20 Feb 2010 - Finally around 1230 we boarded the 747 we would be taking to Taiwan. Flying EVA Airlines, we left around 1 AM. The flight was to be 13.5 hours and 6074 miles. It turned out to be 6199 miles but we arrived an hour and 20 minutes early - at 5 AM.
21 Feb 2010 - Since we were literally at the back of the plane with just one row behind us, we were near the end in getting off the plane. Our next stop was immigration where we had to fill out a form for each of us according to an example. Even with that, much was a guess as to what to put where. That took just a handful of minutes to get through and then on to baggage pickup. There we waited a long time as Tian started counting how many times bags went round and round and round.
Finally though our bags arrived and off we went to go through customs which was basically walk through this door that said 'Nothing to Declare' and then we were faced with the next mall with Information right in front of us. It being 630 Sunday morning it was not open. Next we moved to where I saw Foreign Exchange open. Since we needed money for the bus to the High Speed Rail and for the train itself I decided to convert $300 US to Taiwanese currency known as NT. I received about 9900 NT in the exchange plus a handful of coins that I had no idea what they were worth.
Tian was amazed to see me coming back with 1000 dollar bills until I told her that each 1000 NT bill was only about $30. Even knowing the exchange rate, still one has to calculate and then decide if things are a good bargain or not. Instead of using the rate of 1 US dollar equal to 32 NT, I just divide the marked price by 30 which is easier math and still gives me a rough approximation of the cost.
After that we proceeded down the hallways to the bus transportation to various areas. There we could purchase the bus tickets to the HSR station. I got in line, the longest one, in the place which was only for the HSR and in a few minutes had tickets – or so I thought. Out we went with our luggage to stand in line only to discover we only had two tickets. Leaving Ellen and Tian with the luggage I went back in to a much shortened line and when I got to the counter, trying to ask the attendant if what I had was for two adults and a child was going no where until a nice lady stepped up and offered to assist.
The first exchange and this one were the same that when I was quoted a price I wasn't sure what to give them so gave them the biggest bill or the closest bill to what I thought they said. Each time another handful of money came back my way so that I now have a true handful of coins to drag around. I suppose I can use some for souvenirs but others for tips.
Third ticket in hand I rejoined Ellen and Tian as we waited again in the longest line for the bus. By then dawn had broken and we found the weather to be partly cloudy with temperature to be about 60, which was so nice. We watched cars and buses come and go, people dropped off, the police come squawking by with their sirens blaring and in the tunnel like atmosphere we were in having it magnified to almost hurting status.
Presently we were able to get to a bus. Luggage goes underneath but then the interesting thing of climbing to the second floor of the bus which while not a ladder might as well have been one. We got the last 3 seats on the bus, Tian sitting near the back with someone and at a window, and the two of us directed to the very front, sitting high but with most of our view blocked by some black shade they had across the front window. The bus windows had these huge draped curtains on either side that covered each 10 feet or so of window space. Ellen commented that she did not like these curtains. They like the bus were green and being a bit frilly just looked weird to us.
After a ride of about 20 minutes we arrived at the HSR terminal after bumping over numerous potholes as we went through the construction zone where they are extending the HSR to the airport. I saw my first mechanical flagman who looks like a little short man waving his flag of warning.
Purchasing tickets was straightforward the only decision I had to make was what train I wanted. I chose the one about one half hour away versus the one leaving in about 10 minutes to give us time to get our bearings, use the facilities and see what there was there to eat. After finding something for Tian to munch on, we took the elevator down to the platform. The platform is divided by car number one is assigned to and thus we went to the one marked '3'.
After a few minutes the train was announced and came gliding into the station at a rather nice clip and stopped with precision just where the cars were labeled. Each car has about 20 rows of seats 3 and 2 across. We were in seats 15 ABC which was near the back of our car. Since I was trying to roll two pieces of luggage down the narrow aisle I kept getting hung up on someone's seat, and thus spent about as much time apologizing as I did making my way down the aisle.
Seated and situated with luggage above us and in the space between us and the next row of seats we plopped into our seats for the journey south. Tainan was said to be an hour and fifteen minutes south. Whether it was or not I do not know. What I do know is it was the smoothest trip I have ever had on a train and rivaled any bus I've ever journeyed on.
We pulled out of the station and the first thing Tian said was this train isn't moving fast. I had to tell her that vehicles need time to gain speed. We hadn't gone far when we made a stop at a smaller station for just about a minute or so it seemed before proceeding. This train can move. Afterwards I learned that they go up to 186 mph at full throttle and while I don't know how fast we were going, I know we were flying on the ground as the scenery flew by. One had to just point out the window and click away for there was not time for second guessing what you wanted to take a picture of for it was gone in a flash.
We zipped from station to station going through a multitude of tunnels, some very short and others quite long. The real surprise came when looking out the window there was a sudden whoosh as a bright orange line came across our view as another train and ours met. Those meetings and passings only took seconds and then we were back to our view.
In a little over an hour we reached Tainan station and then stopped to figure out where our hotel was and how we needed to proceed to it. We went to information booth and asked if they knew where the Shangri-la Hotel was located. The lady there produced a map and informed us that there was a free shuttle from the HSR to the regular train station, which was right across the street from our hotel.
Thus we proceeded to our next bus, with luggage underneath and our hand held items with us. Our stop was the next to the last stop on this particular route. We left the terminal, again in one of these double decker buses this time though above and to the right of the driver so we got a somewhat better view. This bus had golden curtains again frilly and odd to us.
We wound our way through various streets but with map in hand I could tell just about where we were as we turned various corners. There are signs everywhere. The first item of note here is that there are thousands of mopeds with every available space covered with them parked. They have their special lane to drive in and at one cross street to our right as we went by there must have been 50 of them waiting on the green light. While most of these held only one person, many had two or three persons on them with children, with no helmets but with a face mask on were standing between two adults zipping here and there.
After passing public housing, the university and numerous businesses, we arrived at the train station stop which looked nothing like a train station. In fact it was not, but only on a great circle near the train station. While we could see our hotel, rising 38 floors above the city, getting there was another trick.
Off the bus, with Ellen first, we told the driver we had luggage underneath, upon getting the last piece of luggage out, I looked and asked where the rest was. That's when true horror set in as we realized they were still on the bus, the bus door closed, the bus bays closed and the bus starting away. Banging on the side of the bus with the help of some man standing there, the bus stopped, I got to the front and banged on the door and upon opening climbed quickly to retrieve items Tian and I both had left behind.
With our hearts out of our throats, having narrowly avoided disaster, we proceeded down the street to make our way to the hotel. We had to climb down a long flight of stairs to go under the street to make it to the train station, which was of course up another flight of stairs. This was not a fun feat having traveled over 18 hours, thousands of miles, to carry 50 pounds of luggage in two unequal amounts down and up stairs, so I had to rest mid flights going up. This was coupled with passing a couple of street people laid out in their sleeping quarters with the associated smells of such to assail our nostrils.
The temperatures here were in the 70s. Getting to the station and wandering back and forth, Ellen finally found someone who could tell us where to go next which of course was another tunnel down and up more stairs. Finally across the street we could see our hotel and went in an entrance. This happened to be the shopping mall attached to the office so here we go dragging our luggage through the ladies fine cosmetic section to find how to get to the hotel which we finally get direction to.
Arriving at the front desk, we were greeted by a friendly lady who asked for our passports and we also handed over our confirmation number for our reservation. Presently we learned that we were winners! Not the kind you want to be. The lady said, we have confirmation for 1 person. This stunned us because here we are three people looking at her and she says one of us can stay. So Ellen proceeds with but there are three of us. Are you saying we can't stay here? The lady says you need to contact your travel agent since the reservation was made by a travel agent and they can fix it. Being as it is around 10 pm where our agent is and we have no way other than the Internet, which we don't have in the lobby we are dumbfounded.
Ellen says aside to me, one bed, one person or three persons what's the difference? She proceeds to tell the lady, we've been traveling 19 hours all the way from Seattle and thousands of miles, can she help us? The lady made two calls and said, ok, we can change your reservation to 3 people....but check in is not until 3, it being 11 now you can wait here in the lobby. That was fine with us and so leaving Ellen in the lobby I proceeded to find the restrooms for Tian and myself. Upon returning, I found the lady talking to Ellen who informed me that the lady had decided to rush and get us into a room now.
We were given a room on the 28th floor. Since we were hungry the lady made reservations for us in the restaurant on the top floor – 38 – and we had a spectacular view of the city. At first we were the only customers, at 1130 am, but after a bit more people came. We ordered lightly but were surprised with what we got being on able to identify my dish since it had beef in it. The beef was very tender. Ellen had something with sea cucumber in it and Tian a dish with shrimp. Still hungry as we were we cleaned our plates eating God knows what for identified or unidentified it went down the red road.
Returning to our hotel room, I got hooked up to the Internet we unpacked a bit and by 330 local time I was in bed, with Ellen in bed even sooner. I woke up at 1230 am local time after nearly 9 hours of sleep and then said, now what? Tian had fallen asleep on the floor and spent the night there.