Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Chilling in Iceland (Part 1): Eating Our Way through Reykjavik

We just got back from Iceland and I really don't want blogging this trip to fall through the cracks (like Japan and Taiwan, sadly!), so here is one post to kick off a series!  Seven days was a good amount of time to thoroughly explore the southern coast and a little bit of the Northwest in our trusty rental car.  Since we flew in on a redeye and landed at 8 in the morning, it was most ideal to "chill" (quit literally) in Reykjavik for that first day.  Our pilot had said that the winds were blowing at 45 mph - we believed him the minute we stepped outside.  The wind whipped our car rental papers out of Wes's pocket and my straw was almost instantly expelled from my drink.  It was hell trying to find our car in the car lot; we clicked the alarm button while frantically pacing the rows of cars while being sorely clobbered by the weather.  Thank goodness we decided to change into all of our winter clothes in the airport bathrooms first.

The drive to Reykjavik from Keflavik Airport was a wild ride - a great preview of what to expect from this untamed country.  Our tires gripped the road while snow and rain swirled in huge torrents all around us.  We had been making weekly trips to the mountains for snowboarding in December and January, and we totally froze or faces off in Mammoth, but we surely have never experienced wind this wicked (this is why people never use umbrellas in Iceland - they'd be blown straightaway)!  At least this was just the jolt that we needed; sensory input was at an all-time low over the past fourteen hours of travel.  No longer sleepy and sluggish, we were ready to explore the world's northernmost capital city!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Taiwan: The Good, The Gritty, and The Greasy

We came to Taiwan hungry, and left, still hungry.  While Taiwan is no more than a tiny scrap of land on the world atlas with mainly Chinese inhabitants, it overflows with culinary, topographical, and generational diversity that could take an eternity to explore.  It's gritty and it's lush, it's chaotic and it's pristine, it's bold and it's unassuming, all at the same time.  We were only there for four days, so we stuck to the northern area, visiting as many districts as we could - both metropolitan and rural.  The appeal of the busy night markets was irresistible, but so were the small winding mountainous roads that led off the beaten path.  We also were able to connect with family and enjoy a hearty, homecooked meal.  It had been ten years since I've returned, and this was Wes's first time.  Hopefully, it won't take another decade for us to come back.

Just wanted to take a moment to record our first memory together in my native land.  Twenty hours of travel took us to the sweaty tarmac of Taoyuan International Airport at 8:30 PM.  We got through customs and claimed our baggage through a whirlwind of colored Nikes and bobbling stuffed animals chained to backpacks, suitcases, and phone cases.  Then, it was time to figure out how to get to our hotel in Taipei.  I confidently walked up to customer service and asked in my somewhat Americanized accent how to get to our hotel.  This customer service man was very kind and assured us that he had a good way.  While Wes stood there helplessly (for once), the man made a phone call and then beckoned us to follow him.  We dragged our luggage behind us down an escalator and through more colored Nikes and were met by this middle-aged lady, who was wearing an outfit that would typically be associated with ill-suited hiking clothes in America.  She rapidly walked us out to a pick-up area and wordlessly ushered us into this black Mercedes, driven by a dude who talked and looked like he could have been one of my uncles.  Wes said later that he felt like we were part of some kind of spy movie, being handed off from agent to agent.  He was probably so confused... but honestly, so was I.  This was definitely the weirdest thing ever.  Then, our driver sped onto the freeway and after I had conversed with him for a while about Taiwan travel, he answered his cell phone and of course began to chat, holding the phone in one hand and the steering wheel in the other, zooming through about ten freeway exits.  We actually got to the hotel in one piece and ended up paying a fraction of what we thought this "luxurious" ride would cost.  Talk about our first culture shock!

Anyway, we were in for many more surprises.  Those wacky left turns in the taxis.  The lack of regard for pedestrians...until the last minute. Makeshift kitchens selling food anywhere, anytime.  All the shameless selfies we witnessed.  Swarms of motorcycles with entire families aboard.  The tinkling garbage truck song.  Men in business attire picking up daily cups of soy milk as Americans would at a Starbucks.  Starbucks being the hip hang-out spots for young people--not a single laptop in sight.  DIY hot pot stations at all of the 7-11's.  The four-story Din Tai Fung.  The twelve-story shopping mall.  A simple metal ladder that bridged two cliffs near the very top of an all-too-exhilarating hike.

Of course, we took thousands of pictures of everything (edibles and non-edibles alike), but here are just some of them.  I paired them to really bring out how dichotomous our experience was in this little big country.  At some point in time, we will get around to posting about each awesome day!