Moving on from the rain we had in Taipei, we headed south to the main stopping-off town of Hualien. Most people stay here to go to the Taroko Gorge. We came to eat food and pat dogs. And see the bloody Gorge.
Hualien looks like nowheresville when you exit the train station.
Hualien is a small town with 100,000 residents according to Wikipedia. We're abuzz because we love small regional Asian towns.
This resto has hanging ducks in the window...
...and a buffet spread, we're sold.
Crisp skin roast chook and some Taiwanese sausage with veggies. A simple, healthy and perfect lunch.
We stay at the Formosa Backpackers Hostel which is clean and cheap. There was a super friendly face at reception to greet us on arrival, such a relief after our accommodation hassles in Taipei.
Hualien on a Sunday afternoon. The slow pace and wide streets are a pleasant change after Taipei.
Folks have been asking us to post cat photos but Taiwan is a dog country. There are friendly hounds everywhere, well cared for, well trained and happy. Except for this grumpy soul.
What happened to the rest of this dog's hair? He looks like the lion dog gone wrong.
Walk a few minutes from the centre of town and it gets rural very quickly.
There's a lovely river walk along one side of Hualien.
We find a market area in the middle of town. A fluffy little dog runs off after selling Alison a coat.
Some of the finest Engrish we've encountered.
Economy rice resto.
This dumpling joint looks popular, we'll give it ago.
Steaming towers of dumplings.
We filmed this little slice of the dumpling making action while we waited for ours to arrive.
Joy. There's a slight tinge of colour to these dumplings, they aren't all bleached flour white.
A gloopy soup of tofu and bits and pieces.
Beautifully old fashioned sweet and drink shop. We would have loved a tall milkshake at that counter.
Ye old arcade machines on the footpath.
Trying to look tough in a Micky Mouse jacket...
Note the small video screen in one corner - even small stores spruke their wares via video.
Sweet fairy floss street stall.
Pickled fruit stall.
These semi pickled plums were one of the tastiest morsels we ate in all of Taiwan, they were incredible - they seemed semi-ripened to give them a crisp texture, and flavoured with sugar and salt so they have a bitey tang to them.
Random street stall.
Random roadside restaurant.
Huelien gets a little buzzier in the early evening when folks are knocking off work and getting dinner.
A cheese restaurant. Wish we had the room.
Piling up the bowls and waiting for the orders to come in.
Sunny, the ferocious guard dog out our hostel hard at work.
We thought we'd spice up evening beers with some local rice wine. It tastes surprisingly ok, and got us not-so-surprisingly smashed. We're glad we took photos so we have some recollection of the evening...
We find a little restaurant called Oyster Mom a block or so from our hostel.
Ready-to-go mystery goodies.
Menu with English and pictures, yay!
Prawn omelette construction begins.
We ask for rice and it comes with pork on top. Man we love Taiwan...
This clam soup is another Taiwanese classic. Simple 'of the sea' flavours.
We'd drunk a lot and hadn't eaten enough so we stop for a 7 Eleven hotdog. The cheese-filled hotdog tastes way better than we are prepared to admit.
Fresh tofu delivery bike.
We have inhuman hangovers and need breakfast before we can face the bus to Taroko Gorge. This place on Guolian 1st Rd opposite the train station looks classy enough for us.
We go for the Taiwanese classic of grilled flatbread sandwiched with egg and shallots and a dash of chilli.
We also take a punt on the pot of mystery gloop.
The mystery gloop turns out to be a blood cube soup, which is strangely perfect for a rice wine hangover. The eggy flat breads line the stomach.
There's a hop-on-hop-off bus service to Toroko Gorge that starts from the Hualien train station and costs about $500 each. We make the mistake of getting off at the first stop which is basically a gift shop and restaurant. But these folks are having a ball.
Mountains start here.
We find the tour groups as fascinating as the scenery.
The scenery does get pretty impressive though once you head up into the hills on the next stop.
At one drop-off point you can walk this amazing stretch of old highway with tunnels built into the mountains.
The mountains are on a similar scale to our hangovers, colossal. Along this section there are warning signs about falling rocks and eathquake procedures, most people wear helmets. The hint of danger makes it all the more spectacular.
Windy roads and woozy stomachs...
The last bus stop of Tianxiang has restaurants, so that's where we go. This dog points out the best restaurant for us.
Lunchtime. There's a string of same same restaurants here so it's not hard to choose.
We don't know what the heck that is, we'll have one. Turns out to be a lily bud soup, a mountain vegetable grown in these parts.
Lunch is assembled.
A clear simple soup with flowery buds that a pretty but don't taste of much, about $50.
And what the heck is that thing? We spy it on the counter and have to order it.
Ah, it's sticky rice steamed in a bamboo tube, with peanuts and a chilli dunky sauce. $60
Beef noodle soup, we can't get enough of this Taiwanese classic. This version is loaded with pickled veg, $100.
We have enough room in our tums for a snack from the grumpiest street snack lady in the whole world. We go for one of the white mystery sausages and some grilled sweet potato.
This wise hound suggests eating our snacks over here, the view is a killer.
The white mystery sausage turns out to be a sticky rice sausage.
The dog was right, the view is excellent. We watch them crate supplies into the Buddhist temple via overhead cables.
Back in town...
We develop an obsession with wet markets during closing hours. They're kinda spooky.
Fruit stalls are found everywhere, either chopped fruit or juiced fruit available.
We felt a bit snacky and didn't know what to eat. This dog says "pssst, hey bud, over here!"
Fried chicken stall, thanks hound of wisdom!
Super deep fried duck (or chicken?) necks. Forget feeding these raw to your cats, these are a taste sensation.
Our doggie pal waited very politely for the leftovers while we munched all the crisp crust of the neck. We left a few for her as well. We'd seen here the day before, we reckon she hangs out by this stall every day.
Taiwanese dagwood dog. Really sweet. Fail.
Belgian waffles were everywhere on our visit, as they are back home in Sydney. Globalism, eh?
We develop another obsession with old style Chinese shops.
And more of our obsession with wet markets during closing hours. They're kinda spooky.
This pussycat gets a whole smorgasbord laid out for him.
We track down this apparently famous dumpling joint, Mrs Jiangs Dumpling at 42 Xinhe Street. They only sell one thing here, dumplings in soup. When you walk in, the lady at the front makes sure you know they only sell one thing - pork dumplings!
It's a large non descript resto just near a new sparkling large hotel called Just Sleep.
It was full five minutes ago...
Simple wonton soup, perfect for hangovers. You walk in, place your order for how many bowls you want then sit down. Because they only make one type of soup they find you with a steaming takeaway bowl full of porky brain looking dumplings. Help yourself to spoons, bowls for dipping sauces and napkins.
Steaming vats and bright lights.
Food is chopped and prepped beforehand to throw into soups.
Red plastic chairs and outside tables, a perfect combo for some street side dining.
Cheerleaders doing a demo outside a shopping centre. Tracksuit girl appears to have forgotten her moves, and her duds. Maybe she's a rebel.
We notice a few places look more like chain stores than mum'n'pop stores. We give one a try.
It seems popular with bachelors. We order by pointing at the pretty pictures behind the counter
We get fried chicken and veggies, $95.
And fish and veggies. It was a bit greasy and average, we've had way better. The best part was some curry-ish braised onions and the tiny fish sprinkled all over the rice.
Hualien is a small town yet crossing the road is still pretty hairy. This is the only walk signal we saw. It looked like it last worked in 1956.
Is there nothing happier than waking up the morning after the morning after? And there's a breakfast place just down the road.
Action stations in this sidewalk kitchen\bakery.
Love the pretty packets.
Fresh bread and soy milk. The bread is a fresher version of the ones we had the day before with egg. Dipped into the warm soy milk it was delicious.
A 7 Eleven coffee hit...we kept these places in business over three weeks.
We tell this hound we're leaving town. He's so upset that he can't look us in the eye.
This place looks good for a quick second breakfast before we catch a train.
A good old pick'n'mix, man we love these places.
Some hard pressed spiced tofu and veggies. The oyster mushrooms were insane. And the rice comes with fatty pork belly on top, god we love that. The greens here are tiny fern fronds, very plain but super green.
Back to the train station to head off to Taitung. We're getting resigned to the fact this is going to be a wet trip.
We love Taiwan.