Thursday, May 6, 2010

Off to a rocky start in Macau

The fast ferry ride from Kowloon was smooth; and the nice large leather seats were comfortable; and the snacks of cake and Diet Coke for me and sandwich and beer for Bill were an unexpected treat after being on the train for 24 hours. So you could say that the Macau section of our vacation was off to a good start. That did not last.

Clearing into Macau took the standard 15 minutes, so that was quick and easy. Then we walked out to the hotel bus shuttle area.....where we stood in the heat for 1 full hour waiting for the shuttle to the Beverly Plaza Hotel. Upon arrival at the hotel registration desk we were informed that all the deluxe non-smoking rooms with queen size beds were occupied, and that we had a choice. We could accept a smoking room with queen bed; or we could accept a non-smoking room with twin beds; or we could pay an additional 300 HKD and have the last non-smoking room with a queen size bed. People who know me will know what my reaction to that nonsense was....we had prepaid for a non-smoking room with a queen size bed and there was 1 available, so why does this moron think I am going to pay an additional fee for what I have already paid for! They wanted me to pay more simply because there was only 1 such room available when we checked in. Absurd!

I knew I had better shut my mouth and let Bill handle it, and he did just that. Bill kept repeating "I do not accept your solution." After at least the 10th time of going round and round and Bill repeating the same thing, the manager gave us the room. The entire time I was muttering that there is going to be one really bad review on Tripadvisor and Agoda for this hotel stay,

Finally got the the room and it was nice. Okay, 2 negatives so far on this visit: excessive wait for the shuttle and trying to rip us off for the room. Maybe it would get better. We were tired and decided room service for dinner would be nice....until we read the menu. Bill wanted either a good hamburger or a steak after all the Asian food of recent weeks.

The room service menu offered (among other strange things):
Double-Boiled Beef with Green Carrot and Carrot
Stewed Dry Duck Kidney with Vegetable Soup
Double-Boiled Chicken with Medlar and Whelk (What do you think that is?)
Steamed Preserved Meat with Salted Fish (Oh yeah, count on us eating that.)
Fried Lotus Root Mixed with Deep-Fried Dried Codfish Ball
Sauteed Egg White with Frog's Ovary (What!!!)
Marine Delicacies with Con Pay in Basin (Uh.....okay.)
Braised Fish-Air Bladder with Goose's Web and Mushroom in Casserole
Double-Boiled Shark's Fin with Ham and Crown Conchs
Chicken Feet Thai Style
Gizzard with Chili and Sesame Oil
Braised Pig's Ear with Herb Sauce
Fried Pigeon with Fresh Herbs
Braised Pigtail with Lotus Root in Casserole
Fried Shredded Ostrich with Sauce
and Bill's favorites:
Braised Fish's Head with Bean Curd in Casserole
Steamed Fish Head with Pepper

We walked a mile to the nearest McDonald's instead of enjoying room service. Don't think we will be eating in this hotel. By the way, we are the only 2 westerners staying in the Beverly Plaza Hotel, and we are the only room occupants on this floor. So the attempt to get more money from us at registration was a scam.

This morning we checked the Macau Tourism website and decided on a few historic places that might be interesting. We wrote down the names of 2 places from the tourism website and attempted to take a taxi to either place. Four taxi drivers had no idea where these places are located. Finally I asked a taxi driver to take us to the Macau Tourism Center. She radioed her dispatcher and got directions and we headed off. A few blocks later I realized she was going the wrong way because I had seen this office shortly after we left the ferry terminal yesterday. We gave up and told her to take us to the ferry dock, where we caught a hotel shuttle bus to the big Wynn hotel and casino and walked back to our hotel. The taxi drivers all carry a book of the restaurants and hotels and casinos with the names and addresses written in Chinese characters; but they don't know anything about the historic places or museums in this city. By this point I was so annoyed with Macau that nothing was going to make me enjoy this place. I decided to read instead, and Bill got online to further research places to see in Macau. He got the hotel desk clerk to write the name of one in Chinese characters so we could take a taxi, and we tried once again. This trip was successful and we found a lively tourist section of Macau.

The Sao Paulo Ruins, the Monte Fortress and the Macau museum were a great way to while away the afternoon. The museum provided details of the history of Macau from 6,000 years ago through the 1960s. Merchant ships traveling SE Asia and China began calling on Macau during the 5th century. Portuguese sailor Jorge Alvares was the first westerner to arrive in Macau (China) in 1513. Following a ship wreck in 1535, Portuguese traders were allowed to anchor ships in Macau's harbors and the right to carry out trading activities, though not the right to stay onshore. Around 1552, the Portuguese obtained temporary permission to erect storage sheds onshore in order to dry out goods drenched by sea water. They later built some rudimentary stone-houses around the area now called Nam Van. But not until 1557 did the Portuguese establish a permanent settlement in Macau at an annual rent of 500 taels of silver. In 1557 the Ming court gave consent for a permanent and official Portuguese trade base at Macau. Later that year, the Portuguese established a walled village in Macau. Ground rent payments began in 1573. China retained sovereignty and Chinese residents were subject to Chinese law, but the territory was under Portuguese administration. In 1582 a land lease was signed, and annual rent was paid. Portugal administered Macau for 442 years, first as a trading post and later as a Portuguese territory. Macau was handed back to China in 1999. It was the last European territory in Asia. Today Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People's Republic of China. As a SAR, like Hong Kong, Macau cherishes certain rights and freedoms not afforded to citizens of mainland China.

The Sao Paulo Ruins, or the Ruins of St. Paul's, refer to the remaining facade of what was originally the Cathedral of St. Paul. The cathedral was built by the Jesuits between 1582 to 1602 and was the largest Catholic church in Asia at the time. It was destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835. Nothing remains except the facade and the many stone steps leading up to it. The site is well marked indicating where the original support columns stood. The tombs along the right side remain and are visible beneath glass panels. The Fortaleza do Monte overlooks the cathedral ruins.

These 2 photos were taken from the second level of a platform erected behind the remaining facade of St. Paul's.

The Monte Fortress, or more accurately the Fortaleza do Monte, is on top of 1 of the 7 hills of Macau. It was constructed from 1617 to 1626 and played a very important role in defending Macao against the invasion of Holland. The Fortress is square shaped; each side is about 100 meters long, with walls around 9 meters high. The four corners of the fortress project out as bastions; its outside wall was built with rammed earth and is still very stable. The fortress became the military center for Macau. The walls had many cutouts which served as supports for the 32 cannons used to defend against foreign attacks. Monte Fortress was equipped with a reservoir, warehouse and barracks. There was sufficient storage space for two years worth of ammunition and supplies. The Fortress was the residence of the Chief of Staff on City Defense and Superintendent of Macao before 1740. Later it became a forbidden military zone. Today it is a tourist attraction and a great place for a view of Macau.

There is a neat shopping/tourist district with narrow pedestrian alleyways leading up from several directions to the base of the steps to the ruins of St. Paul's. One of the most popular items sold along the alleyways are small Portuguese egg tarts. We bought a couple and returned to our hotel room for a treat with afternoon coffee. There was a shop called Ireland Potatoes that would be a big hit in the USA. They sold cups of excellent french fries, served either plain or with many choices of toppings...ranging from a meat sauce to pizza sauce and cheese to sour cream and various seasoning powders. We tried a cup with sour cream. Sour cream is not sold in Malaysia and we have missed that creamy luxury in a few favorite dishes, so a shared fatty cup of fries topped with sour cream was a decadent treat.

Bill found a restaurant online that we hope to try later tonight. So Macau is looking up after a poor start on this segment of our vacation.

Later....we went to a Japanese restaurant near the hotel for diiner. It was great! So good that we might return today or tomorrow for lunch to try their fried oyster sushi.

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