Having just visited Hong Kong, a one hour trip by TurboJet ferry across Victoria Harbor provided us an opportunity to visit the prior Portuguese colony of Macau. I first recognized its colonial past while walking on its black and white sidewalks. The small square stones laid in patterns of waves, anchors and stars were identical to those in Lisbon that chewed up my suitcase wheels on the hills to an AirBnB.
The Portuguese left other remnants such as street names and buildings that would be at home in southern Europe. These treasures are found in the Historic Centre of Macau which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Walking its streets you feel a European vibe with the cobblestones, architecture, and, of course, an abundance of catholic churches. However, the apartment buildings with aging, small balconies towering above yield a constant reminder of its Asian locale.
From our hotel, The Rio Hotel, a steep 20-minute climb up dangerous portions of roads without sidewalks led to the Guia Lighthouse. This was the first modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast and today it is used as the GPS location for Macau. At its side, The Cathedral of the Lady of the Snow displays some restored frescoes which are interesting but not spectacular. As with many places we visited, we watched the Chinese tourists taking selfies with friends here. As meticulous as any Western teenagers, they try all of the possible backgrounds and snap as many photos as possible to get that one great selfie.
One of the premier Portuguese influences we experienced was the food! We lunched at Dom Galo our first day in the city. The thick, book-sized menus included pictures of each selection. Although difficult to decide, we were delighted with our choices shown in the photos below.
During another lunch, we savored traditional dim sum at 台灣老舖美食 which means Taiwan Delicious. David tried the pork-filled dumplings (with a side plate of pig ears) while the dumplings for the pescatarian were filled with crab and, surprisingly, soup. Although the food was outstanding, one of the best parts of the experience was sharing our 4 person table. The first young couple was not so sure about their tablemates. The next graciously gave a very long explanation in Chinese when I asked “Soy sauce?” while pointing to one of the bottles on the table.
For dinner one night, the cozy European setting of Vinha provided a relaxed and elegant atmosphere. This is where we found the Portuguese meal that we want to recreate at home. A layer of thin-cut fried potatoes is topped by a stir-fry of cod, onions, green peppers, and scrambled eggs. The blend produced the perfect balance of simplicity and flavor.
Macau is a gambling haven and Chinese tourists visit here for its multitude of casinos and the exclusive shopping. In this aspect, Macau is like Las Vegas on steroids. There are mega casinos such as the Galaxy Macau and The Venetian Macau which dwarf those on the Vegas strip. Inside, the casino areas are packed with gamblers betting at blackjack, poker, and slots as well as games unfamiliar to us. Other entertainment includes incredible swimming facilities like the world’s largest rooftop wave pool, full-sized cinemas, and Vegas type shows in addition to a varied selection of restaurants. Based on the quantity of bags that we saw, the Chinese visitors here take in not only the gambling but the shopping as well. Versace, Dior, Armani, Tom Ford, and Channel were always busy with patrons as were hundreds of other designer stores.
Macau delivers a remarkable perspective of how the sharing of cultures produces a distinctive atmosphere. Although we didn’t place even a single bet, we feel like high stakes winners having collected memories of cobblestone pavers, Old World food, and bright casino lights.