Weekend in Hualien

(note: this is a long post because it was a packed tight weekend.  Vickey is now an honorary Norton for her adventurous spirit, detailed planning, love of good food and ability to laugh in the pouring rain.)

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Vickey had a last minute space on a fast weekend trip she planned to Hualien and Taroko Gorge.  It sounded like great fun so of course I jumped on board.  Vickey had planned travel train through Taipei to Hualien and back, a whale watching tour, a bus tour of Taroko Gorge, and a splurge on a seaside hotel.  it was so nice to have someone else do such a thorough job of planning. All I needed to do was show up ridiculously early Saturday morning with my overnight bag in hand.

We weren’t able to get on the fast train but I think the slow train was in some ways better.  We had a much better view when the landscape wasn’t whizzing by.  Plus it gave us time to grade papers and get our homework out of the way before the weekend began.

One of the owners of the hotel, Juan, met us at the train station in Hualien.  Wow – this hotel (Hotel Bayview) exceeded our expectations!  The room was beautiful and comfortable with a great view. There was a nice dining area with always available tea, coffee, and cookies.  The breakfast buffet the next morning was enough to keep us going all day – good food and a good variety.  This is definitely on my list of hotels to stay at in the future.

Juan assisted us out with all the tour arrangements.  His English is perfect which was very helpful for us.  There had been landslides recently in Taroko Gorge so some of the tour arrangements had changed.  This was shoulder season so some things were still “getting ready for the real tourists” as we say in our family.

We settled on whale watching on Saturday afternoon and a shorter Taroko Gorge tour on Sunday before catching the train home.

Whale watching turned out to be … interesting.  It had been raining on and off all day. We assumed that of course the whale watching boats wouldn’t go out if the water was too rough.  Wrong.  Or maybe we were all wimps.  Once we got past the breakwater the rain was pouring down, the spray (the saltiest water I’ve tasted) was slapping in our faces, and the boat was bouncing.  A lot.  We saw dolphins jumping and that was pretty cool, but what we are most proud of on this trip was that neither of us got sick.  Unlike at least a third of the boatload of tourists.  The trip was shorter than advertised but no one was complaining.  It was a pretty quiet and queasy group that made it back to the dock.

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After we got back to the hotel we took a short walk on the bike path by the ocean to clear our heads.  In the hotel room we showered off the salt spray, changed to dry clothes, and  headed out to dinner.  I dragged Vickey to our favorite restaurant in Hualien (Jia Curry).  Fortunately she loved it.

We thought about going to the stone market but instead wound up at a used bookstore.  A used bookstore in a converted house with English language novels, nooks and crannies with armchairs, quirky drawings, a coffee bar, three cats, and a sleepy dog.  Heaven!

Sunday morning we tried a little bit of everything at the breakfast buffet.

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Then we went for a longer walk on the bike path before the Taroko tour.  The bike paths in Hualien are great – long stretches of smooth pavement and wonderful views.

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We had tried to get an English language taxi driver for our tour but the usual people were not available.  Instead we joined a Chinese language tour.  Fortunately several people on the tour spoke excellent English and could tell us the key points.  We also got to know a nice American woman on vacation from her job in China.

The rain was pouring down by this point in the day.  The one thing I forgot to pack was any sort of raincoat.  Or an umbrella.  The hotel gave me one of those ubiquitous disposable raincoats which ultimately meant that I was wet on the outside from the rain and inside from my sweat.

But oh, the view!  When Dan and I drove through Taroko Gorge I was so ready to be done with the drive that we didn’t’ explore much.  Now I know that there are some great paths I would love to explore further.  What a wonderful place.

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I guess the tour time needed to be padded out so it ended up on a beach just down from our hotel (where we had already spent plenty of time exploring the beach).  Vickey tried to just stay put in the nice dry bus, but it was “all tourists off the bus” so she had to stand in the rain with the rest of us until they let us back on.

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One quick weekend, a whole lot of rain, a long train ride, a queasy boat trip,  and a tour in a foreign language – we had a great time.

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Keelung

We like Keelung.  It’s relatively easy to get to on the highway, and the scenery is spectacular.  Highway 2 from Yilan to Keelung is stunning – cliffs to the sea, rocks in the water, twisty coastline.  It’s probably as dramatic as highway 8 to Taroko but less nerve-wracking.  Again, pictures just don’t do this justice.
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Our friend from Hualien recommended both Jioufen and Yelin.  Due to the holiday traffic we didn’t get to Yelin but we did go up the mountain to Jioufen.  Wow!  This is a town I’d like to see more of.   The drive up was amazing.

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Then we came from the peace and quiet of the country road into a bustling town clinging to the side of the mountain.  It was overwhelming (thus, no pictures).  Our initial plan was to find a place to stay overnight but it was so busy and the road so cramped that we quickly abandoned that idea.  I think the best way to experience this town is to park your car and get out and walk up and down the steep streets.  Plenty of tourism opportunities here.  And the views of the ocean are incredible.

We popped out of the far side of Jioufen and down the mountain into the outskirts of Keelung City.  On the way into town we found the Blue Ocean Hotel.  That turned out to be a great choice.  It’s right across the street from the fish market.  The rooms were very quiet and comfortable – even posh.  We took the cheap room with no view, but we’ll be back another time for a room with an ocean view.  Lovely.

A quick trip through the fish market to see all the different kinds of fish and crab and even geoduck!

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Then we were off to the justly renowned Keelung Night Market for dinner and a stroll.  This night market has permanent stalls.   I lost count of how many dishes we tried.  Crab, vegetable rolls, fresh squeezed orange juice, pineapple shaved ice, pork pies, and more.  All of it delicious.

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Good Food in Hualien City

I have a reputation in my family for sniffing out great little restaurants in any city.  Today we found a tasty curry place in Hualien.  We were starving after the long drive to Taroko Gorge.  Driving down highway 9 to Hualien we spied a busy restaurant. Since it was after the lunch hour we figured a busy restaurant was a good bet.  We were right.

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I would have gotten you a picture of the food but it was good and we were hungry so we ate it before we thought about you.  You’ll have to come here on your own.  Jia Curry has several kinds of curry and tasty milk tea.  We tried the chicken curry and beef curry. Next time we’ll take the owner’s recommendation for fish curry and vegetable curry.  Yum.

We got talking to the owner and found that he also runs a backpacker’s hotel in the center of town.  He bought and renovated a floor of an older hotel and turned it into Realive.  We liked the way he ran Jia Curry so took a chance on Realive.  We’re staying here tonight and it looks like a great choice.  It’s clean and very comfortable. We have plans to stay here again on the way back later in the week.

Now Dan needs to talk this entrepreneur into speaking to his business students.