided to get off at a station called Chang Kai Shek Memorial Hall so that I could show the hubby around the city a bit more.

Ha! Nice to be able to show my husband what really happens when I go out adventuring... :)

Monday, May 9, 2011

week 34_Elephant Mountain 象山 (Xiangshan Hiking Trail)

It was our first weekend living in Taiwan together, and I could tell that my husband was feeling more adventurous than me! Ha. Between his jet-lag (waking up in the mornings usually between 4-7am) and his anticipation to see more of the city, he was ready to go bright and early Saturday morning.

I was laying in bed! :)

Entrance to Xiangshan Hiking Trail, Elephant Mountain

Once I finally decided that I felt rested and had devoured a Western-style breakfast omelet, he suggested that he would like to go hiking on Elephant mountain. This has actually been on my mental 'to-do list' for months, and now that I finally have a hiking partner I couldn't lay in bed all day with a book anymore...

A little history about the trail

The four beast mountains are located just at the edge of Taipei city, and the mouth of the Elephant Mountain trail begins near our home... approximately a 15 minute walk for us to the beginning of the hike from our apartment. We saw a couple of other foreigners walking the same direction as us, and come to find out, we crossed paths with them a few times along the trail. Not to mention, we of course passed some locals... and some local old men hiking barefoot. I wonder what that was about?

Footprints from the elephants who blazed the trail...
Saturday was HOT! And we were absolutely sweating bullets. Thankfully, my sweet husband doesn't mind taking many, many breaks for his asthmatic wife - but when we finally reached the top, it was worth it!

The view, looking North East
Not only were the views spectacular, but the sky was blessedly clear on the day we chose to hike. It's hard to capture these shots with a meager camera. There are some large boulders located at the top of the mountain, along a path called the 'Six Stone trail' and the views are wonderful! It was hot enough at the time we went that the tourists were limited, but there were still a handful of locals and foreigners resting among the rocks and taking photos.

My husband, king of the mountain.
In the end, we discovered that we had actually taken the scenic route... approximately four times the length of the route that the people we kept passing had taken! Once we figured that out we decided to take the shorter... and much steeper route... down the mountain. :) The much faster hike down was also immediately followed by a stop at the 7-Eleven to down a couple of water bottles! Whew!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

week 33_finally

Well, after 7+ months of living apart from my husband, his plane will finally land this evening in Taipei - bringing him here to stay, for good! I suppose if you haven't ever lived half way around the world from your spouse for such an extended amount of time... Then you just can't fathom the difference that it makes. I know, I know, of course anyone would imagine that things are hard or different being apart from each other - but in fact, you have to experience it to truly 'know', you know?

It's a busy day at work, and I'll be on the clock until late today I expect, followed by the hour long bus ride to the airport to greet said hubby; I can hardly wait! Not to mention (in addition to the many hugs and kisses that plane is bringing my way), there are also American goodies tucked inside the SIX suitcases (Yay!) - Macaroni & Cheese, ranch mix for dips & salad dressings, clothes that have been hanging out in my closets in Texas, favorite movies, photos, and more! This is obviously going to be a great week for me :)

At work right now, our week is abnormally swamped for my team and I, but I am always happiest to be kept busy as opposed to bored, so I'm trucking right along. I think between keeping busy at work and having my husband here after many months, I might just actually get into a stable routine - imagine that!

I've been listening to some American radio stations online as I work this week - I happen to love almost all music: the good, the bad, and some ugly - and it's funny to think that sometimes even the American stations sound foreign to me. Seriously, have you ever listened to a radio commercial from North Dakota? I'm just saying...

Nothing quite like a taste of home!