If I was going to have a layover halfway across the world, it was going to be for more than just three hours.
I arrived in Taipei, Taiwan with bleary eyes and a plane hangover (dry skin, swelled feet, bloodshot eyes- if you’ve ever flown a red eye, you know what I’m talking about). I managed to sleep for about half of the 12-hour flight, with a little bit of help (ahem). It was 6 a.m., but I was ready to sight-see.
So, I grabbed my bag, found my driver, stepped out of the air-conditioned airport, and was body-slammed by a literal wall of humidity. I’m serious. Thick, muggy, swollen air particles, just hanging there, not moving. I swear, I could’ve scooped some of it into a teacup and drank it. I grew up in New England, so I’ve experienced many hazy, hot and humid summers, but it was nothing (nothing I tell you!) compared to this.
Luckily my car was cool, and it had wifi (holla!) Sidenote: Is this a thing now? Wifi in town cars? I never take town cars. Anyway, I tried to keep my social media addiction under control and only checked my email, Twitter and Instagram once during the whole 45-minute ride because hello- a whole new city was whizzing by my windows. A city in a country on an ocean that I’d never been to before. Travel-adrenaline rush!
The architecture! The colors! The Chinese language signs! The lush greenery blooming on the rolling hills that pressed up against the city limits! It was beautiful and terrifying and oh my gosh, I only had two days to get a taste of this culture before I had to hop on another plane to meet my boyfriend.
Oh, did I mention I was traveling by myself?
Yes, back to that layover dilemma. I was really on my way to meet my boyfriend in Bali, Indonesia. I turned my three-hour layover into a two-day layover because I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I set foot on Taiwanese soil and didn’t even make it out of the airport. So, a solo Taipei excursion it was.
I booked a room at the small boutique Hotel Eclat on the recommendation of Mina at Protravel Inc. She happens to be my mom’s neighbor. She’s a doll and she knows what’s up when it comes to luxury travel.
When I arrived in the hotel, I was in love. Hotel Eclat had all the bells and whistles: three different shower heads, heated toilet seats, mood lighting, crown molding, zillion-thread count sheets and a Warhol in the lobby. I could’ve moved in.
Except my room wasn’t ready yet. Check in was at 2pm and it wasn’t even 8am. The city was barely awake. So I stashed my luggage, freshened up in the lobby bathroom, grabbed my Lonely Planet guide and camera, and headed out into the Taipei humidity with no particular destination in mind. I just needed to find a breakfast joint.
For whatever reason (the rush to finish work before I left, the planning of my Bali itinerary, general forgetfulness) I failed to memorize any Chinese phrases, familiarize myself with any of the symbols, or make any attempt at all to, I don’t know, understand any useful sentences I might need while traveling. Alone. So, breakfast was a real trip.
I found a tiny two-level café (the only thing open on the block) and was relieved to see the menus at the side of the register featured not only symbols, but pictures! Hallelujah! Although a lot of the pictures were just as confusing. What exactly was inside that giant round bun? I pointed at some sort of sesame-bread sandwich thing that looked vaguely appetizing, and hoped for the best.
It wasn’t that bad! Couldn’t tell you what was on it besides the cheese and lettuce, but hey, it was great. Besides, I was so famished I could’ve eaten two. I connected to wifi, opened up my now dog-eared library copy of LonelyPlanet, and tried to figure out where the heck I was in relation to the Longsham Temple…