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Published: April 12th 2016
Dateline: Madeira Island, Funchal, Portugal
Today greets us with red tile roofs glistening in the morning sunshine all up and down the green hills of Madeira, Funchal, Portugal with high peaks and forests framing the town. We just spent 7 days at sea mostly under cloud cover with drizzle …sun peeking out to tantalize us from time to time and we’re suffering from the time changes. You’d think that just pushing the clock forward an hour a day wouldn’t be a problem… but it is ;-) We found ourselves walking the decks at 2am! Anyway…when we were about 1500 miles out from Florida, we came upon a 56’ sailboat in the midst of the Atlantic. Brave souls. Although we like to sail, the thought of crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat is quite scary ;-)
Today is Sunday and we have arrived on the day of the annual Festival of the Flowers. The streets in downtown Funchal will be closing by 3pm for the parades to begin at 4. So… we are quickly off to a morning of adventure ;-)
First stop is high atop the green hills in the little village of Monte. Monte is
renowned for a number of things; first and foremost is a 2K toboggan run from Monte to Funchal. Yes, those of you who know your geography, we are north of the equator but definitely not in snow country. It is tropical here and we are going to toboggan down streets from top to bottom on rattan and wooden “toboggans” made from willow, a native tree. The toboggans carry up to 3 people and have wooden runners. They put a kind of “ski wax” on them. There are two men who will guide, push, pull and drag their feet for brakes (they use special shoes) as we descend at about 20mph around curves and straightaways. In the early 1900’s the residents of Monte wanted a better way to get to “town” than walking down these very steep slopes, so came up with the idea of these toboggans. As we wait in a line for about 10 minutes, we see toboggan after toboggan heading down the hill. Finally it is our turn, we step into the toboggan, take a seat and we’re off! Exciting! We whiz past stone walls and at times our toboggan is sideways heading down the hill. The guys
on the back runners work wonders to get us straight again by dragging their feet and shifting their weight and calling orders to each other in Portuguese. Ahead we see a car in front of us… yikes…yes these streets are for cars too ;-) Our guys slow us to a crawl before we hit the back bumper. The car turns off and we continue at what seems to us to be breakneck speed down the hill only to see more cars crossing in front of us. As we near, we see a “traffic cop” directing cars to stop to let us pass. Whew! ;-) Further down the hill we can see toboggans piling up behind each other as they come to a stop and people disembark smiling and laughing. Our ride has been smooth as glass and so fun! Never will we have another ride like this one. The drivers push their toboggans over to a waiting truck to be transported back to the top and then board a bus. We head for the café ;-). We understand that there are videos of this ride on You Tube. Hope you can find them, fun to watch I’m sure.
grabbing a souvenir and a drink we take a bus back to Monte to visit the Catholic Church. 176 steep hand-laid stone steps later we are looking at a magnificent old church from the 1700’s with views of Funchal and the sea. Catholic Mass is in session so we just peak inside. Turns out that Emperor Charles I of Austria was exiled to Funchal in the early 1900’s. He only made it a few months and then died in 1922. He is buried inside the church. After a photo op, we descend the 176, not-so-hard-going-down, stone steps to find a huge fabulous furry dog waiting for hugs and pets. He is not disappointed as virtually everyone stops and gives him a scratch or two ;-)
Let’s see, what next; oh yes, we head back to Funchal by way of the cable car. We wander along a path that takes us by the Botanical Garden (looks beautiful, wish we had time) and meanders through the forest to the top of the cable car. The cable car is a modern glass and steel structure which inspires confidence. We board and pass over lovely homes and vegetable and flower gardens.
We glide over small hillside farms in town that are terraced with sheep, goats and chickens. The landscape below us is full of tunnels for cars and steep winding streets with very clean, tidy houses everywhere. It is a beautiful island. At the bottom of the cable car stop we listen to a guitarist and then head into town to visit a winery. The town is packed with tourists for the Flower Festival but everyone is polite and having a great time with their families. There is a “flower carpet” down the main street that is meticulously made and beautiful. Lots of very fragrant flowers in gardens all along the main street. When we reach the winery it’s time for a wine sampling stop! LOL… on these trips we find ourselves sampling beers, wines, brandies, tequila, whatever at all hours of the morning. Today is no exception. Yes, we’d love a pre-lunch sample of wine… LOL. After the wine, we head for an embroidery shop with lovely handmade items. The downtown is filling up quickly; the bands are playing and people are staking their seats along the parade route. Unfortunately our ship will be leaving as the parade is in
progress so we head on back. We tried watching the parade from the deck of the ship, but quickly fell asleep in the warm sun ;-). This is an island that we would love to return to….if you haven’t been here, put it on your bucket list ;-)
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