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The International Writers Magazine: Travel in China

Discovering Macau
Gisele Ribeiro

Macau is known for its casinos. Considering I'm not known exactly as a gambler,  I was thrilled with the rich combination of history, culture, food and entertainment that it has to offer.

I confess I was impressed with the amount of Entertainment found on the Emirates flight to Hong Kong from New York. Even a flight with stops can feel much shorter. The staff makes sure you are cared for and have all your meals (They give you stickers to mark your seat if you want them to wake you up). The menus are carefully prepared and offer generous variety. I will never forget that delicious chocolate mousse! The food is quite tasty by airplane standards.

Entertainment is the top of the list at Emirates, if you don’t choose to sleep, read or work. Besides selected playlist tunes, there is a huge selection of films, TV-shows and video clips you can choose from numerous channels. Most certainly, you will find something you haven’t seen yet even if you have been up to date with the latest releases. Whole sections on your private screen are filled just with Arabic and Bollywood movies. Subtitles and voice-overs are also available in several languages besides English, including Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Tagalog and Portuguese, among others.

If you are not flying First or Business Class, there is no chance you will feel a lonely. The flights seem to be full and there is little chance to find an extra seat for more room. Each airline can carry 350 to almost 500 passengers. Surprisingly, bathrooms continue to be in some decent condition by the end of the flight even in the Economy class.

Gaming Town

After arriving at the International Airport in Hong Kong, our small group headed to Sky Pier where we caught a Turbojet boat at 10pm to Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal. This is the last ferry from the airport to Macau.

In case you miss it, you can catch a ferry downtown HK to Macau. It is available 24 hours, running every 15 minutes. It’s a smooth 45-minute trip. And even at that time, there is still chance to get some snacks and drinks on the boat.

Still on the boat, the first welcome to Macau at night is the flashy lights at its various casinos.There is also a guiding lighthouse shining over the city coming from the highest point of the peninsula. This lighthouse was built in 1864 and is the oldest western style on the China Coast.

There are currently 34 casinos in Macau. The forecast is that this number will be much higher by the end of 2010, mainly in the Cotai area. And in 2011, the resort Galaxy Macau was completed. 550,000 square meters, including a 5-star hotel, five distinct themed casino experiences and a world’s largest sky wave pool. This pool is projected to feature 350-ton white sand beach in a 4,000 square meters, with waves over 1.5 meters in high.

The City of Dreams, with its grandiosity and high ceiling buildings recalling great palaces, has received over 6 million visitors just in the beginning of this year. Besides Asians, the biggest players, you can see people from almost all over the world. You may choose to stay at the stunning hotels Hard Rock and Crown Towers (It has fabulous SPA treatments).

It is worth to check the outstanding offers at Horizons, a modern redefinition of steakhouse. Dragons are legendary in Chinese culture and a good way to be in tune with it is to watch the interactive media show Dragon’s Treasure at the Bubble Theater. There you will find 3-D Dragons at your fingertips.

After only a 15 minute-ride from Macau Ferry Terminal, we arrived at the amazing Grand Hyatt, located at the City of Dreams resort. While walking towards a gathering at the grandiose Lobby Lounge, I was surprised to hear the “Girl from Ipanema” being played. It was a blast to learn that the band used traditional Chinese instruments such as erthu and pipa! It’s certainly a Macau flavor to combine Chinese elements with other cultures.
The two-room spacious suites offer complimentary Wi-fi to Grand Club Members, which also can enjoy international breakfast, refreshments, drinks and canapés. Bathtub and shower are separated from the bedroom area by surrounding window glass. The strikingly well designed restaurants Beijing Kitchen and Mezza9 Macau are part of the theater-restaurant concept largely disseminated in Macau, full of chefs wearing their high hats. Mezza9 also offers the Macau Wine Flight with a huge selection of wines and three classes in the “airlines (Economy-3 glasses, Business-5 glasses, First-8 glasses).

In Taipa

The first signs of Portuguese culture are the old street signs in white tiles. They all have their names in Portuguese and Chinese. A very charming place to visit is Taipa Village, which is not even 10 minutes away from Grand Hyatt. Heading directly to Taipa House Museums at Avenida da Praia, you will find these five beautiful houses that combine Chinese and Portuguese architecture.

The interior of these houses are filled with similar cultural merge of colonial Portuguese and Chinese furniture. Enjoy a pleasant view of the Cotai complex and the colossal Venetian Casino. Antonio Restaurant is a Michelin recommended restaurant where you can indulge in a delicious and entertaining dinner. Flavorful sardines, seafood stew and clams are a must in this cozy restaurant. There are beautiful walls decorated with Portuguese blue ceramics (azulejo-tile) distinguishing it with charm. The Portuguese “Azul” means blue. The owner is proud to showcase his signature high-flamed (I mean very high!) dessert Crepe Suzzette. In special occasions, he can also invite you to help him open a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine with a Samurai sword. Make sure to look at your hands afterwards and check if five fingers are still there. The home-style restaurant Espaco Lisboa in Coloane Island also makes the trip worth it. It offers a variety of Bacalhau, Clams and Pork dishes that became a tradition for food tasting in Macau. Don’t forget to try the “pastel de nata” for dessert and great wines.

Cooking and Eating
It is not necessary to wear an apron for a cooking class at “O Porto Interior”, but it is imperative to keep the eyes wide open to follow the chef’s moves. Watching the preparation of the popular dessert “serradura,” topped with crushed Maria biscuits opens the appetite for main courses. The restaurant offers authentic Macanese dishes, which combine Portuguese, Chinese and African flavors. This colonial two-floor restaurant is located nearby A-Ma Temple (the oldest Buddhist Buddhist temple in Macau) and is decorated with red color details (red represents fortune and joy). There you can try the famous “giant devil prawns,” typical Macanese seafood rice and the stylish chicken curry. And of course, “serradura” for dessert is a must.

History, Culture & Places to Stay
Museum lovers will have a blast at the Macau Museum getting in tune with Macao’s origins and history. After 500 years governed by the Portuguese, Macau returned to The People’s Republic of China in 1999. Macau Museum presents a panoramic view of arts, traditions and culture. Macau Handover Gifts Museum show magnificent gifts presented by the government of each province to celebrate the handover. It established Macao Special Administrative Region (MSAR) that became part of “one country, two systems” policy. Visiting Mandarin House is an extraordinary way to see a traditional Chinese residence, featuring architectural influences from Western cultures. Mandarin House seems perfect for a movie set. The latest novelty is Macau’s Science Center, recently opened to the public. It features 14 galleries and a planetarium in a futuristic design by architect I.M.Pei, famous for designing a skyscraper in Hong Kong for the Bank of China.

If the idea is to be close to the historical part of the city, two wonderful hotel choices are Sofitel Macau and Wynn. Several world heritage sites are located within walking distance of Sofitel, from where it is easy to get a flavor of local culture and city streets. A beautiful view over the Pearl River and comfortable suites make Sofitel very pleasant for touristic or business trips. Groups or families can also enjoy Sofitel Summer Luxury Mansion packages, featuring two bedrooms and designed to four people.

One of the best ways to experience the history of the city is by walking through the world heritage sites. The morning is a nice time for a stroll at the charming Camoes Garden, watching locals practicing Tai Chi or a traditional Chinese fan dance. It is a lot of fun participating too!

Another great walking tour starts in one of the Macau hills, where three historical sites are conveniently aligned (the old city wall, Na Tcha Temple and Ruins of St. Paul). A closer look at the old city walls, built by the Portuguese as military defense in the late 1500s, reveals clear signs of attacks. Made of a mixture of fragile materials such as clay and oyster shells, the walls were almost completely destroyed and just a limited extension was left. Similar fate had the Ruins of St. Paul. The building was destroyed by a fire in 1835 and just the façade remained erect, composed by several carved symbols and statues. The presence of Na Tcha Temple and Ruin s of St. Paul so close to each other accidentally represents the freedom of religion guaranteed by Macau’s Basic Law, placing side by side Buddhist and Catholics.

Descending the hill, you will pass many shops selling Macau’s traditional cookies and jerked beef. Shops will be vying for your attention to offer samples. Although present in many of the street’s sidewalks, it is at Senado Square where Portuguese black and white cobble stones wave design is really striking. And I thought that this kind of design was exclusive to Copacabana beach sidewalk in Rio de Janeiro! Senado Square is the center compass to gracious colonial style buildings with its many arches. Saint Dominic Church and Holy House of Mercy are beautiful architectural highlights. Don’t miss the experience of taking a walk down Felicidade Street or Avenida Almeida Ribeiro. Exotic and bargain shopping in specialty stores can be fascinating.

Treats before Taking off
After such a full day, an option for a treat is to dine at Wynn’s “Il Teatro Ristorante.” It offers fabulous views of “Music Fountain” with its vivacious and entertaining show of music, lights and fire effects. Lights dance according to the music. Some suggestions offered by the very talented chef include delightful Alaskan crabs with portabella mushroom salad and smoked ricotta cheese, grilled sea scallops wrapped in pancetta. For dessert, there is sensational creative mix of limoncello and pomelo, a native Southeast Asian citrus fruit.

Macau Tower, one of the city’s most famous postcards, has becoming a synonymous of daring sports. The site is known worldwide as the highest bungee jump from the top of its 233 meters tower. Master climbs are also available. If you never tried, several photographs are available there for you to get a sense of what is like before jumping. It is recommended choosing a sunny day to jump though. The danger of lightening would force it to shut down.

Before a farewell to this fantastic city that mixes so many different layers of entertainment and culture, you may wish to check this wonderful restaurant for lunch. Rossio, located at MGM Macau tower next door to the traditional Grand Lisboa Hotel and Casino. The atmosphere is light, elegant and ample surrounded by delicate flowers. Best choice of seats face an outside area that recall European outdoors cafes. Indulge in the selected but extensive buffet and tasteful delicacies for dessert.
© Gisele Ribeiro June 2011

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