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Published: February 7th 2015
Saturday 31st January, 2015. Funchal, Madeira (Ilha da Madeira)
Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago located in the north Atlantic Ocean, just under 400 kilometres (250 mi) north of Tenerife, Canary Islands. The archipelago is one of the two Autonomous regions of Portugal (the other being the Azores, located to the northwest), and consists of 5 islands including the Madeira (the largest), Porto Santo, and the Desertas, administered together with the separate archipelago of the Savage Islands. It one of the outermost regions of the European Union.
Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in the service of Prince Henry the Navigator in 1419, and settled after 1420. The archipelago is considered to be the first territorial discovery of the exploratory period of the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
Today, it is a popular year-round resort, being visited every year by about one million tourists, noted for its Madeira wine, flowers, landscapes and embroidery artisans, as well as for its annual New Year celebrations that feature the largest fireworks show in the world, as officially recognised by Guinness World Records in 2006. We had been lucky enough to witness this fantastic display from the MV Van Gogh on 31 January 2007.
Funnily enough our ship the Azores (then the Athena) was also in the harbour watching the show. We had run out of beer and our hotel manager tried to scrounge sum from some of the other ships in the harbour (unsuccesfully). The main harbour in Funchal is the leading Portuguese port in cruise liner dockings, being an important stopover for commercial and trans-Atlantic passenger cruises between Europe, the Caribbean and North Africa.
Like the Azores, it is clear that some knowledge of Atlantic islands, such as Madeira, existed before the discovery and settlement of these lands, as the islands appear on maps as early as 1339. From a portolan dating to 1351, and preserved in Florence, Italy, it would appear that the islands of Madeira had been discovered long before Portuguese vessels rediscovered them.
Officially, in 1418, two captains under service to Prince Henry the Navigator, João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira, were driven off-course by a storm to an island which they named Porto Santo (English: holy harbour); the name was bestowed for their gratitude and divine deliverance from a possible shipwreck by the protected anchorage. The following year, an organised expedition, under the captaincy of
Zarco and Vaz Teixeira, was sent to this new land, and along with captain Bartolomeu Perestrello, to take possession of the island on behalf of the Portuguese crown. Subsequently, the new settlers observed "a heavy black cloud suspended to the southwest", which when investigated led to the discovery of the larger island of Madeira. In September of 1433, the name Ilha da Madeira (English: Madeira Island, or literally island of wood) began to appear in the first documents and maps. The name given to the islands corresponded to the large dense forests of native laurisilva trees that populated the island during the settlement. On 1 July 1976, following the democratic revolution of 1974, Portugal granted political autonomy to Madeira, celebrated on Madeira Day. The region now has its own government and legislative assembly.
We disembarked the ship at about 8.15 and caught the shuttle outside the brand new Cruise Terminal building. This was not here the last time we came to Madeira and is much further away from the city centre than the old dock. We were dropped at the edge of Funchal, the capital of the island. We strolled along passing many shops (all still closed) until we
found a cafe where we had a coffee and posted some blogs, read the emails etc.
The weather was inclement but we had a brolly. We walked along until we found a taxi rank and took a taxi up to the Botanical Gardens. Madeira's nickname is " Pérola do Atlântico" (Pearl of the Atlantic) and it was easy to see why when we entered the gardens. Madeira has been classified as a Mediterranean climate and it was pleasantly warm but with a little light drizzle as we paid our 5.50 euros entrance fee. Once inside the“Jardim Botânico” we walked past the small Natural History Museum which has collections of birds, fossils, rocks, minerals, animals, invertebrates and vertebrates. Immediately after the museum we came to the orchids which are growing in their natural environment. Initially we walked uphill until we came to a belvedere where we had fantastic views over Funchal. We could see the ship at the cruise terminal. She really did look like a tiny little boat from where we were standing. If we looked in the other direction we could see the hills shrouded in clouds. We walked down to the cafe where we could out look
over the beautiful landscaped hedges where we could see the words "Jardim Botanico Da Madeira .Eng.Rui Vieira 1960-2015" written in topiary, along with the wonderful topiary patterns and colours for which these gardens are famous. We moved on to the Cacti and Suculent Garden. Here we found some magnificent examples of dry climate plants which seem to thrive here. Next was the Topiary Garden where fantastic small-leaved hedges had been sculpted into fabulous shapes. We continued down to the Aviaries where there is a magnificent collection of exotic birds, both native to Madeira and from further afield. M was in heaven. We saw Finsch's Parrots, Various Amazonian Parrots, Australian Paraqueets (a.k.a budgies), silver pheasant and Albino Peacocks to name but a few. We were very aware of the time as we only had a half day here and had to be back on board by 12.30. We left the gardens and found a taxi waiting. M got in but when he announced it would be 12 euros back to town got straight back out again (we had only paid 6 euros 70 on the way up!). M knocked him down to 8 euros and we decided to take it.
He dropped us off on the eastern side of twon at the Mercado dos Lavores which is a lively fruit and flower market which is a lovely building in the Art Deco style. We went inside and found a vibrant colourful market with fantastic smells emitting from the plants. Many of the vendors were dressed in traditional costumes. This is a two storey building arranged around an open courtyard. We climbed the stairs and took some photos of the stalls from above. M purchased the mandatory FM. We left the building and headed back towards the town centre passing the Church of Na Sra do Carmo built in 1660. We continued on and stocked up in the supermarket with some supplies.
We then went on a quest to find D a tie as he hadn't packed any except the formal night bows. The city is divided into 3 sectors by its rivers. In the eastern sector of the sity is the Zona Velha (Old Town) with its many restaurants. The central sector containing a jumble of embroidery factories, crumbling town hauses and shops selling pungnt salt cod and dried herbs. We headed for the westernmost third of the city
which is focused around the Se (Cathedral) and the Alfangega Velha (Old Customs House. We wakled around the Cathedral into Avenida Arriaga which is the main shopping area. We couldn't find anything at a price that D was prepared to pay. We took some photos of the Cathedra,l which was built between 1485 and 1515, but didn't go inside as we had done this before. We went to a craft market (no ties though) and made our way to H & M where they had one yes ONE tie and handkerchief set! The tie was a striking emerald green and navy stripped pattern and the handkerchief was the same colour but in a polka dot design. Not what we would have chosen but beggars can't be choosers and it was silk and best of all reduced to 10 Euros!
We caught the last shuttle at 12.00 noon back to the ship. The weather had improved significantly and many people were on deck taking in the sun. M walked around the promenade deck and took some photos of Funchal. After lunch M went to the Painted Seascapes art session where we learned how to mix acrylic paints and to use
Dinner was spent with our usual crew but our waiter Michael was sick so we had a nice guy called Gabriel instead. He wasn't as fast as Michael so dinner overran and we missed the first 15 minutes of the Night at the Opera show. This was a shame as what we did get to see was really excellent. We now have a week at sea before we arrive in Antigua.
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