Is Christmas really coming? – Madeira #5.

Good day one and all and welcome back. I do hope the New Year hangovers are long gone and you have returned to whatever form of normality is possible wherever you may be.

We are definitely plodding slowly but surely towards the conclusion of my little expedition to Madeira and I do even get out and about in this episode so if you want to read about it, you know what to do.

Day 11 – 11th December, 2015.

Day 11 was a Friday and I was a bit enthused after my lovely walk of the previous day and so I decided to repeat the operation, nothing too strenuous, just a stroll about in the weather which was still pleasant enough.

I have mentioned before about the huge amount of history there is in Funchal, especially in the area I was staying in which was the old, once walled town but the first historical item I came across dates from much more recent times and which you can see it in the image below.

I am fond of motorbikes and apparently even fonder of hurling myself off them, I can show you the scars! I remember as a much younger man you would see the odd Zundapp here and there. They were never common but they were not unheard of and I knew they were German, had gone out of business years ago and that was about it. Cue digression #1 of this piece and a few interesting things I never knew until just now. Well, I think they are interesting anyway. Non petrolheads may wish to skip a few paragraphs.

I had always just presumed that Zundapp was the name of the founder of the company but not a bit of it. If I knew any German I might have even worked out that it is a contraction of the phrase “Zünder- und Apparatebau” which means “Igniter and apparatus” and denotes the company’s original function of producing detonators which is probably not a hugely reassuring thought if you are riding one.

In a case of not putting all your eggs in one basket they also made machine tools, microcars (think of the “bubble cars” of the 60’s), mopeds, scooters and……………sewing machines. An interesting portfolio. They never went in for large bike production. They eventually went bankrupt in 1984, largely due to German legislation which had effectively outlawed their flagship 50cc machine which performed brilliantly but was noisy and too many young riders were killing themselves off them. That is not the complete story of this fine looking machine however.

If you look at the livery you will see that it is a Zundapp Famel which I must confess I had never heard of and so had to look up. Famel is an acronym of Fabrica de Produtos Metalicos Lda., a Portuguese company specialising in mopeds and whose heyday was in the 1960’s and 70’s and who were manufacturing machines using Zundapp engines right up until the 1990’s.

Like the company whose engines they were using they were forced out of the market by European and Japanese competition and went bankrupt. Anticipating “green” technology by some time, the last product they ever developed was the world’s first electric scooter in 1993 but it was not enough to save them from bankruptcy in 2002.

Non petrolheads can start reading again but I just fancied writing a bit about this obviously old but beatifully maintained piece of motorcycling history and now from something lovely to something ugly and annoying. Come on, it would not be one of my posts if I was not having rant about something!

What you see above will be familiar to UK readers but perhaps not so much to my overseas friends so I shall explain that this is Barclays Bank, a British institution with it’s HQ not far from where I live. I have two accounts with them (long story, don’t ask) and have debit cards for both. I really did not expect to find one here as I did not know they operated “high street” branches outside UK but I was quite happy as I thought I may be able to avoid the punitive and completely unjustifiable charges banks make to withdraw your money from overseas ATM’s or whilst making purchases. I thought I’d investigate.

I went in and spoke to a charming young man who thankfully spoke good English. I explained that I was a customer and asked would I therefore still be charged the commission for using my Barclays card in a Barclays machine. At least he had the good grace to look embarrassed as he explained this was indeed the case. There was no point in having go at him, the poor sod, he doesn’t make the rules but I did resolve that I would not use that particular ATM and instead used local Portuguese ATMs. A small and petty gesture but it pleased me.

As I see it, bankers are much like lawyers in that over centuries they have insinuated themselves so far into society that they have made themselves indispensible. Unless you go and live in a totally self-sustaining cabin in the middle of nowhere you need a bank account and they have got you. Of course they are a cartel and just set charges at whatever they fancy.

At that time I believe that €250 or €300 was the maximum single withdrawal from an ATM and each transaction attracted a charge of about £2:50 which soon mounts up. Of course if you make a small purchase in a shop or café and are stupid enough to use your card then you are hit even harder as the fee is not pro rata, it is fixed so a £5 snack can end up costing you half the price of the purchase again contributing to shareholder’s bonuses and obscene “fat cat” wages.

I have now solved the problem, to an extent by getting one of those pre-paid travellers cards, in my case Caxton FX and I am very pleased with it as you can use it as often as you like without incurring a fee and, whilst you get a slightly less advantageous exchange rate, it means that you don’t end up carrying large amounts of cash around strange places and the banks are not consistently ripping you off. It may not be for everyone but it suits me and I offer it as a travel tip here. Have a look and see if it might suit you.

OK, anti-banker rant over so let’s see what else we can see in Funchal. Never let it be said that my posts are nothing but eclectic. I shall be rattling on about needlepoint embroidery or cuneiform script next. Honestly, your guess is as good as mine at this point where this, or any of my other blogs, is leading as you may already know. I usually have no idea so how could you possibly have?

The image above I have included just as a general street scene in Funchal and because it is so archetypical of the kind of things you see in this most attractive of places. I had actually taken it as I was drawn to the beautiful old gate you can see. Don’t ask me anything about it as I could not even tell you where it is, it just appealed to me aesthetically.

It was only when I looked closer at the image whilst writing this piece that I realised what I had inadvertently captured. Believe me, I am no photographer. I am an avid people watcher as I think most travellers are, with transport hubs being my favourites. I never get bored at an airport, railway or bus station. I just look at people and make up stories about them, surely I cannot be the only person in the world that does this. I didn’t invent a back-story for this guy at the time but I did it just now.

Who is the guy standing by the gate? What is his story? He is obviously on his ‘phone and looking down the road, presumably awaiting the arrival of sommeone else. Who is it? A friend, a lover, a business contact? Are they off for a coffee or a drink in one of the many innumerable wonderful cafés in Funchal? Is there a huge deal going to be discussed or a few quiet, tender words over the fish course? Who knows? I will never know but it is fun to speculate.

Of course, the guy is just ridiculously stylish in the way that Europeans seem to carry off so effortlessly. The shades, the very carefully tended “designer stubble” that probably takes more time to tend than a proper shave, the shirt with just the right amount of buttons undone to look cool, the pristine chinos, the whole deal. Funchal is like that. Yes, you will see guys in working clothes and ladies in corporate uniforms, cities need workers but there just seems to be a way of doing it.

I would never speak ill of my country, which I love, but sorry my British friends, we just cannot seem to pull off that apparently simple but obviously long-practiced chic of our European brethren.

I remember when I was in Rome I would go to the Terminii train station some days as the newsagent there sold English newspapers and walking through there you might as well have been on a Milan catwalk. This was just people going to work!

On the same trip I was sitting one day having a coffee outside one of the numerous wonderful cafés in the Place Stanislas in Nancy (France). I was even trying to fit in by drinking the excellent coffee instead of my usual beer. Now, I had managed a laundry at my wonderful hostel and was as clean and tidy as I ever get but I still felt like a scarecrow as the “beautiful people” strolled past.

I know I deliberately go for the “Wild Man of Borneo” look and it suits me as I cannot do chic but it did make me wonder, as most things do, and we are not even finished with this image yet. I know that if I spent £500 on recreating that look and, contrary to public belief I can actually dress up when I have to, I would still look like I was wearing a potato sack tied together in the middle with baler twine.

I do not know how far you can blow this image up on whatever device you are using as I have had to reduce it to put it here but, if you look through the gate, you might just see something which completes the picture (no pun intended). You may possibly be able to see an elderly and obviously tourist couple peering into a fountain. This, in one image, is Funchal. There is the vital tourist trade, the trendy locals and the history, it is all there. I loved he place.

How can I possibly rattle on for so long about one image of a gate I do not even know the location or provenance of? Easy, and I have no difficulty with it whatsoever. I often think of my writing as being like a faulty tap (faucet) with a dodgy washer. You turn it on sometimes when you absolutely need it and then you cannot turn the bloody thing off again!

What I am going to write about next is a lot more interesting historically and less of my abstract considerations of the human condition, European fashion et al. It is utterly wonderful and yet another of the many reasons why I, as a confirmed (pun intended) atheist, find places of worship so unfailingly fascinating.

This is the São Pedro Church and it is simply stunning. I mentioned in a previous entry that I did eventually get to visit the Funchal Catedral (Portuguese spelling again and not a typo for a change) which was literally yards from my apartment but that I had visited a much more impressive place and this is it. I found it unusual that the “major” church in town is so much more simple than this building but what do I know about ecclesiastical design?

I have no way of knowing whether the streets around here were built around the church or vice versa but it seems like the designers had anticipated the camera by centuries as it is just designed for images. Perhaps painters had been envisaged, who knows? Obviously I am including my image here which is not great, I should have been there at a different time so the light would have not rendered the street so dark, but you get the idea. There are literally hundreds of exactly similar images online so take your pick. I’ll stick to mine because I was there and this is what I saw.

The Church of São Pedro was intitially commissioned in 1590 which even pre-dates the two wonderful churches I had seen the previous day but, for various reasons, construction was delayed and delayed until the final structure you see now was not completed until 1743 albeit a functioning place of worship was extant here before that.

The exterior is well-tended and a look at the very top of the bell-tower is worthwhile as it is covered in the very traditional local tiles. The exterior is pleasant but unremarkable but stepping inside takes you to another place. I have been in many Christian places of worship but few have exceeded this in terms of their extravagance, it is utterly jaw-dropping, in a literal sense of the term. I hope the images can convey much more than my mere words can.

The only place I can equate this to is the Co-Cathedral in Valetta (Malta) with the piratical weatlh of the Knights of St. John aka Knights of Malta aka Knights Hospittaler behind it. If you want to have a look at that it is available here.

I do not think that any words of mine can do justice to the magnificence of this place and so I shall let the images do the talking but I would just point out a couple of things. The tiling, much of it in the predominantly blue and white so common on the island, covers many of the walls. I do not know if this is a particularly Madeiran thing as the church was funded by the Portuguese Court and so the tiles may have been brought from the mainland, I know I have seen many such artefacts there.

Whatever the provenance of the tiles, the place is utterly wonderful and the reader should visit. Quite honestly, given a choice between the Catedral and São Pedro I would choose the latter, not for reasons of faith but purely those of aesthetics. As always, dear readers, I shall present the facts and let you all decide for yourselves if you are ever allowed to travel to Madeira.

I cannot leave São Pedro without a word about the stained glass, a favourite medium of mine, of which there are many fine examples. I have saved this image as I believe it merits a single place. I have no idea who the person depicted is, Mary perhaps? She seems to be cuddling something to her breast, is that meant to be the Christ child?

Herein lies one of the many beauties of stained glass, like pretentious idiots pontificate over a Rembrandt or a Van Dyke or whoever, so I think about stained glass windows. The 17th century stained glass artist was given a commission, long since lost to history and possibly only even verbal anyway. Who knows and does it even matter? You just pick your own story, like I picked mine for the guy with the mobile (cell) ”phone a few paragraphs ago. Make up a story for this lady in the way we made up stories before. It is just people watching within an historical setting. If I have missed some very obvious Judeo – Christian reference I apologise, I am not sure what to look for. I think it may be because of the halo but I really have no idea. If this is the obviously the virgin Mary I certainly meant no offence to any Judeo-Christian readers.

After quite a while in that wonderful church I took off again and saw the little corner shop, well a bit of a posh corner shop, which made me smile. I have no idea if my next King has been to Madeira and I doubt it but 10 / 10 for marketing. Gold star.

I have mentioned before the old military fort which is now home to the military museum which, whilst small, is of interest. Whilst supposedly decommissioned as a military establishment this place still retains a large martial presence.

The “ticket office” (a functional military desk which I was so familiar with), was staffed by a corporal. OK, I say a corporal, I have no idea what the Portuguese equivalent is but he had two stripes. Very civil and very polite, not a word of English and had obviously been told not to bark at whatever visitors might appear. He took my money, issued me a chit in true military fashion and waved me in a not unfriendly way towards the exhibits, having obviously decided I posed no threat to the security of the island.

I only found out later that this place also apparently houses the home of some portion of the NATO Western Defences in the Atlantic. Obviously I know nothing of such things, and finding out online is a non-starter but but the demeanour of the corporal (or whatever he was) suggests that. The poor sod was stuck between being nice to foreign gawpers like me looking for a military Museum and keeping the rest of the facility secure. I don’t envy him. I would have taken a picture of him but……………

As military museums go it was not anything like the best I have ever seen but it still produced some things of interest. Is it just me that finds some little thing of interest in just about everything I see? I really don’t know any more.

There were a few old mortars, cannons and suits of armour on display as “in days of yore” but what interested me far more was the weaponry of the 20th century, a period I can relate to much more easily. A Belgian FN (Fabrique National)which is a weapon I recognise instantly as it is a variant of which (the British SLR) was the first weapon I ever learned. For the “gun nuts” who probably know already, the differences are the flash eliminator and the iron sight. For the non “gun nuts” don’t worry, it is technical nonsense and of no consequence.

As you can see in one of the images there was a genuine old Thompson .45 aka “Tommy Gun” complete with disc drum so apparently beloved of Alphonse Capone and his mafia types in the USA in the days of prohibition and variants of which were used to great effect by Allied forces in World War 2. The drum magazine, whilst beloved of Hollywood directors, was prone to stoppages and unreliable. I fired a straight mag version once and it packed a fair old punch, the Valentine’s Day Massacre must have hurt the assailants nearly as much as it hurt the victims. Well, OK, not nearly, but you get the idea.

There were weapons up to and including mortars, all small arms for sure but an imprressive selection nonetheless. There was a uniformed soldier floating about between coffee breaks (if he had any sense) and casting me the odd disinterested glance but, other than him, I had the place entirely to myself and made the most of it.

As one of the images shows, there were a few AK-47’s on display, presumably captured weapons from the last days of “empire”, as indeed were a lot of the other weapons from that period and I am reminded of a story which may or may not be apocryphal about Mikhail Kalashnikov and his famous weapon the Avtomat Kalashnikova, aka the AK with the 47 referring to the year it’s first production.

Apparently in his later years Kalshnikov, who lived to be 94, was in a nursing home and the staff were told that they must not mention to him the fact that his weapon had been superseded by another weapon for the Russian Army lest the disappointment and shock would kill him. Apocryphal or not, Mr. Kalashnikov produced a weapon that is sturdy beyond belief, an infantryman’s dream, and which has killed literally millions of people. I wonder what he thought of that.

I was always taught that a loaded weapon, cocked and set on a table would never kill anyone if it sat there for 100 years and that is true. It is only when the weapon is picked up it becomes dangerous. Weapons are not evil, people are. I think that Kakashnikov was just a genius engineer who produced one of the most serviceable weapons in the history of the world, evil as that concept may be.

Oh dear, how did we get off onto that one? Back to Funchal and at one point a group of young soldiers filed out past me, complete with weapons (not AK’s, sorry Mikhail) and obviously going on stag i.e guard duty. It did add a certain sense to the place, knowing it was still a museum in a working barracks and I gave the guys what I hope was a knowing smile denoting, “I know guys, more boring stag, I understand how you feel”. Believe me, I do.

I, however, was not constrained by the bounds of duty and left the rather interesting museum with the intention of heading back to my favoured snack bar for a bite to eat but, of course, it was never going to be that simple.

My route home took me past the extensive Xmas market and associated attractions which seemed to be still very much a work in progress. Some years ago I was in the Philippines and was talking to a dear friend called Isa (Theresa properly) about Xmas in that country. She joked that it started in October and ended in March, at least I thought she was joking at the time. When I actually took an image of Xmas decorations still up in March I worked out she was being serious. What has this got to do with Funchal? Good question, well asked, so I shall tell you.

Well, there was obviously a huge amount of preparation going on and this was now the 11th of December. I left on the 15th and the whole affair did not even seem to be in full swing then, a mere ten days before the “big day”. Unless they adopt the Philippine idea and have Xmas going on well into January or beyond, it seems like an awful lot of work for a very limited commercial opportunity. I know I have railed against the long period that Xmas seems to extend to now in the UK but they were really pulling out all the stops here for what seemed like little reward.

These were not just hand pulled carts as I see in Whitechapel market and which are stored away every evening but proper semi-permanent structures as the image above shows. To be honest, I have lived in less salubrious abodes before. Obviously it must work or they would not do it, perhaps the tradtition in Madeira is to do all your last minute shopping literally at the last minute, who knows?

Apart from the stalls there was obviously a huge amount of effort being put into what I suppose was, in non-Xmas times, a small park but which had been transformed into the largest nativity scene I have ever witnessed in my life. For a sense of scale, the white wall towards the rear of the image is the “guard” wall of a rather large and imposing building, the function of which I never actually discovered.

OK, it must be time for the Snack Bar and a bite to eat now. Not so fast, Fergy, you still have a bit of traditional Madeiran dancing to go yet. Not 50 yards from he nativity scene the lovely people you can see in this clip were doing their thing. I did notice that there was not a guitarist, which I found odd in a country renowned for it’s fado music (more of that in another edition), and I reckoned I could have worked up a guitar part as there only seemed to be two chords in the entire piece. Perhaps there is an opening for me there.

Having been treated to a very charming exhibition of the local dancing I did actually make it, without further diversion, to my favoured Snack Bar Pao-de-Lo and a bowl of their excellent “country vegetable” soup.

Coming from Northern Ireland where we grow some of the best vegetables in the world and where I thought we knew a thing or two about making soup out of them I still cannot believe how they make this stuff taste so good. There are no fanciful exotic local herbs or anything else “cheffy”, it is just veggies and stock and it is utterly delightful. How can I get so excited about a bowl of simple veggie soup? No idea, it is just the way I am.

Don’t lie to me, I know you just want to dive into that now, don’t you? A big lump of bread (which I had, and Madeiran bread is superb) ) and it is the perfect meal. Forget Alain Ducasse (the most Michelin starred chef in the world), Gordon Ramsay (the biggest mouth in the world) and Jamie Oliver (the biggest well-intentioned mug in the world), this is proper cooking. It really does not get any better than this and all cooked by a group of middle aged women who had been slogging in there all day. Stuff your fine dining (I have done it and it is beautiful), this was just what I needed after a day’s walking.

A few beers and that was me off to my lovely little apartment for another excellent night’s kip, totally undisturbed by the Cathedral bell which had long since stopped waking me by that stage. I actually quite missed it when I went home.

I don’t wish to wear you out, dear readers, but there is another walk in the offing in the next episode, including me nearly choking to death in a vehicular tunnel so if you want to know all about that, 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.

One thought on “Is Christmas really coming? – Madeira #5.”

  1. Wow, São Pedro does look amazing! The blue tiles on the walls remind me of a church in Lagos that I visited with some of the VT crowd, where sadly we weren’t permitted to take photos unless we’d booked in advance (a stupid rule!) And I like your photo of it with the dark street as it frames the building. It would be far more distracting to have the street lighter.

    Liked by 1 person

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