Saturday, March 12, 2016

Thoughts About Traveling Solo

My most recent trip to Japan was the first trip where I didn't have any familiar faces in the area to reconnect with. It was two (glorious) weeks bonding with me, myself, and I. They say how traveling alone is reflective, about rediscovering yourself, blah blah....I don't know if it's because I'm already so used to being alone that it was none of that. Yes, it's lonely, but not in the depressing way that you may think. It's more of an annoyance. No one to take a photo for you, no one to eat that minimum two people order meal with, no one to share your excitement with, that sort of thing.

But would I travel solo again? Hell yeah, in a heartbeat! I love being able to do whatever I want whenever I want. I will also say though that some places are better than others for solo trips, and Japan happens to be one of the places I deem to be extremely solo-friendly. Another situation I ran into often was the following:

Stranger: You're traveling alone?
Me: Yup!
Stranger: *looks at me incredulously* You're so brave/courageous!

I always feel like the above reaction to hearing a female traveling alone is weird and unsettling. If I were on a business trip alone would you say that? If I were a dude would you say that? Plus does it really take courage to travel solo? I don't think so, not any more courage than eating out in a restaurant alone or going to a social event alone. What you do need to travel solo is independence. You need to be able to do things and solve problems on your own. If independence isn't a skill you already possess, then you DEFINITELY need to try a solo getaway at least once. It will definitely be a special experience.

Before going to Japan I was pretty worn out from two months of nonstop traveling. I thought that the travel "bug" is gone for sure and that I've met my travel quota for this year and the next. But actually traveling is like a hobby for me. Yeah, you may get sick of it after being constantly exposed to it, but you still love it and look forward to planning your next itinerary and researching countries.

My Go-To Beef Noodle Soup 建宏牛肉麵 (Jian Hong Beef Noodle Soup)

Happened on this beef noodle soup gem thanks to the construction around MRT Beimen. Have been searching for a go-to beef noodle soup place for two years now and I've finally found the spot!

I found this place accidentally while walking to Ximen. It was packed with locals and seemed like a longtime establishment. Taking these indications as a good sign I went in to check it out.
The menu is very simple, and if it isn't obvious enough, not vegetarian friendly. Beef is the specialty here. You can order beef soup, beef soup with noodles or dumplings, and some side dishes. If you're more picky you can also order the mixed beef soup or noodles which will include a combination of different beef parts such as tendon. This is also the cheapest pricing I've seen yet in Taipei for this beef noodle soup, as it usually runs from $120-$200NT and upwards.

First, try to find a seat. Turnover is pretty fast, so if you can't find one just wait around for a bit and a spot should open up. Alternatively, they do offer takeout. Then place your order at the back of the restaurant. Remember to specify to the person taking your order if you want thick noodles! You can then help yourself to free lemon tea.
These are the condiments that are available on the table. Starting from the left is the typical pickled vegetables and white vinegar. The bucket filled with what looks like sweet potato mash is the magic oil. The beef noodle soup is still flavorful without it, but the extra grease adds to the aroma and flavor of the broth. The brown stuff is spicy seasoning for those who like an added heat. I love this system because you can personalize your bowl to your own tastes.
After waiting for about ten minutes our order came. The servers call out the orders and you raise your hand to indicate it's your order. Make sure to double check the noodles to verify it's your order. Pictured above is the small bowl for $80NT. Those with small stomachs will be full with just a small order. Note that free soup refills are also available. You just have to ask the staff. Below is the large bowl for $100NT.
Thick, homemade cut noodles- my favorite beef noodle soup pairing. As you can tell, they are also very generous with the beef and portions. You really can't beat this price or flavor. Jian Hong's beef noodle soup is the most traditional style. Just pure homemade beef stock simmered with traditional seasonings such as star anise added. Simple comfort food perfect for late drunken nights or on a rainy day. If you think the wait is too long, there are also several other similar beef noodle soup establishments nearby. I have yet to check them out, but they have been added to the "to-eat" list.
台北市西寧南路7號 (Near MRT Beimen)
(02) 2371-2747