Two Weeks in Madeira

We had two weeks in Madeira, which is long enough to relax into a routine. We knew the weather might be cold and rainy, but most days we had sunshine, sometimes hot enough to burn if we weren’t careful. I’m writing this on our last day, and it feels as if we have been here forever and the thought of home, and feeding animals and preparing for a new term at college belongs to another world.

The apartment is quite basic, but the position is fabulous. Every morning we run (using the term loosely) along the sea front, as far as the Cristiano Ronaldo statue. One mile, then home. We run on black and white tiled pathways, loop through tiny parks, past a jetty to a lighthouse, a dock full of sailing boats, several cafes with locals sipping espressos. A man stands near the Ronaldo Museum, and he shouts and claps as we run past. Sometimes one of the smaller cruise ships parks next to the museum, and we stand for a while, catching our breath, staring up at the layers of decks, people in dressing gowns on balconies, lifeboats strung across the lower deck. Husband tells me the bigger ships are the height of the Canary Wharf towers, and I wonder how something so big can appear so insignificant as it heads away towards the horizon. The sea dwarfs us.

After a quick shower, we walk to a little cafe opposite a park and sit at a round metal table. If it’s raining, we huddle under one of the umbrellas but most days we have full sun and cool morning air. The elderly owner waves in recognition and checks we are having the same order we have every day: a white coffee for Husband, an espresso for me, a tomato, cheese, onion sandwich. The local bread is round and flat, and our sandwich arrives cut into quarters. I eat a quarter, and the owner brings an extra plate, which he places in front of Husband and puts the sandwich in front of me, then shuffles away laughing. This happens every morning. You don’t need much shared language to understand a joke.

The park we face is small, with a few statues, patches of green grass, neat hedges. The paths and streets are very clean, I think a road-cleaner drives round them every night. The park has various uses. People come here to exercise, and there’s a skateboard section with young boys scraping their knees and elbows as they try to fly. Some days one of the tables is full of elderly men, gesturing as they shout about an injustice in the world.

Sometimes the bench has thin people with ancient faces and dead eyes, watching as others arrive, whisper, shuffle, leave, dealing their trade of slow death. We see the same people in position around the city, pleading for the price of a coffee, a few coins so they can eat. After two weeks we begin to recognise certain faces, brown and wrinkled but wearing smart clothes so someone, somewhere, is dressing them.

Cobbled streets of Funchal

Most streets are cobbled, and our walk to the cafe passes several restaurants setting up tables. We ate in the restaurant below our apartment in the first week here, and the staff recognise us now, shouting a greeting when we pass. We check the weather, and decide what to do for the day. Usually we sit on the balcony, listening to the sea, watching locals swim in a little area of sea surrounded by rocks, staring at the waves hoping to see a whale (we know it’s the wrong time of year, but we look anyway).

Funchal is built on a mountain (the whole of the island is a mountain) and a cable car swings up from the centre of town to Monte. One day we ventured up there, and looked at the church dedicated to Emperor Karl, the last Habsburg emperor of Hungary, who took refuge there when in exile. There are cards, with a picture of the emperor on one side, and a prayer to him on the other. I don’t know why people would pray to the emperor rather than to God, they must feel he is able to somehow intercede for them but I don’t know why. The church has two white towers, a statue of the emperor, chandeliers, paintings, and a great view down the hill to Funchal. It’s also the place to have a sleigh ride.

The sleighs are large, square wicker baskets, pulled by men wearing rubber shoes and straw hats. It cost 30 euros for two people, and they whiz you down the hill to Livramento. At various places down the road, people take photos, gesturing to us to remove our face masks. When we arrived in Livramento, they offered to sell us the photo for 10 euros (and were a bit miffed when we didn’t). There are lines of taxis waiting to take people back to the city, but we opted to walk down. It took about half an hour, down steep streets, and we were escorted by a black Labrador, who politely waited for us at every junction before skipping ahead. Pretty sure he was laughing at us. We lost him when he stopped to drink from a stream. The city is full of dogs and cats wandering freely. They look well fed and cared for, but never seem to have a person with them.

Thanks for reading, I’ll tell you more in another blog. Hope you have a fun week. Take care.

Love, Anne x

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