We are going to try this again. Yesterday I wrote the most marvelous blog entry (you would have loved it) and then when I went to add photos and post it I discovered that it had disappeared into the ether. Very frustrating. But here goes again ...
What a pleasant surprise Madeira was! I had no idea what to expect so consequently was happy to discover that we were docked near the heart of the city of Funchal. The city is quite green and climbs (I would say "sprawls" but it's hardly that big) up several rather steep hills. Our tour was poetically entitled "Botanical Beauty" so I expected to see lots of plants and flowers. However, I was not prepared for the volume nor the variety of greenery that we saw. The island with its mild temps and year round rainfall is a veritable greenhouse and what's especially interesting is that both tropical and temperate plants grow well. The mixture of the two while occasionally jarring means that nearly every month of the year you can find something blooming.
Our first stop was an area of the city entitled Monte which as you might already have guessed is located atop one of the hills at the edge of town. We visited Monte Church which I found to be distinctly different from the Spanish churches we have recently visited and also vaguely nautical in feeling with its wooden ceiling and curved choir loft. On a patio located below the church we were able to view the launch site for a uniquely Madeiran activity -- tobagonning (sp?). The tobagons consist of a two-person bench seat placed inside a wicker basket which in turn is placed upon two wooden runners. This sled of sorts is conducted down the steep streets by two gentlemen wearing straw boaters and traditional outfits. Apparently this method of mass transit was popularized by wealthy Madeirans in the 19th century and now is of course kept up exclusively for the tourists. It's supposed to be quite fun but was not included on our tour.
Instead of a tobagon ride, our tour featured a a cable car trip back downtown. The cable car was modern and the views were as you would expect quite good. In the downtown now we took a brief walk down the oldest street to the mercado. This marketplace was quite active and the vendors seemed pleased to have an influx of tourists. They certainly knew what they were doing; handing out samples and then engaging you (me) in conversation resulting in -- predictably -- a sale (10€ worth of caramelized almonds and 7€ of two different types of passion fruit).
Back on the bus we once again headed for the hills where we visited the Botanical Gardens. This multi acre facility spreads down a rather steep hill. Fortunately we were dropped off at the top of the garden and picked up at the bottom thus resulting in both an enjoyable (no need to go uphill) and an efficient (no backtracking necessary) visit. R was quite taken with the cactus garden whereas I was impressed by how most of the plants appeared to be in tip top shape. I will say however that they need help with their signage as nearly all the plants were without proper identification.
Our final stop on this four plus hour tour was the downtown tasting room of a local Madeira wine producer. I cannot tell you much about this stop because a.) I did not drink the wine and b.) I did not attend the sales presentation preferring instead to pass the time in the classy but spare gift shop where I struggled mightily (but ultimately successfully) to spend money.
On the way back to the bus for our return drive to the ship we passed lots of people eating and drinking outside on the wide sidewalks as well as a lovely city park that was chock full of flowers and inviting places to sit. With the sun shining and the streets busy the place had a festive air and R and I have tentatively decided Madeira is worth a longer sojourn someday. Perhaps we can combine it with a visit to mainland Portugal or we could do a whole Atlantic isles trip visiting the Canaries (never visited), the Azores (visited and enjoyed) and Madeira. So many places to visit (and re-visit). Still, I am happy to have visited Madeira once and to have the memories that I do. Mustn't be too piggy after all!
And just because: