Day 1: Getting Acquainted with Taipei (Taipei 101 and Ice Monster)

I will admit that Taiwan was never on my travel list, but when I was at a conference in Sydney 2 years ago I picked up a post card for the Asian Congress of Dietetics 2014 taking place in Taipei.  From that moment I had thoughts of a trip to Taiwan but only started taking those seriously as the conference got closer.  Actually, once I started researching Taiwan the excitement kicked in and I went all out in my planning.  The added bonus was that my husband planned to request leave from work to be able to join me on this trip.  And this was how our Taiwan adventure was born.

About 2 weeks ago we made our way to Tokyo to board the flight bound for Taipei.
I was actually impressed by the vegetarian meal we were served.  Lots of vegetables.  The whitish item on the left was unidentifiable at the time, but seemed a little like an apple and a potato combined.  We learned later on in our stay that this was guava.  Apparently in Southeast Asia guava also comes in white, not just the pink variety.
This was the first time in a long time I ended up with a yogurt on my vegetarian tray.  I know this was because I was able to specify lacto-ovo and it wasn't just assumed a vegan try.
More veggies, which was nice.
And probably what was the best entree I have had on a plane in a long time.  I can only describe this as an Indian lasagna burrito.  Yes, you read that right, and both Ryan and I really enjoyed it.  It was like lasagna with sauce and cheese on it, but sort of wrapped like a burrito and the filling was packed with chickpeas and Indian spices.  Surprisingly very good.
We had arranged for a private transport to the hotel because it was a little later in the evening and we knew after a day of travel it would just make things easier to not have to think about finding some sort of transportation.

Our hotel was the Royal Biz Taipei.  It was cheaper than the hotels listed on the conference website, even with conference discounted prices, and had breakfast included.  Not to mention there were suites available with a separate sitting area and desk space, which appealed to me because I was staying 10 nights and was still working some on the trip (teaching and had some of my own school work to do).

I was excited to see the room because at first glance it was not only spacious, but clean.  No cracking paint on the walls or peeling carpet on the ground.  The bed seemed comfortable and the bathroom was a good size.  Here you can see the bedroom area, which was a good size and easy to move around in.
We had a nice sitting area with a couch and a TV, which as I mentioned was separate from the bedroom area.
We had fresh fruit in the room, and a minibar below (pictures below, I was tired and didn't get one until later).
We started out first full day off with the hotel breakfast.  The buffet wasn't huge but it had a nice variety and the sitting area was enough for all guests without being too cramped.  They even had an outdoor sitting area with 2 tables.  If it hadn't been so hot and humid I probably would have had my breakfast out there.
Here you can see the guava on the left, which has a green skin, with an all white flesh.  They also had dragon fruit and pineapple.  Pineapple is a huge agricultural product in Taiwan.  They are well known for their pineapple cakes (pic later).  The fresh fruit selection changed daily and it was always a nice looking display.
On the right is one of my favorite dishes- tofu with carrots and celery.  If you followed along with our China trip you will have seen that I ate this a few times while we were there.
The top dish was tomato and mozzarella, which I tried.

Steamed buns, which were different kinds each day.
Here is the outdoor area.  Really cute!
This is what I ended up with, along with some eggs, which were made to order.
And congee, of course.
I do want to provide some commentary on food safety and the water.  Having recently spent a lot of time in China (let's consider for the purposes of this blog that Taiwan is separate from Mainland China in terms of who belongs to who and what is what...not able to comment on Chinese politics!) I was familiar with the caution used in eating fresh fruits and vegetables and drinking the water.  Before our trip I did some research and what I found in most places was that the water was safe, but not necessary clean because it may not have been filtered and the pipes are often old.  The hotel did not have any warnings in the bathroom about the quality of the water and on day 1 I felt comfortable enough in the hotel to eat the fruits and vegetables that would have been washed from the hotel water.  I decided that I would play it by ear and decide based on each establishment I went to and what I was ordering (as a side comment, I quickly realized in most cases it was ok and I pretty much ate and drank at all places without much concern and did not get sick- I used some caution in the more questionable street food vendors/markets, but those were rare, and I stuck to hot foods).

Before heading out for the day I did manage to get a picture of the mini bar, which came with complimentary snacks- in the basket on the second shelf from the top.
Our plan for the day was to visit Taipei 101 first.  I had heard/read that weekdays were best and going as the sun was setting was ideal.  Having had the experience of the sun setting while we were at the Tokyo Sky Tree, I knew why this was ideal and could appreciate that suggestion.  I also knew that timing wise it would be good to go first because I didn't want to have to pass on going up because of bad weather or long lines.  The next few days were supposed to have some rain so while the sun was out and it wasn't too hazy, I wanted to go up, despite it being a Saturday morning.

What was neat was that we passed through a bustling market on our way to Dongmen station.  It started just blocks from our hotel and was packed with some of the most amazing local culture I have witnessed...not just because it was locals picking up fresh ingredients on a Saturday morning, but because this contained some truly unique food items.  The aisles were small and it was packed with people.  It was pretty cool to watch.  We wanted to check it out so we ended up using this as a detour on our way to the MRT (subway) stop.

You can see how busy it was down this tiny alley way.
Most of the stuff at this point was unidentifiable to me, but I know a lot were various kinds of meat.
There was also some nice looking produce.

And some more unidentifiable things.
Fresh noodles, which I would have bought if I had thought there was any way I could prepare them.
Sticky rice in lotus roots.

Definitely not my thing, but I was interested in the local culture enough to quickly snap a picture.
Nothing like selling meat in close proximity to a clothing shop!
More produce.

After we made our way through the market we found the MRT station.  The whole process was easy.  Having traveling on public transportation in a lot of places you start to realize they are all very similar and as long as there is English, it is easy to figure out.  The Taipei MRT was no exception.  very clean, English writing, and clear labels made this process a breeze.  Oh, and it is super cheap, which is nice!  Another cool thing about the MRT is that the single journey tickets come as plastic coins.
Our first stop was Taipei 101, which was conveniently located on the same MRT line as the one by our hotel.  On our way over to the building, which has an entrance right in the station, we found some neat art installations.  This picture of a face would change every few minutes, with each square flipping around at all different times until the next face popped up.  It was similar to the sign changes on a train or airport sign with locations and departure times (hopefully you know what I am talking about, I can't think of any other way to explain it).
So the face above, then changed to this face.  Neat!
Here is the information on the artist.  Pretty neat that this was in the subway station.
Another thing that quickly impressed me about Taipei was the focus on and support for breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding rooms were everywhere and well advertised.  The reason this is something that caught my attention is because I work in maternal and child health with the WIC program and I teach breastfeeding classes, so this is something that is important to me.
Then we popped up right at the base of Taipei 101.  Of course once you are right next to the building it becomes impossible to take a picture of.  Currently Taipei 101 is the second tallest building in the world, coming in second after Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world from 2004-2010, so it had a pretty good run at being the tallest.  Before that Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur was the tallest, which I visited last summer, so it seems I am making my rounds (if you include Tokyo Sky Tree in there) to visit the tallest buildings in the world.  If you have seen the somewhat recent movie Lucy you will have gotten a few good looks at this building since it takes place in Taipei at the start.  
We headed straight for the ticket counter in hopes of beating the crowds.
Our timing was excellent and we actually had no wait time other than to board the elevator.  I heard they do like Tokyo Sky Tree where they give you a number with a time to return and get back in line to wait, so I was surprised when I asked how long we had to wait and the woman told me there was no wait time, just go get in the line by the elevator.
It didn't take long before we were first up to board the world's fastest passenger elevator.
That is one seriously fast elevator!  This is the display inside to show the information about the ride up.
The ceiling is decorated to look like the stars/constellations in the sky.
Taipei 101 was the first building in the world to exceed the 500 meter mark in height.
The view from up top was awesome, as was to be expected.  It wasn't the clearest day, but better than if it had been raining.

The building with the yellow roof is Sun Yat-sen Memorial and behind that is the partially completed new stadium being built.  One thing you can see is that there is a lot of green in the city and more green surrounding it, although the mountains are a little hidden in the haze.
Here is the damper.  The damper sphere is the largest in the world and helps to stabilize the building in earthquakes and typhoons (which they actually had recently- just before we came was a huge typhoon that did a bit of damage in some areas).  It is huge and spans 5 floors.
Lots of thick cable to hold it in place.
True to Asian (really like Japanese) culture, they had to turn the damper into something cute, so the mascot here is the Damper Baby, complete with a backstory.
And here we are with the Damper Baby.
These pictures were taken from the 91st floor outdoor observatory.  It isn't always open so we got lucky.

Here I am, back inside, at one of the windows.
Now you can see a better view of the green that surrounds the city.
Loved this sign by one of the windows.  I honestly don't know what I would do if I turned around and spotted a washer, but after my initial shock I would definitely take advantage of the photo op.
While we were up at the top we thought it was a good time to try out the famous pineapple cake.  Lots of companies make this so you can find similar cakes all over.
Before we left we took another look at the damper from the floor below (you exit from a different floor than you come up on).
More of me with the Damper Baby.
Taipei 101 comes complete with an upscale mall.
We headed to the basement food court and found a coffee shop, Agnes B.

We also decided that the mall was ideal for lunch because we knew there was food here but not sure about our next location, and we also knew we wanted shave ice which was nearby.  Our first thought was Din Tai Fung but the line was insanely long and we didn't have that much time to spend.  Instead we went to the food court. We both decided on bibimbap.  The only downside to this was that it was a weekend and this made it nearly impossible to find a seat.
Our next stop was for shave ice.  We walked from the mall and along the way passed some fun sculptures.
We also passed this fun display of bunnies which it seems was to advertise for an ice cream treat.

As we got further away from Taipei 101 we could get some better pictures.
Here is another one of those fun sculptures I mentioned.
And more pictures of Taipei 101.
Another fun sculpture.
Then we stumbled into the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall.
Always a good idea to place in a public area where dogs may be.
The place was very large and wasn't part of our original plan, so we only made a quick stop into the memorial hall to have a look.  

From here you can get a better look at Taipei 101.
The hall is done Lincoln Memorial style.  The reason so many people are around taking pictures is because it was like the changing of the guard and there was a performance taking place.

Here is the view looking out from the front of the Memorial Hall.
I think it was me that was crooked, not that the building was actually leaning.
Here is that stadium being built that was visible from the top of Taipei 101.
Here is a cute Hello Kitty (not going to debate the recent exposure of the cat versus person status of Hello Kitty) store.  As with most of Asia, Hello Kitty is a big deal.  This was a store with a cafe in the back and a focus on Hello Kitty pineapple cakes.
A display of some of the cafe food items.
Just a few stores down is Ice Monster, which according to my research online is THE spot to get a mango shave ice.
Apparently everyone else also got that memo!  It was extremely humid outside but with the recent rain it wasn't as hot as it could have been so the wait wasn't so bad (about 30 minutes).
While we were waiting we watched a delivery of fruit go inside.  Check out all those mango chunks!  Those are clear containers filled with mango, making them orange of course.
No idea what this says, but it was cute.  This is the mascot for Ice Monster.  I think it's supposed to be a mango cube.
Thoughts?  Looks like a mango cube to me, with a funny mustache face.
What you can't see on this sign is that this is one of the CNN ranked top foods in Taiwan, although it's really just the shave ice in general, not specifically this location.
More delivery on the way in.  I think this must be ice since once we were inside I saw ice being taken into the kitchen.
Here is the famous mango shave ice, which Ryan ordered.  Um yum!  So amazing!  The white looks like tofu but we later saw it listed as panna cotta.  
I wanted the pineapple shave ice but they were out so I went with strawberry, which was my next choice anyway.  It was amazing so I am glad I tried it.  The ice is so fluffy and creamy.  It is amazing to know that it's actually shave ice.  It also came with panna cotta, sorbet (or sherbet, was hard to tell, strawberries, and a side of sweetened condensed milk.  Yum!
After our delicious dessert we boarded the MRT for our next sightseeing adventure.  I have no idea what this says, but it looked too funny not to take a picture of it.
More fun stuff when we excited the MRT station.  I have no idea but I suspect they are from a cartoon or the mascot of something.
Our next was Dalongdong Baoan Temple, which actually had a few temples around as we walked over the location.  These first few pictures are from other temples and buildings along the way.
Lots of green in the city.  This was actually on the same street as we approached Baoan Temple.

This is a Confucius Temple just next to Baoan.

As in mainland China, rocks with lots of holes are popular.  I assume it is viewed the same here- the more holes the more beautiful.

I love the statues and scene depicted in this pond.
A fun dragon fountain.
This is crossing over to the Dalongdong Baoan Temple.

Here we are inside the main courtyard.
Very decorative doors.
I noticed that the temples all seemed to have a central courtyard and buildings with a second floor and ornate balconies.
Here is one of the central altars.

This was in the back of the temple (I wandered off to find a bathroom).  I really liked how there were trees included even back here.
I spotted this as we were walking back to the MRT station and thought it looked interesting.  I guess my first thought was that this was like the places in the US where you cook dinner at their kitchen and then take the meals home to eat later in the week.  My second thought was that they had convince foods that you could just pick from and keep at home for the week.  In reality, I have no clue what this is!
Right next to the station we spotted the Taipei Arts Festival and decided to check it out.
It was taking place at the Taipei Expo Park.
One of the first places we spotted was a bagel shop, and while neither of us needed a bagel right then, we knew we would want some later.  Sorry for the crooked picture, but I ended up with a dead battery on my camera and switched to my phone and I think this is turned the wrong way.  We were excited to find bagels in Taiwan so we weren't going to pass on the opportunity.  We also bought some cream cheese to go with it.
I don't know what this stands for, but it was the sign above the entrance way for the food court.
This was an interested sculpture just next to the food court.
Towards the back of the food court was a section with sit down restaurants, cute and trendy looking, with a nice little courtyard.
The restaurant in the back is Argentinian but they also had tapas, which was interesting.
We ended up at a Mediterranean restaurant called Popeye, which ended up being really cute. 
I guess my iPhone didn't do such a good job of taking pictures in the dim light.  Oh well, the meal was tasty!  We started of with some bread.
I had some crostinis.  These were topped with anchovy.
These were topped with black and green olive tapenade.
I had some wine and that was about it.  I wasn't really too hungry...still full from the shave ice, but I knew I should eat something for dinner.  Ryan had a pizza, which I also tried.
Then we made our way back to the hotel.  All in all we had an excellent first day in Taipei and a great first exposure to the local area.  Plenty more to share on our adventures, although I will apologize in advance if the posts are slow.  I am trying to get caught up on my work and the new semester starts next week for me so I am finishing up my research and starting a new class, which looks quite intense.  But I promise there will be plenty more posted about our amazing time in Taiwan.

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been to Taiwan?  Have you ever heard of Taipei 101?  What is the tallest building you have visited?  Have you ever had shave ice (Asian style)?