We arrived during breakfast at the largest and capital city of Portugal’s Autonomous Region of Madeira, Funchal. The twinkling lights of little settlements dotted along the coast slid by enticingly in the dark as the Magellan slowly made its way to a secure berth alongside the Aida. There were already two other cruise ships in port so inevitably we took the berth furthest from the port entrance. Isn’t it always so? Particularly when the other two ships were of German origin. Not only are they the first to get their towels onto the sunbeds in the hotels, but they can scale the habit up to getting their cruise ships into favoured docking positions too!
The dawn had broken by the time we had finished packing in yet more calories and we could see that ‘the sun has got his hat on, hip-hip hooray!’, in contrast the tops of the mountains behind Funchal were as usual shrouded in dark cloud, this phenomenon is known as the ‘Helmet of Funchal’.
Eager to disembark the ship we hurried ourselves into seats on the first shuttle bus into town, only to realise that neither of us had bothered to bring wallet or purse!!! Retracing our steps back to the cabin to secure some purchasing power we eventually made it on to the second shuttle bus of the day and a swift 10 minute ride into the city centre.
We have been to Funchal before and had earmarked it to be included as a future lengthier holiday destination, we liked the place that much, but today, disappointingly we only had 5 hours to discover new and exciting things. And, we had already wasted half an hour of that precious time!
Our first visit was to the small City Museum. There has been quite a considerable amount of archaeological digging happening within the city and many of the findings were displayed here. Some of them quite eccentric, Sue was fascinated by a small display of 300 yr. old peach stones, though I failed to see their importance in the greater scheme of things and was much more impressed by the fact that the earliest settlers set fire to the forest that covered the entire island (Madeira means timber) to clear land for farming, the fires were out of control for seven years! It puts the deforestation of the Brazilian rainforest into perspective, which we are soon to have experience of.
The little fort of Funchal is a bright yellow painted feature on the edge of the Old Town and is where we next headed. Entrance fee was a mere 3 euros, however, though we now had our money sacks, they were in fact empty, save for some small, thin slabs of plastic that could solve that problem. Twenty minutes later after a visit to a nearby ATM we were brimming over with excitement and dosh, paid the entrance fee and led yet another successful British invasion of this foreign outpost since Charles II married Catherine de Braganza in 1662, and British troops occupied the island to protect it from invasion by Napoleon.
There is a small display of photos within the fort that illustrates a little of the history of the place, but there are no armaments or relics to see, even access to the little gaol was prohibited. The views of the small bay and town are good and at 3 euros it is a worthwhile visit.
The doors of the houses in the streets around the fort were the focus of our next investigation. Many of them had pictures painted on them. The Old Town had in the past been very rundown and had acquired a reputation as being a dangerous place to visit. In more modern times, to combat this the place was cleaned up and as an attraction the inhabitants painted murals on their doors to attract visitors. It seems to have worked, we went there to see them.
Next was a ride on the cable car to the top the (well half way up) mountain. We had ridden this form of transport on our previous visit, after the ‘must do’ tourist activity of tobogganing down the upper streets of Funchal. Instead of just going down, this time we would go up, then come down, exciting isn’t it?
Whilst at the top we had a meander around the pretty gardens situated around the large hotel perched on the slopes. We were now under the ‘Funchal helmet’, it was cold and at times it spat with rain.
Returning to a sunnier and much warmer sea level we made our way to Blandys, famous for their Madeira wine. Again, we have been there before so a conducted tour covering the history of wine making on offer was not the purpose of our visit. Our aim was to purchase a bottle of their famous produce and this we did after a brief wine tasting to discover the one we preferred.
A bus ride back to our floating restaurant, the Magellan followed. Sadly, at 3pm we steamed away. One day we will spend longer here, it deserves more of our attention because it has much, much more to give. ‘Until then, several glasses of its best will no doubt dull the pain!