München, 2009

Day 7, 06.30.2009: Munich

munich1We left Nürnberg early in the morning to take the high speed train to München: about a 2-3 hour ride. The train itself was far more comfortable than I expected, other than the fact that we couldn’t open the windows and were stuck breathing stale air the entire time.

When we were finally able to return to the open air, our first stop was the Olympia Turm, or Olympic tower. I could see the entire city of München from 185m high up, or about 240 feet in US measurements. I didn’t leave time for my acrophobia to kick in: 30 seconds of furiously snapping photos, and then scrambled back inside. munich2The tower hosts a pretty neat Rock n’ Roll museum on the observation deck. Showcased that day were pants worn by Freddie Mercury. My inner/outer Queen fangirl squealed quietly. There was also a gold record autographed by Elvis. My favorite part was scrolling through a jukebox sitting in the corner.Such timeless music.

munich3We then went to Marienplatz, which is essentially the city plaza and center. Its centerpiece is the Rathaus (or city hall). Beautiful, old Gothic architecture. All of us split up at this point to find food. I was so thankful that my Gastvater (host father) packed me some snacks, because there was absolutely nada for a vegetarian to eat. Chocolate and brownies all day!

munich4After lunch, different groups formed based on who wanted to see what. The problem was that all the U-Bahn and S-Bahn (city rail) passes were in the hands of our Gastgeschwistern (host siblings), so we couldn’t just roam about freely like most of us wanted to. The group I went with stopped first at the Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady). Stunning stained glass windows stretched to the top of the ceiling, typical of most European churches I’ve seen. No less beautiful though. 🙂 We also ventured down underground into the tombs where past bishops lay. I always find it slightly creepy that these are part of the tourist attractions.

munich5We visited the Residenz, or royal palace, next. It’s enormous. I would suggest a good 4 hours there, whether you enjoy history or not! Superfluous amounts of sparkling artifacts and ornate rooms to marvel at. Explored a bit of the Hofgarten (palace gardens), with a pretty little dome in the middle, before settling on the grassy lawn in front of the Residenz.

munich6Our group spent some time sun tanning and listening to street musicians before heading to the Englischer Garten (English Gardens). Make sure you have your walking shoes on when you visit Munich, because it was over a 30 minute walk to the English Gardens! Half of us were rather excited to see the infamous patch of the gardens where public nudity was legal; however, the other half of the group wanted to watch surfers ride waves in the canal. I guess river canals are as close to good surf as you can get when you’re a mostly landlocked country. A couple of our group members who wandered off did manage to snag a couple views of people on the nudist clearing. Reminds me of the now-defunct Tufts tradition, the Naked Quad Run. 😛

munich7The strangest of all the places we visited was the Haus der Kunst (house of art), which is primarily a modern art museum. I can’t say I understand contemporary art at all. Burned into my memory forever–in the most unfortunate way–is a painting with two naked men wearing gas masks, one sucking on a long, plastic tub shoved up the other’s behind. Never forget. The less graphic and disturbing piece was a yukata made entirely from needles, which was actually pretty cool.

Our day of scrambling through Munich came to an end at the world-famous Hofbrauhaus. Tons of high expectations were built up leading up to our visiting the popular brewery. I was slightly disappointed with the fare offered. Although the whole point is to try the beer, that was of least interest to a junior in high school (me). My parents have taken me to enough alcohol and beer tastings that alcohol wasn’t some mysterious or forbidden fruit to explore. What I wanted to try was the Dampfnudeln: plum cake with glaze. It was the cheapest thing on the menu and ended up being terribly dry. My friend’s Apfelstrudel, however, was delicious. Next time I’ll just get the beer.

munich8Before we returned to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station), we swung by a really stunning church, Michaelskirche. Highly recommended–I think it’s currently under construction as of 2014. Crazy to think we saw everything we did in a span of 5 hours, including time allotted for meals. The ride home went by so much more quickly, since there were more tables on the train and we were able to sit down and play cards. Learned BS, spoons, and Kemps properly for the first time ever. My friend and I won the majority of the games. Beginner’s luck I guess? 😉

墾丁 Kenting, 2010

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kentingWhite sand beaches. Wild monkeys. Hiking. Beautiful sunsets. Warm weather. Kenting. My mom and I spent about 2 nights there a few years ago and it was wonderfully relaxing. We stayed at the Chateau Beach Resort 墾丁夏都沙灘酒店, which is right on the beachfront. Our hotel room was about a 2-3 minute walk from the beach, which was just perfect. Accommodations come paired with a dinner buffet. The hallways are bright with a ton of sunshine–I distinctly remember Stacey Kent’s “Ice Hotel” playing continuously throughout the hotel. Ironically, there’s no better song I can think of for a day on the beach.

kenting2We arrived in the afternoon and decided to take advantage of the huge sunshine. Jumped into our swimsuits, and lounged on beach chairs for a good hour or two, with a kiwi smoothie for company. My mom’s friend suggested that we try to hike to the top of Dajianshan [山, which means “big pointy mountain”] before sunset. So, we hired a taxi to drop us off at the trail entrance. It was personally quite daunting for me to do any sort of hike, especially one that supposedly leads to the peak of a mountain.

The peak is about 4400 feet, and a one-way trip is about 90 minutes (?) with stops and some crying about turning back since it was getting too high up. The veil of butterflies flitting about was a nice distraction from the gain in elevation though! Plenty of vibrantly-colored flowers to boot as well. Beware of the mosquitoes though…I think I left with about 6 bites. We also traversed through some shallow canyons, which was quite fun.

kenting3kenting4Once we reached the top, we were incredibly lucky to catch a family of mountain goats on the peak to our right! About 5 fuzzy, black goats munching on tender greens. Pretty adorable. 🙂 And even more serendipitous was seeing wild monkeys! A small group of them, about 300 feet away. The alpha monkey was standing at the highest point, looking right at us. Like a king surveying his lands. The end of the trail leads to an observation tower, which makes viewing all this wildlife a lot easier than if we had to balance on the edge of the cliff to view them.

I’ll let you decide if the view is worth it or not–you’ll just have to hike it for yourself! I thought it was pretty. Nothing *spectacular* though. The rest of Kenting is pretty flat, but very green. We could even seen Eluanbi Lighthouse in the distance.kenting5

As the sun was already sitting low on the horizon, we wanted to make it back down before it got dark. No taxis to hail on our return trip, so we actually walked most of the highway down to the city. A little steep at times, but the whole 4 hours of hiking made for an awesome workout. At certain points on the way down to Kenting, we could see Chuanfanshih [石, or “sail rock”, since it looks like a sail] among the colorful buildings of the town. kenting6

kenting7By the time we returned to the hotel, we were famished, grimy, and pockmarked with mosquito bites. Showers always feel the best after these kinds of days. My mom and I were more than ready for the buffet by the time we headed down to dinner. Disappointment would be an understatement for how we felt when we found out that it was a seafood buffet. So we spoke to the chefs, and they agreed to make us a set meal.kenting8 It was at most…decent. Best part was the fresh bamboo shoot with mayonnaise. Mmm. Such a flawless pairing. The 粽子 [zong zi], or sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, were pretty good too.

Unsatisfied, we went to the Kenting Night Market in search of other goodies to eat. Boy oh boy were there a lot of tourists! The most we could do was shuffle along. Got some fresh grilled corn, stinky tofu, and even a cheap massage! Not a bad way to end the night.

kenting9All of the next day was spent in Kenting National Park. We took a short 1-2 hour tour through 佳樂水 [Jia Le Shui] park. Lots of coral reefs and interesting rock formations to be found there. Seal-shaped rocks, rocks with faces, turtle rocks…rocks galore! The most stunning aspect for me was seeing the thunderstorm that was brewing to the east. Rain pouring on the other side of 屏東 [ping dong] province, with occasional flashes of lightning.kenting10

The wind was picking up where we were and a short shower passed through, leaving us with some dew on our skin. Our tour dropped us off at a section of reef, so that we could get down and climb out over the rocks to see tide pools. Really beautiful water out there! Saw a couple of small fish and urchins. The rocks were so sharp though. I felt like Mulan and crew, training to walk on these small outcrops that were more or less the surface area of my foot.kenting11

We safely returned to the entrance of the park, and headed on our way to Eluanbi Lighthouse. The white-washed walls reminded me of Santorini. Pretty scenic area, with soft, rolling green hills.

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When we got back to the hotel, my mom and I were ravenous. No free breakfast at this hotel, and it was mid-afternoon. We caught the tail-end of restaurant service, ordering a mediocre pizza and a rather tasty strawberry smoothie. Hit the beach again for a bit, since the weather was just so beautiful. Cotton candy clouds, deep blue sky, and sunshine in 80-degree weather. As it neared sunset, my mom and I decided to take a trail close to our hotel (I believe?) that runs the perimeter of Kenting. I honestly can’t say where the trail begins or ends, but it’s somewhere in Kenting. Beautiful sunset there: mountains and the bay in the background.

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Anywhoo, Kenting is beautiful and you should go. That’s all I have to say. Our time felt a bit short, so I’d suggest giving it at least 3 nights (or more!). 😉

蓮香齋, Jen Dow Vegetarian Buffet

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You can see them get progressively fancier as the years go on (2007 -> 2010 -> 2013)

This is culinary Disneyland for a vegetarian: all-you-can-eat hot pot, dessert, stir-fry, dim sum, soups, and Haagen-Dazs for a low price of $760 NTD, or about $20 USD. Pretty sweet deal, vegetarian or not. Sometimes buffets can offer a smorgasbord of food, but with all of them sub-par in taste and quality. This is not a problem at  蓮香齋[lian xiang zai]. I’ve been coming here since 2007, and the quality of the food–which is very good–is unwavering. Always delicious, always fresh.

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this was only 1/3 of our meal…

They’re so popular now that you can’t get seats without reservations. It hasn’t always been this hot of a dining place, but since it moved to a new location on 南京東路 [nanjing dong lu, or Nanjing East Rd] about 3 years ago, business has exploded more than ever. They used to let you take photos of the place, but they’re so big now that I have to sneak quick snapshots in.

Now whenever we go, we feel like we’re competing in the Hunger Games with the rest of the diners to get the first rounds served (which usually have the tastiest dishes). My mom and I have developed a system where I take the entire right side of the restaurant, and she tackles all the stir-fry dishes on the left. A sampling of everything, so that we’ve at least had the chance to taste it before it’s all gone. A good number of the stir-fry dishes are only served at the beginning. The fried spring rolls, or 春卷 [chun juan]–which are absolutely divine and are the best I’ve found, ever–, and turnip cake, or 蘿蔔糕 [luo buo gao], go within the first 5 minutes they’re served up.

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Chinese toon fried rice, spring rolls, and a giant pot of spicy stinky tofu (L to R)

Other things, like the 麻辣臭豆腐 [ma la chou dou fu, or spicy stinky tofu], go really fast once they’ve reach their peak of deliciousness. I would suggest waiting a little more than 1 hour after restaurant opening to get the 麻辣臭豆腐, so that it’s had more time to stew and soak in the flavorful, numbingly hot broth that it’s cooked in. But don’t wait any more than that. It’ll be gone by about 12:30pm.

lianxiangzai5My mom’s favorite dish, 湯 [su pi long tang], creamed corn soup with a slab of puff pastry baked to crisp on top. That’s only served on weekends. I’ve seen diners hoard 3-4 of them in one go, and only about 15-20 are served at a time. So worth fighting for though! Buttery, flaky layers of puff pastry to poke through and dip into a rich broth. Mmm.

Two other dishes I really like are the 香椿炒飯 [xiang chun chao fan], or Chinese toon fried rice, and 油飯 [you fan], or Taiwanese “oily” rice. Chinese toon is an herb that tastes like a cross between yellow onion, scallions, and maybe shallots? Quite tasty, in any case. The tender leaves are simply chopped up and sauteed before adding in other ingredients. I really like my Chinese toon fried rice with some spicy peppers for a kick. 油飯 is long-grain sticky rice steamed, and then quickly stir-fried with sauteed mushrooms, veggie ham (or shrimp/real ham if you’re not vegetarian), and rice wine, sugar, soy sauce, and shallots. The one at Jen Dow is served sometimes in 荷葉 [he ye], or lotus leaf, for an extra boost of flowery fragrance.

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Other things we like getting: fresh baby corn, hand rolled sushi [手卷寿司 shou juan sou shi], the wonton soup with 粉條 [feng tiao, or wide rice noodle], 龍鬚菜 [long xu cai, translating to “dragon whisker vegetable” due to the long strands of veggie], and fresh bamboo shoot [春筍 chun shun]. I don’t know how many of you have seen fresh baby corn with its husk still on, but I’ve only ever seen it in Taiwan. It’s steamed in a bamboo steamer and is crunchy, sweet, and dericious. Baby corn haters can hate. 龍鬚菜is seasonal, so if you catch it, you’re very lucky. We used to grow a lot in my childhood home. Crunchy and tender when it’s young. Old 龍鬚菜 can be a bit too fibrous and chewy.  The one seasonal vegetable that goes faster than free food at a college event is the fresh bamboo shoot. Crisp like gala apple, and sweet like morning dew. I’ve never tasted morning dew, but good 春筍 tastes like it’d just been dug right out of the ground in some cloud forest high in the mountains.

lianxiangzai6lianxiangzai7Jen Dow used to offer cold slow-drip coffee that was brewed over the course of 24 hours; however, the yield was so low that they stopped doing it. My mom and I used to make sure to snag a cup for each of us, the moment we set our foot in the door. I’m not a huge coffee drinker, but damn, that was some fantastic coffee. There also used to be a rather extensive loose-leaf tea bar for you to mix-and-match teas.

There’s also a noodle station where you can ask the chef to basically make whatever noodle soup you want. Several varieties of noodles and toppings to your taste. Moreover, there are other stations for made-to-order vegetables, sushi hand rolls, clay pot and hot pot,…there’s probably more that I can’t remember. A smorgasbord of cocktails (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and drinks in general. I particularly love the fruit or herb vinegar drinks: e.g. apple, passionfruit, guava, basil…etc. The dessert section has grown almost every year I’ve gone too.

lianxiangzai8And of course, I can’t fail to mention the chocolate fountain! There’s a 3-tier chocolate fountain with fruit kebabs. Pretty sweet. The second time I went to Jen Dow, we managed to catch a wedding banquet and thus there were two chocolate fountains: one milk and one white. lianxiangzai9Haven’t been that lucky since. They also have two Haagen Dazs sections for endless ice cream, if that’s your thing. My favorite ice cream is actually the lactose-free ice cream, next to the dessert soups ( red bean soup, almond milk…etc.). I’m not lactose intolerant, but I find the lactose-free flavors to be more refreshing than the too-sweet and rich Haagen Dazs. If you’re willing to try it, definitely get the sesame soy milk, bilberry, mango, and peanut flavors. Mmm.

Whether you’re carnivorous or omnivorous, you’d probably enjoy eating here as much as we vegetarians do. My mom and I have brought non-vegetarian friends and family here and no one has had less than an incredibly positive experience.

Interested? Find them at:

台北市松山區南京東路五段188號地下1樓之1

Taipei City, Songshan District, Nanjing E. Rd, Section 5, No. 188
First level underground.