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Published: February 7th 2019
The plane dropped a couple of thousand feet, but was still well above the cloud level. In the distance, a small spec of land poked above the cloud. It looked like a tiny island above the the sea, but it was in fact the very tip of the island's highest peak peeking out of the constant cloud. Welcome to Madeira! "Can you please return to your allocated seats?" The flight attendant repeated her request over the tannoy. An indignant group of passengers reluctantly agreed to the request, leaving loads of empty seats scattered around. The flight attendant explained for those who queried the request further. "We need to redistribute the weight for landing". I suspect the majority of passengers were totally oblivious to the fact they were circling to land at what is well recognised as being in the top 10 dubious airports in the world. The History Channel documentary on Extreme Airports ranked it in the top 5. In plain language, this is a tricky day out for a pilot. They apparently undergo extra training to be allowed to fly into this destination. A strong cross wind and a combination of a runway propped on concrete stilts wedged up against
steep mountains leaves no room for error. If you are all sat in the correct seat, identification will be easier if it doesn't go according to plan. The airport apparently has a fair share of closures when conditions are not favourable. The odd pilot gives up and heads for the nearest alternative in Tenerife or wherever. You had your plans mapped out for a week in Funchal and find yourself wandering around Playas last Americas instead!
We circled along the coast and landed. There was no Ryanair fanfare or round of applause. These were seasoned travellers. The average age of the passengers was getting on a bit, which added to my concerns. A lot looked to put it politely, less than capable on their pins. We didn't need a 2 hour exercise to alight the plane and collect luggage. This trip was something of a rarity for us. A proper package holiday. A transfer and more than an adequate baggage allowance. The latter confused the Other Half. What shall I take? She is used to travelling light now. An additional pair of sandals sneaked in the bag. There was a 2 1/2 hour window. I had an appointment at
the Estadio Maritimo. The demands of TV and a worldwide gambling problem meant the NOS Premiera Liga match against CF Rio Ave kicked off at 1700 hours. Madeira hasn't actually had an airport all that long. The first flights only landed in the 1972 and the current incarnation dates from the early 2000s. The increase in tourism to the island has seen the runway extended to cope with larger, more modern aircraft and it now balances on concrete supports that give that all important extra flat land to get bigger aircraft down safely. You don't actually appreciate the engineering masterpiece until you drive along the coast road and loop under the actual runway extension. In previous decades and centuries, all arrivals were by sea. The airport has had a makeover in the last couple of years and has now been renamed after the favourite local son. The official title is Madeira International Airport Christiano Ronaldo CR7. Christiano Ronaldho was born on Madeira and after his footballing prowess was spotted in his early years, he was whisked off to fame and fortune in Lisbon, Manchester, Madrid and now Turin. A bronze bust greets you as you leave the terminal and his
image gazes down from the edge of the canopy of the building. You soon learn, the prescence of CR7 is never very far away on the island.
I need not have worried about making a speedy getaway towards Funchal. The baggage handlers were on their game, the transfer was slick and most of the less agile passengers were heading in a different direction towards the Lido area of town. We spend along the new road that sweeps the island. Tunnels are the order of the day, instead of the twisty climbs and descents of yesteryear. We were installed in the accommodation with time spare to unpack, before heading off to find the Estadio Maritmo.
I had assumed when we booked the trip that Maritimo would be playing on either Tuesday or Wednesday. It was fortunate then that the ground only a 15 minute walk away from our hotel. We set off up the hill. It would not be the last time we would do that over the course of week. After recent experiences in Albania, I was pleased to see other fans gathering around the ticket office. I didn't need the aggravation that goes with getting in a
game being played behind closed doors. I paused to study the ticket options. Public tickets 15 and 25 Euros. There was more commotion around the Socio Members ticket window. As I deliberated, a woman thrust a voucher in my hand. It was clearly good news, but exactly what it entitled us to was a mystery. Buy one get one free? Reduced price admission? Another Socio was on hand to explain. The early kick off against a medicore opposition was not popular with the locals, so it seemed the Socios were being tempted out to watch for free if they could get off work. He swapped the voucher for 2 free tickets in the popular side. Gate 3, he added. Bonus. I invested 2.5 Euros of the saving in a pin badge. The Estadio Maritimo has been completely rebuilt in the last few years and is now a compact 10,000 all seater with the all important underground car park. Three sides are identical with the Main Stand rising above to house banks of executive boxes. The prawn sandwich crew were a bit thin on the ground tonight and some remained completely empty. Maritimo have their 1910 roots in the working class
Casino Park Hotel, Funchal
A design by Oscar Niemeyer
docks area, but such is modern football that they seemed to have given into the need to capture the upwardly mobile support. The last Portuguese domestic fixture we had attended was way back in 1998, which was an exciting 3-3 draw between Lisbon giants, Sporting Club and Benfica. Alas, this didn't compare. It was Premiera Liga in name only. Maritimo hit the woodwork in the 1st half, but they rarely threatened. It was not difficult to see why they had only scored 12 goals all season so far. Rio Ave, who hail from the north of Portugal, were quite happy keeping possession and hoping for a quick break. They got a stroke of luck when the Maritimo keeper parried a weak shot out straight into the path of the forward following in. The roar from the visiting fans echoed round .... only joking! An way trip involving 1200 kilometres including a significant amount of ocean on a Monday night had been too much for the Rio Ave ultras. Two Rio Ave fans proudly sporting their replica shirts leapt to their feet in the section next to the away section fence. The away section remained unpopulated. The locals might have been
disappointed, but chose to ignore the "visitors", who were probably local hotel workers exiled in the sunshine. The 2nd goal was a hotly contested penalty, which was awarded after a significant delay and the intervention of VAR. It was a classic example of why the technology is better suited to rugby or American football. The Other Half summed up the evening entertainment, "bet you're glad you didn't pay. Free was about the right price". We treated ourselves to a steak and a nice glass of red in the very un-Portuguese sounding establishment called Beef & Wine, before retiring to the hotel.
I had specifically booked the hotel for the location and the fact that it was a design icon by the Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer. He is best known for the designs in the their purpose built capital city of Brasilia. The Casino Park Hotel is one of his forays into Europe at a time when he was having some difficulties with internal Brazilian politics, albeit we were on the very edge here. A lot of people would probably view the place as a bit tired and would fail to recognise the privilege of actually being allowed to stay
here. In my spare moments, I was wandering around trying to recreate some of the classic photos I had seen. Whatever your view on the architecture, the actual setting could not be faulted. The hotel and casino complex next door are perched just high enough above the city and the port for a panoramic view, but not high enough to make the place only accessible to mountain goats. I gazed out from terrace in the morning. The infinity swimming pool seemed to bump straight into one of the huge cruise ships berthed below. The largest was a monster called Mein Schiff 1 - a 3,000 passenger capacity sporting the Tiu emblem in the funnel. Madeira is on a large number of the cruise itinerary schedules and the character of the place somewhat changes when a few are in port together. The local tour guides and taxi drivers were making hay whilst the sun was shining, as the passengers descended on to the quay. As most cruises are only in port for just a few hours, the key for those who enjoy such things is convenience - the price is an irrelevance. It is onlythe kid's inheritance that is disappearing.
After a hearty breakfast, we set off for an exploration of downtown Funchal. It only took about 10 minutes slow walk down the hill to the first main roundabout. We walked through the park. Funchal is not short of parks and municipal gardens. A Monument at the bottom entrance paid tribute to the hospitality of the Madeirans, who accomodated a significant portion of the civilian population of Gibralter during World War 2 when the logistical position of the Rock was deemed only for the military. The shopping centre was off to our left. We would venture in there another time. We continued past the Cathedral and through the narrow maze of streets towards the cable car. We were bound for Monte Palace Gardens. The queue suggested we were not alone. The cruise passengers were having an impact. It was 16 Euros for a return trip and 11, for only the upward sections. A favourite for the return is using the famous toboggan descent, but we'll come back to that later. The cable car climbs high above the Old Town and Carrie's on going above the tightly packed houses and villas, which sit precariously on the hillside terraces. In between, the
odd mini banana plantation looks somewhat out of place on prime real estate. If you are nervous about heights, the experience is possibly not for you. At the top, there is further cable car extension to the Botanic Gardens and there was an option to buy a combination ticket down in Funchal. We paid our 12 Euros to enter the Monte Palace Gardens, which are just near the cable car exit. The Monte Palace was originally a private residence and hotel. There was some debate whether it was a good time of year to visit the gardens, but there was still plenty to see and despite the cruise masses it was surprisingly tranquil. A free glass of Madeira wine was included in the ticket as an incentive to walk all the way to the base of the gardens. It is not really my cup of tea and if you were looking for a tasty snack to supplement it down there, I would not bother. As one old guy said, they could learn an awful lot from your average National Trust cafe. However I have to say, it was one of the very few places in which the standard of fayre
we experienced in Madeira was not up to the mark. I would highly recommend the cafe at the top of the garden by the entrance for quality, price and standard of service. Keep your powder dry and have a snack up there.
Madeira has some serious hills, which makes it all the more surprising that it is favoured as a holiday destination by the older generation. The Monte Palace Gardens are no exception and certainly not on the level. A few were shepherded round the main sections on a buggy, but everyone else be prepared for some serious steps. It was not rare to see Beryl from Leeds huffing and puffing. We exited and followed the road round to the left. The church contained the tomb of the last Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire - Charles 1. The end of World War 1 saw him exiled to Madeira, where he I initially took up residence down in Funchal before taking a villa in the Monte heights. He died of flu in 1922.
A few paces further on is one of the main tourist attractions of Funchal. When were kids, we would build boageys. A set of pram wheels
as a base and a seating compartment above. The demise of Silver Cross prams has probably put an end to the practice these days, as the average McLaren buggy is a bit too pricey and sophisticated to customise. In Funchal, a speedy way down the hill in the old days was in a basket. The means of transport has been retained for the tourists today. A fairly healthy queue forms all day for the chance of a 2 kilometres descent. 25 Euros for 1 person and 30 for 2. Once paid, you put a serious level of trust in two locals wearing a straw boater and some thick soled shoes. We opted against and I positioned myself on the first bend to photograph the action. The road surface was worn smooth by contact of the toboggan "drivers", as they put the "brakes" on to prevent the basket leaving the tarmac. I am not sure of the speeds, but it seemed a healthy pace of descent. The numbers looking really worried or covering their eyes, suggested they were not regulars at Alton Towers or other adventure parks. A fraction casually filmed on their mobile phones, as they approached a 90 degree
bend. The "drivers" hitch a lift back up on the pickup trucks, that return the baskets to the summit. The show must go on with no time to lose. There are Euros to be earned! Appendix 1 Portugal "NOS" Premeira Liga CS Maritimo 0 Rio Ave Futebole Club 2 Date:
Monday 28 January 2019 @ 1700 Hours Venue
: Estadio Do Maritimo, Funchal, Madeira, Portugal Attendance
: 5,420. Scorers
: 0-1 D Lopes (Rio Ave) 52 Mins, 0-2 Joao Schmidt (Rio Ave) 91 Mins Pen
Tot: 0.068s; Tpl: 0.029s; cc: 12; qc: 32; dbt: 0.0124s; 1; m:saturn w:www (184.108.40.206); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb