Taipei With Kids: Suggested Family Activities in the Capital of Taiwan

Now that school is finally in session, summer is beginning to feel very far away. Before it’s memory fades completely, I wanted to write a post (or two!) about my family’s trip to Taiwan. I want to begin with some suggestions for things to see and do in the capital of Taiwan, just in case you find yourself in Taipei with kids and some free time 🙂

Important: when booking accommodations, make sure the place you will be staying at has working air conditioning!

Essential Things to Take on a Summer Trip to Taipei

Summer in Taipei is HOT, humid and often rainy. You can know all of this in advance, yet still not be prepared for the wave of heat and humidity that will engulf you the minute you get off the plane (or out of the air-conditioned airport).

Things you need to pack:

  • Hot-weather cloths. I recommend mostly tank tops and sleeveless clothing. Loose-fitting is a plus. Anything too tight will stick to your body. Even a t-shirt will feel like too much!
  • Water-proof sandals (your feet will get wet).
  • An umbrella
  • A rain jacket (optional).
  • A small, preferably waterproof bag to carry essentials as you walk around the city.
  • A spray water bottle, to both keep you hydrated and cool yourself with.

Kid-Friendly Sights

Must See Sights:

The National Palace Museum. If you have only a few hours in the city, this is the one most important place to go to. The Palace Museum contains a vast collection of treasures from the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. The Nationalists brought the collection with them after they lost the civil war in 1949.

There is a lot to see: paintings, porcelain, bronze and much more. You will need many hours to see everything, but your kids might lose interest long before you do. So it might be worth while to chose which exhibitions you want to see first, just in case… The museum has brochures, which tell you what the most popular items are. Go early if you want to see them up close. The exhibition halls do get crowded! And don’t miss the jade cabbage, though I still don’t understand why it’s so popular:

Some exhibitions are kid-friendly. We spent way too much time at the digital painting- manipulation exhibit, by far the least impressive of them all. But it had screens, and my kids got to paint horses! There is also a small kid-playing area in the basement.

If you’re done with the Palace Museum and still have time, cross the road to the opposite Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines. It’s a lot smaller, but interesting, low key and informative.

Chiang Kaishek Memorial. This is another place any local host will take you to. Soak in the vastness of the space and grandness of the architecture–it is meant to impress.

And if you’re there at the right time, your kids might enjoy seeing the change of guard at Chiang’s statue.

Taipei 101. This is the tallest building in Taiwan, and one of the tallest in the world. You can see it from almost anywhere in the city. Once inside, you can go to an observation deck on the top, and see the damper that helps keeps it stable even during typhoons. If you want, you can mail a postcard from the top. And you have to leave through a huge store full of incredible (and incredibly expensive!) jade carvings. For some reason, my kids loved this building. I think it’s actually the only thing my son remembers from Taipei!

A great place to take kids to is the Taipei Zoo. We did not expect much of the zoo, and it pleasantly surprised us. In fact, it is one of the nicest zoos I’ve been to (and I’ve been to a whole lot!). It has a few pandas, held in an indoor, air-conditioned enclosure:

But the other, open-air pans were a lot more interesting, I think. I enjoyed the tropical vegetation as well. It felt like a combination of a zoo and a botanical garden.

If you go there, make sure to take the gondola. The view from above is magnificent, and your kids will love it!

Must Experience Sights:

Temples:

You can’t be in Taipei without visiting a few temples. One of the more famous ones is the Buddhist Lungshan Temple. The structure you see now is a mid-twentieth century rebuild.

You cannot visit this temple without going to the nearby Snake Alley. This night market really does sell snakes (to eat!). We didn’t buy any, but seeing them for sale left a huge impression on my children.

Many other temples and shrines dot the city, both big and small. Go into some of them and look around. Smell the incense. Observe people worship. Listen to the sounds. With time, you might start distinguishing between Buddhist and Confucian temples.

Markets:

Night Markets. For a genuine Taipei experience make sure to visit a few of its bustling night markets. These will utilize all your senses: there is a lot to see, hear, feel and smell! Stop by some stalls and get local street food. It’s likely to be nothing like anything you’ve had before. If you’re brave, try the stinky tofu!

If you can be in Taipei for a weekend, the weekend Flower Market is a must. Operating in a parking lot under an elevated road, this is a heaven for plant lovers.

It has a vast array of tropical plants of all kinds. Bonsai pots of all sizes, bamboo arrangements, and amazing orchids that will take your breath away!

Once you’re done with the flower market, go visit the nearby Jade Market. This market, too, is open only on weekends, and holds a big selection of trinkets, jade, beads, antiques and other interesting curiosities. Bargaining is expected.

Food!

Taipei has an amazing array of food of all kinds. Taste as much of it as you can! Try the street food, go to different kinds of restaurants, both cheap and more expensive. Experience different kinds of cuisines.

For special treats, try the following two places recommended separately by two of our Taiwanese friends, Siyen and Peisun. The first is a great breakfast place called Fu Hang Soymilk. It offers simple but delicious breakfast staples like fried dough sticks, soy milk and shaobing. When we went there, the line was already very long at 6:30 am, but it did move relatively quickly. Don’t go on your first day! You’ll appreciate the place a lot more if you have other breakfast restaurants to compare it to.

For lunch, try Din Tai Fung, considered the best dumpling restaurant in Taipei. We waited in almost one-hundred degrees for over seventy minutes to get in. The dumplings were good. My kids still fantasize about the chocolate ones!

They also have a branch in Taipei 101, although we didn’t try it.

If you still have time in Taipei, there is yet more to see.

Lesser Sights:

There are many small museums in the city, that can keep kids happy for a while. We enjoyed learning how to make paper at the Paper Museum.

The Ama Museum, dedicated to comfort women, was more somber but educational. The attached cafe was very pleasant, too.

The museum is located on Dihua St,, an interesting place in as of itself. The street, which has some old architecture and a fun mix of shops (some traditional, some new and fancy), is a great place to engage in another nice Taipei activity: strolling and shopping. The street has, among other things, a paper lanterns store that we enjoyed, and a bamboo-product store where we were unable to resist temptation.

Oh, and the best part for the fabric lovers among you (sorry, I just have to put this in!): at the end of the street there is the ginormous Yongle Fabric Market, an absolute heaven for sewers of all kinds. It truly has anything you can think of. The vastness of it completely overwhelmed me!

Finally, If You Have Time to Leave Taipei:

Taroko Gorge is beautiful, and offers hiking trails for all difficulty levels.

Xitou Nature Recreation Area has some amazing bamboo forests, as well as other kinds of vegetation. It attracts many local tourists, and offers shops and restaurants in addition to nature hikes.

Our Thanksgiving Tradition: Visualizing Gratitude

There are many things to be grateful for, and many ways to express gratitude. And while we should all be continuously thankful for the little miracles of everyday life, it is truly wonderful that Thanksgiving comes once a year, to remind us to really stop, think, and be consciously appreciative.

Every family has its own Thanksgiving traditions. Some are decades old, others relatively new. Ours falls into the later category, and reflects our family’s evolution and growth. We started our tradition about a decade ago, when my kids were still little but could already draw.

Our tradition calls for the making of a “Thank You” poster a few weeks before Thanksgiving. In the weeks leading to the holiday, anyone who comes to our house has to write what they are grateful for on a note, and paste it onto the poster. This is our way to nudge everyone to think more deeply about the things we normally take for granted.

From the very beginning, the kids have been responsible for coming up with a poster theme. I wish I could say that the process has always been cooperative, friendly and peaceful. Sadly, this would be somewhat of an exaggeration. But always, after some arguing, fighting and the occasional shout, they have been able to come to an agreement. Over the years we’ve had Thank You trees, scenes involving native Americans and pioneers, pumpkins and corn, and last year–The Speedwell. This year the kids chose to paint a Thanksgiving turkey.

Our Thanksgiving Tradition: My kids' finished gratitude poster

Once the kids decide on a topic, they cooperate on planning the composition and on the actual painting. Each person gets to do what they are good at and capable of. Some draw, others paint, or cut, or paste. Every year they choose to use different materials. Some years they use crayons, on other years acrylic, or something else. The resulting work of art reflects their collaborative efforts.

Starting to work on our gratitude poster

Painting our Thanksgiving poster detail

Painting our Thanksgiving poster

Once the poster is finished we hang it on the wall in our dining room, right above the Thanksgiving table.

The kids then cut little pieces of paper in shapes matching the theme of the painting (leaves, corn kernels, sails and such), and put them in a small pile near the poster, together with a pen and tape.

Feathers and tape ready to use

Then people get to write what they are thankful for, and paste it onto the painting.

Starting to post gratitude feathers on our turkey

Thanksgiving poster detail

We leave the painting hanging even after the holiday is over, and make all our guest write on it. Appreciating life, after all, should be ongoing. We later keep the posters, which become time-capsules of sorts, and which reflect our lives at any given year.

Why I don’t Make Costumes for My Kids

Halloween came and went, and once again I felt the pang of guilt that washes over me every October. Another year had passed, you see, without me sewing unique costumes for my kids. This year I felt guiltier than ever, for over the past twelve months I’ve spent more time than ever hunched over my sewing machine. I sewed many items, but costumes weren’t amongst them.

When I was a kid, my parents set a very high bar. For years they made my siblings’ and my costumes, all ingenious and unique. One memorable year in preschool, for example, they turned me into a dwarf sitting on a mushroom.

My upper body was the dwarf. Somehow my parents attached a doll’s arms to my shoulders, inserted my arms-turned-dwarf’s-legs into small doll’s pants, and shoved my hands into little shoes. My lower body became the mushroom, with a stiff skirt serving as the mushroom’s top. My own legs, clad in white tights, acted as the mushroom’s stem. I am quite sure the world has never seen such a feat. Another year they dressed my sister as a doll in a box. The pictures of these and other costumes were something we kids kept going back to.

So when I had kids of my own, it only seemed natural to me that I should make their costumes, too. On their first Halloween we even attempted a family costume: my husband, myself and our toddler daughter were black cats, while my second daughter, still a infant, was dressed as a cute white mouse. I assembled the clothes and hand-sewed all our ears and tails. Shopping for the fabrics and accessories, measuring, figuring it all out and stitching took hours. We wore these costumes one evening. For most of that time we wore coats over the costumes, for it was a rainy Halloween, as many Halloweens tend to be. Then they were tossed aside.

A week later, on a visit to Target, my toddler spotted made-in-China rabbit ears that cost less than a dollar. She forced me to buy a pair. She and her sister ended up playing with them for years, until they fell apart.  I learned my lesson right there and then: The kids couldn’t distinguish between handmade costumes that took hours to make, and the cheap, store-bought stuff. They couldn’t care less how much planning or time went into preparing their garb. They were just as happy, if not a little more so, with the flimsy, sparkly Chinese stuff.

To make things worse, it turned out that the main attraction of the holiday wasn’t the costumes at all. What my kids really cared about (and later remembered) were the piles of candy, and the excitement of collecting them. I realized then that my life was plenty busy as it was. That was the end of my costume-making attempts.

Since then my kids have been responsible for putting together their own outfits. They have been deciding what they wanted to be, and have been in charge of making sure they have everything they needed. Sometimes they used things we already had around the house, or costumes from years past. Sometimes they asked me to buy something new. At other times they made the costumes themselves, often together with friends. Every now and then it was a combination of the above. And yes, when necessary I did help make a prop or two, or helped a kid attach one thing to the other. This year, for example, I got away with cutting a simple, Pikachu tail out of yellow felt.

Over the years I noticed how much the kids actually liked being in charge of their own dress-up. They loved planning their own costumes. Making them themselves brought out their best creative energies. Working together with friends on a combined outfit encouraged cooperation, strengthened friendships and sharpened negotiation skills. I realized that leaving this responsibility to the kids was actually good for them.

But while my brain knows that it’s perfectly OK–and even advisable–for me not to interfere with Halloween preparations, my heart still feels guilty. And I still greatly admire super-moms like my sister, who, despite being extremely busy, still find the time (and energy!) to come up with family-themed costumes, and then make them all from scratch. I just realize this doesn’t quite work for me.

Despite being Halloween veterans, my kids are still mostly interested in the loot. They collect mountains and mountains of colorful, cavity-causing sugars, and enjoy sorting, arranging, comparing and exchanging them.

My kids' Halloween loot

 

Brick Lane Sunday Market

September isn’t quite over, yet the tsunami that marks the beginning of the school year has already started erasing the memory of summer. A few weeks ago I’ve written all about my childrens’ highlights from our summer trip. Today I want to recall one of my own personal favorites, before routine blurs its recollection away.

London has many world-class attractions, from monumental architecture to grand museums. It is also dotted with little markets, hidden in alleys all over the city. Most operate all week long, but have a rotating display of booths: antiques on Mondays, crafts on Tuesdays and so forth. Some operate only on weekends. I really wish I could have visited all of them, but my time in the city was limited. Still, I was lucky to see some. Of those, my absolute favorite was Brick Lane Sunday Market and the alleys surrounding it.

Brick Lane Market is located in an area composed of many small markets that merge into each other. Some are outdoors, others, like Old Spitalfields Market, indoors. They offer everything and anything, from antiques to vintage clothes to arts and crafts to food. We visited on a Sunday, when the market is at its peak, and quite an experience it was!

When my children heard the plan for the day was to visit a market, they noisily objected. “Not ANOTHER crafts market!” they protested. “BORING!!.” But after dragging all over the city from one Harry Potter site to another just to make them happy, I had no intention of giving up. I promised to stay for only an hour or two, and off to market we went.

The place was BURSTING with life. People, noise and music mixed with the smells of many foods. There was much on which to feast the eyes. People were dressed in colorful, interesting outfits. Stall displays were eye-catching, and the arts and crafts booths were inspiring.

Here for example, is an old cab converted into a coffee stall. We just couldn’t pass it by without buying a latte:

An old London taxi turned cafe

And this is a picture of some of the stalls, displaying all kinds of knickknacks:

Vendor booths at Brick Lane Market

One stall sold interesting-looking leather shoes:

Shoe booth at Brick Lane Market

A few stalls sold handbags, though not necessarily handmade (or local. I suspect many arrived on big ships from China):

Bag booth at Brick Lane Market

Appealing foods were everywhere. They were colorful, beautiful-looking and fragrant, and represented every imaginable country. We ended up staying for lunch, tasting vegetarian Ethiopian food, Chinese dumplings, Japanese tempura, and, for dessert, some Dutch chocolate-filled pancakes.

Food near Brick Lane market

Food near Brick Lane market

Tempting food at Brick Lane Market

There was also amazing street art everywhere, scribbled on walls, painted on doors, or hiding high above. Some of the artists had a good sense of humor. Once we realized there were a few threads of art spread around the neighborhood, hiding above eye-level, our entire visit turned into a fun, “Find Waldo” game.

These, all looking to be by the same artists, were posted high above doors on different lanes:

Fun art near Brick Lane Market

Brick Lane street art

Street art near Brick Lane Market

Brick Lane art

My son liked these cute dinosaurs, also spread in two different locations:

Brick Lane fun street art

Fun street art near Brick Lane Market

And I assume these two works represent the same face:

Street art in London

Street art around Brick Lane Sunday Market

There was also a lot of colorful graffiti:

Graffiti at Brick Lane market

This one, around the corner from a mosque, looked sweet and hopeful in a week besieged by terror and fear:

Muslim street art around Brick Lane Sunday Market

And another street painting I liked:

Art in Brick Lane Market

We noticed his little guy right before we left. He is one of my favorites:

Fun street art around Brick Lane Market

Needless to say, we ended up staying much longer than one or two hours. In fact, we spent the entire day at the market. At the end my daughter came to thank me. “Thanks for taking us there,” she said. “It was really fun!”

 

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High Sierra Backpacking

My husband and I used to backpack before the kids were born. Since they came around, however, we’ve only gone car camping. During our London trip this summer we realized that our youngest can walk up to ten miles a day. We therefore decided that the time was finally ripe to attempt our first-ever all-family backpacking trip.

A couple of weekends ago we packed our sleeping bags, tents and bear canister. After about a decade of absence, we headed to Yosemite National Park. We originally intended to try a four-mile trail. Since permits for that ran out, however, we had to change our plans and commit to a six-mile hike.

Six miles don’t sound like a lot, but walking around London is quite different than walking up and down mountains. Especially walking with a heavy load on your back. So we gave the boy a symbolic pack (containing a Platypus full of water and a snack), and hoped for the best.

We all thought our youngest will be the weak link in the group. Shockingly, about a hundred steps into the trail, I was stunned to realize that it was I who could barely walk. My heart was threatening to explode, my legs were crumbling, and the backpack felt like a crushing load. My husband came to the rescue, relieving me of half the burden. This helped, somewhat. But I still found it difficult to move even on a relatively flat surface.

For the rest of the day I trailed behind my family. I kept my eyes fixed firmly to the ground, concentrating on the next step. At every break I collapsed to the dirt, enduring pitiful looks from my children. I dragged my feet for the duration of the hike, overridden with guilt and self loathing. Three years of twice-or-thrice-weekly gym visits were obviously useless. Tracking about London seems to have done me no good, either.

When we finally arrived at our destination I let the others put the tents up and cook. I myself crawled into a tent and lay motionless for quite some time, determined to never, EVER, do this again. Yet, when I got called for dinner I had to reluctantly admit that the view was quite stunning. MAYBE backpacking had its advantages after all. This is what sunset looked like from our campsite, courtesy of my husband:

Sunset on the High Sierra

After dinner the headache that accompanied me all day got worse, and only then did I suddenly remembered: I ALWAYS have trouble at high elevation! I haven’t been to Yosemite in over a decade, and forgot the nasty tricks that altitude can play on one’s body…

The next day everything seemed better. My headache was gone and I was able to look about and enjoy the glorious beauty around me. The magnificent, panoramic views:

Sunrise on the High Sierra

View on our High Sierra trip

View on the High Sierra

As well as the beauty of the little things, once you take notice and look up close.

The patterns that cracks etch on the earth:

High Sierra rock art

The varied, strong textures of rocks, bark and roots:

Rocks make for an interesting texture

Tree trunk up close

Beautiful roots in the Sierras

And the beautiful, colorful paintings of nature:

High Sierra wood texture

A burned tree trunk

High Sierra rock texture

Walking back, even on the long, uphill parts, wasn’t a problem. I was able to enjoy the fresh air, the wind on my face, the feeling of warm sun on my skin. As I feasted my eyes on nature I was deeply grateful for the amazing gift of National Parks, a true treasure currently celebrating one hundred years of existence. I relished the occasional conversation with passing-by, seasonal hikers, some many years my seniors. Most of all, I was relieved to realize that I wasn’t that out-of-shape after all.

Overall I enjoyed the experience, and was proud of my children, especially the youngest of the three, for bearing on without complaints. And yes, I will consider trying this again next year. I will need to remember to drive up a day early, though. My body will need to get used to the elevation.