First we headed out to Xinbeitou, the neighborhood north of us known for its hot springs. Once you get to the Beitou stop on the red line (the line our hotel was off, too, although our hotel was an unfortunate 20-minute walk from the MRT stop), you get on the Pink Line, which is a special train that only goes to Xinbeitou. Love it!
the pink line train!
We disembarked and began to wander up the street along the east side of the long, thin park that splits the commercial part of the neighborhood. Everything was super in mostly if not all Chinese, and also we were confused about where the actual hot springs were and if anyone was actually using them, since everyone seemed to just be strolling around quite dry and normal.
We stopped in the 7-11 for soft serve (number 6 for me, if you're counting) (clearly I am counting, anyway :P) and continued all the way up the street.
At the end of the street you can head into the thermal springs area. The smell was distinctly sulfurous! These are not the hot springs you can bathe in, because they are super hot. But they are very cool to look at! And very steamy! We stayed about five minutes, and then we really felt the need to get outta there.
We headed down the street along the other side of the park, not really seeing anything particularly different. But the maps suggested that the hot springs you can bathe in were located in the buildings that appeared to just be restaurants and/or hotels, back on the first side of the park. So we cut across and found a clean and hospitable-looking establishment. We walked in to try to get some hot spring action on!
Definitely no one spoke any English at all. All parties ended up pretty confused! But by pointing at pictures and handing over money (the few English words the lady at the desk understood were "hot springs," "how much," and "ok"), we were able to secure entrance to the hot springs.
We were led up a floor and into a dressing room. The lady opened the door to show us the way from the dressing room into the hot springs tubs, where we were immediately and unexpectedly faced with a full frontal of an old and naked Taiwanese woman. We contained our shocked giggles moderately well - not that either of us has a problem with nudity, it's just so unAmerican and it was so unexpected, it caught us a bit off guard! Plus the whole situation was sort of straight up ridiculous.
Anyway, pretty soon we were seeing more of each other than we previously had, and we headed into the hot springs. The naked Taiwanese woman made sure we knew to shower before we got into the tubs, and showed me how to turn on the faucets, crowding awfully close to me in the corner in the process. Cheryl and I giggled some more, showered quickly - no, I did not expect to ever shower naked with my schoolteacher college friend in front of another woman in the middle of Asia, but, you know, life happens :P - and gradually got into the hot spring tubs, which were too hot to get into all at once but which, once we were in, felt pretty damn great.
We were in (and out of, and in, and out of) the hot springs maybe 30-45 minutes, got out and rinsed off, dried off with the extremely small but weirdly absorbent towels we had been provided, dressed, and decided it was time to head back to the hotel. The hotel is a solid 20 minute walk from the MRT station, and we were very hungry at this point, so we stopped to grab some delicious-looking pastries, which I ate a few bites of at the time and then saved the rest to snack on the for the next 24 hours. (Bread with caramelized onions, a chestnut bun, and a small cheesecake, for the curious. Pretty westernized for Taiwanese food, but delicious.) After a quick stop at the hotel, we followed some directions I had found on Googlemaps ("After 0.2 miles, turn right." On what street, Googlemaps? You don't know? Ok...) to a tea house where we hoped to find ginger tea. (And I navigated expertly, I will have you know.)
Well, the tea house was out of ginger milk tea, but we had a lovely meal of hot matcha milk tea and cold sesame milk tea and noodles and tofu and french fries.
French fries with chopsticks!
Cheryl had found, with much difficulty, online, an ice cream shop with 75 flavors of ice cream, and had determined which MRT station it was near (and very little other navigational information, but we were feeling optimistic and intrepid!), so we caught a cab to said MRT station. We were pretty walked out at this point, especially since I'd been walking in my flats all day due to previously mentioned shoe issues, so taking a cab felt great.
We got dropped off at the MRT station, which was clearly in a Times Square-ish heart of the city, except even brighter and more extensive. And equally crowded! After a bit of cursory shopping-y wandering (so many booths and open storefronts!), we started wandering in earnest, and after I went in and asked a 7-11 clerk by showing her a screenshot of the storefront we were looking for, which she totally recognized, we found the place within about five minutes. It was almost completely abandoned, on a bit of a back street, and staffed by one woman, who would not give us samples and who insisted that we eat the ice creams we ordered in a certain order (basil is heaviest so it has to be eaten last, apparently), but who was also totally friendly and enjoyed practicing her English on us, and told us all about the mayoral election going on in Taipei that weekend! (Also she told us that people with Asperger's can't lie.) Anyway, we ordered chili pepper ice cream and jasmine tea ice cream (she served us the flavors in preordained pairs), and taro ice cream and basil ice cream. (#7) The chili pepper ice cream was good but strange and, as expected, a bit spicy!
We finished all of them except the basil ice cream, which was super pesto-y and which we couldn't quite make ourselves like, exactly. Good thing we had insisted, over her objections, on having the taro ice cream with it - we had been afraid of ending on a flavor we didn't like, and we turned out to be justified!
So much eaten ice cream.
And so much leftover basil ice cream.
It was a very fun experience, all told, and afterwards we wandered around the district until we were tired and footsore and caught another cab back to the hotel.
And that was Day 2 in Taipei! On Day 3, we left for the airport at 5 a.m. and flew back to Singapore, so that concludes Taipei!
I love Taipei!