Friday, 27 March 2009

Madeira - day three. Rain stop play!

Day three, and we were excited! THIS was the day we were going to do some PROPER walking in the high mountains of Madeira. The walk is called 'Rabacal and the 25 waterfalls', so you can imagine what it was going to be like, and why we were excited. We sat outside the hotel in the warm morning air, in our shorts (but with warm gear in the rucksacks, just in case). While we waited, I took this picture of one of the national flowers of Madeira, the Bird of Paradise flower. They grow in profusion all over the place, and in most gardens.
The van duly picked us up, and we were away! As we climbed on the twisty mountains roads, it got worse and worse, weather wise. The cloud closed in, the wind howled, and it began to rain quite hard. By the time we got all the way to Rabacal, about an hours drive, conditions were atrocious. So much so, I didn't get even ONE picture. I wish I had now, but I didn't want to get the camera out in those conditions. Anyway, the guide said he wasn't happy to take us, as it would be too dangerous. He then made a decision to go elsewhere. As Madeira has over 20 micro climates, you can always find some sunshine and shelter. We ended up on a 'verdant' levada walk through mainly farmland. Not what we expected, or wanted, but they did their best.
Here, lemons grew at the side of the walk.
Weeeeelll, I NEEDED one or two for the gin tonight!

Bless her, still smiling, despite the disappointment.
(Can you believe there are several people walking IN the levada to avoid a tiny bit of mud!!!)

Sue tells me this is an Agapanthus, a rose by any other name...........

One thing that amused us, and we'd noticed a lot since arriving on the island, was the custom of drying the squash on the roof of the house.

In some places, the walkway was a bit like this - so of course, there were shouts of 'MIND THE GAP'!

More flora. Of the Orchid family, I think.

This was sorrel. We were told if you chew the stem, it tastes JUST like green apples.
I can confirm this is correct, as I chewed quite a lot, it was really refreshing.

The ever-present and beautiful Arum lily.
(I should have moved that twig).

Another of the Orchid family.

The levada twisted through the countryside, and we followed.

This old farmers wife was 'spud bashing'
...while he was muck spreading.

....and this one was taking gourds (or squash) home to dry - probably as seed stock.
(Yes - it IS female)

The old fields were carefully tilled & tended, ready for the crops & harvest.

But, always the new world was close by. This is yet another new road tunnel. Madeira has really improved its road system in the past few years, hugely due to EU grants. I'd LOVE to know what the total spend is going to be/has been so far. It must be telephone numbers!

After the levada walk finished, we were taken to the coast to do another short walk. On the way, we were privileged to see this wonderful sea of cloud.

This was where we were bound, but not before a beer/coffee stop at a cafe hanging on to the cliff side.
You can see the road snaking perilously down the hillside. This is the old road. Now, even this tiny place has a HUGE new tunnel to it.
For GODS sake - DON'T jump up and down!!!

Nice fence! Not what I'd call sturdy though, considering the drop on the other side.

This was Paul do Mar, our final walk for today. Beautiful place, and lovely weather.

Afternoon nap time.

The old church at Paul do Mar.

They were absorbed in Dominoes, of all things.
(This guy wasn't having any luck, judging by the look on his face).

Finally, there was one last surprise. A HUGE twin waterfall at the end of the village. I took photo's, and we boarded the bus back. We were sad not to have done Rabacal, but little did we know, the next few days would make up for it - watch this space!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Madeira - day two, the sledge ride.

So, we'd had a look around, sussed the place out (a bit), and set out a sort of itinerary. Lots of big towns, especially tourist ones, have those tour buses. They are usually very good value, and show you the very best bits, so I like to take one early on in any holiday. The one in Funchal is, like Barcelona, actually two! One does the inner city highlights, and the other goes further afield. You pay one price, and can hop off and on either bus all day. So, we bought our tickets on day one, and got ready to do the trips on day two.
Here's the position of our hotel room, one of the best positions, I'd say.
Thanks to Bakewell travel for sorting it for us :-)
First though, a walk down to the pool. Looks lovely in the morning, and so quiet!
We then took a stroll downtown. We really got to love the prom' walk.
This morning, a big Norwegian cruise ship was coming in.
Next it was back on the cable car. It costs 10 Euros each for a one-way trip (15 each for return). Although we'd 'done' it the day before, it was a lovely ride, and also the quickest way to get to where we wanted to go to.
Sue looks worried about something, don't you think?
A street entertainer.
Was THIS what Sue was worried about???
(Well, it's a MUST DO when in Madeira)
It's a bit 'hairy', but LOADS of fun! The reason we didn't do it yesterday was we were told to do the trip early on, before the sledge pullers were tired, and had had a few beers!
You can see the wax marks from the runners of the sledge on the road. The sledges reach quite fast speeds on some of the hills. As usual, a photo doesn't show just how steep these 'roads' are. Believe me, in some places they really are very steep.

After the ride ended, we decided to walk the rest of the way down to Funchal town. You could get a taxi, but then you'd miss all the views and photo's. This bridge before the tunnels looks lovely and very aesthetically pleasing.

In this sub-tropical climate, bananas grow anywhere and everywhere. The banana plant takes about nine months to fruit, then it won't produce again unless it's cut back severely. This leads to local women, who only have one child, being called 'banana trees'.

The way to differentiate between new and old building is defined by little clay sculptures on the edges of the roofs. Birds means it's a new build, I think gargoyles meant it was old.

Where else would you see a sea of flowers like this in a city centre?
The smell was WONDERFUL, especially in the evenings.
Under the flowers is a river. They cover it with netting for the flowers to grow on.

A glimpse of snow on the mountains. Lots of Funchal people, as far up to the age of 30, have never seen snow close up, only like this on the mountains. Because of this, they have a custom where anyone who drives up into the mountains when there is snow, builds a snowman, and puts in on a blanket on the bonnet of their car, and drives back down to the city with it so the people can see and touch it.

Next it was tour bus time. Just LOOK at these lovely Funchal back streets.
There were fountains and statues everywhere, not to mention lovely trees.

There were also a fair amount of run-down and dilapidated buildings like this one. We asked, with land especially on the front where this place was, so expensive and at such a premium, why were there places like this? We were told that if someone owns a building, sometimes they go away and leave it to rot. But, when they return, building reg's allow them to knock it down and re-build a nice new one in its place. This can be VERY lucrative. Also, if they've made money abroad, then come back, they can replace a shack with a fabulous new building (complete with doves on the roof). That's why, we were told, you see so many shacks and beautiful houses side by side.
As the bus climbed, we got a great view of the harbour.
The sprawl of Funchal.

Another really good statue, and one of my favourites.

After the first tour, we hopped off the bus and went back to the hotel for some lunch on the patio.

Then it was on to tour bus two for a trip to Winston Churchills favourite place, the fishing village of Camera de Lobos, with its incredibly high sea cliffs.
On the way, we passed this, my LEAST favourite statue. It's supposed to be an angel, but most locals hate it, saying it looks like someone who has hung themselves, and brings bad luck. I have to say, I agree with them.

We then reached Camera de Lobos, and first view showed us why 'Winnie' liked it so much!
The land is heavily terraced here, like most of Madeira, for full utilisation of crops.

A strange sight - a fishing boat full of fish skins drying in the sun and breeze.

Where were the fishermen? Here, playing cards.

Some of the local lads were enjoying the sea on this lovely, sunny day.

Again, money from the E.U. had been used in this place. This was a lovely sculpture of boats on a sea. There were a few more, one was a huge marble table with a plate and bowl on it. I like this one, but thought the table thing was a bit pointless.

The impressive and breathtaking sea cliffs of Cabo Girao, Camera de Lobos.
See what one guy did here;

Come on then - where's the beer?

After the trip, we decided to go to the swishest hotel in Madeira, Reids in Funchal. Everyone said you MUST take afternoon tea, just for the experience. A few finger sandwiches, a fairy cake or two, and a pot of tea - TWENTY EIGHT EUROS!!!! (each). We passed on that, but it was nice to listen to the pianist........

.....and the flower arrangements were nice too!

Looks almost plastic, doesn't it, but these are real, and grow in abundance on the island.

Right Susie, time for our evening swim, in you get.

And what nicer way to unwind and relax than a warm Jacuzzi?

And, of course, a nice glass of wine on the patio - CHEERS!

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