In what was formerly known as the most dangerous city in the world, I encountered not drugs and violence, but zen followers, reinvented slums and party-hard Paisas.
Nearly two decades since Colombia’s drug nightmare reached its climax, Medellín is still struggling to shake off its dark reputation. The twist is that the city – Colombia’s second-most populated after capital Bogotá – could have been a travel agent’s dream. Its oft-forgotten merits include year-round spring weather and remarkable botany; wondrous colonial architecture; a thriving fashion trade and the unmistakeable warmth of its people.
Last month, my mom treated my dad to a meal at the three Michelin-starred Galera a Robuchon in Macau’s fading Lisboa Hotel; yet all I can remember is the shuddering horror that was my main course. And the assortment of women teetering aimlessly around the hotel’s arcade, dressed to the nines at 10 in the morning. Still, top marks for the extraordinary île flottante with caramel custard, though the crackly pop rocks, in this environment, felt like the restaurant’s half-hearted attempt at seeming more ‘of the moment’ than it actually was.
Doesn’t that just seem to describe Macau in a nutshell? This little former Portuguese colony can sometimes seem all glitz and no glamour, with superficial attempts at upping the game. We laughed and laughed at the sheer over-the-top ridiculousness of The Venetian (we had a blast) and craned our necks observing the skeletons of yet another mega casino soon to open across from it. Bigger is always better in this place. We snickered at the confused mess that was Fisherman’s Wharf, with its plastic fantastic volcano replica (nicely foregrounded by a branch of Freshness Burger) and faux Colosseo. And I’m told that the Wynn hotel houses a particularly bonkers ‘tree of prosperity‘ that comes spinning out of the ground.
No fan of bling, gambling or excess (apart from the edible variety, natch), I found the little backstreets of the town a far more interesting place to wander. It’s a cliché, but the contrast between old and new is striking and oddly beautiful. I think these are the parts of Macau that keeps me sane.