"My oh my what a wonderful day!" - Uncle Remus
Day 1: We had so much fun at HK Disneyland! Here’s a breakdown of Day 1!
"It's a small world after all!" - Disneyland
(Full disclosure: I started and stopped this post several times while in Hong Kong so some of it is in real time, some of it is in retrospect. Next time, I'll try to keep more current.)
After such a pleasant stay at Disneyland Explorers Lodge, I was excited to visit the park. Really, the only expectation I had was that it was just like Disneyland only much smaller. But after two days at Disneyland Hong Kong, I don't think that's an accurate assessment. It is much smaller, but it is not just like Disneyland. It has many different rides and attractions that make it it's own place. We'll go head-to-head, land by land.
Overall, our time at the Hong Kong Disneyland was a lot of fun. And after a head to head breakdown, it comes up a tie. since there's a lot to like about both theme parks. But since I don't like being indecisive, I will give the victory to... OG Disneyland! There's a lot that's great in HK Disneyland, but after all, this whole post was comparing it to the original against which all others are compared. I'm so happy we got to experience HK Disneyland and may even miss some of it, but in the end, even though it's a small world, there's no place like home!
"Well, I might take a plane; I might take a train/But if I have to walk, I'm going just the same" - Fats Domino
Travel days like today can sometimes be hard. We leave early to get to our destination and it feels like we spend a lot of our time trying to find out bearings. It's starting to feel more normal, though, and I don't feel quite the same compulsive pull to figure everything out on Day 1. So that's progress, I guess. Today's travel day went about as well as could have planned. We left Taipei at 6:00 am, arrived at the airport by 7:00, got on our plane at 7:45, sat on the tarmac for a gazillion hours, flew in an airplane, took a tram to our luggage, took a subway to our train, took a train to the Disneyland station, took the tram to our hotel... and yet somehow managed to make it from the airport to our hotel by noon!
We will be spending a week in Hong Kong. For the first few days, we'll be staying at Hong Kong Disneyland and will be visiting the park. Then, we'll move towards Central Hong Kong on Saturday and will stay there the rest of the time we're here. Today, we spent most of our day roaming around our huge hotel resort. We have never taken this kind of vacation with the kids and it is so relaxing not to have to figure much out. It's straightforward: three Disney hotels, nine restaurants, one theme park, and a tram to get us around.
Maybe because I've never been on this kind of vacation, but I am majorly impressed with the Hong Kong Disneyland area. It's so quiet and relaxing, but still has that high-quality Disneyland service. I especially appreciate all the staff, who are ready to help out, give the kids stickers, or ask if we need any help. It's great. We had two nice meals, one at our hotel (the mid-priced Disney Explorer Hotel) and one at the nicest hotel (HK Disney Resort). Both had some great amenities and the Disney Resort is definitely beautiful, but the style of the Explorer Lounge is more my speed. All the little touches make the hotel really fun. We have enjoyed our time here and we haven't even gone in the park!
Tomorrow, we plan on waking up early and getting to the park. I know it's going to be a fun day!
"I had a dream I stood beneath an orange sky..." - Alexi Murdoch
It's interesting to me that with more and more travel, I'm noticing that preparation isn't everything. More often than not, we plan on going someplace and do research, then we end up doing something different. The second day of our trip to Sun Moon Lake was different from what we had originally planned, but it was still pretty great.
After our early alarm, we went back to sleep. It was a few hours later when we woke up and saw the sleepy pier was starting to get busy with action. We decided to get started with our day with breakfast, but since we were low on choices, we ended up going to Starbucks. It's always an interesting experience eating familiar foods in unfamiliar places and Starbucks had a few different options for their Sun Moon Lake customers. Overall, it was nice to have some American breakfast.
After eating, we decided to get to touring. The lake is pretty large and you can use either the boats or a bus to get around. We took a bus ride to the other side of the lake to go on the famous gondolas. This is not usually the type of thing I like to do, but I was excited to see the view from the top. It definitely did not disappoint!
We made it to the top, saw the theme park at the top, saw the price to enter the park, and decided to head back down. Our plan was to go meet Matt's coworkers for lunch, but we ended up walking in the entirely wrong direction and taking the boat across. The village down near the pier was really cool and we were happy we ended up getting a chance to see it, even if it was an accident.
"I never thought I'd be on a boat!" - The Lonely Island
This weekend, we took a very fun trip to Sun Moon Lake, the largest body of water in Taiwan. It is pretty much right in the center of the island, so it has a different feel than the parts of Taipei that we've gotten used to. It took a train ride and a bus ride to get to the lake itself, but once we got there, we were treated with a really fun outdoor weekend.
Sun Moon Lake is surrounded by hills, which dominate the landscape. Most of the transportation is via boat or bus, so it was pretty easy getting around... once we figured out where we were going. We started with an early morning trip to Taipei Main station, then a ride on a tour bus to the lake area.
Once we got to SML, we dropped our bags off at our hotel near the Shuishe Pier and went to find a snack. Everywhere we went had a pretty nice view, although I will say, our area was not the best in terms of variety of restaurants. We did find a nice place for a snack of coffee, waffles, beer, and soup - odd mix, but it was pretty tasty!
After lunch, we decided to take the boat ride across the lake to the other side. There are different villages all along the lake; the first stop was to Xuanguang Wharf. The boat ride was pretty fun and Willsy was especially excited to be on a boat "for the first time" (not really - he just doesn't remember the other times). Meanwhile, I was a nervous wreck since 1) we didn't have lifevests and I have a kid who can't swim and 2) I could not understand what the captain was saying. I finally found a bouy to use in case of emergency and calmed down a little. About mid-lake, I found out that there are life vests and preservers on the boats, you just have to know where to look for them. Anyway, the ride was short and easy and soon enough, we were on the other side and I have dedicated myself to getting Willsy to learn to swim. :)
Once we reached the other side of the lake, we heard some indigenous music and dancing. We decided to walk uphill to see this small temple there. But once we got there, we saw a trail head and decided to walk to another temple.
We had no idea how hard the trail would be and it was so interesting to see how fewer and fewer people were willing to make the trek the higher up we got. There were tons of stairs and it was pretty hot, but at the end of the trip, the payoff was a beautiful resting spot at the Master Xuan Zang Memorial Hall.
Once we felt energized to do the hike back down, we started on our way. It was a lot cooler when we left, plus it was mostly downstairs so our trip was much easier. On our way down, Willsy put his wish on the tree - he wished dinosaurs would be real - and we also learned a little more about the natural landscape here. We saw a few lizards, heard cicadas, and even found a creepy spider above our heads that was about the size of our hands. It was pretty awesome to be able to get out in nature after so much time in the city.
After our unexpected, strenuous hike we decided to go to our hotel to decompress. It was nice to take a breather. Afterwards, we went to find a spot for dinner. We tried a few places and found they were all booked, but we eventually found a yummy place and had a great meal to end an epic day.
"Happy ever after in the market place..." - The Beatles
Today, we set an alarm and got up early, for us. By early, I mean 9:30. One of the benefits of homeschool is that we can get up and start whenever we want. One of the downsides is that we end up having a very strange schedule where we stay up late and wake up late. But today, I decided to stop the madness and actually set an alarm so we could be up and our before noon. I know, it's ambitious, but we made it happen.
We walked downstairs to our regular market and saw that the marketplace we've seen was actually still open. Even though we were set on going to our regular market (I mean, they have American cereal there!), we decided to walk through the marketplace. It was definitely worth a revisit!
The marketplace was a mix between a farmer's market, a swap meet, food court, and a butchery. I haven't seen too much like it. There are two aisles to walk down and you can pick up pretty much anything you need from the vendors. We had already gotten our groceries, but I threw down the gauntlet: by the time we leave Taipei, we will shop at this market. Not only does it make me feel more like a local, I think that everything is fresh and local, including the meat. So I'm putting it on here so I can hold myself to it: we will go shopping here soon!
"Happy birthday to ya!" - Stevie Wonder
We decided to celebrate Jacob's American birthday with an American style meal at SPOT. He's the mini-foodie of the group and he definitely likes steak, so SPOT was a great choice. We ordered some delicious mushrooms and two steaks to share. Both were delicious!
After dinner, we meandered through the streets on our way to Taipei 101. We passed by a new place similar to the Cocomen we saw yesterday, except this one just had some toy machines you could buy small toy eggs out of. There was a large variety to choose from, some that were cool (Hello Kitty, Disney TsumTsum, and Pokemon), others that were bizarre (model table, mini lamp, and dogbird). We bought a few toys and continued on our way. It wasn't quite as fun as trying to win at Cocomen, but at least we all actually left with something in our hands!
We stopped by Street Churros to get some of Jacob's favorite Taipei snack.
Then we passed the famous Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, a building dedicated to the former President of Taiwan. It's a beautiful building, but we've never managed to get a tour inside. Even today, we got there just in time to be escorted out. I guess it was too late to visit.
After our quick walk through Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, we walked past a rally/protest/celebration. We had no idea what it was about, so we decided not to stay and kept moving towards Taipei 101.
Finally, we made it to Taipei 101 in time to enjoy some of the Taipei lights. I had no idea it was going to be so busy, but it was definitely a more hectic experience than our earlier visits. Not only was there a line, but there were also so many people that it really wasn't as relaxing. We admired the view for a bit, then made our way out to the observation deck before coming back home.
Our own walk home, we got to admire some of the lights unclose and see Taipei at night. It really was a beautiful sight, both from on the 91st floor of Taipei 101 and from the streets below. Overall, it was a great end to a nice birthday weekend for Cubs.
"Happy happy birthday from all of us to you/We wish it was our birthday so we could party too!" - Random
Today, we celebrated our Cubby, Jacob! It was his big 12th birthday and we tried to do some things that Jacob would enjoy. We also had my brother and sister in law and their three kids back in town, so we got to spend the day with them. It was a fun birthday!
We started off with a walk to my favorite American food restaurant, The Diner. The Diner is as close to a classic American diner as you can find at home only super good. I mean, the pancakes, especially the banana pancakes, are really delicious. So we started the day with that - three orders of banana pancakes.
After our meal, we walked back home. We saw a cool cookie shop and decided to take a quick stop in. These cookies are pretty unique. They are macaroon, only super-filled up with cream filling. They had some regular flavors like chocolate and lemon, but they also had some unique flavors like apple pie and cheese cake. We took these big boys home since we were still too stuffed to eat them.
As we walked back home, we stopped by the park and let the kids run around for a bit. Willsy even made a friend through the universal language of Frisbee.
On our walk back home, we stopped into Cocoman, a strange little shop we saw on our way to The Diner. We've seen a few of these around Taipei. Basically, it's a small shop that has nothing but arcade games or claw machines inside. Honestly, I don't understand why these are all over, but I feel like maybe someone would say the same about HalloweenTown if they came to the states. At 10 NTD a try (about 30 cents), it's a fun way to waste a few dollars. We all tried multiple games and came to the conclusion that they are completely rigged. There were several times when someone had a toy directly in the claw only to have the claw accidentally drop it before it made it's way back to the slot. Annoying. Fun, but annoying.
It was time for presents when we got home, so Jacob opened his. He got a few games for his Switch and two piano books (David Bowie and the Piano Man himself, Billy Joel). The kids and Matt played for a bit... or more like a lot. By the time they finished, it was time for dinner.
Since we had a rather large party and it was Saturday night, some of our dinner plans were foiled. We ended up at a barbecue place called MQ Social. This was a pretty decent spot with darts and Jenga for the kids to play and a good variety of barbecue items. It was getting pretty late and everyone was tired, so we went home for cake afterwards instead of eating it there. Had I known we weren't going to eat the cake at the restaurant, I would not have brought it along. We went back to the house in an epic race - girls took the subway, boys walked. Girls won easily, teaching us a valuable lesson: the subway is faster, especially since Matt gets lost all the time.
We got home and discovered that the cake was destroyed. It was still delicious, but all the entire top had fallen off. Here's what it should have looked like versus what it did look like:
We were kind of bummed about the destroyed cake because it was going to be a unique experience. I've never had grape cake before and this one was a beauty. We decided to eat it anyway and I'm glad we tried it. The cake had whipped cream frosting with small slices of grape in between the layers. I didn't know what to expect since I've never had anything like it, but I have to say, even the destroyed grape cake was pretty delicious.
Overall, it was a great birthday for Jacob. Tomorrow, we plan on celebrating his American birthday, too.
"I said doctor, Mr. MD/Can you tell me what's ailing me?" - The Rascals
3. Easy: Boy, in terms of ease of use, the doctor's office in Taiwan puts our American system to shame. We filled out a form, paid our fee, waited for our number to be called, and were seen. Now mind you, the form would have been a little hard to navigate without my sister-in-law reading the information that was in Mandarin, but it simply asked my name, phone number, and brief medical history. That's pretty much it. We paid a flat rate and at the end of our visit, we got our prescriptions. The end.
Flu shots are about $20 (foreigners with without insurance), $15 for Taiwanese citizens. Again, these prices put our own healthcare system to shame.
Overall, it was a pleasant experience going to the doctor. I don't want to visit again, but it was nice to know that if we had to, we would be treated quickly and thoroughly by a great medical professional at a reasonable cost. A+ for Taiwan!
"Wishing us a long life to share the graceful moonlight, though thousands of miles apart." - Proverbial Saying
So for the past two weeks that we've been here, we've heard a lot about the upcoming Moon Festival, also called the Mid-Autumn Festival. This is a traditional holiday celebrated for thousands of years. On this day, many people in Taiwan spend time with families, go to barbecues, and eat the famous "moon cakes." We were hoping to do something really fun for this holiday, but unfortunately, reality hit. Willsy has had some serious stomach bug; I don't know if it's the lying on the street, the boxes of dumplings, or just a bug he caught somewhere, but he's been struggling all day. So whatever we might have planned for Mid-Autumn Festival ended up being transformed into a stay-at-home kind of day.
We did enjoy some moon cakes and at one point, Micaela and Matt went on a short walk down to the walkway in between the rain to catch the moon. It was a relaxing day with family, and I think that's kind of what the holiday is all about.