The ship arrived in Funchal, Portugal. We met our guide Rosario and driver Francesco for a tour called the Beauty of Madeira
Our port for the day was Funchal, Portugal on the island of Madeira. Shortly after the Portuguese Colonial War ended in 1974, all of the country’s territories were given independence except for a handful. Madeira is one of the few remaining territories of Portugal. It consists of 4 islands, with Funchal being the capital. There are 260,000 residents but Madeira receives 600,000 visitors each year.
Due to the steep mountainous terrain, most residents live in Funchal, making it one of the most densely populated spots in Europe. Houses are built on small lots, of 400 sq meters, with the house being around 200 sq meters. All building material must be imported.
We drove up the hill towards our first tour stop and Rosario gave us the following information….Minimum wage is 600 Euros per month with the maximum at about 3000 Euros per month. There is free education until the age of 18 and then you are provided with 1050 Euros per year to help with college expenses. Rosario said that Portugal citizens are poor but happy.
To make transportation around the island easy and to preserve the mountainsides, numerous tunnels were constructed. The present freeway was last upgraded 20 years ago.
Sugarcane was widely grown on the island and much of the museum art was obtained in the 16th and 17th century being traded for the white gold (sugar). The last large scale sugar factory closed in 1996, due to Caribbean competition. A small amount of sugarcane is grown for rum and molasses production. Bananas are now the main agricultural produce and are grown in the old sugarcane fields. Like the Canary Islands, Madeira has a microclimate due to the elevation changes.
We got off the bus near the Church of Our Lady of Monte. Construction of the current church was started in 1741. The church is the resting place of Charles the First, who was the last emperor of Austria and the last king of Hungary. Due to his participation in World War I he was exiled to Madeira in 1927 and died in 1928. He is buried at the church.
We walked a short distance to the wicker toboggans. Today this is for tourist, but in the 19th century it was the “public transportation” for residents to quickly get down the mountain to the center of Funchal.
We were assigned a toboggan and 2 “drivers”.
The toboggans have wooden rails that are greased. They are pulled and pushed by 2 men (carreiros) that wear straw hats and use their feet for brakes.
We had a ball…
The route covers approximately 2 km and ends in Livramento. The sleds used to be carried by the “drivers” as they walked back up the hill. Today, they are loaded onto a flatbed truck and the drivers ride on a bus. The workers are paid once a month. Jade just had to buy a driver’s hat.
We re-joined the bus and drove up the mountain to the observation area of Pico do Arieiro. When the island was discovered in 1419, it was covered in forests which is why it was named Madeira as in Portuguese it means wood. There are 9 animals hunted on the island, including rabbits and partridge. However, there are no dangerous animals. As we drove we saw the effects of a 2010 forest fire. The area is being cleared and readied for new seedlings.
Unfortunately as we neared the top, the clouds set in.
The road was very narrow with steep drop-offs. It made for an interesting time of passing other vehicles.
Pico do Arieiro is the 3rd highest peak on the island at 5965 feet. The views are supposed to be fantastic but we made the best of the visit. There is an Air Defense Station that is near the visitor’s center. It was a bit chilly on top, so we quickly took pictures…
And tried to imagine the views we were missing.
Inside the visitor center, we learned about the recovery program of the Zino Petrel bird. It is only found in Madeira and lives in the mountains above 3300 feet. It was thought to be extinct until a nesting area was discovered in 1969 with 7 breeding pairs. Through extensive conservation efforts there are now an estimated 65-8- breeding pairs. It is considered Europe’s most endangered seabird.
On the drive down from Pico do Arieiro, the weather cleared just enough so we could see some of the landscape.
On the drive down, we were able to see the forests not destroyed by the 2010 fire.
There were 2 tours off of the ship, that did basically the same itinerary, but one went to the embroidery shop and one went to the wicker factory. Ours went to the wicker factory, but they had some beautiful embroidery works for sale. In 1990, 30,000 on Madeira were embroiders, today there are less than 3000. This is due to Chinese mass machine production.
The wicker industry was brought to Madeira by the British during their occupation of the islands. There are no native willow plants left on the island due to overharvesting. All the willow is imported from mainland Portugal. The factory and showroom were pretty amazing. There was a lady, making small hats.
They had numerous items displayed, including the wicker toboggans.
There were two more men, making baskets…
The were wonderful views from the Wicker factory and a cute church nearby.
We had the option to be dropped off at the ship or in Funchal and then walk back to the ship. We elected to explore the city center. Our first stop was for gelato. We had Madeira Honey cake gelato. Honey cake is pronounced Bolo de Mel.
In the center of town is a statue of Joao Goncalves Zarco, who was one of the discoverers of the island. He was later appointed Captain of Funchal. The statue is in front of the Bank of Portugal.
We walked around the Cathedral of Funchal. It is one of the few structures from the late 15th century that is still intact. The patron of the cathedral is our Lady of the Assumption.
The sidewalks of Funchal are intricately laid tiles. We were quite intrigued. We have been told the design is called meandering because no one could agree on what to do.
We stopped in one of the corks shops. The cork products are imported from mainland Portugal. They even had cork ball caps. We walked to the pier and had a great view of the ship and harbor. It smelled wonderful as the area had several seafood cafes.
The flowers of Madeira were absolutely gorgeous. Each year, the island has a large flower festival the last part of April. We were 2 months early and the flowers were beautiful, so can’t imagine what it looks like for the festival.
The harbor is surrounded by the old city wall.
Once back on the ship, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and our last view of Funchal. Jerie just had to have fries and fry sauce and with the chilly weather, the soups have been a welcome sight. Cindy and Jerie then headed to the spa for a relaxing pedicure (a perk of our frequent cruising). Then it was off to the Latitudes party, where we were kept full of non-alcoholic fruit punch. We don’t know what they put in it but it is really delicious.
We ended the evening at the White Hot Party. We tried learning the “modern” dances, it didn’t end well. LOL…it was a fun ending to a great day….
The next day we were at sea. Jim and Cindy used the lazy morning to explore the ship. The Norwegian Spirit is one of the cruise lines smallest ships. It was originally built to operate out of Malaysia as a casino ship for Asian passengers and was christened the Superstar Leo. The interior reflects that theme.
It has a unique feature, that is kind of hidden. Just off the dance floor in the Galaxy Lounge, there is a spiral staircase leading to the bridge viewing area. It is only open during the day, but it gives you a look at the bridges operations.
We watched Jade play a game of Bingo. You can tell by the rally cap that he didn’t win.
We enjoyed dinner in the dining room, some nice music, and sitting in the hot tub. We also received a surprise plate of chocolate covered strawberries. Our shower drain had backed up and it was a thank you for being patient.
We had 2 ports remaining. We had seen so many beautiful sites and witnessed so much, but we were pretty excited about our next port. We would be visiting the Rock of Gibraltar!!