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Archives for June, 2015

Emergency

June 21st, 2015

Oh noes! Vegetable scrubbing carrot’s eyes have fallen out! No need to panic though as I performed emergency surgery using some glue.

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Expedition to Shropshire

June 14th, 2015

I’ve wanted to visit Shropshire ever since I saw some photos of the hills along the border between England and Wales. However it’s unreasonably difficult to get there from where I live at the moment: either a four hour train journey or a long drive up the M40 and around Birmingham. So as it was a little stressful at work when I got back from Taipei and the weather was nice I decided to take a few days off and make an expedition of it starting from Newport in Wales.

Originally I intended to walk the whole way but that proved to be a bit impractical given the time available and the difficulty of finding cheap places to stay vaguely on-route. So instead I did a couple of sections by bus, green on the map below, which turned out to be a good way to see some interesting places.

The first night I stayed in a very cheap hotel in Newport: I guess it’s not a popular holiday destination despite this excellent promotional music video. Moving swiftly onwards I caught the train to Abergavenny and walked over the eastern part of the Brecon Beacons through the ominously named Black Mountains to Hay-on-Wye.

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Hay-on-Wye is a bit twee and more than a little bit posh. The most striking feature is the number of second hand book shops: the town hosted its world-famous book festival just a week before. Leaving there I followed the river Wye for a bit to the hamlet of Erwood where I caught a bus to Llandrindod. I had intended to walk as far as Builth Wells but I was still somewhat tired from the previous days trekking so I decided to have a rest day of sorts. Good job too as it gave me time to explore the town.

Llandrindod Wells was once a popular Victorian spa town but now there’s little except a large number of hotels and some beautiful buildings. The architecture has the wonderful uniformity of a town thrown together in less than a decade. This hotel is one of the more imposing examples:

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The spa itself is in a small wooded park near the centre of town. The iron-rich water is said to cure anaemia. I tried some: it was foul.

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The next day I travelled by bus to Knighton via Kington (easily confused) on the border with England. In Kington they were having a 60s themed summer fête. While the traders were setting out their stalls a charming geriatric MC rambled enthusiastically over the tannoy. My favourite quote was

They say if you remember the 60s you weren’t there. I remember it. But then I had a job: I was a weekend hippie.

Delightfully English (or perhaps Welsh?). From Knighton I was actually in the original goal of the Shropshire hills. I walked north through Clun to the small village of Wentnor where I stayed the night. The terrain is very Cotswold-ish: rolling hills and quaint villages. Quite a contrast to the mountains in nearby Wales.

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On the last day I walked the length of a huge hill called the Long Mynd. Lovely views all around but it was bordering on unpleasantly hot. From there I wandered to Craven Arms, where there isn’t much to see, and caught an over-priced train back home.

Taipei

June 2nd, 2015

As you might have gathered I spent the last week on a work trip to Taipei. I’ve never visited Asia before so this was pretty awesome! I flew out with another guy from work on Friday evening so we had Sunday and Saturday evening for sightseeing. Sunday was mostly spent wandering around the city, visiting temples and other sites, and then riding the Maokong Gondala to a tea growing area on a nearby mountain. Unfortunately the view was mostly obscured by mist and rain.

The first four days it rained constantly. Never torrential but was more of a persistent heavy drizzle. This actually turned out to be a bit of a blessing, especially for our sightseeing day, as later in the week when the sun came out the 33 degree with near 100% humidity outside was almost unbearable. 20 degrees in light rain was comparatively pleasant.

Exploring by night was a lot of fun. We visited a couple of night markets which you can see in the photos below. It felt quite safe being out and about and everyone was really friendly. No drunk people either, which is more than can be said for the flight back to England.

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On Wednesday evening, the first dry period, we went up the Taipei 101. It’s only the third tallest building in the world but claims to have the fastest elevator. On the 91st floor there’s an open air viewing gallery which was remarkably pleasant given the temperature at street level. Here’s the view out over the city:

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Although I’ve been learning (written) Chinese for ~18 months I only know simplified characters which I thought wouldn’t be much help in Taiwan. But I was pleasantly surprised that I could read quite a lot of signs, metro station names, etc. Often you can apply transforms get the simplified character you know from the traditional one. E.g. 言, 門, 金, etc. are all replaced fairly consistently when they appear as components in other characters. Menus were a bit of a fail however: turns out knowing “beef”, “lamb”, and so on doesn’t really help knowing what the food actually is. At least you can avoid things containing 足 “foot”, 头 “head”, and other suspicious body parts.