No cake and no wine – Madeira #2.

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.

Author: Fergy.

Hello there. I am a child of the 50's, now retired and had been enjoying travelling pre-virus. Now I am effectively under house arrest. Apart from travelling, I love playing music (guitar, vocals and a bit of percussion) as the profile pic suggests and watching sport, my playing days are long over. I read voraciously, both fiction and nonfiction I'll read just about anything although I do have a particular interest in military history of all periods. I live alone in fairly central London where I have been for over 30 years since leaving Northern Ireland which was the place of my birth. I adore cooking and I can and do read recipe books and watch food programmes on TV / online all day given half a chance.

10 thoughts on “No cake and no wine – Madeira #2.”

    1. Definitely not for sale here as far as I know, probably because they are so plentiful, we always used to knock them off the rocks as children.

      If I ever have a chance to get back near the sea I am going to collect a bag and have a go at them, there are plenty of recipes online. Have you ever had razor clams? Another great food for foraging.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Funchal was my first overseas trip without the parents…. 30 hours of travel to get there! Beautiful place, and Madeira as a whole is just magnificent.


    1. Hello Anna,

      sorry about the tardy reply but I have not been getting notifications of comments for some reason.

      Yes, I did love Madeira although I didn’t really get out of Funchal, I was just chilling out with my mate really, it wasn’t a proper “exploration”.

      May I ask, “What in the name of all under the sun made you pick Madeira, a day and a half away, as your first solo destination”? Do you have some sort of ancestry there? It just seems like a totally obscure, if gifted, choice.


      1. Hahaha yes… The chances of me going to Madeira were slim beyond belief, yet at the age of 18 it was my first overseas trip! My best friend from high school was from Madeira (Fremantle has a huge population from Madeira) and her family were going to visit. They invited me along…. So here was a skinny little random Croatian-Australian going along with a family of 5 to stay with their family. It was the best fun – we hired a little car and explored all the island, and the family in Madeira were so kind and generous, even though they spoke no English, and I no Portuguese. On New Year’s Day we had a huge BBQ in a forest park near a levada, the relatives took my clubbing, and we rang in the year 2000 overlooking the fireworks in Funchal harbour. I think it was this trip that made me fall in love with travel! I really do need to write about my trip on this blog, but this was pre digital day! Hope you have a nice new year Ferg and look forward to reading you more in the year ahead! X

        Liked by 1 person

        1. For an introduction to travel you certainly began in style, that is some trip.

          I was only in Freo for a couple of days but I didn’t notice a huge number of Madeirans. Plenty of bikers but no Portuguese speakers. Still, I wasn’t looking out for them particularly but it is actually hugely coincidental. In the area of Northern Ireland where my brother still lives there is a massive Madeiran community and I have no idea why. They have been there for a long time and, bizarrely, 90% of them seem to work in the same place, a massive local chicken plant called Moy Park.

          You have to remember that traditionally Northern Ireland did not have much immigration although this is changing and for such a large group to be in and around Portadown is unusual. There is even a completely Portuguese bar in town now which I wrote about in a blog entry ages ago.

          I have to agree that the Madeirans are super-friendly, I loved them.

          The fireworks must have been good as I believe the display there is exceptional, indeed I think they once held the record for the biggest display ever which seems odd for such a small island. I’d love to read about your trip but I agree that scanning in old photos is a pain.

          Wishing you and yours a happy, prosperous and healthy 2021 and we shall speak soon.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Interesting that they all work in a chicken plant. Here they are all crayfisherman. Fremantle has a huge fleet of boats in harbour mostly owned by Madeirans and Italians. A dying trade though…. All the kids I know who’s dads were fisherman have gone on to other things. A tough life out in sea, but I guess Madeirans are naturals at it and hence why they all migrated to Fremantle suing the fishing boom years. All the best to you for the new year! Stay safe up there, I hear England has it bad with Covid right now. X


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