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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2015 - 2016
Christmas and New Year Cruise - Part 5
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Madeira - 30th and 31st December 2015

We had two full days in Madeira and the first day the Queen Elizabeth arrived on time, berthed next to Mein Schiff 4, and the weather was good. We had brought walking boots and planned to do a levada (irrigation channel) walk. Our cruise ticket included the free use of shuttle buses and we were dropped in the usual place near the fountain and roundabout Rotunda do Infante where there was a line of very persistent taxi drivers offering tours. Eventually we escaped. The centre of Funchal was decorated for Christmas, as usual, and there was a local folklore group performing in the main street. Each year the decorations are different and this year the Municipal Gardens were full of red hearts and red balls. The local soup kitchen and bakery were already busy preparing for lunch. Behind them there was the traditional nativity scene and the stable of goats, chickens and rabbits. We planned to come back to eat after our hike. We were fortunate that the cathedral doors were open and we could look inside. Then we checked that our other favourite place, the Market, still had its excellent collection of fresh fish, including the Espada fish.

The original intention was to take the cable car from town up to Monte and then walk across to the Botanical Gardens. The queues for the cable car were long and it is quite expensive, 10 euros one way and 15 Euros return. In contrast, a public bus ticket for one day was 5.10 euros and we could take the 22 bus to the cable car station at Monte and then catch a different bus back directly from the Botanical Gardens. The ticket office gave us a booklet of Tour Suggestions which had an excellent bus route map and also proposed a trip from Monte to the Botanical Gardens by bus and cable car without the hike. The 22 bus to Babosas is not as frequent as the 20 and 21 buses which also go to Monte town from the Market so we were also lucky with our timings. We did not know until we reached Monte that the little cable car from Monte across the valley to the Botanical Gardens was not running, closed for maintenance until 23 January, so we definitely made the right choice.

The footpath is well marked although having the walking book did mean we were confident in dealing with roads and junctions which were not signposted. From the height of 550m the path begins downhill under the cable car wires to the bridge over the Ribeiro de Joao Gomes at 485m. There is then a gentle winding climb to the Curral dos Romeiros village at 566m. There were glimpses of the yellow bus 29. The Levada dos Tornos is at the top of a short flight of steps further on. We bought 2 local bananas from a stall which also sold bottled water. Walking along the levada was very easy, and it continued through the grounds of the Choupana Hills resort. After just over 30 minutes along the levada it was time to change direction and begin the walk downhill in front of the Quinta do Pomar and down to the bar Alto da Vista. After resting at the viewpoint with an icecream we were ready to continue downhill. It seems much harder to walk down the steep roads than to climb up them. The road passed the main entrance to the Botanical Gardens and we paid 5.50 euros each to visit. Having been advised to exit by the lower gate we had plenty of time to catch the bus 31A which departed from the closed cablecar station at 15.45. The timetable said there was also a bus 29 from Curral dos Romeiros which would arrive shortly afterwards.

There was plenty of time to walk around the Municipal Park looking for ideas for an early supper. The typical local soup kitchen and bread bakery was not serving soup until 1800 so we decided to eat in one of the restaurants in the Old Town. There were many interesting cafés and bars and although it was early there were families eating and kitchens were open. The weather had started to change with bright sunlight and dark clouds as we walked into the Old Town and along the narrow pedestrian Rua de Santa Maria towards the Fort of Sao Tiago. It was time to make a decision. Most of the restaurants offered the local Espada fish, served with local bananas or with passion fruit. However only two restaurants had the local goat stew and we decided to eat at one of these, the Taberna da Esquina. It was a good choice, with a tasty fish soup and an exceptionally good carpacchio of Espada followed by fried Espada and goat stew. The wine list included a nice vinho verdi Alvarino, an unusual grape which we have previously sampled in New Zealand and by chance at a Cunard wine tasting, but the one in the restaurant was much better! It all made an excellent evening. At the end of the meal it was dark and we could admire the Christmas lights in the town and also purchase a small glass of local beer (only 1 euro). There were several traditional conical metal Christmas trees which came to life at night with coloured lights. It was a pleasant stroll along the promenade back to the ship.

Early before breakfast Queen Elizabeth left her berth, later replaced by P&O Oceana, and anchored in the bay. Our lifeboat, number 16, was lowered but not used in the water. Visibility was bad and although the cable car was running we could not see the church of Monte or the upper cable car station from the ship which was now at anchor. We were pleased we had decided to have our walk on the first day. Catching tenders requires going to the Queens Room to collect a numbered ticket and then waiting until the number is called and the tender is ready for boarding. At 1030 it was announced that the ticket system had ended and anyone wanting to leave the ship could just go down to the tenders. We put on waterproof clothing and set off down. There is a larger tender platform and people are controlled so that only one person is on the platform. The crew help the transfer from the platform into the tender. We were lucky and there was no significant heaving of the tender; it is always important to get timing right before stepping across from the platform.

Our tenders were not full and there was a regular and frequent service between the ship and the shore. We were lucky; there were long queues waiting for ships moored further away. We saw tenders from the Marco Polo but could not see the ship; she had arrived last at anchor. Now there were four ships berthed inside the harbour and seven at anchor so there was a steady procession of tenders of all types and ages into and out of the stub pontoons.

As expected, the centre of the town was very busy. We had plenty of time to admire the Christmas market and the cane basketwork which was for sale and Pauline was pleased to have one as an extra Christmas present. We arrived too early for the excellent bowls of soup, but not for the cheap red wine (1 euro per glass) and the local bolo, freshly made bread with garlic and herb butter (2.5 euros). Searching for other local food we found scoop ice cream and local custard tarts, Pasteis de Nata, at The Ritz cafe. Just further down the street is the Municipal Theatre which for future reference has guided tours on Tuesday at 10.00. The ticket office had brochures in English which explained that the theatre was constructed between 1884 and 1888. The design follows that of theatres in Milan and Lisbon, with a horse-shoe shaped auditorium divided into a ground floor pit of Stalls and Loggia and three rows of balconies with 9 boxes on each side. It can seat 380 people which compares with the QE/QV theatres which hold 850 people but have only 16 boxes.

Funchal is a very pretty city with many buildings and churches dating from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. It was too early to go back on board and there was time to choose a pleasant quiet side street, with patterned mosaic pavement, which led to the Praca do Municipio. This is a formal spacious square with a central fountain and with the Town Hall on one side and the Jesuit Church of Saint John the Evangelist on another. The Town Hall was closed to visitors but the church was open. The central nave glowed in the sunlight, which created a rainbow along one wall. The wooden ceiling is painted with three tromp d'oeil domes and we had a better view of the painting through the window onto the nave as we climbed up to the panoramic terrace. There is only a small charge to climb up the tower and it is well worth the cost for the views from the top and for the information boards which are on each level. The famous 17th century altar reliquary of the 11 thousand virgins is devoted to the martyrdom of St Ursula and her companions. The reliquary is set with 9 statues with different kinds of reliquary. The attached Jesuit College, founded in 1569 and now part of the University of Funchal, was also open although it was only possible to walk through the central courtyard and visit the exhibition hall.

The last tender returned to the ship at 1830 but we were already on-board. We had new neighbours at anchor – Saga Pearl II next to us and CMV Magellan behind.

 

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Content revised: 15th January, 2016