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October, 2015

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We were on the P&O Oriana which called into Funchal for the day, so decided to take advantage of every minute.

As soon as we were given clearance after 9am, we were down the gangplank, wearing shorts, sandals and appropriate autumn clothing to take advantage of the mild weather. We had been to Madeira on longer holidays previously, so knew how to plan. First was coffee.

The walk from where the Oriana docks is not a difficult one. A shuttle bus is provided by the cruise line, but we decided to perambulate. There are people selling their taxi rides for the day’s sight-seeing, as well as the tour buses already booked on board. We walked past them all, high wall on one side, the water the other. There is a more than adequate pedestrian walkway, including a safe way to get through the tunnel.
There are sleeping policemen to slow the traffic, and within ten minutes we were walking along the sweeping promenade. You used to walk past the container port, but this has been moved about 12 miles further west beyond the airport as part of the improvements. These are ongoing, at present it is industrial.

The lower walkway takes you past the restaurants, strangely not as many as there used to be. Before, it was one long row of them, now shops intersperse with frontages selling sight-seeing and boat trips. We had coffee on one with wooden decking on the water, huge sunshades, and attentive waiter. Very reasonable four euros for two black Americano coffees with little biscuits.

We walked further on to the bus stop, where we caught our yellow line bus. We had been on the red bus previously, so wanted to try a different one. The routes are different, and we were handed the obligatory earpieces for the commentary. It was 24 Euros for the two, not exactly cheap, but still pretty reasonable.

Like all islands, virtually everything has to be imported by air or sea, and that it how the buses get there initially. Tourism plays such a huge part of Madeira’s income, and we were very surprised that the tourist information office opposite the bus stop wasn’t better promoted. It wasn’t easy to find, walk down some alleyway steps to the front door, then up stairs inside to reception on the first floor.

No enquiry desk as such, just a cash register and counter so you could pay for souvenir purchases, or even furniture, paintings, rugs, larger items. No free information flyers/sheets, but a souvenir book for ten Euros. We wandered around, and left, disappointed at a marketing opportunity missed by the tourist board.

The bus was uneventful, as open top buses are. We saw all the sights, appreciated the views, took photos like good tourists. We stayed on the bus so we could have lunch in the old town. This has altered greatly over the years. When we first went to Madeira in 1990 it was pretty basic, wild dogs roaming freely, food delicious but mainly enjoyed by locals, with tourists dining either in their hotels on in one of the seafront establishments. There are now about a dozen restaurants, and we had an enjoyable plate of seafood with a carafe of vino verde, the Portuguese wine. I finished with a banana split, purely because I enjoy the Madeiran bananas so much. Sweet, distinctive flavours, still bent. The bill was a very reasonable 31 Euros.

We were due back at the ship by 4pm, so decided to walk along the seafront promenade for the return journey. We walked under the new-ish cable car that goes straight up to the village of Monte, in the mist. We have been there before, it’s a fascinating small town square with a great cafe serving the best sardines I have ever had, a garden well worth visiting, and the obligatory wicker basket ride. Two men wearing straw boaters, sailor boy shirts, flared bell bottom trousers, and shoes with leather soles, propel two passengers sitting in a wicker basket on runners down the slopes towards Funchal. It seems frightening until you are sitting, bottom close to the ground, padded seat, going round bends at break-neck speed, whooping with delight at the cobbles bouncing your posterior onto the roadway that is shared with local traffic. Go on, you know you want to.

At the end, the two men stand with their hands held out, asking for a tip.

The seafront promenade has changed over the last five years. Before kids would play soccer on the black volcanic beach, it was pretty basic, and the buses would park when not being used. Now EU money has been thrown at the project, so the restaurant boats have now all gone, and there is a concrete pier out into the harbour, and poorer locals have been displaced.

We strolled back, hand in hand, stopped off at a shop to buy a Daily Mail for two Euros, and were some of the last to return to the Oriana. No waiting taxis, the tour buses had all gone home. Tomorrow they would be ready for the next cruise ship in port.

Harry Pope

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