Our destination was an area near Taipei called Tamsui (but due to crazy romanization of Mandarin actually sounds more like “Dan-shwei”). It’s located on the Tamsui River on the northern edge of Taiwan, combining ocean and river views. Before we could arrive, we had to take about an hour long subway ride on Taipei’s MRT.
I have only praise for Taipei’s public transportation. The MRT is extensive and can get you most places around Taipei and outside of it. There are several lines, indicated by color, but navigating your way is very easy! It’s also quite cheap, costing only a fraction of a US dollar per trip. You can buy individual tickets but it’s cheaper to stop by a 7/11 or a station kiosk to buy a Yoyo card, which you can load money onto and just scan as you go through the gates. Yoyo cards can be used in many other places in Taiwan, too, like Taichung. The trains and stations are super clean, people are generally polite and there are lots of people happy to help you if you get confused, even if they have to dance around language barriers.
So we took the lovely MRT all the way to Tamsui, eventually coming to a long, open boardwalk facing the river and lined with shops and restaurants. On the other side of the river a beautiful, lusciously green mountain rose into the blue sky. The weather was pleasantly sunny but ridiculously hot for me and Justin, who had just come from a Coloradan Spring, which is less like spring and more like Winter 2: the Reckoning.
Sweaty and tiring quickly, our trainer decided to take us down a famous, small street called Tamsui Old Street, which is lined with food vendors and small shops. It looks more like an alley than a street, and each store is just a simple stall or stand crowded close to its neighbor. The street is thick with a thousand different smells. It was here that I had my first tastes of Taiwanese food. I can be quite picky, so I stuck with safe foods like scallion pancake, which quickly became one of my favorite foods, and candied sweet potatoes. At the end of the street was a miraculous row of soft-serve ice cream machines, where attendants piled your cone with ice-cream a foot tall in flavors like green tea and taro.
(Old Street in Tamsui, lined with food stalls. Source.)
The fort itself was very beautiful. There are two buildings, one made of wood, the other of brick. The original wood building is boxy and simple, while the brick building sports elegant arches over peaceful walkways. It had been held by many countries during the long bouts of colonization that Taiwan experienced through its history. Originally built by the Spanish, it passed to Dutch hands, to Chinese, to British (who painted it from white to red) who established it as a consulate until they finally handed the land over to Taiwan in 1980. The fort is filled with pictures and artifacts from its many eras, with signage in both Mandarin and English (and I think Japanese). Old cannons and other equipment are placed around the courtyard and it’s near a university, so it has a very studious, meditative atmosphere. A few green garden areas provide nice places to sit and find some shade, and the height offers expansive views of the strait. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos; perhaps the heat made me forget.
We spent the rest of the day walking around the boardwalk. I bought a coconut to drink out of from a vendor, watched a Turkish ice cream performance, which involves a lot of trickery and good-hearted embarrassment, and even tried fried squid! (Trust me, for a picky, no-seafood eater like me, it was a big step.) I actually liked it. It tasted like bacon. Finally, the heat began to really take its toll and we decided to head back to the hotel for a rest. I felt that I hadn’t spent enough time in Tamsui, and I really hoped to return to get a better look around, but I never did. I definitely recommend the area, though. It’s beautiful, quaint, there are lots of tasty snacks and unique shopping to enjoy. There’s near-by beach to help you beat the heat, so definitely bring your swim suit. There’s also a bridge stretching across the river called Lover’s Bridge. Check it out and take some pictures of Fort Santo Domingo for me!