Greetings from Taiwan! I, Mariel Kennison, author of the Travel Reader blog, have ventured forth to Taiwan for a week to experience the country during its New Year celebrations and write about it so you can too!
I have only been here one day so far, and what a day it has been. After a 20-hour flight, my little group found our tour guide and were whisked away onto an hour and a half bus ride to Miaoli, a city south of Taipei. We went right to Dahu Winery, famous for its strawberry wine and its use of strawberry in just about every type of snack or candy you can imagine…including sausage on a stick. It sounds bizarre, but it was delicious! We also sampled some strawberry wine, which was delicious, of two different alcohol contents; 6% and 17%. There was another kind they called wine but we would consider liquor…it was 80 proof and tasted like straight alcohol! It was good, but very strong.
We were lucky enough to also be invited into the strawberry fields to pick some ourselves! I was more than willing and donned the plastic bags to cover my shoes (the rows between plants were very muddy) with vigor. There seemed to be an endless supply of fabulous looking red berries, but I combed through carefully looking for the reddest, juiciest looking fruit. This paid off as I couldn’t stop eating them on the bus ride home! They are some of the best strawberries I think I’ve ever had, so tasty and fresh I wish they would never end.
Finally we made it to our first hotel, Hotel One, in Taichung, the third largest city in Taiwan, where we had lunch and crashed in our rooms thoroughly exhausted. But in a matter of hours, we were back on the bus and heading into Miaoli city for the Lantern Festival, one of the main events of the trip. At first, the size of the crowd and the entertainment reminded me of the Carnivale festival in Italy, but that soon faded.
This being the New Year in Taiwan, and the Year of the Rabbit, there were lanterns and rabbits everywhere. There were also rabbit lanterns! There were vendors everywhere, lining the main road selling just about everything from food to light up toys for children. We made it to the stage and watched several performances of dancing and drumming, all of which were performed by young teenage groups who were some of the best in Taiwan. Miaoli was the national host of the Lantern Festival this year, but the major cities take turns hosting it for tourism purposes.
Before the main event of the giant, (and I mean giant,) rabbit statue being lit up, the President of Taiwan himself spoke to the enormous audience. While he spoke, one flying lantern was released into the sky, making the wish of whoever let it go. Then the entire crowd started counting down and in a matter of seconds, the previously dark rabbit exploded with lights of all different colors, green lasers shooting out at all angles. It was incredible! The crowd went wild and the rabbit, changing colors and flashing madly, spun around in a complete 360 degrees, ending the ceremony.
It was a long day, but an experience like none other. There is something already that I love about Taiwan. Maybe it’s the friendly people, the great, if not interesting, food, and their great celebrations!