Another lazy Sunday afternoon at home and sunlight is filtering through a crinkled-glass window creating a soft, hazy, yellow glow that’s perfect for a nap. Though tempting, I knew I needed to plan my lessons and opted to leave the too comfortable apartment. So Pete and I decided to stretch our legs and brains and walked to a new cafe. With no expectations, aside from a hot cup of coffee and a chair, I entered hiiibirdie and so began my obsession.

The exterior of hiiibirdie.

*Full disclosure: hiiibirdie isn’t in Taipei, but in the surrounding suburb of Linkou. Regardless, my adoration for this place transcends labels so I will include in my Taipei Cafe series.

As I slid the flimsy wooden door to the right, I entered a larger-than-expected room and was immediately greeted by a generous amount of sunlight cascading over the wooden furniture and the slightly cracked concrete floor. As I watched the sun rays dance over mismatched chairs, the smell of lingering caramelized sugar reached me.

A few trepid steps inside, a kind apron-adorned employee asked us to sit down then placed the menu, housed in a soft light brown leather notebook, in front of us. Not sure what to order, I took a moment to absorb my surroundings.

I turned my head to the right and took note of the 12-foot high ceiling the color of rusted cement that reflected the warm orange and brown hues found among the quaint decor. Though none of the chairs matched, there was a symmetry in their varying shades of wooden browns and yellows, rusted white, and black which combined into a sweet effect.

I then spotted a muted pea green couch with matching arm chairs – all low to the ground and inviting customers to truly rest and relax. From the couch’s vantage point stood two large glass doors that nearly reached the ceiling and welcomed the sun. The doors were left slightly open to let a fraction of the outside breeze and the cafe’s cat inside.

Beyond the window laid a playground and basketball court teeming with running children, chatting families, and dribbling basketballs.

I turned my head to the left and saw a geometric wooden bookshelf fashioned from a contemporary Scandinavian design. The shelving unit was split in half by a large green chalkboard decorated with children’s art, important messages, and the wifi password.

“What are you going to get?” asked Peter and I was instantly snapped back. I walked to the front counter and ordered a Matcha latte, Pete a cup of coffee. Standing there, I saw a dozen glass jars filled with coffee beans from around the world ready to be ground and used with a ceramic pour over set. The barista asked us to smell each bean to help decide which one is best to drink.

Behind the wood slated counter was a small, but well used kitchen where they make all of their desserts. Even from our seat, the pots, pans, ovens and utensils are all visible adding to the cozy home effect which made this place even more charming.

The desserts are then shown off to right of the counter in a mini display. Inside were apple pies, lemon tarts, honey glazed cakes, and Matcha cake.

Here’s a Matcha latte served on a cute wooden plate and matching wooden spoon.
French Toast Breakfast, complete with Bacon, cubed orange and grapes, salad, and a cup of refillable coffee.

Since this first visit, I’ve returned to hiiibirdie countless times. It’s genuinely my favorite weekend brunch spot to enjoy a pour over, Matcha latte, French toast brunch, or just a slice of pie. Not only do I admire the craft and care for their food and drinks, but I love the quiet and spacious atmosphere. Sitting there drinking a latte and reading a book on my Kindle, I am always transported to a flourishing green countryside where the birds chirping, children laughing, grass swaying in the wind’s hushed blows combine into that rare song of pleasure and bliss.

5/5 cups of coffee!

4 Day Weekend

Last week, we had a four-day weekend, for a historical and tragic reason. 2-2-8 is a country-wide holiday to observe the massacre on February 28, 1947. This year it landed on a Thursday. In Taiwan, rather than getting one day off, the schedule changes to enable an extended weekend. Meaning, the previous Saturday (February 23) our school had class as usual. This allowed us to take off Friday (March 1) in addition to February 28, totaling a four-day weekend.

I love taking advantage of built in vacation, but I still felt burned out from the big trip to Australia. I wanted to see something new, but not at any large expense of money or time. Pete stepped up and planned our mini-weekend getaway, which was local, fun, and affordable.

Thursday – Wulai

Wulai is a nearby village south of Taipei, famous for its aboriginal culture, cuisine, and hot springs. It was convenient to access as the bus stop is in front of my apartment and the ride only lasts 30 minutes.

As soon as we stepped off the bus we didn’t stop walking for almost 7 hours. We walked through old street packed with aboriginal clothes, foods, and drinks. We walked across suspension bridges overlooking the slow-moving teal blue river. We walked through a forest trail lined with ferns and botany unbeknownst to us. We even saw a monkey sitting in the tree tops above us!

An hour shy of check-in into our AirBnb, we decided to rent a hot spring room for an hour and a half which only cost us each $12. Behind the door labeled “My Room” situated a queen size bed and an excessively large bathroom with a tiled Jacuzzi tub, television, toilet, and shower.

After adequately bathing off the sweat and sores from our walk, we packed up and walked down the street to our AirBnb, which was an even nicer hot spring hotel.

A cozy bed garbed in crimson comforter and a heart-shaped lamp greeted us as we entered the room. Across from the bed sat a flat screen tv, framed by the window which separated the bedroom and bathroom. Walking up two steps and past the toilet we entered the *spa*.

This room had a strikingly woodsy yet whimsy atmosphere that really captured my heart. The floor was a well oiled honey-brown wood that slightly warmed our toes. Next to the sink sat two deep obsidian hot tubs. The larger tub had a seat and could comfortably fit four people. The smaller rectangular tub had no seat so you could really submerge in the water. The view beyond the hot tub was a low-lying window that outlined the surrounding forest and river. A wooden canopy blocked the sun and rain, but left an opening where the breeze, the sound of croaking frogs, and the moving river could join us.

For hours we sipped on rice wine, watched a movie, refilled the tub with scalding hot water, dipped our toes into the cold tub, and laughed and laughed. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

Friday – Taipei

The following morning, we returned to Taipei early to work on personal projects and have a stay-at-home day. Sadly, I didn’t take any pictures of our meals that day.

Lunch – Zoca Pizzeria, the best Italian pizza in Taiwan.

(Photo is courtesy of Zoca Pizzeria Facebook page)

Dessert – Heritage Bakery. I ate a classic carrot cake that was dense and sweet. Pete had a date tart that was crunchy and delightful!

(Photo courtesy of Heritage Bakery Facebook page)

Saturday – Luodong / Peter’s Birthday

Peter is the luckiest person I know. All week the grey skies promised rain and cold winds. Except for his birthday. There were no clouds, there was no chance of rain, and the sun shone with enough force that only a small sweater was required.

We paid $100 NT ($3 USD) for a bus from Daplingling Station (a block away from my apartment) to Luodong, a rural city east of Taipei. From there, we took the TRA one stop south to Dongshan . A bike rental shop located outside the station was swarmed by weekend riders wanting to be outside on this perfect day.

We rented two bicycles for 4 hours which cost $250 NT ($8 USD) each, then we set off on the river side trail. The paved road was narrow for only two parallel riders at a time. It cut through quaint farmland and bustling, colorful parks. We shared the trail with families walking, couples on tandem bikes, and groups sharing bicycle carriages. The trail led us past the small farms all the way to the shore.

The smooth, charcoal colored sand felt so refreshing on our hot feet. The waves hit the shore fiercely making it quite dangerous to swim. We rolled up our pants and waddled knee-deep, challenging the ocean to a speed test…We quickly got splashed to the butt.

The sand did have a quick-sand quality, where areas were exceptionally deep. If we jumped down with enough force, our legs submerged up to our calves.

After returning our bikes, we traveled back to Luodong to explore the night market. This market is situated alongside a large park, with ample seating. We watched a live band perform Taiwanese hits that had the crowd singing along, and a few interesting songs from Maroon 5.

On the far left is a fish paste mixed with sausage, wrapped in pig intense and fried. In the middle is a boiled egg also mixed with fish paste and deep fried. On the far right is an egg dish also fried. They’re all covered in a combination of wasabi and sweet n sour sauce.

Sunday – Lazy Day

Not much to report here, besides a good ol’ day of doing nothing! A classic way to end a fun weekend.

Happy New Year!

This year, there was not as much dancing as I would have liked, because I was sick. Well, I’m not entirely sure if I had a cold or suffered from extreme allergies. Either way, I sneezed over 200 times in 48 hours, used an entire packet of toilet paper to blow my nose, and breathed through my mouth so much that the tip of my teeth were a different shade of white.

A few weeks ago, Peter’s co-worker, Toby, invited us to eat New Year’s Eve dinner at a restaurant on Yangmingshan Mountain. He coordinated the entire event: he reserved a table, and ordered taxis between the restaurant and Taipei, and even ordered the food for us.

While driving up the winding road, a slight drizzle fell upon us. I walked onto a slick patio, a little disgruntled by the fact we were going to eat outside in this cold and windy weather. The annoyance of the unpleasant weather left my mind as I sat down and viewed the luminous cityscape.

Still, a beautiful view doesn’t warm you up when you’re battling a potential cold. Thankfully, under the circular, concrete table was a heating lamp. I bundled up in my scarf, placed a hand warmer under my shirt, and sat as close to Peter as possible.

We ate dinner with Toby’s girlfriend, sister, and friend. Together the seven of us shared spicy Kung Pao Chicken, Thai style mushrooms, fried tofu in a peanut sauce, boiled cabbage, sauteed beef, and fish. There were so many plates of food and drinks there was no space on the table!

After feasting, we had three hours until the count down. Toby and his friends played a phone game together that is reminiscent of League of Legends. Peter, Scott and I talked, drank, and played our own silly version of Taboo. I was having fun drawing doodles of everyone in the dark!

A few minutes before countdown, everyone in the restaurant was given a sparkler. We lit up our own by touching our neighbor’s fire, and shared the flame.

We watched from atop a mountain the array of fireworks exploding green, red, white, purple, and blue all over Taipei. Taipei 101 was visible, but was shrouded in clouds and smoke so the fireworks weren’t breathtaking. At first, I thought “this is it” we’ll just see hundreds of mini fireworks from far. Not necessarily disappointing, but not what I expected. At that moment, a blinding white firework burst 50 feet away from us, shocking us foreigners.

Taiwan style fireworks are being so close the smoke is suffocating, and you can feel the heat of the flame on your face. It was equal parts terrifying, exhilarating, and confusing. For 10 minutes, enormous, colorful flames erupted above our heads, forcing us to look directly above us, but covering our eyes because it was as though we were looking at the sun. I could not contain my screams or my laughter.

Joanne’s bag: a casualty of NYE fireworks!

I cannot believe I’ve been in Taiwan for a few days shy of a year. Many things have changed that it’s exhausting! I’m excited to keep changing, growing, learning, and living!