Northern Taiwan, 101.

Actively checking out Taiwanese natural places of interest can bring on sudden attacks of hunger, as I found out the other week while in the far north of the island. When our stomachs were rumbling simply too loudly for comfort, we were ushered to the town of Juifen to put a stop to the noise. And guess what – the town of Juifen is… must-see! Particularly – must-eat-in )! Especially – if you’re a big fan of Chinese cuisine, which I certainly am. Oh my gourmet!…

The place is made up of a labyrinth of narrow little streets, in many places with some roof-like construction up above to keep off the rain. There’s less of an emphasis on souvenirs (like you often get with cute little places like these that attract tourists and natives alike), and more of one on: grub! Yeh! All different kinds of grub too – albeit of the Chinese kind. Eateries, restaurants, cafes, greasy spoons; eat-ins, takeaways; boiled, steamed, fried; meat, fish, veggies – ice cream too. Hissing, bubbling… and the fragrances: they sure got the appetite up. And it looks like this:

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Much Ado About Hoodoo.

Practically at the northernmost point of Taiwan there’s a place that’s categorically necessarily mandatorily recommended for a visit: it’s the Yehliu Geopark, whose main attraction are the very rare natural phenomena of which there are just a few specimens throughout the world: hoodoo formations – outcrops made up of horizontal layers of rock of varying hardness. As a result of some not-fully-understood geology, tectonics push these formations up to the earth’s surface, then they’re eroded by the wind and rain – with the lower, softer layers being worn away quicker than the upper, harder ones. The result: totally inconceivable shapes. Sometimes they’re so far-fetched and extraordinary it’s hard to believe they’re 100% natural.

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(Motoring through) marble marvels in Taiwan, pt. 3.

Hi folks!

Herewith, my next dispatch from Taiwan…

I’ve already told you about the footpaths that run through the tunnels here. Well there’s a road too – the Central Cross-Island Highway. Built – and in some places chiseled – in 1956–1960, back then it was quite the pioneering engineering feat. Still today they’re renovating and improving it. And they’ve got their work cut out: there are frequent earthquakes, and typhoons cause flooding and mudslides. They dig out new sections for the cars, and the old ones get passed over to tourism.

Read on…

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Marble marvels in Taiwan, pt. 2.

Next up on my marble-mountain trekBaiyang Waterfall Trail.

Curious story alert!…

In the ’80s, they wanted to build a hydroelectric power station here. They got as far as damming up several parts of the gorge and gouging out drainage tunnels that ran through the rock, but then the project was canned. But what to do with tunnels? Of course – use them as tourist tunnel-paths! One of the tunnels is forever leaking (safely) – which makes for perhaps the most interesting of all the tunnels here:

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Marble marvels in Taiwan – pt. 1.

Hi folks!

Oh my gigabytes! Yet again I’ve returned home with a zillion photos full of impressive emotions and emotional impressions!…

Right; now, where shall I start? Yes – the most interesting: the Taroko National Park in Taiwan – here.

An amazing place! Mountains… – made out of nothing but marble! The local tectonics here have gifted the place with marvelous marble constructions that come from the depths of the ocean and reach up thousands of meters. The highest peak here is that of Nanhu mountain, weighing in at some 3742 meters above sea level – and all of it marble! In fact, the whole island of Taiwan is the result of subduction of two tectonic plates: the Philippine Sea Plate slipped under and pushed up the Eurasian Plate, including this super selection of formerly underground marble; the elements over the millennia did their erosion thing, and the result is these here monumental rock formations. And the process is still going on today.

Blue water on white marble:

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My yearly ‘hi’ – to delightful Dubai.

Dubai. Oh my, oh my. A unique, splendid city. I’ve written about the place plenty here before, and it also features in my Top-20 Best, Must-See Cities of the World list. I’d been here before many times. And I looked it up – yes – this visit was my 12th!

I was first here in 2005, when we signed our first partner agreement in the region. Ever since, practically every year there’s been an event of some kind I attended – an exhibition, partner conference, F1 race, etc., etc. But I like it so much I sometimes come here just to chill on the beach for a day or two or three. And I try and stay in the unparalleled Atlantis too ).

I also find the place fascinating due to all the construction that’s always going on here – it’s one of the largest and busiest building sites in the world. I remember at the beginning of the 2010s someone saying that around a quarter of all skyscraper-high cranes were in Dubai (I reckon the other three-quarters were in China:). From the world’s tallest buildings to daring artificial islands. It’s nice to return every year and see what new audacious real estate project has been added to the existing zillion ).

Here are a few pics from 2008, right after Atlantis was opened, and two years after Palm Jumeirah was finished:

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The museum in Baku – hard to out-do.

Hi folks!

After Hannover – we were headed southeast – over to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, for a conference for our partners from the Middle East, Africa and Southern Asia. Quick report: everything was just great (as usual). Everyone went home with new knowledge, better motivated, fully sated, content and happy. The event took place in one of the three swish Flame Towers, and the views therefrom were very impressive, as could be expected:

Now for some touristy stuff, since we’d scheduled several hours free in the city. We opted for the Heydar Aliyev Center, which fairly amazed us with its design and exhibitions.

First – the shape: Oh my Guggenheim! And what’s best is that its shape changes as you look at it from different angles ).

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A flight over to Hannover – for the 20th time!

I recall reading somewhere once – I think it was in a German tourist guidebook – that: ‘If you’ve no special reason to go to Hannover, then there’s no real point going there.” Bit harsh, I remember thinking at the time. However, it turns out that it’s also one of my most frequently-visited cities. I carefully went through my records, and low and behold, I’d been to this German city a full 19 times. Well I was there again just the other week – a jubilee: my 20th visit! Accordingly. On this special occasion, I figured it would be appropriate to get out my trusty Sony and get some serious snapping in – since we had a full half-day free in the city. And that’s just what I did. Herewith – the results of that snapping.

Hannover in spring – cherry trees blossoming…

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Buryatia and Transbaikal – the Buddhism center of Russia.

Buryatia and Transbaikal are two of the main centers of Buddhism in Russia. As if to demonstrate this, not far from Ulan-Ude there’s the great Buddhist monastery-university Ivolginsky Datsan. Another demonstration: on the way to the monastery there’s the famous Buddhist mantra emblazoned on a hillside: Om mani padme hum.

Datsan’s an interesting place well worthy of a visit and walkabout thereat. First impressions – a slightly Russified version of a Buddhist temple complex in China:

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We carry on – to the island of Olkhon.

In getting to the island of Olkhon (while still on the mainland), I have a feeling we were taken off-road on purpose – so we could put the Land Rovers through their 4×4 paces to the max while also getting some of the better views of the lake while driving alongside it. Well, the Land Rovers not only perfectly passed the test – they also helped pull out a mini-bus that had gotten bogged down in a spot of mushy ice that had been melted by the sun.

The story was quite a fun one, btw: the mini-bus was carrying some Russian tourists, and it was following a route along which probably one vehicle passed each day – well that was this vehicle!  So, they were literally in the middle of nowhere, stranded, with little prospect of being rescued – at least on that day. You can imagine how desperate those poor tourists were becoming. Anyway, all of a sudden – da-daaa – along come eight mighty Land Rovers! They couldn’t believe their luck. Then, when I got out of the driving seat of one of the Land Rovers, was recognized, hooked the rope onto their bumper, then got back behind the wheel to pull the mini-bus out of the mush, well, I have to say it looked like they might faint!

Soviet joke digression!

The Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev was know to like fancy cars. One Sunday, he fancied a drive. So in he jumped, with his driver transferred to the front passenger seat. Off he races out into the countryside. Of course, after a while of doing well over the speed limit, eventually the traffic police pull him over. One of the police officers goes over to the car while Mr.Brezhnev winds down the window. The driver, naturally, is stunned, stands there frozen, eyes as big as saucers, and slowly turns back to his colleagues, who shout over: “What’s up Boris? Who’s the VIP being driven around at such crazy speed, then?” To which Boris replies: “Well, actually, I don’t know; but his driver is Brezhnev himself!”

Still on the mainland, perhaps the most memorable experience was stopping off at the village of Bugul’deyka, or, rather, its abandoned marble quarry. The place is nothing too special, but it was worth a quick look around. I wondered – why did they give up extracting marble here? Surely there’s always a demand for this posh construction material loved by five-star hotels (and five-star metros:).

My wonderings were soon answered: apparently this marble is a soft kind – only good really for sculptures; no good at all for construction. In Soviet times, when statues of Lenin were always popular (there would be many in any city, at least one in most towns), this place was kept very busy. These days, with patriotic-ideological monuments less in vogue, there’s just no need for its marble any more. The only folks who come here are the occasional tourists who’ve wandered off the beaten track.

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