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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2011
Caribbean Odyssey Cruise - Part 5

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16 December - Funchal, Madeira

We arrived in Funchal, as scheduled, at midday so we had time for a light lunch whilst waiting for the ship to be cleared and went ashore at 1230. We have been to Madeira many times before so we saw no point in taking an organised excursion - the town is within walking distance and usually there are shuttle buses although we did not want to wait. There are also local buses which we have used on previous visits - they provide an interesting ride on the narrow roads and steep hillsides for the courageous. We swear 'never again' but still use them. There is a new Cruise Terminal which had been opened in May last year, built largely with EU money. You could see your face in the polished black granite floors but it did not appear to offer any services yet other than a snack bar but it looks as if there will eventually be a long overhead walkway towards town. The only 'shops' were a couple of basic 'stalls'. The port area also includes tourist trip boats, and we were approached to try a morning sail on one of the large catamarans. More appealing would be the trip on the Santa Maria de Colombo which was a round friendly wooden boat, resembling the old ships of Christopher Columbus, but built in 1998 in nearby Camera de Lobos. It was moored just inside the port area.

We walked into town along the waterfront stopping to look across at the Queen Elizabeth and walked past the yacht which the Beatles used to own, now a stranded restaurant. It was then on to the Indoor Market, a favourite place of ours with its bright displays of flowers and vegetables, the smell of herbs and spices and stands of local embroidery and basketwork. It is the one place which one must visit in Funchal. It covers two floors round a courtyard plus a large lower level fish market. The exotic fruit and vegetables are heaped high on the first floor whilst the ground level has the flowers and other stalls but it is the fish market we find most fascinating with everything from whole Tuna to the extremely unusual Espada fish which is only found in a very small local area and in another area near Japan.

View of the market © P Curtis 2002 The fish market with scabbard fish on display © P Curtis 2002 Espada Fish at Funchal market © P Curtis 2002 Scabbard fish showing the big eyes © P Curtis 2002

The name translates as scabbard and one can see why with the long jaw and slim black scale covered body nearly two meters from head to tail. They seem to have areas covered in black and white veining which are sought after and are left when the rough black scales are removed prior to sale. The picture shows the huge eyes - they live at 600 feet - and the veining. They are caught by lowering lights and then reeling them up - the fish follow and die as they reach the surface. They taste very good and the QE2 often had them on the menu in the evening, but the QE was not able to purchase enough with a lunchtime arrival.

Our next activity was catching the Cable Car to Monte. The views back over Funchal from the top of the cable car are spectacular.The Church at Monte © P Curtis 2002 There isn't very much to see at Monte itself although the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte is special; it contains the tomb of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor and there is his statue outside. At the bottom of the church steps is the start of the famous sled run.

There is now a second and brand new cable car which, as far as we could tell, leads from near Monte to the Botanical Gardens which we visited many years ago by local bus - a memorable ride only for the courageous. If we had understood the adverts for special offers in town we might have tried to get there by the new funicular or by walking the levadas.

This time our intention was to spend our time around the nearby Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, which is an enormous park (70,000m2) in the grounds of the Monte Palace, an old hotel, which you pass on the way from the cable car to the church. The grounds are criss-crossed with paths full of exotic flora and have stunning views over Funchal’s bay and were apparently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 although they do not yet have the mandatory McDonalds at the entry.

Monte was an 18th century Palace turned into a luxury hotel and now transformed into a charming garden and museum belonging to the Berardo Foundation. THere are a great variety of exotic flowers and plants from all many different continents and also a variety of wildlife such as ducks, swans, peacocks, chickens and Koi carp. It features one of the most important tile collections in Portugal. The tiles exhibited amidst the tropical vegetation represent several periods and came from palaces, churches, chapels and private houses throughout the former Portuguese empire. Most of them describe social, cultural and religious events. They include 40 tile panels telling the Portuguese history, beginning with the kingdom of Dom Afonso Henriques and ending with a panel dedicated to the Third Republic. Berardo became fascinated by the influence of the Portuguese on the oriental culture and way of living during visits to China and Japan. He created the two oriental gardens and a panel called ‘The Adventure of the Portuguese in Japan’. The last is an iron structure where 166 ceramic plates tell the story of a social, commercial and cultural relationship between Portugal and Japan. Among many Chinese and Japanese artifacts are dogs in marble, mythological animals found guarding the entrances to temples,Buddhist sculptures, a dragon surrounded by children representing fertility and examples of the stone lanterns used in Japan to light the way to tea houses. The gardens cover a large area of hillside and there are many paths and interesting areas to explore. We first worked our way down through the area of native plants to a cafe where we we exchanged a token for a couple of small samples of indifferent Madeira wine before starting to zig zag our way up past viewpoints with stunning views down to the harbour.

We paused to watch some of the sledges being run down the narrow and steep roads with a surface so polished one could almost see reflections - a popular tourist attraction which it is usually difficult to photograph. We went through the outdoor Orchid gardens and past the pools full of Koi carp before climbing up to the old hotel where once again there were great views from the terrace before passing the big lakes with ornamental waterfalls and through into the Japanese gardens. There are tiled panels everywhere to view and we spent time looking at the 166 plates comprising 'The adventures of the Portuguese in Japan' and wished we had a full translation. It took us nearly three hours to cover the grounds and it would be easy to take longer exploring the grounds fully.

It was then time to return to the market where we bought a big box of 36 Strelitzia flowers for ourselves and for presents. We walked along the front and took the shuttle bus back to put them in water in our cabin - we had brought a couple of old plastic 2 litre drink bottles with us but they barely took the flowers without all the leaves we had pressed onto us by the lady in the market.

We turned straight round and spent the evening in the town looking at the Christmas stalls, admiring the marvellous nativity displays and listening to the singing, brass bands and recorder players. Madeira and Funchal take Christmas very seriously and not just as a tourist activity. We found little area full of locals where they were making 'soup' and local bread over wood fires and decided it would be something to try. The breads were about 10 or 11 inches across and nearly an inch thick and rather like an overgrown crumpet in internal texture. We got two huge bowls of thick chicken and noodle soup, a whole bread cut in half and covered in lashings of butter and a couple of big plastic cups of local wine for 10 euros - almost too much to eat; we were thankful we had not ordered two of the breads. We eventually got back to the ship at 2130 and went up to the Lido but were too full to eat more than a bit of summer pudding and papaya. It was an evening to remember and it made us even more keen to return for a week or so before or over Christmas in the next few years.

The Queen Elizabeth departed at 2330, and we heard later that there was a firework display but we were too tired to stay awake. There is always a famous firework celebration in Funchal to welcome the New Year.

The Days at Sea on our way back to Southampton

An assortment of pictures during the start of the Christmas festivities on board.

An evening of carols in the grand lobby - everywhere was packed with people

The last formal evening is always special, usually with Lobster and Beef Wellington on the menu. A collection of menus is alalways presented by one's waiters and it ends with procession of waiters, chefs and kitchen staff - in this case they filed the main staircase whilst the various head chefs were presented.

The evening was completed by the Midnight Chocolate Fantasia - the gala buffets are always special and start witha photographic session where we take far too many pictures!

Views in and round some of the many bars and lounge areas round the ship

Some of the Christmas Decorations round the ship

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