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…..

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Macau (1), The Macau Peninsula: Part 3 of Hong Kong and Macau

This is a new post though it describes the events of the 25th of November 2016.
It will be moved to the 'right place' in a few days time.

This is the first of two Macau posts describing a longer visit than our 2010 daytrip (click here for that post). It covers little of the same ground.

As in 2010 we started from Hong Kong, leaving our Kowloon hotel at 8.15 for the Sheung Wan jetfoil terminal. We had not previously travelled to Central on the MTR at rush hour – an interesting experience which brings you into crushingly close contact with your fellow travellers.
Arriving early, we and drank coffee and waited for Brian and Hilary, friends for the last twenty-five years, and Hong Kong residents for two decades before that, to arrive from Ap Lei Chau. They were early too, so we caught the 9.45 ferry.
On a bumpy sea, jetfoils feel as though they are bounding from one wave crest to the next and just missing, but despite the continuous lurch and crash we completed the 65km journey in the scheduled 55mins. Construction of a Hong Kong-Macau bridge-tunnel-bridge started in 2009 and should have been completed last month (October 2016). It will cut the journey time to 30mins but although we saw pylons aplenty, there is much work yet to do. [update: it was completed Nov 2017 and should open July 2018].
The journey across the Pearl River Delta to Macau, which consists of a small peninsula and two joined islands, Taipa and Coloane
It is an old map, Macau is no longer Portuguese and Hong Kong airport is now on Chek Lap Kok Island

Macau’s raison d’être is gambling and shuttle buses wait to whisk punters from the ferry port to the casinos. We are not gamblers – I completely fail to understand the attraction – but we hopped aboard the Grand Lisboa bus anyway. Deposited in the hotel basement, we made our way through the casino, wallets unopened, to the waiting world above.

The Grand Lisboa is one of 19 hotels/casinos owned by the Stanley Ho organisation. Well into his 90s Ho probably has little control over the businesses he founded while his three surviving ‘wives’ (polygamy is technically illegal) and many children, own or squabble over his billions. Ho related businesses, including the jetfoils that brought us here, reputedly employ 25% of Macau’s workforce. Businessman, philanthropist, politician and (allegedly) gangster, Ho is also an art collector and the hotel lobby displays some remarkable pieces, including several large, intricately carved ivories - it is antique ivory… but even so…
Grand Lisboa, Macau
This photo comes from our sunnier 2010 visit, but it hasn't changed

A short walk took us to the Largo de Senado, the heart of Portuguese Macau. Little remains of Macau’s Portuguese heritage (for colonial history see the 2010 post) but the Largo looks the part (like the Grand Lisboa doesn’t).
Largo de Senado, Macau
In 2010 we visited on the 15th of November, a warm sunny day, unlike the cool 25th of November 2016, but being that little bit later meant we could enjoy the Christmas decorations.

Christmas decorations, Largo de Senado, Macau
Nearby a new shop was opening. A couple of dragons had been invited to dance…

Dancing Dragons, Macau
…to the rhythms of their youthful percussionists…
Youthful percussionists
…until all were satisfied that good luck had been guaranteed.
Good luck is ensured, the shop is opened and the dragons rest
Continuing north, past a small fish market…
Fish market, Macau
…and the façade of São Paulo Church (see 2010)…
Sao Paulo, Macau
…we encountered shops dispensing samples of the salami-like meat, which we tried in 2010 and again this year. I still wonder why anyone why anyone would think sweet salami is a good idea.
Sheets of sweet salami. A good idea?
After a snack lunch we continued to the Old Protestant Cemetery. The Portuguese did not permit Protestants burials in their Catholic Cemeteries and the Chinese wanted no foreigners in theirs, but prods – British, American, Dutch and Scandinavian – continued to die. Clandestine burials along the boundary wall separating the Macau peninsula from China were the only solution until 1821 when the East India Company bought a plot of land to create a Protestant Cemetery. It is no longer in use, but remains well maintained and is a very pretty place.,
Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Pride of place goes to George Chinnery…
The grave of George Chinnery, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
…a London born artist who left for Chennai in 1802 aged 28 and spent the remaining 50 years of his life in Asia, the last 27 in Macau. He painted portraits of the rich and powerful, both Asians and Europeans and as the only European painter resident in Southern China in the mid-early 19th century, his depictions of the life of ordinary people and the landscape of the Pearl River Delta are especially important.
Macau Street Scene with Pigs by George Chinnery (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum)
Also buried here is the missionary Robert Morrison who compiled a Chinese dictionary for foreigners and translated the bible into Chinese….
Grave of Robert Morrison, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
…Captain Henry John Spencer-Churchill, RN, Winston Churchill’s great-great-grand-uncle, and American Naval Lieutenant Joseph Adams, grandson of John Adams and nephew of John Quincy Adams.
Grave of John Henry Spencer-Churchill, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau
Most poignant are the simple, laconic gravestone of young men, often sailors, who died, far from home, from accidents and disease. Dates of death before 1821 indicate their remains were moved here from earlier unofficial interments.
Older gravestones, Old Protestant Cemetery, Macau

Hilary had been keen to show us this cemetery and, as Lynne says ‘you can’t have a proper holiday without a good cemetery’.

We moved on to the A-Ma Temple, in the south western corner of the peninsula, a bus ride away.

As regular visitors Brian and Hilary were able to introduce us to Macau’s remarkably efficient bus system. Routes are well mapped and each stop has a schematic for its particular route with the stops named and fares clearly shown. The stop are displayed and announced on the bus in Chinese and Portuguese. The one small difficulty is that drivers do not give change, but Hong Kong dollars, notes and coins, are accepted at parity with the local pataca so we managed to scrape together the exact money for our fare.

The bus dropped us outside the temple, a series of shrines straggling up a rocky promontory. Built in 1488, A-Ma predates the city which may have been named after it, Ma-ge (The Pavilion of Ma) the first Portuguese arrivals were told when they asked where there were.
A-Ma Temple, Macau
A-Ma (The Mother) known on the mainland as Mazu (Maternal Ancestor) or more formally as Tianhou - Tin Hau in Hong Kong - (Empress of Heaven) is the Goddess of the Sea, a deification of the allegedly historical 10th century Fujian shaman Lin Mo.
A-Ma protects sailors, and several rocks have been decorated with fishing boats.
Painted Boulder, A-Ma Temple, Macau
Some sources describe the temple as ‘Buddhist’ though ‘Mazuism’ occupies the grey area where Taoism blends into Chinese folk religion. The temple has Buddhist and Confucian elements, but such distinctions are of little importance in southern China - any gods will do, as long as they bring good luck.
Shrine, A-Ma Temple, Macau
In this spirit of ecumenism Lynne bought some incense sticks…
Lighting Incense sticks, A-Ma Temple, Macau
…and offered them with due reverence.
Placing incense sticks, A-Ma Temple, Macau
We climbed to the highest point of the temple, lit some more incense sticks and descended.
Shrine at the top of the A-Ma Temple, Macau
Walking back towards the Mandarin’s House we passed the ‘Moorish Barracks’ a strange hybrid of a building erected in 1874 to house an Indian regiment the Portuguese brought from Goa to aid the Macau police….
Moorish Barracks, Macau
…and the little Portuguese style Largo do Lilau, in one of the first Portuguese residential areas. Its spring was once Macau’s main source of drinking water – 'one who drinks from Lilau never forgets Macau', as the saying goes.
Largo do Lilau, Macau
The so-called ‘Mandarin House’ was built in 1869 by Zheng Wenrui. His son, the far-sighted political reformer Zheng Guanyin (1842-1922) lived here while writing his masterpiece ‘Words of Warning in a Prosperous Age’, a book which influenced, among others, Lu Xun (we met him in Beijing in 2013) and Mao Zedong.
The Mandarin House, Macau - it doesn't look much from the outside
It was the largest family house in Macau, but in the mid-twentieth century the Zheng family moved out and the house was let – sometimes to as many as 300 tenants and  living conditions became poor.
The Mandarin House, Macau
The Macau government acquired the house in 2001 and carefully restored it.
The Mandarin House, Macau
I have always admired the way the Chinese can create oases of peace amid vast bustling cities and this house, with its spacious and beautiful rooms, exudes quietness and calm.
The Mandarin House, Macau
Part of me would like to live in a house so sparsely but elegantly furnished, but lacking the self-discipline I know I never could.
Macau is still divided into its original Portuguese parishes. We continued towards the centre through the streets of São Lourenço…
Sao Lourenco district, Macau
….and dropped into the mother church. One of Macau’s oldest churches, São Lourenço was built by the Jesuits in the mid-16th century. The exterior received a 19th century make-over, but the interior remains calm and unbothered by baroque.
Sao Lourenco, Macau

Nearby, the neo-Classical Theatre of Dom Pedro V, built in 1860, was one of the first Western style theatres in a East Asia.
Theatre of Dom Pedro V, Macau
The theatre has seen periods of neglect, but is currently open, in good repair and well-used.
Inside the Theatre of Dom Pedro V, Macau
It was now late afternoon, so we took another bus up to Macau’s northeast corner and checked into the Mong-Ha Pousada, a former army barracks, now a training hotel for the hospitality industry.
Our room was pleasant and we had a rest, a shower and shared a bottle of wine with Brian and Hilary before heading back towards the Temple of A-Ma for our evening meal at La Lorcha where they ‘endeavour to offer [their] customers the best dining experience they can have in Macau bringing a centuries-long cuisine resulted from the combination of Portuguese sailors with the local Chinese community.’ (from their website, grammar and spelling adjusted). This is, I presume, the definition of Macanese cuisine.
Lynne and I started with octopus salad, Brian with the caldo verde he enjoys so much in in Portugal (and Hilary’s starter is hidden behind a very familiar bottle of Dão). So far so Portuguese.
Dinner at La Lorcha, Macau
Like us, Brian and Hilary are no strangers to Portugal, but they knew Macau first and approached Portuguese food from that direction. For Lynne and I it is very much the other way round and we thought we had made very Portuguese choices for the main course too, pork and clams (eating clams for the third day running was an error that was nobody’s fault but mine) and ‘African chicken’, assuming it to be chicken piri-piri by another name.
We were wrong, ‘African chicken’, chicken covered in a peanut, tomato and chilli sauce, is a Macanese speciality. Whether it really has African origins or was invented in a Macau hotel in the 1940s is open to debate, but it is said (by The Guardian, among others) to be ‘Macau’s favourite dish’. Lynne’s verdict - ‘all right, I suppose.’
We were disappointed by the meal which seemed uncharacteristically heavy by Cantonese or Portuguese standards - and by the rather surely service. Tomorrow we eat at the legendary Fernando’s, so I will withhold my judgement of Macanese cuisine until then.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Breakfast Thoughts in Udaipur: Interlude in Rajasthan, Land of Princes

This post is an ‘interlude’ in our journey round Rajasthan. The incident described took place in Udaipur at the most southerly point of our route, but it could have happened anywhere in India – and we saw something very similar in Sri Lanka in 2015.

We were in Udaipur in central southern Rajasthan

As we plonked down our fruit juice and tea cups to 'claim' our morning breakfast table we noticed a lonely bottle of soy sauce standing sentinel on an adjacent table. By the time we had returned from the buffet it had been joined by a stack of pot noodles, and a waiter was approaching bearing a large jug of boiling water. A party of a dozen or so Chinese tourists had occupied a long table behind us and the Chinese tour manager sat behind the soy sauce and noodles doling them out on request. It is easy to mock, and indeed we had a quiet smirk, while acknowledging that British tourists can sometimes be notoriously inflexible, and not only when faced with ‘spicy food’ - I know a restaurant in Portugal that advertises 'all day English breakfast' and is rarely short of custom.

On the other hand, many travellers of all nationalities make it a point of honour to eat local, though maybe I am a little hardcore in eating local lunch, dinner and, particularly, breakfast. In France I eat croissants (doesn’t everybody?), in China I enjoy noodles with vegetables and soy sauce and today from the Indian section of the buffet I had selected sambhar with idlis and coconut chutney - perhaps a touch south Indian for Rajasthan, but let's not be too picky.
Sambhar, idlis and coconut chutney

But most European visitors eat a largely European breakfast. This generally includes Lynne, and once in a while me - I occasionally yearn for a comforting fried egg. We have stayed in several non-tourist orientated hotels in China where only a Chinese breakfast was available, but generally, throughout Asia you can choose between a local breakfast or something more or less western*. And so it was today, there was a choice between Indian and western, the western option being overwhelmingly taken by western customers - indeed I might have been the only European (or North American or antipodean) to take the Indian option.
I thought this post needed more pictures, but apparently I rarely photograph my breakfast. This one is from Marari Beach, Kerala
The fruit would suit everyone, Indian, European or Chinese, but only the Indians seem to have spotted that a squeeze of lemon turns papaya from ho-hum to magnificent....but I followed this with....
But what about the Chinese? There was no option for them. At the time of day when many people feel the need for something familiar, they were offered nothing, so they brought their own pot noodles. It looked odd, but I understand and, to a certain extent I sympathize (but I still think they should try the sambhar and idlis).
....largely the same breakfast as at Udaipur, though with a dosa instead of the idlis
*In China (and elsewhere) this usually means sweet, flaccid bread, a scrape of something yellow which certainly won’t be butter, and jam whose only discernible flavour is sweet. It is always worth avoiding, as is the glass of black, unsweetened Nescafé which well-meaning Chinese waiters occasionally try to force on tea drinking Brits.

Rajasthan, Land of Princes

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Mandawa, Town of Havelis: Part 2 of Rajasthan, Land of Princes

This post covers day 3 of a 16-day journey around Rajasthan. 
Day 3, Jaipur to Mandawa in north east Rajasthan
The size of Germany, Rajasthan is the largest of India’s 29 states. With the Thar Desert covering the north and west it is one of India’s less densely populated states, though with 200 people per km² (the same as Italy) it is hardly empty.
In the 11th and 12th centuries the rise of the Rajputs created some 20 or so petty kingdoms ruled by Maharajas - the ‘Rajput Princes’. These kingdoms, at first independent, later vassal states of the Mughal or British Empires survived until 1947, when the Maharajahs led their ‘Princely States’ into the new Union of India, creating Rajasthan (the ‘Land of Princes’). The rulers became constitutional monarchs until 1971 when the Indian government ended their official privileges and abolished their titles. ‘Maharaja’ is now a curtesy title, but most remain leading members of their communities and some are still immensely rich. Several, like their British counterparts, have supplemented their income by turning forts and palaces into tourist attractions and hotels.

Jaipur to Mandawa

Escaping Jaipur's urban sprawl took some time....

...but eventually we were on a good dual carriageway heading north. As I observed in the Jaipur post slow traffic usually travels in the outside lane, and the inside lane is for overtaking.... not officially, but this is India.

About to undertake on the dual carriageway out of Jaipur
After a while the dual-carriageway ceased, but progress remained much swifter than yesterday, despite the problems of the occasional camel cart....

Camel cart, and other traffic, between Jaipur and Mandawa

...and the yellow painted roadblocks. Allegedly these are calming measures but introducing an unannounced chicane into India's unruly traffic creates more dangers than it calms. [update Feb 9th 2018. On the day we left the Hindustan Times was reporting that a traffic policeman in a Delhi suburb had joined two such barriers with a wire before going home for the night. The unwary motorcyclist who later attempted to drive between them died instantly and an angry crowd had gathered outside the police station.]
Traffic calming measures between Jaipur and Mandawa

Mandawa, our destination for the day lies off the main highway and the final fifteen kilometres were on a minor road on the margins of the Thar desert, a flat, parched and dusty land.
The minor road into Mandawa


We reached the small town of Mandawa around twelve and Umed found (or guessed) a route through the narrow streets to the Sonthaliya Gate. The existence of a city gate, might suggest a city wall, though I have found no evidence for one, there is just a gate in the middle of the narrow main street.
The Sonthaliya Gate, Mandawa

Four of our first five stops on this journey are in cities once ruled by Maharaja’s, little Mandawa (pop 20,000) is the exception. Shekhawati was the princely state immediately north of Jaipur and this arid semi-desert region’s capital moved several times before settling at Jhunjhunu, a much bigger city (though hardly a household name) 20km north east of Mandawa.
In 1640 the Maharaja of Shekhawati made his younger brother the first Thakur (lord/ruler) of Mandawa, though there was then little to rule in this remote rural corner. In the 18th century burgeoning trade brought wealth to Shekhawati which lay on one of the main east-west caravan routes. In 1740 Thakur Nawal Singh dug a well and built a fort at Mandawa, though whether to attract the caravan trade or in response to a growing demand I do not know. Mandawa grew rich, and its merchants built themselves fine houses, the richly painted havelis that still adorn the town.
For two hundred years Mandawa prospered, but in the 20th century transport changed, the caravans disappeared, the rich merchants left and their havelis fell into disrepair. The 21st century has given some of them a new lease of life. The 18th century Mandawa Haveli by the Sonthaliya gate, once the home of a jeweller became a heritage hotel in 1999. It looked stunning from the outside...
Mandawa Haveli Hotel, Mandawa did the atrium...
Atrium, Mandawa Haveli Hotel, Mandawa
...and our room. Though full of character it had no heating, which matters little for most of the year, but January nights are chilly.
Our room, Mandawa Haveli Hotel, Mandawa
We lunched on vegetable and paneer pakoras in the haveli’s garden before taking a walking tour of the town.

The first haveli we saw boasted a rooftop restaurant. Here the paintings are bright and shiny...
Monica restaurant in restored haveli,Mandawa

....while at the second, they were unrestored and faded...
Partially restored haveli, Mandawa
...but include an interesting view of a European woman with a gramophone.
Woman with gramophone, Haveli wall, Mandawa
Another haveli's faded paintings show a cyclist and British soldiers apparently bridging a ravine.
Cyclists and the Royal Engineers, unrestored haveli, Mandawa
Elsewhere there were lines of sad, crumbling havelis.
A line of sad, crumbling havelis, Mandawa
One restored building was open to the public, the new paintings bright, crisp and maybe a little less respectful of their subjects than the original would have dared to be. There are disputes as to how far restoration should go, should the old paintings merely be conserved so they deteriorate no further or is repainting acceptable? Having this debate is healthy and I will merely observe there are enough restorable havelis to embrace both approaches.
Over-restored paintings? Haveli in Mandawa 
The view across the town from the roof was less controversial...
View over Mandawa from a  haveli roof
...and they demonstrated that although tourism in Mandawa is in its infancy they understand the principle of 'exit through the gift shop', and we acquired a small antique brass Ganesh.
Mandawa's havelis, whether restored or decrepit, have a basic similarity so it was a relief to see something different. The town's elaborate well (and I have no idea how it is related to Thakur Nawal Singh’s original) is no longer in use but it is typical of the area. The design can be seen in local villages and standing alone among the fields.
Mandawa Town Well
On our way to the fort we encountered a red-wattled lapwing delicately picking is way across a small sandy square. I am pretty confident of that identification, but being far from expert in the field.... It is a common bird, but it is a wader and I could think of nowhere in this parched landscape he could go for a paddle.
Red-wattled lapwing, Mandawa
Nawal Singh’s fort, like his well, no longer fulfils its original function. It is now Mandawa’s premier heritage hotel – or at least its most expensive.
Mandawa Fort
Nearby the modern Raghunath temple has been constructed and decorated in haveli style. It is a pretty little building, but I have been unable to find out anything about it except that Raghunath is an alternative name for Rama.
Raghunath Temple, Mandawa
Returning to our hotel we passed the other way through the Sonthaliya gate. Though two sides are very different, this one being topped by a statue of Hanuman, the Monkey God.
The other side of the Sonthaliya Gate
In the evening the rooftop candlelight dinner seemed as good an option as any – not that Mandawa offers many. All who passed through the atrium were treated to a puppet show with percussion accompaniment. Amusing and skilful it lasted around five minutes, the ideal length for a puppet show.
Puppet show, Mandawa Haveli Hotel
Roof access was by two flights of steep concrete stairs inside the walls (access to the breakfast room next morning was even more precarious - this is not a place for those with mobility problems).
The candlelight was helped out by wall lights, so we could almost see our food, and warmth was provided by charcoal braziers which the staff kept nudging closer and closer to the tables as ‘cool’ progressed to ‘cold’. January days in Rajasthan are pleasantly warm, sometimes hot, but the temperature plummets once the sun has set. I generally dislike lunchtime and evening buffets (breakfast buffets are another matter) the is food often cooked too long in advance and it is easy, particularly in the dark, to pile your plate high with too many, sometimes conflicting, flavours. That said, we ate well enough (though by the end the charcoal braziers were no longer adequate) and there was Kingfisher beer to drink.
Rajasthan, Land of Princes