Portugal travelogue!

Poncha to the gut: Madeira Continued

edit note: While it was a bit overcast the days in question it wasn’t quite as grey as it seems. I can’t really white balance the photos easily while on the go so imagine some more warmth in them.

 

We actually managed to stay up reasonably late that night but I’m fairly sure as we hit our overly tiny pillows that night we were both out within seconds. Even the next morning we managed to sleep through a fair bit of noise before we were roused but honestly we really didn’t feel any jetlag. My only real complaint is that putting back on the socks I’d already worn for more or less two days was an experience I really didn’t need.

I will try not to turn this into the unending story of how not having your luggage sucks but it was definitely odd trying to find a few replacement items to tide us over. Finding socks was surprisingly difficult. Most of the small men’s stores in town didn’t sell socks and underwear at all, when we finally found some those that did either sold terrible thin touristy ones or teeny ankle socks. Shirts were almost as bad for a guy of my size as most portuguese shops don’t stock much for people over 5’8″. Still other than the quest for socks our first full day was pretty great.

There are a number with nautical themes

 

We started out more or less retracing our steps from the night before. We’d slept late enough that the fish market was more or less done for the day but many of the food vendors and flower vendors were in full swing, as was the small bakery nearby that we’d read about in our lonely planet pocket guide. Man was LP spot on with that recommendation. We got two giant ‘croissants’ (more of a croissant shaped semi sweet bun) toasted up with butter, cheese and ham and drinks for the equivalent of under $5. My mother only finished have of hers it was so large. We also decided to grab a couple of Pateis de Nata (Custard Tarts) to have later on.

Pau de Canela

Exploring the old town a bit more in daylight gave us a chance to see a bit more including some more of the painted doors previously hidden in the darker alleys and one of the older churches on a small square. The buildings are definitely still a mix of maintenance levels but you can definitely see the district throbbing with the life it must have been lacking before. It’s a hopefully sustainable mix of art and commerce that keeps things busy but isn’t a tourist only hangout. Private homes and apartments lie between and above the new businesses and you still see a mix of young and old locals hanging out at one of the microbars sipping a poncha or a local Corral beer.

Barking at the door

Poncha! Oh yes… Poncha. A traditional Madeiran drink that’s more or less a high octane rum punch (and also the more basic background of the Caprinha.) It’s made with a distilled sugarcane alcohol that packs a punch muddled with local honey and citrus juice. The traditional way would be with lemon, but many of the local ones have some fresh squeezed orange juice and Passionfruit versions are also tasty and delicious. We had one that first night and pretty much at least one a day since as they’re delicious and often quite cheap at the street cafes.

Heading towards the end of the old town the cliffs begin to climb again leading to another old church and some spectacular views along the coastline. For us prairie folk not so used to hills of any kind it was also the beginning of our calf muscle workouts that will continue into the later stages of the trip. At this end of the Funchal coastline there’s also a small fort that once help fend off pirates and the like during the era when Madeira was an important sugar (and later wine) producer.

Looking back across Funchal from just past the Fort

As we’d more or less reached the end of the old town we turned around and walked the length of the Funchal waterfront. For an island that relies on tourism so heavily it was really nice to see that the city’s waterfront isn’t just a mass of large hotels as it is in so many places. Some form of public walkway makes up most of the shoreline (sand beaches are not really a thing here since the island is so geologically young) with a strip of park or garden between it and the main oceanfront avenue. Most of the big modern hotels are in fact west of the city center in a ‘hotel zone.’ Many of the buildings closest to the water in the downtown area are still administration buildings, a historic fort and of course that necessity of necessities, a McDonalds :p

Funchal

A large portion of the locals are seriously well dressed. I suspected (and later confirmed on wikipedia) that the number of banks meant that Madeira was some form of tax haven, but even outside of downtown you often see large groups of people very elegantly attired for a random thursday afternoon. Most are also wearing quite snazzy footwear and we are both considering picking up some shoes at some point on this trip. Somewhat hilarious for people of our origin, many of these folks are also acting as if their winter was actually cold and wear wool jackets and scarves. Though the island has a number of climates and up on the peaks it can definitely be a bit colder… the Funchal ‘winter’ is in February an average temp of 18c. Part of the tourism draw of winter here is actually all the flowers that come out at this time of year. Birds of Paradise and other things exotic to us bloom freely here and liven up the landscape with colour, many of the gardens appear to be planted in such a way as to be a sequence of different blooming periods across the year.

We walked more or less the length of the center of Funchal, admiring the flowers, checking out the chestnut and gelato vendors and laughing at the newly arrived cruise ship with “Fahrtwind” stencilled on the side (which I believe means tradewind but I still laughed.) At this point there were two large ships and a smaller more vintage cruiser berthed with many shore parties roaming around. Nestled beneath them is the museum dedicated to (the ego of) Madeira’s most famous son: Christiano Ronaldo. The CR7 museum apparently houses a bunch of his personal trophies, jerseys etc. Outside is a pretty terrible bronze statue of him which was apparently controversial among some for being noticeably well endowed… presented without comment is a photo of said statue.

CR7 in front of his eponymous museum/hotel

Having vaguely decided that perhaps we needed socks that didn’t feel and smell as if they’d perhaps gain sentience we headed up from the shoreline into the more commercial part of downtown. We passed what appears to be a gorgeous old theatre sadly shut tight, but discovered the municipal gardens in the heart of downtown. It’s an elaborate garden (every time we’ve walked by since there have been at least 5 different groundspeople working) and also contains a small amphitheatre and cafe. Large old growth trees provide a canopy over varied flowers, fountains and waterfalls. It really has a feel of an oasis in the city.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the commercial district, eventually found some socks and then meandered back to our hotel before we grabbed another (more basic) dinner in the old town to wrap up day 2.

We knew that our airline didn’t run a flight out of Toronto the day after we left so day 3 was potentially the earliest we’d get our luggage. Anticipation was high, but we also had to transfer to our ‘permanent’ digs in Madeira which are actually well outside of the city proper on the coast. We reloaded our carryons, bid farewell to our residencial and continued our exploration of the city for a few hours until check in time.

I’m a fan of a show called Travel Man that Richard Ayoade of IT Crowd fame does on uk tv. Basically he takes a celebrity guest and does a weekend away in various places one can reach from the uk for a quickie holiday. His episode on Madeira had mentioned some of the things he’d already done and we had a bit of an aha moment as we stumbled across the shopping mall that was the ground floor portion of the fancy 5 star hotel that he and Robert Webb (also a personal fave) had stayed at.

After a quickie bakery lunch once again we found ourselves near the Santa Catalina gardens up on a cliff overlooking the harbour. Another gorgeous greenspace in a very pretty city, it also contains the first chapel built in Funchal as well as a small monument of thanks from the government of Gibraltar in recognition of the sanctuary and care offered to the many Gibraltar civilians evacuated here during World War II.

Once it was time, we hopped a cab up and out the same winding road and back towards the airport but turning off at the town of Canico (which is more or less just an outer suburb of Funchal at this point.) Here the very rugged coastline does have a line of hotels and condos. Our cabbie was not the most conversant in english but we managed to converse in a broken mix of languages where we wanted to go. Unfortunately he also wouldn’t listen to me as I told him that yes we were on the right street and stopped twice to ask for directions or to read a sign over and over when we could see where we wanted to be. Thankfully the second time he asked for directions we knew we had arrived and were already on our way out of the car when the man confirmed it.

Any hopes of luggage were dashed when we arrived inside to find blank looks from the front desk staff. Morale wasn’t improved when I received an email not long after informing us that “Hooray, your bags are on flight XXXX to Punta Delgada (the azores) and will arrive in Porto (on the mainland) later tonight. We are (obviously) not in Porto, have no plans to go to Porto. Later on after we were settled we asked the front desk manager to call the luggage folks on our behalf as I hadn’t been able to get through and we thought someone batting for us in Portugues might be helpful. Sure enough the baggage company claimed that the email had been a mistake and our bags would be on their way to Funchal soon (hah! It was definitely not.)

Our new home

Thankfully the condo itself was gorgeous. Small kitchenette, large bathroom and two very comfortable beds flanking a living room with balcony that overlooked the pool, cliffs and ocean beyond. It was a very welcome bit of luxury to two canadians starting to feel extremely grubby. The complex is made up of a fairly old but well maintained central hotel that was probably a very chic place in the 60s when the airport here first opened but is now a bit basic. Another newer hotel is on the east side and our condo complex (the newest buildings) are on the west.

I’m genuinely curious how different this area is in summer. Only in August does it ever get what I’d call truly hot here (an average of 25 degrees with little rain) but the outdoor pool is unheated. The lido area here on the oceanfront looks very neat in design but is all roped off at the moment. It’s also rather battered looking and I genuinely can’t tell if the missing guardrails/ladders etc are pulled out because it’s winter and no one swims, if they’ve perhaps been battered by particularly bad winter storm months back or if they’ve just not been maintained in a couple years. The hotel website has recent (or at least recent-ish) looking photos of the area well painted with lifeguard chairs and equipment.) It’s disappointing as I had hoped to get in the ocean, but it wasn’t as if I had a swimsuit at the moment anyway.

Looking pretty abandoned (doesn’t look much better in a shot someone took on google maps a year and a half ago either)

After the gut punch of still being without clothes, toiletries, my scuba gear etc for at least another day we went for a long stroll along the top of the cliffs. Further down from our hotel we passed a Riu Palace resort (one variant of wish we’ve stayed in in Puerto Vallarta) another older but very large hotel overlooking a small bay with a large oceanfront lido area, also looking very abandoned. (Though a photo on google does seem to perhaps show some people using the tidal pool there.) If not for the relatively new Riu (and another new-ish resort in the other direction) I would just think this area was perhaps a bit of a relic but perhaps I’m missing something?

The rugged coastline, somewhere down there is the complex’s currently off season dive center.

We did run across a few obviously feral cats. We’ve actually met more than a few stray dogs on the island but these were the first cats. They all seem really well looked after. More than once we’ve stumbled across little feeding stations where people have put out food and water for these animals and of course weather wise there isn’t much for them to worry about. While walking along the coast that evening we even found a little house someone had made for some of the ferals that lived near the ‘beach.’

Feral Cat Shack

After we’d explored (and really worked up an appetite on the hills) we went to a small pizzeria I noticed on the google map for some comfort food and some Poncha. Thanks to now having a kitchenette we could even keep leftovers for a quickie lunch or dinner later. Still as we strolled back downhill to the condo it was hard not to think about what we’d do if our luggage didn’t arrive the next day.