A Morning at the Market

One of our favorite things to do at home on Saturdays is to go to the farmer’s market. Here, we can do the same thing, except the setting is a little more dramatic.

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Dom St. Stephen

Although there are other outdoor markets throughout the week, the one in the plaza in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the closest to our apartment. It’s the usual fruits and vegetables you’d expect from a farmer’s market, plus some bread, meats, and cheeses, and several vendors selling potted plants.

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Produce stands in the plaza

What’s for sale these days? Well, it’s strawberry and asparagus season!

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These strawberries were so good that I may never eat an American strawberry again.

A local regional specialty is the white asparagus you can see in the top part of the above photo. It has a thicker stalk than the green asparagus, has a milder flavor, and a softer texture. It is grown the same as green asparagus, but as the shoots come up they are covered with soil. Without being exposed to sunlight, no photosynthesis occurs, and they remain white. I had some the other night for dinner, slathered in a butter sauce. Delicious!

There was also a stand selling wooden toys and kitchen utensils.

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Hugo keeps insisting that there is a zoo in Passau, but I’m pretty sure these little wooden creatures are as close as he’s going to get

After a lunch of bread, cheese, and strawberries, the cathedral bells started ringing and the crowds of tourists from the Danube cruise boats started pouring in to the square.

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Time to head home.

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Sunshine and Apfelwein

Our first day of travel brought us to an overnight layover in Frankfurt where we were greeted by dazzling sunshine. They say sunshine helps with jet lag, so we met up with an old friend of Gareth’s and set off for a walk along the Main, a wide river bisecting the city.

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Taking a closer look at the river after playing in the playground and sandbox

There are wide pedestrian paths and greenbelts along both sides of the river. Apparently this was the first sunny day after a long, dreary winter, and just like in the Pacific Northwest, the sunshine brought everyone outside. There were picnickers, bikers, runners, and ice cream trucks in every direction.

After checking out the playground, we took a break on a shady bench to enjoy the local specialty, apfelwein.

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Apfelwein, a kind of cider, is made from apples, then mixed with juice from the fruit of the speierling tree

I also learned that it is traditionally served in these textured glasses to improve grip, a holdover from a time before people regularly ate with utensils.

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Hugo had a lemonade

Lest you think we were all bright eyed and happily frolicking along the river after eleven hours on an airplane, here is Gareth carrying a sleeping Hugo back to the hotel:

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He weighs about 40 pounds now, so this is much harder than it used to be

Tomorrow is another travel day before reach our final destination.

Wu Wei Cao Tang Tea House

Tucked away behind a wall, the Wu Wei Cao Tang Tea House (無為草堂 wúwéi cǎotáng) sits like a secret garden in the midst of the traffic and mayhem of central Taichung.

A simple calligraphy sign welcomes you to the tea house

A simple calligraphy sign welcomes you to the tea house

What is most striking about visiting Wuwei Caotang the first time is the immediate, spa-like serenity of the location. You are surrounded by greenery and flowing water, with boardwalks and pathways leading around a central pond teeming with colorful koi.

Stopping for a moment to feed the fish

Stopping for a moment to feed the fish

All of the seats are at low tables, and all have a view of the inner pond.

Take off your shoes and have a seat. We're ready to begin!

Take off your shoes and have a seat. We’re ready to begin!

Your server will bring you an array of tiny cups and platters, as well as various snacks to pair with your tea selection. If you are not sure what to order, there are set packages available so you can have a chance to try many different things.

Our tea cups neatly arranged on the serving tray.

Our tea cups neatly arranged on the serving tray.

Your server will also demonstrate how to best brew the tea in the tiny earthenware pot, and how to pour, smell and taste the different types of tea.

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

By the time we finish, night has fallen and the lanterns are lit on the walkways surrounding the koi pond. We walk out onto the still-bustling streets of Taichung to make our way home.

Wu Wei Cao Tang Tea House Visitor’s Notes:

  • Name in Chinese: 無為草堂 wúwéi cǎotáng
  • Address: No. 106, Section 2, Gongyi Road, Nantun District, Taichung City, 408 (公益路二段106號)
  • Hours: 10:30am – 10:30pm daily
  • Minimum charge: $120 NTD

Feng Jia Night Market

The Feng Jia Night Market (逢甲夜市 féngjiǎ yèshì, map) is the biggest one in Taichung, and I can’t believe it has taken us two weeks to get here. Night markets are a big attraction in Taiwan, and are a great place to walk, people-watch, sample foods, and shop for pretty much anything you can imagine.

We arrived around 5:30pm, and as you can see it was already busy.

We arrived around 5:30pm, and as you can see it was already busy.

The night market fills the side streets around Feng Jia University. At every corner there are new shops and stalls to explore. Sometimes the choices were overwhelming. Night markets here are really focused on food. It is kind of the opposite of what we saw at the Sunday market in Chiang Mai where it was mostly things like clothing and art for sale, with the odd food cart thrown in.

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The Porky Box was delicious!

If you catch yourself thinking “I really want to eat an entire roasted squid! If only it were flattened and on a stick so I could eat it while walking through a crowded market,” have I got the place for you!

Squid on display.

Sesame squid!

I was really hoping for a Beijing-style jianbing, but we had to settle for a small egg crepe.

Our crepe on the griddle.

Our crepe on the griddle.

Can you get good jianbing anywhere outside of Beijing? Is it available near my house? Am I going to have to open my own jianbing cart and sell them myself in order to introduce their deliciousness to the Pacific Northwest? Shall I do a kickstarter?

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Roasted ducks hanging in a row.

As the night grew darker, the crowds grew bigger. We left the food area to check out some of the other shops.

Clothing, books, shoes, music...

Clothing, books, shoes, music…

Hugo’s favorite was the toy store.

Hugo's favorite was the toy store!

Unfortunately all the toys were wrapped in plastic, so there wasn’t a chance to give them a try.

There were even carnival-style games!

Our round of balloon darts did not go well.

Our round of balloon darts did not go well. Although I’m not sure what we would have done with a giant stuffed chipmunk anyway. If you can’t read the sign, it says that men have to pop 7 to win, but women only have to pop 6.

We left with tired eyes and full bellies.

Feng Jia Night Market Visitor’s Notes:

  • Chinese name: 逢甲夜市 féngjiǎ yèshì
  • Map
  • The map pinpoints the center of the market, but it extends to all the side streets around. If you’re taking a taxi, I recommend getting out at the intersection of Fuxing Lu and Fengjia Lu
  • Hours: every day after 5pm

24 Hours In Taipei

We got up early and headed to the high speed rail station (HSR or 高鐵站 gāo tiě zhàn, which is different from the train station or 火車站 huǒ chē zhàn. Be sure you’re headed to the right one!) to hop on a train to Taipei.

High speed trains leave Taichung for Taipei about every 20 minutes, and the journey takes about an hour.

High speed trains leave Taichung for Taipei about every 20 minutes, and the journey takes about an hour.

We bought our tickets in advance at a 7-11, but it turns out that you can easily just arrive at the station, buy a ticket, and board the next incoming train.

Our train pulls into the station

Our train pulls into the station

Our first stop in Taipei was the National Palace Museum, which houses a dizzying array of Chinese art and artifacts.

Checking out the jade collection. It turns out you're not supposed to take photos in the  museum, so after being chastised by the security guard I sheepishly put away my camera.

Checking out the jade collection. It turns out you’re not supposed to take photos in the museum, so after being chastised by the security guard I sheepishly put away my camera.

National Palace Museum Visitor’s Notes:

  • In Chinese it is called 故宮 gù gōng
  • Admission is $250 NTD for adults. There is a student discount of $150 NTD, and children are free.
  • We were there on a Saturday and it was very, very crowded.
  • Website
  • Map

Since the weather was nice and it was still too early to check in to our hotel, we decided to take a walk through a couple of Taipei’s many parks.

There is a small park with a fish pond right next to the Palace Museum.  Admission to this park was $20 NTD. You can feed the fish and black swans, and explore the pavilions and walkways. It was a nice contrast to the noise and crowds of the museum.

There is a small park with a fish pond right next to the Palace Museum. Admission to this park was $20 NTD. You can feed the fish and black swans, and explore the pavilions and walkways. It was a nice contrast to the noise and crowds of the museum.

We found a fantastic playground in a large park just behind our hotel, too.

For a short time we had it all to ourselves.

For a short time we had it all to ourselves.

There is an extensive network of city parks in Taipei, and a lot of mountain hiking in the hills around town. We didn’t have a chance to go into the mountains on such a short trip, but I’ve heard they’re worth it if you have the time.

After checking in to our hotel and having a bit of a rest, we headed out to dinner. Everyone raves about the night markets in Taipei, but unfortunately a torrential rainstorm started just as we were leaving. So we headed toward Yongkang Street (永康街 yǒngkāng jiē) to meet with the group for dinner. Yongkang Street is a small lane full of popular restaurants, so if it’s a rainy night and you have to skip the night market it’s a great place to experience the different foods that Taipei has to offer.

We ate ourselves silly at James Kitchen (大隠 酒食  dàyǐn jiǔshí, then began the arduous task of finding a cab home in the rain.

We ate ourselves silly at James Kitchen (大隠 酒食 dàyǐn jiǔshí, then began the arduous task of finding a cab home in the rain.

The rain had cleared by morning, and after checking out of our hotel we headed downtown to Taipei 101.

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until 2004 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

The view from the bottom. Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until 2004 when it was surpassed by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

We whizzed up the super fast elevator…

Up we go!

Up we go!

…to the 91st floor observation deck to check out the views.

The skies were a bit gray and hazy but the views were still spectacular. There's something thrilling about being so high and seeing a grand cityscape in miniature.

The skies were a bit gray and hazy but the views were still spectacular. There’s something thrilling about being so high and seeing a grand cityscape in miniature.

And to prove that I was there:

Look, Mom! I'm at the top of a tall building!

Look, Mom! I’m at the top of a tall building!

If you are interested in such technical architectural features, there is a 660 ton steel pendulum that helps prevent damage to the building in high winds.

This giant golden orb is the largest damper sphere in the world. Take that, Burj Khalifa!

This giant golden orb is the largest damper sphere in the world. Take that, Burj Khalifa!

You can even hop an elevator to the 91st floor to an outdoor observation deck. Due to high winds that day, most of this deck was closed while we were there. However, we could still go out onto one section.

Here I am, carrying my backpack since we had already checked out of our hotel. Because the bars obstructed the view it was actually much nicer to look out from the indoor observation deck.

Here I am, carrying my backpack since we had already checked out of our hotel. Because the bars obstructed the view it was actually much nicer to look out from the indoor observation deck.

If perchance you think Hugo is always a happy-go-lucky travel companion, this is the expression he wore most of the time in Taipei 101.

Sure, he looks pretty miserable here and refused to get out of his stroller and look around, but if you ask him what he did in Taipei he will excitedly tell you he went to the top of the world's tallest building.

Sure, he looks pretty miserable here and refused to get out of his stroller and look around, but if you ask him what he did in Taipei he will excitedly tell you he went to the top of the world’s tallest building.

After zipping back down the elevator, we grabbed some lunch at the Taipei 101 mall, then caught our train back to Taichung.

Taipei 101 Visitors Notes:

  • Tickets were $500 NTD for an adult, children are free
  • We got there first thing in the morning and there was no wait to go up. However, we had to wait in a long(ish) line to come back down, about 15-20 minutes. I’ve heard from other people that it can get very crowded, so I definitely recommend going on a weekday morning.
  • There is a subway stop for Taipei 101, so getting there is very easy
  • Map

“Green Islam” And The Bumi Langit Institut

The Bumi Langit Institut is a Muslim organic farming cooperative located about an hour outside of Yogyakarta.

An overcast morning view of coconut trees and red roofs. In the foreground is a solar panel. They say on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean.

An overcast morning view of coconut trees and red roofs. In the foreground is a solar panel. They say on a clear day you can see all the way to the ocean.

At Bumi Langit, they strive to live off the grid (hence the solar panels), and use biogas systems to generate gas for cooking.

Homemade kefir and sorghum bread for breakfast

Homemade kefir and sorghum bread for breakfast

There is also a focus on permaculture farming, a farming design method meant to create a self-maintaining, integrated habitat system.

The kefir was a big hit

The kefir was a big hit

There is also an emphasis on the idea that being good environmental stewards is essential to the Islamic faith.

I told him he could look at the sorghum, but he couldn't touch it. Following this rule requires all the powers of concentration that a 3 year old can muster.

I told him he could look at the sorghum, but he couldn’t touch it. Following this rule requires all the powers of concentration that a 3 year old can muster.

Despite the negative news hitting the headlines recently about the high volumes of plastic waste in the ocean here, Indonesia was a pioneer of the “Green Islam” movement.

Touring the farm

Touring the farm

In 1887, in order to combat growing unrest and conflict over scarce resources, the Pesantren Gulak-Gulak school was founded to teach environmentally sustainable practices in an Islamic religious context.

Checking out the duck pond

Checking out the duck pond

Today there are many such schools, including a school called Ilmu Giri, founded in 2003 by Nasruddin Anshory, whose work in environmental education was recognized by the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali.

Making a friend

Making a friend

Hugo and I just spent the morning touring the farm, but they have many educational programs available for visitors.

Excited to pet the farm cats

Excited to pet the farm cats

If you are interested in reading more about Bumi Langit Institut, please see their website.

Looking for bugs

Looking for bugs

For more information about Islam and environmentalism, I invite you to check out the Islamic Foundation For Ecology And Environmental Science (IFEES), a UK-based charity focused on environmental conservation.

What’s For Breakfast?

A friend of mine on Facebook posted this video the other day:

I’ve often felt that breakfast was the most difficult meal for “going local.” There’s just something about eating strange foods early in the mornings that’s harder than at other times of day.

Here, every morning at 6am, our breakfast arrives in tidy boxes.

It's like Christmas every morning! What surprises await?

It’s like Christmas every morning! What surprises await?

Let’s take a look inside.

Everything is neatly wrapped, even the little green spoon.

Everything is neatly wrapped, even the little green spoon.

Today it was rice, a piece of chicken, garlic vegetables, some krupuk, and a tiny banana.

It's never too early for roasted chicken! It's usually some variation of this. Sometimes fish or tempeh, sometimes a different fruit or vegetable, but all in all not bad!

It’s never too early for roasted chicken! It’s usually some variation of this. Sometimes fish or tempeh, sometimes a different fruit or vegetable, but all in all not bad!

What did you have for breakfast today?

Beringharjo Pasar: Open For Business Since 1758

Today we went to walk around the historic Beringharjo Pasar, where you can buy anything from clothing to food to herbal medicine all under a single roof.

The market has been in the same location since 1758, but the current building was built in 1925.

You can buy fresh spices in bulk and even ready-made mixtures of spices and sauces for cooking

You can buy fresh spices in bulk and even ready-made mixtures of spices and sauces for cooking

There are different types of sugar available in large crystals.

The sugar vendor gave Hugo a free sample. I think it's his new favorite snack.

The sugar vendor gave Hugo a free sample. I think it’s his new favorite snack.

Of course there is a huge array of fruits and vegetables available.

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And you might even find a jackfruit as big as tour toddler.

I'm not sure who weighs more

I’m not sure who weighs more

There is row after row of these little multicolored disks that look like chips that are a favorite local snack called krupuk:

These are actually raw krupuk

These are actually raw krupuk

When you fry them in oil, they puff up to many times their original size.

One of those small baskets in the previous photo can cook up into a giant man-sized bag of crispy krupuk

One of those small baskets in the previous photo can cook up into a giant man-sized bag of crispy krupuk

The best part of the market is the part where you can buy all kinds of snacks, including these delicious coconut balls:

Hugo approved street treats

Hugo approved street treats

Malioboro Market

We started out this morning in familiar territory – at least familiar to me since I have been there before – Malioboro Market.

If you get there early enough there's almost no one else there

If you get there early enough there’s almost no one else there

“Lucky” for us, Hugo wakes up at 5am these days so it’s easy to get out before the heat of the day settles in.

Malioboro is at the center of Yogyakarta’s tourist area and is lined on both sides with stalls and shops selling local arts and crafts.

Endless rows of batik clothing

Endless rows of batik clothing

So far on the trip we haven’t found an outdoor market that Hugo doesn’t like.

Toy cars made of wood!

Toy cars made of wood!

After walking all the way through the market, we picked up some fruits to eat at home. I had some questions about rambutan yesterday, so here’s a picture of what they look like on the inside:

Rambutan, half peeled

Rambutan, half peeled

We also picked up some mangosteen, which I love but Gareth hates. More for me!

Mangosteen on the outside

Mangosteen on the outside


Mangosteen on the inside!

Mangosteen on the inside!


Mangosteen is sweet and amazing.
It tastes like your favorite day dreams manifested in fruit form.

We also picked up a few of these:

It's called salak, or snake fruit, or alligator balls, depending on who you ask. It has a thin scaly peel over white sections of fruit.

It’s called salak, or snake fruit, or alligator balls, depending on who you ask. It has a thin scaly peel over white sections of fruit.

Gareth loves salak, but I’m not crazy about them. They taste like a really dry apple.