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Yilan, Taiwan
I'm a Social Studies teacher and single mom from Colorado and have lived here for 9 years. Taiwan is an excellent base for us explore Asia, while living in relative (gun free) safety, while benefiting from a cheap and efficient national health care system. The people are amazing too. I have friendships that are 14 years old and I'm always making new ones.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Little Gems and Surprising Possibilities: Yilan

Wai-ao 外澳 Beach, Toucheng, Yilan County
My former coworker told me about a job opening at his bilingual elementary school in Yilan 宜蘭 and before I knew it, I took Friday off, pulled my daughter out of school and boarded an early High-speed Train to Taipei. We took an 8 am train, then a Kamalan bus to Yilan and arrived at the school by lunchtime. I was happily surprised that the 2 demos were unlike my previous experiences, quite enjoyable, as was catching up with my old friend, his wife and new baby (which was no surprise).

Mr. Balagove Cafe Entrance
We had dinner at the amazing Ukrainian owned Ukrainian Restaurant, Mr. Balagov  Cafe. What an unexpected gem of a place in Yilan! The restaurant looks like a country cottage, very out of place at the end of this dingy parking lot, but once you cross the threshold into his lush garden, with geese walking around and a small brook, its apparent, that one has arrived into a little sanctuary of nature and natural food. While we waited for our food we drank a glass of Kvass. For my dinner,  I had homemade borscht, rye bread and a beef stew. My daughter had a sandwich with homemade sausage on rye with potato salad. For dessert I had apple cake and she had homemade blueberry ice-cream. It was unbelievable and such a treat to eat "real" western food, let alone authentic Ukrainian cuisine, as opposed to the plastic tasting imitations.

Homemade rye and sausage with a glass of Kvass
 I told them if I got the job I'd definitely be buying a loaf of rye and a bottle of  Kvass "bread cider" every week. (Kvass is a fermented rye drink full of probiotics and enzymes, that boosts energy, detoxifies the blood and liver and aids in all around radiant health.)

The next day after breakfast we said our goodbyes to my friend's wife and baby daughter and he drove us to Jiaoxi to see the amazing Wufengchi 五峰旗瀑布  waterfalls. (I was actually here in 2001, but it was so long ago). It was warm, there were "Beware Cobra" signs everywhere which we have never seen in Taiwan before. It takes about 5 minutes to the first falls and 5 or 10 minutes more  to the final falls.

We easily could of swam in the first falls, there was a nice pool, but we knew we'd soon be the subject of everyone's clicking camera, "look at the foreigners swim!" and to take our dip in the river near the parking lot. As we left the trail coming down, numerous tour buses and their hordes had arrived, so it was perfect timing. We left for a fish foot spa.

My friend took us to a nice hotel with indoor pools, full of what looked like your common goldfish. With classical music playing in the background, we had the dead skin on our feet nibbled off. At first it tickled, but then it was relaxing. I had wanted to do this the many times we went to Malaysia but never did. I think here in Taiwan it was cheaper at only 100NT for half an hour.

Jiaoxi Public Hot springs Park
After our fish foot treatment we said our goodbyes, my friend dropped us off near the Jiaoxi Public Hot springs, at the top of the hill was the Japanese style private hot springs 森林風呂露天溫泉 - 礁溪溫泉公園. It was less than 300NT for both me and my daughter. It was beautiful and large, mostly outside looking at trees, with bamboo enclosures and 4-5 hot pools of varying degrees, ending with one freezing pool. I have been to dozens of hot springs, and outdoor ones, and this was the best outdoor nude one. They were separated by gender and unlike most nude hot springs, you could really be outside. The other ones I've been to have walls so high and enclosed, all you see is the sky if you crane your head straight up. It was relaxing to just look at greenery. I met a nice Spanish woman who was traveling around Taiwan with her husband.

When I had enough of water, because my daughter could easily spend all day there, we walked to my friend's recommended noodle shop and then had some spicy icecream for dessert at the Jiaoxi Chili pepper shop 辣椒文創館. The flavors range in chili pepper degrees of spiciness. Having grown up eating different chilis and of course being a big fan of ice-cream, it was, um different.

From Jiaoxi we took a train to Toucheng, stayed a night in a hard to find minsu and road a bike to Wai-ao beach 外澳. It was crowded, but long enough of a stretch of black sand to accommodate the hordes which clung together, so we had some space to play in the waves and relax.

The next afternoon we took a train to Taipei (which is longer than the bus) and then THSR (High Speed Rail) back to Tainan Sunday in time for dinner. Did I get the job? YES! I start August 1st and am starting to pack right now. I still haven't found an apartment, having gone looking last weekend, with 2 different agents, but I'm planning on renting a blue truck and driving everything to Yilan next weekend, but thats another story.

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