Panicing? I’m not panicing.

OK so here’s the deal . I am a little behind (about 3 weeks) in my blogging, and there are still a few things I need to write about China But I’m finding it hard to catch up and we have moved on a little….soooo.

I have inserted a couple of titles below which I will edit in the pieces when they are done and let you know!

If I don’t start to put the new pieces in now I will end up months behind, and that would be bad.

I had it covered, really I did. All the bookings printed out, passports, tickets and a plan. The plan was a good one too. We get the 11 am ferry from Macau directly to Hong Kong airport, that way we are all checked in by the time we get there and spend a leisurely couple of hours strolling the airport boutiques and changing our currency before boarding the flight to Thailand, without the need to cart our baggage on the underground across the centre of Hong Kong at a busy lunchtime. I told you it was a good plan. Flawless.

Well almost flawless.

Apart from the fact that when we arrived at the ferry terminal it transpired that there was no 11 am sailing to the airport, but all was not lost there was an 11.30 departure and the flight didn’t leave till ten past 2. We would be checked in at 11.30 and in Hong Kong airport by 12.30. lovely. Apart from the fact that when they said that when travelling to the airport by ferry you had to be checked in 2 hours before your flight what they actually meant was that you had to be at the airport 2 hours before your flight and ‘checking in’ at the ferry terminal didn’t actually count as part of the 2 hour time scale. I was then very calmly informed that if I arrived at 12.30 I wouldn’t be accepted for ‘airport check in’ as I would technically be 20 minutes late and would be sent back to Macau on the next ferry.

OK, so the plan was starting to look a tiny bit flawed now I’ll admit.

It was now 10.40am and time for a hastily constructed plan B.
11am ferry to Hong Kong non airport ferry terminal, there by mid-day, 20 minute taxi to central station then a half hour ride on the airport express. Easily be there by 1pm with an hour and 10 minutes before the plane left. That was do-able. Boarding began at 1.40, but that would be OK. Really we would make it in time. We would.

Plan B was rapidly replaced by a panic stricken and rather desperate Plan C when at 11.15 the 11am ferry was still idling in the dock at Macau.
By 11.20 we were finally under way.
At 12.21 I dragged 2 cases and a very excited Moo in my wake and joined the mercifully short lines at Hong Kong immigration. By 12.40 we were in a taxi heading directly for the airport with the cabbie on a promise of a $50 tip if we got to check in by 10 minutes past 1.
We got to the check in desk at 1.20, but as the cabbie had loaded our bags on a trolley and run them up to the counter himself he got his tip anyway. It’s not his fault there was a torrential downpour on the way there and he had to cut his speed a little.

With boarding passes in hand we hurtled thought the airport towards the gate, which was of course the furthest away, and arrived as they were calling for our row numbers to embark.

To say it was a relief to sink into the seat would be something of an understatement.
During the flight a young lady approached us and told us that she had been through the same panic stricken routine having arrived at Macau expecting the 11am departure, and had seen us on the ferry and was very glad we had made it. She had chosen the HK airport express route as it turns out you can check in at the train station and that does ‘count’. But she had only arrived at the gate minutes before us and had run most of the way. On balance I think with 2 cases and a 5 year old in tow plan C was defiantly our best option.

I am please to report that the rest of our journey was smooth by comparison and I can once again make an airline recommendation. Thai Airways are simply marvellous. Although the flight was only 2 and a half hours we were plied with alcohol almost as soon as we sat down and a lovely meal was served. There was a slight hiccough with meal as they had run out of the one I wanted and I was asked to wait a couple of minutes while they fetched another from elsewhere. When the ‘any more bread rolls’ lady was doing the rounds I mentioned I was still waiting for my meal and less than a minute later it was presented with a glass of champagne by way of apology, then 10 minutes later the steward who had forgotten arrived with a fresh gin and tonic and after that, quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.

There was a brief and incident free change of planes at Bangkok and another quick hop, (this time I thought I had better refuse the G&T if I actually wanted to make it to the hotel in any fit state), to Phuket. Our hotel driver appeared and 40 minutes later we were sipping complimentary check in drinks at the pool-side bar. After a swift coffee in the, very nice, room there was just time to take a dip in the pool before heading off to bed.

I have only been in Thailand for a few hours but I have already been struck by the genuine kindness and gentleness of the people, and by the darkness of the night sky. Coming from the neon lit nights of Macau and Hong Kong I had forgotten how dark the night sky actually is and how brightly the stars can shine.

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.

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.

Fishy Nibbles

In all honesty I thought it was just a bit mad, I mean do people really pay to have that done? I mean it has happened to me before by accident when I was on holiday in Cyprus, and whilst it was not altogether unpleasant, it was something of a shock and not something I ever though I’d find myself actively volunteering to do.

But here we were in the ‘Shoppes* at the Four Seasons’ hotel searching out the place. (*just so you know I haven’t made a typo there they do actually call them ‘shopPEs’).
I had done a little research and in fact this is one of the ‘hottest’ new spa treatments available and all the bright young things are putting their best feet forward and having a dabble, so why the heck not eh?
We paid our money and had our feet very professionally washed and cleansed and were given some specially disinfected spa sandals to take us to the therapy pools. And then it was time.

I was a little nervous as I lowered my size 41’s into the warm clear water. In less than 2 seconds I was laughing hysterically as around 50 – 60 fish were all chomping away greedily on my manky feet.

Garra Rufa at work
The fish on our feet were about 10 times that size

It is the most bizarre sensation, somewhere in between tickling and scratching not at all unpleasant and after you get used to the initial tickle, a most relaxing and enjoyable 30 minutes.

Fishy nibbles or,to give it it’s correct title, Icthyotherapy has its origins in India and Turkey, both of which are the native home to the ‘Garra Rufa’ or ‘Doctor Fish’. These fish feed on dead or diseased skin and are increasingly being used by patients in the treatment of psoriasis and dermatitis as they only consume the affected and dead areas of the skin, leaving the healthy skin to grow.
Of course on the back of these benefits the ‘spa’ industry has jumped on the bandwagon and promoted the use of these little nibblers as part of the ultimate pedicure, and after just 30 minutes I can’t say that I disagree.

The Fish Spa at the Four Seasons Macau

I feel like I have new feet. Gone are the rough scaly heels and the solid edges on the big toes that many hours of past grooming have failed to remove and my feet feel, well, nice. Even the excruciatingly ticklish process of opening my toes wide to let them nibble inside was well worth the few minutes I could bear. Moo was fascinated, but only managed to dip one foot in for one tiny munch before freaking out, but Hubs looked like he was in fishy heaven, even though he couldn’t quite manage opening his toes for fear of squishing a fishy if it was just too much for him to cope with.

As an odd experience it’s up there with the oddest, but it’s also something I can recommend with both feet.

A Bientot.