Category Archives: Travel

Christmas in Seville: Day 4 – Finally The Cathedral

Yes, we really could have spent a few days longer here. It’s one of those stupid balancing acts that you have to play with the number of vacation days you have and which place best matches that number. With Seville, I think I hadn’t banked on their being so much to see here outside the Lonely Planet item and maybe a few museums. Goes to show just how full of surprises Spain’s fourth largest city is.

Today was the last day, which meant we had the morning and early afternoon to mop up the items from our original itinerary. A late breakfast of tea, orange juice and a toasted roll with Spanish ham and tomato was exactly what was needed to help set us up for the day and so we were off for a final attempt to get into the cathedral.

Since it was the final day with not much on, it really did allow for greater appreciation of the buildings in the old town area. Like with certain areas of London, this section of Seville really pays dividends if you just crane your head up a bit. Some Muslim inspired archwork here, a beautifully decorated turret there. All things we couldn’t see lit up by Christmas lights looked wonderful in the blue skies and warm sun of this December morning.

Despite there being a long queue, the size of Seville Cathedral (the largest cathedral in Europe and one of the largest Christian places of worship in the world) is so cavernous that the masses are quickly diluted once inside. It felt remarkably empty, with the many decorated alcoves being devoid of onlookers or barely populated.

In the end we spent over an hour and a half here because there was just so many different things to see. For one, you have the tomb of Christopher Columbus who – whatever your feelings towards him and his actions in the Americas – is such an important figure in Spanish history. The way that his tomb is placed, held aloft by statues of pallbearers, has his body on the march to the main alter – which is a cool image once you notice it.

Sadly, a lot of the elaborate altarpieces and chapels are behind iron grates – presumably as protection – but there’s so much scope for pictures as long as you are to strategically position yourself or your phone/camera.

It’s also worth noting that, on this day, the sun was shining so brightly in the sky that the stained glass on the eastern side of the cathedral was casting large coloured swatches across the beams and other sections of the interior. Made me think back to the windows of the Sagrada Familia and how this felt like a gothic cathedral version of what Gaudi is trying to achieve.

You can’t come to the cathedral without a trip up La Giralda – the giant tower that started life as a minaret back when a mosque was originally founded on this site. Thankfully the steps are minimal due to 34 ramps and then 17 steps at the end. You end up so high by the end of your climb, which makes the views up here some of the best in Seville.

Being up here was like Montparnasse Tower in Paris, in that I got a chance to see the greatest hits of the different sites I’ve seen over the last few days, in one direction was the brilliantly bizarre Metropol Parasol where we could see individual people roaming along the folds and enjoying the many views. From another side, we could see sections of the Alcazar and it’s gardens as well a glimpse of the Plaza de España. Goes to show now walkable this city is.

We would have spent a bit longer at the top of La Giralda, but the wind suddenly kicked up to the point where people were getting rather wobbly. So, we descended the ramps and finished off our visit to the Cathedral with a walk through the treasury and the vividly red chapter house with its exceptional acoustics. I know I’ve probably missed out a lot of things in here, but it’s just so big that you end up getting a bit lost.

Tickets to the cathedral came with free same day entry to the Iglesias del Divino Salvador. Since we had a little time to kill before we had to be off to the airport, we figured that this would be a good way to spend a little time. Oh good grief, this was a beautiful church whose front facade I forgot to photograph and instead just focused on the, now fairly empty square where we are churros a few days ago.

Inside this church, choral music was playing and all the treasures were shining so brightly it was like they’d been given a fresh coat of polish. I had one of those moments where I felt a bit short of breath and covered in goosebumps, some might have considered that a religious experience – to me it was like sensory overload combined with ASMR.

Every alcove was full with statues and beautifully crafted and shining pieces of metal work. It’s really hard to pinpoint specific ones, but there were some elements – such as a brilliant carving of a lamenting Christ and one of the most beautiful Virgin Mary pieces I’ve ever seen – that are likely to stick with me.

They also had a Nativity up, made of all the usual suspects and some interesting additions like a cat and a family of quails. This guarded one of the two entries to the sacristies that took you behind the main alter and had some interesting treasures such as reliquaries and a vivid red-eyed statue depicting Mary as the Lady of Sorrows.

And that’s it for this brief sojourn to Seville. We went from the church to the airport via our hotel to pick up our luggage. A late lunch was some locally available Burger King items in the departure lounge as we watched our plane getting more and more delayed (in part to the massive thunderstorm that had hit earlier). We didn’t necessarily get the holiday I expected that would be filled with Christmas markets, as the markets are pretty tiny and non-Christmassy compared to what I’ve seen in Munich, Vienna and Riga – but it’s been a lovely long weekend.

As of the moment, I have no idea of any future holiday destinations to come – so I had better get thinking so that I have something to look forward to. I’ve definitely been spoiled in 2019 with trips to Paris, Korea, Hong Kong and now Seville. Cannot help but wonder what might await in 2020.

Christmas in Seville: Day 3 – Palaces and Les Setas

Lots of little things done today, but it all started with a light breakfast of espresso and an ensaïmada from the cafe/bakery around the corner. We realised that lunch would only be a few hours away, so why not go for a regional(ish) pastry that I had never seen before.

To get to our first stop of the day, we had to make our way along the river and back into the Parque de Maria Luisa and finish off the final section that we hadn’t explored in our first afternoon. This particular area is called the Plaza América and, like the Plaza de España, was constructed for the 1929 Ibero-American exhibition. These pavilions have since been converted to other usages. Our destination, the Archaeological museum, having previously been the Renaissance Pavilion.

Regrettably the basement containing the pre-Roman era golden treasures was closed because of ‘technical issues’ (ain’t that just the way) so we made do with the ground floor. Entrance was free because, for now, we’re both EU citizens – you can’t really argue with free entry. Also, the set up of the museum itself was beautiful with many big rooms with well set out treasures.

Two of the rooms really stood out for me. First was Room XIX with the incredibly well preserved statue of Diana set in front of columns. This led directly into the other, and more spectacular Room XX which is a grand rotunda with large statues of Trajan and Hadrian (who were born nearby) and busts of many other Roman emperors. Then there’s the large mosaic in the middle, which just ties the whole room together. Who put this together deserves some sort of raise.

We were done with the archaeological museum earlier than expected, so we popped into the opposite Popular Arts and Traditions museum. Its essentially a museum that has a number of exhibitions to demonstrate how those who worked in different traditional occupations worked. So you have example workshops set up for guitar makers, goldsmiths, pottery decorators etc as well as some example works. Interesting enough for a quick and free (thanks EU membership, I’m going to miss you like crazy) visit to get some more context of the region.

On our way to lunch we, once again, went by the Torre del Oro and actually paid to go up to the top. You get some great, views of the Centro and Santa Cruz area from up there. It really shows off just how big Seville Cathedral is too. I hope we actually get to go in tomorrow, else I’m going to be so disappointed. The tower also had a small exhibition on the naval history of Seville, but we were here for the view so marched past it.

Lunch was originally going to be over the bridge and at Triana Market as so many guides had recommended it. However, it’s Sunday and despite it technicality having opened an hour earlier, nearly everything was basically closed. So, not to be discouraged from at least having one meal in Triana, we found a place and ordered a various bunch of little bocadillos and just shared them. Truly, this is right up my alley and I wished I had the stomach space to have tried more from the menu.

Fuelled up, it was back over the bridge again as we were going to visit the second of the three big things I wanted to see whilst in Seville (the final one being the cathedral). They go by two names: the Metropol Parasol or Les Setas de Sevilla. It’s a giant wooden mushroom-like structure that is stunning to look at and gives similarly great views of the surrounding city from the top.

Considering all the old things that I have seen in Seville, there is such a big contrast when dealing with something so modern. I can see how it might polarise opinion within Seville, but I absolutely love it. It’s bizarre, whimsical, functional and had all the unique hallmarks of what makes a great landmark. Also, it has the superlative of being the largest wooden structure in the world. It’s one of those essential things to see when in Seville.

After a hot chocolate at they top of the wooden mushrooms, we headed off to the first of the two remaining stately homes that we wanted to hit up (the first being Pilate’s House yesterday). Since it was the furthest out, we first went to the Palacio de las Dueñas.

This is one of the private residences owned by the Duke of Alba and is one of those places where you manage to forget that you are in the middle of a major city. The lemon tree garden is especially beautiful to both see and smell as you wander around seeing statues and more citrus trees that you would know what to do with. It’s probably the most zen part of the residence, give the rather ‘eclectic’ art collection on display which includes a painting of rather stressed kittens playing instruments and a vase with demonic looking babies on it.

The Palacio de las Dueñas also contains a beautiful central courtyard, which was clearly modelled on the Maidens Courtyard in the Alcazar. This is not the only part of the residence that has been modelled on the Alcazar, but it’s probably the part that has been able to carry it off to the point that it’s gorgeous in its own right.

Next was the Palacio de la Contessa de Lebrija. This is a smaller residence bought by the Countess of Lebrija in 1901 who took it upon herself to remodel it almost entirely and fill it with her own increasing collection of artwork from around the world. If the tour we got of the first floor is anything to go by, where we saw her sticking plates to Stars of David on the ceiling, she was a bit of an eccentric and probably what I would have been like if I was a single aristocrat in that era.

Two things are particularly notable in this house. The first is the amazing yellow and blue tiles on the staircase. I have seen many an example of a tiled surface over the last few days, but this staircase really is in a league of its own when it comes to audacious colours. The other major things of note are the ancient mosaics that the countess had transported and laid in her residence. She even went as far as to completely remodel the walls of rooms in order to keep this mosaics whole. That is ridiculous money right there.

After this residence we went back to the hotel for a bit of a recharge and then headed out to see a flamenco show at the Teatro Flamenco Triana. My word. I’ve only seen snippets of flamenco when it’s part of scene in film and TV – which does not adequately prepare you for what it’s going to be like in real life. We were in the front row which meant a lot of seeing exactly how fast the feet were moving and a lot of uncomfortable eye contact. The hour flew by in an instant and don’t think I will ever understand just how the feet can move that fast.

Given it was late on a Sunday, a lot of the tapas places in Triana that we wanted to hit up were either full or shut – so we followed TripAdvisor until we ended up at the restaurant next to the hotel. Go figure, it was a brilliant really great place where I had butifarra and egg for a main and then torrijas for dessert.

When I write these posts, I try and think of a thread or a theme that unites a bunch of the activities together. To be honest, I can’t think of one today because of how eclectic the different things have been. Guess it just goes to show the number of different sides to Seville you can see today. Shame that, given it’s a Sunday, the churches were pretty much off limits. That’ll be our final morning/afternoon then. Knowing what I know now, we probably should have stayed here for longer.

Christmas in Seville: Day 2 – The Alcazar

So today is the day that we were going to discover the Real Alcazar aka the reason behind Seville being on my radar as a place that I really had to visit. Now that I am here, I have to say that I am really loving most of what I have seen so far. This may be coloured by the gorgeous Christmas lights, but that’s by the by.

A trip to the Alcazar demands a good breakfast and the one that we had La Cacharreria really helped to set us up. One large toast with Serrano ham, one with old cheese and a mug of vanilla rooibos tea. Truly a delicious breakfast and so reasonably priced, little wonder that this place was completely packed by the time we left.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 94/100Sight: Real Alcázar
Location: Seville, Spain
Position: #235

Filled it was time to venture to the Alcazar, which was even more extraordinary than I had imagined. Given its position on the Lonely Planet list, the mind boggles at how much more extraordinary the Alhambra would be. That’s a trip for another time though, so let’s focus on the Alcazar.

In total we spent about four hours here, it could have easily been longer but limited time and all that. The majority of the time being spent navigating the many rooms of this royal palace. The way that the tour and audioguide is organised is clever because you could easily end up in the most impressive rooms straight away and everything else would slightly pale in comparison.

That isn’t to say that these earlier rooms aren’t beautiful to look at, because they are. The Hunters’ Courtyard featuring the front facade of the main building is a gorgeous piece of architecture unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s just that beyond that door lies the The Maidens’ Courtyard and that’s where suddenly you need to adjust your expectations.

The Maidens’ Courtyard is stunning and, like a lot in the Alcazar, there’s no real way that you are able to get it onto camera. So much of what makes it the landmark it is is the general feeling as you are surrounded by such grand pieces of fusion architecture. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been a foreign dignitary waiting there for an audience with the king, but it probably did the job of intimidating a lot of them.

The other massively impressive room in the Alcazar is the Ambassadors’ Hall, which also has the nickname of the ‘half orange’ room because of the ceiling. The ceiling alone is enough to make this room worthy of note – this massive dome with gold and star features is an absolute stunner. The rest of the room, with its portraits of past Spanish kings, tile-work and gorgeous archways is no slouch either, but it’s everything together that make it noteworthy.

Once we’d finished with the main buildings it was already over two hours in, which meant time for coffee and sweets at the really reasonably priced cafe. I mean, what cafe in a major attraction does a 2 for 1 on their donuts? This one apparently, so we were there with lemon cream custard donuts looking at the gardens and dodging the many peahens who were using the cafe as a thoroughfare.

Not to be outdone, the gardens of the Alcazar are also very beautiful and expansive. To get some of the best views of these, you have to go up the Grotto walkway which gives you a high up view of most of the grounds directly next to the palace. The styles of the gardens vary widely with some taking on Italian, French or even English influence. They all fit well together with meticulously maintained grounds, although the English garden does feel rather sparse in comparison.

As with the rest of Seville, some of the stars of this garden were the various citrus trees. Also, the smell that you get when you have rows of citrus trees intermingled with a number of other species. When in the gardens it’s worth tracking down the hydraulic organ and try to be there for when it’s actually performing. We managed to come across it when it was playing and later saw that this is one of only four in the world, so is worth finding.

Truly I could spend a long time talking about the Alcazar. It’s why I came here to Seville and it’s going to be the way I try to sell this to other people when talking about places to visit.
When we left it was about 2:30, so we really wanted a late lunch. Specifically one of the really gorgeous looking ham sandwiches that we kept seeing on our way to the a
Alcazar. Could we find one when we wanted one? Hell no, it took us 40 minutes to track one down. Pretty damned gorgeous though and this search ended up being a mixed blessing.

Turned out that Seville Cathedral was closing their doors to visitors two hours early today – so it saved us from the aggravation of a visit cut short. Guess we’ll have to cross our fingers for Monday that we’re able to get in before having to leave for the airport.

As a last minute replacement activity we swapped something scheduled for another day by visiting Casa de Pilatos. Where the Alcazar was a peak example of a Spanish royal residence, this is the same but for dukes. This is still technically a residence for the Dukes of Medinaceli, but the current holder currently resides in Madrid. The price for access is about the same as the Alcazar, so feels a little bit steep but it’s a really interesting house to visit.

We probably spent longer than expected here as the audioguide was incredibly verbose. The flip-side of that is that it forced us to look at each room in detail in order to kill time. So, ironically, we got more out of this visit because of the overly long guide. During this visit there are two big highlights and one strange curiosity to be found. First there is the main courtyard, which feels like a more attainable version of the Alcazar’s Maidens’ Courtyard. Just instead of needing millions to copy it, you’d need a few hundred thousand.

The other big highlight is the tiled stairway to the upper level , which we didn’t visit as the accompanying tour doesn’t operate on any sort of schedule in the off season. It was still worth a visit up the stairway because of the beautiful honeycomb domed ceiling and the extensive vibrant tile-work. This brings me to the curiosity, of a portrait of a topless bearded woman with a baby and her husband in the background looking on, as the guide said, with “resigned bitterness”.

We had a bit of an explore of the surrounding Santa Cruz before heading back to the hotel for a rest. En route we found a place with a queue and gigantic churros with chocolate sauce. We shared this box between the three of us as it was massive – God knows how some of these small children were able to have a whole box to themselves. Hot, fluffy and delicious.

By the time we left the hotel again, it was dark and the streets were filled with thousands of people. As the Christmas markets here have been, to be blunt, disappointing we paid a visit to the largest El Corte Ingles I found nearby to check out their Christmas stuff. I was amazed at how much I wanted and left with a new star for the tree and some new tree ornaments. There was a statue of a carol singing elephant that I liked, but we’re drastically running out of room in the flat as it is.

We walked around admiring the lights and visited another Christmas market – which was a bit like the first one we saw yesterday before venturing back to the nativity market near the cathedral where we caught a rather strange procession of bored looking bugle players and some overly zealous drummers. Never did find out who they were, but it was too weird a thing to not document.

Dinner was at a place a few streets away where, after sharing a nice plate of calamari, we all had various cuts of pork grilled medium rare to the point where it was melt in the mouth and utterly delicious. I opted for the presa, mainly because I hadn’t heard of it, and was wowed by the flavour and the tenderness. Definitely something I would want to try again when I am back in Spain.

Then it was a quick hello to the amazing angel lights before heading back to the hotel via a bakery where we bought some cookies for dessert. Tomorrow will be a day where we learn more about the history of Seville by visiting the archaeological museum and by venturing over the bridge into Triana. For now though, it’s late and time to rest after another long day with plenty of walking.

Christmas in Seville: Day 1 – What An Amazing Plaza!

Reading this post months later is going to be especially strange for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the day after the UK’s general election and 57% of the country are miserable. As result of the first, by the time this post goes up, Britain will have likely left the EU and this will be the last holiday I go on as an EU citizen. Don’t know quite how to process all this at the moment, so it’s a good thing that – despite still getting over the flu – I’m here in Seville.

Considering how Riga last year got to lows of -6, the idea of being somewhere in December and it being 16 feels utterly ludicrous. This is what the next few days in Seville will bring, albeit under a carpet of cloud. I somehow managed to get us a great deal on a snazzy hotel near all the main landmarks, so the Hotel Becquer is going to be a brilliant base of operations for this trip.

By the time we were checked in and prepared to get about our way, it was 3 in the afternoon. Given it was just a first day and we didn’t want to put too much pressure on it, especially as I am recovering from the flu, we started out with just two things that were next to each other on the itinerary.

To get to the first on the list, the Plaza de España, we opted to walk along the river and just make our way leisurely there. On the way we went by the beautifully coloured university buildings and the Torre del Oro. We didn’t opt to climb up it for reasons I cannot quite remember (maybe we’ll do that later if we have time) but it was impressive to look at and reminded me a bit of the tower in Belém, just on a smaller scale.

This was a nice gentle welcome to Seville that didn’t prepare me for the beautiful clusterfuck of the Plaza de España. I have never known a place quite like it, it may very well be the most beautiful plaza I have been to. If not the most beautiful, it’s top three. It’s one of places which is like the sky at night – beautiful at first glance, but the more you look at it the more you see. This is how we ended up spending two hours investigating the plaza.

The plaza itself was designed as a centrepiece for the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition and is awash with little details that you cannot take in on first blush. First you notice how beautifully grand the main buildings are, then you see the u-shaped canal around the square with people in rowboats, then you notice the bridges and how there’s blue tile being used. Oh more tiles. Even more. Even the guttering is clad in tile.

It’s one of those places that feels like it was designed to be beautiful from every angle, and I think after walking around it for hours we pretty much tried them all for size. One thing I especially loved was that, around the inner circumference, there’s tiled murals for all the Spanish provinces done in different styles and still with the tiled side towers originally used as bookcases. I was pretty shocked at how many Spanish provinces I’d heard of.

Now, I was fully prepared for that to be the end of the unexpected beauty – then there was the surrounding Maria Luisa park. Walking in, it felt like a regular park. That’s when you notice a building within the trees and it turns out to be a small pavilion or a columned area surrounding azure blue tiled water features. The way this park is laid out is like a breadcrumb trail of beautiful areas, once you find the first one you are led on to the next one.

I don’t know if it was because of where we began, but the ante of beauty within the park kept being upped until we got to an area where behind us was a lovely tiled frog fountain and in front of us was a pavilion on a hill with a waterfall, more tiled pools and masses of manicured orange trees. I think we could have spent longer in the park, but we’re due back here eventually for one of the museums – so the rest of the explore will wait until then.

Now, the reason we came to Seville was because it came recommended as a city that does Christmas well. As such we made the walk out to Nervión Plaza to one of the two markets deemed as essential (the third market opened a week later than the previous year, so we’re missing it). There is no way this is essential, it’s pretty bleak and that’s pretty much all I am going to say on the subject.

To try and salvage things, we opted to head to the other of the essential markets near the cathedral. We’re planning to do it again tomorrow anyway, but I think we just wanted the Christmas win. The moment we entered the Santa Cruz area, things felt like they were getting there – then we came face to face with the giant that is Seville Cathedral being lit up at night. More on the cathedral tomorrow as that’s when we plan to go in, but it is a stunner when lit up at night. So too are the surroundings, like the orange trees all decked out with lights.

We had a cursory look at the nativity scene themed marked, but we’re back here tomorrow and we hadn’t eaten for 10 hours, so things were getting a bit desperate. Thankfully we found a nice tapas place nearby and proceeded to order eight plates including pork loin in whiskey sauce, goat cheese rolls and tope shark. It was gorgeous and we rounded it off with the official drink of this holiday: Colacao. I know that to Spaniards that probably sounds a bit basic, but this hot chocolate is gorgeous and we’ve already bought some to bring back to the UK.

By the time we were done with dinner the stalls were closed up, so we went further in to have a look at the Christmas lights. Well, this might be the best Christmas lights ice seen up in a city. The giant bell lights and the walk through Christmas tree were nice enough, but then the angels.

These giant light angels are hard to photograph to get a decent scale, but they’re massive and just so beautiful to look at. I don’t even know what the surrounding buildings are or even where I was particularly when I saw them, but I hope I find them again tomorrow when we aren’t rushing to find a supermarket that isn’t closed and also sells toothpaste. This city may not have the markets, but it sure has the lights.

Tomorrow is going to be the big Seville day where we visit the Alcazar (the city’s entry in the Lonely Planet list) and get to properly know Seville Cathedral and the rounding areas. I hope I find a nice Christmas decoration and a gorgeous lunch sandwich too.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 8 – Disneyland Hong Kong

It is the day before the people of Hong Kong are due to vote in the district council elections. In the lead up to this holiday, where we tried to extrapolate the increase in protests and police violence, we figured that this would not be the best day to be spent in the city itself. This is why we opted to spend this particular day in Disneyland, as it is both outside the city and not too far from the airport.

Like all theme park lovers, we wanted to ensure that we were there for opening so, since we had packed the night before, the alarm was going at 8 and we were out the door within the hour. Similar to Seoul’s main rail station, there is a service in Hong Kong where you can pre-check in your bags for your flight and then swan off to do other things as long as you buy the airport express ticket. In Hong Kong, however, the number of airlines is far more expansive, which is how were able to jettison our check-in luggage and not bring it all the way to Disney. Our hand luggage could always be sorted by one of the lockers in Disneyland itself.

In order to get to Disneyland using public transport, one of the easiest ways is to use the MTR system. If you look on the map, there is a special Disneyland Resort line coloured in bubblegum pink which connects to the same yellow line that you use to visit the Big Buddha. The trains themselves have Mickey Mouse head shaped windows and handles. There are also some themed statuettes inside the coaches, which makes the whole thing feel exceedingly special.

Of course, we arrived a bit before the park opened, but that just gave us time to eat the breakfast we purchased from some MTR bakeries. It’s a good thing we have some great Chinese bakeries in London, else I really would miss these. Mine was the pork floss and cheese bun, which filled me so much that my husband got the whole pineapple bun to himself.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 17/25

Then it arrived, the park was open, we were walking in and (somewhat predictably) I was crying. There was so much tension going into this holiday because of all the goings on and the violence that the choice was risk it or say goodbye to the money. At that moment, standing at the gates of Disneyland, I knew we’d made the right choice as it’s been a great holiday and now I was going to be closing out Disneyland for the final day.

This is the fourth Disney location that I have been to (after Orlando, Paris and Tokyo) and, as primary Disney parks go, I believe that this is the smallest in size and, possibly, in terms of the volume of rides. However, this in no way impeded our day here at Hong Kong Disneyland which was comparatively empty for a Disney park and so we pretty much walked onto every ride that we wanted to get on.

The idea of going to a Disneyland without queues, or minimal queues, feels like the dream of an eight-year-old, but that’s what we lived today. Thanks to this, we pretty much rode everything in the park that we wanted in under four hours, including some rides that we’d never have gotten around to otherwise.

We started in Fantasyland and immediately made for the Winnie the Pooh ride because of the bad memories of the massive queues back in Tokyo. This isn’t the same sort of semi-independent honey pot ride as in Tokyo, instead it’s one of the more traditional dark rides that takes you through some of the events of the 1970s Winnie the Pooh film.

After this was a ride upon the Flying Dumbos, mainly because of an article I read the night before talking about 50 minute queues for this ride, so thought it a good idea to get this in just in case there was a late influx of patrons. It was nice to be able to share this ride that I loved as a young kid with my husband, before today the queue length was never quite worth the pay off.

Next it was time for a classic – It’s A Small World. This opens a bit after the rest of the park, which is how we ended up being in the front row of the first boat going through the ride. It’s pretty similar to the other iterations of the ride from around the world, but I think this is the first time where I have seen Disney characters mixed in with the regular dolls.

With Fantasyland done for now, we turned our attention to the practically deserted Toy Story Land. This is becoming a fairly common land around different parks, but this is the first time I’ve actually seen it done. I love these movies and I love how bringing them to life as a world gives a more colourful and cheery take on Honey I Shrunk the Kids. We rode two of the three rides here (Slinky Dog Spin and Toy Soldier Parachute Drop) with us avoiding the third as its a take on the banana boat ride and those make me feel nauseated.

Skipping through an area, lead us to the Grizzly Gulch which is based on old prospecting times and also contains my favourite ride of the park – Big Grizzly Mountain. This is the closest that the park has to a runaway train and is one of the rare Disney rides that managed to surprise me on the first ride. We ended up riding this four times over the course of the day, the best ride being the final one that we did after the sun had set and a lot of the track was in darkness.

There’s a mini area between Grizzly Gulch and Toy Story Land which houses the Mystic Manor. Since, culturally, the concept of a Haunted Mansion doesn’t quite translate for the local Hong Kong/mainland Chinese audience, this ride was dreamt up instead. The concept is a tour of an eccentric explorer’s collection of curios that have come to life after his monkey friend has unleashed the magic housed in a music box.

My description sounds a bit odd, but the Disney Imagineers built an engrossing world here. Also, this ride uses the trackless cart technology from Tokyo’s Winnie the Pooh ride, which means the four carts from the same group experience the same ride rather differently. This is how we ended up riding this three times over the course of the day, just so we could see it from all perspectives.

Now, it wouldn’t be Christmas in Disney without some sort of a Christmas show. There’s a few throughout the day, but we caught an early afternoon one which featured swing and rock and roll covers of Christmas classics. Of course this featured the main Disney characters, Donald Duck stealing the spotlight as always, as well as characters that are more specific to the Asian parks. The sun was so hot that it felt like we were cooking, which is an odd sensation as you watch Chip and Dale dancing to ‘Rockin Around the Christmas Tree’.

The penultimate land we visited was Adventureland. This is one of those lands that doesn’t change too much depending on the park you’re visiting, but with some names changed here and there. For example, the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse has been branded into a Tarzan treehouse because that makes sense for an audience mainly composed of Gen Xs and younger.

You also have the Jungle Cruise, which is cute enough but really depends on how engaging your cast member guide is and how much the kids in the group go with it. The guide we got was excellent, she was armed with a long list of one-liners that just flew off the cuff like nobody’s business. The ride itself is fine, but it’s sometimes nice to just get a chance to sit down and do something a bit more chill.

Time for lunch, and I heard that the best place to go was The Explorer’s Club near the Mystic Manor. Well, we were not steered wrong with it’s beautifully varied decor (each room is decked out with a few replicas of different culture’s artefacts) and food from four different Asian cuisines. In the end I went for the nasi goreng which, as the picture shows was ginormous, looked stunning and tasted really good. This did not feel like the sort of food you would get in a theme park.

This leads us to the final land: Tomorrowland. This land is traditionally the one that myself and the hub finish the day on, but we still had five hours left in the park so ended up here a bit ahead of schedule. This is the only land in the park where you can see the encroaching of Disney’s recent franchise takeovers with Marvel getting two rides and Star Wars having one.

The Star Wars ride is Space Mountain – now branded as Hyperspace Mountain. I’m not exactly a Star Wars fan, but the theming makes sense and actually lends a story to the Space Mountain ride. This ride will always hold a special place in my heart as I had to have my leg length checked in Tokyo Disneyland as they were unsure whether I’d be able to adequately fold up. It is also traditionally the final ride of the day that my husband and I do at a Disney park. Which is what we did, on our fourth ride of the day where we also rode in the front of the train.

The other rides we did in Tomorrowland were the Iron Man Experience, which was an okay take on a simulation ride, and the Ant-Man and the Wasp Nano Battle. The latter ride is a re-skinning of the wider Buzz Lightyear blaster ride to something a bit less cartoony, but this one comes with videos of Paul Rudd which is an improvement to any ride out there. Ended up riding this twice because I love blaster rides and, in the end we had half a day to fill up with repeat rides.

Like I said, the park was emptyish which meant we ended up with a lot of time to re-ride everything we liked. Amongst these repeats, we also had time to take in both of the Disney parades.

The first was the Flights of Fantasy parade which was meant to have an ‘up in the air’ theme, but that only really applied to the minority of floats after the initial Mickey and Winnie the Pooh ones. Still a lot of fun though and it was cool to see Lilo and Stitch represented here.

Our Disney day finished on the second and better of the parades: Disney Paint the Night. Watching a parade like this with all the costuming and the different mechanisms at play really make me wish that someone would do a documentary taking you from the initial conception to the eventual running of one of these parades.

The fact that you have, one after the other, these beautiful candelabra-based ballroom outfits followed by a massive light-up Slinky Dog with moving eyes and spinning glow discs for springs just shows the variation of thought on display here. It just helps to cap off what was just a perfect day at Disney and a wonderful set of memories to end this trip to Hong Kong on.

And with this final dinner of assorted roasted meats at the airport, that’s this holiday over with. Next comes the 13 hour flight and the further trip home which will need to be navigated at 5am British time. As I write this, with the passenger next to me dressed in a full Parker and trying to nap on their tray table, I am not relishing the rest of this upcoming journey. Just hope that tomorrow’s me can forgive me for staying up so late to write this.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 7 – Dragon’s Back

So this is it, the last full day in the city of Hong Kong and, barring any mishaps tomorrow morning, we will have successfully navigated away from any possible violence between the police and the protesters. Also, with the exception of my voice that currently sounds like I downed a quart of whiskey last night, I am pretty much to functioning. Just in time for the finale.

Today started in a way that is pretty unusual for one of our holidays, we actually went out with the expressed intent to do some shopping. Specifically, for a Christmas decoration to bring home with us from Hong Kong. Despite so many lovely displays in stores across the city (and some in Macau) we have yet to find a single place that sold something to take home. So, some googling later and we found ourselves at the Times Square shopping centre where…

…we somehow stumbled across a Pokémon themed Christmas village! There were themed little huts with model Pokémon inside to take pictures with. Like, we could not believe our luck it was so damned cute. There was a further display inside with a bunch of Pokémon on a camping trip, again super cute. This coincided with a small pop-up on the 12th floor where I bought myself a Grookey plush and we both got free Pokémon themed tote bags.

With all the Pokémon excitement done we settled in with a hot drink, mine being a delicious baked sweet potato latte before heading into the basement levels to achieve our mission of finding suitable Christmas ornaments. Thanks to the huge amount of choice offered in Log On, we managed to find a rather lovely gingerbread man tree ornament. We also got a lovely Santa music box made by Wooderful Life as this company has been there at so many of our Asian holidays and I finally found something in the perfect price range.

We skipped breakfast for a reason today. In order to make it up to my husband for just how ill I’ve been this holiday (and to say thank you for his vigilance on the Telegram app which prevented us from being tear gassed twice) I bought us a fancy buffet lunch at Renaissance Hong Kong hotel. So many videos of what to do in Hong Kong mention doing a fancy buffet, they weren’t lying.

This one wasn’t the most expensive or the most expansive of those on offer, but this still boasts four chef stations, salad bar, sushi bar, carvery, fresh seafood, curry and a large range of desserts including a freezer full of mini Häagen-Dazs pots. It was plenty enough food and everything was of high quality. I also got to see the interesting site of a woman waltz up to the crab legs grab them by the handful onto her plate and shuffle off again.

In total, we both ended up going for about 5 rounds of buffet. Me, I ended up going with the following order: Sushi and crab leg, random hot food (including some gorgeous pork noodles), dessert, burger and salad, greatest sushi hits. I can only wonder what the more expensive lunches would have been like, but I never got to try things from two of the chef stations, so it’s not like I would have needed more choice.

Now we were both very full, we walked back to the hotel to drop off our Christmas things and made our way to Shek O in order to do the Dragon’s Back trail hike. There are a few variations out there on the specific route to take, but as we didn’t want to be on an unlit trail stumbling around in the dark, we went for one of the shorter variations that took us about two hours.

After an initial half hour of mostly climbing, everything just gave way to stunning views of southern Hong Kong Island and the surrounding islands. The main sounds up there being the wind, the waves and the screeching of black kites (at least, I think that’s just what they were) overhead.

I know that after Hallasan I said never again, but I think that knowing I can do that means that I am far more at ease about doing hikes when on holiday. Even when I’m having to scramble across rock piles that suddenly appear. I mean, I wish the views from Hallasan had been as good as these. Then again the Dragon’s Back trail is famous for this, and I will be part of the many who would recommend this during a visit to Hong Kong.

We caught a minibus for the trip back into the city and then did something that only recently became safe again, crossed the bay to go to Kowloon. Whilst there, you could see where some of the fighting had taken place and where the police had removed the anti-police graffiti. Mainly because huge sections of pavement were missing and replaced by sand. At the moment, however, things have calmed in preparation for the district elections, so we able to walk around Tsim Sha Tsui without worry.

As the sun hadn’t finished setting yet, we made for the west end of the peninsula so we could watch as the sky glowed dark orange in the last gasp of daylight. Amazingly, despite being in a huge city, you could actually see Venus, Jupiter and some stars. These disappeared once the sun finished setting and all the lights got switched in, but it was really great to see.

After taking some pictures of the Kowloon clock tower, we walked over to 1881 Heritage as I’d heard it was a really interesting looking place. Interesting was the wrong word, it was beautiful. This is a former headquarters for the Hong Kong Marine Police that has now been converted into a luxury shopping area that deals mostly in watches and jewellery. It is also possibly the best decorated shopping area that I have ever seen. Truly stunning.

Since we had some time before the nightly light and music show at Victoria Harbour, we took a leisurely stroll down the Avenue of Stars where I enjoyed finding the handprints of Hong Kong actors and directors (especially cool when I found Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung) as we discussed, of all things, the alphabet song and enjoyed the skyline of Hong Kong Island at night.

Once 8pm hit, the light show began. This would be the third time that we’ve inadvertently seen it, but the first time that we actually heard the accompanying music. It helps give some context to the flashing lights that we’ve been seeing, but it’s not hugely choreographed like the Singapore free water show. Still, I’m in awe at how many different buildings are involved in this nightly event, many in their own unique ways. It was a nice way to say goodbye to this city. Neither of us have been in the best shape this week, but we’ve definitely made sure to give each other a good time.

As Hong Kong is home to many cuisines, we decided our final meal would be something a bit different – which is how we ended up going Vietnamese. My husband’s is the pork banh mi (which I was jealous enough of that I’ve found a recipe to make my own version for when I do Vietnam for the world cooking challenge) and mine was the pho. I couldn’t finish my bowl, but made sure to make light work of the chicken wings.

All that’s left now is packing and some mental preparation for what will be a long day tomorrow given that it ends in a 23:45 flight home. I can hear my brain sobbing now.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 6 – Ocean Park

Despite its size, Hong Kong boasts two substantial theme parks. There’s Hong Kong Disneyland, which I’ll be visiting on my final day, and then there’s today’s destination; Hong Kong’s very own Ocean Park. Thanks to the South Island line stopping directly outside, there was only 18 minutes between my hotel room and some theme park fun and frolics – with a stop for breakfast of course.

Now, with these two buns I think I have now crossed off everything major from my “what to eat in Hong Kong” list. First there’s the pork bun, a classic and always a pleasure when the meat-to-bun ratio is in your favour. Then there is the Pineapple bun, a local specialty with a hard cracked sugar topping that tastes nothing of pineapple, but just looks the part. Perfect way to start the day really.

List Item: Visit 25 Amusement Parks
Progress: 16/25

Like with Everland, Ocean Park is part zoo and part theme park (which, given the size of Hong Kong, makes sense). It is also split into two sections because of topography, which means you have the Waterfront and the Summit areas, which are connected by a scenic cable car and an underground funicular. These different factors make Ocean Park a pretty unique visit and a varied one at that. Also, they were playing Christmas songs all day, which felt very weird given the differently themed areas.

Since it’s the closest to the entrance, our first visit was to the Grand Aquarium. It’s one of many aquaria in the theme park, but this is the one without any certain theme other than “here’s some fish”. Lots of different sea life here including spider crabs, a tower of milk fish, octopus and all matter of tropical fish. You also had a whole room with different types of seahorse and the overarching educational message that these should not be used for medicine when other things work better and are sustainable.

Next was a building referred to as the Hong Kong Jockey Club Sichuan Treasures. This large building contains two types of animal. Firstly there’s the oldest panda currently in captivity who, at time of writing, was 33. It was nice to see a panda just wandering around and being bear-like, especially an old gent like himself. Next to him were the Golden snub-nosed monkeys – including a baby who was born this year. I first saw some of these in Everland and, like now, find them so strange to look at. However, I did fall for Little Peanut (the baby) who was swinging everywhere and annoying their parents.

In the next park area, titled Amazing Asian Animals, you get even more animals to enjoy – including the two current breeding pandas at the zoo who were both asleep leaning on boxes. There are also exhibits featuring red pandas, Chinese alligators, otters and a strangely interesting room continuing many different breeds of goldfish. I’m ignorant in the way of the goldfish, but I had no idea there were so many variations.

Since the Emerald Trail was closed, we made a visit to the Adventures in Australia exhibit – containing wallabies, kookaburras and a rather obese koala before getting in the only queue that we were going to experience today – the one for the cable car.

When you come to Ocean Park, the one attraction that you absolutely have to do is the cable car. Not just because it’s one of the two ways to visit the other park (because the funicular is more efficient), but because the views you get en route are spectacular. Like, the type of beautiful where I was compelled to tell the seascape to “shut up” because it was being so beautiful. We ended up doing this trip twice, because when you are at Ocean Park when everything has next-to-no lines you ride the cable car twice.

The Summit level of Ocean Park is where you find the vast majority of the rides, a bunch of them were shut for upgrades (the perils of off-season) but we got in a bunch of the available ones. First was the rapids ride in the rainforest area, as those tend to be my favourite kind of rides. We strolled straight onto a tube and both got summarily soaked since, as my husband put it, “this ride cheated” when it comes to getting you wet as there are jets spraying directly at the riders. Still a lot of fun though.

We finished off the rainforest zone by looking at the animals in the Expedition Trail area – including electric eels, frogs and the most satisfied looking iguana that I have ever laid my eyes on. They also had a few arapaima, which are the largest freshwater fish in the world and look like something out of Jurassic Park.

Since we’d both dried off a bit, it was time to scratch the roller coaster itch by riding the two that were not currently under maintenance (sadly the other two were closed). First was the gentler of the two, the Arctic Blast. We managed to stroll on and get underway almost straight away. It’s one of those coasters that is a good in between to make sure you don’t accidentally bring your kid on a particularly rough one (the uncontrollable crying of the girl in Everland still makes me laugh).

Then there was the Hair Raiser, whose Luna Park inspired facade gives off a ‘can’t sleep, clowns will eat me’ kind of a vibe. As with the other coaster, we got on straight away and the experience was so extremely joyful and full of g-force that it left us both with smiles and headaches. Time to take a rest from the rides and head for the highlight of the day.

List Item: See a walrusStatus: Completed

I love walruses. You very rarely see them in captivity and the closest I’d ever seen one was in a Seaworld show when I was 10. So, to say that my reaction to seeing two of these beautiful animals swimming an arms reach away was a bit extreme is… well I cried. I managed to keep myself together to not go completely ridiculous, but I was very obviously overwhelmed and so stood there staring and snapping pictures for an inordinate amount of time. Towards the end of the day, there was a walrus feeding demonstration so we returned and I videoed the whole thing.

We finished up in this section by seeing the other polar animals on display – spotted seals, arctic foxes and three types of penguin. The Gentoo Penguins were especially interesting as it looked like they were in the process of nesting, so the male Gentoos were gaily running around gathering pebbles and bringing them back to their partner. So very very cute.

Two more rides (on the Rev Booster and the Whirly Bird) and then we went back to the lower level via cable car in order to get lunch. Since we had a two for one code, we grabbed a rather delicious sausage before settling down with some dumplings and dan dan noodles. Apparently, this vendor in the park is mentioned in the Michelin guide, which is really cool for an affordable food stand in a theme park.

We went back to the summit via the Jules Verne inspired Ocean Express tram and took in some more of the aquaria. First was the small one dedicated to Chinese sturgeon, then there was the better shark-themed one. So many things are better with rays and sharks, and this aquarium had quite a few of them. I ended up becoming especially fixated on the guitarfish and the sawfish. Sometimes it’s just amazing to see these oddities swim.

By this point it was nearly an hour to closing, so we watched the walruses being fed, had a second go on both roller coasters and bought some souvenirs before heading out. Our eight hours really flew by, but that wasn’t it for the day.

We’d always intended to go back up The Peak at night during our final full day, but geographically this just worked perfectly – so that’s just what we did. Only this time, we paid the extra 50HKD to go to the main viewing platform and made sure to get as much use out of it as our increasingly colder selfs could.

The uniqueness of Hong Kong’s geography and building density really makes for some incredible views from high vantage points. Also, at this point of view, everything is this futuristic metropolis – which is a stark contrast to the view I got from Sky 100 which showed some of the less attractive buildings in Kowloon. This particular platform also gave me the weird association between this night view and a photographer repeatedly ravaging a rubber chicken in order to get a smile from a child. I don’t know what to do with that.

Dinner ended up being a bit odd thanks to a curiosity of mine to try food from Filipino fast food chain Jollibee. I’ve seen them mentioned online before, and I heard the episode of Doughboys where it received low scores. Still though I was curious enough to get a combo meal of the Aloha burger and their spaghetti and was pleasantly surprised. Especially by the spaghetti which, at first, looked really suspect but ended up tasting really good. Even if we did have to eat it with spoons.

Tomorrow is the last technical full day (the day after, we fly out at just before midnight) and it’s going to be a bit of a weird round up day. There’s things we never got around to because of the protests and police brutalities requiring rescheduling, but tomorrow should make for an interesting one.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 5 – Lantau

With the exception of some chronic sneezing and my back aching to the point that over the counter pills aren’t touching it tonight, today has been my first full day on vacation where my body hasn’t tried to completely shut me down. Oh how low the bar has been lowered.
Since things aren’t improving, more staying the same than improving, we swapped some things around today so that our trip out to Lantau got moved up. At least then, if things descend further before Sunday’s election, we’ve seen the main things on the list and we can skip town early with full insurance backing.

Skipping through some public transport stuff, including the pretty damaged Tung Chung station, and the fact that neither of us set an alarm so it was all hands on deck at 9:45 this morning, we started our day by riding the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car. This appears to have been the first operational day for a while, so we lucked out there.

The trip is surprisingly long for a cable car, then again it’s taking you a distance of over 5.5 kilometres and you get to see just how green this stunning island is. Also, you get the chance to see Hong Kong International Airport from the air – which is cool and unique. Regrettably we didn’t have the carriage to ourselves, but we were all just crossing over each other to take pictures anyway.

At the end of the ride is Ngong Ping Village – a purpose built area with shops and restaurants that has been done in a traditional Chinese architectural style. It’s a bit cheesy, but I really love stuff like this – especially at the end where they piped music in. Just revs up the magic a little bit.

Breakfast (well, lunch at that point) was finally a chance to have some Chinese style roasted meats. I went for the roasted goose, as you never see that in the UK, whilst my husband went for the more traditional pork. Since we were going to be climbing up the Buddha’s steps soon, a good meal made sense unless my body tried to have me faint again.

We walked past the signs warning us of feral cattle, as well as a feral cow peacefully snoozing, to reach Po Lin Monastery – one of the three things that we wanted to do whilst at altitude. This is the kind of structure I was hoping for with the Chi Lin Nunnery, but I’m glad that I got it here.

The main altar building with the three golden statues and the beautiful ceiling paintings were beautiful, equalled by the impressive carved stone columns and reliefs on the outside.

Next door to this was the larger Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which was only completed a few years ago. I love these types of rooms just to see how they go about reaching the number of Buddhas in one space. Here they did something really cool by having the room tiled, where each tile was like a little ceramic statue of Buddha. It’s a far more efficient approach than the first room of this type that I saw back in Singapore, where it was individual miniature statues.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 93/100Sight: Tian Tan Buddha
Location: Hong Kong
Position: #331

Big ticket item time. The Tian Tan Buddha, also known locally as the Big Buddha, with his 268 steps of thigh burn that I managed to do in one go because I was filled with the power of roast goose. It’s a lot of steps, but this stunning work of bronze really is something that you want to get close to. The level of detail and the serenity of the expression are something else when you get near the top. Also, this is the first time I’ve really seen one of these gigantic religious statues and that’ll always make the Tian Tin visit a special one.

A slower walk down, to try and take photos that showed off his awesomeness whilst fighting the extremely bright November sun, led us off to the final thing we wanted to do whilst up here – the Wisdom Path.

Reading online, I think we both thought this was some medium length hike with some large wooden planks with Chinese characters carved in. Well, we were half right. The walk itself is a small figure of eight path on an incline. It’s nice enough to do, but the walk there was probably more what we were looking for – especially as it gave us time with the mountain’s many butterflies.

Some slightly overpriced ice cream and a bus ride later and we got to the village of Tai O. There’s two real reasons to come here: one is see the traditional pole supported houses of the fishermen, the other is to try and see some pink dolphins. Both of these can be done for the low price of 30HKD as part of a half hour speedboat ride. We didn’t luck out with the dolphins, but the ride was really cool.

I didn’t really feel the need to buy anything fish-related, although I was close to considering some hanging little pufferfish before I quickly realised that these were real dried pufferfish with googly eyes in rather than something strictly man made. We did buy some gorgeously crispy chocolate flavoured egg waffle balls before boarding a wonderfully scenic bus down to the village of Mui Wo.

Seriously, for some of the views, this bus was worth doing just for the sake of doing it.
At Mui Wo our mission was simple, head for Silvermine Bay Beach and watch the world go by for a bit before boarding the ferry back to Central. So that’s what we did. Made a canine friend and enjoyed some peaceful time in lovely off-tourist season surroundings. Would have been nice to stay for a while longer, but it was already getting on a bit and by the time we boarded the ferry it had already gone completely dark.

Back on Hong Kong Island, I found a local restaurant on OpenRice that had good word of mouth and would give us the chance to have some Chinese cuisine in a more upmarket setting. There was so much on the menu that we ended up going with things on their ‘specialities’ section just to help narrow down the choice. As much as I enjoyed our soup, Beggar’s chicken and the lovely ribs – part of me does wonder what might have been. Excellent meal though so shan’t complain too much.

So that’s the end of another day and tomorrow will be the first of two theme park days. Have to say that, my aching back aside, I am so looking forward to some levity and some walruses. Should be a great one.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 4 – Macau

Well, despite the overarching name of these posts, this is not really a day in Hong Kong, but Macau – the other city in China that has it’s own special designation having only been handed back to China by Portugal in 1999. Visiting Macau is such an interesting experience because of this pretty unique history that leaves many things around the city with three languages being displayed: Chinese, Portuguese and English.

Whilst it is the slightly more expensive method, we got the ferry to and from Macau. Not only is it quicker and more convenient, but given that both of these cities got their start as maritime areas, it only felt apt to do it this way. Also,  I didn’t get seasick on either journey – so a small win there.

Instead of getting a taxi or a bus, we decided to walk to the Old City as we’d be able to see more of the surrounding area. Looking around, it became quickly obvious that we had just missed the Macau Grand Prix. They were still taking down the track barriers as we made our way to the Unesco area, which added an extra element of difficulty when it came to finding a place to cross the street.

As we got closer to the old city, we began to get a flavour of some of the more central casinos and the grander hotels. And nothing could be grander, or gaudier, more brilliant or more bizarre than the Grand Lisbon hotel and casino. This is the tallest building in Macau and as such is visible from a very wide radius. I ended up referring to it as the ‘glass onion’ for the rest of the day. Looking at the photos now, I’m not sure why.

We eventually got the Old City where it turns out my sick spell on Sunday was good for one thing, it made us move the trip a day later to Tuesday where all the sites that would have been closed on Monday were actually open. At least it was good for something. This whole area – technically referred to as the Historic Centre of Macau is very much like a cultural theme park. It was odd seeing so many Portuguese style buildings, and Portuguese the language, in what is essentially China.

Before getting the proper exploring in, we had a light breakfast of a few Portuguese egg custard tarts on Senado Square. This whole square and surrounding area is incredibly beautiful. I mean you can see from the photo how high contrast the colours of the buildings are and how lovely the mosaics are on the pavement.

Sadly the church of Saint Domingo was closed for renovations, but that was it for closures. We still saw the treasury, which somewhat amazingly was mostly from Portugal or India. The cathedral was open though and, weirdly, it was the least impressively painted of all the churches we saw today. They were setting up a nativity outside, which I wish I’d seen completed.

Just down the road (and an alley) from the cathedral was Lau Kau mansion. This is a preserved house that shows how a prominent Macanese merchant from the 19th century lived. Inside there are stained glass windows and masses of lovely wood carvings. It’s a pity the second floor wasn’t open though, from the pictures it would have been equally as interesting. Still, this was free so cannot really complain.

Next was my favourite bit of this area, the Ruins of St Paul. There’s no other words really than stunning. Sadly only the front facade is left in tact, but they’ve really made the most of it with the large stairway and the surrounding verdant area. This really is one of the essential places to stop and take a moment when in the old city of Macau.

After coming out of the ruins’ crypt, we trekked to the top of Monte Fort. There is an escalator, but we didn’t see it until the way down. Still though, we got lovely views of St Paul on the way up so it was worth it. From here we saw how much of Macau is… actually quite like Kowloon. Thanks to the well preserved old buildings, you end up being ferried though the more palatable tourist areas. From up here we also got a view of China proper, which was interesting. I wonder if I’ll ever go there.

After popping in and out of Macau Museum (free entry for some reason I’m still unclear of) we made the very long uphill walk to the top of Guia Fortress. This is taller than Monte Fort and technically was meant to be a cable car but we never found it. The views really are better from up here. Plus, it has a lovely whitewashed lighthouse and a chapel with old preserved frescoes.

Having made the long walk back, we got a Macanese pork chop sandwich for lunch. We could have had something more substantial for lunch, but we were very much aware of all the things we wanted to see before leaving the old city. So it was a bit of a standing lunch.

Until we got to Saint Augustine’s Square that is. I insisted that we got a drink and a bit of a rest here for twenty minutes so could rest my bones. Turns out I’m still a bit weak after the end of yesterday. Then we went into the nearby St Augustine’s church, where we saw the first of the beautiful use of contrasting cornflower blue and primrose yellow. This would be repeated in St Laurence’s Church, whose Christmas display outside was bizarre.

Then came the Mandarin House, another preserved house this time of noted reformer Zheng Guanying and his family. More lovely wood carvings. Apparently he would be ferried from the front to the back of the complex, so he wouldn’t have to walk himself.

The final stop in the Old City area was the A-Ma Temple. Continuing with the theme of Taoist temples, there was so much incense burning that it really began to irritate my eyes. My husband was fine though, so maybe I’m just a demon. One thing that I hadn’t seen before from a Taoist temple was the many instances of Chinese characters being carved into the nearby rock faces and painted in red. At some point I need to research more into what that might mean.

Now that we had done the many sites of the Old City, it was time for something completely different and yet probably what Macau is most famous for: casinos. Luckily, there was a bus stop just outside the temple and we were there in a flash.

There are so many casinos in Macau, but the one I wanted to see most was the Venetian. This is the biggest casino in the world and, just overall in terms of floor space, one of the biggest buildings in the world. Even thinking about it, there is such an absurdity to how huge these buildings are.

Inside, everything is just so grand. I mean, I know that the whole schtick is to make you feel special and worthy, thus you’ll gamble, but dear god I felt just in awe of everything here. Especially once I reached the shopping area in the Venetian, which has its own canals, gondoliers and bridges. The sky is painted to the point that the hub was wondering if it was open air. Also, there was a magician performing. I just fell in love with this area and I know that it’s wasted on a non-shopper like me who just wanted to gawk at the Disneyland nature of the whole thing.

As lunch was small, and there wasn’t a chance in hell that we could afford a casino buffet, we decided to have a snack at the Venetian McDonald’s. Our rule is that we have to have something that we cannot get back home, so I went for the chicken and egg burger. This burger needs to come to the UK. Get on it McDonalds!

List Item: Gamble in a casinoStatus: Completed

Now that we’d finished exploring the shopping area, we went to casino floor where we both gambled in a casino for first time. Slot machines only, the equivalent of the nickel slots. It’s cool to say we did it, but it was more annoying than anything to lose money for no real reason. Looking around at the people betting at tables with a £500 minimum, I think I understand this even less than I did before the slot machines.

Our next casino was the Parisian, which is directly connected to the Venetian as they are both owned by the same company. The theme is, obviously Paris, down to there being a roaming mime who we kept encountering. That was odd and a bit creepy, although I admire how he could keep up the pretence after so many people fleeing from him.

The interior shopping areas and some of the restaurants are done like old Parisian streets, which are lovely. But the best thing, being November, was how they decorated their central fountain are with a ginormous upside down Christmas tree. It’s spectacular and I’m not usually one for an inverted tree.

The exterior of the Parisian is dominated by their Eiffel Tower replica, which was all decked out beautifully for Christmas. It’s a bit of a minefield walking around outside because, obviously, this is is a popular place for marriage photos and selfies so there’s a lot of darting around so you don’t end up in people’s cherished memory boxes.

Our final casino of the day was Studio City. The theme was meant to be American film studio, but it felt like a weird mix of things. I mean this is a place that had VR games machines, model dinosaurs, off brand aliens and a replica of a New York subway station entrance. I am not sure how this competes with the neighbouring grand casinos, but it seemed to be doing well enough.

As this was our final stop for the day, this is where we got dinner. For me, that meant Chinese sausage sticky rice, which was absolutely gorgeous to the point where my husband was having some serious food envy. You just cannot get Chinese sausage in the UK without paying a premium, so I knew I wanted to eat some whilst out here. So ended our casino experience and our time in Macau, one day was perfect in the end to do what we wanted and I can really see why this is such a popular day trip.

Well that should be the end, but that wouldn’t be my health for this holiday. The shivers came back and I ended up being a shivering mess for the final hour whilst in the hotel. I managed to recover enough to write up notes of the day so I could expand on them later to a full post later. I have no idea how my husband has been dealing with this, I need to get him something for being such a saint.

Honk Honk Hong Kong: Day 3 – The Peak and Hong Kong Island

After last night’s fever broke I woke up feeling heaps better than the night before, but still tired to the point of not wanting to get up. Still got the headache and a bit of fever, but nothing some ibuprofen couldn’t fix.

Anyway, we started with a trip on the double decker tram, which I think I love so much because of the absurdity (I mean look at them, it’s like they could tip over at any time) and the breeze you get on the top deck. Then it was time for a trip on another tram – the famous Peak Tram which is actually more of a funicular with a tram winched on. So cool to go up and then down on, especially when it hits the maximum incline of 48%, which feels a lot steeper than it sounds. Also some great views as you head up.

Since I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch yesterday I was famished. Nothing that a pre-brunch snack of a Hong Kong egg waffle with strawberry ice cream wouldn’t be able to satisfy. I know it looks absurd, but this was exactly what I needed, so brought it with me as we went to the free Lion lookout.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 92/100Sight: The Peak
Location: Hong Kong
Position: #117

I don’t think any view in Hong Kong City can beat the views you get from up here. It is beyond spectacular, even if an American tourist next to me was less than impressed. I mean, come on this view is free (if you climbed) and it’s utterly breathtaking. Idiot.

We mooched around here for a while taking in all the free views we could. There is a 360 platform higher up the Peak Tower, but we’ve planned to return at some point in the evening to get some night views so the city looks like one of those light up Christmas villages.

For a proper brunch we went inside the tram terminus building and had something that made my dieting voice scream with despair. This is Hong Kong style French toast – which is like a fried peanut butter sandwich. To be honest, I couldn’t finish it because it was a bit much but wow if this isn’t a decadent little thing that can set you up for a day of walking I don’t know what is.

After getting some souvenirs in the cheap market area, we went back down the tram, this time on the right-hand side so I can get some pictures and enjoy the view as we went down. Going down this incline is a bit strange as its like you are falling slowly in a controlled fashion. This thing really is a mechanical marvel.

Next stop Hong Kong Park, which is free and brilliant. Started with the aviary which, sadly had maintenance works so you couldn’t walk on the ground level, just the elevated walkway. Made friends with a myna bird and so some beautiful emerald doves and a sleepy silver pheasant. My hub, who is afraid of birds, was an absolute star.

Nearby were the caged birds, which were mostly endangered – probably why in cages rather than in the main aviary where people could be dicks and potentially harm them. It’s probably reasons like this that we don’t have free aviaries in the UK. I mean, we are a country that have warning signs about feeding squirrels aspirin – so we can’t be trusted with free birds.

After climbing the lookout tower we went to the section where all the office workers appear to gather. This is where the artificial lake, fountain plaza and waterfalls can be found. I mean, if you work in Central this is a perfect place to bring you lunch and find some calm.

Then we went to the conservatory, which I learned was a fancy word for inside garden, rather than just a place the upper class in Cluedo take tea before being beaten to death with a lead pipe. It’s sweet in here with the little statues and arrangements. Reminds me of the latter ones that we came across in Taipei.

A short walk from Hong Kong Park are the, again free, Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. Aside from the exhibits here, there were masses of butterflies. I don’t think I have ever seen such a dense population of butterflies outside of an enclosed butterfly garden. It was one of those things where you just wanted to keep watching as these little delicate insects flitted about and ate their nectar.

We didn’t spend a huge amount of time here, again improvement works, but the main things to see here are the monkeys and the monkey adjacent animals (like lemurs and tamarins). They also have orang-utans which, whilst not in as huge an enclosure as in Singapore, still had decent space. Especially for a free urban zoo. There were also some meerkats… but only two. Makes you wonder what happened to the other ones.

After exiting the park we walked around to find an entrance on the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator system. These, essentially, are a long system of escalators that connect the higher elevated mid-levels of Hong Kong Island to Central at sea level. It’s primarily a commuting route (which is why the escalators reverse direction after morning rush hour). It’s one of those things that’s weirdly fun to explore, even if we did have to walk down the stairs most of the way to get to the next stop.

That stop would be the Man Mo temple. Before coming to Hong Kong I hadn’t been to too many Taoist temples, and now I’m really wracking up the numbers. This is one of the oldest temples of any denomination within Hong Kong. It’s small but, with three rooms, it’s actually cosy and has an inclusive feeling. Like the Taoist temple yesterday, there was a thick cloud of incense smoke, which I am beginning to assume is part of the ritual.

Next was lunch in the Michelin Guide recommended restaurant Tsim Chai Kee Noodle Shop. I saw a tip for this on a TripAdvisor thread about how safe it was to be a tourist in Hong Kong considering the police violence and was not disappointed. We went for the triple toppings noodles which was wontons, beef strips and a massive fish ball. This is the best food I have had in Hong Kong so far and I really wish I’d paid for an additional bowl.

Since we were in the broad area, we then walked over to the Western Market. This is an Edwardian building which houses cloth and other stores inside. It’s one of those stops where you admire the architecture rather than to buy anything. Definitely worth just stopping by for a bit when in the area.

To avoid some possible trouble indicated on Telegraph, as there was potential issues in Central, we rode on the MTR underneath the troubles and made it to Victoria Park. Again some improvement works blocked bits off, but it was nice enough park, some topiaires and a small pool for floating model boats. I guess that, after Hong Kong Park, I was honestly expecting more from it but it was perfect to have a can of Coca Cola Plus (drink of the holiday) and just chill in the late afternoon.

A nice thing to do near here, is to cross one of the bridges over to Causeway Bay. It’s a good place to get some photos across the bay from a more easterly point of view and be near some of the docked boats that you see floating out there.

Then something happened that was super embarrassing. En route to our final stop of the day I basically fainted coming out of the subway carriage. As in I nearly fainted in a rush hour MTR train, but found enough strength to leave and fold like a deck chair. My poor husband, we’d hoped that last night was the end of me feeling ill.

I gathered myself and pressed on as we only had one more place to visit: the Hong Kong Observation Wheel. I mean, it nearly happened again in the queue, so kept sitting on the poles in order to stop myself from fainting… this was not a good hour for me. We managed to get free tickets onto the wheel as part of a promotion and, as it wasn’t too busy, we got to go around four times and enjoy the nighttime views.

After nearly fainting twice, time to listen to my body and get dinner. I needed the calories and thought the best thing would be a burger place that had been making my mouth water when we walked past it on our first night. They were not kidding with a name like Burger Joys. This double cheeseburger and garlic fries was exactly what the fake doctor ordered.

Tomorrow, it’s time for our trip across the border to Macau. I’m super excited to see how this turns out and have no real idea what to expect. A bit of an early start though, but I can always sleep on the boat if needed.