Day 256: Too Many Tourists

Fri. 26th April 2013

Changing of the guardIts our last day in Asia today before we head off to Africa for the final section of our trip. Our flight is not until late this afternoon so I have prepared a short itinerary to see some of the main sights of Taipei. First off I decided we would go for a short walk to get a feel of the city, so we headed for a nearby park called the 228 Peace Park. I had hoped to find out more about the park once we were there, but sadly all the signs were in Chinese so I have had to resort to Wikipedia to find out more.

228 MonumentThe park was established in 1908 during the Japanese colonial period and is home to many diverse features, including traditional Japanese buildings, the first steam locomotive used in Taiwan and a radio station building which was taken over by protestors and lead to the massacre of numerous civilians on 28th Feb 1947 (It is now a museum). The latest addition is the wierd monument built in the 1990’s which was impossible to get it all in one photograph despite Dave trying for ages. The first picture taken turned out to be the best!

Taipei 101It was good to get some fresh air before heading to the MRT to City Hall station, which is the closest to Taipei 101. From there it was a short walk to the tower, which has a shopping mall and food court on the lower floors (but no Starbucks). This is also where the queue is to get up to the observation level, and it was massive and crowded, full of tour groups. We decide to give this a miss as I had read that the view from the top was nothing special and there were other places to visit instead. Like London buses we spotted two Starbucks on the way back to the MRT so had to take advantage of their two for one drinks offer.

Queuing in line to get on an MRT trainNext on the list was the National Palace Museum, which was said to house many of the 600,000 artefacts shipped out from China in 1949 to avoid damage or being stolen in the civil war at that time. I therefore had high hopes of what we would see as we negotiated the MRT again and then a bus to get there. I just love the organised queues waiting for the train so unlike the mad scramble we’ve seen elsewhere in Asia. The Easycard system to pay for tube and buses in Taipei is excellent as it is on sale at any station and you pay a deposit plus add money for the fares and then just swipe as necessary on tubes and buses. The buses are a challenge as sometimes you swipe getting on and sometimes on leaving but we found the drivers very helpful.

At least the display shows the numberThe other worry with the buses was reading the signs on the front of them to know which to catch but luckily they have the number in numerals on the front and maps inside that show the names of the main stops in Chinese and Roman alphabet. The tourist information counter at Taipei Main Station had given us a slip of paper showing the Chinese names of the places we were visiting and also the bus numbers to get there, which was very useful.

National Palace MuseumThe museum buildings were impressive and we headed in and were joined by the now common sight of coachloads of Chinese tourists. They all had headsets to hear the commentary being given by their tour leaders and swarmed like bees around whichever exhibit was being explained. Between rooms were yet more queues of visitors. The exhibits on the third floor, where we started, were small carvings in jade, which when we could see them were exquisite. We missed the bronzes as it was impossible to fight our way through and so decided to try the second floor. That was not much better as we landed up in the middle of an exhibition on the history of Chinese calligraphy, which was quite interesting but difficult to follow as we have no knowledge of modern day Chinese characters let alone appreciate how they have evolved.

Too many touristsBy this time our desire to explore was waning (and our patience with the crowds even thinner) so we left. Sat writing this with the floor guide in front of me, it shows that there were rooms which we possibly should have persevered to see with items like a gilt bronze Buddha dating from 477 CE (no, we’re not sure either!) and Chinese ceramics with jugs styles that we could have compared with those in the Larco museum in Lima, Peru. On the bus back to the MRT we did compare our experiences in the two museums which were completely opposite experiences. Can’t win them all!

Grand HotelWith our short visit to the museum this left us time to visit the Martyr’s Shine to the Chinese who lost their lives during the various conflicts over the years. It mainly remembers those born on Mainland China, so it is strange it is in Taiwan.  It was a short distance to walk from Jiantan MRT station (guided by our phones)and it was good to get outside again. Our route took us past the iconic styled Grand Hotel, a huge building on the side of a hill and very impressive. We did not have much time to stop and admire it as I wanted to see the changing of the guard at the Martyr’s Shine at 3pm and we got there with just a minute to spare.

Martyrs ShrineThe guards slow marched the length of the courtyard to the main shrine, in a manner worthy of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. We were unable to walk around the shrine during the changing of the guards and did not have time to wait until afterwards, which was a shame. It was time to head out to the airport so now becoming expert at reading bus timetables we caught a bus back to the MRT station, as we did not think we had sufficient funds for a taxi. One of the challenges is getting the amount of currency in each country right and we were running low on Taiwanese dollars. Luckily with the Easycards the deposit and any remaining credit can be cashed in at any time so after our last journey we were refunded sufficient to pay for our bus to the airport, but it was a close thing.

At the Martyrs shrineOnce we reached the airport we knew we would not need any money as we were off to the business lounge for a bit of luxury (disappointingly there was no champagne!). We did however manage to change to an earlier flight, which was just as well because the lounge in Taipei was too small for the number of travellers and was standing room only by the time we left. (Don’t get the violins out!!). The lounges in Hong Kong were much better and so we put our feet up and tried to get up to date with the blog, which was a struggle as it was gone 11pm by this time. Our flight was due to take off at 11.45pm but we had to wait for some passengers so took off half an hour late, which was annoying as I was ready to sleep and wanted to get my head down for at least the first part of our twelve hour flight.

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2 Responses to Day 256: Too Many Tourists

  1. chris says:

    CE stands for common era, it’s exactly the same as AD but without the Christian connotations (so better I suppose). Same with BCE and BC. Anyway, imagine living on an island with complicated history, politics and religon! Taiwan did look nice though, we missed out on the river/bouldering last time!

    • Janet says:

      Thanks Chris. I am glad your education is paying off as you educate your mother! The bouldering was different but I will not be repeating it in a hurry.

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