A photo of the hotel where we are staying. (Note: I’d love to load more photos, but haven’t yet figured how to get them from my phone to my PC).
It’s now Saturday, May 13th, 2023. Kia ora! It’s my eldest granddaughter’s birthday today.
I finished my last blog with our boarding call to board our direct flight from Auckland to Taipei. The last time I had flown business class was with Emirates back in 2016, in pre-Covid times. This was very different!
Our take-off was a bit bumpy; soon after that we were asked what we would like for lunch. This was quite a production: we had printed menus, and there was an amuse-bouche, appetiser, main course, dessert, drinks, and of course the bakery – garlic bread with olive oil. It sounds like a great deal of food, but of course the portions are very small. An individual table is unfolded and a linen cloth put on it; we had proper cutlery too. What fun! As our first choice of main courses was gone by the time the attendant got to us, I had the salmon and JD had chicken. I had sparkling water to drink; it was all delicious. With the garlic bread, I got a wee bottle of olive oil. Afterwards there was delicious coffee.
JD and I were each in a kind of capsule. There was a comfortable seat with a footrest, or dumpty, as I think we used to call them. On this were a pair of scuffs (adjustable, wrapped) – thanks Air NZ, and a pouch containing some goodies – lip balm, a toothbrush, socks and hand lotion. There was a pillow on the seat, and a bottle of water. There wasn’t much room, of course, and I had some trouble getting myself organised, and getting what I wanted out of my bag that I wanted to stow. There was room to put things almost behind my seat; I was a newbie at this, and I felt that everyone else knew what they were doing. Meanwhile a staff member was offering sparkling wine or orange juice. There was a ledge for the glass, although this had to be stowed for take off and landing. Eventually I got to sit down, and overcome the challenge of finding my seatbelt! A flight attendant came around with those lovely hot wet facecloths, that are so refreshing.
I wanted to read during take-off, so I asked the lovely Taiwanese flight attendant to show me how to turn on my reading lamp. This was part of the individual entertainment system, but alas, it didn’t work, for myself or JD. The attendant told her manager, who announced that the system would have to be rebooted during take-off, and this would take about 10 minutes. During take-off, we both wondered? It seemed like a dangerous time. But it was duly rebooted. Sadly, the reboot did not improve its performance. Not only was there no reading light, but there was no inflight map – you know, the annoying one that tells your altitude, the temperature outside, the speed, and the time at your points of embarkation and destination, and the time to go. I try not to look at it for ages and ages, and it still tells me there are hours to go. Well, you kind of miss it when it’s not there. Of course there was no in-flight Wi-fi, either.
There wasn’t much in the way of entertainment. There was the film Aftersun, which I had seen but watched again, thinking what a lovely Dad Paul Mescal played, and how like my just-turned 8 granddaughter 11 year old Sophie was. But it was later that I watched it.
Although this was a daytime flight, it was expected that we’d all go to sleep for most of the rest of the trip. To achieve this, each business class seat had to be converted, The seat was rolled back and turned into a lie-flat bed, complete with mattress, two pillows, and a cover.
I tried to sleep after lunch, lying back, thinking this is living the dream, but I became rather bored with that after a while. There were bouts of quite severe turbulence; but thankfully I don’t worry anymore; I did miss not being able to read; I listened to José Carreras for a while (he does sing arias from Tosca beautifully); I got up to use the toilet, and I have to report that it was just fine: very clean, and not quite as cramped as the toilets in cattle class. I returned to my cocoon, but it was just that – a cocoon where I couldn’t easily sit up, or read the magazines I’d brought with me, or use the limited functions available in the on-board entertainment system. I couldn’t even see the time on my watch.
Eventually, when there were only 4 hours to go in this 11 ½ hour flight, I asked for my bed to be returned to sitting position. Then I watched Aftersun again, and most of Women Talking. Eventually dinner was served, but it wasn’t quite such a production as lunch had been. I chose schnapper for my main course, but didn’t really enjoy it. Note to self: never order fish again. It was really fresh, but seemed barely cooked. Of course, I wasn’t really hungry, but it’s amazing what a distraction food can be on a plane, and how one can work up an appetite after several hours in the sky doing nothing.
Eventually we descended and landed in Taipei. It was cloudy outside, and there wasn’t much to see at all, although I did see some lights and buildings through the passenger opposite’s window. The plane taxied past hundreds of aircraft before stopping. Entry was no problem, we were waved through, without having to queue for long; everything was in Chinese, but I established which carousel our luggage would be on. We went through to baggage claim, grabbed a trolley, and waited. It helpfully said this was the right carousel for Air NZ flight 77; there seemed to be no separate queue for priority baggage. I was so pleased that I’d used the toilet on the plane before our descent, rather than waiting to use a restroom at the airport. There was nowhere to sit down, of course.
I marvelled at the enormous suitcases people had, many of them secured by a band around the large suitcase. I felt quite unashamed in comparison, with a large suitcase and a small overnight one; JD had a small suitcase and a backpack. Finally our luggage arrived. This was a big relief, as I couldn’t see an Air NZ office anywhere, and almost all notices were in Chinese. As we had nothing to declare, we walked through Customs and out to another public area. We went out and crossed the road to a taxi stand (as our son had advised), and caught a taxi into our hotel. Our taxi driver had no English; he drove to my printed directions, but that was to our son’s apartment building! I found some instructions in Chinese, and he sighed with relief and took us to our hotel. The helpful people on the desk did speak English, so we were checked in, and given keys to our room. Our daughter-in-law had helpfully prepared a welcome pack, with some fruit and snacks in it and a beautiful note. Although we’d had plenty to eat on the plane, it was nice to have some delicious pineapple to tuck into and celebrate the fact that we’d safely arrived. Taiwanese pineapple is much nicer than Australasian!
First impressions? Taipei is a busy, thriving city. It took about 50 minutes to get from the airport to our hotel; there were lots of concrete flyovers, there was lots of traffic, and it all kept flowing smoothly. Pretty much everything is in Chinese, and the characters are quite complex! It was dark and raining when we arrived, so there wasn’t much to see. We did see Ucks Coffee, which of course was a Starbucks, but it was a relief not to see any McDonalds or KFC outlets.
Our hotel room is just fine, with a sitting room, compete with sofa, armchair, desk and lamps, a small fridge and tea making facilities. And there’s a bedroom with two single beds, a reading lamp, a wardrobe and a bathroom with shower. It’s all very elegant and gracious, without being over-the-top. In Taiwan there’s evident concern about the environment. I have yet to see a plastic bag.
Yesterday (Friday) I woke up very early; I showered and we went down to breakfast at 7 am. It was buffet style, and already there were lots of people there. It was very quiet as people concentrated on eating. The food was unfamiliar; I had some fruit and toast, juice and cona coffee. JD had some noodles, I think.
Afterwards we went for a walk to explore the area. It’s very busy – there’s an elevated major highway outside our room on the tenth floor, but if you go down to the lobby on the opposite side there’s another road on street level. While there’s lots of traffic, cars, motorbikes, and pushbikes, there are crossings which give you plenty of time to cross the sometimes very wide streets. You don’t press a button for crossing; instead you wait for the Red Man (Stop!) to change to the Green Man (walking). It’s a strange mixture of beautiful green trees and shrubs (which are regularly watered) and older slightly run-down buildings, a lot of concrete, and to be honest, some ugliness interspersed with beautiful decorations.
We stopped outside the Elementary School our grandson attends (actually he attends pre-school there at present), but we couldn’t see him, and the young woman in charge had no knowledge of him. The building itself looked quite dowdy, but then most do, and there seemed to be quite a nice play area outside. Then we made our way to the large Sports Complex where we thought our grandchildren would be practicing taekwondo that evening. There were white flowers there, which looked as though a red poppy had been sliced in half, and coloured white. Having found a large sports complex, we then found Galette Café, one recommended by our son. It didn’t open until 10 am, so we sat down outside the Elementary School and waited.
Eventually we made our way back to the Café, and then began the torturous business of ordering coffee. It seems you can get an Americano (I didn’t want that), or an Expresso, which is tiny. Eventually they brought a double Espresso in a small jug, and a cup of hot water. I added the Espresso to the hot water, and almost got what we would call a “long black”. It was delicious. There were lots of puzzles there, and you could actually do a jigsaw there, yourself; there were lots of lovely impressionist puzzles as well as other ones. We bought one about space for our grandson, and one of Renoir’s lovely Boating Party for our granddaughter. I bought a small one for our daughter in Hawkes Bay.
Then we made our way back to the hotel. We decided to have lunch there, on the grounds that we were to see our grandchildren practising Taekwondo at 6 pm, and we wouldn’t need dinner that evening.
Lunch was complicated! It was Chinese, of course, and we were advised to choose from a set menu – you could choose one of three mains (we chose chicken because it seemed the most familiar). There were chopsticks, of course, but we managed them. There was a starter – pickled egg, I think, with some kind of meat; then soup came, with a jug of a spicy red condiment to be added to taste; it was delicious, but it was frustrating not to know just what was in it. Then the mains came, with rice; just how do you navigate eating that? Then some fruit, something to drink, and finally, a dessert, which seemed like cream caramel, with some kind of custardy mixture and a caramel sauce. All of it was delicious, and somehow far too much. There were groups of older men having lunch, and they excused themselves to us for making too much noise! There are no overweight people in Taipei, or not that I’ve seen, anyway.
We set off in good time to the Sports Complex, thinking we were following our son’s instructions, but no, when we got there, there was no sign of our daughter in law or our grandchildren. Thank goodness for mobile phones, because, alas, we’d gone to the wrong place. She asked us to meet her back at our hotel, which we duly did; then she took us to the right place (I don’t think we would have found it by ourselves). We went upstairs, took off our shoes, and went in – and there they were! Obviously looking out for us! Just like their photos! This was a small class, and we agreed to stay and watch and then walk back to their apartment with them.
It was very Chinese! I don’t mean that pejoratively, at all. It’s quite refreshing to see something that’s a bit down to earth. The class was extremely energetic! We watched, but there was also a television screen running pictures of the children in action, including some lovely shots of our grandchildren.
I guess the street outside reminded me of Newtown, perhaps; the street/lane where our loved ones have their apartment is a very narrow one. They live not at all far away from where they train for Taekwondo, and there seemed to be no fear about walking home in the dark, it is a martial art, after all!
We had some chamomile tea there, and then they walked us back to our hotel and we gave the children the puzzles we’d bought that morning. I was amazed at all the greenery outside the small apartment buildings we passed on our way back.
Although I’ve heard emergency vehicles (not nearly as many as in Paris), I have yet to see a policeman. This seems a very peaceful, polite place.
There is an ATM in the lobby of our hotel. It has a voice over, and at the end it asks you to store your money “properly”. That’s nice, I think. The exchange rate is much better than at Auckland Airport.
We’re gradually adjusting to life here: it’s hot, muggy, rainy and it gets dark early! And the food and drink is all very different! For example, do you want your tea or coffee hot or cold? And organic soy milk with fruit juice? That’s new to me.
On Saturday morning I woke up really early again. This morning breakfast was in a different restaurant. There was lots of cooked food – more of the kind I would tend to eat for lunch or dinner, like chicken and mashed potatoes! JD had cornflakes and I stuck to fruit and toast, some orange juice and beautiful coffee. The fruit is watermelon (very prevalent), custard apple, and oranges. We don’t have beautiful Taiwanese pineapple in the breakfast buffet. I have yet to see any cheese! And gluten free doesn’t seem to be a thing here.
We were to meet our daughter in law and grandchildren for lunch. They were to walk to our hotel, and then we would get a taxi to the vegan restaurant that had been booked. We went to Soul Café, and had a beautiful lunch, although there was far too much food and the service was quite slow! Still, we sat outside. There was a 7/11 convenience store nearby, where JD bought some more toys for the children. There was a Mother’s Day set menu, and we were advised to have that. Well, I thought that with eating mainly vegan meals I would lose weight, but it is not so: the food is delicious and plentiful. One feels ashamed not to eat it all, although there is no microwave oven in our room, so we can’t take leftovers away with us.
We had water with a slice of lemon and a slice of orange in it; there was delicious soup to start with – like minestrone, without Parmesan cheese. Apparently our son knows where to buy vegan cheese.
Then there were potato wedges, a vegan crumbed steak that was delicious, and some kind of vegetables – broccoli, zucchini in a tomato sauce; there was delicious salad with cranberries in it, although I found it hard to eat it tidily.
Then a mushroom risotto came out for me – again, delicious, although I was full by now, and there was a noodle dish for JD. After that, there was along wait, and then our desserts arrived – tiramisu and crѐme brulée. After that we all crowded in a taxi to go back to our son’s apartment for yet more food – a birthday cake! I was amazed by how grimy many buildings looked – a bit like the buildings of Paris as you come into the Gare du Nord Railway Station. The apartment is very nice, though.
We sang the birthday song, and enjoyed the beautiful vegan birthday cake. It was amazingly good, with some kind of cherry filling.
Then we excused ourselves, and our grandchildren walked us back to our hotel. After that we were properly tired, and slept through until nearly breakfast time the next morning.
I had planned to go to a Presbyterian Church here, but realised the service would be in Chinese, and so took the easy way out and zoomed into the service back in New Zealand. Then we went down to breakfast. We were properly hungry by this time, and the restaurant was very busy, although it was Sunday morning and soon after 7 am.
I had two cups of coffee, and some cooked food as well as fruit and toast. If we give our evening meal a miss, perhaps I should eat more cooked food at breakfast time. Today we plan to go to the Palace Museum.
Well, that’s it for now! It’s quite a challenge being here, but a treat, as well. We look forward to seeing more of our loved ones, and the sights here, and, of course, doing some more shopping! I did see a McDonalds yesterday on our way to the Soul Café, but they’re certainly not ubiquitous here. Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi nui.