One of the great things about our cruise ship travel is that we get to visit places that are super interesting but that we wouldn’t think of traveling to on our own. Taiwan is one of those places. The ship docked right in downtown Keelung early in the morning and would stay there until late at night, so we got to do some exploring outside of the city during the daytime and then come back for the crazy night market before returning to the ship.
Before we embark on a trip like this, I like to scour the interwebs and create a Pinterest board for each port of call. This way, we have ideas on where to go and what we’d like to photograph before we arrive. During this process, I kept seeing awesome pictures from the town of Jiufen, which is about 45 minutes away from our Keelung docking location. The buildings and the colors just looked so striking, and I learned that the scenery in the animated movie “Spirited Away” (which I adore) was based on this town. So we had to go!
Since there were no tour busses going to Jiufen, we had to get there via the Taiwanese public bus system, which was a very “exotic” experience. Of course there are no Western characters anywhere, so we had to try and decipher the Asian symbols in figuring out what bus to get on. Luckily, before we left the ship, we had a Taiwanese guide write down the name of the town. We were able to show this to the bus driver who, after driving the bus up a twisty, cliff-lined mountain like a bat out of hell, graciously gestured to us which stop to get off at. The downtown area of Jiufen is made up of tiny [but crowded] pedestrian streets that are lined with tons of food vendors and funky shops. It’s all built into a hill, so there are not only streets going back and forth, but staircases going up and down. It felt like this crazy, Asian labyrinth that was a feast to all the senses.
We spent a good two or three hours exploring Jiufen, trying some of the snacks, photographing the street scenes and visiting a tea museum and a few surrounding temples (which were VERY colorful). By some miracle, we actually made it onto the correct bus to get back to Keelung so we could continue exploring there.
Once back in Keelung, we hit up a Starbucks (yes, there are Starbucks in Taiwan), not because I needed coffee, but because I like restrooms without “surprises,” and in Asia, I saw Starbucks as a restroom that didn’t make me squirm. (That’s a tip, by the way. Starbucks = Acceptable Loo)
From there, we walked a few blocks to a downtown shrine to do some shooting. This is where “The Yoga Series” started. I asked Ben to take a casual iPhone shot of me in front of this shrine so that I could send it to my sister. After looking at the results, we decided to take a few more, only he shot them with his “bog boy camera.” We ended up liking the finished product so much that we started seeking out interesting locations for these yoga images and, by the end of the trip, a full blown series was started.
Because the ship was staying in Keelung until late at night, we opted to have dinner at the local night market instead of the 6-star Crystal Dining room. Call us crazy, but we’re always up for a unique experience… and Taiwan did NOT disappoint. I admit that most of the food we saw was unidentifiable to me. Lucky, there were a few signs in English… signs that read things like “WOW frog legs” or “pig miscellaneous soup.” MISCELLANEOUS?!?! For me, there was fortunately a vegetarian kiosk which had rice and veggies in some kind of yummy sauce (hopefully it wasn’t cat broth :-/) but Ben got more adventurous, sampling all kinds of things. The market was full of crowds, lights, smells and crazy food. It was exactly the kind of thing we love to see and experience when traveling to exotic places.
We could have probably stayed longer, but we had to be on board an hour before the ship was to depart Keelung. Overall, it was a long and adventurous day… just how we like it!