W1702 – Funchal Fun

The first port of call on this epic Around the World cruise was Funchal, the main town and port in the lovely island of Madeira, one of only two ports on the entire cruise that I have visited before. Funchal must be my most visited port of call on the numerous cruises I have taken over the years, and it’s a place I am always happy to return to. I was there for three days spread over two of my cruises last year, documented in my previous posts L1602 – Early Doors, D1602 – Late Doors and D1602 – Third time extremely lucky.

In the latter post, I described a fabulous tour on a Tukxi – a tuk-tuk taxi – with a wonderful driver/guide called Andrea, and I said at the end of that post that I hoped to do another Tukxi tour with Andrea when I returned to the port next year. That was of course referring to my current Around the World cruise, although I didn’t want to give the game away about this major voyage at that stage.

I was absolutely delighted that after an exchange of emails with Andrea, I was able to book a 3.5 hour Tukxi tour with her during the morning of my visit for Funchal on this cruise. Given the number of passengers she must have had since I last saw her, I was so impressed how well she remembered me and my friend who was with me last time, and where she had taken us before.

I had asked Andrea to come up with some suggestions for the new tour, and the first thing she did was to run through the list of her suggestions, checking whether or not I had already visited them. We agreed on the route she would take, mainly much higher in the town than I had been before, taking in various viewpoints and some interesting places previously unknown to me.

As we set off I was immediately reminded why I thought before that Andrea was the best tour guide I have ever had in all my travels – she is so knowledgeable and attentive, and makes the tour so much fun. Her sole objective is to put a big smile on her client’s faces, and once again for me she succeeded from the beginning to the end of the tour and beyond.

Driving up the hillside from the ship, we stopped at various viewpoints looking down and across the town and port. So many places these days all look the same – full of tower blocks and other modern buildings, but Funchal is a lovely exception to the rule, and I appreciated the chance to see it from some new vantage points:

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So far we had driven on the normal roads around Funchal, but suddenly Andrea turned off the road and took us down this narrow lane – one of the fun things you get to do in the tuk-tuk that you simply can’t do in an ordinary taxi or coach:

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We were headed for a small square that used to be the site of a railway station, where as well as this water fountain, a number of Christmas trees made from recycled materials caught my eye – Andrea explained that they were made by local children to teach them about recycling:

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It was then a short ride around to Monte, where Andrea wanted to show me this lovely church – and I am glad I remembered to look up to see it’s painted ceiling:

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She then led me outside to a small building next door, and told me to explore inside. Here a maze of passages led around many Nativity scenes, all attractively laid out:

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Next we climbed the steps up the church tower – not as many steps as some of the towers I climbed last year – but the views from the top were still impressive:

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Monte is where the famous Funchal toboggan rides start – for a fee two men will guide your wood & wicker toboggan as it slides down steep narrow roads towards the town centre. Originally the ride was over cobbles, which must have been very bumpy – now it is on smoother tarmac, but the ride does not go quite as far down the hillside as it used to do. I declined the chance to ride the toboggan,  I was content to follow some of the route in Andrea’s tuk-tuk instead:

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Driving down the hill I was surprised and shocked to see just how far the forest fire last August had spread down towards the town. Three people were killed in the fire, some buildings burnt down and many trees destroyed, but it so easily could have been an even bigger disaster:

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Our next stop was at a former Anglican church, which after closing in the 1950s reopened as a shop selling the famous Madeira wine. Entering the building there was every possible souvenir laid out before me, but it was the basement that was fascinating – everywhere there were thousands and thousands of bottles of wine. The place is now run by the original proprietor’s son, who Andrea told me runs it as much as a museum as a shop, but sadly it seems none of his children are interested in taking it over – it would be sad if such a unique place was lost:

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After driving though the town centre we arrived at another unique and interesting place that I had never heard of – the English Church. Andrea explained that this was built at a time when churches were tolerated, provided from the outside they looked like ordinary public buildings. Looking at the outside of this church I would have had no idea that indeed it was a church, or how beautiful it would be inside. The round church inside was topped by this fabulous dome:

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A short ride back up the hillside took us to a small park, where windows and other parts of old buildings nestled amongst the plants:

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Our final stops were two former military sites, both offering move views over the town and port:

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Everywhere we went Andrea kept asking to use my camera to take souvenir photographs of me – an unusual occurrence for me as I am usually firmly behind the lens rather than in front of it! Of course I did get my revenge by taking photographs of her too:

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The combination of the little tuk-tuk taxi and a fabulous tour guide is just perfect – it meant I had a wonderful morning seeing so many places and views that I would just never have found or seen otherwise. Although I have several more cruises booked over the next two years, sadly none of them will be bringing me back to Madeira. With so many more interesting tucked away places on the island that Andrea told me she is waiting to show me on future tours I will have to find my way back to the island somehow before too long!

Postscript:

On this cruise my friend Robert and I are sharing our dinner table with four other people. We have quickly all become good friends, and five of us have formed a team to tackle the nightly pub quiz. Before we arrived in Funchal we were discussing what we planned to see and do there, and I asked if everyone knew about the lovely painted doors that featured in the other two of my previous posts listed above. None of the others had heard about them, so I explained the brilliant and simple rejuvenation project which had created them, and offered to act as a guide if anyone wanted to go and see them during the afternoon in port.

For various reasons in the end it was just one one my new friends, Carol, that was able to take up my offer, and after a very quick pit stop on the ship following my tuk-tuk tour, we set off on foot to see the doors. Our walk took us along the seafront before heading slightly inland to Rua Santa Maria and the painted doors. I was pleased to find that there were new designs that I had not seen or photographed before:

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As a rejuvenation project it has really succeeded – the area is now full of bars, restaurants and cafés, and at times progress up the street is slowed by the numbers of people there. We made our way along Rua Santa Maria, diverting down sideroads occasionally to make sure we saw all of the painted doors.

At the point where the doors petter out, there is a vantage point overlooking a small beach and jetty. Here we stopped for quite a while, watching and listening to the waves crashing against the shoreline and splashing high into the air. I suggested to Carol that she might like to go and stand on the edge of the jetty to make it clear in my photographs how high the waves were reaching, but for some reason she declined this offer!

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Eventually we decided it was more than time to make our way back to the ship, as she was sailing at 4pm for our next destination, Barbados. I was pleased to show someone else the painted doors, and have the chance to talk one on one and get to know better one of my new travelling companions.

That night I was tired and more than ready for my bed after a fun and lovely day in Funchal, spent with two delightful ladies.

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