Travel/Food 2005 – Macau

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Saturday, 12th/Tuesday 22nd November 2005 – Macau

We wasted a lot of the day at the airport, but it was worth checking in early to get the extra legroom seats on the plane. Virgin now sell these seats, at £50 extra each. They were, however, doing a promotion of buy one get one free, so £33 each got all three of us emergency exit seats. There was lots of lovely room to stretch out, and no worries at all even when the people in front reclined their seats to the maximum. But before we got on the plane, we had a long, lazy lunch at Chez Gerard in the airport. We only headed for the gate when the screens started to show the flight as boarding… which was a lie. It hadn’t actually arrived, and we were delayed by about an hour. It did make me wonder why they’d flagged it as last cal l for boarding, when there was no plane to board, but there you go. That’s airlines for you. Anyway, once we were on, it was the usual plastic meal (chicken of an inedible consistency, though the vegetables were good), followed by a film (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because we could), followed by two sleeping tablets and blissful unconsciousness all the way until the flight attendant woke me up by giving me my breakfast. Landing was not that long after, by which time it was Sunday evening in Hong Kong (and there’s a day I’ve lost) and then the fun started. The people from Estoril Tours, who were supposed to meet us, weren’t there. There was a man with a Macau Grand Prix sign, but he denied being anything to do with us, so we waited around, all the while desperately texting anyone who might have Barry Bland’s mobile number in their possession. We’d just about given up and decided to get a bus to the Jetfoil terminal, when Boyo, the team principal at Robertson Raikkonen Racing came through with the number. A swift call to Barry revealed that yes, we were supposed to be being met, and a later call from him told me that the Estoril Tours people were looking for us all over the airport. I decided I would stay right where I was, by a large blue Gate B sign, and told him this.

Eventually who should head straight for me, but the fellow who’d said he wasn’t waiting for us… He was very embarrassed, and very apologetic, so we made light of it. As it happened, we were promptly ushered to an air-conditioned Mercedes and driven to the Jetfoil Terminal. We arrived with 20 minutes to spare, and were decanted on to the ferry for the 50 minute crossing. The bus was waiting at the other end, and we were soon at the hotel, where no-one’s credit cards could be made to function, at least to start with. We eventually got our room keys, then discovered that we weren’t on the non-smoking floor and the room reeked of nicotine. So, a further trip to the reception desk was required. They were very helpful, and promptly moved us, so we were finally able to settle in (though we didn’t bother to unpack). To add to the fun, the Holiday Inn is being renovated. This is a good thing in many ways. From the artists’ impressions, it’ll obviously be very nice when it’s finished. At the moment, however, the bar is tiny and is in the lobby, there is only one restaurant in operation, and the gym and swimming pool are out of commission. When you have drivers who want to stay fit, and the contract for the race stipulates there must be a pool and a gym, you have a problem…

Investigation of our “welcome” envelope showed that Lynne and I had three welcome drink vouchers apiece (and Robert had four for some reason), so we headed for the bar, intending to have two drinks maximum, then go and unpack and order dinner from room service. However, we fell into very bad company down there. Boyo had just arrived back from dinner, and he settled in for a beer, as did Bianca Senna. Suffice it to say that the margaritas kept on coming, and they threw all five of us out when the bar closed at 1am. And no dinner was had…

Monday evening we decided it was indeed time to wander to the Pizzeria Toscana. They welcomed us back to Macau, and fed us remarkably well, as ever. A mixed starter with sun-dried tomatoes, parma ham, mushrooms, olives, garlic bread, artichokes, asparagus and all sorts of other good stuff was shared between the three of us, and then I had a perfectly cooked Milanese-style (in other words done with saffron) risotto, full of tiny prawns. It was excellent. While we were there various other people wandered in (Andy Priaulx, who seems to be haunting us, Robert Kubica, Dan Clarke, various Italians of our acquaintance, and just for good measure, the Swiss Racing Team boys). It was busy, but not too busy, and we were very pleased to discover that the restaurant will be open during the GP this year. We wasted no time at all booking our table for lunch everyday, and just for good measure added two extra places in case Rachael and Gordon Kimball want to join us. Wendy, who arrives on Thursday, probably won’t, because as far as we can tell she doesn’t eat lunch… While we were in the pizzeria, the heavens opened and the rain absolutely pelted down for a couple of hours. We just managed to avoid it, both going out and coming back, but it wasn’t looking promising for the morning either.

We started the day with a late breakfast (noodles, bacon and scrambled egg, what James Courtney once referred to as a “weird arse breakfast”), then, because the weather was still poor, we went to the Macau Museum of Art, to see the Masters of Fire exhibition. The swords were glorious, especially the damask blades, though the one I really wanted to take home was the viking-style blade, which was utterly beautiful. It was run a close second by the Japanese and Korean style blades, but if I could have just one, that would have been it. After that we meandered around looking at the other exhibitions, including a whole floor of calligraphy from the Ming dynasty. I fear most of it was wasted on us; we lack the cultural background to understand the works, and in the main they all appeared to be landscapes done in the same style, and to the same template; foreground of trees, with mountains in the background, and the odd sketchy looking building somewhere in the middle ground. There was an exhibition on the ground floor, showing illustrations for a new publication of Peregrinacam – this was decidedly peculiar, though it was also fun in an odd sort of way. There were lots of people with six eyes, fish with legs and glasses, walking eyeballs and all sorts of other peculiarities, all done with a great deal of detail, and all oddly amusing.

It was lunchtime by then, so we sidled off to the museum cafe, and ordered iced latte and sandwiches, which arrived with accompanying chips (very good ones). After that, the museum shop had reopened, so I went back in and sought out the Masters of Fire catalogue. Art exhibition catalogues sell for ridiculous prices in the UK, so I was prepared to walk away from this one. However, it was 100 patacas, which are currently around 14 to one pound sterling, so I gave in and bought it. After that we decided it was time to go to the circuit and pick up our passes. We went by way of the exterior of Sands Casino, and the latest in Macanese oddities, Fisherman’s Wharf. This is apparently going to be a theme park of sorts, although it’s not yet finished. It contains a volcano, a replica of a Roman amphitheatre, a leaning tower of Pisa, all sorts of European styled houses (Dutch 17th century merchants’ houses, a Tudor who knows what, all sorts of styles and shapes), and your guess is as good as mine what else… It’s all rather peculiar, and it’s yet another development in the constantly changing face of Macau. You never know from one year to the next what you’ll find.

Anyway, on arrival in the press office the ever-present and very wonderful Racquel was there to deal with us. We had our passes – sadly no photography pass this year – but all was well anyway. We’d got a locker and reserved our two desks by the window, and after that we fell into conversation with various people in the pitlane, including the Kimballs. The best bit of that was persuading Charlie to drive us on a lap of the circuit in one of the mini-mokes everyone hires. It was far less scary than the lap we once did with a local taxi driver, and was useful to reacquaint ourselves with the various corners. Apparently, Rob Austin had been rushing around in the Menu Motorsport moke, intent on running down a competing driver if possible. He’d brought his crash helmet, and h wasn’t competing, so he was getting bored. He was certainly making Stephen Jelley, the team’s driver this time out, very nervous… Not as nervous as we were after a discussion with Joerg Mueller though. Joerg gleefully announced that he was very happy not to be in the running for the WTCC title anymore, because it meant he could have some fun. If I were the opposition, I’d be very worried about that…

We all gathered for a drink in the bar before dinner, and got into conversation with Bianca again. She was getting very passionate about what’s wrong with British F3, and was telling Glyn exactly what the SRO needed to do to improve matters. She only stopped when she realised her brother and Boyo were standing there, waiting to go out to dinner. We had planned on having dinner at A Lorcha, a superb Portuguese restaurant near the Maritime Museum last night, but it turned out they’re closed on Tuesdays. We allowed the Holiday Inn staff to convince us we should go to the Litoral, on the same street, instead. They said the ambience was better and the cooking was just as good. They were right. The bacalhau pasteis were superb, and the arroz de pato was everything I’ve ever wanted in duck rice. It was huge though, and I really couldn’t finish it. We ended up with some superb light egg pudding, and then dashed back to the hotel. Which is when I realised I’d left my camera behind. A quick phone call was all it took for the restaurant to tell me they’d found it and I could pick it up in the morning. I’d have been annoyed if I’d lost the camera, but probably even more annoyed if I’d lost the film in it!

I had a bad night with the aftereffects of the two margaritas I drank. Note to self: just because you got away with consuming citrus fruit packed cocktails on Sunday, didn’t mean it was a good idea to do it again. The result was I was very tired in the morning. However, I duly went back to the Litoral and was reunited with my trusty Canon EOS, which was something of a relief. We took Rachael with us so that she could shop. She’d tried doing some shopping on the previous days, but Charlie and Gordon were less than interested, so she didn’t really feel she could indulge. We’d been planning a trip to the fabric stall we first found a couple of years ago, because we wanted to get some gold silk to cover some rather dull cushions for the sofa> We found what we wanted, and Rachel bought enough turquoise silk for a dress, plus a length of red to make a blouse. We then spent an hour there while the store owner, her English-speaking friend who was very helpful, and the tailor she’d summoned discussed whether four days was enough time for him to make the garments for Rachael. At first he was insistent that he needed ten days, but clearly the stall holder, who may have been his mother or his auntie, eventually made him see the error of his ways! As a result we were then escorted to his shop, where he showed Rachael lots of patterns, then took her measurements. She’s a curvy, tall blonde, and the sight of her standing in the shop being measured was almost too much excitement for one elderly Chinese man, who simply couldn’t stop staring at her. It looked like his wife was getting ready to clip him round the ear if he didn’t stop it and quickly!

By then we were all hot and sticky, so we took Rachael to the Macau Tower and sat on the terrace drinking iced coffee. After that, she headed for the paddock, while we went back to the hotel for half an hour. We relaxed until it was time to go out to this year’s odd photo opportunity, where teams of 6 drivers/riders from each category were being asked to solve three mixed-up jigsaw puzzles of 6 pieces each. We were sure the motorbike racers would try and cheat if they couldn’t solve it quickly… But as it turned out the World Touring Car Championship boys cheated, when Tom Coronel (who else) stole one of the F3 boys’ pieces. They won, everyone got presents, and then Robert Kubica upended the tubs of polystyrene the pieces had been hidden in! So keeping him away from buckets and water didn’t stop him causing chaos. I took lots of photos of the lion dance, and even more of the buildings in Leal Senado square, which has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and then we headed back to the circuit, where we needed to hand over photocopies of our passports and airline tickets to Barry Bland, to make sure our return trip would go smoothly. We stopped off for a long chat with Paul Anthony, of Alan Docking Racing. He was bemoaning the fact that Macau is becoming too sanitised, and is no longer dangerous. He also claimed they’d had a quiet night out the night before. Apparently, this meant no one got arrested and no one ended up in the harbour!

Shortly after that we managed to catch up with Alain Menu, who was complaining that he thought Macau was far too dirty! You can’t please all of the people all of the time it would seem. He was also complaining of being propositioned by one of the local prostitutes, at 4.30 in the morning. It seems he had arranged to meet up with Stephen Jelley so they could do a few laps of the circuit in the moke when it was quiet. As they were about to set off, four of the local whores pretty much pounced on them, and one of them refused to get off the moke. So they decided they’d do their laps anyway. He reckoned she got what she deserved, and when they finished the lap he made it clear to her that that was all she was getting. He said she didn’t seem very impressed!

So that was Wednesday, apart from dinner in the 360 restaurant at the top of the Macau Tower. There are fireworks tonight, so that’s why we decided to go today. But first a drink in the bar, and a trip to the camera shop to try and get the 7 films I’ve finished so far developed. Wednesday evening closed as promised with dinner in the 360 Cafe at the top of the Macau Tower, and a splendid fireworks display on the lake below. Almost as impressive, at least as far as Glyn, the resident pudding-fiend, was concerned was the chocolate fountain on the desert section (see later). They revamped the place over last winter, and have also tweaked the menu for the buffet dinner. There are sections of Chinese and Portuguese food, and now they also have an Indian section. The most memorable of the many delicious items sampled was the sauteed chestnut dish. They’d been simmered in port wine, and were then sauteed along with mushrooms and bacon. This I plan on trying for myself sometime soon… As for the chocolate fountain, I’m assuming this was some sort of chocolate sauce, because it was cold, but still liquid. Glyn thought it a wonderful idea, and as well as the fruit provided for the purpose, he started coating the almond cakes and all sorts of other dessert options in it. He was a very happy chocoholic by the time we left in pursuit of a cab!

I was slightly disturbed by people doing the Skywalk plummeting past the window unexpectedly as we were having dinner (at 330 metres that’s somewhat of a shock if you’re not expecting it), and also by the fact that everyone around me seemed to be breaking glasses, pots and other ceramics at a persistent rate. It wasn’t my fault, whatever Lynne says…

On Thursday we hit the ground running straight after breakfast, and we pretty much didn’t stop till Sunday night. We were in the press office early and we stayed there till it was time to get back to the hotel and change for dinner. It was exhausting – as it always is – but I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be in November… And there were some relaxing moments, particularly in the evenings. We went to the Clube Militar de Macau on Thursday evening, where the meal was spectacular as ever, although the service got a bit woolly – getting everything at once for any given course (or even meal) proved too much for them and we waited well over an hour for the starters to appear. That said, the curried prawns (a very Macanese dish) were excessively good, despite a ten minute wait for the rice to go with it, and we eventually staggered back to the hotel full of food and content with life.

On Friday night we went to the ever-reliable Mezzaluna in the Mandarin Oriental. Several members of Alan Docking Racing were dining in there, and it’s fair to say that some of them were finding the experience way too pretentious (as one of them was the infamous BA, this isn’t a surprise). That said, we had a wonderful dinner (smoked goose breast with apple and fennel salad and nut pesto, the goose sliced so thin it almost melted in your mouth; a package of sole, scallops and prawns with mashed potato dotted with black olives; wild turbot in pistachio crust with steamed marron lobster, sauteed broccoli and celeriac sauce). It was also good in that it was followed by a relatively early night, which was just as well considering the time I was planning on getting up.

On Saturday, I left Lynne to catch up on sleep, and headed down to the circuit in time for the early morning warm-up. I ended up sharing first a lift and then a cab with Fabio Carbone, which is pretty scary on all counts. Actually, we both shared the only passing cab with one of the locals, who waved us over and then insisted we allow him to pay. We both thanked him politely and went about our respective activities. After the session finished, they ran the photoshoot for the F3 drivers out in the scrutineering bay, so I did that, grabbed a load of shots, then wandered back to the press office, a woman on a mission. I asked very politely and prettily if I could get on the grid, and was consequently granted a brand new POC (Press on Course) pass and a pale blue bib which meant that instead of being confined to the press office and the paddock, I could now go on the grid but also trackside and kill myself if I wanted to!

Having said that, it turned into something of a black day for the bikers, when one of their number, Bruno Bonhuil, was killed in a very nasty crash during the morning warm up. It put a damper on things, as you can probably imagine, though that said, the show as ever went on. Certainly many of the bikers were present at the Grand Prix Club Party, held as usual over at the Taipa Houses Museum (catering care of the splendid chefs from the Lisboa – I want to know how exactly the pumpkin in garlic sauce was prepared), but we took a different route out to Taipa than normal, probably because of all the building work going on with the new collection of casinos, a TV studio complex and who knows what else they’re building over there.

There was an intriguing exhibition of seals in one of the houses, which occupied us for a while. We suggested the seal of the keeper of the Emperor’s cakes, wines and fruits was a good one, and that maybe the title would suit Glyn, especially as he went back four times for desserts. Actually it was just as well the houses were all open for the guests to nose around, because it was getting very windy and was not all that warm outside.

Sunday was even more frenetic than Saturday in a number of ways. I decided that I would spend the morning warm up sessions at the Melco Hairpin with my camera because I could (and yes, I do know that just because I can, doesn’t mean I should). So I was out of bed at 6.45 and on the first hotel shuttle of the day, along with most of the Signature team boys. In fact it ran slightly early, so I ended up on the first press shuttle of the day from the circuit. They dropped me at Melco around 7.30, where I stood and shivered and wished I’d worn my sweater. It was cold in the shade of the gasometer, and the tall buildings, but I managed a few good photos, so I can’t complain. The WTCC cars all got round without problems, although Jordi Gene obviously came to grief somewhere. I know this because after their session ended his car was brought back on a flatbed truck, as he sat in the cab waving cheerily at me!

The F3s also had a stoppage, and Christian Bakkerud told me afterwards that he’d considered waving at me, but had decided he really needed both hands on the wheel. Nutcase! I finished up before they started the local Formula Renault race, and snagged a cab back to the hotel to have a coffee and thaw out. I got back in time to watch the shambles that was the Renaults on TV. As with last year’s race, it was a complete mess, with Safety Cars, people crashing all over the place, and one of them managing to spin out behind the Safety Car. I wasn’t too impressed. Of course later in the morning the Touring Car lads managed to completely block Lisboa, turning their race into a giant car park. Cue mutterings from me along the lines of “Gentlemen! Here’s how the professionals do it…”

We had an interesting lunchtime with various Australians taking shifts at our table in the pizzeria. It started with Alan Docking Racing’s Karl Reindler and his Dad, Karl wolfing down a pasta lunch before heading back to work, and ended with Wendy and Yvonne (who is Bruce Carey’s sister, for those of you who know what that means). It was just as well we booked a table with a couple of extra spaces, because Gordon and Rachael used them two days, Wendy and Yvonne the other two days. It was heaving in there as usual, so we saved them from having to wait forever for a table. It was also pleasant to sit with friendly faces. We saved Karl again in the evening when he was waiting to get a cab back to the hotel. As we were well ahead in the queue, we asked him if he wanted to queue-jump. He had Jonathan Kennard with him, and that’s the first proper conversation I’ve had with Jonathan all year, largely because the stupid boy was apparently too scared to talk to us…

Anyway, the story of the race can be found elsewhere, so I won’t bore the non-racing people with it here. Suffice it to say, we was robbed! Anyway, before we had chance to draw breath – well, we had time to throw soap and water at the sweatier bits and find clean shirts to wear, but that was all – it was time for the prize-giving. We found Stephen Jelley lurking in the bar, abandoned by his team, and wondering where he was supposed to go next. He knew there was a prize-giving, and had been told he was to go. He just had no idea where he was supposed to go. We collected him, and all got on the bus.

When we got there we first sat at the International Media table, but then we decided we really would rather sit at one of the F3 tables, which we ended up sharing with Stephen, Karl, Karl’s Dad, Christian and his Dad, and Charlie, Rachael and Gordon Kimball. It made it a lot of fun, as well as providing some interesting snippets of information, none of which I shall repeat. This year’s prize-giving was for all the Macau events but also for the WTCC, with Andy Priaulx collecting a mass of silverware for becoming World Champion. He’s come a long, long way from a caravan in Silverstone is all I can say. Anyway, the mass of trophies to be handed over was good in that it meant we didn’t get the tedious mass of speeches in Chinese praising every member of the Macau Grand Prix Committee (who do do a sterling job, but it does get boring listening to the speakers drone on).

In some ways it was as well they didn’t hold dinner back while they handed out the prizes. I got to eat the salmon and prawn mousse (though the drivers were all pretty suspicious of it to start with), but missed out on the caldo verde soup, because I was down by the stage snapping the presentations. Lynne managed to stop the waitress also removing the next course, a wonderfully refreshing port sorbet, and was also instrumental in bullying the lads out of their seats when the speaker called for all the F3 drivers to come down to the stage for a group photo. She was doing a grand job there! I did get to enjoy the rest of dinner (beef in a Madeira sauce, a selection of tiny puddings including a chocolate mousse that Glyn refused!) and yet another stunning fireworks display afterwards.

On the way out, we found a rather tipsy Trevor Carlin clutching two trophies and still muttering about “f***ing Dan Clarke” costing them the race by causing the incident that bought out the Safety Car. Trevor wasn’t happy, and I could see why. He was also in pursuit of a cab, so we found one for all of us, by which time Trevor had wandered off. The last we saw of him, he’d got in a cab with Jo Merszei, one of the very slow locals. We ended the evening in the hotel bar with various people, including Alain Menu, who was thoroughly enjoying himself baiting Wendy! He was in a better mood than you might have expected as he’d had his third place in the second WTCC race taken away from him because there were less than three litres of fuel in the car, and spent a large part of the evening arguing with Lynne as to whether or not she jinxes him… It was fun, but about midnight we decided we’d had enough and went to bed.

Monday was a slow day, with a late breakfast. We figured if we left it late there’d be no one there, because they’d all be in Hong Kong en route for home by then. No such luck. The restaurant and bar were full of the remnants of Sunday night’s carousing, with some people considerably more delicate than others. It was obvious that Lucas di Grassi obviously found winning the Macau Grand Prix too much for him… He claimed he’d been awake all night because the air conditioning was too strong. Yeah, right, Lucas, anything you say…

At 10.30 in the morning, the Manor Motorsport boys were still drinking, which was scary. Pete was propped against a pillar in the foyer with a can of beer in hand, wanting to talk but insisting he couldn’t move or he’d fall over… The British series teams paled into insignificance in the face of Sheffield’s finest! Boyo looked green just thinking about them, and was busy failing to show me something on his laptop, because he’d left it on all night, and had packed the power cable in his suitcase, which had been sent on ahead. We had a chat with Yvonne and then headed out to go sightseeing.

This time we headed for the statue of A Ma, high up on top of the biggest hill on Coloane island. At 19.99 metres, she’s a towering structure made of blocks of white jade, and bring a whole new meaning to the word “monumental”. Apparently she can be seen from far out on the South China Sea, which I can well believe. She’s the goddess of fishermen and sailors apparently. A little way down the hill from the statue is a massive new temple complex. It is breathtakingly beautiful, as I hope to prove when my photos come back to me tonight. There are two temple blocks in the middle of the complex, covered in red and gold decorations, with the most amazing roof decorations, including dragons and all manner of other creatures made out of colourful mosaic tiles. There are friezes carved out of a grey coloured stone, and a massive pond full of turtles which seemed to be trying to escape by climbing on each others backs – turtles all the way up rather than down, but you get the picture I’m sure. For 25 patacas (about £2.00) you could buy a tiny turtle and add it to the mass already in there. It was fascinating, as were the two hulking carved stone turtles with some sort of monumental plaques on their backs. They appeared to have fangs… Vampire turtles anyone?

Anyway, we eventually left the complex and were just wondering about the walk down when a shuttle bus appeared! So we got on it and rode to the bottom of the hill, where we caught the 21A bus back to the Hotel Lisboa, just in time to pick up the rest of the photos and go back to the hotel to complete our reports and rest up for the afternoon. In the evening we again went out to the Mandarin Oriental, this time to the Naam restaurant, a Thai establishment which was just as wonderful as the Mezzaluna, and had the advantage of overlooking the hotel swimming pool, which looks incredibly tempting. We ate amazingly well, with mixed starters, duck with aubergine and fried lobster with sweet basil and young peppercorns. The portions were enormous, the service was charming and we couldn’t possibly have managed dessert… After the debacle with Holiday Inn refurbishment not being finished, there’s talk that next year we may well be at the Mandarin, which would be very nice indeed.

On Tuesday we mostly packed! Actually, we also went to the Institute for Tourism for lunch in the Educational Restaurant, which is where the students get to practice on real guests. There were a lot of first year students serving, and they were very nervous, but it was fascinating to see the tutors explaining to them what they had to do, and then watching them try and do it. Of course the resulting service was a little on the slow side, but that said the food was perfect. They were running a Swiss food promotion as part of an initiative entitled “Switzerland Greets Macau” and it was all being overseen by a chef, Georg Ruis, from the Hotel Muensterhof in Zurich (and if I’m ever in Zurich, I’m going there!). We started with a delicious Aarganer Pumpkin Soup with Honey and Rosemary, and then moved on to fish (Lynne and I had half a dish each then swapped plates – pan-fried Perch on a potato and leek ragout, and trout with white wine and cream sauce). We finished off with a gentle sortie to the dessert buffet, and some jasmine tea, before taking a walk back down the hill. From there we caught a cab over the Macau Tower for one last iced coffee in the Cafe Madeira before heading for the airport and home.