An overnight flight from Sydney left us all feeling slightly shell-shocked on arrival in Taipei, but the wonderfully efficient local systems helped us sort things out quickly. We whizzed through immigration and found ourselves ejected into the main concourse before all the shops we needed had opened for the day. So it was only after a restorative coffee that we bought an Easycard for the Taipei metro system, and got a couple of local SIM cards with unlimited data on them for less than $10. Then, feeling we were in control of the essentials, we hopped on the high-speed train and were whisked towards Taipei.
Even on the airport train you are immediately hit by some of the defining things about Taiwan – it’s hilly and tropical and filled with verdant jungle. The train line is surrounded by steep cliffs which are a riot of greens – no other colour, just greens. After a while the hills flatten down and you are flying along above rice paddies until they in turn give way to the beginnings of the city.
In Taipei we changed over to the metro and were taken the five stops to our destination. It was only when we finally emerged to street level for the first time we understood the reason for all that jungle – it is humid, so humid. I’m sure this isn’t an entirely permanent state of affairs, but right now the temperature is in the 30s and you’d have to work hard to find a bit of air that’s not saturated with water. The mist does make Taipei streets look very much like something out of the Blade Runner set.
Luckily our apartment has air-conditioning, so we sat under it and then had showers and gathered our sits before heading out to a local super market. As always super market shopping is a great adventure and an insight into the way things work locally. Google Translate, however, has a feature which means that you can point your camera at Chinese writing and see English on the screen – it’s a wonderful, almost magic thing, which makes buying fresh milk less of a lottery. Yay!
In the late afternoon we set out for Elephant Mountain on the outskirts of Taipei. As we changed metro lines we could hear, even from the bowels of the metro station, a thunderstorm pass over-head and we questioned whether we were being sensible. But by the time we arrived at our final station the rain was only spitting so we set out.
Now the thing about Elephant Mountain is that it has a view over Taipei. And the thing about views is that you have to go up to get to them. In the case of Elephant Mountain you achieve that up by climbing a set of a million, I’m sure it was a million, steps through the jungle. By the time we got to the top we looked like we’d been in a sauna and felt completely wrung out.
The view was great, and on a less misty day would be spectacular. Taipei 101 dominates the view, as it does Taipei generally, but you can see well beyond it to the distant mountains that frame the other side of the city.
After wandering the streets on our way back in search of a restaurant that proved to be so popular it had a queue stretching out half a block, we ended up with a rather strange meal at a pancake restaurant near our apartment. Again Google Translate came to the rescue although even it struggled with the deconstructed burger pancake that the boys had.