Weimar, 2009

Day 4, 2009
Quick aside: I learned at breakfast that Germans slice their rolls through the middle (hamburger-style), rather than straight down it (hot dog style). Then they take like an 1/8” thick slice of butter and sandwich it as filling. But maybe it’s just my host family…? Anyone else notice this?

My Gastfamilie (host family) took me to Weimar my 4th day in Germany: the birthplace of famed writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller. It was a long drive from Nürnberg–about 4 hours. I kept falling asleep in the car. But for the moments I was awake, I saw some of the most beautifully delicate scenery. We drove past fields of wildflowers and dense forests, as well as this wonderfully tranquil lake. There was an island of pines, fog resting gently on the surface of the water, and a lonely swan gliding across. It was so peaceful.

weimarWe first stopped at the Anna Amalia Bibliothek, which is the library of Duchess Anna Amalia. It houses over 1 million books, 10,000 volumes of Shakespeare, and even an expansive 13,000 volume music collection. The library is in a beautiful Rococo-style. Unfortunately, only 200 tickets are sold per day, so by the time we arrived, it was sold out. Have any of you managed to snag a ticket to the library?

We went instead to Goethe’s birth house. It was surprisingly large, with statues everywhere. It was definitely the house of a relatively wealthy man. No pictures were allowed inside the house, but I did snap some of the garden.

weimar2Before this trip to Weimar, I had never seen horse-drawn carriages and flipped out when I did see one. I felt like I was living a fairytale until I noticed the giant poop sack hanging between horse in carriage. Such a smart idea; keeps the poop off the streets!

weimar3We first lunched at this random cafe, where I ordered some warm vegetable soup and Clara ordered Apfelstrudel with vanilla ice cream. There was this really neat art exhibit upstairs called “Fehlerkunst/Kunstfehler”, which essentially means “Failed Art”. Most of it was strange contemporary art. The art painted onto the walls on the stairwell were really cool though.

After lunch, we proceeded to Goethe’s summer house, where he basically wrote all his poems and literary works. The river Im runs through the land and makes for very pretty scenery with the fields, small hills and what not. Because Goethe loved flowers, his summer house had a wonderful garden. Original manuscripts were on displace in glass cases. It was particularly exciting to see “Der Erlkönig”: a rather depressing piece we read in German class and the only piece of Goethe’s that I’m thoroughly familiar with.

His summer house wasn’t nearly as luxurious as his actual house even though he spent more time in the summer home. But I guess you don’t need many luxuries when you have creative thoughts to entertain you. 🙂

weimar4My Gastmutter (host mother) and Gastvater (host father) wanted to take me to Schiller’s house, but they were closed! Sad. My Gastvater told me this random fact about Schiller: he could only write when there was a rotten apple in his desk. Genius is strange. We ended up going to a Bauhaus store. And what is Bauhaus exactly? Some style of art and music that started in Weimar. That’s the extent of my understanding. There was an animated time line of Germany in the 1900’s up to the 1990’s. There were also comic-styled illustrations satirizing the Nazi era and stuff.

When we finally arrived back home, it was past 10pm; yet somehow, it was barely twilight. The stars could barely sparkle with how bright the sky was.

台南 Tainan, 2010

tainanTainan literally means “southern Taiwan”; it was established by the Dutch East India Company as a ruling and trading base. As a result, you can still see traces of Dutch influence on the architecture, culture, and even some of the food in Taiwan. Tainan is also the oldest city in Taiwan, and with its complex history, has received the nickname “the Phoenix City”.

For our day trip in Tainan, we first went to Chikan Lou ‘赤崁樓’ or Fort Provintia. Chikan Lou is one of the most important historic sites in Tainan. It was a Dutch outpost built in 1653 during their colonization of Taiwan. The fort houses a library of dictionaries and business transactions documenting the Siraya language spoken by indigenous people of Formosa during Dutch rule.

tainan2Chikan Lou was surrendered to Zheng Chengong 国姓爷 when he and his army landed to take Taiwan from the Dutch. Since that point in history, Chikan Lou has been the residence of the governor, an army hospital during Japanese rule, and now a bookmark in Taiwanese history. There are two towers, Haishen Temple, and Wenchang Pavilion ‘文昌閣’. Both now serve as small museums. In Haishan Temple hangs small wooden plaques upon which students have written their wishes and prayers for good grades. Since I was just about to enter college at the time, my mom insisted that I write a plaque too.

We didn’t spend more than half an hour exploring Chikan Lou because of the blistering heat. What we decided to to afterwards was to get some 雪花冰 [xue hua bing], or more commonly known as “mian mian bing”.

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In short: shaved ice. Mango and blackberry shaved ice, with some green tea and mango panna cotta to boot.  The panna cotta is one of those foods from my travels that I still reminiscence about from time to time. So silky and smooth and cool–it just slithers down your throat. Nothing more gratifying in muggy, 96-degree weather.

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We visited a couple more temples, and spent some time sitting in a large park with this incredible banyan tree. It could have been almost a thousand years old for all I knew; looked like something you’d find in My Neighbor Totoro. Uncle Chen, mom, and I just relaxed on a park bench until the sun set. And then it was time for dinner!

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Perhaps I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: if there’s one thing you never should miss out on when you’re in Taiwan, its the fresh bamboo shoot that you dip in sweet mayonnaise. It is a godsend food. Crisp and sweet, almost like some buttery Gala apple. That was a pretty strange characterization, but it is so good.

We also ordered a large plate of 山蘇 [shan su], which is one of my favorite vegetables to eat in Taiwan. “Bird’s Nest Fern” is native to tropical areas; I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in the US.

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The large leaves curl outward, giving it the appearance of a nest. It’s delicate, crunchy, and (dare-I-say-it) kinda slimy. Like the tasty okra kind of slimy, unless you don’t like slimy vegetables.

There was also 絲瓜 [si gua], or loofah, steamed in a pumpkin sauce. Loofah is one of my favorite vegetables, hands down–it basically looks like a giant cucumber. And it is indeed the same loofah we use in scrubbing sponges! What a practical plant. One of my favorite things was the sticky rice balls stuffed with delicious things.

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sunset by the park!

溪頭 Xi Tou, 2010

lemidiAfter our trip through Sichuan, China, my mom and I decided to venture outside of Taipei for a change: to 溪頭 [xi tou], a city south of Taichung. We stayed at the  [mi ti da fan dian] or Chitou Lemidi Hotel.  A surprisingly luxurious resort, styled in French architecture, in the midst of dense bamboo forest and mountainous Xi Tou.

An expansive continental breakfast is included, so I definitely recommend staying there if you ever head down to Xi Tou–since finding food in the mountains is inevitably difficult without a car. There’s also a small arcade with ping pong tables, as well as a tea tasting room. 🙂

My mom took me to visit the 溪頭自然教育園區, which I guess could be translated as “Xi Tou Natural Park” (?). It’s essentially a park where you can find tons of trails, see several hundred-year old trees, walk through bamboo forests, flower fields…etc. Basically requires a full day to explore! It was a pretty cloudy and misty day, but the sun came out to play when we hit the gardens. There is a beautiful arch bridge at “University Pond”, which is definitely worth the stop. It’s constructed entirely from bamboo, and considering how many tourists it’s manage to carry, it’s quite the engineering feat.

xitouMom and I also stopped by the ever-popular 竹廬 [zhu lu], or “Bamboo Cottage”. This place was previously the Chiang Kai-shek line shop; we couldn’t go in though, since the cottage isn’t open to the public. The cottage was completed in 1977 and is made of 100% bamboo. Each stalk is cut and fitted perfectly with the others.  Another popular attraction is the trail up to Shen Mu ‘神木’ giant tree. My fear of heights noted the trailhead’s marking as a “challenging uphill climb” of about at least 1.5 hours, so my mom and I ended up on not seeing the tree. Next time! I think I’m a lot less afraid of heights now than I was before. The 神木 spans several meters in diameter and remains standing after over 700 years, even though lightning split it in two years ago. 

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One of my mom’s best friends from college, Uncle Chen 陳叔叔, took us to what I believe was the Neihu Elementary School 內湖國小. Totally just basing it off of my memories matched with the pictures provided in the link. What I do remember is that there are a lot of butterfly plants and trees at the school, so hundreds of butterflies flock there in the summer. It was a kaleidoscope of fluttering wings and glimmering colors. I’m not the best photographer, but believe me when I say there were swarms of them flitting around!

nantouAfterwards, we walked down this huge street market in Nantou County ‘南投縣 ‘. I wish I remembered the name so I could recommend it, because there was so much to see! Street food everywhere, bands and dance groups performing, games and caricatures. The grilled corn came in about 8 different flavors, and the stinky tofu was delicious. Mmm. 

I got to see the 愛玉 [ai yu] fruit from the first time, which is what the super popular Aiyu jelly  is made from. Aiyu dessert is made from the seeds of a type of fig found mostly in just Taiwan and Singapore. (It’s the strange-looking prickly ball in the bottom left picture).  Aiyu seeds are steeped in cold water and rubbed until a slimy gel can be extracted from it. The dessert is usually eaten cold with a squeeze of lime on hot summer days. Perfectly refreshing!

We happened to run into a couple of my mom’s old friends as well–what a coinkidink! They took us all out to a vegetarian restaurant nearby that was simply delicious. Light but wonderfully filling food, all local and fresh.nantou2 There was a beautiful lily pond nearby, and some camellia bushes. There could not have been a more relaxing place to dine and chat with your friends on a breezy, summer’s day. You could even walk outside to the garden from which they harvest all their ingredients. 聖荷 [sheng he] is what I think is the name of the restaurant, but don’t take my word for it.

We ordered some pretty simple dishes, nothing complicated or fancy. It was just like mom’s cooking. A couple stir-fried vegetables, multigrain rice, some light tempura and bean curd skin rolls. Fresh fruit for dessert. Hot soup in a porcelain bowl with a melange of fungi and daikon. If you can find any place called 聖荷 in the area, you should definitely go!

shenghe