After lunch, we took a short bus ride to the small village surrounding St Francis Xavier Church. This is a quiet little settlement which still maintains a relaxed lifestyle and atmosphere, and almost appears to be stuck in a bit of a timewarp. It is sandwiched between hilly bush (with rich, lush green foliage) and a thin stretch of ocean (across which parts of China can be seen).
Some of the lush green foliage/bush covering the sides of the hill around Coloane. Here we see some palm-like trees, and many other interesting specimens (there even seemed to be banana-like fruit on some of the in places).
St Francis Xavier Church
The village is built around St Francis Xavier church and its courtyard. This small yellow building is built in what appears to be a traditional Portuguese design for churches. Inside, there appeared to be burgundy/maroon velvet cushions on the floor, underneath a classical "blue sky with white fluffy clouds" ceiling.
A better view of the church
The covered side walkway thingies
Many of the buildings in the surrounding village had a similar style - both in terms of their overall design and shapes, but also in terms of the colour scheme (these yellow and white paints must've been really popular with the people here, or just dirt cheap to get).
Distinctive Features of Houses
The small details often reveal a lot about the culture and heritage of the people living (or who used to live) in an area. There were no shortage of interesting aspects to choose from here...
Moving on to smaller items...
Religion also plays quite a prominent role, with little temples embedded on the walls of many buildings...
Temples were also quite abundant around this area, with two located around the village...
A larger facility located up the hill - Note the distinctive red roofs and traditional Chinese styled roofs (green bamboo rods supporting tiles).
We stopped by at the smaller of the two, situated down a smaller little alley within the village buildings
Of course, it goes without saying that my favourite part of the carving were these two cuties!
Finally, after walking around in the rain for so long, it was time for a short tea break at Lord Stow's to try out the famous Portuguese-style egg tarts. Compared to Hong Kong styled ones, these have a more porous filling, with a light grilled top. This little coffee shop was quite a nice cozy little place.
MGM and Wynn
For the next part of the journey, we took a taxi trip back over to the main island. It was quite a contrast going from the quiet tranquility of the small village back to the hubbub and gloss of a booming metropolis. Especially one with so much bling!
MGM Lion Statue - Yes, they're big on their golden lions here...
It has to be said that their lobby was quite grand looking...
Inside, there was even more bling...
These red flower decoration things above the foyer were quite visually striking...
The check-in counter was even more impressive. Wide, bright, and inviting.
However, this was not the main attraction. Instead, if you walk straight through the foyer, you'll end up in a covered square, with some extravagant euro-castle themed setting. On this day, a couple were having their wedding photos taken there, and oversized Christmas decorations were hanging from the ceiling.
Of course, MGM was another one of those casino-hotel complexes. However, in this case, the casino was hidden behind the main attraction - head straight on through the square, through another short lobby (where there are some ATM's), and you're confronted by another quiet darkened hall.
Literally right across the road from MGM is the Wynn complex. Inside, it was more of the same: miles and miles of high end glossy shops (as if you're walking the pages of a glossy fashion magazine) but with no customers inside, all fitted out in that glossy golden look that is so typical of every other such complex seen so far. There was a bit more life in the gambling hall of this casino (located shortly inside one of the main entrances), but perhaps it was just starting to approach "happy hour" there...
The main attraction here was the so-called "singing tree" - it supposedly rises out from a pit in the ground for brief shows on a regular basis (e.g. once per hour). However, that day, it was supposedly "Closed for Maintenance". Bugger...
The ceiling with golden aperture-blade decorations.
The covered dome, from which the tree rises. It has patterns on it resembling a map. This is contained within a large circular pit.
Ruins of St Pauls and Surrounding Streets
Finally, no (first time) visit to Macau would be complete without visiting the Ruins of St Pauls. This is a world famous landmark, renowned because only the facade was left standing after a great fire destroyed the rest of the building.
Ruins of St Pauls
This is what most people think, when they think of this landmark:
A looming structure standing on the edge of something...
A detailed look at the detailing on the front of the facade
However, arriving from the street behind + below, you actually see something more like:
It turns out that far from being quite an isolated location, the Ruins of St Pauls is actually closely surrounded by things to do in a tight-knit network of streets with a unique character of its own.
For instance, right beside the landmark, there is a traditional temple:
Temple beside Ruins of St Pauls - Note the cone-shaped long-burning incense candles suspended from the ceiling. Also note the interesting looking figures on the roof.
Rickshaw and promotional material in front of a building bordering the square around this landmark. Once again, yellow + white buildings with rounded-arch facades seem to be a recurring design trend here...
On a broader scale, the ruins are actually part of a square, which flows down the hill below the stairs leading up to St Pauls:
View from in front of the facade, down the stairs towards the square
A full view of the facade and the surrounding buildings
And finally, putting all of this in context from the main street downward the hill (It all looks a lot smaller and more cozy than you'd otherwise have thought!) This is strictly pedestrians only, and is flanked on both sides with heaps of stores...
The streets leading away from this landmark were packed with people, with night fast approaching.
Apart from the stores, there were also several distinctive buildings along the way. Here are some of them which were quite typical of the general architecture found in these areas:
Left - A shop/residence, with balcony (and ornate railings) above
Right - A church. Note the resemblance to other churches seen already in this post...
Towards the bottom of the slope, you get to yet another square, with some buildings which are much larger (and have more distinctive traits). This area also had many of those dangling stringy decorations strung overhead... Most if not all the buildings here follow the same basic colour schemes seen everywhere else in traditional Macau architecture...
The house of the golden arches has these fancy red awnings
It was also clear that many of these big and grand old buildings had also been snapped up by some big brands wanting to make an impact... I'm always quite amazed to see these sorts of cultural clashes: the pinnacles of consumerist modernity embedded in ornate traditional settings.
Levi's Jeans (not that I can personally stand wearing jeans, but I digress...)
However, there were still many traditional shops and sights around too worth mentioning:
Right - A wonton noodle shop. We had planned to pay this place a visit, but ended up being too full still. Next time!
In some of the short alleys/side streets between buildings, small vendors had set up shop. I particularly like these shots, as these shops appeared particularly photogenic, with their vibrant colours, warm inviting lighting, and the snippets each reveal about the traditional way of life in these parts of the world.
Roasted bean merchant
Fruit and veges - Heaps of bananas are on display here :)
Finally, some closing shots of the square. They were still putting up the Christmas tree that day (just the last/tip segment needed to be mounted before it was complete), and a workman had a wooden ladder leaning against the side of the tree.
The unfinished tree
Stringy lighting overhead. Foot traffic was initially light, but got increasingly heavy as rush hour loomed.
At the end of the square, there was a road where traffic (cars, taxis, busses, and more) was allowed to pass, unlike in all the other streets seen so far. Despite this, the sides of the road were still flanked by more of the buildings that we'd been seeing, but this time with more variations and interesting lighting to boot.
Traffic could pass down this street. On either side, shops were open in the heritage buildings.
An example of a traditional store under the walkways - this one selling candies, which are contained in these large glass jars.
This building doesn't share the standard characteristics of the other buildings around here, but is still recognisable as being a building in Macau. On the bottom right, a taxi is approaching.
Across the road from this, a traditional pawn shop, which had been converted into a museum (NOTE: paid entry).
The secure holding cells located behind the shop (in a separate building)
Honeycomb tiled floor
Old logo/sign of the pawn shop which used to operate from here. Bold, red and gold.
Ferry Trip Back to Hong Kong
Taxi Ride to Ferry Terminal
By now, night had well and truly set in, and the lighting on many buildings gave everything a very different atmosphere. The trip back to the terminal basically involved a big loop around the back of everything we'd just walked past, up a little highway, and out back to the terminal.
Passing the pawn shop, with all its lanterns
A lighthouse, situated high above the highway road on a rocky outcrop above
Unfortunately, somewhere along this ride (or maybe just before getting off), I managed to lose one of the two umbrellas we'd been carrying. It was a small and short little thing - blue with a silver handle, and with yellow writing on it (it was from a conference held in Hong Kong).
Boarding and Tickets
We had originally bought tickets for the last ferry sailing of the day (at 10:10pm or so). This was to ensure we had a return ticket while not having that much time pressure to cut activities short to avoid missing the sailing and/or forfeiting the tickets. That is because you can hop on any earlier sailings (if you hold a later ticket) by waiting in line in the "standby" line. As it turns out, this is a very popular option, with quite a long queue of people waiting to get on that sailing (you'd be allocated any old seat that wasn't filled already). At times, this may turn out to be not such a great thing, as we found out on this trip...
After getting revised seats, the main waiting area was already empty/devoid of people, as almost everyone else had already boarded the ferry. We had to rush a little to get on the ship, as the staff were starting to jabber away into their walkie talkies to start closing up boarding.
For this sailing, we were seated on the lower deck, and in the second row from the front of the ship. As it turns out, the seats down here aren't that cramped either (i.e. still light years ahead of "cattle class"). The other caveats of sitting downstairs are that:
1) There's no meal provided
2) From the safety briefing, it's abundantly clear that the life-jackets down here are much much clunkier to use (a fact that became all the more nerve racking later on)!
The lifejacket procedure down here (from the little that I managed to understand/pick up on/remember) was something like: pull the tiny strips/straps on each side through two tiny buckles on the companion straps on that side, then drag these out front, criss-cross them, do some funny knots, and once again for good measure. Good lord! How the F***K are you supposed to remember all that and survive when the boat is pitching up and down in heavy swells, taking on water quickly, and threatening to sink in pitch blackness - a typical scenario for evacuation in an emergency. Compared to the ones upstairs (which were basically the same as the airline ones), where it's just click-clack on either side and pull to tighten, these were archaic (and potentially lethal)!
For a nighttime sailing, this initially started out quite well (well... as well as being on a moving boat on the open sea at night could be). I just about managed to fall asleep then and there (after all the walking that day), which I'd found was a great form of entertainment for such a trip. However, this was not to be.
About 10-20 minutes into the sailing, things started to go downhill from there, as the sea got progressively choppier. The boat began pitching up and down in the waves, something like straight up and down by over a meter (closer to 2 or so I'd guess) within the space of a second. It was brutal. Up and down *shudder*, up and down *shudder* *sssshhhh*, up and down *sssshhh* *shudder*. As the pace picked up, you could increasingly hear the sound of the waves slapping the boat with a loud hissing noise (the cabin became increasingly quiet, while these noises just grew louder and louder). Worst of all, it was pitch black outside - no lights, no reference points, nothing. Just a medium-sized craft in the middle of a heavy sea in the dark, pitching up and down. Some of these movements were so rapid/strong that a few times, I felt my bum becoming airborne, hovering some 2-3 inches above the seat, before getting rammed hard into the depths of that very seat the very next instant. There was gasps in the cabin with each of these extra strong surges, though no doubt it probably felt the worse sitting right there in the front few rows of the ship no doubt.
By this stage I was clinging tightly to my seat for dear life, fingers clenched tightly over the hand rests, legs wedged into the seat in front, trying to minimise the sensation of being biffed about by the waves. I was also getting seriously concerned that we could at any moment run into some serious trouble... with the waves pushing the front of the ship down so much on the down cycles, and the surf's tendency to wash over the tip, it'd have taken just one rogue wave that was slightly too large or perhaps an ill-timed extra push into the oncoming water to have tipped us over. Yet, despite all this, the ship still seemed to plough ahead at full steam valiantly into the oncoming waves. Again and again we charged. Surely it must've been obvious that if we keep pushing so hard, something would eventually have to give! Yet, on and on it went for a solid 10 minutes, before finally there was a Public Announcement advising passengers to remain seated for the rest of the trip due to the heavy seas, and that we would be arriving late in Hong Kong as a result as they'd have to slow down. Finally, an acknowledgement of the conditions we were facing, though it wasn't very welcome news, as it meant that there was still more to come.
For another few minutes, the ship still continued to charge ahead at full steam before eventually slowing down a bit. It was another 10 minutes or so before things began to finally settle down a bit to more comfortable levels, before dying down to normal levels for the remainder of the sailing.
It was a relief when the lights of Victoria Harbour started floating into view alongside the ship, but an even greater relief to finally get off and back onto solid land once disembarked (note, even while docking, we were still rolling around quite a bit). Finally we had made it! And in fact, we actually arrived on time (and not late as had been initially announced). Amazing.
Some Christmas decorations on office blocks that were only visible from the boat as we docked
Compared with the hour long ordeal we'd just been through, finding and filling out customs forms, and queuing up to get back into Hong Kong was a breeze. Having said that, they did appear to be having a few problems scanning the passports properly - the guy in front of me had his scanned some 10 times before the thing eventually managed to work.