Our next, and very exotic stop, was the former colony of Macau! How long was this place a Portuguese colony? Long. From around the 16th century until rather recently - 1999! Of course, this is now firmly part of China, as a Special Administrative Region.
Our arrival there was very interesting. When we got there, we were very hungry, and one of the first things we did was hit a Macanese restaurant. The presence of wine (wine!?) and a number of dishes with Portuguese sounding names (like galinha à portuguesa, which originated in Macau, despite the name) made it a most intriguing experience. Also, to my chagrin, my camera started malfunctioning there, so during this part of the trip I only took pictures when and if my camera was in the mood...
Colour, Portuguese, and streets
For me, wandering the streets of Macau, especially on the Macau Peninsula, was fascinating! I loved seeing bilingual Portuguese-Traditional Chinese street signs. I adored the European feeling - a very different one from Shanghai's! And the use of colour - pastels everywhere! And plazas and squares, like the Company of Jesus Square (Largo da Companhia de Jesus, 耶穌會紀念廣場; 3rd photo below) and St. Augustine's Square (Largo de Santo Agostinho, 崗頂前地; 4th photo). So unlike Beijing and so much of Mainland China!
And, additionally, the sight of churches and Christian religious symbols was also striking, like the 16th century yellow St. Dominic's Church (Igreja de São Domingos, 玫瑰堂) and the - also from the 16th century - Holy House of Mercy (Santa Casa da Misericórdia, 仁慈堂大樓). Those are the last two photos in the series below.
My dad used to dream of someday visiting Macau. No wonder!
Largo do Senado
Of course, the centre of it all is Senate Square (Largo do Senado, 議事亭前地). By the way, this area, the historic centre of Macau is - how unsurprising - a UNESCO World Heritage site. Honestly, this place is so unique! And thanks to the Chinese New Year, we could enjoy a huge and very Chinese dog (remember, year of the dog!) right in the middle of the square, surrounded by all these buildings that were the seat of Portuguese power in this remote part of Asia! Also, please note the undulating pattern on the pavement - so Portuguese! Über-cool.
But Macau is more than the Macau Peninsula. We also visited two quiet, charming, quaint islands. The bigger one, Taipa, was an absolute pleasure to walk. Yeah, I know, was there a part that wasn't? But really. Like, for example, on this island we came across the Pak Tai Temple (北帝廟), dedicated to the Taoist God of the North, and the Taipa Houses-Museum (Casas-Museu da Taipa, 龍環葡韻住宅式博物館), with traditional houses of 19th century well-off Portuguese families, facing the water. The old, the traditional, the water, the vegetation... Ah...
Not very populated, not a very important part of Macau, and for that reason rather undeveloped, it has a very peaceful, quiet, rural character. And is the place where you'll find Espaço Lisboa, a restaurant which, though we had not even an inkling of what Portuguese food was supposed to be like, seemed to us like some of the most delicious food - of any kind - we'd ever had! The ingredients, the quality, the taste, the service...
Though my camera didn't work there, it did work when we decided to go for a nice night stroll to relax and absorb all these amazing experiences...
And talking about interesting experiences, see what we found at the 1907 St. Francis Xavier's Church (Igreja de São Francisco Xavier, 望廈聖方濟各堂): a thoroughly Chinese Madonna and Child! Amazing!
The Portuguese had to have a military centre, right? If you want great views of the city, climbing up to the 17th century Mount Fortress (Fortaleza do Monte, 大炮台), built as a defence against the Dutch (yep, the Dutch, who attempted an invasion in 1622), will give you that and more. Because you'll not just be seeing Macau's fantastic mix of Portuguese, Chinese and modern architecture, but you'll also see what should strike anybody as one of the most peculiar sites of Macau: the Ruins of St. Paul's (Ruínas de São Paulo, 大三巴牌坊). In the 17th century, this was one of the largest Catholic churches in Asia, but was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in 1835, leaving just the façade. And it stands as one fantastic, beautiful, imposing landmark.
Last, but definitely not least, the A-Ma Temple (媽閣廟), at the tip of the peninsula. This is one old temple, from 1488, and is dedicated to - very appropriately, given its location - the goddess of seafarers, Matsu. Apparently, this temple may have given Macau it's name, as the theory goes that, when the Portuguese arrived and asked what place this was, the locals replied A-Ma-Gau (bay of the A-Ma goddess). Anyhow, both the location, the age and the atmosphere of the place are quite special.
So glad I got to check Macau off my bucket list! And after Macau, the celebration went on at one of our favourite places in all of Asia - Hong Kong!