One of my favorite quotes involving travel comes from William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, describing a character who has just arrived in London, after a transatlantic flight:
For me, this is the perfect way to to describe that empty and displaced feeling I get when I’ve just made a long flight, feeling very much out of my own time and space. Â Usually alone, often at night, and frequently in a city new to me, I just go for a walk. Â There’s never a particular plan to it. Â Just a wander around, trying to absorb the general sense of a place.
So that’s what I did when, having arrived late at night in Taipei and checked into the Howard, I found myself with the energy to move. Â I did this despite the fact that I’d not slept a bit on the plane, and – in a first for me – found I’d have some company on this walk. Â Niamh and Mark, also in Taiwan for the Cycling Festival, found themselves a bit restless, too. Â So off we went. Â And this is what we found:
It would be foolish, indeed, to think you know a city through a single late night walk. Â But it does start to sketch a map of sorts. Â Not just ordinal, but of expectations. Â Some things you get wrong – I’d soon learn that all those wide bike lanes were going to be filled with buzzing scooters in the morning, with barely a bike to be seen. Â But others turn out quite right – I felt incredibly safe, and there was an easiness to the people around me. Â That’s a theme that – while not particularly related to the purpose of my trip – certainly helped me focus on that purpose. Â Taiwan, despite the challenges of language (and weather), turned out to be a rather easy place.
What is rarely easy, in any place 12 time zones away from your own, is getting yourself keyed into the local rhythms. Â So it was with no small amount of effort that I hauled myself out of bed early the next morning for a second look at Taipei, this time in daylight:
Click here for same slideshow, but bigger and with captions.
After a lovely breakfast, it was off for a bit of quick sight-seeing before heading to the airport for a flight to Taitung (TTT). Â This included a stop at the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (å›½ç«‹ä¸æ£çºªå¿µå ‚):
I suppose that now is as good a time as any to introduce the cast. Â From left to right: Niamh (of Adventures Abroad), John (our guide/magician/miracle worker), Kate (of GlobalSoulAdventures), Mark (of Bikehugger.com), and Beverly (of Beverly Garrity Design). Â You’ll be seeing more of them later. Â For now, this is their best side.
Other reasons to check out the CKS Memorial:
It’s an interesting memorial, and undoubtedly could have been the kick-off of many an interesting political discussion (I find Taiwan’s political landscape fascinating, despite possessing just a glancing understanding of it), but this was not to be that kind of trip. Â Rather, it would be the kind of trip where we found things like this hilarious:
Yes, that’s a robot construction flag waver, and for the remainder of the trip, it never failed to excite and make us laugh. Â What can I say? Â We’re a simple people.
On the way to the airport, we saw an advertisement for one of the most useful pieces of Taiwan’s new push for improved cycletouring infrastructure – bike cars on trains:
To get to Taitung (TTT), however, we flew on Uni Air. Â We departed from Taipei’s domestic airport, Songshan (TSA). Â For domestic travel, this is far more convenient to downtown Taipei than TPE. Â The flight was short and uneventful, taking us from this:
Well, except for one thing. Â This fellow sat directly behind us:
I found it hilarious, though my seatmate was less sanguine. Â Alas, we all got along just fine, and now I’m sitting comfortably at home. Â And that fellow probably isn’t. Â And we were off!
Taitung County (the county/state/province surrounding Taitung, the city) was completely different than Taipei. Â Green, spacious, green, gorgeous, and green, we’d clearly arrived in a very different part of Taiwan, despite the sub-60 minute flight. Â From there, we headed north for another bit of tourism – an aboriginal demonstration site that offered traditional rafting. Â A picture of tranquility, I think:
And it looks simple enough:
So off we went, anticipating a bit of lazy time on the water:
Just look that. Â Beautiful, no?
Well. Â Just to the right of this photo? Â Is the rock I decided to land on, and make an ironic colonial claim. Â Joke was on me, though, as the rock tossed me off, camera in pocket, for a swim in the water. Â Which was really quite pleasant, until I’d been treading water for a minute or so and realized that the camera was, in fact, in pocket. Â So I’m a little short of photos for this day, after this. Â We ended up at the Hotel Royal Chihpen, where I obtained a magic bag of rice that made much of what follows possible . . .
Tomorrow: The 2010 Taiwan Cycling Festival kicks off! Â Also: Taitung International Triathlon, with a guest appearance from the Taiwan Air Force.