A day spent looking at rocks, getting photographs with the Queen, and feeling festive at the train station.

Day 189: Taipei, Taiwan. Today the plan was to visit some rocks. Not just any old rocks, but some unique formations at the Yeliou EcoPark, one of Taipei’s popular attractions, about 20km north east of the city.

We walked to the bus station, which is next to the main train station, but turned out to be fiendishly difficult to locate. After trekking up and down a bunch of escalators and lots of flights of stairs (with Jim grumbling about his aching legs), we gave up and asked a couple of security guards who pointed us in the right direction.

Two minutes after we arrived at the station a bus pulled into the terminus. We climbed on board and settled in. It felt more like travelling on a plane than a bus – there was a full set of safety instructions, including details of how to fasten seat belts, operate the safety hatch, open the door if the driver is unable to do so, break a window with the provided tools, and use the fire extinguishers. Pretty impressive.

An hour and a quarter later we were at Yeliou, a small fishing town jutting out from the rugged northern coastline.

We walked a little way to the entrance of the EcoPark. We were happy to be visiting on a Tuesday, as we assumed it would be very quiet. But how wrong we were. The place was crawling with people – not just with adults on a day out, but with crowds of noisy kids on school trips.

Regardless, it was a fun day out. The park is on a long peninsula, and contains lots of weathered sandstone blobs, many of which have been given amusing names like queen’s head, leopard and elephant. And even a pineapple bun, which sounds like a bit of a joke. The lunar-like landscape is fascinating to walk around; CNN have even referred to the park as ‘the closest you’ll get to Mars on Earth’.

Jim had fun photographing fossils embedded in the rocks, even if he looked like a geek.

One of the main attractions is the Queen’s Head, a mushroom rock that has become an iconic image in Taiwan. It’s in danger of falling over at some point due to erosion, so people are desperate to get a picture while they can. There were queues around a boardwalk to get selfies with the rock, so we cheated and walked around the other way.

We wandered away from the busy area along a boardwalk and up more steps to a viewpoint, with spectacular views back across Yehliu town. Thankfully we were well bundled up in fleeces and jackets, as it was freezing cold and we were blustered back and forth as we walked along the raised coastal path.

When we walked back down to the crowds, a camera crew was filming five youngsters doing a choreographed dance , which we think was for an advert for the local town. They must have been freezing.

When we’d had enough of rocks for one day, we walked back into the town to catch the bus home. We got back to Taipei, got train tickets for our journey from Hualien to Taitung on 9 December (everyone advises to get tickets in advance before they sell out, so we’re trying to book ahead), and had another look at the fab train-themed Christmas tree in the concourse. Jim posed for a pic, though had to wait for an over-excited gaggle of grannies to move out of the way.

We walked across to a recommended restaurant called Fuhong Beef Noodles for their renowned beef noodle soup. And wow, it was good. Thick hand made noodles, big chunks of beef (which Lil scoffed, as it was ‘identifiable meat’) and lots of condiments including another sauerkraut type dish, sweet chilli and some powerful XO paste.

We walked home through lots of brightly lit streets – our last night in Taipei before we start to travel around the island. We’ve really loved it here, it’s a vibrant, interesting and happening city, with very friendly people.

Tomorrow we catch the train to Hualien, a town about 120km south of Taipei on the east coast. And perhaps we’ll get to sit through another set of safety instructions on the train too.

More then.

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