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April 24, 2013

Caledonian Sky, Keelung 18th April 2013

From our apartment on the hills, this ship looked so small compared to the container vessels coming into port all day. So we took a closer look at the Caledonian Sky just before departure at 8 pm.

Finally a ship that doesn't dwarf our Harbor Bureau... Just over 100 British and German passengers were on board, enjoying a break in the rainy weather we've had for most of this month. Hope to see more of such specialty cruise ships of Noble Caledonia !

April 8, 2013

Ocean Dream

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On a typical Keelung rainy day - on December 18, 2012 it looked as if a Costa ship had changed colors...  was I dreaming ? Not quite: the funnel of the 'Ocean Dream' was a 2001 retrofit of the original 'Tropicale' built in 1981 for Carnival cruise lines, which featured their red-white-blue-whale-tail like funnel.

It was the first new cruise ship built, setting a trend at the time. It still has the looks, but is missing the now so familiar private balconies, and since the launch ships have grown so much in size. Operated with a yellow funnel until 2005 by Costa.

Now the former cruise ship sails on trips around the world for Peace Boat, an international non-government organisation based in Japan. Previous visits of this group were by the 'Oceanic' in May 2012, and much earlier by the 'Topaz'. Both vessels have been scrapped since. Hope to see this historic ship again !

March 19, 2013

Nautica in Keelung 24+25 February 2013

Oceania's "Nautica" is a consistent visitor to Keelung from the days cruising to Taiwan started to be popular. On many itineraries this ship offers you an overnight stay to enjoy the night views from Taipei 101 and a stroll through our locally famous Keelung "Miaoko" night market around the temple, just a short walk away from the cruise terminal. Many passengers on board are repeat visitors, and this way I've made a lot of friends. Here is my impression of the first of two visits in 2013. You can see the outline of Yehliu peninsula in the background...

March 8, 2013

Seven Seas Voyager

Sometimes the Keelung port looks like a Chinese painting in the early morning mist. Woke up to the view of the Seven Seas Voyager entering the harbor on March 1st 2013 at 7 am. A nice all balcony ship glistering in the sun... Welcome back !
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November 6, 2012

Costa Victoria in Keelung

Costa's growth in the region continues with a bigger ship based in East Asia. On the 5th of November the Costa Victoria paid a noon to midnight visit to our Keelung port on a 16 day Shanghai to Singapore cruise. I saw many European, North American and some Asian passengers on this trip at the popular spots around town: at the white Guanyin statue overlooking the port, and later in the night market.


Seeing the ship docked at berth East 3+4, it reminded me of an Alaska cruise on Norwegian Sky. Indeed, as its older sister ship the Costa Victoria has been retrofitted with two decks of outside balconies to look like it.

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Look for more Costa Victoria and other ship videos on my YouTube page

February 1, 2012

Keelung Train Station

Past, Present and Future 

The Keelung to Taipei rail line was the first one in Taiwan and China. During the Japanese colonial period the system was expanded and typical stations added. Some of these Baroque style buildings are well preserved, as you can still see in Hsinchu and Taichung. Surviving the heavy war time bombardments, the Keelung station was replaced by the current 'modern' structure in the mid-1970's when so much of the city's heritage was demolished in the name of progress.


Now it is the turn of this building to disappear, and to redevelop the waterfront real estate. The front of the station just got a facelift, but at the platforms work is in progress to build huge foundations. The new station arrangement (under the three towers) will connect with the bus station, one that is now way too small and primitive, as well as a new cruise terminal. Great, but I'm afraid all this progress will limit most of the current wide harbor view - next time you visit on a cruise we'll be a mini Manhattan ?

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How can I visit the National Palace Museum on my own ?

View National Palace Museum in my larger map.  

Most cruise tours will offer you a very quick visit to the National Palace Museum in a large group for an hour or so, before it's "back on the bus" time to quickly check off the next highlight of Taipei.

The museum now attracts more than four million visitors a year, making it the 7th most visited museum in the world. After the four year reconstruction and closure between 2003-2006 it now needs to urgently increase capacity.

The building is open from 08:30-18:30 hours, on Friday and Saturday until 21:00. Admission is NT$ 250 for the day - let the staff know if you'd like to get back in after taking a lunch break. In most cases you'll reach your culture saturation point after 2-3 hours.

Taking the cruise tour is a convenient way - at least you can say you've been there ! But you can also do this trip by Kuokuang public bus 1801 for NT$ 53 (one way) on your own from Keelung, get out of the bubble, and at your own pace spend more time at the floors and rooms you like.

At times you'd think you are already (or again) in mainland China when other groups rush in. Which means long lines in your group for the 'must see' and hyped items like the "Jadeite Cabbage" and "Meat Shaped Stone" - when there is a lot more to see.

If you're going on your own and have signed up online in advance for the one hour free English tour at 1000 and 1500 you'll have expert advice. But even better: for NT$ 100 you can rent an English/Japanese/Korean language audio-guide. Simply press the number of the items of interest in front of you.

After all, there are only some 3000 artifacts on display out of a total collection of 695.000 items to keep you coming back for years.

With help from a local like me you can take this trip by bus to within a ten minute walk from the museum and back, and I'll weave through the crowds.

Check my maps and the pictures for the details, route and stops - it takes about 60-75 minutes to get to Shilin this way. After driving on the highway for 20 minutes you'll reach the Neihu district and the stops then take you past quite a number of schools and hospitals. 

Don't worry, just get off the bus after passing through the long tunnel, so once inside - push the stop button. If you did tell the driver you're going to 'Gu-gong', he'll be happy and proud to let you know: Taiwanese are very friendly and helpful.

Since so many of you asked me and like to have a bit of cruise adventure, here is my step by step guide (July 2013) plus some commentary:

1. Once you're in the very basic (ok then: our shabby) bus station, buy a NT$ 53 ticket at the one and only Kuo-Kuang bus ticket counter. You could ask for a separate return ticket, or on the return trip just throw the same amount into the cash box of the bus, say 'Keelung' and the driver will hand you a stub, which you hand back to him when getting off the bus in Keelung. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

2. Go to bus stop lucky number 8 outside, past the station's exit 1. Officially the stop is still called the "Chinese Culture and Movie Center" on the line identified as going to the National College of Nursing. That's before bus route numbers were finally introduced only a few years ago, and we and you all often got lost. Except in the early morning rush hour before 0800, the bus departs every half hour on the hour on the dot.

Just to let you know about your destination: the Center has been closed for years to make way for expensive apartments. Anyway, this is where the return stop to Keelung is located: further down and across the road from where you got off the bus.

Once you get off the bus after 60 minutes and 8 optional stops, turn right and walk in the opposite direction you just came from. After less than 10 minutes you'll see these huge apartment blocks across the road. It is a very expensive residence complex, including the apartment of former president Lee Teng Hui.

Would you believe that back in 1965 when the original museum opened it was the only building in this area ? now even finding parking space is difficult.

Just keep following the sidewalk, and at the bus stop (check out bus Red 30 and others back to Shilin Metro station on the red line at NT$ 15) you can orient yourself looking at the map below.

I would suggest to walk up to the museum through the oft forgotten Chinese style Chishan garden, especially on a hot day. The free entrance is on the right hand side of the steps and five imperial arches gate. Save that obvious return route for walking down and out of the air-conditioned museum.

If you have the time, do also visit the Indigenous Museum across the road. Most of the time it offers you free entry - to see the real Taiwan. After all, what you will see in the big NPM is 22% of the collection which reached Taiwan by 1949 from the Palace Museum in Beijing and archives in mainland China. Most of it has less to do with this island.

So pass this gate and the inevitable Falung Gong displays in front of it.

This is the Chishan garden exit gate at the side of the museum steps, just go up the steps and inside.

Now you've certainly earned a coffee or cool drink and snack at the first floor restaurant, before buying your ticket. You'll have to check any big camera, bags or backpacks at the counter for free safekeeping. No water bottles can be brought inside - like most museums.

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