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Around the World 2017: Copenhagen part I


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Over the last few years, we've been rapidly knocking the remaining major European cities off our list of unknowns. The are still a few left in the East: most notably Warsaw, the great Russian cities, and Belgrade. In the West the only one that neither Mei Ling nor I had ever visited was Copenhagen. I originally planned Copenhagen as a simple stopover on the way between China and the United States, but when I realized we could spend more time on the trip I devised a three week road trip that would incorporate Gothenburg and southern Norway along with Denmark. I originally planned to include Stockholm with a more limited stay in Norway, but I reconsidered after more research into Norway's southwestern coast. I've been to Stockholm before and while it's pleasant enough, I knew Mei Ling wouldn't find it as awesome as the central European metropolises. The western fjords would provide some adventure and natural beauty, and also would be more compatible with my plan to see all of Europe in road trips by breaking it down into digestible pieces. If we didn't go to Norway's west coast on this trip, we probably never would. Stockholm could be incorporated into a Baltic Sea trip in the future.

We didn't have a rental car waiting for us at the airport. Auto rental costs are extremely high in Denmark due to taxes so I'd made our reservation across the Øresund in Malmö, Sweden for the next day. Instead we took a taxi to our Airbnb in central Copenhagen, which was on the third floor of an elegant townhouse a block away from the Torvehallerne market. The apartment had a classic style reminiscent of our lodgings in Vienna and Budapest. Our three-leg journey from Shenyang had left us exhausted, but we knew better than to let ourselves fall into bed in the mid afternoon. Instead, we immediately made a beeline for the market. I quickly realized that my attempts to memorize some phrases in Danish had been completely pointless. The vendors would give me a confused look when I sputtered out some garbled Danish and then respond in faintly accented, grammatically perfect English. I had an easier time being understood speaking English in Denmark than I did in the southern US. The same ended up being true in Sweden and Norway as well. My Scandinavian phrasebook ended up at the bottom of the suitcase for the entire road trip.

The market was superb, although we had to close our eyes to the prices which were multiples higher than what we had being paying for food in Shenyang. We put together an early dinner from various kiosks and topped it off with some luscious cakes, much to the delight of the kids.

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We spent another hour in the largely pedestrianized area around the Kultorvet, enjoying the energetic vibe of the cafe-lined square and taking in the 17th century Round Tower. I also bought a SIM card at a 7-Eleven which the clerk assured me would work without roaming charges in Sweden and Norway. Once we felt that we'd stayed up long enough not to have to worry about waking in the middle of the night, we returned to the Airbnb and crashed.
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We got up early the next morning for the mission of picking up our rental car. On the way to breakfast we cut through Ørsteds Park, a lush trapezoid of greenery with a beautiful central lake. South of the park was a quiet neighborhood with narrow streets and colorful row houses.
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I had a long list of places in Copenhagen to eat breakfast, which seemed to be quite an important meal. Once we arrived at Next Door Cafe we found it was quite busy although they had one table left that was just our size. We put together a very satisfying breakfast of sandwiches, salads, and pancakes. The proprietor was very friendly although somewhat eccentrically coutured.
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We had some difficulty figuring out how to get to Malmö as Google Maps was recommending a bus that didn't seem to exist. In the end we took the metro to the central train station where we could buy tickets for the train that crossed the Øresund. It was a stressful process given that we had the three kids and we were using one stroller to transport the three car seats. Eventually we made it to Malmö's central station, which was thankfully within easy walking distance of the auto rental agency. The pick-up proceeded uneventfully, although at the typical glacial pace I'm used to in Europe. We stowed the car in a lot and walked to the town center, where we spent a few pleasant hours that I'll describe in my Copenhagen day trips post.

We returned to Copenhagen in the early evening and drove straight to Papirøen (Paper Island) which housed the city's largest food court Copenhagen Street Food. Paper Island is one of several artificial islands that comprise the Christianshavn section of central Copenhagen. I was surprised to learn that this very modern-seeming layout was devised more than three hundred years ago. Paper Island got its name from warehouses that stored countless rolls of newsprint for the Danish press industry. Once the island outlived this function, the warehouses were abandoned until 2014 when restaurateur Jesper Møller took over the largest warehouse and most of the island for his international food hall concept. Outside of the warehouse, the island is so quiet that it's hard to believe that anything of note is taking place nearby. As soon as we walked through the doors, however, we saw a beehive of busy food kiosks and at least a couple hundred patrons. In the back was a lively patio with views across Copenhagen Harbor to the Skuespilhuset theater. The food selection was impressive with offerings from the Middle East, the Far East, and Latin America as well as Europe. We put together a meal that was delicious and fun to eat, although managing the three little ones at a crowded shared table was a little stressful. I've since learned that Copenhagen Street Food closed at the end of 2017 to make way for residential development of Paper Island, but it seems it will be opening at a new location in May 2018. I'm glad we all had the chance to see and document this unique gastronomic experience before it disappeared into memory.

We spent all day Thursday visiting castles in the northern part of Zealand, the large island on which Copenhagen is situated. In the evening we visited another Copenhagen food court called WestMarket, which was unsurprisingly located in the large neighborhood called Vesterbro just to the west of the city center. There were several good kiosks but the place didn't have the same high energy level or beautiful setting as Copenhagen Street Food. I'm not really sure why, but instead of making a walkthrough video of the food hall we made a video of me playing tag with my kids plus a Danish kid who joined in. See if you can spot which kid is the Danish one.
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On Friday we drove to Roskilde and the little island of Mon in the south, which I'll detail in my day trips post. In the evening, we went back to Copenhagen Street Food to try all the kiosks our stomachs didn't have room for the first time. It was much more crowded than it had been on Wednesday and the kids were falling asleep on the benches while we tried to shovel food into their mouths. We probably should have made an advance reservation in the central seating area. Somehow we managed to eat our fill while standing next to the tables our kids were slumped over.

Saturday we had an early breakfast at Torvehallerne and got to see the seafood market in its morning glory. There were beautiful examples of some of our favorites such as monkfish and turbot as well as some fish that were completely unfamiliar. One very unusual looking large fish was the wolf fish, which we would ultimately enjoy several times on the trip.

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We'd already been staying in Copenhagen four days and hadn't seen much of the city besides breakfast cafes and food courts. Now that we'd completed all our planned day trips, it was time to begin our exploration of the city itself. It was a rainy Saturday morning, so we decided to start the day at the Experimentarium, a science museum designed for kids that had just been renovated and expanded earlier that year. The first thing that one notices when entering is the enormous double helix copper staircase that begins in the lobby. The kids scampered up to the second floor where there was a seemingly endless selection of interactive displays. All three of them ran in separate directions so I tried to stick with Ian and prayed Mei Ling would be able to keep track of Spenser. It was virtually impossible to get Ian to leave a huge construct of wire tunnels transporting balls from one side to the other to simulate international shipping. By the time we made it to the second floor which had crafts and countless additional displays we were already starting to get hungry. I believe there was a third floor as well which we never made it to. It was by far the best kids' museum I'd ever seen. I'd recommend budgeting at least four hours for a visit, although even then it would take several visits for a kid to get everything out of the museum.
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By the time we finally were able to extract the kids from the Experimentarium we were starving so we drove to the last of the four Copenhagen food courts on my list, Kødbyens Mad & Marked. This two-year old market in the former meatpacking district of Kødbyens is best known for meats and other grilled foods but there was still plenty of variety. It's an outdoor market and only open on weekends between April and October, when the weather is just mildly chilly and rainy. We spent about an hour there enjoying several dishes, enjoying the Bohemian atmosphere, and playing a semblance of bocce with the kids.

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One Copenhagen landmark that seems to be visible from almost anywhere in the city is Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Savior's Church) in Christianshavn. The 17th century Baroque church is famous for the golden staircase that winds around the outside of the elegant dark brown spire. When I saw that the people were climbing the stairs all the way to the top of the spire, I knew I had to have that experience for myself. Both Cleo and Ian demanded to join me, so with some trepidation we headed into the church while Mei Ling and Spenser waited for us below.
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After a short wait on line, the three of us began our ascent. The first part was a few deceptively simple flights of modern stairs, but soon we found ourselves climbing very steep wooden steps that were more like ladders than staircases. It was a relief once we exited the inside of the spire and found ourselves on the shallower steps of the winding outside staircase. I was still rattled from the ladder stage and the view of houses and people far below us wasn't soothing my nerves. The vertiginous climb was too much for some people and every once in a while there would be a logjam as someone decided they couldn't go any further and started to reverse direction. The railing was way too high for the kids to climb over but I still found myself gripping their hands as much as I could. Fortunately I had my iVUE Horizon video sunglasses on so I was able to video the climb without letting go of the kids.

Back on solid ground, we found Mei Ling and Spenser who had just returned from a walk to the Christiania commune a block away. Mei Ling casually informed me that she had bought a hash brownie which completely confounded me. Neither of us even smokes pot at home, and I couldn't grasp what had suddenly possessed her to start experimenting with that kind of stuff in a foreign country with three kids in tow. Even though marijuana is de facto legal and sold fairly openly in Christiania, you really never know as a tourist when you might be getting set up for some kind of trouble. Not only that, but I can't count how many times I've seen patients in the emergency room with various unpleasant reactions to cannabis consumables. I had visions of sitting in a Danish emergency room with my hallucinating wife and three crying kids. I guess my partying days must be done for good, because I made Mei Ling toss the brownie in the trash.
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The weird brownie episode didn't put me off from wanting to see Christiania myself, so we did a quick spin around the colorful neighborhood together. The community was established almost fifty years ago by squatters in an abandoned military barracks, but the residents currently own the land through a foundation. The way things work in Christiania is difficult for an outsider to understand, but the community has its own set of laws and manages its own electricity and water supply. Probably the biggest attraction for visitors is the easy availability of cannabis, which has brought a great deal of controversy with it. The cannabis itself isn't the problem so much as the money associated with it, which has attracted organized criminal gangs to affiliate themselves with some of the residents. The main street of Christiania was once known as Pusher Street, or the Green Light District. The permanent cannabis stalls that once lined the street were destroyed by the residents after the shooting of a police officer in 2016, but today there was no shortage of small stores and kiosks openly selling marijuana. Naturally, photography in this area was strongly discouraged. We and the kids were more focused on the beautifully painted and landscaped homes and cafes that were ubiquitous in the neighborhood.
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We spent a little time walking around the pretty canals and bridges of Christianshavn before getting dinner and going home. There were cafes set up on barges along Christianshavn Canal as well as drinking parties on little motorized skiffs. People in Copenhagen certainly know how to enjoy themselves.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 02:59 Archived in Denmark Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Shenyang


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We arrived in Shenyang early in the morning on the overnight train from Mudanjiang. We had wangled a private sleeping cabin by switching with other passengers so we had all managed to get some sleep, although Mei Ling had to share her bed with Spenser. Mei Ling's mother was with us as well, since we were primarily in Shenyang to get her travel visa from the US consulate, and her father and brother-in-law had come along for the ride as well. I didn't know much about Shenyang, but I was thrilled to be spending part of our China stay anywhere except Mudanjiang. My research had provided a couple of interesting prospects: a daytime market called Wu Ai and the Xingshun night market, reputed to be one of Asia's largest. Aside from that, there was the usual assortment of palaces and parks common to larger Chinese cities. As we left the rail station, I was immediately struck by a much more impressive skyline than that of Mudanjiang.
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The hotel Mei Ling had chosen turned out to be a little downscale even for her family's taste, so she located a more international level place a few blocks away that was practically across the street from the US Consulate. We loaded all our belongings onto a bicycle pushcart and walked beside the cart to the hotel.
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Once settled, we didn't waste any time putting our boots on the ground for the long walk to the Wu Ai market. The half hour walk was longer than I expected from the map, but I enjoyed experiencing the new city's Saturday morning vitality. The market itself proved slightly disappointing, as it was entirely for clothes and dry goods in which we had little interest. At the top floor was a large food court with diverse offerings of noodle soups and dumplings where we got a decent lunch.
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The sidewalk outside the market was lined with pushcart vendors of jewelry, clothing, and brightly colored candies. By this time the kids were awake and even though they hadn't eaten much lunch it was hard to deny them such beautiful candy.
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We were able to find a taxi outside of Wu Ai willing to take all four adults and three kids, but two blocks south we suddenly came across a busy produce market and decided to jump out. Rain cut this visit short but I was able to get a decent video with my iVUE Horizon video sunglasses.
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On the way back to the hotel, we ran into a cluster of outdoor restaurants that were gearing up for the evening with tantalizing lamb legs, trays of fresh shellfish, and pork offal. We weren't ready to eat but resolved to return.
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A few hours later we left the boys with their grandmother and found the restaurants were already quite busy. The lamb legs were twisting on spits over mini grills on each table, and every table had its own tank of ice cold beer with a spigot for rapid refilling of empty glasses. Paired with such delicacies as sauteed clams and silkworms, it was the kind of delicious and satisfying meal that makes me look forward to every trip to China. large_IMG_1925.jpgIMG_1924.jpgIMG_1922.jpg

The next morning Mei Ling, her brother-in-law, the boys and I took a taxi to Shenyang's central pedestrian zone. Cleo decided to hang out with her beloved grandparents and her beloved iPad at the hotel. As soon as we got out of the taxi, we saw there was some kind of food expo on Taiyuan Pedestrian Street with stalls lining either side of the street as far as we could see.
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There was a large variety of street food including stinky tofu, dumplings, and fried seafood. We were thrilled to have randomly stumbled onto a great food event like this.
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We could probably have spent most of the day just hanging out at the food expo, but inevitably we lost interest once our stomachs were overfilled. At the intersection of Taiyuan Street with busy Bei'er Road was a long staircase headed down to a tunnel under the road. It looked a lot like the entrance to a metro station, but there was no metro in that area. I figured it was just an underpass but Mei Ling went down for a closer look and beckoned us to join her, so we carried the strollers all the way downstairs. What I saw down there really amazed me. We were at the entrance of a huge, crowded, multilevel mall that was entirely underground. The first thing we encountered was an awesome food court we surely would have sampled if we weren't already stuffed from the food expo.

For the next hour or so we lost ourselves in the narrow hallways of the mall, walking the equivalent of several blocks underground. Among the things we encountered were juice bars, exotic pet stores, and the complete skeleton of a Tyrannosaur.
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We eventually found an elevator and surfaced some distance away from where we had begun our underground odyssey. We were on the ground floor of a mall of a more conventional type, which we decided to explore as well. Some of the more unusual things we encountered were a local band covering a Bon Jovi song, a restaurant with cloth boobs on every table, and a Lego wall.

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On the top level there was a transparent floor over the central atrium, which Ian found a little perturbing.
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Having done enough mall-walking for one day, we decided to explore the surrounding area a little. In nearby Zhongshan Square we found the well-known statue called Long Live the Victory of Mao Zedong Thought. It's one of the few Cultural Revolution monuments not to have been removed in later years. Outside a bank we encountered a replica of Wall Street's charging bull, so Mei Ling did her impression of Fearless Girl.
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Our next destination was the Mukden Palace, a former residence of the Qing emperors. In the end, we walked around the pedestrianised area surrounding the palace and never actually went inside. The appearance and atmosphere were just too reminiscent of Beijing's Forbidden City which had bored me to tears a decade previously. The most interesting thing we ended up seeing there was a collection of elongated pushcarts laden with pretty but overpriced fruit.
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We went back to the hotel and exchanged the boys for Cleo, then found another taxi to take us to our most anticipated attraction in Shenyang. Xingshun night market had opened just two years earlier so there was very little information about it on the internet, but I knew that it was large and exotic. We made sure we arrived not long after the 5:30 opening time. When we got out of the taxi, there was a sensation of electricity in the air. It was similar to the feeling of arriving at a huge rave in the West. The market wasn't along a street as I expected, but rather in a large enclosed area. We walked past shops selling cheap trinkets and some carnival rides and then found ourselves in an open area the size of a couple of football fields. I could see row after row of kiosks with food on grills and skewers. Initially we tried to walk around the entire market before buying anything to eat, but we soon realized that we might not be able to find our way back to the offerings we liked most so we just decided to eat as we went.

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There were too many amazing and exotic snacks to count, let alone consume, but probably the most impressive were the stalls devoted to reptiles and bugs. The last video reminds me of how much I've evolved in terms of food courage in the ten years since I met Mei Ling. I don't think I could have imagined myself eating tarantulas and centipedes before, but now I have a hard time imagining anything I wouldn't at least try. For me, it's a badge of honor to see the locals giving me horrified looks as I bite chunks out of the assorted creepy crawlies.
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Our last day in Shenyang was going to be cut short by our evening departure, so we had to think carefully about what we wanted to do since we might never be returning. Shenyang had exceeded our expectations, but there have to be at least fifty more Chinese cities of a similar size that we've never seen. We always prioritize the unknown, unless it's NYC or London where every visit is as novel as the first. We decided to get lunch at the street market which we'd been driven from by rain two days earlier, and then spend the afternoon at Beiling Park before heading to the airport. We found the market in full swing on a Monday morning, with plenty of appetizing food options.
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We knew we weren't likely to find the best stuff at one of the few small restaurants in the market, so we decided to buy our favorite foods and then bring them to the restaurant to be cooked. We've had good success with that stunt in both Asia and Latin America. Soon afterwards, we were chowing down on steamed shellfish and roasted chicken and washing it down with plenty of cold beer. It was our fourth great meal in Shenyang in four attempts.
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Beiling Park is the largest park in Shenyang and well-known for its beautiful lake and gardens. Soon after we arrived we encountered a fairly large jump rope demonstration or competition. Mei Ling immediately joined in and did quite well, although I'm still not sure if she won anything.

We only had another half hour so we walked as far as the lake, which was quite large and pretty. There were paddleboats and some kids' games but we didn't want to take any chances with getting to the airport on time.
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We had our most brutal travel schedule of the trip that night. First we had to fly to Beijing, and then take another flight onward to Copenhagen with a layover in Moscow. We found a solid Russian meal at a restaurant in the Moscow airport (not the one pictured), and the kids got to blow off some energy playing a game of our own invention involving cylindrical seat cushions. Still, we were very weary of flying once we finally arrived at Copenhagen. Fortunately, for the next three weeks we wouldn't have to worry about any travel except for driving and a ferry.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 12:39 Archived in China Tagged shenyang xingshun Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Mudanjiang


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This was my second time in Mudanjiang, a city I've not so fondly described as the "Cleveland of China". This might be unfair to Cleveland, considering I've never been there and I'm often pleasantly surprised by unheralded mid-sized American cities. It's more because Mudanjiang calls to mind the popular conception of Cleveland as a colorless, industrial city with a distinct lack of culture and fun things to do. Why Mudanjiang instead of one of the countless amazing and beautiful cities in China? Because that's where Mei Ling's sister, brother-in-law, and nephew live. Her parents come over from Jixi, a couple of hours away by train, when we visit.

If China was drawn as a chicken, Mudanjiang would be its forehead. Didn't know that China looks like a chicken? Here you go.
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Another similarity to Cleveland is the climate. Mudanjiang is located in the northeasternmost province of Heilongjiang in close proximity to Siberia and North Korea. Illustrious neighbors. Even in June, the mornings were uncomfortably cold. That was an issue since probably the most interesting thing to see in Mudanjiang is the daily morning market. Because China is on one time zone, daybreak comes very early in the northeast so the morning market is over by nine. That's how I found myself groggy and shivering on a busy street in Mudanjiang at seven in the morning the day after our arrival from Taipei.

It didn't take long for me to be drawn into the energy of the market and absorbed in all the delicious and exotic foods that are unique to China. Even in a backwater town like Mudanjiang, the variety of produce and prepared foods on display seemed endless.
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One of the high points of any market in China is the abundance of fresh fruit, especially berries. One particular vendor was wheeling a cart down the center of the market that was practically groaning under the weight of cherries, yang mei, and golden gooseberries.
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Mei Ling's sister's house was about a fifteen minute walk from a busy pedestrian zone with department stores and a miniature amusement park. The department store had upgraded itself substantially from our last visit two years earlier and now boasted a deli section and a food court that rivaled the ones one might see in Shanghai or Beijing.
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On the pedestrian street outside there were food vendors already set up in advance of the night market which would begin several hours later.
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That evening we had our first homecooked meal in Mei Ling's sister's apartment. Everyone tripped over themselves trying to fit in the tiny kitchen while I amused myself torturing the kids with still-living food items.
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Dinner finally appeared with not one but two silkworm dishes. There's nothing like washing down homecooked spicy northern Chinese food with ice cold Snow beer.
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I didn't have it in me the next day to get up by seven for the morning market, so I joined Mei Ling and the kids a little later at a smaller street market which had its own collection of interesting foods. The highlight was the vendor of stir-fried unhatched chickens, which proved to be quite spicy and tasty once you got past the little feathers. For anyone who prefers their little chicks already hatched before being fried, they had those as well.
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Next stop was the barber shop for haircuts for Ian and Spenser.
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After some lazing around at the apartment with the kids it was time to hit the night market on the main pedestrian street. large_IMG_0250.jpglarge_493EFE9505FF31388E4D1AF35E5D3013.jpglarge_IMG_1801.jpg

On our last evening in Mudanjiang we walked to a park where a couple of hundred people were getting some exercise doing a communal dance to Chinese pop.

Outside the park was another small night market but it couldn't hold a candle to the one in the pedestrian zone. However, I did get a chance to chew a pig tail.
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By a stroke of good fortune, we had to visit a larger city called Shenyang in order to obtain a visa for Mei Ling's Mom to visit us in the US. Through persistent campaigning, I managed to convince Mei Ling to split our time in China equally between Mudanjiang and Shenyang. I didn't know a thing about Shenyang, but I figured three days there had to be better than three more in Cleveland ... er Mudanjiang. Therefore, we found ourselves taking an overnight train to Shenyang before I'd even had time to get bored. Hopefully I'll be able to find another way to cut down our stay in Mudanjiang the next time we visit China. The visit itself is non-negotiable. The town may be Cleveland to me, but to Mei Ling it's home.
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Posted by zzlangerhans 14:08 Archived in China Tagged heilongjiang mudanjiang Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Taipei night markets


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It's hard to explain the significance of a night market to someone who hasn't spent time in East Asia. These unique markets are ubiquitous in China but also found in major cities throughout Southeast Asia and anywhere in the world where there is a large Chinese community. Eating is naturally a major aspect of visiting a night market but the social experience transcends the simple act of filling one's stomach. One of the first things Mei Ling asks me when I tell her about a city I want to visit is "Is there a night market?" All too frequently I have to tell her something like no, there's no night market in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Fortunately for us, no city has elevated the night market into a pervasive cultural phenomenon like Taipei has. People go out at night to snack in Taipei the way Westerners go out to drink.

There are at least ten major night markets scattered around Taipei, but it's impossible to keep an exact count because of areas like Ximending which aren't thought of as night markets but have pedestrian zones packed with snack bars and street food. I compiled the most exhaustive list I could with big plans to visit all of them, but in the end we were only able to see three as well as Ximending. I'm not sure how much we missed though, as we saw a lot of same or similar dishes in all the markets. Most of the articles and blogs I read about the different night markets focused on their atmosphere or small differences in the prices, but we only encountered one atmosphere during our trip: rainy.

Our first genuine night market, and the only one we revisited, was in Shilin just north of the Keelung River. Shilin Market is the largest night market and has a reputation for being touristy. Even worse for the night market connoisseurs, it's considered to be expensive. However, dropping a few extra bucks wasn't much of an issue for us considering the amount we were already spending on our trip. Shilin Market had the added advantage of being practically around the corner from Mei Ling's grandfather's apartment. Aside from the long outdoor night market, there was an indoor food court and a games arcade. On our last night in Taipei it didn't rain and I got some good footage of the market with my iVUE Horizon video sunglasses, as well as an impromptu interview with one of the vendors who happened to be from the US.
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I can't say much about Tonghua night market except that it was conveniently located in central Taipei, within walking distance of Taipei 101. It was raining so much the night we were there I could hardly take any pictures. By this point we had experienced three days of almost continuous rain and I coined the term "Taipei personality" for anyone who would throw on a poncho and get constantly deluged rather than miss a chance to see a night market. We were rewarded for our persistence with a huge platter of deliciously ripe yang mei. This is one of my favorite fruits, but unfortunately it's completely unobtainable outside of China and Taiwan. Aside from being practically unknown in other countries, the berry is so fragile that it's impractical to transport overseas. Just a slight bruise and the fruit immediately starts to acquire an unpleasant fermented taste. The opportunity to eat fresh yang mei is one of the treats I look forward to when I visit China.
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Raohe is the second biggest night market after Shilin, and many people consider it to be the best. We particularly enjoyed the wide selection of fishballs and meatballs as well as barbecued shellfish. Cleo was amazed by the liquid nitrogen which spilled from the ice cream stand and made clouds around her feet.
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You won't find a mention of Ximending in any article about Taipei night markets, but in its own way the whole neighborhood is the biggest and most vibrant night market of them all. It was without question the best part of Taipei we could have chosen to begin and end our days.
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Despite regular attendance at the night markets, I never did become an expert on Taipei street food. I included a couple more helpful guides to some of the favorite dishes here and here.

Posted by zzlangerhans 09:58 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Around the World 2017: Taipei day trips


View Around the World 2017 on zzlangerhans's travel map.

We spent two of our seven days in Taipei visiting places on the outskirts of Taipei itself. We abandoned our original plan to rent a car which was the right decision, as the Metro took us most places we needed to go and taxis were easily available for short hops even in the rain. The one exception was our trip to Jiufen and Keelung, but fortunately Mei Ling had an old friend in Taipei with a three row SUV who kindly chauffeured the entire family around for the day.

Jiufen is a former mining town nestled in the hills set back from Taiwan's northeastern coast. Long after the mines were exhausted and fell into disrepair in the 1970's, the town found a new life in tourism thanks to the mostly unintentional preservation of its turn-of-the-century style layout and architecture. The star attraction is Jishan Street, commonly known as Jiufen Old Street, a narrow pedestrian alley that winds through the town lined with old-fashioned boutiques and restaurants. The overall effect is touristy, but since the majority of tourists are Taiwanese daytrippers it's not as obnoxious as it could be.
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We had a snack at a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the hillsides as they rolled down to the coastline a few miles away.
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It was a short drive to the Golden Waterfall, which turned out not to be particularly large or particularly gold. However, the verdant mountainous backdrop was quite beautiful in the mist.
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We had one more stop in a coastal town whose name I've forgotten for another bite to eat, including a crunchy fish roe salad. Lantern boats were docked in the harbor awaiting the next festival.
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We backtracked westward to Keelung, the largest city on the northeastern coast. I was excited to see the Miaokou night market, which was reputedly better than any of the night markets in Taipei especially with respect to seafood. We were still a little full from lunch so we killed some time in the local produce market. The night market seemed a little subdued, probably because the rain was worse than ever. We had to be careful of the tarps covering the stalls as they would occasionally sag under the puddles forming on top of them and dump a deluge of rainwater on unsuspecting patrons below. The market had a good selection of shellfish but I can't say I had the kind of seafood epiphany I've had in places like Hangzhou or Seoul. We had to cut our visit short because of the incessant rain and the long drive back to Taipei. Hopefully I'll have a chance to return to Keelung and explore the market at a more leisurely pace in better weather.
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Taipei Metro's Red line conveniently courses northward from the center through Shilin to the northern suburbs of Beitou and Tamsui. Tamsui is home to another of Taipei's most famous markets, also named Old Street, with lots of shops and other daytime activities. Beitou is home to the Guandu Temple, an elaborate structure which blends Buddhist and Chinese folk religious traditions. Shortly after we arrived a procession of monks came into the main hall and began a ceremony.

Walking through the temple it's impossible not to be amazed by the incredibly detailed woodcarving from the floors to the ceilings. It was the most impressive building interior I'd seen since the Akshardam Temple in Delhi. The dragon sculptures on the roofs were also beautifully detailed and painted. Presiding over everything is a statue of the multi-armed sea goddess Mazu, to whom the temple is dedicated.
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Tamsui was an energetic neighborhood full of clothing shops and seafood snack bars. The first thing one sees leaving the Metro is an engine car on a small section of track preserved from the original Tamsui railway. Old Street is famous for super tall soft serve ice creams and squid-on-a-stick. There were also plenty of carnival-type games, mostly involving the destruction of balloons with various projectiles. The riverside stroll provides good views of Guanyin Mountain in Bali District across the river.
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On the way back to the Metro we ran into either a parade or a protest, accompanied by plenty of fireworks and incense.

Due to our busy schedule in Taipei, the rain, and lack of transportation we didn't take a lot of the day trips I researched. We'll have to leave Shenkeng, Green Lake, Minquan, and Wulai for our next trip. It was amazing how quickly our time in Taipei went by. Thanks to the endless markets, street life, and food options it's one of the few cities I could recommend for a two week stay or longer.

Posted by zzlangerhans 16:18 Archived in Taiwan Tagged taipei taiwan keelung jiufen tamsui guandu Comments (2)

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