Home

Home is where the heart is.

Nonsense.

We have been home now for a week, but my heart is still firmly in Macau.

We passed a wonderful few days in London both catching up and missing dear friends. Of course we weren’t really in ‘London’ at all as the delightful LD lives out near Richmond which has all the benefits of being close enough to ‘town’, but is so far removed from the city that you could imagine yourself to be in any quaint English country village. We strolled around the parks and had lattes and ice cream down by the river with the ‘yummy mummy’ set, of course having a bi-lingual child and having just returned from a month in Macau we fitted right in, although I’m not sure my sunglasses were quite large enough for me to fully gain acceptance into their ranks (phew). Our one foray into central London to meet JJ for yet more coffee, was quite enough and I managed about 4 hours before the long lost urge to run screaming into the night almost overwhelmed me. But then if you are ridiculous enough to tackle Hamleys then half of Oxford street sans valium then I suppose you have no-one to blame but yourself .

Despite LD’s torturous essay and exam schedule we did manage a whole day gadding about together,

Ham House, sadly not made of bacon

and took the sweetest little foot ferry across the Thames and did coffee and cake at a ‘terribly nice’ garden centre. How very. Moo was deeply disappointed when the elegant Ham House turned out in fact to be made of boring old bricks, but the discovery of the magical trees that grow

Th magical Smartie cake tree, ready for harvest.

smartie cakes, that just so happened to be ripe for harvesting, more than made up for it.

When it came time to depart I was heard to mutter under my breath ‘ I don’t really want to go home’. Well good old karma must have heard me and when we arrived to board our Eurostar to Lille we were met with the sight of several thousand people, with their several thousand suitcases, all patiently waiting to check in for trains that were due to depart around an hour previously. Not good.

It transpires that a carbon monoxide sensor had been triggered in the tunnel in the early morning and there would be no trains until it had all been checked and cleared. The rumour amongst the crowd was that there was to be a delay of about an hour, but as it was already over an hour since the first train was
supposed to have left I had my doubts. But then the hi-vis angels appeared at the check-in desks and we began to filter through. When it was our turn I informed the lovely lady that I had a connection to make, but as there was 2 hours to make it there shouldn’t be too much of a problem. From the heavy sigh and the stamp on the back of my ticket, I got the impression that the connection would be lost. And so onto security where Moo was way ahead of the rest of the pack with her jacket already off and her shoes ready to go in the tray, (this is one travel savvy 5 year old), when the very nice security lady told her she could in fact keep her shoes on Moo then quizzed her why it was OK to wear shoes for a train, but not for a plane. We still haven’t come up with a satisfactory answer for her.

Instead of moving forward through passport control we were told that the departures lounge was now full and we all had to stay in the small empty space, unable to go back into the main station as we had been ‘screened’ and unable to move forward through passport control. The glittering illuminated sign for ‘Nero’s coffee’ just beyond the gate, so near and yet so far from my reach, did little to calm my slowly fraying nerves. After about 20 minutes in no-mans land Moo uttered the words I dreaded to hear, yet came to adore. ‘Mummy, I really need a wee’. After a quick scan of our holding pen revealed no facilities (there weren’t any chairs so I wasn’t really expecting to find a loo, but I looked anyway), I spotted a loitering security guard who informed me that there weren’t any toilets in this bit and I’d have to wait. I politely informed him that in that case he had better go and find a mop and as the realisation dawned he quick marched us through passport control and pointed us in the right direction. Now we were actually no nearer to getting on an actual train, but at least I could now get a coffee while we waited. Much better.

The time dragged on and by 1pm the 9.20 departure was finally boarding to the sound of much cheering, not least by those still confined in the holding pen, sadly our departure wasn’t scheduled till 10.57, but it was a step in the right direction. By 2.45 we were on our way to Lille with all thoughts, even with the time adjustment, of making our 2.54 connection thrown to the winds, but the hope that the next train wouldn’t be too long after.

Hope is a curious thing. Marvellous and life affirming when rewarded, Crushing and soul destroying when dashed.

When we arrived we were informed that the previous service had departed just 3 short minutes ago and, to add insult to injury, the next service had been delayed by an accident and would now depart in a little over 3 hours. It was at this point Moo externalised my internal emotions and threw up all over the platform. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

With mopping up done and a remarkably swift recovery made, our bags were deposited in left luggage we headed out into the sunshine of Lille to send frantic text messages to the person who was supposed to be picking us up from the next station. Thankfully timings were successfully adjusted and new arrangements were made for later that night. Mrs HV I salute you (although she did later confess that she was actually quite pleased we had been delayed as she didn’t really fancy driving into the centre of Le Mans at 5.30 on a Saturday afternoon, and having done it myself I don’t really blame her).

The courtyard area outside Lille Europe station is spacious and actually quite pretty with it’s

The flowers at Lille Europe
bizarrely beautiful brightly painted metal flower sculpture/kids climbing frame and arching fountains, and despite the annoyance of our delay and the seemingly never ending parade of small children sent out to beg as their parents soaked up the sun, we passed a pleasant couple of hours basking in the early evening warmth.

At last it was time for our train and this time lady karma was kind. Our train supervisor for the journey was an exceptionally tall and charming young man who, after regarding the original time on out tickets and hearing our tale of woe, was at great pains to lessen the stress of our remaining journey. He moved us form our cramped two seats in a full carriage onto an empty table for four in pole position in the deserted buffet car, thus facilitating Moo’s need to wander about, and my very great need for more caffeine. Small acts of kindness can bring forth sunbeams from beyond the clouds.

I somehow managed to keep Moo and Myself awake for the last section of our journey, (waking up in Nantes is not something that would have enhanced the day), and we fell into the waiting car and drifted back to the house. I poured Moo into her bed, had a quick coffee and catch up with my friend before bidding her a fond good night. As I finally shut the door on the day, in contrast to my thoughts at the days beginning, I couldn’t actually be more happy to be home. And although my heart is still many miles away, this time I’m going with the wise words of Pumba, (yes really the warthog from ‘The Lion King’).

Home is, in fact, where your rump rests.

A Bientôt.

Advertisements

Reflections

The last month has been the one of the best and quickest 4 weeks I’ve ever had. The sights and sounds of the wonderful, bonkers, exciting, peaceful place that is Macau will last a lifetime, and already I cant wait to go back. There is very little about Macau that fitted with my expectations, and I am more than happy to say that all were exceeded.

The three regions of Macau are distinct and different, each with its own unique character.

The North, Macau Island, is the city. Densely populated , crowded and noisy, with honking traffic jams and bustling markets round just about

one of the many shopping streets

every corner, yet ready to surprise you with an architectural ruin, a huge open park and playground or a peaceful church or temple when you least expect it. To the south of the island on the peninsula is were you will find the big prestigious hotels, clubs and shops, a playground for the wealthy, or of course those who may have just had a big win at one of the many casinos…. The bright lights

Cross one of the three impressive bridges and you will find yourself in Taipa, the ‘town’ part of Macau, and the part of the island where I spent the most time.

The 4 faced Buddha, Taipa town
The housing again is high rise, but not as densely packed as Macau Island so the feeling of space is more tangeable and the proliferation of play parks, green spaces and exercise parks amongst the urban landscape is both refreshing and slightly exhausting, particularly if you are walking with a 5 year old who insists on trying out all of them. As you head further south new Taipa gives way to old town with its Mediterranean style houses and shopping squares. It is a wonderful place to walk around and I have spent many a happy hour browsing the mix of local and tourist shops. This is also where I discovered the absolute delight of the Macanese warm egg tart, a famous delicacy of the Island and one I think I may have become slightly addicted to.
Old own Taipa and the City of Dreams

The Cotai strip is an area of ever growing land reclaimed from the sea, which is home the massive new casino developments, including the one where Hubs is currently working, and many apartment blocks most of which are under construction. Whilst the scale of the building is grand, there are many restrictions on the land which mean that a certain amount of space must be left over to park land and open space so, for the moment at least, it will not fall foul of the dense capacity on the Main Island.

Passing through Cotai and heading south you will pass world class sporting venues, reservoirs and vast parks (one of which has a mini zoo) on the way to Coloane, the quietest and most unspoilt part of Macau.

Coloane Rotunda
Owing to it’s colonial heritage walking along the southern coast of Coloane is slightly disorientating as it looks and feels like an old Portuguese fishing village. No high rise here, but brightly painted façades and mosaicked terraces which lead to piazza cafes serving a bizarre and wonderful array of what I believe is rightly called ‘fusion cuisine’, an eclectic mix of Cantonese, European and Russian food can all be found within a stones throw, more often than not on the same menu. They also sell egg tarts, but we should probably skip over that.
Coloane is home is also home to the Islands beaches both of which are well adapted to the needs of both tourists and locals with the options of fine dining resting happily along side
Hac Sa beach and the exclusive Westin resort
the many barbecue pits and beach side cafes and shops. And if the waves prove to be a little too large for you and the current a little too strong, there are nearby pools and parks to frolic in.

So that’s the geography dealt with, now its time for the nitty gritty

The people of Macau are generally very nice indeed, we were lucky enough to meet quite a few locals (one of the advantages of having a 5 year old who is not afraid to make introductions), and they all seemed most contented with their lot in life, there were very few complaints . They are very well aware of their privileged position as a ‘special administrative region’ of China which allows them certain freedoms in their lifestyle that they would not have if they lived on the mainland, and that is very rarely taken for granted.

Whilst the casino and gaming industry undoubtedly dominate both the landscape and economy, the heritage and traditions of the island have been carefully conserved. Unlike when Las Vegas was built in the Nevada desert, the culture and people were already here so there is a richness and depth to your surroundings that surpass the bright lights. The casinos are obliged to contribute to the infrastructure of the Island so it has facilities and transport that are quite splendid and extremely well maintained, and whilst certain buses may be a little rickety and others packed to around 5 times capacity, they are clean, cheap and very regular. And if you really want to avoid the meagre bus fare there is a network of free casino shuttles running back and forward all through the day and night on many of the major routes. Healthcare, education and policing are also very high priorities and the Island boasts 2 universities and numerous international and indigenous schools, and there are 4 hospitals and many private clinics. The police seem to be around every corner, but their presence never felt oppressive, but rather reassuring, they were on hand to assist in all matters and we were often pointed in the right direction by a local officer who took pity on what quite clearly must have been our ‘I’m a visitor here and may be a tiny bit lost’ demeanour. Whilst on our travels we saw no evidence of crime, no fighting or brawling in the streets, no aggressive behaviour of any kind, unless you count anyone who happens to be behind the wheel of a car, and in a place where so much alcohol is consumed that is indeed unusual. If you have ever been in virtually any European town or city centre on a weekend you will probably know what I mean. But when the punishment for any incidents related to public drunkenness can be up to 3 years in prison, perhaps it is not so surprising after all.

I am unsure if I would ever have the required level of bravado to drive in Macau as the traffic puts both Paris and Rome to shame, and crossing the road should be viewed as an extreme sport. I’m sure there are some rules but it may take me quite a while to figure out what they are. If you ride one of the numerous scooters buzzing around it would seem that not only a helmet, but nerves of steel are a pre-requisite. Taxis are numerous cheap and fast, and seem to have right of way at every junction and they are even allowed to reverse back around roundabouts if they happen to miss the exit. Well strictly speaking I’m not entirely convinced they are actually allowed to, but it seemed quite common practice. Saying that, despite the number of times we heard squealing brakes and cursing drivers I am happy to report that we never actually witnessed any collisions.

As visitors we were very warmly welcomed and felt very much at home. Of course they are used to visitors here, the projected numbers for this year alone top 25 million, but although the sight of all nationalities are usual here, there was something about Moo that caught the attention.
It was a little unnerving at first as almost everywhere we went she was the subject of utter fascination. While waiting for the bus she was regularly surrounded by admirers who wanted to touch her hair and stroke her face, I wasn’t entirely sure why, but it happened wherever we went. By week 3 she had lost all reserve and was happily posing for pictures with strangers and signing autographs, well not quite autographs, but it really wouldn’t have surprised me. My little lady will be featured in many a holiday snap besides our own.
A lovely young girl who worked at one of the local cafes took Moo to her heart immediately and we were soon on the receiving end of first class service and gifts of chocolate and milkshakes for the celebrity daughter, when Moo wrote a small thank-you note the level of appreciation doubled and we became the star customers. Eventually she put us out of our misery and explained to us why Moo was being so roundly adored. It seems that the combination of long dark hair and very pale skin is highly prized and most unusual, I’m sure the fact the Moo is a smiley, chatty wee soul most of the time did nothing but enhance people’s enthusiasm. When we told Susan we were soon to be leaving she was close to tears, and insisted on pictures all round so she would remember her ‘little sister’. When the day of our departure dawned there was an exchange of gifts and tears were flowing. It was weirdly emotional, and one of the many quirky things I loved about Macau.

There is still so much more on the island that I haven’t seen and many places I have not yet visited , as a tourist I’m sure there are many sides to life in Macau that I have no concept of, but I will be very happy to return there and have some more misadventures.

The delicious Macanese egg tart

And maybe eat a few more egg tarts.

A bientot.

Up up and away

Sitting at the gate at Hong Kong International with 10 minutes till boarding my flight to london. I really did mean to post before now but time has gotten the better of me again.
I will miss my husband very much, but will be going back very soon. More details after the jet lag. Right they are just about to call the flight so I really must go, updates will be on very soon.

A bientot

Lost in Venice

Considering just how many casinos there are on such a small island, I haven’t actually been in very many. Well the obvious reason is that most of the time I have Moo with me and there is of course a strict age limit of 18 for the casino floor, but It’s not just the gambling of course, but the vast array of shopping dining and entertainment options available in each venue. And just walking around gawking at the décor can be an experience in itself. Of the few I have been to I have had a mostly enjoyable time. The City of Dreams complex comprises the Hard rock Hotel, The Crown towers hotel and the Hyatt. It is open plan with high ceilings and lots of huge windows, lots of open areas and easy to navigate, even after a visit to the notorious flame bar. We have spent a fair amount of time in the COD as this is where hubs is based and it’s handy for lunch, we have been in the Hyatt for lunch once (thankfully someone else paid that time), and again the space and light are quite dramatic and the expansive fountains can be viewed from the lobby cafe whilst nibbling on your salad.

Then there is the Venetian.

The Venetian Hotel Macau

This is the fourth Venice I have been to with Hubs. The first was in Vegas on our honeymoon, the second was in Japan, the third one was actually in Italy.

This one is a truly epic sized shopping mall, theatre and casino complex boasting 5 levels of high end shopping, spa’s, roving entertainers and, of course, canals fully furnished with operatic gondoliers The sprawling, maze like, interior of the main shopping/canal streets are

'Just like the real thing'
almost identically facaded to look like the streets of Venice with the tiny ‘houses’ each having brightly coloured window boxes and shutters which glow in the evening light , the roofs are painted with faux sky which darken throughout the evening as the ‘street lights’ flicker into life.

Sounds magical.

Apparently there is a kids activity area in the Venetian so today after lunch we set off to find it. We strolled in the main entrance and headed up the escalators to ‘the canals’. I had a vague idea where it might be as I had seen a sign for it when we came here with hubs so I set off purposefully in what I believed to be the right general direction. We ambled about breathing in the highly oxygenated air and enjoyed very much a short extract from Carmen sung beautifully by a wandering pair of minstrels, Molly was once again photographed by random giggling passers-by who wanted to stroke her face, (more of that in another post…), and we waved to a few passengers being serenaded on their canal rides.

Its all looking a little familiar...
We turned onto another ‘street’ and enjoyed very much a short extract from Madame Butterfly sung beautifully by a wandering pair of minstrels, Molly was once again photographed by random giggling passers-by who wanted to stroke her face, and we waved to a few passengers being serenaded on their canal rides. So we turned onto another ‘street’, with much the same result. This was getting silly, so I headed to one of the many interactive shopping maps to guide my way, only to find that the place wasn’t even listed, after an extensive search of the literature I found it was on Level 5 accessed by the South wing lifts, and made a note of the helpful little dots showing me the route. We set of again, this time more sure of our path. We turned yet another identical corner and this time enjoyed very much a short extract from Die Fledermaus sung beautifully by a wandering pair of minstrels, Molly was once again photographed by random giggling passers-by who wanted to stroke her face, and we waved to a few passengers being serenaded on their canal rides.
Another corner, another canal.

Impossible.
Another quick check on another map showed we had strayed even further form our intended destination in just about the opposite direction that I had though we were going in. Those of you who know me will know that a strong sense of direction is not a characteristic that would immediately spring to mind when asked to surmise my natural talents, but even by my standards, this was just silly. I was by now determined to find this place, and felt sure that I could manage it this time. I peered rather nervously around the next corner and was utterly delighted to find myself in the food court, not that I was particularly hungry, just that I was at last somewhere different and that the South wing lifts were within easy reach from here. Triumphantly we arrived at the lift lobby only to be confronted with a sign that stated in no uncertain terms that access was for hotel guests only When I queried this with ‘lift-security’ I was told in no uncertain terms that access was indeed for hotel guests only, and if I wished to access level 5. I should really be at the North wing.

Punching a casino security guard for absolutely no good reason or fault of her own is probably not a wise thing to do, so with the very little good-will I felt I had left in me at that moment I issued a polite thank-you and turned and walked smartly away in what I can only presume to be entirely the wrong direction.

After the hour and a half we had just spent navigating our way to the wrong destination the thought of attempting to traverse the canals once more made me feel a little nauseous, and after a quick consultation with Moo we decided that by far the best course of action would be to give up entirely and head back to the park at the apartments and maybe have a little bit of chocolate on the way. She’s a smart kid.

Now all I had to do was find the exit.

A bientôt.

Small, but perfectly formed.

‘Mummy, Daddy, I felt the magic all of the whole day’.

A sentence to bring a tear to the eye of every weary parent and justify every single Hong Kong dollar that had just passed through our hands.

We set off from Taipa on the 12 o’clock ferry, and in just 50 minutes we had passed by the many small and beautiful Islands and were watching the glittering Hong Kong skyline come into focus.

Hong Kong Skyline
The sheer scale of the buildings took my breath away. We were off the ferry and onto the overhead walkway looking down on the bustling streets, teeming with traffic and noise below. Surrounded by the terribly British road and place names felt strange in such an alien city, but there was a bus on Connaught Road, heading to St. Mary’s via Edinburgh square. There was little time to contemplate this however as we were having a quick lunch stop in McDonalds at the request of small person (the same the world over, but perhaps a little faster service), before getting our ‘octopus’ metro cards and heading toward the house of mouse. We arrived at the interchange station and waited for the shuttle with Moo barely able to contain herself.
View from 'The Disney Express'
The train that pulled up was covered in sparkles and had Mickey shaped windows, the magic had begun.
As we walked the short distance from the station to the park entrance Moo was captivated by statues and flags of all shapes and colour, but when she saw the mouse himself riding a surfboard atop a whales spout she exclaimed, ‘LOOK, it really is a magic place’ and we hadn’t even bought the tickets yet.
As the sun beat down we thought it might be a good idea to get her a hat, but took one look at the prices and decided that really it would be a better idea to use the umbrella I had packed as an afterthought, for shade. Thank the good Lord for those afterthoughts.
With tickets in hand we headed for ‘Main Street USA’ for those familiar with the magic kingdom experience I need say no more, but in case you are not I will explain further. Main Street is the main thoroughfare in every park, a row of shop fronts fashioned on a traditional ‘olde-worlde’ mid-west American theme, which I actually thought was a bit of a myth till I visited a couple of traditional ‘olde-worlde’ mid west American towns last summer, and I have to say it’s pretty much spot on. Until you go inside them and find them piled high from floor to ceiling with every conceivable piece of merchandise you could imagine, with prices which are, in the main, like the character balloon on sale, over-inflated and far too high. Having done the park in Paris last summer we were wise to this and headed straight to sleeping beauty’s castle, which sits proudly, as it is does in every park, after the roundabout at the head of main street.
The Castle and Parade
We had arrived at around the right time for the parade and picked our spot to watch the cavalcade of characters and floats which passed us by with happy smiling faces beaming and waving from every one of them. Even the most hardened cynic would find it difficult not to raise a smile at the look on the kids faces when they go by. The only problem we were having was the heat and I suddenly realised why ‘our’ side of the road was not nearly so popular a place to stand as the other more shady side. After a captivating but boiling 20 minutes it was time for a shade break so we headed to ‘tomorrow land’, for a nice sit down while I procured a couple of coffees.

After a brief respite we figured it was time to get small one on some rides and She and I headed of to ‘autopia’ whilst Hubs got a pass and went off to ride the ‘space mountain’ roller-coaster. After a dispiriting 40 minute queue it was finally our turn and Moo took great pleasure in ‘driving’ me round the track at great speed. Next we headed off to see Buzz Lightyear, but due to a small technical problem, we were advised to return later. Then Moo discovered the kids ‘cooling station’, various rocket and robot like structures with flashing lights, curious noises and most importantly, random jets and sprays of water flying in every direction, I’m not sure I’ve see a happier, wetter, cooler bunch of kids.

Next on the agenda was fantasyland.
After a 10 minute walk Moo had dried out and we headed for ‘it’s a small world’ singing our own versions of the song ‘it’s a broken world’, (attributed to our time in the Paris park), and its a painful world, (attributed to my time working for Mr Mouse in the West end), but thankfully neither turned out to be true. The boat ride took us on a journey through the countries of the world seen through the eyes of Disney and, I’m a little ashamed to admit it, I found it all rather charming. After that we were rather thankful that the sun was beginning to go down a little and it was on to the Mad hatters ‘waltzers style’ tea-cups ride where Moo and I spun ourselves round to the point of pure dizziness with a rather green looking Hubs watching from the safety of barrier. With carousels and rocket rides done we headed off for an ‘Amazonian river cruise’ with our amusing, very nearly, English speaking guide ‘Birry’.

By now it was getting dark and we headed back to main street in search of coffee and balloons, both were very much required, and to find our pitch, (as near to the exit as possible but still able to see the castle), for the 8PM finale of the day, the fireworks display. As the park lights dimmed, I hoisted Moo onto my shoulders and listened to the ‘oohs. aahh’s and wows’ as she swayed gently along to the music and delighted in the wonderfully choreographed show illuminating the night sky.

Magical Fireworks

Before it was over people began swarming past us in to secure a fast exit onto the trains and buses before it got too busy, but we stayed to the bitter end, and the look on small ones face when she came back down to earth, at least physically, was enough to make our hearts melt.

As it turned out when we did get to the train station it was relatively quiet and a mixture of both Chinese and Disney efficiency at work ensured the trains that were to whisk us back to the centre of Hong Kong were on time and frequent. After a slight detour due to the wrong exit being taken from the central station, not a difficult mistake to make, and a hastily found taxi we were back at the ferry terminal and on board the 9.30 ferry with moments to spare. An hour and another 2 stamps in the passport later we were in a cab on the way back to the apartment. Lovely.

The park in Hong Kong is very small when compared to its European or American siblings, and there are no big roller coasters or thrill rides, but it has all the essential elements that make for a day of utter magic and delight for the under 7. Whilst it lacked the big attractions it also lacked the attitude and the exhaustion that we experienced in Paris. I wouldn’t recommend taking older kids or teenagers as they would more than likely be very hard to keep entertained, there are plenty more places here that would fulfil that need more than adequately, but if you have a small person who still believes in magic, I have to admit that no body does it better than Walt.

As we poured Moo into bed that night we were rewarded richly with hugs and thanks and she took no rocking as she slumbered off to a world of wonderful dreams. As we poured ourselves a little nightcap we were tired but happy parents.

A Bientot.