A very warm welcome one and all to the latest offering in my little series about a fortnight break I took in early December 2015 to han out with my dear mate Claus Andersen in Madeira where he was guiding a tour party. If you have landed on this page then please go to the bottom of this entry and go to the previous entry as it will make more sense.
In that post I had travelled from London to Funchal without incident, met up with Claus, checked into my rather comfortable apartment with the great views and had a very brief nocturnal wander which had made me keen to explore a little more. As usual, please click on the “read more” button and we shall see what transpires.
Day 2 – 02/12/2015.
Day two, a Wednesday, and in truth I had not slept particularly well. The bed was very comfy but the problem was noise, or rather lack of it with one notable exception. Where I live in the East End of London there is a fairly constant cacophony of traffic and specifically sirens which I have become so accustomed to that I find it difficult to sleep in quiet places which is what this definitely was. There is little traffic away from two or three main roads in Funchal and the street I was on, whilst open to traffic, saw very little of it.
The notable exception I mentioned was the nearby Se Catedral do Funchal, my view of which was even more beautiful in the morning as I mentioned in the last post. My view of it was restricted to the bell tower as you can see and therein lay the problem. Bell towers generally contain bells and this one does, one that tolls the hour every hour and does not leave any excuse for not knowing the time as it is certainly loud enough. I did get used to it, and the silence, pretty quickly though and I soon found the bell quite comforting during the night hours although it didn’t interrupt my sleep after a night or two.
I didn’t rush to get up as I had nothing to do and all day to do it. If you do follow this series you’ll find that I did little in the way of exploring and much more in the way of sitting about drinking beer and chilling out. I shall therefore not be constructing a new page for every day as some days were pretty uneventful, most days to be honest but I’ll try to find a few little bits and pieces to hopefully interest you.
I took a couple of images from my window which represent quite a lot about Funchal. Much of it is beautifully maintained / restored but there is still evidence of decay and neglect to be found if you take a look, I suppose it was the same anywhere. These two images were taken at the same time from the same window and demonstrate this point rather well.
I just had to take this image as I really have no idea what if anything it represents. When I was taking the images above I noticed this bird’s feather very deliberately attached to the window frame of window. I don’t know if this represents a Madeiran tradition of if it was just the maid’s idea but I quite liked it.
Time to get on the road and the first thing was to go and get coffee. I was heading back to the Snack Bar pão-de-ló where I had been the previous evening with Claus and this required crossing the square I told you about in the last entry. It was certainly attractive lit up at night but it was equally impressive in the morning sun.
I needed a coffee and I was to find out that the coffee, like everything else here, was particularly good but there was an extra treat, a Portuguese custard tart. I do not have a particularly sweet tooth but I absolutely adore pasteis de nata, to give them their Portuguese name. Nobody can make them quite like the Portuguese can and it is odd to think that they were originally made and sold in Lisbon by monks trying to make a few coins as they had been stripped of their power and influence by the predominantly military / Freemasonic Liberal Revolution of 1820.
The reason there were so many sweet pastry recipes associated with monks and nun’s was that they used a serious amount of egg whites to starch religious garments and they had to find something to do with the yolks. Custard tarts seemed like a good idea and I am so glad they thought of it. I suspect I may have had more than one. With coffee and tarts out of the way it was time for a pint or two of breakfast and so that is what I did. After suitable refreshment I thought I would take the walk I had set out for that morning.
I didn’t visit any particular Church, Museum, art gallery or park, I just went for a walk round the pretty narrow little back streets in the local area to soak up the atmosphere which I did. Nothing of huge interest but it was pleasant until it got time for another beer. I just happened to be passing a little sandwich bar with no apparent name other than “sandwich bar” and I thought it looked as good as any which it was to prove. If you do want to find it, a bit of sleuthing online has pinned it’s location down to 5, Rua 31 de Janeiro, don’t say I don’t work hard for you.
I went in and ordered a beer which was fine and not too expensive, Coral again from the local Madeira brewery. After about five minutes the chap came out from the kitchen where he had disappeared and planted the pan you can see above in front of me. The fact that I was being given a bar snack didn’t surprise me as I know that is common practice in many parts of Europe although the size of the offering did surprise me, that was a full meal.
What did surprise me was that it was obviously a panful of limpets and I had never considered them as a food. I used to take great delight in knocking them off rocks when I was a child but they were then just thrown back into the water. I think my late Mother would have had a kitten if I had suggested eating them and yet I adore clams, razor clams, oysters, cockles and all manner of shellfish so it is completely illogical not to eat limpets.
While researching this piece today I found out they are considered a delicacy known as lapas and this is the traditional way of serving then, grilled with a little garlic butter and a bit of bread to mop up the juice. They were gorgeous and I shall certainly be doing a bit of foraging if I am ever allowed out of the house and near the sea again. Apparently they are also popular in the Azores (which I have never visited) and mainland Portugal although I must confess I have never seen them on the mainland. Another culinary experience and it did not cost me a penny, this was my kind of place. As you can see, I did the gentleman’s cooking full justice.
Just outside the sandwich bar I came upon another feature that is principally found on Madeira, although there are occasional examples in Spain. I am speaking of a levada or irrigation channel or aqueduct and there are over 1,350 miles of them, begun in the 16th century although the most recent were built as late as the 1940’s. They were the product of the engineering of the Moors when the Iberian peninsula and part of Southern modern-day France was under Islamic control in the region known now as al-Andalus.
On Madeira the levadas were a necessity as the land more suitable for habitation and agriculture was in the South and East of the island but the rainfall was predominantly in the North and West. Today, as well as still fulfilling their original purpose they provide an excellent leisure facility with many hikers taking advantage of the paths alongside them.
Some of these paths are dangerous and deaths have been recorded so it is best to go with a guide if you do not know what you are doing. Certainly, never attempt any of the tunnel paths without experienced supervision. Claus leads walks on some of the gentler stretches and we had tentatively planned a day out but somehow we never got the time. Maybe some other time.
After that it was another evening with Claus in the Cafe pão-de-ló and a fairly early night where the bells did not even disturb me too much.
Day 3 – 03/12/2020.
This was to prove to be another fairly quiet day so I’ll just put it here to save you having to click through lots of pages.
According to my images I tried to prove that I had a seaview and vaguely succeeded as the image above shows. It was not actually taken from my apartment which faced the street but the rather the window on the landing landing where you can just about see the sea over the slightly decrepit tiles if you look really hard. I wasn’t too bothered as a couple of minute’s walk was all that was required to get there. I am not much of a beach bunny anyway.
Other than that and yet another picture of the Cathedral bell-tower (I don’t know why I took so many and I shall not bore you with them here) it appears that all I did that day was go back to the café where I got stuck into one of their excellent home-cooked meals as you can see above. This was called country vegetable soup which seemed to be on the menu most days and was hugely popular.
The bar was run by a couple of brothers and some additional help but the open kitchen was the preserve of a relay of Madeiran ladies who, apart from providing the most wonderful food, also treated customers to what almost amounted to a variety show if I could have understood a word of it. Apart from almost constant laughing and jollity there appeared to be a string of banter with some of the customers, it really was a most convivial place and I am not surprised I ended up spending so much time there.
As a little aside, and I promise it is a quick one, the snackbar’s name pão-de-ló translates as sponge cake cafe which was very apt as they did have some delightful cakes and pastries in there but I am not sure if I ever actually saw a sponge cake.
Neither did I see a Madeira cake at any point so I might as well just clear up a a few misconceptions here. Madeira cake did not originate on the island and it does not use the appallingly sweet Madeira dessert wine in it’s making. Madeira cake is definitely a British invention of the first half of the 19th century and gets it’s name from the habit in those days of eating it with the fortified wine from the island. Now perhaps the title of this entry makes sense to you.
Who knows, in the next instalment I might even get round to doing something of vague interest so to find out if this is indeed the case you’ll have to stay tuned and spread the word.