Monday, 23 June 2014

Yangmingshan Zhuzihu

Yangmingshan is popular this time of year. In the mountains the air is cooler than at ground level, though not any less humid in my opinion. To avoid the crowds at the weekends it's necessary to visit by less usual routes and go to less popular places. Our choice yesterday was Zhuzihu, which is crammed when the calla lilies are flowering but comparatively quiet now that the season is over.

Visiting Zhuzihu also avoids taking the usual Yangmingshan buses, which include the 260 from Taipei Main Station and the R5 from MRT Jiantan Station on the Red Line. Whenever we've caught the R5 it's always been very full and I've felt sorry for those forced to stand for an hour as the minibus leans from side to side going up the mountain roads.

Instead, we caught the S9 from Beitou station, which takes about 35 minutes to arrive at Zhuzihu, or passengers can alight at other scenic places on the way. There's even a handy little map supplied in the seat pockets on the bus to help you decide where to get off. This is very helpful because sometimes the names of the stops don't correspond with the location according to the map. For example, the second Yangmingshan Parking Area stop is announced as the Boy Scout Centre stop on the bus. By keeping a sharp lookout and following the map it's easy to see where to alight.

We started our hike by walking through the calla lily beds, which were all gone over, but it was pleasant walking past the streams and water wheels and watching the fish in the water. We walked steadily uphill as we left the beds, taking short paths or walking at roadsides until we reached a mountain trail. It was lunchtime and everyone was either eating or waiting to be seated at one of the many restaurants we passed, so we had the trail to ourselves.

The highlights of the day were the butterflies, which were out in force.

Many butterflies in Taiwan are black or darkly coloured. I'm not sure why - perhaps as camouflage in the shady areas of woodland.

We also saw a type of heron I'd never seen before. Taiwan is a wet country and herons are ubiquitous but this was the first I'd ever seen with this colouring.

The day was overcast, which made the fumes from the volcanic vents in the mountains even more atmospheric.
We climbed until we were completely puffed (about three quarters of an hour) and deafened by the cicadas (about five minutes), and made our way back down to Zhuzihu, passing many beautiful flowers, wild and cultivated, along the way.

Loved these wild violets
Wandering around trying to find the bus stop to catch the bus back to Taipei provided another twenty minutes of healthy exercise, until we actually asked someone for help. It turns out the bus stop to leave Zhizihu is the same as the one you alight at. As we left, we saw the long row of interesting shops and restaurants we'd missed in our hurry to enjoy the fresh, cool mountain air. All the more reason to return to Zhizihu.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Dahu Park

Attending English literacy classes at Parents' Place draws us over to Neihu once a week during term time, and this is how we came to know about Dahu Park.

Lying just behind Dahu Park MRT Station, Dahu Park is a 13-hectare lake and park area on the eastern outskirts of Taipei. Of all the terrible British tabloids, The Daily Mail published some photos capturing its beauty a couple of years ago. I've never seen it looking quite so spectacular, but it's still a pleasant place to visit to relax in the park, hike the neighbouring mountain or swim in the large swimming complex that opened recently.

We hiked the mountain a little while ago, which was easy and fun. The entrance is along the road that runs next to the park, near a small temple.

It was very quiet the weekend that we went. The signage all had English translations, which is always helpful, and showed the many choices of paths to take once up in the mountain.

Near the top we came across this pebble trail. I think these are intended to stimulate your circulation and nerve endings and generally improve your health.

I wanted to try it out but didn't fancy becoming a white foreigner spectacle at that particular moment. (Most of the time I'm game.)

Obligatory view from the top:

We've made some great friends and had some fun times during and after English classes at Parent's Place. Until recently the children would run off their pent-up energy in a small local park, but a few weeks ago we started taking them to Dahu Park swimming pool complex. With large outdoor and indoor pools, paddling pools, spa pools, hot pools and a sauna, they leave us parents alone for hours at a time. Visiting on a weekday afternoon also means the pool isn't busy and the lifeguards are relaxed about the children horsing around in the water.

Upstairs there's an exercise centre and cafe, as we discovered on our last visit. I was feeling very noble after swimming a few lengths, so bypassed the exercise suite entirely and headed straight for the cafe, which serves steaks, pasta, hamburgers and other kid-friendly fare. Distracted children and tasty food. Life is good at Dahu Park.