Friday, June 04, 2010

Funchal, Madeira Island

Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal
Saturday, May 29, 2010

What a great city Funchal is. The weather was perfect -- sunny and cool with low humidity. It was a perfect day. I took the shuttle into the city where I spotted the red hop on/hop off bus, and boarded with no delay. I made the complete circle of the bus route without getting off; I just sat on the upper deck and enjoyed the views of the city as we listened to the English description on the bus audio. Funchal is built on the side of a steep hill, like Positano, Italy, and so many other cities, and the bus wound its way along narrow streets up the side of the hill until it reached Pico dos Barcelos at 355 meters, or about 1100 feet in altitude. The bus paused for photos of the great views of the city and the port below.

Funchal is a very modern city and a very prosperous one. The houses are all white with orange tile roofs. The city is very clean, with no litter, and it is quite upscale. Funchal feels good. It is easy to see why Funchal has been welcoming tourists for more than 100 years, and many Europeans have apartments in Funchal as so many Americans have apartments in Florida. A forest of high rise apartment buildings looks out on the ocean, and dozens of new ones are under construction. The sidewalk cafes, the mosaic tiled sidewalks, the pedestrian streets throughout the “downtown” area -- all these things make visitors feel good about being in Funchal, along with the beautiful weather, of course. The one drawback to tourism is the lack of beaches. While Tenerife has numerous beautiful beaches, Madeira has none. Therefore, far more tourists, particularly young people, go to Tenerife than to Madeira. On the other hand, I feel better in Madeira than in Tenerife. The main source of income in Madeira is tourism, and it is evident that tourism is adequate to support a prosperous economy.

Along the hop on/hop off route, the bus passed many monuments; Funchal seems to love monuments and has many at traffic circles throughout the city. These monuments are great sculptures, great works of art, rather than simply statues honoring dignitaries of the past. One exception is the statue of “Cici” of Austria, one of the many dignitaries who have visited Funchal. Like many others, she visited Funchal as a way of treating a respiratory ailment in the days before antibiotics. I tried to take photos of some of the monuments as the bus passed, but was not very successful. Similarly, I tried to take photos of some of the churches and other beautiful buildings, but was not very successful. One of the common sights in Funchal is elderly people sitting outdoors in the beautiful weather drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. Funchal invites leisure activities and peaceful strolls.

After completing the hop on/hop off bus route, I walked nearby to the base station of the cable car that leads to the top of the hill. I learned that I needed cash, and I was told that I could find an ATM machine at the food market, so I walked there, a few blocks away. While there, I wandered through the market, which was extremely busy on a Saturday. The market is a separate two-story building, with a separate area for the fish market. I looked at fruits and vegetables and beautiful flowers, taking photos all along. We sampled sweet juicy fruit, and enjoyed the scene at the fish market. It was a happy scene, and a busy one, like all markets, and I got a few photos.

After leaving the food market, I walked along a main shopping street for a short distance, but found that I was not interested in seeing the store fronts. As I walked back toward the cable car station, I passed through a flea market, which is set up in a pretty square and is open only on Saturdays. This market turned out to be a craft market of hand crafted jewelry, and I was not interested, although I did take a few photos.

Next I took the cable car, which climbs 550 meters (almost 1900 feet) up the mountain, and the views were spectacular. I took many photos of the city from the vantage point of the cable car as it made its way up. When I exited, I walked a short distance to the church of Nossa Senhora do Monte and climbed the steep staircase to take a photo inside the church. Then I got to the highlight of the day -- the basket toboggan ride down the mountain. Wow! Basket sleds guided by two drivers on the rear slide people down a steep paved path half way down the mountain. It is quite a thrill to sit in a basket sled and glide along a slick, narrow, paved path at a very fast rate, sometimes seemingly out of control. The basketeers turn the basket sideways to increase the friction of the sleds and slow the basket to keep it from gaining too much speed, and sliding sideways only adds to the thrill of the slide. The ride last about 15 minutes, and it was great! They have been doing that sled ride for more than 100 years -- one of Funchal’s most famous attractions.

After returning to the base of the mountain, I wandered along back streets enjoying the beautiful mosaic sidewalk patterns and beautiful decorations in the narrow pedestrian streets until I came to one of the main squares with numerous sidewalk cafes. I saw an open table at one of the most attractive restaurants and decided to stop for a snack and watch the people in the square. Some of the ship personnel were also at other tables, and I enjoyed chatting with them and taking a few photos of them before going on.

I then stopped in a shop selling lace and bought a beautiful lace tablecloth with yellow and green embroidery patterns as a gift for Bas and Monique. I hope it will fit in one of their houses. As I was leaving the shop, I spotted Gilles and Denise, a couple I met on the ship from Montreal, and walked with them along the waterfront promenade until we hopped into a taxi to return to the ship. What a wonderful day I had in Funchal, where I could happily return for a peaceful vacation someday.

No comments: