One Day in Taipei

Jet lag be damned!  With only one day off, I needed to make it count.  So, I set out on Sunday to explore Taipei and found a delightful city filled with temples, art, shopping, easy transportation and friendly folks.  What’s not to like?

WP_20180415_14_44_05_Rich

I always love to just walk a city to get a feel for the people and culture.  Taipei 101 is THE building in downtown so off I went to get a view of this famous building.  Along the way,  many shops had opened and the shoppers were out in force.  As in many China cities, there are little clothing boutiques and drugstores (no OTC meds just beauty items) everywhere along with the high-end luxury brands like Gucci, etc.

I was first struck by several differences between Taipei and Shanghai, where I lived a few years ago:  drivers of cars and scooters seemed to actually obey traffic signals and stay on the roads vs. driving on the sidewalks as they often did in Shanghai.  Crazy! I felt a little safer in Taipei though I still was cautious crossing streets.  The streets were clean yet I didn’t see the street sweepers that you would on mainland China who cleaned up after everybody.  I’m thinking the Taiwan citizens seem to be very tidy and I’ve yet to see the many smokers or public spitting/urinating that I got used to after living in China.  Not knocking my former home in Shanghai because it was awesome but the differences were noticeable.

After seeing Taipei 101 in the distance and it is a lovely unique skyscraper, I jumped on the blue line subway and off I went to Longshan Temple.  The subway was clean, staffed and signed in English.  For less than 50 cents, I arrived across town and walked through a lovely park where groups of men were playing games and socializing, very similar to Shanghai life on a Sunday.  Packed with locals burning incense and praying at the Temple, I was one of the few Laowai’s enjoying the experience.

A fellow traveler from Warsaw, Poland was nice enough to snap my pic at the koi pond, where a cat stalked from the roof above.  I love meeting new people on my adventures.  On the subway, a mature lady smiled as I sat next to her and, though not an English-speaker, she gestured at my map and seemed excited when I got off at the Temple stop.  Another lovely gal in the subway was toting her pup in a front-facing backpack.  I need to get one of these for Thor!  He would love to be carried around to see the sights.

After taking in the Temple, I was off on the subway again-first the blue line, then transferring to the red line and finally taking a cab the rest of the way to the National Palace Museum which was on the outskirts of Taipei by the mountains.  Tour groups of China tourists dominated the galleries where for only about $12.50 US, you can view three floors of treasures from jewelry to vases to calligraphy, all ancient and beautiful.  The only gallery not packed with people was the Tibet exhibit.  Hmmm…  Every item was behind glass to protect from the hordes taking it all in.

The jet lag finally kicking in, I jumped in a cab to get to the red line, then the green line and arrived back at the Westin ready for room service and a good night’s sleep.  Wish I had more time in Taiwan to explore-a vacation with Thom is definitely now a necessity!  Monday we start meetings and then off to Hong Kong on Tuesday-the journey is just beginning!

 

Back Home Again in Asia

I didn’t realize how much I missed the Asian culture until I landed in Taipei last night.  The sounds, the smells, the friendly people!  Waking up to a cloudy view of the mountains and the local neighborhood after a 20+ hour journey to get here from Boise to Seattle to Tokyo to Taipei, I couldn’t wait to get out on the streets and explore!

 

WP_20180415_09_05_22_Rich
Hat courtesy of caution cone/vest?  Staying safe on the crowded streets of Taipei!

 

This is a business trip, hopping to a new city every 2-3 days for meetings, so hubby Thom is not along for the adventure.  I’m on my own and, after lengthy conversations with the Westin staff and maps in hand, I started to just wander.  Of course, the hotel team tried to talk me out of walking around “too far!” but I like to walk and they aren’t used to visitors wanting to do that.  I get it and just smile and keep on walking.

Originally, I had planned to book straight to the National Palace Museum via the subway but a combination of uncertainty and self awareness that I get lost easily plus a desire to absorb the local culture vs. art, I decided instead to try and find a temple nearby.

First, though, I noticed a Alice in Wonderland theme in the Westin lobby bar and checked out the adjacent gardens where it looked like a wedding might be taking place today with decorations everywhere.  How fun!  Wonder if the bride had an “Alice” dress to walk down the aisle?  She will definitely need a parasol as it is quite wet here today.

Instead of a temple, I found a delightful street market where I was the only Laowai, aka foreigner, in sight.  Fish, fruit, meat, pigs feet, dry goods and handmade noodles in stalls lining the narrow alleyway-it was packed with shoppers and very reminiscent of my old neighborhood where we lived in Shanghai.  I thought of my friend Patti when I saw the cherry tomatoes merchandised in the fruit stalls next to the apples and oranges.  Yes, Patti, tomatoes are considered fruit.

As I reviewed my map, still hopeful I could find the temple, a 20-something young man walked by me, stopped and considered, and then came back to offer his assistance.  How kind and friendly he was to help me plus he spoke English!  Even with his guidance though, after a few more blocks, I gave up and just enjoyed the journey.  Glad I did too or I wouldn’t have seen the quiet neighborhoods or the lovely lady in the “cautionary” hat displaying her lovely fruit or the antique noodle maker cranking out the sheets of pasta.

 

WP_20180415_08_43_35_Rich
Making noodles

 

Ahh, to be back again in Asia is indeed a beautiful thing.  After a few business meetings, I’m off to Hong Kong (TurboJet to Macau at night for fun!), Shenzhen, Shanghai (home!) and Beijing.  Two weeks of work and fun!

WP_20180415_08_41_49_Rich
If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a scooter!

 

Boise Bday Booze Tour

What could be better than spending quality time with my lovely daughter Hannah exploring Boise’s best bars and sipping tasty cocktails?  Maybe adding in some tasty nibbles along the way so that we can sample more spirits?  Having Thom as our designated driver? What a perfect afternoon!

WP_20170901_17_37_18_Pro

Hannah knows her momma well and surprised me with a thoughtful birthday present that we could enjoy together.  After your kids grow up and leave the nest, you quickly find out that any time you are able to be together is precious and to be savored like a fine wine or aged whiskey.  Luckily, she gets me and gave me not only time with her but tasty hooch.  LOVE. THIS. GIRL

Her birthday card made me cry and I am not a crier like Thom-just saying.  “You are the absolute best mom and Nai Nai!”  Nothing beats that.  Ever.  I’m going to laminate this card and pull it out every time I’m having a challenging day.  “Let’s go scout some bars & restaurants so you can have some new fave places when you live here full time.”  She wants to spend time with her momma?  Be still my heart.  I’m not sure when we’ll be able to make that dream of living in Boise full time real but I’m working on it.

So, off we went this past week on the Boise Booze + Bites Happy Hour Tour hosted by Indulge Boise Food Tours.  I like their tag line, “Eat Well.  Indulge Often.”  Okay, I can embrace that wisdom.  Our friendly tour guide, Lauren, told us about their company which started in 2016 when the owner decided to get off the corporate track working for the WNBA and settled back in her hometown of Boise.  Thom and I have taken advantage of walking tours and cooking classes all over the world in our travels.  Not only do you meet cool people but you learn stuff too.  We like them.

On this tour, I learned all about my daughter’s first drinking escapade (at a much younger age than previously disclosed), her favorite booze (beer-New Belgium Rogue) and her favorite food (Thai or sushi).  Lauren prompted discussion at every venue we visited with probing conversation-starting questions.  Even with family members, this can be fun and eye opening.  Hannah’s choice of the one place she would live if she could?  DC.  She spent a summer interning for Congressman Minnick while she was in college and it was political heaven for her even with multiple roommates (including cockroaches).  Me-NYC.  No place like it in the world.  Fav meal and drink for me? I would choose a Caprese Salad  with a nice Cab.

We explored new places like Flatbread Neapolitan Pizza tucked away on the second floor in an office building overlooking the downtown core.  I would probably never have gone to this place but the flatbread, washed down with a tart Raspberry Lemon Drop, was delicious so we’ll be back.  Hannah’s drinks during our tour had a summer garden theme either by accident or design:  Sage Cucumber at Flatbread and Lemongrass Sage with a Lemongrass straw at Press & Pony.

Mai Tai’s house cocktail, Mai Thai Old Way with dark rum, rhum agricole, dry curacao, orgeat, fresh line and mint, was a refreshing way to wash down some veggie spring rolls.  The atmosphere here is beautiful with overhead glass sculptures and water features.  Lauren said their Happy Hour is legendary and embraced by Boise locals.  I’ve had lunch there before but was impressed with their Happy Hour cocktail list, which I hope to sample in the future.

Now, I have started my own “Best of Boise Old Fashioned” contest to justify my tasting of the classic cocktail wherever we go.  So, I sampled The Mode and Press & Pony on this tour.  No contest.   Press & Pony, an intimate speakeasy with serious bartenders, won by a large margin.  The Mode’s Old Fashioned was okay but lacked the nuances of the one at Press & Pony.  There, Eric took my challenge seriously and laid down a cocktail I could enjoy with my Boise Fry Co. veggie burger (black bean and quinoa) and red potato fries.

Indulge Boise offer several types of tours:  Historic Downtown Boise Food & Cultural Tour, Capital City Sunday Brunch and private tours.  Check them out here if you are visiting Boise or are a local who just wants to have fun.  Cheers!

 

First Day in Portugal

16,554 steps and almost 7 miles later, we arrived back at our very “bijou” arbnb in the Alfama district in Lisbon, ready to kick back and reflect on our adventure today.  I.  Love.  Lisbon.

Despite a late start after sleeping off the jet lag, we put in a full 8 hour walk across town.  With rain coming down heavy all morning, we were lucky enough to cover some ground before the next storm rolled through.  Grabbing a table at a café on a viewpoint overlooking the sea under a dense tree that served as our leafy umbrella, we sipped coffee and ate heavenly custard tarts that Portugal is known for–I’m in love with this pastry and vow to have one a day.  At least.

A local sat down to busk for awhile playing us a selection of tunes including Amazing Grace.  Thom, of course, struck up a conversation and we learned he had been to the U.S. but not north of SoCal.  Thankfully he didn’t bring up U.S. politics as we are taking a break from the madness.  We’re looking forward to hearing Fado music at a bar tomorrow night.  Our arbnb host told us that Fado is soulful and melancholy, telling tales of love, the sea and tragedy.  Happy stuff.

WP_20170510_15_56_14_Rich

But the people here are friendly.  How friendly?  When Thom and I were arguing over what cheese to buy at the grocery, a local stepped in and handed us local goat cheese with a recommendation that it was delish.  Cheese intervention–Sold!

Other initial Lisbon observations:

LOTS of hills so no rental bikes here but they do have lovely trolleys and tut tuts that can carry your tired ass upwards when you just can’t take another step or have a heavy bag filled with wine.  It happens.

People smoke INDOORS here!  Could not believe it when we walked into this cool bookstore with a café and everyone was on their computers drinking coffee and smoking away.  Cough, cough.

Pay to pee here as in most of Europe with .50 euros required. I will say that the magazine rack in the ladies room at the train station made me smile.  Really?  I guess for .50 euros you can use the facilities AND rest your legs while reading a magazine.

Wine is cheap, plentiful and tasty.  We’re talking $2.99 average for bottle of good, smooth vino.  Yes, Thom and I have already decided to spend quality time here when and if I ever get to retire.  You can dream.  Cheers!

Hiking Waiheke

Up, down and all around Waiheke Island we went this week and everywhere we looked were amazing South Pacific views and surprises along the way.  Sometimes we just got lost and wandered into private driveways, hugged the narrow side of the roads with no sidewalks in sight or took the “tramping track” on beaches and through forests.  What fun AND great exercise!

wp_20170224_11_36_17_pro
Stunning views from the cliffs

Of course there were moments when I didn’t think I could go another step or climb another hill.  Yes, Waiheke Island is one rolling hill after another and there are stunning views from the cliffs as a result but the journey can be challenging no doubt.  Thom would break into singing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, It’s off to work we go, we’re lost again oh no..” as we hoped that the journey would end before we passed out from exhaustion and hunger.  Note to self-pack food 0n these excursions because we always get lost and several hours later stumble upon civilization starving.

20170222_122914-01
The “double finger salute” after we got lost and had to climb yet another hill

First, we hiked a steep trail along the water by the wharf but then decided to veer off onto what looked like a country road though we soon found out at the top of the hill that it was a private driveway for the stunning homes overlooking the bay.  Oops!  Out onto the road, we stumbled upon WWII bunkers and observations compounds.  Though they never needed to take any action, the islanders were ready just in case of invasion.  I hope #45 doesn’t start another world war but Waiheke will be ready just in case.

On other days, we walked the width of the island from Shelley Beach to Palm Beach which is about 3 miles.  It always looks closer on the maps but once we start out, we are pretty committed to finish the walk. When we walked to the wineries though, and I had completed several tastings of excellent island vino, I insisted we take the bus home because the fitbit was already showing 5 miles logged for the day.  I’ll actually come home from vacation feeling fit and losing weight from all our excursions.

Today was the best walk of all-we took on Te Ara Hura.  This walkway runs along the northside of the island from Oneroa to Palm Beach.  We started on the beach at Oneroa and lost the trail so we double backed to the street section and found our way through woods with LOTS of steps up the hillside hugging the coastline.  Thankfully at Little Oneroa Bay there were facilities and a snack store to get the best popsicle in the world-some lemon, orange, coconut creation that made me swoon.  Off again, up and down we went for miles until finally, as my energy was flagging, we hit the down trail to Little Palm Beach.  This “clothing optional” beach has sand so fine and water so warm and clear it makes you never want to leave.  The cool waters were a wonderful respite from the heat and sweat from the five mile walk.  Ahhhh……another day in paradise!

Boise Charm-Home for the Holidays

FB_20151122_18_35_54_Saved_Picture
Mia and I taking a walk near our cottage in Boise

While we are lucky most of the year to enjoy our beautiful place in Seattle overlooking the water, when we come home for the holidays to our house in Boise, we get to revel in family time and experience the rolling foothills, bitter cold (brrrrr!) and snow.  Seriously, I brought warm clothes but you can’t dress in enough layers to cope with this frozen tundra crap.  And, while Thom is squiring us around town in our cool red Kia that we keep here, the squirrel community has already declined, with more surely to meet their early demise, as seemingly endless supplies of the squirrel population have some freaky death wish to run right in front of our car ALL THE TIME!  In speaking with David Sedaris at his recent Seattle talk at Benroya Hall, we explained our daughter lived in Boise, Idaho, to which he reacted by saying something to the effect that the squirrels were stalking him when he visited Boise and seriously, WTF!  Yep, the squirrels here are plentiful and crazy but Thom may have a personal hand in changing that status.  David, you’ll be safe to return to Boise soon to give an inspiring reading.

Braving the cold at the Bowls fundraiser-Thom & I, James & Hannah and Mia
Braving the cold at the Bowls fundraiser-Thom & I, James & Hannah and Mia

The day after Thanksgiving, we bundled up to go to the Idaho Food Bank’s fundraiser, Bowls, that is a tradition for many Boise families.  People throughout the year decorate bowls and donate them for this event where you spend $10 to buy a bowl and then get soup donated from local restaurants.  Last year, with temps in the 40’s, it was lovely and we lingered, eating our soup outside.  This year, we quickly bought bowls, snagged some soup and ran home to eat.  Still, we participated and all proceeds went to a worthy charity, that raised $39,000 last year at this event. Here’s hoping they exceeded that this year!

cottage
Our cute little cottage

Our social life in Boise differs greatly from Seattle because we are Mia-focused here, soaking up the cutest darling in the world while we can.  To say she is the most intelligent, beautiful child would be a vast understatement.  She loves to dance and play hide and seek with her Gi Gi and Nai Nai.  Mostly on-the-go, sometimes she will consent to sit down to color or read a story.  Before the cold wave hit, we enjoyed the park by our house, creeping and crawling through and under tunnels, going up hills and swinging endlessly.

We rent our cottage in Boise most of the year to short term VRBO clients and it’s so popular we had to book it out to use ourselves while we are here in December. Close to the trails and Hyde Park social scene, I can actually walk to the local office here and work remote.  With only 800 sq ft, it is a bit small if we moved here full time in the future so we are dreaming of an extension that would allow us to have a family room, modern bathroom and fireplace.  I know that clawfoot bathtubs seem romantic and vintage but they are a royal pain to climb in and out of.  Death by clawfoot tub-it could happen.  Give me a multi-head walk in shower…please!  I have to admit I’ve never stepped into the basement where the w/d is located, down a steep set of fold down stairs so that will have to be addressed too in a remodel–no crawling down into creepy space to do laundry for me.  Thom, at this point, is calling me out that I rarely do the laundry and, while that is very true, there may be a time when I have to so plan we must for that rare scenario.

Mia and I enjoying the park
Mia and I enjoying the park

While we don’t have the urban walks, night clubs, professional sports teams and frequent concert opportunities like we do in Seattle, we did enjoy going to a Boise State basketball game last week that they won handily and plan on trying out a jazz club soon.  I found an indie bookstore that was just enchanting in downtown Boise, which is a vibrant place full of shops and restaurants.  They even have a vinyl store that, thankfully, Thom has yet to check out.  The biggest difference is that with the frigid temps, it discourages the long walks that we love so much.  Definitely have to be a gym rat here to stay in shape indoors in the long winter months.  Oh well, you adjust and, while we might not love the weather, we do love our family and they are the first priority come snow or rain.  So, it’s happy holidays, Boise-style, which means enjoying the Idaho Potato Drop (from a crane downtown) to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  Yes, really.  When in Idaho….

Theater, Scotch and Sailboats…Oh My!

 

Who on Earth would predict that a musical about 9/11 and how the town of Gander, Newfoundland welcomed 7,000 passengers on 38 planes diverted there that day would be so inspirational and wonderful?  NOT ME!  Boy, was I shocked.  We laughed and cried and didn’t want it to end.  I have to tell you, when Thom told me where we would be going this past Thursday night, I was wanting to do almost anything else!!  His dear childhood friend that has worked for 30+ years at American Airlines guiding flights around the world, Billy, and his wife were scheduled to come visit us for the opening of the play as he was personally involved with the main character in the story, Beverly the pilot of one of the flights diverted.  Billy guided Beverly and her flight to safety that horrific day and they have stayed in touch ever since, bonded for life by tragic circumstances beyond their control.

Unfortunately Billy recently had surgery and couldn’t travel but we went in his place.  Seated next to us were a nice couple who immediately told us that they were retired pilots who had been at the play for opening night and found it so amazing that they bought the extra tickets that Billy had purchased.  Also friends with Beverly, who was at the theater that night, they had a personal connection to this particular story, having flown during that crazy time.  Flying a few days after 9/11 for work, I remember thinking that air travel will never be the same and it certainly isn’t.  No more greeting family at the gate and please take off your shoes, no liquids over a certain size, etc.WP_20151119_21_21_19_Pro

But back to the play that brings it all to life.  With clever use of the actors playing several roles, the story is told of one particular flight flown by Beverly and diverted to Gander.  The citizens take in this mass influx of people with some trepidation but end up feeding and housing them all over town for a week or so.  Authors David Hein and Irene Sankoff nailed the snappy dialogue, plot line and wonderful songs.  I have seen many a Broadway play and this would win a Tony for sure.  Let’s hope they get publicity and make a run for Broadway.  I only hope that they keep the same cast and band because they were top-notch and I can’t imagine anyone else in those roles.  If you live in Seattle, GO SEE IT!  It’s playing at the Seattle Repertory Theatre until December 13th.  Seattle Times Review of “Come From Away”

Friday night, bearing beer and wine as boat-warming gifts, we visited our friend Brad’s newly acquired sailboat just north of Ballard.  Draped in festive holiday lights, the 3 br/2 head money pit (all boats are!) was warm and cozy below and brisk up top as the 20+ people drank and socialized.  Seeing the crowd drink scotch to warm up, I figured, “What the Hell!” and decided to join them and have my first taste of scotch.  Hmmm…it sure does warm up your whole throat for an extended period of time.  These scotch drinkers could be on to something.  My friend Kurt has offered to “school me” on the varieties of scotch as he has drank his way across Europe tasting and sipping.  Bring on Booze 101 classes!  Now, I’m not a boat person, having owned a lake cottage and boat at one point and didn’t really enjoy them, but these sailors seem to be very dedicated and borderline obsessed with this lifestyle.  Expensive, yes, but a social way to embrace the beauty of the water.  As long as it stays at the dock and the wine/scotch is flowing, count me in.  Ahoy mate!