The one-hour boat from Hong Kong pulled into the harbour as the afternoon began to morph into an evening. I studied a map at length in the tourist information office at the ferry terminal to pick out the best way to get a bus before deciding to just walk it. Although I was walking the full width of the peninsula towards my intended hotel, and not via a straight line, it was still only a mile and a half.
Macau was originally made up of three islands, running in a line from north to south. The main island at the top connects to the Chinese border. The two southern islands are now linked seamlessly together after a land reclamation project such that they are the the same size as Macau itself. These two subsequent land masses are separated by a kilometre of open sea but joined by three long road bridges.
On my first day of exploring, I headed towards the nearest bridge to try to get across. As I drew close I found myself by the Macau Tower, which is apparently the tenth-highest building in the world and the eighth in Asia. Looking at pictures of the other biggest buildings, it struck me that most of them are pretty spurious claims. Unlike, say, the Eiffel Tower, most of them have a tall, thin, aerial-like spire pointing out at the top accounting for at least a third of its height. That is to say, the highest point at which a person can usefully get to without professional climbing equipment is actually about a hundred metres further down. It's all a con, if you ask me.
Nonetheless, this was still a tall building, so up I went. The lift said that we rose up sixty-odd floors, although only the ground and three floors at the top were real - the rest were just imaginary points to give you a sense of how far up you were going. From the 'top', you could walk around for panoramic views of Macau and of China, just a stone's throw across the water to the west. Sadly, any pictures were slightly blurred by the dirty glass. Can't they send someone out there to clean those windows?
Talking of which, on the very top floor, there were a number of special activities such as a sky jump (a bungee jump attached to wires so you go down and don't get buffetted side to side by the wind or the bounce), a climb up the spire (with the specialist climbing equipment) or a walk around the open platform outside whilst attached by a cord. I think the climb was by appointment only, but the others could have been tempting had I had someone else to do it with. Leaning against the glass to see outside was very scary but I found that if I put myself in a state of mind of being about to jump off with a bungee rope, the fear mostly disappeared. I still couldn't bring myself to set foot on the sections of glass floor though.
Back down afterward, I focused my mind back on trying to cross the bridge. Not making much sense of the bus information, I conceded that I would need to get a taxi. Both on this ride and the taxi I needed to cross back later, I found language difficulties getting the driver to stop where I wanted. I know a smattering of Chinese but Cantonese spoken here is mostly a complication too far for me. And I might recognise bits of Portuguese, especially if written down, but couldn't begin to speak it. I don't know what 'here' and 'stop' might sound like to them, but both words genuinely had the effect of telling driver to go straight ahead. The louder and more frenetically I shouted them, the more urgent the request sounded and so the faster they would go. In both cases I had to furiously rattle the door handle before they got the hint.
I walked around the island for an hour enjoying some pretty scenery before trying to follow the bigger roads towards the more southern section. I took a wrong turning in the hot sun though and after a longish time found myself back where the taxi had originally deposited me. Not having the enthusiasm to attempt the walk again, I found somewhere to eat and rest until evening before crossing back to Macau. I then more or less repeated my steps from the ferry terminal to the hotel, but this time stopping to photograph the many casinos for which the island is becoming famous.
Tuesday I set out for a cultural tour of churches, museums etc. Finding them one by one in the back streets also meant getting an interesting sight of the real city itself. I guess it was, as you would expect, a curious combination of Chinese and Portuguese culture. Not much to report about the sights I saw though other than that they were pleasant and atmospheric. A wonderful smell of food accompanies every location in Macau. Could this be the best place in the world for food? Sadly, most of it is meat so I couldn't sample it. The local-style custard tarts were one treat I could indulge in though.
For over fifty years, Macau has played host to a famous grand prix. Although never achieving formula one status, it still has many of Monaco's charm, is very famous in the world of motor racing and has hosted many of F1's current top stars when they were still rising up through the ranks. So, on Wednesday I went to the Macau Grand Prix Museum. Actually, I went there the day before but it was shut. Some places shut on a Sunday or a Monday, but why would a place shut every Tuesday??
Inside was excellent and I really enjoyed myself. It was mostly empty so I was free to read the placards and photograph the displays undisturbed. I could also take a turn on the simulator to race around the circuit. I'm glad there was no one around to watch this as I mostly crashed off a lot. The same building also housed a wine museum. Whereas the GP museum could display classic racing cars, the wine museum could only display ancient farming tools like rusted trowels. So although I tried to take an interest I was in and out of this place in about fifteen minutes. They did however give me a free glass of wine on the way out, which was nice.
In the evening I went back to the same expensive Italian restaurant I had been to the night before because I knew it had wireless internet. I tried to go somewhere different for the sake of variation, but countless places I tried had the same internet monopoly stitch-up as Hong Kong, so in the end I had no choice.
On the final day I strolled around for some breakfast before buying a bus ticket to Guangzhou in China. It turned out that the bus didn't go from the bus company office as I thought it did, which was a shame as this was close to my hotel. So, I collected my bag from reception and rode the city bus to the north of the island, walked through the border control facilities (watching a bizarre public-information video on the way which starred Jackie Chan in a pilot's uniform warning American tourists not to buy fake watches or DVDs) and boarded the coach to begin my third visit to the People's Republic of China.