Sunday, April 30, 2017

London in the Spring - Weekend Part I: Dinner at Barrafina, Shopping Galore, and a Play

Okay, we're on a consecutive posting streak!  Very good.  I'm going to switch immediately from our Taiwan trip over Easter to my trip to London for work/client development, because not two days after I came back to Hong Kong after departing Taiwan, I found myself on a very late red eye flight to London.

I love being in London in the spring - two years ago, Michael and I were in London over Easter and, while it was much chillier that time, the same sense of renewal and freshness was in the air, in a way that just isn't possible in the more tropical climes of Asia.  This time, I thought the weather was even more incredible.  I went braced for rain and cold, packing a down jacket liner, my trusty Burberry trench and wool sweaters, and instead found gloomy mornings that morphed into days of radiant, endless sunshine.  It was beautiful.

This time, I stayed at the Marriott London Hotel Park Lane, located on Park Lane in Mayfair, overlooking Hyde Park.
Upon check in I was given the choice to upgrade to a junior suite (which I did because I was so tired and just wanted something, anything, to lie down on).  The suite was really big and felt like an apartment, which was nice.  Overall though I'm not sure it was really all that special - the light switches in the room confused me to no end!
Foyer and closet

View from my room
Looking into the bathroom from the bedroom
Bathtub, smart toilet, shower (not shown) and marble sink
One of two TVs, this one in the living room
The room also gave me access to the executive lounge, which was a nice place to work and have breakfast.  I liked the comfortable leather chairs and tables.
The surroundings were nice too.  The hotel was right next to the Marble Arch, and Buckingham Palace was around the corner.  And of course Hyde Park was at our feet.
I went into the office in the City, which felt very much like the business and commercial center.

I mostly took Ubers and taxis, but I couldn't resist doing one trek on the tube.  It's so much more efficient given the godforsaken traffic in the city.  I will always be a public transport devotee!
 As I mentioned before, I was lucky that my travel dates coincided perfectly with my friend's, so that we could enjoy a wonderful girl's weekend in London together.  On Friday evening, we kicked off our weekend with a toast sitting at the tapas bar, barrafina.
 The restaurant was bustling and cheerful and had a great vibe going on.
 We sampled their squid ink croquettas, which were piping hot and delicious.  We also tried their monkfish tempura, served on a stick like lollipops.

the most amazing tomato bread

Gem salad with pancetta
Shrimp with garlic
Grilled octopus
A tender lamb shoulder that was very flavorful
On Saturday, my friend and I woke up, had breakfast, and set out for "a little shopping."  Six hours later, we had lunch at the rooftop cafe in Selfridge's after a marathon, and I mean marathon, shopping spree.  Selfridge's is amazing - not the bargain basement kind of thrill (which I love in a whole other way) but in the, "everything is beautifully laid out and the brands are nice and trendy but still wearable, and you can actually find stuff that you like" kind of way.
The shoe department, swoon.
 And it's just so convenient, with all of London's best brands housed under one gigantic roof, and all of the luxury brand bags as well.  Further proof of the corporate machine that this department store is?  Their in-store VAT (tax refund) processing counter.  Oh, sure, they take a huge chunk out for processing fees, but it's still really convenient.

The point of this is, by the time we had browsed through shoes, dresses (I bought two), shirts (my friend bought one), bags (we bought a Celine bag at the request of a friend), pajamas (I introduced my friend to the amazing world of Eberjey - the softest and best pajamas EVER!), my friend and I were famished.  Shopping is exercise, my friends, and don't you ever doubt it.
The cafe was bright and warm and welcoming - the perfect place for a refresh.


You guys, it was such a beautiful day in London.  I couldn't get over how vividly, brightly blue the skies were.  I hadn't even packed sunglasses because I thought it would be doom and gloom every day, and boy was I sorry!  After Selfridges, we headed to Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, in search of some purse arm candy.  Along the way we passed beautiful little parks, and strolled down street after street of perfect little houses and old streets.  THIS is a city!

Ohhhh so delicious.  I bought a black calfskin tote bag.
 Here I am, dragged down by the best kind of bags - shopping bags!  Squee. This was before I acquired yet one more bag (my last of the day) - a very well made suit dress from L.K. Bennett.
 I'll lay out my pretty purchases and acquisitions in another post, I promise!  I also bought a bunch of facial products, which are fun too.

As if all of that weren't enough for an action packed Saturday, my friend and I raced back to our hotel to drop off all of our bags, before rushing back out to the theater district in Piccadilly to watch the critically acclaimed play, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night."  I thought it was very well done - the lead actor was fantastic and deserves all of the kudos.  He was so seamless in the role that not once would you think he was acting - it was completely believable that he was the teenage boy in the story trying to figure out the mystery of the dog and also simultaneously trying to learn how to navigate the world around him.  He was such a highlight.  The other amazing, wonderful thing about the play was the set design.  It was incredible!  So innovative and at times breathtakingly clever.

The theater itself was very old and very pretty - though not big, which lent the whole theater a fitting atmosphere of intimacy.  I snuck a picture of the chandelier from our seats in the center upper balcony , and a not-very good selfie.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Last Day in Taiwan: Touring Taroko Gorge

Here are pictures from our last day in Taiwan! 

It was a very action packed day - unbeknownst to me, my family decided that we would be able to drive through the entire Taroko Gorge (with all of its stunning scenery stops and little hiking paths), hitting a peak of just over 3,200 km (that's 10,498 feet!), often on tiny, very vertiginous, single-lane paths, and still get back to Taichung in time to check in to our hotel and meet for a 6:30 pm dinner. 

I wonder from where I get my inability to manage time!  Kidding, kidding.  We actually managed to do everything, so it worked out great.

The scenery on this trip was stunning, and Michael and I kept bemoaning that we should have stretched this part of the trip out over two days.  We are already thinking that we should make our way back here again. 

Here, a tantalizing preview at the entrance into the national park of what was to come.  The clouds in this part of the world are sheer magic.  They really seem to be alive, so adroitly do they slip through the narrow mountain passages and alight at impossibly low altitudes.
From here, we climbed steadily (sometimes slowly, sometimes swiftly) up, up, up.  Everywhere we looked, there were wispy white clouds, green, rolling mountains, and deep, narrow gorges.
Can you spot my mom, my dad and me?  Michael climbed all the way to the top of a hill at one of our rest stops and captured this bird's eye view.
 At one point, we stopped to scamper down a steep cliff-side, trying to find these natural hot springs carved into the bottom of the mountain.  Can you see the people relaxing in the pool down below?

 It felt like something out of the Jungle Book.  Below, the mountain stream rushed by.  The drawbridge was a little shaky, I'll be honest! 
 All too quickly, we headed back up.  Thankfully we were there on a clear day.  I can't imagine how scary and dangerous this trip would be on a rainy or stormy day.  Apparently during inclement weather the roads are closed because of the danger of mudslides and rock slides.  Yikes!
 We then drove for what like a very, very long time, although it wasn't that bad.  We just kept climbing, and climbing, and our ears popped a few times along the way.  When we finally emerged, it was to take pictures of a sea of clouds nestled in the valley below us.  This cafe had a great view!
 After that, we continued to climb!  The scenery changed quickly as we neared the top of the summit - suddenly, the clouds looked a lot closer and the mountains were less a lush, dark green and more of a straw-colored yellow and tan.
 We were at the peak!  I thought the scenery was very pure and so stunning.  I giggled as I saw the mountains with their weird bald patches.  Why did trees just stop growing so suddenly?  It was always a very clear demarcation.
It was COLD up here.  Suddenly my short sleeved denim dress did not cut it.  The wind whipped like knives and the clouds rolled through fast and furious.  Silly question, but do clouds always move quickly, and we just not realize it because we're usually farther away?

Of course, now that we had finally reached the peak, Michael wanted to give it a climb.  Clad in nothing but his shorts and thin white shirt (I cringe) he sprinted up the mountain.  Can you spot him?  It was a lot of steps and I think he did the entire trip to the top, over the peak, and back down in fifteen minutes.  I think he gave his lungs a real shock, running out into the thin cold air like that. Tsk tsk.  But at least now he has a 3,000m+ summit in Taiwan under his belt! 
My dad told us that there were 100 of such 3,000m+ summits in Taiwan and we were in absolute disbelief.  How can there be so many, for such a tiny island??  He said there's even a club, the 100 Peaks of Taiwan, which serious mountaineers and hikers in Taiwan aspire to complete.  I checked it later, and he was right! See here - it's pretty amazing.

After that full and scenery packed day, we went to dinner in Taichung and saw my cousin and his wife, and met their darling new baby!  She's not so happy in this picture, oops.
All in all, it was a great trip and we're so grateful and happy that we had the opportunity to spend our Easter holidays with family and friends in beautiful Taiwan.