There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Macau (2), Mainly Taipa and Coloane: Part 4 of Hong Kong and Macau

This is the second of two Macau posts describing a longer visit than our 2010 daytrip (click here for that post) and covers entirely different ground.

We stayed overnight at the comfortable Mong-Ha Pousada, a training hotel for the hospitality industry, in the north of the Macau Peninsula. The breakfast choice was extensive, if entirely western - though the only teas available were Earl Grey and green.
Hilary and Brian, our friends and, in Macau, guides, had suggested we visit Taipa and Coloane, but as our bus stop was outside the Kun Iam Temple, we dropped in there first, and not just to shelter from the drizzle.
Kun Iam temple, Macau
Kun Iam, known as Guanying on the mainland or Kwun Yam in Hong Kong, is the Chinese representation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Mercy, so this is a Buddhist temple (it is not always obvious!). It was founded in the 13th century, but the current buildings date from 1627.

With three main pavilions, courtyards and gardens, it is a large complex and we wandered round looking at the statues…

Kun Iam Temple, Macau
… the shrines where people come to pray…

Shrine, Kun Iam Temple, Macau
…the artwork…

Kun Iam Temple, Macau
…and the gardens.

Kun Iam Temple, Macau
In one garden an oriental magpie robin posed on the head of a lion. The twelve species of magpie robins are neither magpies nor robins but flycatchers. The oriental magpie robin, the national bird of Bangladesh, is common across the Indian subcontinent and south east Asia.

Male oriental magpie robin (the female has a greyer head and breast)
Kun Iam Temple, Macau
Catching the bus outside the temple we set off for Taipa. The Portuguese colony of Macau originally consisted of the Macau peninsula and two islands to the south, Taipa and Coloane. In 2005 Taipa and Coloane were joined by filling in the narrows, forming 5km² of new land known as Cotai. Four new land reclamation sites are being built north of Taipa and there is a larger fifth area east of the peninsula.

Macau, a peninsula and two once separate islands now joined by (the unmarked) Cotai
Crossing one of the two bridges connecting Macau and Taipa we arrived in Taipa Village. After the bustle of the densely populated peninsula, the village had a relaxed, deceptively rural feel, though it, too, has its high-rise apartment blocks. We alighted beside a pastelaria which looked in every way Portuguese except for the name over the door.

Pastelaria, Taipa Village
Nearby was a Nativity Scene. Christmas is celebrated all over the world, even by non-Christians (we all like a festival), but this was a more meaningful tableau than Santa in a Yangon shop window (photo at end of that post) or singing about ‘dashing through the snow’ in the 30 degree  heat of Bangkok so maybe its is the work of Macau’s Christian population (5% of the total). The nativity has a two-humped Bactrian camel, common throughout much of China, instead of the single-humped dromedary of the middle east, but we have seen worse errors in Myanmar; a nativity scene with pigs – unlikely occupants of a Jewish stable.

Nativity scene, Taipa
In this well-wooded and well-maintained district we climbed a set of steps to the Colonial Houses Museum, a row of five houses built for well-off Portuguese families in 1921.
One of the houses in the Colonial Houses Museum, Taipa

A couple of the houses were open,…

Inside a Colonial Museum House, Taipa
…furnished to show the comfortable lifestyle…

Inside a Colonial Museum House, Taipa
… of the Portuguese in Macau in the first half of last century, while another contained a historical exhibition.
Inside a Colonial Museum House, Taipa
The houses were originally on Taipa’s south coast, but now overlook a lake beyond which is Cotai, with the Venetian hotel and its campanile easily visible.

Looking over the lake from the Colonial Houses Museum, Taipa

Catching another bus to Coloane took us through Cotai.

A closer look at the Venetian Hotel, with the Rialto Bridge as well as the campanile
Central Macau has some serious casinos, but the Cotai Strip (built and named by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation) has a line of fantasy casino/hotels with many of the same names (including the previously glimpsed Venetian Hotel) - and all the same good taste - as Las Vegas.
Fake Eiffel Tower outside the Parisian Hotel, Cotai Strip
Lynne and I drove through Las Vegas once (in 1983), we thought it a shocking waste of good desert and found no reason to get out of the car. I am not sure the Cotai Strip can be called a waste of good sea, but I rather preferred it when fish lived there, but then I am not a gambler, and don't see why anybody else should be either - not that it is up to me how other people spend their money and leisure time.
The architectural nightmare that is Studio City (and the inside of a bus window), Cotai Strip
Lord Stow’s Garden Café is on the south west corner of Coloane.
Lord Stow's Garden Café, Coloane

Andrew Stow started his working life as a pharmacist in Nottingham and became a baker in Macau, not the most obvious career progression. He opened Lord Stow's bakery in Coloane in 1989 and it quickly became an institution. The bakery’s success led to more cafés and then a franchising exercise so Lord Stow's Bakeries now occupy several upmarket locations in various East Asian countries, but the original was, and is, this relatively humble looking bakery in Coloane. Sadly, Andrew Stow died of an asthma attack in 2006 aged 51 and the company is now run by his daughter and sister. Several stories are told to explain why he was known as ‘Lord’ Stow, none of them involve him actually being an aristocrat.

Before he opened his bakery, Andrew Stow visited Portugal where he discovered the delights of pastéis de nata (literally ‘cream pastries’ but really a type of egg tart). Back in Macau he attempted to reproduce these, but without the aid of a recipe. Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts were an instant hit with both locals and expatriates (Brian and Hilary had been charged with obtaining a supply for their Hong Kong resident son and daughter). I have been a devotee of pastéis de nata for more years than I care to remember; a perfect day in Portugal can take many forms, but must include a café con leite and a pastel (singular of pastéis) de nata at 11o'clock. I have extolled their virtues in this blog before.
Pastéis de Nata, the Portuguese original 

We had to wait for a table, but in due course we placed our order and soon a plate of Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts arrived. Compared to the Portuguese originals they are plumper and a brighter, even lurid yellow…
Lord Stow's egg tarts, Coloane
Lord Stow wins on looks, but the proof of the pudding – or in this case tart - is in the eating. Lord Stow's mille-feuille pastry is exemplary, as good as any artisan baker in Portugal, and way ahead of supermarket tarts, but the contents are disappointing. Whether he could not replicate the Portuguese original or decided to go for an English-style egg tart because he preferred it, or believed it would sell better in Macau, I do not know, but it is slightly softer and much, much sweeter - indeed sweet is all it tastes of. In the Portuguese version vanilla is the dominant flavour and the filling is more subtle and complex and, for me, it is by far the better product. I am sorry, Lord Stow, but seekers of perfection in cakes and pastries should always look to Portugal before England. This is, of course, just my humble infallible opinion.

I might add that I have previously enjoyed Hilary’s excellent homemade pastéis de nata, proving that delight comes from the application of skill to the right recipe.

Coloane mostly looks smart and modern, but near Lord Stow’s café there are outbreaks of old style local housing.

Old style local housing, Coloane

A five-minute walk took us to the little yellow chapel of St Francis Xavier in a square of typically Portuguese cobbles. The chapel, built in 1928, is behind an earlier (1910) monument commemorating the defeat of  pirates.
Chapel of St Francis Xavier and monument to the defeat of pirates, Coloane

Hilary and Brian thought we might be interested in the relics – an arm bone of St Francis Xavier and the remains of 26 foreign and Japanese Catholic priests who were crucified in Nagasaki in 1597 - but the chapel was closed, which saved us the disappointment of discovering the relics had been moved to more central museums.

We took a bus across Coloane to Hac Sa beach on the east coast, a fine strand but hardly inviting on this cool, drizzly November day.
Hac Sa Beach, Coloane

By the beach is Fernando’s Restaurant, another Coloane institution of the same vintage as Lord Stow’s Bakery. 'An expatriate favourite... its casual cheerful atmosphere is probably the closest you will get to a Mediterranean bistro without boarding a plane.’ (Rough Guide 2003 edition). We were, I note, much closer to the Mediterranean before we boarded a plane to start this journey.
Fernando's, Coloane

Fernando is famous for his extrovert behaviour (some say eccentricity) and his restaurant is renowned for its good food, red check table cloths and reluctance to take bookings. We arrived well after two, but it was still crowded – well, it was a Saturday lunchtime. Fernando instantly recognised Hilary from previous visits (well he said he did though Hilary was sceptical to say the least), and we found a suitable table.

After perusing the menu over a beer, I chose suckling pig and Lynne cuttlefish, two very Portuguese dishes while Brian and Hilary went for the more locally influenced prawns in clam sauce with fava beans. There was no wine list, just a walk-in cupboard full of bottles which Brian and I duly walked into. Comfortably surrounded by quality Portuguese wines, Brian selected a red for himself and Hilary, and I found an appropriate white.
Fernando's, Coloane

I was not over-impressed by last night’s Macanese dining experience, but Fernando’s happily lived up to its reputation. Lynne was delighted with her cuttlefish, my suckling pig was as succulent, porky and garlicky as any in Portugal and Brian and Hilary were well satisfied. Fernando’s I would cheerfully visit again.

Lunch over, it was time to head for the ferry port. With no convenient bus route, we stood by the beach and waited for a taxi to drive by, which took a while – it really wasn’t a beach day.

Our taxi was driven by a man upset to have missed the Macau Grand Prix and determined to make up for it. We survived the white-knuckle ride, negotiated the formalities and boarded our jetfoil.
If the weather in Macau had been poor, in the Pearl River Delta it was dire. The seats were comfortable, the cabin warm and I had just had a large lunch and couple of glasses of wine so, inevitably, I started to drift off, the last thing my sleepy mind heard was people clearing their throats, at least that is what I thought.
When I awoke we were waiting to dock in Hong Kong and many throats were still being cleared. I was glad to have missed it. We thanked Brian and Hilary, arranged to meet on Monday for a trip into the New Territories and headed back to Kowloon.
Waiting to dock in Hong Kong
Dinner that evening consisted of cocktails and a few peanuts on the hotel’s (covered and heated) rooftop terrace.

1 comment:

  1. Really pleased that Fernando's lived up to our billing. I have to say that our two and their friends all think the same as we do about it and we are already talking to them about our visit in December 2018.