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The Pulse of Taipei

On the northern end of Taiwan, sits Taipei, a teeming, breathing metropolis that many overlook.  From its high-end District 101 to its numerous night markets, Taipei offers surprises around every corner.  

I recently sat down with two-year Taipei resident, Bronson Glaittli who gave me a foreigner’s inside look.

Taipei, 101
District 101 is a wealthy district and the busiest part of the city.  Taipei’s financial center and home to one of the tallest buildings in the world (Taipei 101), District 101 always has something happening.  The towering skyscraper serves as a landmark and a place of reference much as the old and new World Trade Centers do in New York City.  There is also an enormous exhibition center.
A great way to see the Taipei (which according to Bronson, who speaks Mandarin, is pronounced closer to “Taibei”) is on a “U-bike” which you can rent for about $3.00 or $4.00 per day.  In fact, transportation in Taipei is excellent and convenient with “Easy Cards” which are good on all transit including the world-class MRT system (you can reach the southern tip of Taiwan from Taipei in just three hours for a satisfying day trip).  Interestingly, the MRT bans food and gum on their trains.  If caught with either, the penalties are stiff.

Night Life and Cuisine
Especially entrancing at night, Taipei features night markets with numerous street vendors selling food, knick-knacks, carnival-type games, and other delights.  Street food is unusually inexpensive and varied, so much so that Bronson said it was normally just as cost-effective to eat out utilizing street vendors as it was to eat in.  You can get a good meal on the street for approximately $5.00.  If you choose to eat at an indoor restaurant, the tip is usually included; however, if it is a western restaurant, prepare to tip.
Also unusually varied is the choice of drink shops featuring fruit juices and all manner of teas.  The passion fruit and mangos are superior, and the pineapple sweeter and less acidic than is found in the West.  The West’s presence, however, is ubiquitous with 7-11s all over the city.

To see Taiwanese and Chinese treasures, visit the National Palace Museum.  The famous Jadeite Cabbage is housed there.  Considered a masterpiece in jade, both the essence of the jade and a Chinese cabbage are captured in green and white; even the veins of the cabbage are visible.  Unfortunately, the identity of the artist is now unknown adding to its mystery and lure.  There are also ceramics, beautiful calligraphy, and murals.
Regarding cultural norms, Bronson said that it is in the character of the Taiwanese to be very business-like in professional settings, even at restaurants.  The fawning over that Americans are used to does not exist there when dining.  To the Taiwanese, this is simply professional and dignified.  However, if you are invited to a Taiwanese home, prepare to be treated warmly; they are wonderful hosts.

Day Trips
If you need a break from the city, there are densely forested hills near Taipei with Buddhist and Taoist temples hidden in the jungle.  It is advisable to always carry an umbrella as rain can appear suddenly, drop a deluge, and then disappear, a little like Florida.
Other day trips include a visit to the Taipei Zoo, a twenty or thirty-minute ride on the MRT from downtown.  The pandas are especially captivating.  The Maokong Gondola offers beautiful views of the hills and is a great escape from The Big City.  The Beitou Hot Springs, north of Taipei, are home to a former public bathhouse.  Yangmingshan National Park can be reached on foot from Taipei and is famous for its cherry blossoms.

Are you interested in visiting Taipei?  International Vacation Home Exchange has this luxury home exchange available.  See how this works.

Thanks to Bronson Glaittli and Travel Writer Sona Schmidt-Harris – You can follow her on Twitter @Sonag2000

Lost Your Heart? Find It in San Francisco

Have you lost your sense of romance, place or even hope?  There is no better city to reclaim them than San Francisco.  Bravely and dramatically facing the Pacific and drawing in and attempting to coddle its restless and luring bay, San Francisco calls to the adventurous and aching heart as well as to those seeking comfort and a sense of home.  It is a paradoxical city.  The birthplace of the hippy movement and eclectic crossroads of the American West Coast is now home to some of the most expensive real estate in the United States.  The iconic, Victorian architecture, ever welcoming, is out of reach financially for the average citizen; yet, you do not need to set foot in one of these beautiful homes to feel received.  Very few American cities elicit such a feeling.
Home to just over 800,000 people, San Francisco’s relatively modest population surprises most. Yet within a somewhat small geographical area, there is no place more alive.

For a sojourn into the truly exotic, all you have to do is visit Chinatown.  Chinatown has the largest Chinese community outside of Asia.  Restaurants, shops specializing in embroidered linens, and Asian pharmaceutical-type stores with remedies of pungent, dried roots for all sorts of ailments transport you into a lively dream.  Bring your walking shoes for a vigorous stroll up and down hills.

Little Italy
Home to numerous cafes and restaurants, Little Italy is a favorite destination of both San Franciscans and tourists.  There is a bright and open feeling to many of the cafes—a strange contradiction in that it is the birthplace of the restless Beat movement.  City Lights, the bookstore and publisher that first introduced Allen Ginsberg’s visceral poem, “Howl” still thrives.  Founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetic dream breathes in the 21st century.

The Financial District
To experience the rhythm of the city, go to the financial district on a weekday.  Busy, well-dressed sorts walk quickly to their next appointments; however, California being California, there always seems to be time for a quick jog at lunch.

Sausalito Ferry
The Sausalito Ferry takes you across San Francisco Bay to where else?  Sausalito.  Even if you don’t disembark in Sausalito, the ride across the bay is worth it.  You get a closer view of the infamous, former prison Alcatraz in the middle of the bay (truly eerie). 
Sausalito itself has a long tradition of drawing artists, and a walk through town yields sightings of many eclectic, creative treasures.

Fisherman’s Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf offers tasty and fresh seafood most of its lively day.  For a reasonably-priced and fun lunch, buy off of the street and watch the human parade go by.  For a more sophisticated meal, try dinner in one of the Wharf’s many restaurants overlooking the bay.

Ghirardelli Square
Even if you’re not a fan of Ghirardelli chocolate, Ghirardelli’s famous square is both energetic and one of the best places in the city to sit down with a good cup of coffee and look out onto a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Would you like to visit swank and funky San Francisco? International Vacation Home Exchange offers these premium luxury home exchanges in the San Francisco area.  Read how this works and testimonials.

Thank you to travel writer Sona Schmidt-Harris -  You can follow her on Twitter @Sonag2000

Reconnecting With Nature on Holiday

After spending a relaxing afternoon tubing down the Delaware River recently, I was reminded of how rewarding it is to unplug from technology for a while and enjoy all that nature has to offer.  The only thing better than getting outside for a few hours on a sunny afternoon is spending an entire week long holiday appreciating the outdoors.  Companies like International Vacation Home Exchange offer luxury properties around the world to help you do just that.  Whether you choose a log home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming or a luxury beachfront property in Anguilla there are many ways to be at one with nature.  Here are a few of my favorites. 

Whether your idea of biking is enjoying the rough terrane on a mountain bike or an easy glide on a beach cruiser, biking is one of my favorite ways to get out and breathe in some fresh air. 

Kayaking has always been one of my favorite activities.  We even own our own kayaks including  two tandem kayaks we used when our boys were younger.  They would always argue about which one “had” to ride with mom.  I may only be 5’ 4” but I did a pretty good job of keeping up with my 6’ 4” husband though my kids would disagree.  

No, that’s not short for “what’s up” but rather an acronym for “stand up paddle boarding”.  This activity has gained a lot of popularity in recent years.  I’ve tried my hand at it on the ocean a few times when the waters were calm.  It’s definitely a full body workout and mastering the balancing takes some practice but it’s great fun once you get the hang of it.

Al Fresco Dining
If rigorous outdoor activities aren’t your thing then there are many other way to enjoy nature.  Enjoying a nice meal on a beautiful day while dining Al Fresco is always one of my favorites.  If you are lucky enough to take in a scenic view than that’s an added bonus. It actually doesn’t matter what the view is when you are dining outside as long as you get to enjoy the warmth of the sun of your face while being cooled by a nice breeze.  Remember to leave your iPhone at home even though you might risk insulting the chef by not taking a picture of your plate when your food arrives. 

Watch a Sunset
You can enjoy the outdoors by doing something as simple as watching the sunset.  I have yet to actually experience the phenomenon of the green flash known to occur just after the sun sets but I always keep an eye out for it, maybe you’ll have better luck.

Last but certainly not least is just taking a simple walk.  A nice walk either in the early morning or just after dinner on a lovely evening is one of the best ways to enjoy nature.  Again, be sure to leave the technology behind while you appreciate the beauty of the trees, flowers, a hummingbird or whatever other wonders of nature you might come across. 

That should be enough to keep you busy for a week.  As much as technology has greatly enhanced our lives, it’s always a good reminder to take a “tech break” and give the beauty of nature your undivided attention, not to mention, it’s the only foolproof way to keep your phone out of the lake. 

Thank you to Travel Writer Lisa Medeiros.  Follow her on twitter @lisamedeiros_

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