Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Hike Up Mt Qixing in Yangmingshan

What is a trip without incorporating hiking in it?  I'm in Taiwan so might as well pay a visit to Yangmingshan especially in this great sunny weather!
Yangmingshan (website) has a lot to offer and you really need 1 day if you plan to visit more than 1 area.  My plan was simple, just to hike up Mt Qixing at 1120m.  Not that tall actually.
Travelling to Yangmingshan takes time.  If you are in taipei, then just head to Jiantan or Beitou (NTD15 for the buses from either stop) where there are buses to Yangmingshan.  I took the Red 5 from Jiantan station which took about 45mins.  Alight at the very last stop.  From the Yangmingshan bus terminal it is a 10min walk to the Visitor Center.  Or if you already know where you want to go, you can just hop onto the internal shuttle buses at the station.  Bus 108 stops at several areas in Yangmingshan and is only NTD15 per trip!
At the visitor center, you can walk to the start of the climb up to Mt Qixing.  The trek up takes about 1H and brings you to the main peak.  The trek is an alright trek, with nothing much to enjoy during the trek as you are in the forest surrounded by trees and such.  It was a lot of uphill climb but the route is perfectly paved in concrete/wooden steps for most of the way.  Until at about 1.3km mark where the steps are carved out of stones.  But still well maintained. 
From the main peak, you can see the east peak which is a 5-10min walk across.  The view from up top is pretty alright, though I wouldn't say amazing.  Surrrounded by peaks and mountains and a lot of greenery.  Was abit foggy so couldn't quite make out the towns and buildings below. 
The peak!!

At the peak

Left - Dried up Menghuan Pon

At this point you could either make your way back or head on to another exit point - LengshuiKou which is 1H down.  From there, you can take the shuttle bus either back to Yangmingshan bus terminal or to the MRT station.
For me, this was an easy trek.  2H up and down, but logistics took a longer time.  If you have time, pay a visit to Qingtiangang, which was also recommended.  Easily you could spend an entire day in Yangmingshan.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Tulip Mania is in the House

Flowers, never really my favourite thing.  Maybe that's why I've never received them from guys/boys I've dated or associated with.  But Tulips, now that's what I call amazing flower.  I'm not a flower person but tulips I Love Love Love.  Roses are nothing compared to tulips.  Tulips are just amazing living organism, with the varying shapes and sizes that some you can't even tell they are Tulips!  Deceivingly so, some tulips look like roses.  And so it is, I had to go visit the Tulip gardens in Netherlands when I was there.  It was a MUST on my list of things to do (other than visiting the red light districts and well weed...).
For only 8 weeks in a year, the Keukenhof gardens are open for visitors with displays of all kinds of flowers and the kaleidoscope of colours was a feast to the eyes.  This year it opened on 20 March.  The best time to visit is actually end April, early May, but I was only in Netherlands end of March, so better early than never!  Still, in late March, it was very crowded and the tulips were mostly already in bloom.  Except for the famous tulip fields which were not 100% colour bloomed yet.
It's easy to get to Keukenhof and everything you need to know can be obtained from the website.  EUR15 per person for entry.  They have shuttle bus services in Leiden and Amsterdam which is an additional EUR13 or so per pax.  Drive if you have a car as it's only EUR6 for parking.  But... enough of the introduction, let the flowers do the talking.
Hyacinths.  They smell incredible!

Feels so loved and fortunate to be surrounded by tons and tons of tulips of all colours and types


We spent more than 1H in this conservatory itself... Too many flowers!

It's not just flowers, everything Dutch too - The oversized cloaks and the windmill

The half bloomed tulip fields

They have orchids as well

Go early.  Preferably when it opens to avoid the crowd as the place started to fill up after noon time.  Also, we spent about 5H covering all corners of the place - there are a number of conservatories, exhibits etc.  So plan your time wisely!  It is defintely worth a visit!  Even for guys :)

Friday, April 04, 2014

Mykonos, the Off-season Story

Mykonos, also known as the party island in the Cyclades is just 5 hours by ferry away from Athens.  With my 3 extra days, I ventured into this little island close enough to be enjoyed within 3 days.  Was expecting a little bit more life given its reputation, although I knew it was kinda the off season, but didn't really expect it to be really THAT super off season.  My visit was the 2nd last weekend of March, basically about 1 month before the tourist season really starts.  However, I was there the weekend before the 25th march which was a big national holiday, so there were quite a bunch of locals heading for some sun in Mykonos.
It is fairly easy to get to Mykonos, either from Rafina or Piraeus port, depending on the timing.  As I need to stress again, all timings, information here are based on the off-season.  So there is bound to be big difference from the peak season - i.e. more ferry timings, more ferries, more expensive, more options etc etc during peak.  As of now, there were only 2 ferries per day from Athens to Mykonos (and vice versa).  The Piraeus ferry leaves in the morning, Rafina ferry leaves late afternoon 530pm, which was what I took.  There is a bus leaving the airport to Rafina (about 30mins for EUR3), timings can be checked online roughly about every 2hours or longer.  Stops right in front of the Sofitel Airport Hotel.  For people heading during peak (like May onwards), please buy your tickets in advance.  I was lucky, off season means I could buy it on the spot, but lucky me, it was high season because of the national holiday and I almost couldn't get a ticket!! Luckily I still managed (EUR26 one way)
The ferry sitting is like being in a lounge area, no fixed seatings, just go early to reserve yourself a nice comfy sofa.  It is rather smooth sailing, no big sways or bumps and after 5 hours and 3 stops, I was there! Mykonos is the last stop, so don't get up and down at any other stops!
I booked myself into Andriani's Guesthouse and the price is really value for money during the off season.  It was EUR 25 for one person and I basically get a room to myself (with 2 single beds), attached bathroom and air-conditioning.  Towels and toiletries provided! And the room is not small!  Of course, during peak, it is way way way more expensive!  Antonios is the nice husband of the owner, who picked me up and dropped me off for free.  The location is superb, just 5mins walk from Mykonos Town, and 2mins drive from the port or airport.  Very convenient.  It is easy enough if you want to ride to the Southern part of the island. 

The first kinda major setback was the fact that no buses were running at that time (remember off season).  So basically getting around is a bit of a hassle, but you could ride.  Not many rental companies were open but there was 1 near my place.

My first day was just walking around the really really really quiet Town, visitng the windmills and the quaint houses.  It was like walking into a different dimension when at 1030am in the morning, it seemed I was the only one wandering along the narrow and twisted streets of the town.  Yup, it was that quiet!  The windmills were deserted too!  You know, this is a superb time for photo taking because no one can ruin your perfect postcard worthy picture!!  The town is small, like really small, but the lanes are rather twisted and turned, so every turn takes you somewhere and soon enough, you just forget about the maps and just go with the flow.  Unfortunately, not many shops were opened, most were closed or repairing for the big money during summer.  The same goes for bars and restaurants. 
Sunset at Little Venice
My walk also took me 40mins down south west to another small town along the coast, stopping by a couple of beaches where it was empty.  Although I did spot a couple of people 'suntanning' there (yes there was actually sun, and pretty strong sun), it was a bit too chilly for my liking as the wind was blowing and when it blows, it freezes you to the bones a bit. And the water was freezing cold. 
The next morning, I headed off to Delos.  During the off season, the boat runs only at most once a week, and fortunately for us, Sunday was the day it ran.  Mondays are always off (island is closed for visitors).  And there were quite a number of tourists on board the boat to visit Delos!! And we were fortunate enough to have a guide who happened to be on the same boat!  She was actually going to Delos to photo the flowers but well who cares!  If not for her, we would have been blindly wandering the island as there were no guides available during the off season.
On top of Korinth Hill at Delos
The boat ride was about 30mins, and the entrance fee was EUR5.  We paid our guide EUR10 each.  For a group of 6, she easily earned EUR60 for 2H of talking.  The boat ride was EUR17 for return.  It left Mykonos at about 830am, returning at 1130am or 3pm.  Of course, during the high season, timings would be different (more frequent) but the last boat back is always at 3pm.
The ruins
Delos is the largest archaelogical site in whole of Europe and it is the place of birth of Apollo (and his sister).  And it was also once the biggest commercial island with lots of rich Romans and such.  The island is big, no doubt.  Our tour took 2H, and it was very informative.  Highly recommend hiring a guide if you ever go, else it would be like wandering around looking at stones and rocks.
After the tour, it was free time to explore.  Decided to go with the 3pm boat instead so I get a lot more time to explore the island and go up the hill - Korinth Hill.  It is a nice little hike up to the top where you get really fantastic view of the island and its surroundings.  The hike is easy enough 15-20mins and you are there.  The whole detour up and down would probably take about 1 Hour, slowly admiring the surroundings.
After which you could spend more time walking to the other ends of the island, where it is really very deserted.  There are houses of the archaelogists on the islands. 

Off to conquer the roads
My last day was spent riding on an ATV around the island, or rather the south and center.  ATV rental was EUR20 for 1 day, and pretty much the petrol could last you 1 day or more.  Biked to Ano Mera and Kalafatis beach (which took about 40mins).  Kalafatis beach was real nice!  There is a little fishing village nearby where you could climb up the little hill and get a really nice panaromic view of the beaches and surroundings.  And as usual, empty!!!
Overlooking Kalafatis beach
Empty beach
Then it was onto Super Paradise, the supposedly gay beach that is the most happening place.  The road to Super Paradise was sometimes not that well sign posted but I managed.  Some really steep slopes though.  Took about 30-40minutes.  The beach was actually quite small, and when it is deserted it actually didn't look all that impressive!  Quite dirty too with rubbish and constructions going on.  Then it was a smooth ride back home.
Super Paradise is not so super afterall!
Well, what about night life you ask me.  I say "What Night Life??"  Yup, there was literally NO NIGHTLIFE.  As I said, bars were closed.  I stumbled upon one hidden bar (couldn't quite figure out where the entrance was but I heard music and peeked in a hole) and saw some old greek guys drinking.  Not the kinda bar I wana go.  One my last night, I did see a few groups of tourists - Japanese and some US student group.  That was pretty much about it.  And the sunsets were not that fantastic either.
How was Mykonos?  I think Mykonos is actually quite nice little island! People there are happy to be living on Mykonos then anywhere else, but my host told me, summer time is havok.  Like the island is full of people, people and more people.  You don't see the beach, only people, you don't have any parkings available along the road, and the prices jack up tons!  Sounds kinda scary doesn't it.  But I guess people don't really care, they go to Mykonos to party and that is what they expect.  And yes it gets really crazy out there in July/Aug.  But I'm glad I went during off-season.  I got to really explore Mykonos at my own pace, see the island for real and of course for cheap.  And the weather was fantastic too!  Sunny, bright, and not cold.  I got to visit Delos as well with a guide and explored the whole little island with no hassle.  That is a pretty good achievement!  Would I go back to Mykonos? Haha, maybe Santorini the next time.  And definitely not during high season.