To the Top: Taipei 101 (台北101)

Taipei 101, now the second tallest building in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is the beacon of Taipei. It can be seen from practically anywhere in the city, pointing you toward the city center. It is also one of the top tourist attractions in Taiwan.

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Chris decided to surprise me and make a Friday date night out of our visit. We took a 15 minute bus ride and got there in the early evening with enough time to see the sunset from the observation deck on the 89th floor! When we arrived it was extremely windy and that made me a little nervous about going to the top. (Not to worry though, the building is equipped with a 660-tonne steel pendulum that serves as a damper to offset the movement of the building in high winds! Picture soon.) One of the funniest things I noticed was how many people were trying to take a picture of the building from the base and to do this you basically have to lay on the ground. Notice the guy in the top right picture on the ground? He was just one of probably 10 people all around doing this, not to mention me a few minutes later. In front of the building is also Robert Indiana’s famous LOVE installation found around the globe.

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Taipei 101 is a functioning business building, except for the observation floors, but around the corner at the base is a large mall. We visited this same mall on New Year’s Eve before the fireworks. It was beautifully decorated in celebration of Chinese New Year and Taipei 101’s 10th birthday!

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On the fifth floor of the mall is ticket counter for the observation deck of Taipei 101. As you can see on the right, the mall is built right around one corner of Taipei 101, which is how you are able to enter. A ticket to the observation deck is 500NTD, about $15 US.  After we bought our two tickets to the top we had to wait for the number printed on our ticket to come up on the screen, informing us that we could now enter the line. That only took about 5 minutes, then we could enter the actual line for the elevators which took about another 30 minutes.

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As soon as you walk in to the line you are pretty much ambushed in front of a green screen, where they quickly take your photo which can be bought as a souvenir. Another great thing about these photos is that they are repeatedly shown on every tv screen, about every 20 feet of the line, so you can see yourself in all your goofy glory. One thing I didn’t get a picture of was the elevators to the top, which are amazing in themselves. (They hold the Guinness World Record for fastest elevator!) They travel at an astounding 55 feet per second, ushering visitors from the fifth floor to the 89th floor in just 37 seconds! Can you imagine all the ear popping?! It also holds about 25 people packed like sardines. Once we were at the top it was almost time for the sun to set! *Notice the sign on windows, bottom left* Yes, people clean the windows from the outside. Just thinking about it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

ImageAs you enter the observatory you have the option of picking up a phone-like listening device that gives you a tour of sorts. Stationed along the circular deck are numbers, these number correspond to a snippet of information that you may listen to, all you have to do is type in the number on the phone’s keypad. Most of the numbers describe what you are looking at out of the window at that location, giving you an idea of what you may find there and any interesting facts. I learned a lot about Taipei that I had not known before.

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You can walk to the center of the 89th floor to find the massive wind damper which I described above. The picture, bottom left, really does not do it’s size justice… It is 18 feet in diameter! About this point, but out from the center is a gift shop where they sell all sorts of 101 inspired objects, one of my favorite being bottles of water.

ImageWe headed back to the windows in order to catch the last glimpse of sunlight before it went down behind the distant mountains. It sure was a gorgeous sight! I love the picture on the left because you can really tell how close we were to the corner, the metal part being part of the facade. There were some New Year themed installations around to celebrate and also a small cafe where Chris got some ice cream.

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From the warm 89th floor observation deck you are able to walk up to the 91st floor outside deck to get another view. We steeled ourselves for the wind and headed out. (We only lasted about 2 minutes.)

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We felt like we had soaked in all we could from the top and headed down towards the elevators. To our surprise the walk back was more like being in a museum. Here they display some of Taiwan’s most precious coral to both admire and purchase. They have elaborately carved scenes in coral, which I found completely amazing, and natural pieces like the bottom right, the world’s largest complete piece! Also they had beautiful and HUGE amethyst geodes! (How would you like to fit that in the house, Mom?)

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After walking through the sea of coral art we found the elevator line. It took about 20 minutes before we were able to catch one back down to the fifth floor. To continue our lovely night we grabbed dinner in the fancy food court and then took a look at some shops.

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At last we happened upon a cute cafe called Perfume Dance that specializes in desserts. We just knew we had to try out their famous toast tower, available in many flavors! Of course we picked the chocolate version, or as the menu called it “Black Gold.” It was a very interesting dessert: toasted cubes of white bread held together with custard and then topped with melted chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrup, and rum soaked cherries.

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 Chris and I had a lovely night out on the town, experiencing one of Taiwan’s most famous attractions!

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Downtown Hamilton

Saturday we took a ten minute bike ride to downtown Hamilton in the rain. We had planned this outing during the week and a little rain wasn’t going to stop us. Thankfully, it was just a drizzle when we left the house and we had on our heavy duty raincoats. (By the time we got there though, our legs were soaked…)

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Downtown Hamilton, the Central Business District (CBD) of the city, is a mile stretch of Victoria Street and its surrounding area. Located in this area is the Waikato Museum, the central library, city council, the Centre Place mall, the Waikato river and much more. With shops and restaurants occupying both sides, Victoria Street reminds me of a more historical Mill Avenue (in Tempe, AZ), sans the “college town” feel. As we walked down the street it is apparent that many of the businesses have found homes in older buildings. I love seeing restored buildings mixed in with modern ones. Here we parked our bikes next to the ArtsPost Galleries & Shop, an old building with a new purpose.

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From here we walked down Victoria checking out the cafes, restaurants, and shops (and the buildings they were in).

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And we also checked out one of Hamilton’s claims to fame: a life-size Riff Raff statue from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Richard O’Brien being a former resident). You can spy on people walking by this statue here. Maybe you’ll see us doing the Time Warp some time.

We were getting pretty hungry and there were a lot of places to choose from but one restaurant caught our eye: MEXICO. Here the waitresses wear giant flower headbands à la Frida Kahlo. The decor is so Mexico it’s almost cheesy, but we really enjoyed it. Our waitress also happened to be from California studying at the University!

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It was a tapas-like place so we ordered a few things: Black olive stained chicken quesadilla with salsa borracha, a caramelized lamb taco and a poblano mole chicken taco and a Mango Jarritos to drink. It was all completely delicious besides the fact that it was more Tex-Mex (no rice OR beans on the menu for example). They did have over 500 tequilas or something ridiculous. For dessert we stepped out on a limb and ordered Avocado and Buttermilk pudding and spiced anise biscuit, not my favorite but definitely worth trying! We were eating lunch at around 2pm and there were a few other couples/families there as well, but when we passed the restaurant again around 7pm it was completely packed with a line out the door to be seated.

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After lunch we continued our tour of downtown, checking out some more neat places such as the Garden Place– a little hang-out in the middle of town with grass and flowers, Hamilton library– the brightly colored building, and some more shops. Dr. Donburi has a nice slogan “We care your hunger” which I take should actually say “cure.” Velo Espresso a specialty bicycle shop had many nice things for Chris to look at and Casabella Lane has more artisan shops and restaurants.

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After this we warmed up inside the mall, definitely small to American standards but it has everything you need in a mall, plus things you don’t.. like Glow-In-The-Dark Mini Golf. Chris bought some new pants following the fashion of New Zealand (Chinos with elastic at the ankles?) which do look good on him and they were on sale. Overall, the downtown area was such a beautiful place. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting, eating, shopping, and taking pictures there and am very glad its so close to us! A few hours after visiting the mall (It closes at 5:30 on Saturdays, you guys!) we headed to the Night Market which was incredible! It will be the focus of my next post so keep an eye out for it.