|Today the weather is suppose to have thunderstorms throughout the day. We have placed our umbrellas and ponchos, along with water and other items in our day-pak that we carry while on tour.
We went to breakfast at 6:30 when the restaurant on the first floor opened. It was a smaller buffet, which makes sense since the Gala is a small boutique hotel. They had scrambled eggs, baked beans, chicken nuggets, bacon and sausage along the Western side which is where Jean & I took breakfast. We returned to the room to relax and prepare for our morning city tour which begins today at 8:00.
Our guide for the morning met us in the hotel lobby and we piled onto the minibus that we would be using for the morning tour. There were already 7 people on the minibus, and we had to make one more stop at another hotel for a group of four. Our guide then introduced himself to the tour as Felix. We drove by the Presidential Building along our route.
Our first stop in the beautiful sunny weather was the Chiang Kai-shek (CKS) Memorial Hall complex. We were dropped by the beautiful National Concert Hall where I saw two young ladies with violin cases enter the building. We walked along through a garden area overlooking a pond into the main square where Felix said it had previously been used by the military before the Memorial Hall was built. In the square across from the Concert Hall is the National Theater.
We were a little early for the 9:00 changing of the guard ceremony, so Felix had us take our time. We walked up the 89 stairs (CKS was 89 when he died). The building is neoclassical style with a blue domed roof. CKS favored that style as a counterpoint to the Cultural Revolution's destruction of classical culture in China. The white marble on the facade, according to Felix, came from the USA.
At 9:00 the great doors opened sideways to the view of the hall with the statue of Chiang Kai-shek and 5 honor guards in their blue uniforms. (The statue in the hall of CKS was reminiscent of the statue of Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial.) The ceremony was quite impressive, and extremely precise, especially with the twirling of the rifles. Once the new guards were on their perch, a non-uniformed assistant came over to the guards to straighten their uniforms and make sure everything was perfect. After the ceremony we exited the complex through a side gate to board the minibus.
Our next stop was a Daoist/Buddhist temple where the two faiths coexist. We spent about 15 minutes there as Felix explained why you go in the right dragon door and out the left tiger door, about the statues in the temple, and about the faiths.
We then went to see the lobby of the Grand Hotel that Madame Chiang Kai-shek established. This was an elegant, 5-star hotel, as you couldd tell from the lobby. This was a famous hotel that has been visited by such dignitaries as President Eisenhower, Nixon, Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas, Elizabeth Taylor and the Shah of Iran among many others.
Next, we arrived in time at the National Revolutionary Martyr's Shrine in time to watch another changing of the guard. The Shrine marks the memory of 400,000 soldiers who died for the Republic of China (Taiwan) in battle. We started the changing of the white uniformed honor guard at the memorial where the two guards were relieved, and followed them to the front gate where they also relieved two guards. This detail had two gentlemen that followed them as support. They did the same thing that was done at CSK Memorial Hall which is to make sure the guards look their best, straightening jackets, pant legs, etc.
Our last stop on the morning tour was the National Palace Museum, home to most of the Chinese art which consists of paintings, statuary, ceramics, jade etc. that were taken from mainland China when CKS and his followers left. We were only there for an hour. It was quite crowded, but our guide provided us with headphones so he could tell us about some of the highlights, such as the jadeite cabbage, a green and white jade pite sculpture made from one jadeite stone that has a locust and katydid camouflaged in the leaves, and another treasure called the Meat-Shaped Stone, which is a piece of jasper carved into the shape of Dongpo pork. We walked through a gallery on the first floor, then three galleries on the third floor, including the jade cabbage. There were also paintings, some buddha statues and coral sculptures that Felix pointed out to the group. If you wanted to see it all, you would need to spend an entire day at the museum. Plus, they rotate their collection so there is always something different to see throughout the year.
We were then retuned to our respective hotels. It was about 12:30 when Jean & I arrived back at the Gala. We rested a little from the hot, muggy weather from this morning. I read some back issues of the Star Ledger while Jean attempted to check her email down at the business center.
Then we got adventurous. We took the metro out to see the Taipei 101 Tower, where the first 4 floors are luxurious stores, while on the fifth floor you can pay $600 TWD each for a set time to go up to the observatory. We chose the 2:30-3:00 time slot. We then rode the world's fastest elevator up to the Taipei 101 Observatory. We arrived on the 89th floor of the observatory and looked out over Taipei, and the surrounding region. We then walked into the heart of the building to see the wind damper that stabilizes the building. There was a short film that we watched about the wind damper. Very impressive technology, it appears to be very effective in reducing the building sway by up to 40%
We then used the stairs to go up to the 91st floor and stepped out onto the Outdoor Observatory. There was a thunderstorm off in the distance, we could hear the thunder and even observed lightening. We walked inside to see a video about the construction of the tower and some shots of the fabulous New Year fireworks. Then we headed down to the 88th floor to see the bottom of the wind damper and exit the observatory. As we exited, we passed through a jewelry store selling carved coral sculptures that were very beautiful and expensive. We took our time looking at the many beautiful pieces.
We then took the elevator back down to the fourth floor to try to find a restaurant. Well, all of the sit-down restaurants were only serving high tea until 4:30, dinner started at 5:30. It was only 3:30, and we did not want to wait around. So we left Taipei 101. It was now raining, it had finally caught up with us. We took the Metro back to our hotel area. We got off at our Metro stop, and headed over to the HsinTien Temple for a look-see. The temple was very crowded with people receiving blessings, and reading/studying.
As we walked back towards the Gala Hotel, we were again looking for restaurants. We stopped in at the Golden China Hotel and ate in their Cafe. It was not crowded at all, and we liked the menu. Jean had ann onion soup and a beef appetizer. I had a pre fixe dinner, that included a seafood soup that came out with a nice pastry covering, a fruit salad, and a choice of four entrées. I chose the fried chicken (not Southern fried chicken) which came on a sizzling platter with the vegetables. The meal also included a chocolate dessert and I had tea for my included drink. My meal was $500 TWD or $16.10 US. We stopped at a bakery on the way back because my dessert was chocolate (Jean had it), to which I am allergic.
We returned to the hotel around 8:00, and we rested and packed for tomorrow's departure.