Monday, 28 November 2011

Mon 28 Nov - Macao

Today, we decided to explore Macao proper during the day.

As The Venetian hotel is on Taipa, south of Macao’s old town it is not really walking distance between the two islands and few (or any?) of the 4 or 5 bridges provide pedestrian access, the hotels and casinos provide shuttle bus services.  One problem only, first shuttle bus from Venetian into town is quite late at 10.20am (must be the Portuguese heritage).

So, when we rock up there to be “shuttled” at 9am, there were no bus and no people waiting for the bus. One option really; Taxi to the intended drop off point – Yuet Tung Pier.
Macao is much nosier than either Hong Kong or Guangzhou (bar construction noise). The reason is simple, motorbikes and scooters. They are everywhere. This is easily explained as a large tract of the old Macao centro consists of windy and narrow streets and lanes, up and down the hills.

Macao is a world heritage town and there is a walking trail taking in 25 buildings and monuments that we wanted to do. We had decided to start at Senado Square, by the middle of the trail which was easy to get to.
There was another reason too. We hadn’t had any proper breakfast yet as anything consumed at the hotel is three times as expensive as anywhere else (at least $HK100 for anything for breakfast) and sometimes a bit too overcomplicated to get.

We found McDonalds at the square, for another “healthy” start of the day.  Getting sick of it already and only been there twice!

We started our walking tour by checking out some of the buildings around Senado Square before walking south, up and down the narrow streets and hills. Easy to get around as street names are in Portuguese, so “ Rua Centrale” is pretty easy to follow. We worked out “Largo” means square or place too.
Some interesting Portuguese old buildings were inspected and there was a pole with text in various languages to explain them next to each of the buildings, which turned out to be very useful and interesting. Some dated back to 1400 or so.

Some lovely restored churches… 

Modern day is also fascinating. We found this guy mounting what looked like a rack to hold an air conditioning unit on the wall of one building. All normal perhaps for that the guy was standing on the rack, while fixing it to the wall, on the 3 floor or so. No photo unfortunately. There was a “team member” on the ground, and I asked him whether I could take a photo, and got a very determined no back. This was probably not legal even here.
The standout of the day was the Mandarin House, a sprawling complex that fell into disrepair a couple of decades ago, but had now been taken over by the Government and restored. Mandarin House was the ancestral home of Zheng Guangying, a philosopher (and economist) at the time, who had written a key book in 1859 about building the strength of the country through united prosperity, that inspired Mao and President Sun Yat Sen. He lived here with brothers and sisters with families over some 4000 square meters.

This concept of moon gates appeared in a few places:

We walked up to the top of the hill, one of Macao’s highest points, to Penha church. Great views. The photo shows Macao Tower and one of the many bridges between the 2 parts.

A couple of guys with Google Streetview lookalike equipment (mounted cameras pointing in all directions on a harness) were on top of the Penha Hill. They said that they were mapping 180 degrees of Macao, not working for Google.

Heading down the hill, we passed the upmarket homes of the local rich people – all cars in the driveways seemed to be Lexus, Mercedes or Audis! 
The road brought us down near a lovely old Chinese temple built into the side of another hill called Barra Hill – on about 7 different levels.  Very popular with Chinese tour groups, with so much incense burning we were nearly choking in the smoke.  Incense was even in the form of big spiral cones, all alight and hanging everywhere.

From here, we re-joined our walking trail and within a few metres reached the famous Koo Kei Bakery.  They were making the lovely local cookies and offering samples, we ate about 3 each. We also bought 2 Portuguese custard tarts which were still warm and the best we’ve ever had. Now if only we could find a coffee! No luck but a nice morning tea with water anyway.
BTW, we reckon that Koo Kei is a "bastardisation" of cookie. Maybe?

And here is their van:

There was a funny moment in a 3 street intersection right in the middle of the old centro. One of Hotel Venetian’s shuttle buses tried to take a corner and… Loooong queues while he was driving back and forth, motorcycles physically moved to make space etc. A copper arrived, but he didn’t seem to help the situation very much.
We left after a while, and the guy had still not made the corner, but a looooong queue had built up.

Lunch was as per the locals, pick a few sticks from a variety of food stuff, put them in a bowl and give to the “chef” to cook in boiling water(?).  Put in a cup, add hot or not curry sauce, and Bob is your uncle. Find a bench to eat or eat as you walk.

Our trail took us into the heart of the historic district to the ruins of St Pauls (very famous and Heritage listed) and the Fortress on the hilltop.  The crowds here are incredible; this area is where most of the tour groups end up.  So you walk via narrow streets all lined with shops selling the local cookies and other treats,  crowded with Chinese people all tasting free samples and buying. We were up the “Spanish steps” to the fabulous ruins.

The carvings on the façade of the church are amazing. You can just take time to look up and study all the separate details - a Galleon on the sea, a skeleton, a Griffin and so much more – as well as the statues of the saints. Unfortunately the plaza also holds the tackiest Christmas decorations we’ve seen.

We wander around further and up onto the Fortress. We’ve been in this area before, when we visited for a day with Jeremy in July 2007.  At the time the temperature was much hotter and we were in a hurry to get out of the sun, so quite a different experience.  We think he would have much preferred the walking we have done today.

It’s now after 2pm and we’ve got a big night ahead with the “House of Dancing Water” show at 8pm. So we make our way down to what we believed was the shuttle collection point, buying some supplies of drinks on the way.  No luck with supermarkets and finding breakfast supplies though.  Unfortunately we get the shuttle pick up location wrong and waste about 45 minutes sitting around waiting.  It’s well past 3pm when we finally realise, as we’re about the flag a taxi, and we sit with the other people waiting to get the next shuttle around 3.30pm. 
Back in the room by 4pm and we finally locate the swimming pool details and head on down.  Fabulous pools (5 in total) at different temperatures. We end up in the 32degree outdoor pool, with a beer and a margarita and relax!

Yes, we did find out that there was a pool complex, not very to find, go to level 5, walk in corridors for 180m (it is stated on the wall), take another lift to level 1, which can't be the real level 1 because that's were the casino and the entry points are and there it is.
We’ve decided on “cheaper” dinner option at the Food Court and this works out well, with a good baked Portuguese chicken stew and chicken Fajitas. 
At 7.30pm we make our way through to the Theatre for the House of Dancing Waters show. 

Purpose built pool that holds the equivalent of 5 Olympic swimming pools but also turns into a fully flat stage within about 15 seconds and underneath has a temple, three masts of a ship and a range of other props which appear and disappear from the pool.
The show cost HKD$1 billion to set up, includes more than 50 performers.

The pool is also deep enough to cope with high diving stunts and the stage strong enough to cope with daredevil motocross bike riders (Di couldn’t watch). 

Yep, Truly amazing and we strongly believe that this is a must see show for anyone coming to this part of the world.

Well, what can you do afterwards to top that. Too bloody exhausting to do anything else than go to bed...

A few pics from our "entry level" suite:

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