I had been told time and time again over the past week – by total strangers even – to avoid a planned side trip to Macao, the former Portuguese colony which returned to the fold of the Chinese motherland in 1999 as an autonomous Special Administrative Region similar to Hong Kong. Yet hearing it described variously as a hole, a pit, and a cesspool only made the prospect of a visit that much more tantalizing: if Macao was truly a vision out of Dante’s ninth circle, well, I needed to see the spectacle for myself. A speedy ferry from Kowloon or Hong Kong island made it a no-brainer for a day trip. Plus, the proliferation of big-time casinos clustered at the northern end of the peninsula means winners and losers can be shuttled back and forth through the night with all the ease of a taxi. If Macao was really that dreadful I could just up and leave. Well, surprise, despite the gluttonous display of wealth the casino end of town is a pit. Duh. (Was I expecting the Fremont Street experience?) But there’s history here, too, and a European-influenced heritage that I’m determined to see.