Taipei, Taiwan: rain, pork buns and temples

It had finally come – our family vacation to Taiwan! We had originally been planning a trip to Thailand, but the flights went up in price before John had his leave approved. So Taiwan it was! It was Chaucer who wrote that spring is when folks long to go on pilgrimage, and I can’t deny that’s what we were feeling. It was time to go. After moving every year for 6 years in a row, we were feeling the need to go somewhere. This is the longest we’ve lived in one place since having children (mind you, it’s only been a year and 4 months). John had visited China in 2015 before the kids and I were able to move out here to Okinawa with him, but when we found out the Visas to get into China were over $200 we realized we wouldn’t be able to take the whole family. So for that reason I was really excited to see Taiwan. It was about as Chinese as you could get without actually going to China. The main culture we witnessed was Chinese, as the language spoken is Mandarin, but there is also a lot of influence from Japan and other Asian countries. India even has a pretty big influence on this large island. They call Taiwan the “The heart of Asia”.

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We had booked our trip to start at the end of the rainy season, and were hoping and praying that we wouldn’t get too wet. Overall, the weather ended up being perfect, and we only had rain the first day we got in town. We were so thankful!

It was a whopping 1 hour and 25 minute flight from Okinawa – so we were in the country before 10am and had there whole day to get settled and explore. I had booked us an AirBnB apartment in the Wanhua District, which is an up and coming hip area with lots of cute cafes and coffee shops. It was also a pretty short walk to the metro station which turned out to be very helpful. Thankfully, Taipei had just opened up a new line on the metro station that took us straight from the airport to Taipei Main Station, near our apartment.

We had decided to leave all our devices at home except John’s small iPad (he still had to receive work messages). We really wanted to unplug during this vacation. When we landed we got a chip for 10 days of data and  went on our merry way. It was a bit difficult finding the place, but I had printed maps and had a phone number to reach our host. Once we found a pay phone we were able to meet up with him. The apartment we rented was super cute, with turquoise walls and Art Deco light fixtures. It was Tiny!! But really perfect, since the kids had their own room with a bunk. They were so happy to have a new space all to themselves!

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As soon as we dropped our suitcases (all two of them – read about that here) we headed out for the famous beef noodle soup of the area. Our host had given us the scoop on a great hole in the wall place nearby. It reminded us of the tiny restaurants in the Mercados of Lima, Peru. You definitely don’t go there for the atmosphere!

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Lunch at the Beef Noodle shop

But the noodles were delicious. Violet had a lot of fun playing with them.

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Olivia wasn’t too keen on them though, so she was a bit pouty through the meal – just keeping it real 😉 At least she had fun playing with the noodles after we were done eating. I’m sure this was probably not considered good manners, but I don’t think anyone saw us…lol. Generally, you’re not supposed to touch your food with your fingers at all. We ate with chopsticks for 10 days straight! Thank goodness we all knew how.

It rained all morning and into the afternoon, but after a short rest back at the apartment it had cleared up pretty nicely. We walked out to the bus station and on the way found this beautiful tree blooming with the biggest blossoms!

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Blooming tree

The city was busy, but not overwhelming. Probably 2/3 of the people rode scooters, which made things seem a little less crowded.

We got to the bus stop and boarded, but either we boarded the wrong bus, or just didn’t know how to work the system. Regardless, we jumped out at the first stop, which happened to be several blocks past where we were trying to go. We just took the scenic route 😉 We were walking to the Dihua Street area, where there are a lot of new shops and cafes that have opened in the historic buildings. Along the way we tried a green onion crepe from a street vendor. It was delicious! Cliff really liked it. Once we got to Dihua St. we saw there was a lot going on – from plays and music, to the tea cart guy who’s teapot whistled sharply through the air to alert passersby to his presence.

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Tea cart/bike guy

We bought the kids a few taro and red bean treats while we were walking.

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Red bean treat

We saw our first temple here. It was busy, with lots of locals and a few obvious tourists lighting incense and offering prayers. To who, I’m not sure.

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We continued walking and found a nice little bakery, where we grabbed a loaf of sweet taro bread for breakfast the next day (we had learned in our previous trip to have backup plans for meals, especially the first one of the day – hungry kids are not fun to travel with!). We also found many little open shops selling dried fruits, so we bought a bag of dried kiwis, pineapples, and mangos, as well as some dried figs stuffed with walnuts. Those were lifesavers on some days when the kids needed a little pick-me-up.

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Walking further down the street we finally spotted something that would satisfy us for dinner – the famous pork buns of Taiwan. Their operation was coming to a close, but we managed to grab the last few they had left. They were already washing out the pans behind the stand in the street.

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Pork bun stand

After the kids ate we hailed a taxi, since we’d walked quite a ways by now and it was getting dark. Once the kids were in bed and settled, John went out to try one of the many foot massage parlors nearby. Most of them offered hour foot massages for the equivalent of about $15 USD. We tried out a few places over the 10 day trip… It was a great first day. We were excited to see Taipei 101 the next day! The 4th tallest building in the world! More to come later…

Bogotá, Colombia

John flew to Columbia on a Sunday, and I stayed behind in Lima with the kids for a few days while he attended meetings and such. We prepared for our trip in the midst of a tummy bug and an unrelated visit to the ER (when it rains it pours!). Thankfully, we were all well by Wednesday and continued with our plans to fly to Bogota on Thursday morning.

Thursday was a long day. It was the first time I had flown with both the kids by myself since Cliff was a few months old.

Waiting in the airport

Waiting in the airport

(I swore I’d never do it again after last time! Obviously, I don’t learn my lessons easily…) They’re 3 1/2 and almost 2, so in some ways it was easier, but it was a very long 3 1/2 hours! They both love planes, especially Cliff, so it was at least entertaining for them!

Hanging out watching planes

Hanging out watching planes

When we got to Bogotá, John was waiting for us outside Customs with two arepas con queso for the kids. Arepas are one of the main foods you find on the streets in Colombia. They’re delicious flat rounds, made from fresh corn and usually have cheese inside.  Bogotá was warm and sunny when we first arrived, nice and inviting. We went to dinner that evening at a chic new restaurant serving authentic Colombian style food. I got a sampler for me and the kids, complete with plátanos and a fried egg.

The city was prettier than Lima. There were a lot of brick buildings as well as some that resembled a Swiss style. There wasn’t as much concrete as Lima. Instead, stones and bricks lined the roads in a neat and orderly fashion.

Overlooking Bogotá from the hotel

Overlooking Bogotá from the hotel

Though the city boasts a population of 10 million (the same as Lima) there seemed to be much less pollution.  The weather is pretty wet.  It rained a bit on us each day, but it wasn’t bad.

The first full day, the kids and I just hung out in the hotel while John traveled a bit with his peers. We made forts with the blankets and pillows and walked to the nearby mall for lunch.

Playing with magnet blocks in the hotel

Playing with magnet blocks in the hotel

The next day we went with the group to see Monterrico, a church set up on a mountain above Bogotá. We took an air tram up the mountain.

The air tram

The air tram

Ready to board the tram!

Ready to board the tram!

The kids loved it. There were amazing views of the city from all the way up there.

View of Bogotá from the top

View of Bogotá from the top

View of Bogotá

View of Bogotá

It was raining on us most of the time, so we were glad we bought an umbrella at the bottom of the mountain.

Monterrico

Monterrico

Walking in the drizzle

Walking in the drizzle

I was wishing I had brought my rain jacket as it was pretty chilly! We found the kids some hot arepas to warm them up (their new favorite snack) and browsed the vendors for a little while.

In the rain!

In the rain!

At the top of Monterrico

At Monterrico

Cliff at the top

Cliff at the top

When it was time to meet back up, we all decided to take the train down instead of the air tram. The track was nearly vertical for most of the ride. Cliff was so excited to be riding a train and kept saying, “choo-choo!” while we continued down the mountainside.

The side of Monterrico

The mountainside of Monterrico

It was a really beautiful excursion!

Next, we headed back into the city for a little time to see the buildings and museums.

Stone carvings on the old buildings

Stone carvings on the old buildings

We got lunch from a street vendor selling Anticuchos (meat on a skewer) and roasted corn on the cob. We fed our whole family for about $3 USD, or 6,000 Colombian pesos. We went into the gold museum after lunch. Because gold and emerald mining are a big industry in Colombia there was a lot of history. I didn’t stay long since a Cliff was getting pretty loud and tired. I took him out so he could fall asleep in the Ergo, away from the stimulation of his big sister. Five minutes later he was out like a light.

We continued on down the Main Street to see the big plaza.

Side streets on the way to the Plaza

Side streets on the way to the Plaza

 I decided for a bit of coffee to try to warm myself up, as it was still pretty damp and chilly.

Getting a cappuccino

Getting a cappuccino

The buildings were beautiful.

Beautiful old building

Beautiful old building

The kids liked seeing all the pigeons and llamas in the plaza, but it was a bit smelly and loud, so we didn’t stay long.

At the Plaza

At the Plaza

The Plaza

The Plaza

We did get to see the presidential palace and several other big buildings.

The presidential palace

The presidential palace

It was a fun cultural day. We ended it with a swim at the hotel pool for the kids, and met some more of John’s colleagues at a dinner (in which we politely bowed out of after drinks…the kids were ready for bed!) If we’ve learned anything traveling with two toddlers, it’s to be flexible and know when to fold!

The next morning, we decided to take the kids to the park nearby and snag another good cup of Colombian coffee at Juan Valdez Cafe before leaving for our flight to Cartagena.

Park fun

Park fun

Hello....!!

Hello….!!

Sipping a coffee in the drizzle

Sipping a coffee in the drizzle

 Olivia had fun climbing on the jungle gym.

Did someone blink??

Did someone blink??

 And Cliff enjoyed steering the ship.

Steering the ship

Steering the ship

 It was drizzling when we arrived, but by the end of the morning, the sun was out in all of its force, forcing us to remove our sweaters.

"Trash, mama!"

“Trash, mama!”

 We had enjoyed Bogotá, but were really ready for the sunny warm Cartagena waiting for us on the other side of the flight!