Chinese New Year in Macau – Day 2 – A tour of old colonial Macau
If you don’t go to Macau to gamble or shop, you go to Macau for history. I’m not a gambler – and I’d probably be a poor one even if I tried – and I don’t particularly go in for high-end shopping, so history it was.
Once an integral part of Portugal’s trade in Asia – with the British in Hong Kong and the French and British dividing up Southeast Asia, the Dutch in Indonesia – Macau was chock full of history and colonial architecture. Beautiful, old-school sort of history that made me wonder what sorts of dealings went on in these old, narrow alleys. The main Macau peninsula was easily walkable, though with some steep streets and cobblestones here and there.
Other than the tourist areas of Senada Square and the ruins of St. Paul’s, there were very few people out by the other churches and squares. We struck out toward the furthest church square – St. Augustine’s – and the San Jose Seminary building. The day was overcast, but there wasn’t meant to be rain, so that lent a quiet, still sort of feeling to the historical centre of Macau. We walked slowly into the district, hiking a steep incline toward the church. In characteristic yellow, the Church of St. Augustine sat at the top of the hill, its bell lying quietly in the belfry. Across the way was the sorbet green seminary, with a lovely flowered courtyard nearby.
The square bled back downhill to an old colonial theatre, St. Lawrence’s Church, and then further down the hill and around until we happened up the absolutely beautiful square called Lilau Square. Once a foreign enclave, it was pretty silent now, with some large, weepy trees, park benches, and, oddly enough, a set of Art Deco-style apartments.
Around the corner from Lilau Square was the Mandarin’s House, the traditional Chinese-style home of a former writer. It was worth a walk through, with lovely outdoor spaces and history throughout.
From there, we made an intrepid trek toward the popular Ruins of the Church of St. Paul’s, hoping to walk along the seafront but finding that the sea was blocked from the street by shipping yards and other buildings. I sighted a little Chinese temple up a hill, so we went up that way to view it. The quiet Na Tcha Temple was a foil to what was around the corner – all of the holidaymakers from China come to visit the Ruins of St. Paul.
The church wall was propped up and looked a bit like a movie facade, and beyond it were thousands of teeming people, all eager to get a selfie, a group shot, and a million other photographs on the steps of the ruins. Torn apart by a kitchen fire in 1835, all that is left of the former colonial church is the front facade, with several layers of religious symbolism along its leveled exterior. The nearby Na Tcha Temple and the Christian church showed just how side-by-side the two different cultures lived during the colonial period.
We fought our way around to the front of the ruins, walked around inside, took photographs from the stairs (no easy – and not a safe! – feat), and then wandered up to Monte Fort, accessible by stairs near the ruins. The fort was built as a college back in the 1600s, and now it’s filled with tourists taking odd-looking selfies on the canons. I mean, some folks were getting entirely too friendly with the canons.
The views were not of the once-thwarted Dutch invasion, but instead, there were views out to the massively gaudy Lisboa casino, Macau Tower, and several other tall buildings. It was a fascinating look at the winding alleys of houses and shops that snaked in from the seafront toward the heart of the city. There is a history museum there as well, but it was very crowded, so we forewent that and left the fort to once more fight the swelling crowds to get to a nearby Starbucks.
Refreshed with coffee, we went back to the hotel for a bit to relax, then tried again to have dinner at the local Portuguese restaurant recommended to us. Once more, it was closed, but this time, instead of wandering around hangry and unable to deal with the crappy GPS system, we had a second place sorted out before leaving.
We found the little Portuguese place near St. Dominic’s Square and ordered the Portuguese sausage as a starter, which was cooked in a ceramic pig over a fire for us at the table. I went for the pork ribs, which were crispy and not smothered in sauce, as I was accustomed to in the States.
Before I could call the trip relatively “complete”, I had to have some egg tarts for dessert. I found a local bakery with a few egg tarts still in stock, picked up those, an Americano from Starbucks, and happily had those as a dessert of champions that evening.
Macau was a fascinating bit of history, and we didn’t manage to get to it all, even if we saw enough churches and squares to last for awhile.