In May 2010 I decided to leave my job in Australia and travel around the world before moving to the USA. This journey ended up involving travelling in 18 countries on 4 continents (North America, Europe, Asia and Australia) and taking me around the world 1.5 times over a 12 month period! I wrote a number of travel emails from that trip and I thought it would be fun to revisit them with some additional info and photos. The following blog is Part 20 of that journey (my return to Finland then on to Hong Kong and Taiwan).
August 29th, 2010
After a bit of drama getting a ferry from Tallinn, Estonia to Helsinki, Finland – the Lindaline ferry I was booked on was cancelled due to weather conditions, had to walk to the other port to go on a bigger but slower ferry – took just over 2 hours, sailing was a little rough, started to feel queasy by the end of it, so some fresh Finnish air was very welcome! I paid a quick revisit to Helsinki (enough time to do some shopping and eat moose sausage) it was then onto Tampere by train (about 2 hours north).
Tampere is a nice small university city with lots of open spaces. It used to be a big factory city in the 19th century – there are lots of old factories and chimney stacks along the river, but now they are turned into offices, restaurants, shopping centres etc. It’s kind of nice to be in a modern city for a change from all the old towns and vast numbers of tourists over the past few weeks. I hate to imagine what the air quality would have been like in the industrial period right in the centre of town?
A highlight for me was the Lenin Museum in Tampere. Lenin spent time in exile there before the Russian Revolution in 1917, the museum building is also in the same location where he first met Stalin. Some of Lenin’s letters indicate he thought Stalin was rude and too crude to be a good leader and should be removed from his post in the communist party! How different history may have been if this occurred?
Interestingly the death masks of both Lenin and Stalin from their funerals were on display in the museum. Lenin’s embalmed body is of course on display in Red Square in Moscow, but Stalin’s embalmed body was originally placed next to Lenin in 1953 (apparently 500 people died in a crush of bodies to see him lay in state!), but 8 years later, when Khrushchev the then Soviet Leader was denouncing Stalin, his embalmed body was removed and buried along the Kremlin wall (I remember seeing his statue sort of hidden from view behind Lenin’s tomb when I was in Moscow in 2007).
It has been nice enjoying the open space, fresh air and mild temperatures of a late summer in Finland – oh and it actually gets dark at night at this time of year (compared to near 24 hour daylight when I was there three months ago). This was a good break in preparation for the maelstrom of heat, humidity, crowds, sights, sounds and smells of Asia!
My last day in Finland and Europe was spent taking a half day trip to the original Finnish capital of Turku. Whilst there I saw Turku Castle, the Cathedral, Maritime Museum etc. It is a nice place to spend an afternoon, especially as my flight from Helsinki was not until almost midnight to Hong Kong. It was wet and cold when I headed out to the Helsinki airport – in the past 3 months I have experienced freezing weather, stinking hot weather, humidity, dry heat, rain, mud and mild conditions. It has been an interesting northern hemisphere summer to say the least!
The flight was uneventful but as usual I only got a 2-3 hours sleep during the 9.5 hour flight. Hong Kong was hot upon arrival – cousin Ryan and I went and got a meal of dumplings and some other dishes and all was good again! We also went up to the apartment building rooftop for a spectacular night view of Hong Kong.
Apart from eating and shopping in Hong Kong I went out to Stanley to have a look around, was nice to escape the crowds and sit by the sea for a while. There was a nice breeze and views down there.
I also spent an interesting few hours in Kowloon looking about the place and enjoying the views back to Hong Kong. If one more tout offered me to get a suit fitted or to buy a watch I think I would have snapped – every corner another one! The strangest was an offer to buy hashish…”yes please, I would also like to be machine-gunned to death by the Chinese authorities”!
Now I am in Taiwan. This place is fantastic, great to catch up with my friend Wei-Chiao and see parts of Taipei. Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall was an interesting place to visit (Chiang Kai-Shek was the former leader of Nationalist China until the Communists under Mao took over in 1949. The Nationalists escaped to Taiwan and he became the leader of that country until his death in 1975). I got to see the changing of the guard at the memorial hall which was pretty cool.
A visit to Guting night market in Taipei was fantastic. So many people go to these markets to enjoy the atmosphere and food. I ate some great food there: dumplings and various fried delights including ducks blood with rice! They cook it all up, then put all the various items into a bag covered with some spices – delicious!
From Taipei we travelled by train to see some fantastic parts of the East Coast of Taiwan. Upon arrival in Hualian a friend collected us and basically drove us all over the place over the next 3 days. Our first stops were in incredible mountains and a beach of stones. Taroko National Park was a beautiful destination for hiking and the Taroko Gorge, oh and an illegal visit to some hot springs that were closed about 10 years ago due to typhoon damage (technically the area is banned for safety reasons, but regardless of the warning signs it doesn’t really stop anyone)! Taiwan has an indigenous aboriginal population and they have many places on the East Coast where you can visit to experience their culture and purchase traditional clothing, jewelry etc including in Taroko.
Further south we stopped for a tea ceremony at a great tea house to try all different types of teas and delicious little cakes. We stopped at another place where they made all these products out of bamboo, but also showed us the weird properties of bamboo (if heated to the right temperature) i.e. hold a piece for 3 minutes and your fingers are temporarily longer than your other hand! Some how relaxes your muscles for a moment?
A real highlight was an amazing mountain near Yuli covered in these bright yellow flowers which they harvest for soups etc. It rained the whole time we were up on that mountain but in a way it made the experience more memorable.
Along with all these sights we went to all the best food places between Hualian and Yuli. We tried all sorts of things – frozen ice treats when it was 36 degrees Celsius, lots of little sweet snacks that are free to try in shops, wonton soup, goose wing soup, oyster omelette, meat pancake, great Taiwanese style breakfasts, more delicious night market food in Hualien (at one food stand we were number 178 in the queue! A long wait but worth it for the delicious treats!) and also the famous stinky tofu!
Stinky Tofu (yes that’s the correct English translation) smells horrid with quite a pungent aroma, but tastes great! At first I thought the smell was coming from the gutter! We got in the car afterwards and we smelt of it too! Luckily it faded…..
We went to a house one night to visit a friend of a friend, she had a 3.5 year old boy, when I walked in he looked a little shocked and said to me (in Mandarin – my friends translated into English) “Why do you look like that?” (i.e. white) and asked me many questions such as “Why can’t you speak Chinese?”, “Do you speak English when you drink water?”, “Do you speak English when you are sleeping?”. He was absolutely hilarious! We spent quite some time playing sword fights etc, he wanted me to sleep over and when we said we had to leave he wanted to know if we could come back to play the next day! Great kid…more like a “man-child” to be honest, his Mum said he acts like an old man.
Anyway, I am now back in Taipei for a couple of days before heading to the North East of the country and then the West Coast. I have had an interesting afternoon since we got back here from Hualian. I went to Longshan Temple where people worship many different gods – this was quite an experience, as there were so many people there praying, making offerings to the gods (food), burning incense etc. Very interesting, I kind of felt like an intruder watching and taking photos!
From the temple I went to an underground mall where I saw some Taiwanese rock bands and got a painful but good Chinese shoulder and neck massage. Then I ventured out to Ximen a really, really popular shopping and entertainment area, with lots of people, shops, food stalls, restaurants, tattooist’s, and more bands playing – a pretty cool afternoon all in all. I finished the day off with a great meal and a well earned rest!