Welcome back and now that I have got the bit between my teeth it seems we are whizzing through Madeira at a fair old rate of knots which I think is an appropriate metaphor considering the amount of time I have spent speaking about Funchal harbour recently. We are up to Day 13 now and I hope it is not unlucky for me. It is already unlucky for you as you have bounced, one way or another, onto this page but I shall try to make it as painless as possible.
Usual rules apply, just click on the “read more” button if you are really such a glutton for punishment that you wish to read more of this nonsense.
Day 13 – 13th December 2015.
The entry for this day is going to be relatively painless as absolutely nothing happened due to it being a case of “rain stopped play” as they all too frequently report in cricket matches.
After my walk in pretty warm sunshine conditions the day before I was a little surprised to wake the next morning to find that the skies had opened and, by the look of the cloud cover, it was not going to blow over any time soon which indeed proved to be the case.
A morning coffee in my little apartment, even in these conditions was a joy. It is odd how I take delight in such simple things. I then had to work out what I was going to do with the day. There I was, supposedly having a bit of “winter sun” and I was watching the raindrops rolling down the windowpane and yet I was as happy as a sandboy. Can anyone actually explain that expression to me? What is a sandboy? It is just another one of those completely idiotic expressions in the English language that everyone uses and only the most avid etymologist could tell you the origin of.
In truth the decision was not a difficult one. I had spent the previous three days exploring and thoroughly enjoying it and I could have braved a soaking easily enough. It was wet but not blowy nor particularly cold and I have been drenched often enough before but that did not seem like a lot of fun so there was only one thing for it. Those who know me will be ahead of the narrative at this point. Yes, it was going to be a full day in my favourite little snack bar not five minutes walk away.
In the happy days before it was needlessly and callously done away with in one man’s quest for complete domination of the internet travel resources (look it up, don’t start me here) when I contributed to the wonderful Virtual Tourist website and I would always establish a VTHQ in any place in the world where I was going to be staying for more than one night.
What were the requirements for a VTHQ and how did the Snack bar Pao-de-Lo meet them? Travel for me is not about places and sights / sites, wonderful as they can be, it is about people and so a friendly, unthreatening venue is essential for VTHQ. Tick. Being internet based, a decent internet connection (subject to local problems obviously) is a good thing. Tick.
I do not condone heavy drinking, a subject I have discussed with various hepatologists recently, it is a ridiculous pastime but one that I still stupidly indulge in despite logic telling me to lay off, so VTHQ must sell beer, or some other non-spirit refreshment. I do not do spirits, beer or cider are my choices. Absolutely tick, the Pao-de-Lo has a fine selection and also occasionally makes poncha which I know is spirit based although you would not know it whilst drinking the brew. I did manage a glass or three and it was utterly gorgeous.
Poncha is one of those sneaky drinks that tastes totally innocuous and then comes and kicks you in the back of the head when you least expect it, usually when you hit the fresh air. No poncha today, well not as far as I can remember anyway so what else is required for VTHQ? Well, an indefinable quality which I am now rather stupidly and perversely going to try and define although I do not have the vocabulary for it.
I suppose I should now call places FRHQ, as in Fergysrambles HQ, but in those days it was VTHQ and I consider myself to be a reasonable judge of circumstances. I can tell within two minutes of walking into a bar / restaurant or whatever whether I want to be there or not and my instinct rarely fails me.
The very first night I had arrived there and before my mate Claus had appeared with his fluent Portuguese, I felt welcome. I had wandered in, complete with suitcase and a bit travel worn, and instantly felt at home. I seem to be lucky at this and I could name you similar places all over the world, places where you will just feel instantly at home regardless of language, culture, appearance or anything else. I suppose this is why I love travelling. I really felt like I was leaving home the last time I walked out of that little back street bar on my way to the airport.
If all the above sounds like pretentious nonsense I apologise but it is just the way I feel about travelling, well, it was the way I felt about travelling before the virus ended that forever, at least forever for me. I still have these wonderful memories.
There I was, in a little bar with the rain relentlessly tipping down outside and no chance of doing anything in the way of sightseeing, so was I depressed, angry or down-hearted? Not a bit of it. It was a great day of doing absolutely nothing lasting from about lunchtime to gone closing time and it was perfect.
The afternoon was punctuated by a football (soccer) match from the top league in Portugal and they do know a thing or two about the game. This match was played in a fog like I have never seen in a sporting arena before. I swear that the goalkeepers would not have been able to see each other and I have included an image here. For a change it was not a failure of mine to use my idiot proof (but not Fergy proof) camera, this is actually what it looked like.
Speaking of images, I have unusually included every image I took that day, all four of them, which shows you what I did, or more accurately didn’t do. I know it may not always seem like it but I do usually select the best images (in my opinion) from my collection. I realise that the two images of the soaked cobblestones outside the bar are quite similar but I was being uncharacteristically “artistic” and trying to get the best angle on the shot which was taken from the sanctuary of the pub door. Damned if I was going out in that monsoon!
When the brothers who run the place decided it was time to go (they would be there early next morning) I braved the still torrential rain, got soaked on the three or four minute brisk walk home, hung my jacket up to dry and retired to my lovely bed. I swear I could have moved into that apartment permanently, it was so comfortable.
Somehow, and for whatever reasons that only men come up with late at night when they have been in the pub all day, I took into cooking and managed to knock up a pasta and meatball effort. No, I was not lying to you earlier, these images were technically taken the next day. Quite a bit into the next day if truth be told.
Well, that was a completely nothing day so I suppose we had better pass quickly on to
Day 14 – 14th December, 2015.
This will take seconds. Nothing, nada, rien, call it what you will. Apart from the image above of my appalingly presented pasta dish (I will never wim a Michelin star for that effort) I do not have a single image from this day to jog my memory. Chances are that it was another day in the snackbar but who knows? Quickly on then to
Day 15 – 15th December 2015.
Where the Hell did that fortnight go? All of a sudden I was packing up and getting ready to leave my lovely apartment to head for the airport (much later that evening) and get back to a cold, blowy and dismal London. I could have happily stayed on but I think I had something to do in London in the run-up to Xmas, some gig or another and so I had to head back.
You have not heard of Claus recently, dear readers, and I had said goodbye to him a day or two previously which I should probably have mentioned as he was my reason for being on this wonderful island so thanks, mate. In one of our evening conversations he did tell me that Madeira was probably his favourite place on Earth and that comes from a man who spends his life travelling the world. High praise indeed.
Packing took me about five minutes (I live on the run) and I was out and gone. I left all my unused food nicely for the cleaner, I hope she enjoyed it and I am sure it was a she before the feminists get uptight. Dragging the small suitcase I headed back the short walk to the Hotel who owned the apartment and dumped the keys. I even left my suitcase unattended at the bottom of the stairs to the reception desk as I felt so secure in Funchal by then. I was sure nothing would happen to it worse than some well-meaning local making enquiries as to who might own it.
Straight back into the adjacent snackbar for a few beers, well, I had time to kill. I had previously checked the airport bus schedule and I knew which one I needed to get me there on time.
A few beers were obviously quaffed (isn’t that such a lovely word?) and I reckoned that a bit of food would be in order as the airport would be a rip-off and I was not going to get anything on the ‘plane. I asked one of the brothers that ran the place what was the special today. I was told something in Portuguese, which I did not understand a word of, but I nodded enthusiastically when “French fries” were mentioned.
What appeared is what you see above and was arguably the best of the many meals I had in that fine establishment. I know that through this series of entries I have shamelessly provided links to the snack-bar and I do it for a reason. This is not a high-class restaurant, far from it (even if they put a paper towel on the table when serving the special) but, if you want a taste of proper Madeiran home-cooking, it is certainly the place to be.
I would not for one moment suggest that this dish was put on in my honour but it felt like it. Now that I have re-discovered all the stuff I wrote at the time I was there I shall reproduce a piece that I wrote contemporaneously which just about sums it all up.
“Again a choice is difficult but the meal I had on the last day just before I left for the airport was something new to me and very good. I am not sure of the exact cooking method and the cook was too buy for me to bother her but as best I can tell it was some sort of pork fillet stuffed with boiled eggs, roasted and then sliced much in the manner of a British game pie. I could have had it with various accompaniments but I opted for simple chips (French fries) and they went well. If memory serves it was €6 which, given the very favourable exchange rate I was getting to the £, made it an absolute steal.”
I think that tells you all you need to know about the food here. I have been lucky enough to have eaten in Michelin starred restaurants (whatever that completely subjective designation means and the loss of which has led to at least one man’s suicide – was it worth it?) and I tell you that this was as good as anything from such an establishment. Why? A good question and well asked (even though you didn’t). I’ll tell you.
Ask any of these Michelin starred chefs what makes a great meal and they will tell you it is locally sourced ingredients, preferably raised / grown organically, cooked to a traditional recipe and cooked with love. No, I do not like using the “L” word but it is appropriate here. I do actually realise, contrary to what you might think, that I am going on a lot about what looks like a very simple plate of food in an image but it really was that good and a fine departure for me from this place which I had grown so fond of.
With a belly full of very decent grub I took off on the first leg of my journey home, which was easily achieved as I had done my homework. A short walk to the main road had me at the bus-stop and the direct airport bus which as the livery shown above proudly proclaims was a reasonable €5 one way. I even had time for a quick snap of the cable car which I had sensibly avoided as I do not like exposed heights. I still have nightmares about being cajoled onto the Emirates Airline, a cable car across the Thames in London, never again.
I made the airport in short order but it was there that things started to unravel.
The flight home was delayed by four hours, which I only found out when I got there and ordinarily this would have been a minor annoyance. I have spoken before about how much I love sitting in places lie airports for a bit of people watching but that was not going to be an option. I shall let my contemporaneous report serve duty here.
“Things weren’t quite so good on the way back but the airport aren’t really to blame for a lot of that as the airline had delayed us by four hours. At time of writing (December 2015) there are major renovations going on and they obviously work at night to minimise disruption but it did mean a couple of hours of pounding jackhammers whilst drinking beer out of plastic containers as apparently the building work, for some reason I never quite resolved, precluded proper glasses.
There is the usual selection of refreshment places and retail outlets, all of which seem to charge a bit over the odds but that is just airports for you. I must make special mention of the shop airside that sells replica football (soccer) kit and which is the most obscene rip-off I think I have ever seen, even in an airport. A replica Portugal shirt was well over €100 which is ridiculous
When I mentioned the prices to the young lady there who didn’t seem to be doing a lot of business for obvious reasons did at least have the decency to look embarrassed and gave me a look that conveyed, “I know it’s a rip-off but I just work here”.
What I did like was that the authorities here have had the common good sense to provide a smoking room for those of us that indulge and I stress I do not think it is a clever habit at all. At time of writing it is on the top floor just to the right at the top of the escalator but it is behind hoardings as part of the refurbishment and so may be a temporary measure”.
I do hope that if the reader is ever able to visit Madeira that they have a reasonable experience here, just avoid the shops! Frankly, with the current virus slaughtering the world it seems unlikely, and would be very ill-advised on the part of the Madeiran authorities in my view, but we can always hope.
I do rather like the way Norwegian livery their aircraft with famous Scandinavians although, as I shall discuss later, your opportunities to see them on the tarmac or in the air may be disappearing fast.
Arriving back in UK at some unholy hour of the morning all I wanted to do was get home asap. Problem. BAA (the crowd that supposedly runs a lot of major British airports) do not provide wi-fi, preferring to funnel poor sods like me into the food and beverage outlets they charge a fortune for where internet is available. They should take a lesson from much better airports like Dubai where internet is available throughout but presumably the shareholders would rebel. It appears to me that once British airports are now merely a cash cow for investors.
I knew that there were trains running all night from Gatwick but I did not know when and so I headed to the alleged information desk, with a result as you see above. It was as empty as a hermit’s address book and, yes, I did nick that line off Rowan Atkinson.
Nothing for it then but to head downstairs and sit on a freezing cold platform to await my “chariot” for home whilst considering whether or not I should head back upstairs and book a flight straight back to Funchal or somewhere equally warm. I resisted the temptation and made it home to the usual doormat covered in bills and junk mail and that was the end of my very pleasant little jaunt to Madeira. I do hope you have found my efforts of at least some interest and thanks again for the feedback and very much appreciated comments.
Ordinarily after a series like this I would add another post with links to various websites but for various reasons I am not going to do that on this occasion. The first, and most blindingly obvious, reason in the current global pandemic which very probably precludes any sort of travel to Madeira, depending on where you live. Despite the cheery optimism of most of my friends and their huge faith in an imperfectly tested vaccine I do not see things changing, at least in 2021 and probably long beyond that.
Norwegian Airlines limps along but a piece in the Irish Times two days ago (6th January, 2021) reports that they are transferring most of their fleet to Shannon airport in Ireland ahead of being sold off or returned to the leasing companies. The company’s debts now stand at £4 billion, passenger numbers have dropped by an amazing 94% since the pandemic began, the Norwegian government have refused any state aid so I really do not see a future for them.
The Hotel Zarco, including the apartment I stayed in are still apparently taking bookings and the website seems to be maintained so I can only presume they are still doing whatever limited amount of business they can.
As of 5th January 2021 there is a curfew in force between 2300 – 0500, masks are mandatory in public places and gatherings of more than five people banned but obviously this can change at a moment’s notice. Please do check your local requirements prior to planning everything. In a clear indication of the chaotic lack of planning of most Governments, Madeira is in a “travel corridor” (whatever that is) so I would not have to self-isolate on my return but that is a moot point. That information was taken from the FCO website today (8th January, 2021) yet other Government regulations make travelling to the airport to get there illegal.
The question is entirely rhetorical and I do not want a flood of abusive messages but, on a scale of 1 – 10 exactly how stupid, ill-informed and incompetent are our elected representatives and their so-called experts who know nothing? 15? 15,000? S (for stupidity) to an unspecified power indicating complete imbecility? I shall let you decide.
Did I enjoy Madeira and would I return. Yes and yes, most definitely. As I mentioned, my very widely travelled friend Claus rates it as possibly his favourite destination in the world which must tell you something. I did not really get round to doing much and I would dearly have liked to see more of the island as I believe the Northern coast is spectacular.
Having said that I am in no way disappointed in what I did or did not do. I had gone for a bit of a break from the cold and damp and to hang out with my mate which I certainly achieved. I met some lovely people, ate some superb food, saw a few sights / sites of interest and had rather a good time although I wish it could have been longer.
All that remains for me to do now is decide what trip to bore you with next whilst I remain under house arrest. Let’s be honest, I need to do something to retain my last diminishing vestiges of sanity. If you want to know what I decide upon then, as ever, you will have to stay tuned and spread the word.