Day 6: National Palace Museum and Longshan Temple

This was Ryan's last day with me in Taiwan before heading back to Japan so it was our chance to fit in those things we hadn't seen yet but wanted to see.  Our first stop of the day was to the National Palace Museum.  They don't allow photos to be taken inside so I only have pictures of the outside.
And pictures from the front of the building looking out over the courtyard and the apartments across the street.
The museum was busy, mostly with large tour groups that ended up clogging up a lot of the areas around the major pieces to see.  At some points we could barely get around the groups.  Tour guide after tour guide would stand in front of something and talk about it there.  Honestly, if I was a tour guide or had a museum, I would ask that the guide share their commentary just off to the side and then allow the group members to approach the item on their own and take turns looking.  It was a total mess to watch groups of 20-30 people pack themselves in to hear the guide who was standing right up at the artifact.  The good news is that after a couple of tries we did get in to see the famous jade cabbage.
Really lovely courtyard area at the museum.

These are the front gates to the museum.  Because we took a taxi here we didn't enter through the gates.  We only saw them as we excited and got a return taxi.

Our next planned stop was to Longshan Temple.  We had plans to find lunch nearby but that was a total FAIL!  At least we found a bakery nearby and were able to get some tasty bread to hold us over.
Here is Longshan Temple, one of the more famous temples in the city.  Of course by the time we were pretty "templed-out" and it was extremely hot out, so we didn't spend too much time here.  Just long enough to walk around it once and take some pictures.

I can say that the stone carvings on the columns were absolutely amazing!

Incense burners are an essential part of a temple.  I like them at the Taiwan temples because of the dragons.
As usual, lots of ornate decorations around the building.

I loved this stone carving with the octopus!
Fun fountain

As I mentioned earlier, it was a really hot day, and we missed lunch (ok, the place we picked for a late lunch closed between lunch and dinner so we had to wait a little longer than planned).  Plan B worked just as well, which was to go back to Ice Monster.  Hey, it was our last chance to get another one.  And they are so good!
We also enjoyed some Starbucks while we cooled off (I know, that's hot coffee, but we wanted AC).  And we went into the Hello Kitty store near Ice Monster.  Here is a machine to make Hello Kitty pancake bites.  My sister would have ordered these...twice!
After a little waiting (and some eating), Balle Balle was open for dinner.  What was the big deal and why did we wait instead of finding another place open when we wanted a late lunch?  Because this restaurant was listed as #1 on TripAdvisor for restaurants in Taipei.  And we love Indian food!
We started off with some pappadum and dipping sauce.

I ordered the most amazing drink.  I have no idea what it was called, but it had black pepper in it!  And ginger!  It was so refreshing and I never imagined something with black pepper in it would be refreshing.  
For an appetizer we shared this paneer dish.  We are both huge fans of paneer so I couldn't resist this grilled dish.  It was amazing!  If we were hungry, we would have ordered a second serving.
Then we had a curry dish with some basmati rice, which was also very awesome.
And of course naan!  We left so stuffed!  I absolutely recommend trying this place out if you are in Taipei.
After the meal we were stuffed so walking sounded like a great idea.  It was, but mostly because we stumbled into some sporting events.  The first was the Jones Cup for basketball.  We didn't get to see team USA play, but we did see them at the event.  
Then we passed by a soccer stadium and it was open with a game going on, so we went in and watched for a little bit.  Not sure if it was a professional team, college, or high school.  They seemed so tiny down there!
Well, that does it for my time in Taipei with Ryan.  He left the next morning and my conference started.  More posts to come...I still have the conference to write about and the final day of sightseeing after the conference ended.  It was a great time with Ryan there and I was sad to see him go!

QUESTIONS: Have you ever toured a museum with a tour guide?  Where was the best Indian food you have ever tried?  Have you ever gone to a sporting event while on vacation?

Day 5: Yehlui Geopark and Juifen

Day 5 was extra special because I had a few of my RD friends joining me and Ryan on our day of sightseeing.  They were also in town for the same conference I was attending, and in fact they were all presenting (or moderating) at the conference.

Our day started with the guide suggesting we visit a little known (to tourists) and recently built Buddhist temple and school.
At first we thought it was these neat looking building hiding in the trees, but our guide told us this was a different temple and we needed to go a little further.  Either way, this was definitely a neat building!
Just a little further down the road we reached the Dharma Drum Mountain Education Center.
Here is a map of their property.
We entered a main building, watched a video (not going to lie, it was a little weird, but overall had a good message about Buddhism), and then headed up to see one of the main areas for prayer.  It was being set up for a ceremony, which I understood to be like an opening service for the start of a new school year.  That's why there are people in front in black pants and white shirts.  They were employees setting up.
This was the view behind us, which was definitely breathtaking.  I can see why the monk decided to build this school here.
Even more amazing was the view as seen from across the pool while standing right next to the prayer hall.
This is the view inside.  It was already set up for the ceremony.  If you look closely you can see the Buddha has a wall with water running down behind it.
Not surprising, but still very neat to see.  This sign indicates you can't bring non-vegetarian food inside.  This is my kind of place!
Once we finished our tour we had a few minutes to look around and take pictures.  The area was so beautiful and peaceful.  I even spotted this Buddha through the trees.
This gives you a better idea about the buildings on the property.  This is a school and there are students here studying religion at the graduate level.
This was the little marina area as we approached our next destination, Yehlui Geopark.
As usual, something interesting and not entirely identifiable caught my eye as we were making our way to the park entrance.
Yehliu Geopark is a naturally made coastal area with many uniquely shaped rocks.
Here are the maps with the specific formations and their names.  At the very bottom on the right you can see their most famous sculpture.  This is the Queen's head.  If you look closely you can see it resembles a person and is said to look like Queen Elizabeth.

Unfortunately just as we were getting here it started to rain.  And then it poured!  I couldn't get as many pictures as I would have liked and we definitely didn't see as much as we wanted.

Here is the area just as you start heading towards the formations.  There was a dog hanging out here.
Most of the following pictures are just the rock formations or interesting aspects of the Geopark and the nature contained within.

Tons of people out there.  But you can se how big some of those formations are based on the size of the people next to them.  If you look really closely at the top right you can see the Queen's Head.  All of those people are waiting to get up close.

Here is a much better shot of the Queen's Head.  We didn't wait in line and I didn't get that close.  Zoom worked really well!

The read line indicated where visitors could and couldn't step.

I thought these tiny palm trees were so cute!

Here I am!  I loved that there was a little pool of water inside.
These are pearl rocks.
Pearl rocks up close.

Our next stop was to a market for lunch.  Our tour guide did a nice job of taking us to a covered outdoor food market.  I love having a guide with me when local food is involved.  I can try so many more things when I have someone helping me determine what is what.

This lady was frying up sandwiches.
Ryan and my friend Cam shared one of these.  It had veggies, cheese and some sort of meat and was deep fried.
Another one of my friends got this spring roll wrap.  The lady's hands moved so fast I could't even get a picture of her putting things inside!
But I did get a picture of the finish wrapped.
Cam, my friend Naomi, and myself all tried the fried cuttle fish soup.  This was amazing!  We all really enjoyed it.
It came with a side of noodles.
Ryan and some of the others ended up with a different type of cuttlefish soup.
After we ate we looked around a little.  This is one of the openings for the market.
Our tour guide grabbed us a few of these.  Good thing he did because they were amazing!  They were peanut and almost like a rice krispie treat.  
He also bought us these treats.  No clue what they were, but they were tasted.  They were some sort of mochi-esque (pounded rice cake) treat.
Then, as if that wasn't enough food for a group of dietitians, he totally stopped by an amazing ice cream shop on the way to our next location.  This place sells fruit ice creams (he said they were non-dairy so I assume they are sorbet) made from fresh fruit.  Most of us had pineapple, which is one of their top products in Taiwan, followed by mango, which is what the driver and one other person had.  It was amazing.  Simply amazing!  I wish I could eat some right now!  The best part was he drove up to the front door, jumped out, left us in the car, and came back with 7 cups of ice cream and then drove off!
Our afternoon was to be spent in the old gold mining town of Juifen.  This place is known for being the setting that inspired the back drop to Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli film Spirited Away, which won an Academy Award for animated movie.  Before arriving in the town we stopped at the end of the waterfall to get a glimpse of the golden waters.  Although gold mining has long since ended for this town, you can still see remnants of the coloring running through the water here.
This looks so unbelievably creepy, mostly because it is abandoned.  This is one of the old buildings used in gold mining.
Here you can see a less dilapidated building.  These were the refining and smelting plants.  This is at the base of the mountain and the town itself is all the way up at the top.
Information about those buildings.
One more picture of the river at the bottom of the mountain.
The next stop on our way up to the town was at the Golden Waterfall.  This is probably of of the most unique waterfalls I have ever seen.  It was spectacular and the pictures don't do it justice!
It comes down off the mountain right by the roadway.
Here I am with Ryan
Then Ryan got to play camera man and took a picture of the rest of us.  Here is a group of very accomplished dietitians (minus me, I have years to go in my career to catch up to these ladies), which I am very lucky to be able to spend time with.  I like to surround myself with amazing people because they inspire me and this group contains many of them (includes Sylvia Escott-Stump, Camella Rising, Bea Dykes, and Naomi Trostler, with me in the middle).
We continued to make our way up to the old town.  Of course there is a temple up here.  Can you spot it?
It's a little easier to see here.  We were driving up and then out of nowhere we saw this saint statue.
This is the gold museum.  We spent a little time here and learned about the role of Juifen in the gold mining industry here, as well as the Japanese use of this area when they were occupying Taiwan.
The nature surrounding the area was so beautiful that we almost didn't want to go inside!
We thought this was interested.  Not sure what it was meant to carry, but I assume water probably flows down it now when it rains.
This is in the museum area.  It is a tunnel into the mountain.  It is blocked off though, so you can't get in.
Obviously mining was not an easy job.
There is always a cute mascot when you are in an Asian country!
Closer up to the tunnel.

Gold "painting"
Probably the most gold I will ever be able to touch at one time!  It has the weight there and the current price of gold per gram (or maybe 100 grams?).
Some of the machines used in the gold mining days.

More beautiful views from atop the mountain.
Then we entered the shopping streets in Juifen.  This was one busy market.  It didn't help that so many tour groups were there.  It was nice that we had a small private tour but that didn't stop the larger groups from getting in our way.
Despite having eaten so much already, our guide wanted us to try out a traditional Taiwanese dessert. It was similar to one I had the night before.  It's one of those desserts that looks more like a savory dish.  In this case it was served hot, which makes it even more confusing!  But it is definitely a dessert.
The best part of the dessert was the location, which is probably why the guide wanted us to stop here.  Without buying something to eat we wouldn't have had access to their patio dining area with this view.
Or this view!  You can see out the ocean from here.  Really amazing!
Plenty more interesting street foods to look at.
Here is a traditional pharmacy carrying all kinds of herbs used in Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
No clue what these are, other than they have pork in them.  We were very curious about these but didn't find out much more than that.  I think it's like rice (mochi) on the outside.
Giant mushrooms!
Eggs boiled in tea (or possibly soy sauce, but I think these were the tea eggs).
Bitter melon, which is very popular in Asian countries.
This was at a juice stand.  It is always nice to see so much produce for sale in various forms at street food markets like this.
After we made our way through the market we began our descent to get back to the car.  Like I said, this place was packed, so it was hard to get nice pictures.  The power lines didn't help either!
Ryan located a small little cave area while we were heading down the stairs.  I think this town has attracted more artists over the years (seriously, the view could inspire any artist!) and this was probably part of that.
And tourists probably have a lot of fun writing on the walls.
I spotted this statue on the way down in a little resting area off the steep stairs.  I think if you are headed up, by this point you need a little rest.
As the sun started to set the buildings started to light up.  I could easily see the charm and appeal here.  It is said to be beautiful at night and I wished we could have stayed, but our tour was ending and we needed to get back to Taipei.

Looking back up the stairs.
An old movie theater.
Stopping one last time to take in the view and get some shots as the sun was setting.
Then it was back to Taipei.  My friend Cam joined Ryan and I for dinner at Din Tai Fung.  Yes, again!  We knew we wanted to go back, and despite being exhausted, Cam decided to join us.  I ordered a few different things this time so I took some pictures of those, but not of the Xaio Long Bao or steamed buns.  This was a very tasty seitan dish.  That is a meat substitute made from wheat gluten, for that that have no clue what I'm talking about.
I also tried the tomato and egg soup.  Yum!
After dinner Ryan and I hopped on the MRT and made our way to Huaxi Market, AKA snake alley.  Yes, we immediately understood why it is called snake alley once we started walking around.  Those are some seriously huge snakes!  Terrifying for me because I have a fear of snakes!  They make all kinds of dishes out of snake, including the blood (so I've heard).  I did not see any of that!  And all the restaurants with snakes in the front have big signs up telling you not to take pictures.
Here is the inside of one of the streets.
Since I passed on everything snake, I decided to go with someone I did like, which was kumquat lemonade.  They do a lot with kumquat here.  It is said to be very good for sore throats.
Here she is making my drink.  Very fresh!
Yum!  Have you seen the machines that seal off cups?  This is pretty common in Asia, especially at boba tea places.  I don't know if they use these in the US.  It makes the drink easy to transport and then when you drink it you just puncture the covering with the straw.
One last shot for the night.  This is one of the entrances.  At least the name of the market was clearly labelled.  It helps because there are so many night markets you could easily get lost!
QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been to a geopark or a place with crazy rock formations?  Have you ever been to an old mining town?  Would you try snake if you were at this market?  Have you ever had kumquat juice?