Monday, 7 November 2016

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VISITS — TAINAN

Tainan is popular with Taiwanese tourists: it's the country's oldest city. The former long-standing capital, which lost its position to Taipei 1887, includes a great many historical attraction and allegedly the most tasty local snack scene of this island nation. But this was not exactly our experience.
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  1. THINGS THAT ARE TASTY
  2. ACCOMMODATION
First off, we had only given ourselves two days to explore the city; secondly, it rained—it rained hard all of the time. We didn't get to walk around Anping District, didn't see Chihkan Tower, and we didn't even get to visit the Black Bridge Sausages Museum. Over a broken juice machine in our hotel lobby we got talking to a girl from Taichung.

"It rains a lot after a typhoon..." she told us. This grungy girl was one of many domestic tourists confined in the hotel like us at the behest of long downpours, all of our sightseeing plans reduced to desperate dashes between the bouts of rain. Typhoon Nepartak had rifled through Taiwan days earlier. We were left with only hope that the guidebook may have oversold this historical and culinary centre of Taiwan. But peering though the streams of torrential rain that gushed down our hotel window, from up high in our concrete tower room, remnants of history and traditional culture taunted us from across the rooftops. Somewhere below there were things to see, somewhere there was the Dutch Fort, the Grand Matsu Temple, the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature, somewhere in the soggy distance. In amongst these typically scooter-packed city streets centuries-old edifices paint a picture of Taiwan of the past. Well endowed with religious sites, Tainan's small shrines and temples are set back in buildings squatting below concrete high rises and the buzz of the ever youthful present day. Its regional fame and notoriety hangs in the air and coexists with the lit up billboards and modernity and malls and chain cafes jostled in the West Central District (中西區). As far as actual sightseeing went, we did manage a quick trip to the city’s Confucius Temple (台南孔子廟). The compact mostly red-brick complex, with wood painted in washed-out mauve and generations-old banyan trees, is a quiet and mysterious monument to Chinese history in Taiwan. We thought about Confucianism and its instruments and ceremonial mysteries and wandered like abstractions through gates straddling rainslick pathways in the well-ordered temple grounds. Then there's the Koxinga Ancestral Shrine (鄭成功祖廟), built by Zheng Jing in 1663 to honour his father Koxinga, the half-Japanese Ming loyalist who resisted the Qing dynasty in south eastern China, conquered the Dutch outposts on Taiwan, and established a short-lived (1661—1683) dynastic kingdom on the island. People under umbrellas sauntered slowly by the brick building. In the evening, with a fine spray of rain still falling we took our chances and our umbrella and hit streets with rumbling tummies. After strolling down meandering cobbled streets we were able to get a greater scope of what we might be missing else where in the city, if the sites that were situated in the square mile around our hotel we were left to dream about the wonders that lay within this city else where. Sites aside, we liked this lantern shop on a busy roundabout-crossroad. We wanted to be in the city's life so much, zooming around from food stand to cafe hangout on the backs of peds like the late-teen locals but this city and its weather wouldn't break for us and we were left to drown our sorrows with a late night replay of Titanic.

THINGS THAT ARE TASTY
🌯 The Foodie
Left wandering the streets in search of dinner after yet another downpour – previously on the trail of a vegetarian place which we sought, found, and from which we quickly absconded because it was confusing and unaccommodating – we happened upon a family-owned food joint aptly named The Foodie. After a bit of explanation we managed to order from the friendly owners a meat-free vegetarian wrap, and a second one with chicken and pork. These wraps came in the form of Taiwan's speciality green onion pancakes (葱油饼捲餅) stuffed to the brim with vegetables, eggs, cheese and smothered in sweet sticky sauce. We ate them on the tables arranged across the pavement and took in the sights and sounds of the city at night. It is located on Section 4, Jinhua Road opposite the branch of CTBC Bank on the corner—we are 100% certain it's in the exact place previously occupied by somewhere called Jurassic Tea, but which Google Maps still says is there.
🍩 Donutes (多那之)
Stuck for a snack or in need of a sugar injection we recommend Donutes. It's a chain cafe-bakery and, certainly in terms of baked goods, a better quality alternative to convenience stores. In a city as gastronomically famous as Tainan, you're probably wondering why we're eating from here. If it's good enough for the Tainanese locals, who were thronging in and out of here all evening and whiling away their snacktime on the tables outside, then it's good enough for us. Plus we love dough and we love sugar. You'll find sweet and savoury baked goods in mouthwatering variety for a reasonable price. A few locations throughout the city but we went to the one on Zhongshan Road (中山路).


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accommodation

ECFA Hotel Tainan
We stayed at the cheap and clean Taiwanese chain, ECFA Hotel. In what seemed to be a renovated office block the hotel was vast and strange; the lobby was on the 8th floor above a karaoke place, but also very popular. The breakfast buffet, located on the 9th floor in a warren of serve-yourself-areas and large long rooms full of white tables and red chairs, was a tasty Taiwanese affair. TVs play the mornings news to hungry tourists, all of which were Taiwanese or Chinese families. We ate heartily. Free tea, coffee and juices are yours in the lobby, where there's a hang-out room (seating area is probably a more proper way to describe it) with sofas and tables. The very very spacious double room we stayed in was on the 9th, so we enjoyed rolling into our breakfasts still half-slumbering stupor. The staff spoke ok English, the internet was decent, and there are free washing machine facilities should you need them. Located on Section 2, Zhongyi Road. Two nights set us back TWD1,267—around £16 per night.


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