I finished work on Friday, and the very next day, Mike and I headed out on the next installment of our adventure in Taiwan: 我們騎自行車環島. We are riding our bicycles around Taiwan! We started with the northern cross highway over the mountains to the East coast, and I’m currently sitting in a great B&B in Luodong writing this. I have been taking some notes, and I’m going to write a more detailed description of everything when we get back to Hsinchu. Until then!
Baseball’s a popular sport in Taiwan, and on Thursday we got out to see a CPBL (Chinese Professional Baseball League) game! There are four teams which rotate play through 12 stadiums across the island. The number of games at each stadium is weighted by population, and Hsinchu’s stadium has 10 scheduled games (out of 240 total) this season. I was really excited for this game, as there won’t be another in town until the end of July.
When you drive around the Hsinchu area, it is not uncommon to see many people sitting in lawn chairs around shallow, aerated concrete ponds. As it turns out, they are shrimp fishing, a popular pastime here!
I’ve been intrigued by it for a while, and a friend just had his birthday party at a shrimp fishing place that is near his house. I should tell you now, we don’t live that close to the coast. It turns out that urban shrimp fishing adds convenience to the joy of fishing… by bringing it right to your doorstep!
It is pretty simple to do. First you rent a rod by the hour, with bait provided. The proprietor at our pond was even kind enough to check that the hooks and float were set to the right length. That’s all that you really need! Stick a small piece of bait on your hook and then be patient. You simply watch your float, and as soon as it moves unusually, you tug the shrimp out of the water and stick it in your net. Here we are giving it a try:
We were told the shrimp weren’t too active because of the cool weather, but each of us landed to manage a few! The best part is that when you are done they’re salted, barbecued and served with soy sauce and wasabi. Yum!
Want to see shrimp fishing in action? The BBC did a story about it in November, which you can watch here.
With good weather forecast for the weekend and no hot water at home, we decided now was the time to go on our first overnight bike trip here in Taiwan. There’s something really satisfying about travelling away from home under your own power. We chose to head over to the relatively nearby mountain town of Neiwan, home of lots of delicious food, hot spring spas, a suspension bridge and go-karting. It is a very popular day-trip location, yet it has a number of places to stay, so we thought we’d take our chances and see about finding a place for the night once we arrived in town. We had no trouble finding a spot, and ended up staying in a wonderful little B&B type place that overlooked the town.
It took a couple of hours of nice (generally uphill) riding to get into the little mountain town. There were some stretches of road that were a little busy, but it was definitely a popular route for local roadies – we saw many happy cyclists along the way.
Once in Neiwan we rode around for a while looking for the B&B that we wanted to try first. It took a while to find the way, but we made it, and they had room! We showered up, changed into street clothes and hit the Old Street for lunch. We had some brightly coloured rice buns, pork skewers, glutinous rice tamales and some local oranges. Yum! We also bought some spicy peanuts, sesame cookies and a bottle of local honey to take home. After checking out the bridges and the boardwalk, we looked in on the local hot spring spa, thinking a hot bath would be a great way to relax our legs. However, it was a popular spot, with all the private rooms booked for a couple of hours past our arrival time. We decided to get dinner back at the restaurant that was part of our B&B and see if we still felt like the spa after dinner. In the end, I was pretty tired, so we had a couple of beers and enjoyed the scenery from the suspension bridge, and then hit the hay. There is an old theatre-turned-restaurant in town, and it is apparently a beautiful spot for cherry blossoms in the spring, so I’m sure we’ll be back again!
The next day we traveled upstream a little further, before taking an alternate route back to Hsinchu via Beipu. We took far quieter roads, but had a couple of big (category 4) climbs and I was completely cooked by the time we set foot in our apartment. The ride today was the longest I’ve done since we lived in Ontario, and I’m looking forward to logging many more kms and going on a few more overnight trips.
One of the things we wanted to do in Taiwan was explore it by bicycle. We decided, being in the land of Giant and Merida, that we would buy some bikes to ride for the year (and potentially take back to Canada). We always like to pop into local bike stores when we travel, and it was more fun to actually be in the market for new bikes this time! We checked out as many shops as we could in both Hsinchu and Taipei.
After much deliberation we settled on ordering bikes from our local Giant shop in Hsinchu. Mike opted for a TCR Advanced, and I opted for a Defy. The experience was different than what I was used to for my previous two purchases. I was used to large bike stores that carry many sizes in many bikes – you select the one you want, test ride it, and maybe take it home the same day. Our local bike store, Yicheng Bicycle, was a small shop with one of each bike on display, and the shop right out on the floor. Once you’ve decided on a model, Tim, the owner, measures you and orders the bike in the correct size. If you want to see how the geometry feels, then he sets up a fit bike to reflect the measurements of the bike you want. It was a neat thing to try different geometries on the fit bike instead of riding different bikes in stock.Read more
新年快樂 (Xīn Nián Kuài Lè)! Happy New Year!
I had gotten myself into quite a bind about how to spend New Year’s Eve here in Taiwan. Part of me wanted to go to Taipei to see the fireworks at Taipei101. The pictures and videos I have seen in years past have been amazing, and to date I have never seen fireworks launched off the sides of a building before. However, with such spectacle comes crowds, an overloaded public transit system and expensive hotel rooms. Friends suggested we go into the mountains for a view from above, but Mike and I just were not sure. In the end we procrastinated until the only rooms left in the city were many hundreds of dollars a night, which was beyond our budget. We thought about taking a taxi or the train up for the evening and then going home in the wee hours, but it had too much potential to go sour. Plus, we had another, fantastic offer, right in Hsinchu City! We decided to catch the celebration at Taipei101 on the news and see what our own town had up its sleeve.
Our fellow Canadian friend, Cynthia, just happens to live right downtown, where Hsinchu’s New Year celebrations were set up. There was a huge stage with live music, a night market and lots of commotion in the hours prior to the stroke of midnight. She has access to her roof, so we gathered with a bunch of other foreigners up there with a bag full of bottle rockets and some Gold Medal Taiwan beer to toast the New Year. We had been told that Hsinchu’s fireworks display is none-too-shabby, and when the clock struck midnight, there were explosions EVERYWHERE! The city provided a very nicely choreographed display of some huge fireworks, set off from 3 different locations behind the stage, and everyone else had brought some too. Our building was literally surrounded by booms, sparkle and the smell of gunpowder. The city display went on for about 10 minutes, and those lit off by other revellers continued late into the night. What an awesome way to ring in the New Year!