The Famous in Maokong and Taipei 101
It was our last day in Taipei before heading south to get to warmer weather and away from the crowds. We decided to head up into Maokong, and later to Taipei 101. Both places mixing with the famous. Ok, not so much mixing but seeing them!
The three Grown Up Travellers are now down to two; it seemed strange in the morning not to be greeted with my sister Jac's chirpy voice.
We'd decided to visit Maokong, a picturesque village high up in the Wenshan district of Taipei and known for its tea culture. The best way to get there is by the Maokong Gondola.
Two metro journeys and a short walk to the Cable Car station, our temperature was checked, and our hands sprayed with antibacterial. Luckily I had done my homework when asked which type of car we want to ride on; Definitely the Crystal Cabin, also known as the Eye of the Maokong Gondola. A quarter of the cabins were refitted with 48mm thick glass bottoms and needless to say; there is usually a long queue for these. Not today, we swanned in straight onto one.
Our relaxing 4.3 km journey took 30 minutes, rising above the bustle of the city, enjoying the panoramic views with woodland, tea plantations and narrow winding roads below us. Of course, we had to have a bit of fun with me on the floor, making out the bottom had collapsed.
We reached the top and checked our map aiming to go to the Apricot Grove in Lao-quan village. Just a few minutes along our walk, we noticed some policemen running to get on their parked motorbikes. In this quiet, serene village, it seemed strange. Then we saw two flashy black cars being parked outside a café.
Realising that a VIP must be coming out at any moment, we waited. One of the entourage saw us and asked where we were from. "England", we replied "but we haven't been there since September" to give him some reassurance, mind you, we didn't mention that we'd been through China on our journey! The group of people climbed into the two cars, sandwiched by the Police motorbikers.
Afterwards, I suggested we visited the café for tea; surreptitiously getting the lowdown on who that was. Not one of my best ideas.
The café was very ordinary with inflated prices. We requested some Oolong tea and was given a whole packet of tea, a kettle, two teapots and two tiny cups. Talk about do-it-yourself! The owner, seeing our confused faces, did make the first cup for us and signalled how long to brew before pouring it in the second teapot with a strainer and then transferring the green tea into our cup for our one sip before starting the whole process again. Tea drinking is a very slow procedure. We did keep the packet of tea, but with no teapot or strainer, we'll probably end up bring it back to the UK.
We eventually established that the VIP was a former Vice President of Taiwan.
We carried on our walk, very pleasant through camphor plantations, passing sustainable smallholdings growing an array of vegetables with chickens and goats. We followed a sign for Zhangshan Temple and was greeted with a spectacular view with Taipei 101 soaring above the skyline.
Here we met and chatted with Edgar from Taipei. He often organises tours around Taiwan, having just finished one with a group of Australians. We assumed that was his job; commiserating that it must be quiet for him now. But it transpired that he did this for fun, travel is his passion. He is a businessman, consulting for several US companies.
We love meeting people and of course, in the present climate, harder to do, however, we are fortunate that we can still travel around, unlike most people. We are thinking of you all.
Well, we never did reach the Apricot Grove. Time was ticking, we wanted to visit Taipei 101.
A gondola and bus ride later, we were outside this 509.2 m (1,671 ft) giant, the world's tallest tower when it opened in 2004 until Dubai's Burj Khalifa overtook it by a whopping 320.6 m! It is still the largest "green" building in the world.
As the Taipei 101 website says: "As the Empire State Building is in New York, the Eiffel Tower is in Paris, and the more recent Jin Mao Tower is in Shanghai, facing the 21st century, Taipei needs a wider stage and a brighter performance, 101 floors above ground and 5 floors below ground, Taipei 101 is the "Bringing Taipei to the world" project of hope." It is a beautiful design, with the repeated sections similar to the rhythms of an Asian pagoda.
We made our way to buy tickets to reach the top of the tower, through security where an infra-red camera scanned our body temperature. The expense of the tickets was beyond our budget, and it was dusk anyway. Oh well, it was nice to wander around the empty shopping mall with top designer shops such as Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Very luxurious!
Edgar had recommended we visit Din Tai Fung 101, famous worldwide for its Xiaolongbao - Chinese steamed buns.
This restaurant originated from humble beginnings. Its founder, Yang Bing-Yi, arrived in Taiwan in 1948, aged 21, to escape the Chinese civil war. He worked hard in the food oil business, met his wife, and when his employer was forced to close his business, they both set up their own oil company. With the introduction of tinned cooking oil, their business took a downturn, so they diversified and started making their delicious steamed buns, and the rest is history.
On the next table to us were a group of youngsters, all looking quite hip, taking photos and videos of each other crammed on one side of the table – no social distancing for them. I wish we'd taken a photo of them as on our way home, Tim spotted a billboard with their faces on it, advertising a Japanese Youtube channel. Two lots of famous people in one day - well I never!
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