Gold that certainly needs guarding

11 10 2012

It was right on the last day that we found it, coming away with bagfuls of what must surely have been a very precious commodity that we had two of our toughest ladies, Valyn and Yiwei, to stand guard over it.

Pure gold that required two of our toughest ladies to stand guard over! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The commodity has to be nothing short of pure gold – many come from near and wide, descending on a humble village away from the bustle of Macau’s bright lights and fluid streets just for it, or rather a taste of it. The golden item, is nothing less than the most sought after piece of pastry in the territory, a Lord Stow’s egg tart, smooth and creamy custard given a tinge of gold when baked in a pastry cup.

Gold in a pastry cup, Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The egg tarts or pastéis de nata (pastel de nata, singular), is what certainly draws the crowds to the sleepy village, Coloane Village, which is as far away as one can get in the tiny 29 square kilometres that is Macau. The village takes its name from the island, the southernmost of two main islands beyond the Macau Peninsula – an island that is sometimes referred to as Macau’s countryside. It was for long a neglected part of the former Portuguese colony, becoming a hotbed of pirate activity until the problem was eventually dealt with by the Portuguese in 1910.

Coloane Village is a sleepy village that seems far removed from the bright lights of the nearby Cotai Strip (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The village, as is the bakery, is a curious place. Seemingly out of touch with the glitz and glamour of the integrated resorts sprouting up not so far away on the Cotai Strip – a piece of reclaimed land which has connected the Coloane Island to its northern counterpart, Taipa Island, it (and what is found in it), must be a wonderful example perhaps of how east and west has blended during the rule of the territory’s former masters.

Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village – it is not just in the bakery, but in the entire village where east has blended well with the west (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

At the heart of Coloane Village is a little piece of Portugal, the Eduardo Marques Square (Largo da Eduardo Marques). The square takes its name from the Portuguese governor Eduardo Marques who oversaw the victory over the pirates. This is in fact commemorated in the square in the form of a monument which stands at one end of it. It is at the opposite end however, that the attention of the visitor will be drawn to – the yellow of the baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is one that will certainly not be missed.

A monument in the Largo da Eduardo Marques to commemorate the defeat of the pirates in 1910 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Eduardo Marques Square is also known for its food outlets which apparently are a must-try (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The yellow baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier at the other end of the square.

The yellow chapel, built in 1928, is definitely one that should not be missed. Besides containing some of the most sacred Catholic relics found in Asia (at one time it also housed relics of St. Francis Xavier – the missionary who is attributed bringing the faith to Asia), it does also contain a rather interesting religious painting. On the painting there is an image of a woman bearing the likeness of the Chiness Goddess of Mercy, Kun Iam or Kuan Yin, carrying a child, which is in very much a similar fashion as a very popular Catholic depiction of the Mother and Child. This surely is a wonderful example of how well east and west have blended here.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier was built in 1928 and once housed some relics of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary who is attributed with bringing the Catholic faith to Asia.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is where many important Catholic relics are found (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

An example of east and west meeting inside the chapel – a painting with the likeness of Kum Iam carrying a child shown in a popular pose used by Catholics to depict Mother and Child.

The peace and calm that is the sanctuary of the chapel (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The narrow lanes that took us through to the main square, the Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes, where gold was to be discovered, are equally captivating. Full of colour and interesting details, the streets are ones that I would, if I had another opportunity, like to spend perhaps a whole day exploring. There certainly is much more in the sleepy little village than the golden coloured pastries. Time I didn’t have, and with the egg tarts calling, it was to Lord Stow’s Bakery for our final stop at the village before we were to have lunch.

A colourful narrow lane in Coloane Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A village shop (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The area around Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is certainly worth exploring (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is also where the bus stop is (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Another shop found in the narrow lanes of Coloane.

That Lord Stow’s is as curious as the village is, there is no doubt. The bakery, is the brainchild of an English pharmacist (yes you read right!), the late Andrew Stow (whose ex-wife serves a slightly sweeter version of the popular pastry at Margaret’s Café in downtown Macau). He started the little bakery in 1989, perfecting his recipe using his skills as a pharmacist, achieving phenomenal success very quickly – with the bakery itself becoming a tourist draw. Many tourists make it a point to head to the bakery to pack the tarts, which are sold for MOP/HKD8 per piece, MOP/HKD45 for a box of 6, or MOP/HKD90 for a box of 12, before heading home.

Gold production (photographs taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Curiosity aside, the bakery does make that egg tart that is certain to give one a ‘love at first bite’ experience and certainly with a taste that is no less than divine – well worth that pilgrimage to Coloane just to worship it. That together with the desire to explore the narrow lanes of the charming little part of Macau and the rest of the island (which does seem well worth exploring), will make it my first, and also last stop the next time I am in Macau.

An extremely happy customer (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Look how much this one bought! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

More expressions of happiness (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Worship (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).


The trip was made possible by the kind sponsorship of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) which included a three night stay at the Grand Lapa Macau, and also Tiger Airways who sponsored the two way flights.


Links to finding gold:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways
Coloane Village (MGTO site)
More on Coloane Island (MGTO site)
Lord Stow’s Bakery


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy.sg My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting has started (on 28 September 2012) and ends on 15 October 2012. Votes can be cast on a daily basis at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.






A journey to the north of Spain: Bilbao and the Casco Viejo

22 06 2012

2011 was an especially eventful year for me. As well as being caught up in the events that surrounded the last days of the Malayan railway through Singapore, I also had the opportunity to expand my experiences in exploring four different parts of the world, three of which I had visited for the first time. One, a journey to the north of Spain, was partly paid for through a stroke of good fortune – winning a Zuji blogger engagement effort for which I was generously rewarded.

The village of La Riera in the Picos de Europa in the Asturias. I made a journey last October to the north of Spain, a land of diverse cultures and landscapes.

I have long held a fascination for Spain, particularly its far north, fuelled by impressions I developed over the course of my childhood. I had known of the unique culture of the Basque country through my interactions with members of the Basque community here and read many tales of an ancient pilgrimage route, el Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James. I also learnt that the northern coastline that stretched from the Basque country in the west to Galicia in the east, was one of diverse landscapes and cultures and of delectable gastronomic offerings – a region that I also knew to be one of immense natural beauty from the limited television coverage of one of the great European cycling races, the Vuelta a España.

Flying over and into an area I have long held a fascination for – the northern region of Spain.

The north of Spain is where an ancient westward pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela – el Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James cuts through.

Thatch-roofed huts or pallozas in the village of O Cebreiro, Galicia, in the North of Spain.

The sun drenched hills at O Cebreiro a pilgrim village in Galicia close to its border with León.

It was with much anticipation that I started my journey, armed with a guidebook, as well as several guides and maps that I picked up from the very helpful Spanish Tourism Board’s office in Liat Towers, late on a Friday evening in mid October. The final leg of that journey to my entry point into the region, the Basque city of Bilbao, was via a connecting flight from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport and one that was truly magical – setting the tone perhaps for the magic of the rest of the trip. The drama of the colours of a wondrous sunrise that the flight took-off into, was one that was only surpassed by the sight out of the window that accompanied the descent into Bilbao, a heavenly sight as the flight first descended over and then in between the exposed peaks of the cloud shrouded mountains that surround the Basque city.

The dramatic sunrise over the tarmac of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport.

Taking off into a magical sunrise.

The magic of the descent into Bilbao Airport.

The sight of two of Bilbao’s icons, ones that perhaps define modern Bilbao – the very distinct Puente de la Salve and the very recognisable Guggenheim Bilbao, greeted my arrival to the city. It was to the calm of a Saturday morning that was bathed in the brilliant sunshine that was to accompany me on much of my journey that I alighted from the airport bus. In no time I found myself in the hotel and after freshening up and a short nap, I was ready to head out into the balmy autumn day.

It was the sight of two of Bilbao’s modern icons that greeted my entry into the city.

Bilbao first impressions – the view as I stepped off the bus ….

Bilbao first impressions – Plaza Moyua.

Bilbao first impressions – seemed like I had eyes on me – lamps on a building’s façade.

With a day at my disposal before three of my travelling companions were to join me, I decided spend it taking a leisurely stroll to the historic Casco Viejo – the old town. Lying across the Río Nervión from the new town where I was putting up in, what seems like a labyrinth of streets that is the old town, is actually seven parallel streets – the Zazpikaleak or Las Siete Calles that date back to the 14th Century, intersected by several others. The maze of streets, some with names that reflect the traditional trades that once would have been found on them, is certainly worth losing oneself in, coming to life as the pre-siesta crowd fill the cafés and restaurants, spilling onto the streets.

What seems like a labyrinth of narrow streets, the Casco Viejo – the old town is actually arranged around seven medieval streets – the Zazpikaleak or Las Siete Calles, that run somewhat parallel to each other.

A view through the shadows cast on a street in the Casco Viejo.

The streets of the Casco Viejo come alive in the pre and post Siesta hours.

The back of the Teatro Arriaga, Bilbao’s opera house at the edge of the Casco Viejo. The Neo-baroque style theatre was designed by architect Joaquín Rucoba in 1890.

The ‘del Perro’ (dog’s fountain) dating from the early 19th Century – named because three lion-heads at the end of its water pipes resemble the heads of dogs.

Through the calles, one will also find several attractions including works of religious architecture, which speak of a time when all was dedicated to the greater glory of God. One which towers over the Casco Viejo is the very grand Gothic cathedral – the Catedral de Santiago situated at one corner of the Plazuela Santiago which itself dates back to the 14th Century and features a Neo-Gothic façade dating from the 19th Century which is the work of Severino de Achúcarro. Another wonderful piece of religious architecture is a church that lies on the fringe of the old town – the Iglesia San Nicolás de Bari, an 18th Century Baroque church laid on an octagonal plan. Its façade features the coat of arms of Bilbao.

Plazuela Santiago.

Catedral de Santiago (Cathedral of St. James)

Seeing the light inside the cathedral – a street lamp seen through a reflection on a glass panel shines over the sanctuary.

The façade of the Iglesia de San Nicolás de Bari, dedicated to the parton saint of sailors. The coat of arms of Bilbao can be seen above the door.

A visit to the city would of course not be complete without stumbling into the Café Iruña or indulging in some tapas – or pintxos as they are known as in the Basque country. I did just that on my way back from my initial exploration of the Casco Viejo, attracted by its charming Mudéjar tiled interior and the healthy crowd as I passed by the Jardines de Albia. The café I was to discover is an institution of sorts in the city and dates back to 1903. After a glass of cerveza and some delicious pintxos, it was back to the hotel for a much-needed rest and to plot my next adventure in a city that I certainly was glad to find myself in.

No trip to Bilbao would be complete with indulging in some pintxos (and cerveza).

The charming Mudéjar tiled interior of the Café Iruña.