Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Last Post

Chapman's Peak, South Africa

I started writing and sharing here on Pretty.Random.Things. exactly 6 years ago. Can you believe it? So much has happened since that first (very cringe-worthy) post where I introduced myself; exciting travels around the world, getting engaged, getting married, getting a dog, getting fit, moving houses, navigating life in Taiwan and making that tricky transition from being a carefree twenty-something to a (somewhat) more responsible woman in her thirties. We've come a long way, haven't we?

This will be my last post here. I know! It's the end of an era. Some of you have been on this roller-coaster ride with me since the beginning, and I will forever be thankful for your support and encouragement. I've met some pretty great people through this platform and have made friends from around the globe.

I didn't just want to leave you guys high and dry, wondering what in the world happened to me and why I wasn't posting here anymore, so I knew I had to write this post and make it official. (Actually, I was putting off writing this last one, but thought it would be poetic signing off on the blog's 6th "birthday".) But the time has come to move on. On to bigger and better things! ...but I'll tell you about that in a little bit.

I now view Pretty.Random.Things. as the diary of a very exciting period of time in my life. I actually documented some pretty exciting experiences through the years, and would like to be able to revisit those memories from time to time. That's why I won't be shutting down the site just yet. (At least until I can figure out a way to save all of these posts.)

So what's next for me? Well, I've been working on an exciting project with my "style sister", Tieneke. For months now, we've been developing our brand new fashion and lifestyle website, which we are very proud of. We've been working hard creating interesting and helpful articles, covering food, travel, fashion, beauty and lifestyle. I don't want to give away too much though, you will have to come and see for yourself.

Again, thank you for sticking by me for the past 6 years. I will always have fond memories of Pretty.Random.Things. and everything that went along with it. I wish you all well!

Now what are you waiting for, head on over to our new site, A Style Alike, and sign up for our newsletter so you don't miss our official launch date at the end of June, and our VERY exciting first giveaway...

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

My 2016 Highlights

Here we are, already a few days into 2017. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I should post my annual highlights this year. 2016 was just so miserable to so many people. It's been a devastating year for many with countless terror attacks around the world and the ongoing crisis in Syria. Also, Trump?! Seriously, America?! You could have had Bernie! (Don't even get me started, I'm still not over it..)

After thinking about it, I decided to post my highlights of 2016 anyway, just like I've done for the past few years. I would like to keep this diary to look back on in the future to remind myself that 2016 did have some good times, too. On a personal level, 2016 was a great year and I'd like to sit back and reminisce on the past 12 months and think about my highlights and the things I'm most thankful for. If you're interested, let me take you on my 2016 journey.

Snow in Taipei!?

yangmingshan taipei
Snow on Yangmingshan in Taipei

It freakin' snowed on the mountains around Taipei City in January, which have NEVER happened during my eight years of living in Taiwan. The Husband and I got up super early that one Sunday morning to take the bus up the mountain and beat the crowds. It was truly a magical scene. The mountain, usually a vision of luscious green trees and plants, was covered in a white blanket. People were dressed like they were heading on an Arctic adventure and children were building snowmen and making snow angels on the ground. As a South African whom have only been in snow a couple of times in my life, it really was a very special experience and I'm glad we got to witness this event in Taipei.

Family Trip to Dubai

grand mosque abu dhabi
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

For our Chinese New Year break in February, The Husband and I flew to Dubai to visit my brother, sister-in-law and my sister. My mom also flew in from South Africa to spend the week there with us. It was so nice to be there during the winter, as we finally got to (comfortably) do some outdoor activities (usually impossible during the scorching hot summers). I wrote all about our trip, you can read it here. Visiting the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and going on a "desert safari" were big highlights for me.

New Address

The Husband and I were bummed out when our landlord informed us that they sold our apartment and that the new owners wanted to live there. Finding a decent yet affordable apartment in Taipei can be a headache, so it took us about 2 months to find one that was just right. We literally only moved a 15 minutes' walk down the road, and it's much closer to a subway station. I still miss our previous place, but we have made the new apartment our home.

My Dad's Visit to Taiwan

taroko gorge taiwan
In Taroko Gorge with my dad
In May my dad came to visit us in Taiwan for three weeks. It was his first visit here, and we had a great time. The Husband and I still had to work, but my dad was such a trooper and navigated the city on his own when we were at work. He quickly learned how to use public transportation and shared his adventures with me every evening after I got home. It was so nice to have him here and show him our life in Asia. He absolutely loved it! Maybe we can make this an annual thing, and hopefully also get my mom over here.

Road trip to Taroko Gorge

taroko gorge bridge
Exploring Taroko Gorge

While my dad was here, we went on a little road trip to Taroko Gorge. Out of all the things I wanted to share with my dad, the beautiful gorge was at the top of my list. He's also a huge nature lover, so I knew he'd appreciate it. It was a lovely trip and we enjoyed our stay at the stunning Silk's Place Hotel in the middle of the gorge.

Babies, Engagements and Weddings

Not one, not two, but three of our friends announced their pregnancies to us within a week. Damn, people have been getting busy! All of them gave birth to healthy bundles of joy in 2016 and we couldn't be happier for them. Also, close friends of mine from South Africa announced their engagements and I got to attend my friends' wedding here in Taiwan. Love is in the air, that's for sure!

New Job

After working at the same job for six years, I knew that my chapter there was coming to an end. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone there, and I still miss them. That said, I LOVE my new job! My coworkers are wonderful people and we've become really good friends. Also, I can walk to work which is a huge improvement from my previous soul sucking commute.

Our Trip to Penghu

penghu summer
Penghu, Taiwan

In the summer, The Husband and I spent a few days in Penghu, one of the small islands off the coast of Taiwan. It was such a nice week and we really enjoyed the beach, sunshine and relaxation. I wrote all about our trip and you can read it here. A big highlight for me was our scooter trip around the island, it was so much fun.

California Dreaming

hollywood sign view
Hollywood, Los Angeles

This summer The Husband and I spent one week in LA with my brother and his husband. They've been living there now for a couple of years and we finally had some time to go and see them. They bought a beautiful house and we loved staying with them as they treated us like VIP guests and we enjoyed the quality time together. During our time there, The Husband and I did some touristy things around LA, Santa Monica and Malibu and also got to meet up with one of our friends whom happened to be on vacation there at the same time. It was wonderful catching up with her and spending the day together. I loved Malibu and enjoyed our lunch there at the pier (we even spotted celebrities!) and we met up with friends and watched the sunset together at El Matador Beach. We LOVED our time in California and we're already looking forward to our return this summer.

Back to the South

lake north carolina
North Carolina, USA
Before we went to California, we spent two weeks with The Husband's family in North Carolina. I always love going there, as it's absolutely beautiful and his family is so wonderful. We spent a lot of quality time with the fam and especially our nieces and nephews (whom seem to multiply every time we go back for a visit.) During our time there, we also met up with The Husband's friends whom took us out on a boat trip on the lake, which we really enjoyed.

Catching Up with An Old Friend

While we were in North Carolina, I got to meet up with one of my best friends from South Africa. He moved to the States when we were in university and by that point we haven't seen each other in almost 10 years. I got to meet his lovely wife and we spent a day together catching up and reminiscing about our childhood and crazy uni days. It made me so happy to see him and it was like no time had passed, we just picked up from where we left off.

Taiwan Adventures

maokong gondola taiwan
On the Maokong Gondola ride over the treetops far below.
Every year I tell myself that I should see more of Taiwan and experience more of the things that this island has to offer. To be honest, I could have done more but did manage to make a few day trips and visit places I've never been. My friend and I finally took the time to go on the Maokong Gondola for a cable car ride up the mountain. The view of Taipei from up there was breathtaking and the ride itself over the treetops was exhilarating. The Husband and I also visited Wulai and stayed at the beautiful Pause Landis Hotel for our 2-year wedding anniversary. On a work outing, we went to Jinguashi and visited the Huang Jin (Golden) Waterfalls. I didn't even know this place existed, and it was interesting learning about its history. Other than that we made a day trip to Taichung to visit friends and also did a road trip over the mountains to Taroko Gorge and spent some time in Yilan.

A Table by the Window, please.

taipei cafes
Enjoying sweet treats at a cafe in Taipei.

Being a huge fan of food and drinks in general, it was easy for me to develop the hobby of cafe crawling in Taipei City. I loved trying out new cafes and eateries around the city in 2016, especially because SO many fantastic cafes have opened their doors in the past few years. I have made it my Saturday morning tradition to try out new cafes with friends, and have met so many amazing people in the process. I can tell you, it's tough having lattes at different cafes around the city, but someone's gotta do it.

The Last Day of 2016

taipei101 nye fireworks
Taipei101 New Year's Eve fireworks 

This year we decided to go all out for New Year's Eve and attended a rooftop party across the street from Taipei101. During my time living in Taiwan, I've never been this close to the famous countdown and fireworks show at the world's second tallest building. It was truly a highlight ringing in the new year with The Husband and our friends up on that rooftop away from the crowds. It was probably one of the best parties I've ever been to in Taipei!

I hope I'm not forgetting anything. 2016 was such a wild ride and hopefully 2017 will be more smooth sailing for our world. I wish you all a wonderful new year!

HAPPY 2017!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

5 Days in Penghu

penghu tourist map

A mere 45-minute flight from Taipei City's Songshan Airport and we were in Penghu, one of Taiwan's smaller islands, just off the West coast. We went from the bustling city ** insert dramatic deafening sounds of cars, scooters, people talking, honking horns here** to this quiet island **insert sounds of ocean waves breaking on the shore, people on vacation laughing and chatting happily everywhere, birds chirping, angels singing** in less than an hour. Exactly what we needed; an island getaway for some peace and quiet.

The Husband had been to Penghu a few times before, but it was my first visit to this island. All I asked for from this 5-day mini vacation was a break from the city, sand under my feet, sun on my skin and ocean water up my nostrils (okay, didn't really ask for that last one, but it happened non the less..)

Shanshui beach
Shanshui beach (miserable, isn't it?)

How we got there

There are quite a few flights out of Songshan Airport (TSA) in Taipei City to Penghu's Magong Airport (MZG) every day. We opted for an evening Mandarin Airlines flight, as we still don't really trust TransAsia after all their recent aviation disasters. The return flights were very affordable (about 4000TWD per person if I remember correctly.) You can book the tickets online, at the airport desk or at any 7/Eleven in Taiwan. There are also flights to Penghu from most of the other domestic airports in Taiwan.

I loved that it wasn't a mission to get there, because it didn't involve a lot of travel time (you only have to check in about 40 minutes before your flight) and the flight itself wasn't even a full 45 minutes. Technically, it can take less than 2 hours door to door if you live close to the airport in Taipei City. We had arranged with staff from the B&B in Penghu to pick us up at the airport (which they did for free). I read online that taxi fares from the airport to most areas in Magong, the main island of Penghu, is about 200 to 300TWD, and you can just catch a cab from the curb outside the arrivals hall.

The drive from the airport to our B&B at Shanshui beach (in the Southeast of Magong) was about 15 minutes. The driver even stopped at a 7/Eleven for us so we could buy a few drinks and snacks for the evening.

Beach bound

Where we stayed

The Husband and I both wanted this trip to include lots of lazy beach days and swimming, so we booked the first 3 nights at The Tile Dome B&B right by the big swimming beach, called Shanshui. The place was clean and spacious and a stone's throw from the beach (literally about a 20 meters' walk from our door). The stay also included breakfast every morning (which we could pick every evening for the next morning and they delivered it to our doorstep). I thought the place was quite pricey for what it was, but I noticed that that was about the standard for accommodation all over Penghu.

Tile Dome Hotel
Tile Dome B&B

Shanshui beach view
From the Tile Dome B&B overlooking Shanshui beach
After our 3 days by the beach, we took a taxi to our next accommodation. We decided to also spend some time closer to Magong City, so I booked the Oasis Hotel for the remaining 2 nights. (Unfortunately they had a mix up with the booking system so we could only stay there for 1 night, but they kindly booked a room for as at a really nice place nearby for the last night.) Oasis Hotel stood out to us because of the pool up on the rooftop, overlooking the ocean. The place itself was very new and modern and the rooms were lovely. The staff went above and beyond to make our stay there comfortable and they were very friendly. The only bad thing about the place is the location. It's isolated and definitely not in walking distance of the city. Oh, and the breakfast was average.

Oasis Hotel Penghu
The rooftop pool at Oasis Hotel

How we got around

It is absolutely essential to rent a car or a scooter while you are there. Even if you are planning on staying in one area, you will probably need to travel a little to get to a convenience store or a place to eat. For this, you will need a valid Taiwanese driver's license or an international driver's license. Apparently in the past it used to be easy to rent a scooter without a license, but they've become more strict in the past couple of years. The Husband and I didn't have valid licenses, but he still managed to rent a scooter from someone he knew from one of his previous visits to Penghu. It's easy to rent a scooter, just ask the staff where you are staying to organize it for you.

Penghu Great Bridge
Driving over the "Penghu Great Bridge"

To rent a scooter costs about 350TWD a day, and it's less than 100TWD to fill up the tank. If you rent one, make sure you get good helmets (they should give you two) and be very careful when driving. If you're not used to driving a scooter, just practice a little before taking on the bigger roads.

Taxis are available, but they don't just appear from around every corner like in Taipei. Whenever we needed a taxi, the staff from where we stayed called one and they showed up in under 10 minutes. 

What we ate

Penghu is famous for its seafood, but none of the food really blew our hair back. Not that there's something wrong with it, we just aren't big fans of oysters etc. It was hard finding food actually. We tried a few restaurants here and there, and had a few 7/Eleven meals, too. If you're really desperate, we did spot a McDonalds and a MOS Burger in Magong City. We did try some of their cactus ice cream though. It sounds weird, but it was actually really tasty.

cactus ice cream
Local cactus ice cream

What we did

Initially we just wanted to relax by the beach, but after doing that for 2 glorious days, we got a little antsy and did a scooter trip around the island. We stopped at all the famous sites along the way, took photos, and enjoyed the scenery. It took us about 4 hours to do the entire journey from Shanshui beach all around the island to the "Xiyu Lighthouse" and back. It can be done faster, for sure, but we took our time and stopped often to stretch our legs. 

On this scooter trip we stopped at the "Fenggui Blowholes", Aimen Beach, another nice swimming beach (I noticed they had a lot of watersport activities going on there). We also passed pastures with cows, picturesque harbors and lots of temples. 



Visitors admiring the "Fenggui Blowholes"

Aimen Beach
As we headed north, we stopped by the "Zhongtun Windmill Power Park" and passed over the "Penghu Great Bridge" which is true to its name. Many people stopped there to take pics of the bridge that seems to go all the way to the end of the Earth. After that we stopped at a place called "Whale Cave". (Sorry, no whales here!), but there were some cool geology sites like "Xiaomenyu" to admire, and this seemed to be a place where people made a pitstop for lunch.

Zhongtun Windmill Power Park
Whale Cave
Walking to the "Whale Cave"

As we headed onwards, we stopped at the "Erkan Ancient Residences". Let's be honest, I had seen stunning pics of this place on Instagram so we "had to" stop there. We spent quite some time there taking photos and enjoying fresh pineapple juice. After that we headed for the "Xiyu Lighthouse", the earliest lighthouse recorded in Taiwan's history, and the last site on our trip. We only stayed there for about 10 minutes because by this time it was noon and the sun was beating down on us.

Erkan Ancient Residences

Erkan Ancient Residences

Yuwengdao Lighthouse
Xiyu (Yuwengdao) Lighthouse

As we made the turn to head back, we stopped in "Wai-An Harbor", with its quaint fishermen's village. We were tired, hot and sweaty as we finally made our way home. I think it took about an hour of non stop driving to get back to our B&B at Shanshui beach. 

Fishermen's Village
Wai-An Village
During our 2-day stay closer to Magong City, we enjoyed walking around the city visiting all the tourist sites. We went to see "Mazu Temple", "Zhongyang Old Street", the "Four-Eyed Well" and the "Military Housing Culture Area". 

Mazu Temple
Mazu Temple

Zhongyang Old Street
Zhongyang Old Street

Four-Eyed Well
Four-Eyed Well

Military Housing Culture Area
On our way to the "Military Housing Culture Area"

Military Housing Culture Area

Military Housing Culture Area
Military Housing Culture Area

Some extra info

I have to point out that almost no one speaks English in Penghu. Although most of the signs are in English and Chinese, we rarely encountered locals who could communicate with us in English. Luckily The Husband can speak Chinese, so we were fine. But I doubt that I would have been able to manage this trip on my own. So keep that in mind when you're thinking of going there. I wouldn't say it's impossible, but you might have to download some kind of translator app for the occasion. 

A Penghu sunset

Locals in Penghu are laid back and extremely friendly and helpful. I assume they aren't used to having Westerners around frequently because they were curious about us, and they loved chatting with The Husband. We felt very welcome!

It was extremely hot while we were there, so make sure to lather on those SPFs (my legs definitely paid the price and looked like overcooked hot dogs after our scooter trip..). We really enjoyed the sunshine and clean air. The locals mentioned that it can get very windy and unpleasant over the cooler months, and that's why there are almost no tourists during the Winter. Even though we went during Summer, the high tourist season, the beaches were almost deserted during the day and the streets were never crowded. 

In general, we had such a lovely time there. It was the perfect little getaway from the city and I will go back in a heartbeat. There are still more smaller islands of Penghu that I want to go and explore. If you have any questions, or if I left anything out, please contact me and I'll be happy to help you plan your trip.

Shanshui beach
Full time beach bum

Happy travels!


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