Cruising Athens to Florida 2013 travel blog

One of Churchill's favorite painting locations

three women sculpture, funchal

Nun's Valley, Madeira

Funchal, Madeira, Portugal Nov 18

Madeira was different: different from any other port on the trip and different from any place Grammar and I had been.

There were five cruises ships in Funchal’s snug harbour when we were there. That is three more than any other place we have been. Some of the ships held maybe 4000 passengers (ours only had 750) Tourists were everywhere in Funchal – swarms of them. It is obviously a popular resort and a prime destination for shoppers. Lots of famous, name-brand shops have outposts there.

What is interesting about Madeira is that when the Portuguese first got there in the 1500s, there were no inhabitants – no native Madeirans who were later overthrown or exploited by colonial rule. It could easily have been a British colony if the Brits had got there first. Indeed many of the early settlers were people who lived in South Africa or traded there regularly and used Madeira as a way station to reacclimate going north and south. Reid’s Hotel is a famous watering hole that offers English High Tea every afternoon for about 35 euros or $50 per person.

We wandered around in the downtown area in the morning, sipping coffee, trying to find active internet and just getting the flavour of the place. Walking is pleasant along the shore and on the streets that either have minimal traffic or none at all. The climate is wonderful and plants from all over the world have been imported and thrive here. Funchal , itself, is named after the fragrant native fennel plant – funcho – that was growing all over the coastal area when the Portuguese first arrived.

We were glad that in the afternoon we took a bus trip around the main island because we saw very different sights. One side of the island receives plenty of rain; the other gets very little. There is an elaborate system of dykes, canals, and various other drainage schemes that brings water to the dry side and facilitates agriculture, particularly the growing of bananas.

We stopped at Camara de Lobos (lobos is “sea lion”) a little fishing village that was a favourite of Winston Churchill’s during the 1930s and 40s. Then we swooped up to

Cabo Girao, the “second highest sea cliff” in the world. [I wonder if they know about the cliffs on Baffin Island, north of Clyde River?] The site has been carefully managed and tourists can walk out on a terrifying glass platform that allows them to look all the way down to the sea. Grammar and I stood on a bit of rock at the edge of the platform so that if it dropped, we might have been able to hang on. Myrna, on the other hand, stood intrepidly right out on the glass and even pretended to climb over the railing. Not funny!!!

We next stopped at a tea and touristy shop that was at the base of a trail up to a view. Given that we were already in the misty clouds, Grammar and I decided to climb just a little bit so that we could look into the Valley of the Nuns. Apparently a group of Nuns and the children they were teaching escaped into this remote valley from the coast when they were being threatened of being attacked by someone? Pirates? English? A precarious road connects the valley with the rest of the island. As we were climbing, a ray of sun broke through the clouds, creating a beautiful rainbow that cascaded down into the village at the bottom of the valley!

Grammar sampled a delicious sour cherry-port liqueur and some Madeira “wine” at this stop but she already had too much weight in liquor to manage; so she did not buy any.

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