Wigilja

6pm Christmas Eve, work finished and heading home for Christmas. A calm day at school, not many people want to come in on Christmas Eve; the schools are on holiday, and the adults generally wanted a break. Everyone was very keen to get home, the trains were the busiest I’ve seen in Hong Kong.

P1070239Helen’s had the day off, and has been busy all day cooking food for her Polish Christmas, Wigilja. It’s been troublesome finding some of the ingredients we needed as the Polish market in food seems quite slim. Cheese curd proved the most difficult to find, and we had to settle for Philadelphia instead.

Each course is traditionally started with a shot of Zubrowka vodka, but we couldn’t find any of that either so we made do with France’s finest Royal Castle Vodka, (which was as stomach-retchingly not Zubrowka as it sounds). The first course was a salmon salad, with capers and olives and we dropped in some cottage cheese too, and it was blooming delicious.

Between the first and second courses, Helen’s mum called on Skype and we had a little chat while they opened each other’s presents (that happens on Christmas Eve too in Poland) whilst her drinking sherry and us more vodka.

P1070196Another shot preceded the second course, pierogi. Pierogi are little dumplings of dough, containing a filling of the cheese curds, onions and potatoes, boiled until they float to the the surface. They’re difficult to make, especially here this year with no real counter space, so Helen made them all on the floor instead! Sprinkled with little drippings of melted butter, they were delicious. Because they’re relatively small (about the length of a finger), you can eat quite a lot, and we had a load of them!

Indeed, we even had so many that we weren’t really hungry enough for what should have been the third course of carp, so we never got round to it. We opened half of our presents, saving the other half for the morning, and had some Christmas chocolates instead.

What we were worrying about being a bit of a disaster due to lack of ingredients actually turned out fantastically well, and my compliments went to the chef (Helen!) for a lovely meal. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and my turn to try my traditional Christmas roast with lack of food and without even an oven!

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Macau 澳門

Macau from the ferryPart of the visa validation process here involves having to leave and re-enter Hong Kong, so we decided to hop on a ferry for the day and pop across the Pearl River to the old Portuguese colony of Macau.

The ferry ride took less than an hour and we pulled up into the harbour under an enormous 2.5km bridge connecting the two main islands of Macau, and alongside what looked like a traditional Chinese fort and a volcano. Intrigued, we headed there straight after immigration and discovered it was a giant themed amusement arcade park, with a volcano zone, an ampitheatre zone, what appeared to be a war torn cityscape zone and surely countless others too (we went in the middle of November, so it was closed probably because it was out of season). Though many of the attractions were closed, the actual main ‘street’ was free to walk around and stretched along a fair chunk of the harbour side!

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What first strikes about Macau is the sheer number and scale of the casinos. Whilst Hong Kong has developed into a banking and commercial centre, Macau is undoubtedly the casino capital of Asia, containing the top two and four of the top ten biggest casinos in the world, with casinos generating more than 40% of Macau’s GDP. It seemed that every road we turned into had at least one, and almost wherever we were we couldn’t miss the enormous 261m golden Grand Lisboa which eclipsed everything else in sight.

It was also obvious right away how architecturally different from Hong Kong it is; the Portuguese and Mediterranean influence was clear, with lots of cobblestone floors and colourful buildings, whereas many of the buildings away from the centrepiece harbour front in HK really aren’t much to look at and generally look pretty shabby.

Fountain The historic centre of Macau is also a UNESCO World Heritage site with many old churches, courtyards, old arches, and it really was quite spectacular. Particularly nice was not being dwarfed constantly by skyscrapers, which are always looming over you in HK.

We were lucky in that on the one day we were there, there was a carnival on the steps in front of the ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, which added plenty more colour to the day. ‘Ruins’ is putting it mildly, as only one wall remains intact and stands serenely at the top of a hill, overlooking the city.

St Pauls hill Macau

The Ruins of St Pauls

The other main UNESCO site is the old lighthouse (which, despite the lights and glamour from all the casinos meaning you couldn’t fail to notice land these days, is still working), but we didn’t realise it closed at 5 until we got there so could only take a photo of it from outside the grounds. Oops!

In the evening we headed to the largest casino, and the 6th biggest building by area in the world, the Venetian Casino. Modelled on its sister casino in Las Vegas, it has more than 3000 slot machines and 800 gaming tables, contains a replica of the Grand canal in Venice (with working gondolas!) and even had room for a cheeky Man Utd club shop in there too. It was enormous!

Alas all good things must come to an end, an on our return to HK work beckoned and my 3 month break was finally over!

St Pauls ruins Macau

Over the river is mainland China

Over the river is mainland China

Nice little street

The UNESCO Lighthouse from outside

The UNESCO Lighthouse from outside

The Grand Lisboa Casino towering over the city (Macau tower is in the background)

The Grand Lisboa Casino towering over the city (Macau tower is in the background)

Largo do Senado

Largo do Senado square

Venetian Casino Macau

SE Asia’s little bit of Venice

 

Grand Lisboa Macau

Venetian Casino Macau

Inside the Venetian Casino