Macau: Some Sights

St. Paul's Cathedral

As mentioned, Macau has a dual personality: casinos and sleaze, and unique history and architecture. Given the nature of this website, we'll focus on the latter theme, duh. To begin, we suggest hopping into a taxi outside the terminal and asking to be delivered to St. Paul's Cathedral. The ride should be about 15minutes and under HK$35-40. This does a couple of things for you: you escape the ferry terminal quickly, you use the taxi for a well-known destination and you start your walking tour at one of the highest points in town, meaning it is all downhill (well, mostly).

The facade of the cathedral is more or less the symbol of Macau, and it is easy to dismiss it as a tourist stop and a bit of a cliche. I guess in a way it sort of is. Yet when you hang out a bit nearby, you begin to think about what the place must have looked like some 500 years ago, surrounded by nothing and dominating the skyline like the Acropolis. Since you are hopefully dropped off by the taxi at the top, take a few moments to enjoy the view of the city, and imagine the place in its heyday. A narrow flight of metal stairs allows you to climb up a level for a better view, and teenagers in your group might enjoy the crypt just behind the church, just macabre enough to entertain. Smaller kids might be attracted to the store “Toy Kingdom” at the base of the steps, to the right as you descend, with lots of Barbie stuff and relatively cheap toys from the Mainland for your child-bribing pleasures.

The Neighborhood Nearby

After descending the steps and dodging the packs of camera-mad Mainland jockeying for position on the steps to take one more shot with the church in the background, enjoy the neighborhood spread out below you. Yeah, some of it is a bit touristy, but you are a tourist, and by ducking into the side streets here and there you will quickly slip into the real world as well.

Watch for the many antique shops, all worth a browse but also full of very breakable shiny things of interest to small hands. Prices can be high and I'll leave it to you to figure out how many of the rare antiques are really any older than you are.

This is a good area to snack. You'll see venders selling Macau's special rolled meat thing, kind of a like a fruit roll-up made of cow or pig. It is basically like beef jerky with more oil, and most kids will love it. Many places offer small samples to help you find out. Also recommended for sampling are little doughy Macau cookies and the famous Portuguese egg tarts. Prices are cheap and you can eat your way downhill in style. Of course, tucked away amid the authentic stuff is an authentic McDonalds with all the familiar things, plus accessible, clean toilets.

Senado Square

You'll need to occasionally stop and get re-directed, but generally by walking downhill and kind of drifting to the right, with the church behind you, you will eventually stumble onto Senado Square, Macau's tourist center point. You'll at some point start to see the wavy tile paved walkways-just keep following them inward to the center and don't get dizzy.

For many non-gambling type visitors, the Square is Macau. Actually, the Square is not square at all, more like a windy rectangle. Along each side are stores and restaurants, some familiar such as McDonalds, Starbucks and Levis, some more traditional, especially just off the main walking area. In nice weather or even on cloudy days the Square is full of people sitting around, chatting, eating and watching others chatting and eating. There is a little cafÃÆ'© right in the middle that sells food and Heineken-flavored beverages for Dads, and some sweet shops around. Though closed for renovations as of late 2005, the Square is dominated by the Santa Case da Misericordia (the oldest European charity in China, established in 1568!) and St. Dominic's Church, a relative youngster from 1590. The latter's Museum of Sacred Art is likely to be of no interest to kids, but is fascinating to everyone else with a brain cell.

On and off the square are churches large and small, almost all of which are open to the public for free. Be aware that while used to tourists, these are still functioning places of worship, so be mindful of the people who may be inside in prayer. Many of the churches are works of art themselves, and are worth careful exploration by those interested.

The only public toilets we found anywhere on the Square were in McDonalds, so plan accordingly.

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