Macau

Last August I had the opportunity to visit Macau for work, spending four nights staying at the Four Seasons for a conference I’d been invited to speak at.  It was such an incredible experience, being the first time I’d spoken at an event of this size and the location was nothing short of amazing.  Having never travelled to Macau previously I hadn’t experienced the melting pot of cultures that manifests itself in the architecture, food and culture of the “Las Vegas of Asia”.

I had one free day whilst I was there to explore and rather than spend my time in the glitzy casino district I jumped in a cab and headed to Old City for the day to get a feel for the traditional side of Macau, which is a mixture of old Chinese culture and the influence of Portugese colonies in the sixteenth century.

I asked the cab to stop at the Ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral which seemed like the best place for me to start out my journey on foot.

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Walking through the streets the contrast between the Portugese and the Asian was simply astounding.  This was my first real experience of doing any kind of travel or sight seeing without the luxury of having an internet connection on my phone and whilst I got a little lost and turned around from time to time, I think I did a pretty good job of navigating the streets and alleys of Old City to get a first hand view of some amazing architecture, churches and theatres.

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The most stressful element was attempting to get myself back from Old City to the Four Seasons in order to collect my things and get the ferry that would take me to Hong Kong and then the airport.  I didn’t give myself nearly enough time to factor in that for some reason I couldn’t seem to hail a cab.  I had remembered seeing that there were cab ranks on some city maps I’d walked past on foot, but once I needed to remember where they were – or attempted to orientate myself without the visual cue (not one of my finest skills) – I found that I had gotten myself quite lost.  Despite being turned away a number of times I managed to find myself a cab eventually and headed back to the hotel and then the ferry with less than 5 minutes to spare before the ferry departed.

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Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture

Kanazawa was our final stop on the rail tour of Japan before spending the final days of our trip in Kyoto.  After Tokyo, Nagoya and Takayama, Kanazawa had quite a bit to live up to.

Our first impressions of the city were fantastic, we were picked up by our Airbnb host’s uncle and chauffeured to our accommodation.  Which was just brilliant.  The place was massive – and not just by Japanese standards, we would be happy in a one bedroom apartment of this size in any city in Australia.  The apartment was modern, attractive and relaxing.  The toilet was like something out of a science fiction film and in the bathroom there was a deep stone bath basin set into the ground from which a stunning view of the garden could be appreciated.  Jackpot!

There were two main attractions that we came to Kanazawa to see, Kenroku-en – one of Japan’s most beautiful gardens and the 21st Century Museum of Modern Art.  When I explained this to our driver there was a bit of a mistranslation as I thought he kept saying “No, No Museum in Kanazawa”, but what he actually meant was the “Noh Museum” in Kanazawa, recommending the Noh Museum of Dance.  We left these sites to our full day ahead of us and spent the night wandering around the city.

There was a beautiful light display in the castle gardens where we took a few photos, before heading to Ippei Sushi, a restaurant that Damian had researched and was a real find.  Freshly made sushi and sashimi served off the bench that was betwen us and the chef whilst being entertained by the most authentically nice hostess we’d come across our entire trip.  We were happy to head back to our exquisite accommodation and jumped in the bath to drink the bottle of sake we bought in Takayama.

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The next day we set out to see the rest of Kanazawa.  We started our day in the castle gardens where we got a private tour from a very friendly local.  After walking up to the window which said “English tour guide available”, we asked the lady at the window if she spoke English.  After she responded with a “no”, she then informed us (after we asked for the English speaking guide), that that was her!  Entertaining to say the least, her English was not fantastic but she did a really good job and it was a good experience for both her and I to practice each other’s language a little bit.

After the castle tour we headed to Kenroku-En.  Now, I don’t want to sound unappreciative of Japan’s #2 most beautiful garden and maybe by this stage we had been spoilt, but unfortunately I didn’t think the garden was as enjoyable as Shinjuku Garden in Tokyo.  Kenroku-En was most definitely a stunning and beautifully curated garden, but there wasn’t really much in the way of places to relax and enjoy your surroundings.  Definitely the type of garden you walk through.

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Despite this, there were plenty of opportunities for photos of the beautifully curated trees and bushes.  We learnt from our Japanese tour guide that the strings held above the trees were not as we originally thought to help shape them, but rather to help protect the branches from the weight of snow in winter.  We found ourselves to be somewhat of an attraction at one point with a group of traditionally dressed girls adamant that we get a number of photos with them.  Of course we ensured the favour was returned.

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Wandering the gardens took a good couple of hours, and it was definitely worth seeing.  Again it was one of those experiences that you couldn’t help but wonder whether it would have been much more enjoyable a couple of weeks on when the spring blossoms were starting to come out in stronger numbers.

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After Kenroku-En we headed to the 21st Century Museum of Modern Art… this was probably the only experience in the whole of Japan where we went to do something that we’d flagged as a point of interest and were actually disappointed.  Aside from a few outdoor sculptures the museum itself was not very exciting.  We paid to see an architecture exhibition which was very uninspiring and touted to be a reflection on green environmental living but was really quite unimaginative.  We really didn’t mind though, we’d had such a busy time in Japan so far we were quite happy to head back to the accommodation again and enjoy some quiet time in a comfortable space.  Final stop approaching: Kyoto.

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