Madeira Island – Day 3 – Exploring Funchal – Part 1

Flowers, fruit and scary monsters!

Madeiran flower vendor in traditional dressI was spending today being shown around Funchal by a lovely lady from the Madeira Promotion Bureau who met me from the hotel shuttle bus by the harbour.

As we headed to the farmers’ market, I stopped at one of the many flower vendors’ stalls, transfixed by the stallholder’s Teletubbie style headgear. I was informed that the antenna contains wire, and they believe that workers in the fields used to twist them into a loop to hold their wedding ring.

We were heading to the famous Mercado dos Lavradores (workers market). Near the entrance was a shop window displaying the traditional Portuguese dried, salted cod “Bacalhau” and the notorious cocktail, Poncha, made from Aguardente de cana (distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice) mixed with honey, sugar, lemon rind and with different fruit juices such as passion fruit or lemon.

Fruit, veg and basket stallAs we entered the undercover market I was overwhelmed by the heady aroma of flowers, fresh fruit, dried herbs and strong coffee mixed with the pungent stench of fish.  Colourful displays of strelitzia, protea, orchids, montbretia, anthurium sat alongside bunches of bananas and baskets of plums, cherries, oranges, lemons, custard apples (whose creamy flesh really does taste like custard) and chayote – a prickly green type of squash originally from Mexico. Handmade wicker baskets of every shape and size were on sale as was embroidered table linen. 

The fishmarketUpstairs the stalls were more aimed at tourists and vendors plied the unwary with samples which, once accepted, would inevitably lead to a purchase. I headed for a stand covered with drying herbs and enjoyed a pleasant chat with a knowledgeable young man about his produce and its uses in treating various ailments. Whilst I had no conditions he could cure, I happily purchased a fragrant bag of herbal tea containing a heady mix of melissa, peppermint, fennel, mallow, pennyroyal, balm-of-gilead, lemon verbena and lemon grass.

It was quite a shock to the system to walk from this aromatic haven into the whiffy fish market where slabs of marble were covered with fish of every shape and size from tiny, shiny golden morsels to large, dark creatures of the deep. Men armed with huge knives were ably gutting and slicing magnificent tuna into steaks.

Black Espada fish – a Madeira favouriteIn the restaurant the previous night I had enjoyed a delicious dish of Black Espada or scabbardfish. I had heard it was a scary-looking fish that had to be dragged from the very depths of the ocean. Long and thin with a black skin and sharp teeth, it grows to a length of 100 cm (about 43 inches). Unsurprisingly, it was quite easy to spot!

After a fascinating visit with so many photo opportunities, it was a rlief to get out into the fresh air. As I had expressed an interest in the embroidery, it was suggested to me that I might like to visit the Embroidery and Handicrafts Museum before taking a cable car up into the mountains. However, first we needed to pop into the Cathedral (Sé) before it closed for lunch.

Cathedral Se Cathedral Se

The Cathedral (Sé), which takes pride of place in Funchal, was completed 500 years ago. It is a fairly unassuming building, and I loved the simplicity of the cedar roof inside. This contrasted sharply with the gold leaf decorations on the other side. The knave has been recently refurbished, restoring many beautiful wall paintings to their former glory. It is certainly worthy of a return visit. 

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