Wednesday, August 30, 2017

an unforgettable Pacific Northwest experience

The Pacific Northwest is a treasure trove of unforgettable places and experiences. However, as a native Washingtonian, if I had to choose one experience that cannot be missed, I would choose riding a Washington State ferry.

These behemoths carry passengers all over the Puget Sound and connect the Olympic Peninsula to the mainland. Passengers can walk on, drive on, or bicycle on to the boats. The 10+ routes vary in duration, but all are exceptionally beautiful because the whole Puget Sound is dotted with tree-covered islands and lined by the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east, not to mention Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier. Orca whale sightings, along with all other kinds of sea life, are not rare either!
I think any Washingtonian who grew up along the Puget Sound has their favorite route; mine happens to be the Edmonds - Kingston route, mostly due to nostalgia (I grew up in Kingston and spent years of my life commuting to and from work and school on this route) and the specific views of the mountains and water it offers (especially during sunrise or sunset). While this route is busy with commuters, it is not nearly as busy as the Bainbridge Island - Seattle route, which is bustling with so many commuters it can be hard to find a seat.

However, since most visitors to Washington start their trip in the city, I would recommend the Seattle - Bainbridge Island route. It also has beautiful views, and Bainbridge Island is a great little place to explore (trust me -- I also lived there for one year while commuting on this route to work in Seattle). The other route that leaves from Seattle goes to Bremerton, which, in all honesty, is the kinda armpit of the Puget Sound.

The cost to ride the ferry depends on how you embark and your age. For example, if I walked onto the boat today, a round trip journey would cost me $8.20. Note: if you walk on, you only pay to ride west. The ride east is free. That is not true for driving on; in that case, you pay both ways. If I drove onto the boat today, I would pay $14.30. The cost of the rides are always controversial to Washingtonians; remember: a lot of people pay these costs everyday to go to work, which can really begin to add up.

What's there to do on the boat?

Well, my number one recommendation would be to head up to the open deck and admire the view. Just make sure you take off your hat and scarf; otherwise, you might lose them for good into the cold, blue waters of the Puget Sound. If it's a dreary day, most of the boats have local art and history hanging up on the inner walls of the walkways, but still, go to the upper deck. The mountains and water look so beautiful shrouded in clouds! Many boats also have information centers. The cafeterias, while overpriced, sell delicious mocha chocolate chip muffins along with other goods like soft pretzels with dipping cheese and coffee.

I take great pride in where I come from (for both its liberal tendencies and luscious nature), and I love watching people from out of town ride a ferry of the Puget Sound for the first time.

It is, after all, a mesmerizing experience.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

the saddest hot air balloon festival ever

photo credit
As a world traveler who has been around the block and back, I know all too well the crushing difference between expectations and reality when it comes to something like a hot air balloon festival. However, when I read that there would be a hot air balloon festival in Hsinchu, my hometown in Taiwan, I was beyond excited. I have always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon! In order to have realistic expectations because, hello, this is Taiwan, I googled "Taiwan Hot Air Balloon Festival" and "Hsinchu Hot Air Balloon Festival", and I came across a bunch of photos like the one above (which, spoiler alert, is not my photo).

Okay, so it's no Albuquerque hot air balloon festival, but still, I thought it looked pretty cool and worth a 30 minute scoot adventure to see on a beautiful Saturday afternoon when we had eight precious baby free hours to ourselves because our awesome nanny Sheila was hanging out with Ruby.

We kissed Ruby & Bubu goodbye, slathered on sunscreen, opened Google maps on our iPhone, and followed the little red arrow down winding, twisting roads to a new part of Hsinchu County we had never been to before (which, after living here for five years, still surprises me that there are such places).

At one point, Sean turned to me while scooting up into the hills and said: "I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN! THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT!"

What can I say?

After parenting our high needs infant for the past three months, doing anything that resembles our old life feels blissful.

We scooted around a sharp bend and instantly stopped due to all the orange cones blocking our way (Taiwan, why would you put a bunch of orange cones in the road right after a sharp bend in the road? This is something I will never understand about you.).

A police officer told us in half English half Mandarin that we had to park our scooter and walk the rest of the way. He assured us it would only take 10 minutes.

I looked down at my poor footwear choice and shrugged.

We had come all this way during our rare baby free time to see a hot air balloon festival, and I was not going to let my poor wardrobe choice stop me from doing just that.

We trekked uphill (the entire, by the way) for 25 minutes in the blazing heat and humidity before we heard the first sign of the festival: music.

By this point, my feet were sloshing around in their own sweat and I could feel blisters forming, but on I pushed forward.

On and on.

Until we finally came upon the festival.

There were vendors selling corn on the cob, stinky tofu, and Taiwan Beer. We followed the little hot air balloons that were hanging on trees to a vast field full of people and tents and... nothing else.

That's right.

There wasn't even a single hot air balloon in sight.

I felt a little better about the situation because we weren't the only people who looked really confused.

I took out my phone and double checked the website I consulted. There, in writing, it stated that there would be at least three hot air balloons around during festival hours.

In traditional Taiwanese fashion, people were consoling themselves by taking pictures of themselves making the peace sign in the hot air balloon cardboard cut out in front of the empty field, so we decided to do the same thing.

We walked around the empty field waiting for a balloon to magically descend from the empty sky, but after stewing in our own sweat for 20 minutes, we decided we were being ridiculous.

As we made our way back to our scooter, we came across a slide that had a sign next to it boasting how it was "The Longest Outdoor Slide in all of Northern Taiwan", which, truthfully, isn't really that impressive because Taiwan is a really, really tiny country, and somewhere in this teeny, tiny country there is a bigger, badder, cooler outdoor slide.

We looked at each other, laughed, and decided: why the hell not?

So we slid down the largest outdoor slide in Northern Taiwan. Honestly, I didn't really slide down. I more shimmied down the slide because by this point my clothes were completely soaked through with my own sweat. Sean laughed hysterically by the time I made it down the largest slide in all of Northern Taiwan, which shamefully took much longer than it should have, because my pink shorts were see through and black from all the crud my sweat cleaned off the slide's surface.

Ce la vie.

We walked the rest of the way to our scooter laughing hysterically and holding hands. Weirdly enough, we had a great time together even though the whole outing was a complete disaster.
But, seriously Taiwan, even I didn't think you were capable of something quite this sad.