Sunday 30 December 2007

Sickness at Christmas.

After we recovered from our trip we caught up with friends and relatives, and got back to doing the usual things in preparation for Christmas. The weather was very cold and frosty, but got warmer as Christmas approached. Peter had asked us if we would like to spend Christmas with him. We wanted to do this, but Mas got increasingly tired until he came down with a virus and became ill, and had an awful cough.

I made a brief foray to Brent Cross shopping centre, which was like a descent into hell ( I hate shopping at the best of times), and finished my Christmas shopping, as usual resolving to do next year's Christmas shopping in February. By this time Mas had lost his voice (unbelievable!), and one of our neighbours visited, and left shocked when he tried to talk to her.

Pete came to stay with us on Christmas Eve, and ominously he was feeling very tired too. In short order he came down with the same kind of illness as Mas. Despite all this illness, we had a cosy time, eating by candlelight and watching TV around the fire. I did get the feeling sometimes that I was running a kind of gourmet hospital, and from time to time, if I thought my throat seemed sore I would sip some neat, strong, rum to sterilise my throat (if it had not been medicinal I would have had a G & T), and it seemed to work. We cheered ourselves up listening to some of the jazz compilations Toby had put together a year or so ago, and the one we kept repeating was the Hi de Hi song by Cab Calloway.

Things continued in this way until Mas began to feel a bit better, and Pete returned home despite still feeling ill, on my birthday, December the 30th. Maheena called in with a present and card,(her son has his birthday on the same day), and later Diane and then Toby phoned telling me of his recent trip to Belize.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

Last day in Madeira.

We had an exotic breakfast of unfamiliar fruit, in the apartment; the fruit I enjoyed most was custard apple, and I was pleased to try it as my father had told me about this fruit which was a favourite of his from his childhood in India. I packed, and we did separate things until we had lunch together beside the swimming pool.

Robert and Tania drove us to the airport. On the way we saw a double rainbow, that dipped down into the sea, and when I tried to get a photo of this from the airport the battery in my camera failed. We sadly said goodbye to our friends as they were staying in Madeira for Christmas. Madeira is mentioned in the Guinness book of Records for the New Year firework display, but none of us stay long enough to see it.

Madeira is a beautiful and interesting place, although we only saw a small part of it. Funchal is said to be named after the Fennel plant (Funcho) which covered the area, and while we were in Madeira we saw lots of Poinsettia, Camellia, Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, Hydrangea and Agapanthus flowers. The air where we were staying was filled with the scent of Pine and Eucalyptus, and for the first time I saw banana trees bearing fruit.

Madeira is famous for embroidery, cane work and for wine; there are at least six varieties that are drunk world wide. Shakespeare's plays mention the wine of Madeira; it was also drunk at the inauguration of George Washington and to toast the American Declaration of Independence.

Christoper Columbus is said to have come to Madeira as a sugar trader, then returned a few years later and married the Governor of Porto Santo's daughter by whom he had a son. This was all before he set off for the New World.

The flight home went as planned, except for a period of turbulence when the air filled with unspoken prayers, and I could mentally hear Robert saying "Richard Dawkins wouldn't like it! "
(Robert had been reading his book while we were on holiday.)

Our plane arrived at Stanstead 40 minutes early, but our Minni cab driver was already waiting for us and we were gratefully home in short order, around midnight. It seemed terribly cold, and the house was like an ice box, and took 24 hours to get back to the right temperature. Madeira already seemed like a dream.

Monday 17 December 2007

Vegetable markets and former palaces.

We went off to Funchal, and Tania, Robert and I went to the market to buy fruit, and look around, and later we met Mas and had a lovely meal in a pavement cafe down a side street.

Robert had recently sent me a picture of a beautiful fractal vegetable called a Romanche, and we found one in the market.

Here is a stray dog in the market, looking very healthy.

After lunch Mas went off as arranged, and then we went along the harbour for a walk as far as Saõ Tiago Fort which has now become a restaurant and a modern art gallery, and then we walked through the old part of town which seemed very atmospheric. We also looked at the Town Hall which used to be a palace in earlier times, and has a statue of Leda and the Swan in
the courtyard, and that formerly was in the fish market.
Later we went for dinner to the Miradouro restaurant at Cruz da Caldeira. We had a very tasty meal, and found that two of our new friends were there before us and we were pleased to see them. We did have a little difficulty talking as one of the football teams were celebrating, and making whistling noises like fireworks going off, but they were all in good humour, and so were we.
Entrance to the Fort.


Sunday 16 December 2007

Swimming and relaxing.

We all had breakfast in the restaurant, then Mas and I decided to swim in the pool together. We felt the temperature of the water the day before and it seemed very warm. The pool is half indoors, and half outside, separated by a large window which is raised, and very attractive.

We got into the pool, which by this time was very cold, and we swam around for a while before going into the jacuzzi beside the pool. From there we went into the sauna and really warmed up. We all occupied ourselves differently for a while, and I went for a short walk.

This is the view from the stairs to the apartment. The yellow flowers are known locally as Popcorn.

Saturday 15 December 2007

Cable car to Monte palace tropical garden.

The weather was bright and sunny and we took the cable car from Funchal to Monte. The views from the cable car were interesting as we were passing over the houses in the valley and up the mountain side. When we got out we went to see the exhibition of modern African sculpture, then saw a beautiful mineral collection, spending some time admiring the crystal collection and the natural way they had been exhibited.

Next we went into Monte Palace Tropical Garden and walked down and up the huge garden which used Japanese and Chinese artifacts in its construction, as well as tropical plants. Once we

left the garden we had a drink before descending in the cable car and returning to our apartment.

Friday 14 December 2007

Extreme miming and Christmas decorations

When we were in Funchal, Tania and I went off to look at the cathedral, leaving Robert on a designated street corner to wait for Mas. We did not look at the cathedral as a service was in progress, so we went back to Robert, who had been watching a distinguished looking elderly gentleman with fascination. This man was clearly in a world of his own, and unaware of his surroundings, but was miming his emotions and response to what his mind was seeing in such an exaggerated way, that it would drop the jaw of any Shakespearean actor by his inventiveness.

For the rest of our holiday, Robert (taking a leaf out of the elderly gentleman's book) began to display silent and exaggerated responses to little things that he observed, such as a small hat that Tania was wearing, or a minute mark on a wall. Tania was not impressed by this behaviour, except to look at him from time to time and and shake her head in resignation and pity.

We planned to go to The English Church where a mandolin concert was being held, but we found that we had arrived much too early, so found a courtyard restaurant and had coffee there. Beside our table were various photographs of family groups in the Victorian era, and we were very impressed with how severe the adults looked.

Some of the Christmas lights.

Thursday 13 December 2007

Insects, miradouro and levadas

The next day we had breakfast in the apartment, and thought we would have a relaxed day, so we looked at our emails, did laundry and generally pottered about. I took more pictures of lizards and insects for fun, and some flowers.

After dark we could hear crickets all the time.

One of the usual stray, friendly, dogs.

At lunchtime we went to the Miradouro Cruz da Caldeira restaurant and had a light lunch. Miradouro means a beautiful view, and it certainly had one. The parking area is beside the road, actually on the roof, and the restaurant is on a lower floor, built out on the side of the mountain.

Tania and Robert walked back along a levada. The levadas are an irrigation system that carry water from the north of the island, through woods, forests and beside the terraced market gardens. They are rather like small canals with narrow footpaths beside them, for maintainance purposes, and were constructed 500 years ago. They also provide wonderful walks away from traffic.

Later we had dinner at the clubhouse restaurant where live music was provided, and we had fun chatting to some of the other guests during the evening.

Wednesday 12 December 2007

Curral das Freiras, pirates and mountains.

We set off to visit Curral das Freiras (Nun’s Valley), set in the bottom of basin shaped valley. In 1566 the nuns living in a convent fled to this hidden valley, because pirates were attacking Funchal, and they remained there. The valley was difficult to reach until fairly recently when roads were constructed. It is a very fertile place and is known for producing sweet chestnuts and cherries.

On the way we stopped at a restaurant on the side of the mountain and had coffee. We got talking to the owner who was Brazilian and spoke Spanish. He has recently written an amusing book about the psychology of male and female relationships, and he also showed us the plans for his property which he is intending to turn into a small hotel. There were two stray and friendly dogs lurking around his courtyard, one had such thick fur around his neck that he looked like a lion. We left intending to return for an evening meal.

We drove through the valley of Curral das Freiras, and then up hill where we stopped for a while and had a small picnic. We noticed small lizards sunning themselves on the rocks, but they moved so fast it was difficult to see them properly.

If you click on this to enlarge the picture it is possible to see the houses and terraced garden farms on the mountain side.

This is the roof terrace on someone's house.

We then went up to Sierra do Serrado which is 3,300 feet above the valley. The vermilion flowers are aloes.

We then walked down to where we had left the car, and drove through impressive scenery back to the apartment.
We had dinner at the restaurant as it was a folklore evening. After we had eaten lots of young people entered in traditional costume, and began playing folk music and dancing, which was very colourful. Before we understood what was happening we found ourselves propelled to the dance floor, and we joined in (except for Mas who was quick witted enough to avoid dancing).

Tuesday 11 December 2007

High cliffs and Funchal sight seeing.

After breakfast the next morning we went to Cabo Girão which is a cliff, 580 metres down to the sea, and the highest cliff in Europe, before driving down to Funchal. Madeira is an island that was formed by volcanic action, and the sand and pebbles are black, except where white sand has been imported. Terraces have been made up the sides of the mountains, in every available place, and food is grown on them, even on this perpendicular cliff.

Afterwards we drove down to Funchal to look around the town. The town is paved with black and white volcanic rock in mosaic designs. Very ornate, often very large, decorations had been put up everywhere, and there was an air of festivity everwhere, and Father Christmas was busy selling balloons.

There is an exotic garden in the centre of town , and there were lots of flowers in bloom.

We saw a small craft market and walked through it. There was leather work and embroidered things, and a lady making bread, but most impressive was a nativity scene which represented.
As we were leaving town we saw a sweet but pathetic dog curl himself up on the pavement ready to sleep, and we felt sad leaving him there. Later we learned that there are about 3,500 stray dogs and cats on the island, but they all seem to look fairly healthy as people feed them and put dishes of water out for them.

Monday 10 December 2007

Madeira holiday

Tania and Robert picked us up early, and we drove off to Stanstead airport. We landed on an airstrip built out over the sea at Funchal, Madeira, just as it was dusk . Christmas music was being played, and the airport was decorated and lit up with the lights reflected on the polished floors.

The airport forecourt.

Robert drove us from Funchal across the town and up winding mountain roads to our apartment at Cabo Girão where we were all staying. The place was lovely, and there was a club house close at hand where we were greeted with a glass of Madeira wine. There were all kinds of amenities provided, including a restaurant where we had dinner later.

View from the restaurant.