Madeira is an island off the coast of Africa which is owned by Portugal, which settled it in 1424. The capital of Madeira is Funchal, a beautiful city built on terraces that step up the side of the volcano that formed the island.
Madeira enjoys a Mediterranean climate, and because of it grows crops like bananas, grapes, mangos. It also has extensive flower farms which export flowers to Europe for their floral market.
We visited Funchal on our last cruise. You can read about that trip here. That was our first time in Funchal, and so we put ourselves into the hands of the ship’s tour director and went on a quite satisfying day trip through the city. This time, however, we decided to walk around on our own and find a nice cafe to have lunch in.
There were three other very large cruise ships in port, each one of them carrying well over 3500 passengers, so we knew that the tour routes were bound to be crowded. We are really not that enamored of crowds of gabbling tourists, so we opted to avoid the hordes and explore on our own. After all, no matter where you got to in Funchal, you could clearly see your way back to the harbor, so how lost could we get?
Also, I have developed a craving for some of the embroidered linens that Madeira is famous for, and we thought we would see if we could find some to purchase.
As it turns out, we didn’t get the slightest bit lost. As we left the ship, we admired a place that was up on the bluff overlooking the harbor. They had gardeners there that day, they were pruning the dead fronds off that huge palm tree that is by the house.
Just off to the right of that place there is a public park, and there are stairs up to it. We decided to go up there and explore a bit.
There were many lizards enjoying the sun-warmed rocks that formed the stairs.
When we got to the top of the stairs, we discovered a beautiful park, complete with the requisite swans on the lake.
In the area where we were standing there was a little restaurant, and off to the side a large child care facility with lots of what looked to be quite fun playground equipment. The park was obviously meant to be enjoyed by all sorts of people. We were intrigued by a garden area with paved pathways, and after a while we figured out that this was a place for skateboarders and in-line skaters to use. We liked the fact that there were lanes marked, complete with directional arrows, yield signs and stop signs. Have fun, but don’t hurt each other!
The panoramic view is rather skewed, the pathway in the foreground is actually straight.
We walked along the edge of the park, headed towards the city center. There was a very beautiful wrought iron gazebo, which when we got close to it turned out to be the lawnmower storage facility.
The tree just to the right and above the gazebo has some interesting seed pods on it. We took a closer look.
Turns out it is a kapok tree. I can actually remember life jackets our family had for canoeing when I was a kid that were stuffed with kapok. Now it’s all polyester all the time.
There was also a very happy plumeria.
We have tried growing them indoors on occasion, but I have a pretty good idea of why they weren’t that happy in the environment we were providing. I don’t think they had enough space.
We walked down some more stairs into town. They were occupied too.
When we got down there, we wandered around, looking for a good place to buy some Madeira wine. We happened across Blandy’s, and decided to take their 10 euro tour of the facility. It was quite worth it, especially since the price of the tour included tasting.
This is the room where they have their vintage Madeiras stored. You can taste them — for a price. You can buy them too, and some of them are 100 years old and cost ten times that per bottle.
The place is not just a wine production facility, it is also a museum, and has several wine presses.
During the tour, we got to see the large barrels that the Madeira was aging in. These are oak barrels, and interestingly enough some of the more modern ones were actually built in my town at Independent Stave Company.
Once the wine has gotten enough oak character, it is pumped into large barrels for further aging. These barrels have a 6000 liter capacity and are made of brazilian satinwood.
After we were suitably impressed by the wine lodge, we visited the museum upstairs where they had a lot of historical items. My favorite was a Roman wine press.
You have to admire the hand carved wooden screw that operated the press.
After the tour and tasting, we purchased a couple of bottles of Madeira, one to drink on the ship during the crossing and one to bring home. Then we wandered into the shopping area, and did actually look at genuine Madeira linens. They were absolutely gorgeous. I started talking to one shop owner, and asked about care instructions. Hand wash cold water only. I’m thinking to myself, “This is a table cloth. If you have a meal on it, how are you supposed to ever get it and the napkins clean?”
Actually, I think you aren’t really supposed to USE these things, only look at them. And my God, they were VERY proud of the stuff. I’m surprised they let you come into the shop without washing your hands or putting on white gloves before you shopped. Anyway, the day I part with $1000+ for a small table cloth and 6 napkins that all I can do is look at is far in the future. Vanishingly far…
We decided to go have lunch instead.
Down by the waterfront, we found a nice restaurant, sat out in the sun and had the “blue plate special”. During lunch, the sun made rainbows through my wine on my melon.
After lunch, we walked back to the ship, admiring the beautiful Cunard liner “Queen Victoria”.
We stowed our wine in our cabin, and went up on deck in time to see the replica caravel take off for her daily whale watching expedition. She motors out of the harbor.
Take a close look at that ship. Imagine Vasco da Gama exploring the coast of Africa, Magellan going around the Horn, Christopher Columbus crossing the Atlantic to the Americas. Think about it. They were all sailing in ships of similar size and design to the one in these photos.
Once she got outside the breakwater, she turned off the motors and set sail.
Along about that time, it was our turn to set off for our voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Florida. Since there were three other cruise ships in the small harbor, quarters were a little tight. We backed out of our “parking slot”, slowly proceeding past the other liners, which were still awaiting the return of their passengers.
First we went past the Aida “Sol”, then the Thorson “Dream”.
As we left our slip, our captain sounded the ship’s horn. This is an old tradition, dates way back to the heyday of cruising, but not many captains do it any more. To our surprise, and pleasure, one by one the other liners responded to our salute. Our ship’s horn has a pleasing tenor sound. The Aida “Sol” and the Thorson “Dream” spoke back to us as we slowly backed past them. They were both equipped with beautiful baritone horns.
We weren’t really sure that the Cunard’s “Queen Victoria” would deign to speak to us, but indeed she did. Her voice is a basso profundo that echoed all around the hills of Funchal when she sounded it. No wonder her voice is so deep. Look at the size of her horns. They are up at the top of that stack in the following shot.
Actually, this was an extremely cool thing to have happen, and not all that common. I was talking to the bridge lecturer as we were leaving port, and she was thrilled. She said, “I’ve been doing this for over ten years, I don’t know how many ports I have sailed away from and this is the first time the horns have sounded. This never happened before.”
I wonder what made our captain decided to start the greetings? I don’t know, but in my mind’s ear I still hear the impressive note of the “Queen Victoria” echoing around the harbor and Funchal.
And so we sailed away, the island fading into the afternoon mists behind us.
Bon voyage! Indeed it was.