It is approximately 5:45am Beijing time. Thanks to transferring at Beijing airport, we bear witness to a beautiful, almost smogfree sunrise illuminating the polished airport floor.
A few hours later in Taipei, home to two memorial halls: larger than life Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek sit in their monumental homes, flanked by two life-sized soldiers. Changing of the guard takes place every hour and lasts twelve minutes. Volunteers fiddle with the soldiers’ uniforms while the soldiers remain perfectly still.
In the midst of the buzzing city, Long An Temple provides a short moment of tranquility, although it is far from quiet. Taiwanese people sneak a little time of their day to wish for good fortune, good grades at school or children and grandchildren. Red wooden crescent blocks are thrown as a pair to answer your questions: yes, no or undecided…Throwing a few times in a row is common practise – or until the question is answered correctly.
Take-away boxes and packaged cookies and other items are offered to the gods next to flowers and incense sticks.
Not too far from the city center, we exit the bus to take a hike up the mountain of Yangmingshan. The park is almost empty. It is raining. A few kilometers further, a minibus saves us from the increasing downpour and takes us to Beitou, famous for its hot springs.
Discovered and first used by the Japanese, the area has a distinct Japanese influence. Bathhouses and hotels line up the streets of Beitou, which is technically still in Taipei. We spot a line outside a open-air bathhouse near Devil’s valley. Locals tell us that this is one of the cheapest and most authentic thermals since it’s closest to the hot springs. Facilities are simple and old-fashioned. The entrance fee is negligible. Three pools, three different temperatures. We newbies start with the lowest one (in position and temperature). After a few minutes, we dare to advance to the second one. The third pool is only used by old men with white beards who have mastered the art of removing any temperature sensor of their skin.
Sunset over Taipei is best seen from Elephant mountain. Locals point out the nicest photo spots, but most of them are already taken. A few Germans test breakdancing poses on top of a rock in front of us. Selfie sticks everywhere. We are lucky: the clouds provide a dramatic backdrop for Taipei’s landmark today. A short time later, darkness falls over the city. Another day ends here in Taipei.
Dark it may be, but big cities never sleep. Ximending is still wide awake and tempts us to loosen our last dollars. Food and shopping, bars and entertainment of all sorts. Although I have never been to Tokyo, I would expect some districts to be similar.
A side note: this is not a one-day itinerary (but if you want to attempt the challenge, feel free ;))
December 19th – December 24th 2016