In the last decade I have traveled a little around asia, looking around, eyes wide open, taking in the new visions, the colors, the buildings. A decade of this, and some might say it was a little bit more than just “traveled a little”, and you get a little jaded. You have seen it all, it is starting to repeat itself.  But sometimes you get a nice surprise, a hidden gem. Macau for me was such a gem.

I always new macau was where people went to lose money in glitzy las-vegas style casinos, which is not  really a big hobby of mine, and I vaguely knew that it had portugese colonialism or something like that, but it was always a marginal place, one of these “yeah sure one day why not” kind of places. Which is a shame, because if I got there ten years ago I am sure the place would have been more charming.

I really didn’t know what to expect, and the travelers advice and tourist material I found was not really appetizing, with a very strong smell of over commercialism and flaunted golden shinny luxury, but the moment the taxi started zigzagging through small streets going uphill to my hotel, I knew that this was no ordinary place.




I am a proud pedestrian, always were always will be, and the quality of a city lies in how walkable it is and how efficient is the public transportation. Macau is not a big place. Let’s face it, in the main part of macau you walk from  shore to shore in less than two hours.

Two and a half if you have to elbow yourself through Chinese tourist in the st james cathedral, but still, a nice afternoon walk. True, most of the streets are on a steep hillside , which makes a large part of the walk a real hike, and that getting lost means you might have to climb up the street you just came down with, but considering that a lot of these streets are cobbled, most of them are extremely charming, and all of us could actually use the exercise, it is not too bad.

One of the things I have found remarkable in macau is the abundance of small almost private public spaces, a small piazza under a living complex, a couple of benches in the shade of the big trees on the corner, a fountain, it is as if the spirit of street life in Europe managed to infiltrate the asian lifestyle, both being proud of the public street life, with the European part contributing a sense of cozy familiarity that sends me back to my student days in Italy.


I love a city that is built for it’s people. Where the people who run the city understand that the quality of life of the people who do the work is important for the big picture, for the final calculation of win and loss that is not based on profit alone.

Oh, and macau has huge profits. They are just used wisely. Like Singapore. They are not against business, not against money, but they still know that it is people who make everything work. And not rich people. People who take the bus to work. And I do have to tip my hat to their public transportation. Cheap, effective, fast. The way it should be.

There is a plethora of architectonic gems in macau, and walking down the street sometimes feels like a visit in a sketchbook of a dememnted architect and town planner, with different styles sharing supporting walls, the most amazingly absurd modern architecture is the background of quaint little portugese style villas, gold and mirrors on one side, cobbled streets and  flowery piazzas on the other, Chinese neons and old portugese blue porcelain street signs. A lovely semi permanent cognitive dissonance. It is interesting.

Macau caters for all kind of tourists, businessmen and the scores of temporary and semi permanent workers who keep flocking in for the resorts ever growing demand for man power. I am not a rich traveler, and I am happy for it as the rich usually are the same around the world and never really see the places they visit, and macau gives someone like me the opportunity to enjoy all parts of the city, the simple and the crazily luxurious for the same low budget. And that is something I respect. It is true for a lot of cities in asia, but as I said before, macau does feel like half Europe .

I have to admit that I even enjoyed visiting the huge casino resorts. I had to see. And you know what? When the luxury is in it’s ghetto, and is done in such an extravaganza of ridiculous splendor, I am not totally against it. Like going to a museum. Shinning and loud and high class yet trashy and decadent, An interesting experience. A couple of hours in the casinos watching the faces of the people gambling is better than any reality tv show.

Macau is one of the few places where I said to myself I should visit more often even before I boarded the plane back home.  It is the combination of Europe and asia, it is the comfort of getting around, the quality of the food, the air of the sea on the long beautiful promenade… yes, definitely a place to put on the ‘must visit’ list.

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