Up Taipei 101 for free*

*Okay, it’s not really free, but at least you’re not paying just for the elevator ride.

You’re visiting Taipei with friends and they want to go up the Taipei 101. Cool. But the elevator ride is NT$600 (about $18 USD). What to do? You probably did a search for “Taipei 101 free” and found blog posts about the wonderful Starbucks on the 35th floor. This is another one of those blog posts, but with one bit of new information.

I did this search and got my information from Daniel Food Diary. The basic directions are:

1. Call the Starbucks for a reservation at least a day in advance at: +886 2 81010701
2. Be sure to write down the reservation number you are given over the phone, and bring it with you for your reservation.
3. Be in line ON TIME. Be first in line. They have changed the procedure and give numbered tickets. They let people in to the Starbucks according to this order, so whoever was first will get the best seat. This is a new procedure so you may see the opposite advice in other blogs posts from before the change in policy.

I recommend going around sunset, if possible.

Each person will be required to order at least NT$200 (about $6 USD) worth of Starbucks treats, but at least you get something other than an elevator ride for your money. The matcha cheesecake was good, but not a cheesecake. I recommend the rose latte (not pictured).

Enjoy!

Maui: the case for car camping

I now belong to a small community of travel hacking enthusiasts, and you wouldn’t believe the glamorous hotels they stay in for free or nearly free. A great recent example is Michael’s recent post on a trip to Japan. I guess you could say I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum, and I’m here to make the case today for car camping on Maui, as I did on my trip there in February.

But why

Maui has all of its resorts on one side of the island and everything else worth seeing spread through the rest of the island. And it’s not Oahu — the roads are in parts windy, single lane, treacherous and made of dirt. Driving the famous Road to Hana takes about 3 hours, and I’m not even sure Hana itself has hotels. It barely has a supermarket — just a liquor/convenience store.

There are beaches with well-maintained public restrooms everywhere, and no one cares where you camp as long as it isn’t under a “no camping” sign.

There’s no temptation to retreat to the hotel room you’re overpaying for. You’ll never miss a sunset.

Without the rush to get here or there before dark, you’ll have the opportunity to stop at BBQ stands like this one on the road to Hana:

(With food served on a leaf, and chopsticks whittled from bamboo)

There are also great “official” campgrounds, like the one at Wai’anapanapa State Park (the black sand beach) that’s only $18 per night for up to 6 people.

Another good one is at Haleakala National Park — free with park entrance fees. It’s the best way to beat the crowd to see the sunrise, since you’ll be just 45 minutes or so from the peak.

But mostly, I’d love to encourage you to take the drive to Maui’s Upcountry. True, there isn’t much there except open fields and windmills, but it’s worth it. I’m no photographer, and I took these with a phone camera, but Upcountry is breathtaking:

Car camping will also encourage you to explore all the beaches, rather than going to the same one outside your hotel for your entire vacation. These other beaches will probably be less crowded, too.

When considering this, I tried to look for encouragement online — any evidence that someone had done this and had a good time. I didn’t find it. Let me be yours. If you are the type of traveler that doesn’t spend much time in your hotel room, if you don’t have a complicated beauty regimen, if you’re up for an adventure and seeing parts of Maui that are more for the locals, you’ll probably like car camping.

Cefalu and Isola di Ortigia

This is a the balcony of our rental near Palermo. Having meals with fat bumble bees and watercolor sunsets made me want to stay forever.

We took a day trip to Cefalu

There was a defense wall along the sea, and a path along it just on the water’s edge

Everyone wanted their picture beneath these arches

The old aqueduct system was accessible and the water, freezing cold. Refreshing!

Sort of attached to Syracuse is a small island called Ortigia.

On the recommendation of our host, we sought out the sandwiches made of smoked mozzarella. I watched in doubt as he made the sandwich: sun-dried tomatoes,¬†prosciutto, smoked fresh mozzarella, then thin sliced lemon — with the rind, olives, mushrooms and mystery sauce. I shouldn’t’ve worried though. Best sandwich ever.

The magic of this island is that there are basically no cars. Just Vespas

And a beautiful old square

At night, one of the restaurants filled the night with old white people music, the pleasant kind: Frank Sinatra.

At one end, there was a fortress. Too bad, it was closed by the time we got there. So I peeked through the gate to get this pic

I was negligent and didn’t get pictures of our pizza from Mario’s pizza. We were proud of ourselves for eating at a place that wasn’t at all popular with tourists. And it was cheap. About 5 euros for the whole meal.

Palermo and Monreale

Besides the general splendor…

And the total randomness…

(because, why not?)

(gives new meaning to the nickname “bread van”)

There’s also the food. In particular, arancini!

Not oranges, but deep fried rice balls with various savory fillings. Like bbq ribs (the Americana, of course). In Sicily, they’re really orange-sized, not like the sad meatball-sized ones you see here at Italian restaurants here.

We went to a market in search of street food and found this meat stand. Makes me think of my friend Ben, an avid carnivore.

We tried the intestine. It was shockingly delicious. So good that I kept trying to repeat the experience, looking for it in supermarkets and at roadside stands.

We also tried the octopus. Delicious, but probably even better grilled.

(Here he is before the chopping)

We took a side trip to Monreale, which is perched so high over the sea. And full of sleepy dogs.

It was one of the hottest days on our trip. Which meant dessert for lunch. Sicily is famous for the cannoli, as mentioned in the Godfather movies. With good reason. The filling is like a fluffy cream cheese, and its slight saltiness balances the rest of the sweetness well. Loved the candied orange rind.

This is called a brioche. Basically, it’s an ice cream sandwich. But with real bread.

I’ll leave you here with a nice memory from the beach near the place we stayed. There were a couple of feral dogs who decided they were our guards. They didn’t want food and they didn’t come close enough for pets, but they stayed by us all afternoon, one on either side. Just napping.

That thing back there is a “Singbox” — it’s a karaoke machine that (I think) actually grades you. Someone blasted Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and nailed it.

Here’s the sunset from up in the hills

Palermo, part 1

Let me just whine briefly about the ferry between Sardinia and Sicily. First, it’s a 12 hour overnight trip. Second, they sell tickets that do not include accommodations. Even a seat costs extra. If you don’t pay for a seat — which is like an airplane seat, bolted to the floor and too close to all the other chairs — or a room (which has a narrow cot and barely enough room to turn around), then you have to sit at the “bar”. But they don’t let you get comfortable. We found a closed restaurant and slept for a few hours, but the boat police came around at 6am to wake us up. For no reason. Just to make our lives unpleasant enough that we’d consider spending $80 per person for a cot and freedom from molestation by the overeager boat staff. No thanks.

Did I mention that was my birthday? Well, at least when we got to Palermo, this was the beach

It was nap time! See how beautiful the world is with no other people around? It didn’t last. Within an hour there were too many rowdy others and hawkers of cheap inflatable balls and sunglasses, of ciambelle (donuts) and fruits, all of them hollering and hovering.

Palermo is home to hundreds of Baroque churches. These are just a few:

I might consider being religious just to go to services at this church

In the street, there was trash everywhere. Not just gum wrappers and cans, but enough clothes and trash bags to fill dozens of industrial sized dumpsters. Our host said it’s because the trash collectors are controlled by the mafia, and when the mafia’s unhappy, no one picks up the trash.

To be continued…

Cagliari and the Feast of Saint Efisio

We almost didn’t make it to the Feast of Saint Efisio. But while we were in Sardinia, one ferry line actually failed, so we had to stay an extra day. That extra day was St. Efisio’s day. Now, I know this might not seem like any kind of a big deal to someone who grew up celebrating Catholic saint days in a big way, but to me, this was completely extraordinary.

To begin with, people from all over Sardinia come to Cagliari and march through the streets in traditional dress.

Some carry flags, some carried banners with the name of their town

Some had flowered and ribboned flags

And all the outfits were distinct and interesting

Some were a little nun-like

There were even a few little ones

Then there were parades of horses. They weren’t show ponies though. Some were badly behaved — crashing into each other or wandering off. At the end of the parade, they tossed baskets of rose petals so thick you could barely see the ground. Crowds were gathered as if for a huge celebrity.

There he is! St. Efisio!

Okay, I didn’t get the best picture hanging on to the back of a scaffolding. I tried. I think he starts out at the church he lives in, gets dressed in his ceremonial garb, participates in this parade around town, then goes to a different church to change into traveling clothes¬†before continuing on along the coast for a week or so. There was a moment when one of his guards opened the carriage and let an old woman touch his robes. She was more moved than I think I have ever been.

Religion is an interesting thing. I’m glad to have witnessed this feast day, even if I don’t understand it. I could see how much it meant to others. This horse seems pleased with the day.

Cagliari, Sardinia

We stayed at a b&b in Cagliari that was run by and old woman who, according to the website, speaks English. She spoke almost no English. She recommended restaurants that advertise “tourist menus” — here are three courses for one price and you don’t have to think at all, tourist! We were offered breakfast for a fee, but “breakfast” was knockoff twinkies you could buy at the supermarket, a dozen for a Euro. It was 20 minutes from town on foot. But town had gems like this polka-dotted mini.

Here’s the cathedral

In the crypt there’s a naked angel

(Forgive. I have a thing for intricate ceilings)

Cagliari has a beach called “Poetto” and it’s empty during the weekdays and supercrowded during the weekend. I had a nap and N went for a run.

After a day or so of Cagliari, we went further, to a different beach, where the fuzzy sea buddies were with us again.

Here, we found ourselves a mission: there was a pond of stagnant runoff water blocking the path.

We dug a canal. Using only sticks and other trash found on the beach

(Our public works project from another angle)

But most of the day looked like this. I think I managed to get sunburned for the first time in ten years.

Okay, I’m leaving you here for today with this picture of fries wrapped in pizza dough. It was probably called the “Americana”. I eventually asked a local about this obsession with putting fries in things and blaming it on America (I had seen it several times throughout Sardinia: in sandwiches, on pizzas, even inside kebabs!) Did they think Americans put fries everywhere? She said “No, no. We LOVE fries. It’s a Sardinian thing to put them everywhere.” Good to know.