Saturday, 11 April 2009

Madeira - final day - showers, & our second levada walk

I REALLY like a good cup of coffee (I've been spoilt at 'ricci's), so when we found a good cafe, very close to out hotel that served an EXCELLENT cup, we were very happy. They don't serve it like we do, but it's just as good, and very tasty. Needless to say, we went there almost every day.
After out caffeine 'fix', it was time to have a wander into town. We had no real plans today, but I had an idea. The 'Nuns Valley' is supposed to be really beautiful and rugged. I'd noticed that the number 81 bus went there, so for just four Euros each, we got a return ticket and hopped on a 'yellow funfair ride'.
Clinging on tightly as we sped along the terrifyingly narrow and steep mountain roads, our aim was to just stay on the bus and do the return journey. We had boots and a picnic though, just in case. When the bus got to the high village of Curral da Freiras, a local guy suggested we disembark, as the bus came back in 20 minutes. We did, and as we got off, so did another couple.
They were German, and their names were Lutz and Elfi (what a LOVELY name).
Lutz told us they intended to walk to the top of the ridge, and we were welcome to join them.
"What about the bus??", we asked. He told us there was one due at 5:00PM, so we trusted him and set off upwards, chatting and getting to know one another.
This was where we got off the bus. The weather had started cloudy, but now the sun was out, and it was clearing. Time to put on the sun tan lotion!
The views around us were really living up to their 'dramatic' tag, and we were getting more and more excited at the prospect of a good walk.
A lot of the hamlets were just perched in what seemed like unreachable places.
We read that you can't reach a lot of these places by road, as they are not connected to the road system!

This looked a bit like a set of 'Lord of the Rings'.

The sun was full out now, and Sue was ready for the climb.

Here we are, about to set off upwards.

The path was gentle, but we were soon gaining height, leaving the village far below.

As always in Madeira, the flowers were incredibly beautiful. I didn't know where to shoot next.

Houses were built just anywhere.
ALL the building materials had to be brought up here by hand.
The mind boggles!!!!

We continued up the well-laid path.
The walking was easy and steady.
Soon, this was the sort of view we were getting.

That road was blocked. Several rock falls had seen to that!
I think they now have (another) tunnel, so the road is redundant.

After about 40 minutes solid climbing, we reached the top.
This was a visitors centre with a big car park.
Last time I saw this place, I was looking up at a dot on the ridge horizon.
Here I am, perched on the edge, as usual.

'Only' 3,000 feet.

This was the tourists balcony.

If you leaned over the rail (which I did), this is what you saw.
3,000 feet - STRAIGHT DOWN!
DON'T lean back on that fence!

We had a fabulous walk, and ended up at a small cafe in the village for another good coffee, and we also tried (and bought) some of the local liqueurs.
That night, Sue & I went to a place we'd sussed out the previous night. 'La Paella'.
I told the owner I was VERY fussy about Paella, and he said; "You don't like - you don't pay"
That was good enough for me - so in we went.

They first brought us a glass of complimentary Madeira wine, which Sue tried.
Then they broush ush a glashh of Poncha, Shue shays ish GREAT.
This ugly thing had a name, but I can't remember it!
It was billed as 'local lobster', and was alive & moving when brought to our table. I don't think it wanted a mirror! It was about the same price as fresh lobster, so you were looking at around SEVENTY pounds for a serving. I said we'd stick to the paella.
I can honestly say, it lived up to its reputation.
It was STUNNING - no contest, the best one we've ever had.
We enjoyed it SO much, we went back again the following night for another one.

On the way home (we walked - it was a very warm, pleasant evening) I took this picture of one of the stranger plants we saw. The end of the runway at the airport has HUNDREDS of these plants on the bank in front of it.
This was the first time I'd seen one at the roadside though.
I wish I'd made Sue stand at the side of it for scale now, as it was about 5 feet tall.
Then it was back to the hotel room, and a last look at Funchal before turning in.

What can I say? Madeira is FANTASTIC!!! We will return there one day soon. If you're interested in the island, I can really recommend it as a beautiful, interesting and fabulous place.

Below are a couple of short videos.
The 'lobster thing' - it's ALIVE!
Common name: Slipper Lobster.
Scientific name: Scyllarides latus
A sweep of the Curral da Freiras valley.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Madeira - day 4 - Day of the Dolphins

Today was the day of the Dolphins, but first, we wanted to take a look at the famous Funchal market. We got there relatively late, as most of the fish had sold out, but as you can see, there was still a LOT of activity in the fruit and veg side of things. I have never SEEN such a vast array of different fruits and vegetables in one place (maybe I should get out more?).

It makes you wonder how, and if, they manage to sell all the stuff they bring?
This lady certainly looked happy, and was dressed in national costume.
Just by looking, you KNEW these herbs had been picked only hours ago.
How fresh can you GET????

The flowers just blew us away.

And when did you EVER see a choice of spices like this?
Everything was set out so lovingly.

TRY! TRY! TRY! We were accosted all the time to try stuff. They cut these wonderfully tasting fruits and displayed them to try. I think they have a bit of a scam going here though. We tasted, and BOY did they taste good, so I bought ten Euros worth. The ones I bought weren't half as sweet and juicy as the ones on display though. I reckon they add sugar to the ones they've cut. Oh well, I'll know better next time ;-)

Dried chilli peppers - thousands of them

Then we went into the fish section.

These are black Scabbard - a local speciality. They are caught in deep waters off Madeira and are usually served filleted in steaks, or more specially on a skewer, called 'Espadas'.
Find out more here;

They are also VERY big on eating limpets, which they call 'lavas'.
I've never tried them, and still haven't.

Octopus have a big presence too.
And what a beautiful tray of colourful fish.
I can almost smell them cooking on the barbie!
Fancy a small Tuna fish steak anyone?
Now - have I got enough for a McDonalds at lunchtime?
After we'd seen all the market, we went to the offices of the Dolphin trip.
We were shepherded to a rib, and set off on our ride.

We had a lovely day for it too.
We sped across the calm sea for about 45 minutes to where they said we'd see Dolphins.

Sure enough, they made an appearance.
The shout went up, as everyone was SO excited to see the fins break the surface of the water!

They came RIGHT beside the rib, we could almost touch them. They do allow you to swim with them, if conditions are right (for an extra 20 Euros, of course), but today this school had many young, so no-one was allowed to swim with them.
Oh, now he's just showing off!

We also were lucky to see a basking turtle.

The views back to the island alone were worth the trip.

After seeing the Dolphins, the skipper decided it was fun time. He drove the rib at the cliff face at high speed, swerving away sharply at the last minute, with all the girls squealing with delight. He also stopped the rib whenever he saw anyone taking a photo. All in all, he was a really good guide.
This is the sumptuous Reids Palace hotel - probably THE premier hotel in Madeira, with a prime cliff top position to echo that fact.

The boat then picked up speed again, bouncing over the waves and roaring.
As you can see, it really upset Sue & I.

When we got back to Funchal, we just relaxed in a promenade bar.
Sorry this picture is a bit over-exposed, but the sun was cracking the pavements!

How lovely is this? We walked this so many times during our stay.
I miss it, and want to go back as soon as possible (not another two years, I hope).
These flowers - wherever you look, wonderful colours and blooms.

Looking down on the island fountains.

This is where you have to stand for the 'people cam'.
We stood there (as a few of you know) for about half an hour one evening, but it had a malfunction - that's known as 'sods law'.
Another fountain on the prom'.
And I love this statue too.
Beats the Cloughie one in the middle of Nottingham!
And what about this one eh?
Young love blossoms too, and what better setting than Madeira?

This really WAS an enigma - such a fantastic place - almost in RUINS!!!
It had certainly been a LONG time since anyone has given it any TLC.

This was once a very grand courtyard, with this elegant fountain as the centrepiece.
Now, dry and dirty.
Looking north over Funchal in the evening sun.
In the old town, there are numerous cafes that open during the day, but the evenings are when they REALLY seek their business.
We were accosted at each one, but in a nice way. Each had a person outside, usually amusing in some way, trying their hardest to lure you in to eat. They all served virtually the same fare, but each insisted theirs was the best.
We ate at three of them over the week, and really enjoyed it.
Hmmm, seen anything you fancy Susie?

These flowers were just to the left of the menu Sue was reading.
And these too.
Not all of Funchal is pretty, some parts are VERY run down.
This is a side street just off the main drag.

The fountains looked even more delightful in the evening light.
As the light faded, we began the walk back to the hotel. This park was a favourite of ours.
Funchal has a very 'safe' feel about it. We often wandered about in the late evening, and we never saw anything to worry or threaten us. We saw lots of women walking around on their own too, so they obviously felt the same way

We arrived back, and opened the curtains on the spectacular view.
Is it any wonder we were SO happy with the place?

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