My morning began with a quick pit-stop at the Congress to support a fellow SFUer’s talk before heading out for a day of sightseeing. The conference organizers were kind enough to give us the afternoon off for such an occasion. Jen and I headed back to the hotel to pick up an umbrella, as the clouds overhead were looking a little unpredictable. The plan for the afternoon was to head over to Macau, an island formerly belonging to Portugal but which was handed back to China in 1999. It’s also only 65 km away from Hong Kong, making it a relatively easy day trip for us. Our first task was getting a subway pass, known as the Octopus card here. Thankfully, our hotel is only a couple blocks from an MTR station, so we headed over and picked up a couple Octopi. The throng of people milling about in the station reminded me greatly of taking the subway in Tokyo, though perhaps a bit less orderly here. It was a quick subway ride to our next destination, on some amusingly metal seats. The ferry terminal was quite easy to find from the Sheung Wan station, just up a few flights of escalators, and we were able to purchase our ferry tickets from a self-service kiosk. The ferries are super frequent, about 15 minutes apart, so we were able to hop on one in relatively short order.
The ferries were comfortable, somewhat like the interiors of Japanese trains, and we were soon blasting through the waters at a fair clip. It only took about an hour to reach Macau. We’d wondered whether it would be warmer, and it wasn’t long before we had our answer. A warm, sticky blanket of humidity enveloped us as we stepped off the ferry, and we knew were in for a long, sweaty afternoon. We went through immigration, where they again said nothing, and headed out to find the bus into the center of town. The streets were congested, as perhaps should be expected, but it gave us time to take in the city. It had a vastly different feel than Hong Kong—much more colourful and diverse, in terms of architecture and cultural influences it seemed. Jen commented that it almost felt a bit like Miami. We eventually hopped off at Largo do Senado, ‘the Square of the Senate’, which was a bustling square lined with Portuguese colonial-style buildings. The place was alive with activity and just packed with, I assumed to be, Chinese tourists. I loved the brightly-coloured buildings of turquoise, yellow and pink. The buildings primarily housed retail stores, such as Levi’s and Starbucks. We came across a beautiful, yellow and white church, the Church of St. Dominic. I’d never really seen churches like it, as most of my familiarity with churches involves grey, ornately-carved stone buildings. We moved onwards in the general direction of the ruins of the Church of St. Paul, stopping briefly for some souvenir shopping and refreshments.
It certainly was an arresting sight to see the imposing façade of the 17th century Church of St. Paul at the top of the hill. The fact that all that is left of the church is just the front is crazy to me. Apparently, the majority of it was destroyed in a fire from a typhoon in 1835. By this point, Jen and I were both sweltering from the heat and humidity, so after admiring the ruins, we escaped into a shady park area. We laboriously climbed up what turned out to be historic battlements, complete with cannons. We stopped in the shade to mop ourselves up with tissues, resulting in several bits of tissue stuck to my face, which I discovered later.
We made our way back down in the direction of the casinos, stopping into various stores largely to enjoy the air conditioning. The casinos weren’t hard to miss as we had a giant, shining beacon of gaudiness to guide us. The Grand Lisboa, a bizarre, apparently lotus-shaped, building, paneled in golden glass is just so incredibly over-the-top as to even rival some of the ridiculous buildings in Vegas. The interiors weren’t much better, dripping in “jewels” and glass baubles–it was a study in cheerful tackiness. Jen wanted to play a few slots for posterity, so we found ourselves a slot machine and played 20 Hong Kong dollars (about $2.50 CAD). I was actually pretty impressed of how long I lasted. I was even up $24 HKD and had a notion to cash out immediately, though, sadly, I didn’t, and my money soon dwindled away. But it was $2.50 well-spent, as I’d never tried a slot machine before. We wandered over to the Casino Lisboa, its slightly more understated neighbour, with an impressive amount of mosaics inlaid into the floors and ceilings.
In need of dinner, we decided to attempt to find one of the restaurants I’d noted as per the recommendations from the Lonely Planet guide. After much wandering and seeming fruitlessness, and an increasing pain in the soles of my feet, we had almost given up, when almost by chance, we came across the restaurant, Platao, which was supposed to serve tasty Portuguese food. The menu had several tasty options, but we ultimately ordered grilled Portuguese sausage and a bacalhau soufflé for appetizers. Now, bacalhau, we learned, is dried, salted cod fish, and is a major ingredient in Portuguese cooking. Jen decided on lobster thermidor for her main dish, and I went with a filet of sea bass in a goose liver paste. Everything was delicious, including the bacalhau soufflé, which was light and fluffy and fishy. Jen’s lobster was divinely tasty, though rich, making it difficult to finish, and my sea bass was also quite good. After we’d stuffed ourselves full, we headed out in search of the bus back to the ferry. Unfortunately, the sailings were booked up for about an hour, so our tickets were for a 9:45 pm sailing. We did sit in a stand-by line for a 9:30 sailing, which we ultimately were able to get on. It wasn’t long before we were back in Hong Kong and heading (limping in my case) back to our hotel. A day well-spent I think.