A little bit of Europe in Macau

MacauWow, Macau was busy! This was the first time on our trip that we had encountered mass tourism. The narrow European streets were mobbed with Chinese tourists, all marvelling at the architecture, the abundant food and the glittering Christmas decorations.

We had taken a day trip across the bay by ferry from Hong Kong, arriving a lot later than we planned. We had casually rolled up to the ferry terminal on Connaught Road expecting to get tickets for the next sailing only to discover we couldn’t get on a ferry for two hours as they were already booked up.

Note, when you buy a ferry ticket this doesn’t reserve you a seat. At the gate we had to wait for the gate to open and staffed then we had to hand the tickets over in the scrum to get a seat allocation sticker. It all seemed very unorganised and I guess if you don’t get a seat sticker you just have to sit in any free seats after everyone has sat down.

The ferry was comfortable and fast, we bombed over the water, arriving at the Macau terminal in an hour. We proceeded through border control, withdrew some Macau Pataca {MOP} and queued up to book the tickets for the ferry back, and I’m very glad we did, the queues to buy tickets in the evening were horrendous.

Outside the ferry terminal we tried unsuccessfully to find a bus that would take us to the centre of town, partly due to the fact that I had the wrong bus number in my head. After trying a couple of buses we wandered over to the casino shuttle buses and easily managed to blag our way onto the Great Lisboa Casino bus. It gave us a free ride and deposited us inside the belly of the beast, the Great Lisboa Casino that is!

We stalked our way through the casino trying to find a way out, Chris was so tempted to gamble his new MOP notes on the fruit machines, lured in by their flashing lights {the casinos use HK$ I think}. Eventually we spotted the exit and made a dash for fresh air, without chancing a single coin.

Macau

The casinos looked garish in the daylight, we decided to explore the old town and come back later when darkness fell, to see them illuminated. A little walk along the road brought us to Largo do Senado, an attractive black and white tiled square that was bursting at the seams with Christmas decorations. The square is lined with delightfully pretty Portuguese buildings, we had seemingly stepped off the ferry into Europe, albeit a Europe heaving with Chinese sightseers.

Macau was a Portuguese Colony until 1999 and it feels far more European than Hong Kong. It is now, just like Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, and a very wealthy one at that, Gambling here is bigger business than in Las Vegas.

From the Largo de Senado we took narrow side streets away from the crowds and soon found ourselves in a small square near the modern cathedral. A beautiful nativity scene had been constructed and the local sparrows were busy searching for food amongst the straw, bringing the scene to life {you can see pictures in this post}.

The road led upwards towards the old Fortaleza do Monte, the fort dominates the hill and has magnificent views out over the city and is worth the climb simply for that. The Macau Museum is also up here  but we didn’t check it out.

We could see our next destination on our walk from the fort, just down the hill are the ruins of the Sao Paulo Cathedral, we took the stairs down to the square in front of it, joining the crowds again. All that remains of the church is the wonderful facade, a jumble of asian styles on a beautiful Portuguese frame.

Behind the facade is simply the foundations, in the ground, of the original building, at the opposite end are steps down to a small crypt where there are some relics.

A grand flight of steps led down from the cathedral and onto a narrow, touristy street lined with food vendors, tat, clothes and shoe shops, it was very busy and we had to fight our way along it.

> click on a photograph to open the gallery

In Largo do Senado I watched a street vender making what looked like small pancakes. Dough was portioned into small walnut-sized balls then placed in a flower formation onto a hot griddle plate. He closed the lid, flattening the dough then they cooked over flaming coals. He turned the griddle regularly and checked for readiness. He had a long queue of people waiting for them.

A heart and the Sao Paulo Cathedral ruins

A heart and the Sao Paulo Cathedral ruins

View over the casinos from the Monte Fort

View over the casinos from the Monte Fort

View from the Monte Fort

View from the Monte Fort

MacauLater we found a shop also making them, a steady stream of customers bought little bags of them fresh off the griddle. We bought some, they were crisp, buttery biscuits, delicious! From what I can gather they are egg yolk cookies.

I had been very excited to try pastéis de nata, Portuguese egg tarts having enjoyed copious amounts of them around China. To come to the place where the Chinese discovered their love affair with them was super exciting. I didn’t do my research. It seems the best egg tarts can be found away from the historic centre of Macau and we just didn’t have time to set off trying to find them. One place I’d heard had good ones had sold out by the time we found it.

Portuguese Egg Tarts

Portuguese Egg Tarts

There were however many egg tarts for sale along the main tourist streets so we bought some from there. They were not good. Heartbreakingly not good. They looked the part but had a very strange taste. Maybe I’d become an egg tart snob from my travels round China! I’d had incredible ones in the Shanghai No1 Food Store and none of theses ‘Macau’ tarts even came close. If only I had looked into it before we set off.

The night began to draw in and we headed back to the casinos which had now transformed into a riot of colour and light. We took a few photos then took a bus back to the ferry terminal from the bus station opposite the Casino Lisboa. The boat back to Hong Kong wasn’t as nice as the one we came in on but we were too weary to care.

The Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong has a mall and we ate at a small restaurant there before we took the tram back to the apartment. The Deli Cafe did a tasty bowl of spaghetti with mushrooms in a cream sauce and it was very inexpensive, it finished the day off well. I hadn’t found much in the way of veggie food in the parts of Macau we had visited.

Macau

All in all, a very interesting and attractive place to explore, quite different from neighbouring Hong Kong. The contrast between the charming old Portuguese architecture and the modern gaudy casinos is really something to see. Be sure to change your MOP currency back before you leave, you won’t be able to change it in mainland China.

Macau

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6 Responses

  1. We loved Macau!! Except for the casinos, it was practically deserted when we went. It was a while ago though (fall 2011), so I guess tourism has since picked up there. But oh no! It’s a tragedy that you didn’t have quality egg tarts in Macau. We had ours at Lord Stow’s and they were pretty darn tasty. :)

    • Wow, deserted! We had the opposite of that, full to the brim, even the casinos! It was an amazing place and I wish we had have stayed the night and explored a bit further from the UNESCO centre.

  2. Dave Rowley says:

    So funny to see Pasteis de Nata and Casino de Lisboa in China! It’s an interesting world. I can see why Chinese people love egg tarts though, they’re delish! The contrast between your day & night shots in Macau is very striking – reminds me of Vegas as you said. Looking forward to your next post!

    • Yes, I want to go to Vegas one day and do that. Night and day Vegas!
      Next post is coming up, already written on the train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, I’m trying really hard to catch up with these posts. I can’t believe that it is May and I’m 5 months behind! arghhhhh! 😉

      • davegct says:

        When you’re ready to go to Vegas let us know! Only a 5-hr drive for us. It’s one of the most amazing, bizarre, wonderful places on earth! Very different night & day, and so very different when you walk just one block off the strip…

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