It's a holiday weekend. The guys at work warned me that I might not make it to Taroko Gorge, and they were right. I got up for the first train from Hsinchu to Taipei, and then tried to get the train to Hualien, but there were no seats at any point today, or even tomorrow morning. On to Plan B.
I took the metro to the Maokong area of Taipei. This is where the zoo is. It is also the beginning of the Meokong mountains.
I took a cable-car gondola up the mountain. I had a choice between a glass-bottom car and a regular car. If there is a line for the glass-bottom cars, they're not worth the wait. But, since there was no line, I took one. Through the bottom of the car, you can see how lush and green the mountains are, but really, you can see that from the regular windows as well. We didn't have great visibility due to the rain, but we could still tell that we were passing over a very verdant forest as well as some successful farming areas. Specifically, these mountains are known for growing tea.
Cable Car View
When you get to the top of the mountain, the last cable car station, it's obvious that this is a tea area- every other building is a tea house. Even though it was a holiday weekend, it was a rainy morning, so there weren't a lot of people around and most of the tea houses weren't open yet.
I took a short walk to the Tea Promotion Center, hoping to learn something about Taipei's tea production. The views along the walk were incredible- I could see the city off in the distance, and even Taipei 101 tower sitcking up through the mist. I took the walk slow because I didn't want ot slip and fall in the rain, I didn't want to get my feet too wet, and I dind't want to be too stinky to go up into Taipei 101 later today. Still, it wasn't that long to the center.
Unfortunately, the center was a let-down. There was only one room dedicated to showing how they dry tea leaves, and nothing on growing the plants or any other part of the process. They did offer a free cup of tea and a nice place to sit and drink it.
On the way, I also passed a small temple. It wasn't as big as some of the ones we looked at the other day, but it was still incredibly decorated. It seemed pretty new, or at least recently refurbished because all of the paint seemed pretty fresh. If I hadn't seen the others, I would have been in awe, but at this point, I'm starting to get "temple-jaded."
I walked back to the cable car station, and noticed that the food vendors were setting up and starting to sell brunch to the small crowd that had grown.
The weather was getting clearer, but I was still walking with my umbrella up. I went down another marked path for tourists, hoping to see some more temples, as well as a really old tree and some special grove. All of these items were marked on the map.
View in the rain
I walked in the rain. I walked by the forests. I walked and walked. It was downhill, so I didn't mind too much. I decided that I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because I walked way more than I should have based on the map. But, I was not about to turn around and walk back up that steep mountain. I figured that I'd keep walking all the way down into the city below, and I'd catch some sort of bus from there.
Then, I saw signs for the things I thought I was walking towards. I hadn't taken a wrong turn after all, the map was just not capturing the distance very well.
View of Taipei
Jiuquian Temple is not worth the walk. I saw a sign that pointed the way. It took me onto a side path and off the street. From the path, I missed the temple and walked right by it the first time. Then, I saw a sign pointing me back where I came from. I realized that the run-down building that is barely decorated and mostly just has trash piles that make it look like a construction site was the temple. What a waste.
I was not about to walk all the way back up the hill, and the next temple over required a walk through some trails. Given the drizzle keeping the roads a bit slick, and that I was still trying not to get too gross, I decided that I would wait for the next bus. The sign at the entrance to the temple clearly said that it was a bus stop. It had the route times listed, and the route ended at a metro station, so I could continue exploring from there. The bus was due in 10 minutes, which was perfect timing.
A half hour after the bus was supposed to arrive, I gave up.
Now, my choice was pretty much to walk down hill and hope for another bus from somewhere else, or continue on my way to Zangshan temple, another one of the temples on the tourist map. I had seen a sign for it a bit up the road, and so I headed that way to see how far it was, the whole time, still hoping that I'd be able to catch the bus I'd been waiting for.
The sign said that the temple was pretty close, and google agreed, so I took off in that direction. Unfortunately, the path splits around a bunch of small farming plots, crosses a controlled river, and gets confusing in several places. I didn't go more than a few meters out of my way, but I certainly took an alternate path until I was able to find another sign saying that it was only 0.6 more km to the temple. Great.
In that 0.6 km, there were 383 stairs.
I got to the temple, but I was soaked by the time I got there, both from the remains of drizzle, the mist, and my own sweat. Lovely.
Panting, I took in the temple, but it wasn't that different than any other temple. It was new, and it was smaller and less decorated that some of the others. It did, however, have a great view of Taipei.
The best part is that there was a working bus stop out front of the temple. I waited with a little old lady with a cane until the bus arrived to take us back to the Maokong cable car station.
What a difference!
The morning ride up had no line and almost nobody around. The food court was packed with tourists eating their lunches now. Tourists wandered all of the streets. Taxi drivers touted rides down the mountain. The cable car line snaked down the stairs and to another floor.
By the cable car station
I grabbed some lunch at the station convenience store and sat inside at the tables, enjoying the view. It may seem odd to eat at a convenience store, but that's the culture here. I was only one of dozens of people eating there. This is why they have their own tables and chairs set up.
Due to the long line, I made sure to get in the line that was NOT for the glass-bottomed cars. Only about every fourth car is glass-bottomed, so that line was taking way too long.
I got off at the next stop- the temple stop.
Throughout the day, whenever I had a good view, I saw this huge temple in the distance. Well, now I was there.
It's actually not one building, it's a complex of buildings. Zhinan temple is quite exquisite. The ceilings are painted with beatiful pictures. The walls and posts are all painted. Carvings and statues abound. This was a temple worth seeing, even though it was undergoing a lot of construction work.
"Dice" to throw to get answers from the gods
Despite being gross and knowing it, I went to Taipei 101 next anyway. This was pretty much my last chance to see it, and I was pretty desperate to see the tuned mass damper.
The entrance itself is just a regular mall- nothing special. But then there's the observation deck...
The line to get int was pretty quick when I got there, but when I left, it was out the door and around the corner. I guess afternoon is a better time to visit than close to dark. I got a discount on the admission because I had purchased a Taipei Metro day pass, which was cool.
And then, we got moved from room to room to elevator, and finally the "top." There's actually one more floor up that they open on calm weather days, but it wasn't open today. So, I stayed inside and learned all about the tower. They have interesting short videos on loop- about 2 minutes each- that show different information about the tower. One talked about the design elements- good luck symbols, money symbols, and the pagoda shape. Another talked about the techology behind the elevator and how the pressurization works. Yet another compared it to other tall towers in the rest of the world. Of course, the the tunable mass damper one was my favorite.
View from Taipei 101
Also, at each window area, signage helped me to understand what exactly I was looking at. They labeled the important buildings, mountains, and landmarks.
In the middle, the floor opened up to the tunable mass damper, but really, the good view was the floor below. For those who don't know what a TMD is/does- basically it's a huge steel ball that prevents the building from swaying too much in the case of high winds, an earthquake, or any other event that might cause the top to sway. I didn't happen to notice any movement when I was up there.
When I descended, it had started to rain again. I had noticed from the top that I was super-close to a few other sites, and figured that I'd at least stop by, despite the wet.
The Sun Yat Sen memorial was only a few blocks. The building itself was closed, but the park around it was open. Actually, the outside part of the memorial building itself was pretty hopping. Groups of dancers practiced their routines, others seemed to be in some sort of lessons. People were just enjoying the evening there.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial
Fortunately, I was able to get a train back to Hsinchu. I was so tired and my feet so worn out that I got a cab back to the hotel and wasn't even really able to go out for dinner. Fortunately, I have Sheraton lounge access. This enabled me to go grab a light dinner made up of salad and appetizers just one floor above. Normally, that wouldn't be enough of an eating adventure for me, but tonight, I was thankful for it.