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Pass the Madeira m’dear – Post Amble

Would we go back again.

It was a lovely hotel and, using EasyJet to broker the whole package was extremely good value.

It’s a 3 1/2 hour flight which is very manageable.

It was a bit like being parachuted on to the set of “Cocoon” and Pretty Officer Sue and I were without doubt some of the younger ones staying in the hotel.

The weather was lovely. OK we did get the odd bit of rain but not enough to be an issue. When the sun was out, and it was out a lot, it is definitely sun-bathing weather. The temperature in Madeira stays between 18°C and 22°C pretty much all the year round so very comfortable.

The wine and food were both good, and in places exceptional. Not horrendously expensive either.

Everybody we met seemed very friendly. Both staff and fellow guests.

So I think the answer to the original question is a definite yes.

It’s a great place for a bit of January sun at an affordable price.

PS. If you’ve read this diatribe and have a view, neutral, good or bad, I would appreciate any comments. If nothing else it tells me that there are other oddballs out there!

Pass the Madeira m’dear – Day 5

Oh dear. It’s time to leave the hotel of plenty and return to face the muesli. Our taxi ( organised by EasyJet) arrives at 1445 to take us to the airport. Hotel check out is at noon.

Time to find something to do to kill time and still be fun. I know, let’s do lunch somewhere. I’ve been told down the road is a fishing village with one or a dozen restaurants in it. Seems like a challenge for Uber to step up to.

How it so nearly could have been a brilliant day. We got an Uber to Câmara de Lobos this picturesque fishing village a few miles from the hotel

There s a hotel there called the Winston Churchill called that because Churchill used to visit Câmara de Lobos and paint here.

And before you say it, I don’t look a bit like him!

I did chuckle when an American lady said to her husband “Hey Honey, will you take a picture of me sitting next to that guy smoking a cigar”. At least the husband pointed out to her that ‘guy’ was Winston Churchill. I was quite expecting her to say “Who?”I ordered a glass of Poncho, the local fisherman’s drink. It used to consist of undrinkable rum (a lot), honey and lemon juice and orange juice. Now the rum is drinkable. It quite took my breath away.

Black scabbard,a type of white fish, and half bottle of Vinho Verde at Deserte Pequina Restaurant and all is well.

Well so nearly. We ordered another Uber to take us back to our hotel in readiness for our transfer to the airport. When we’re back at the hotel we ran into some very nice people we had met a couple of nights previously, Graham and Judith. A minute into the conversation and I realised I had left my phone in the restaurant. Fortunately Graham kindly let me use his Uber account and order a cab to take me back to the restaurant. Time is now our enemy

The cab and I returned to the restaurant only to find I hadn’t left it there. In fact she remembered me leaving with it in my hand. It must be in the cab. I rang it from my watch again ( yes I know, flash git) but no good. Dispirited to say the least, I returned to the hotel knowing we have a plane to catch so there was nothing I could really do to rectify the situation.

But you can imagine my delight, surprise, relief all rolled into one, when I walked in to the lobby to find my Uber driver standing there holding my phone. I could have kissed him. He got a good tip. Alls well that ends well

Apart from the driver of our airport taxi driving his taxi like he stole it, a pretty uneventful but extremely easy trip home, early enough even to pick up my little dog who obviously has been spoiled rotten in our absence and hasn’t missed us a bit.

Pass the Madeira m’dear – Day 4

This morning started with the most glorious sunrise

Today we just had lunch planned at a restaurant situated in an old fort that once would have guarded Funchal.

After a lazy morning we took the hotel shuttle bus to the Cristiano Ronaldo museum, the nearest stopping point for our lunch venue. On arrival at the museum top on my priorities was to pay homage to Cristiano.

Anybody who knows me well knows that last sentence was complete tosh. After Pelé and Maradona I quickly run out of being able to name any foreign footballers, or even know what they look like. Or even care. However, touching one of Ronaldo’s digits is supposed to be lucky, and one can never have too much luck. What I didn’t realise is how big the statue was. In fact his little finger was considerably bigger than my, well it is a very big statue.

Lunch proved to be amazing. The restaurant was part of the design studio of Nini Andrade Silva, a famous designer specialising in hotel room design. I now know two famous people involved in hotel bedroom design. That’s nearly as many Johnny Foreigners footballers.

We lunched at the lower level with some quite amazing food

We both had Fois gras again, just for a change, and yet again delightful. Served with a banana chutney, raspberry jus was quite a perfect combination. We then followed it by a desert, so missing out the main course. Difficult to fit it all in after a monster breakfast.

Sue had the chocolate dessert (well there’s a surprise) and I had something just called ‘Mushroom’ which might have looked like but certainly didn’t taste anything like a mushroom.

After lunch we were asked if we would like to be shown the evening dining room.

Talk about wow factor.

One of the hotels that this lady Nini Andrede Silvi was involved in locally, and one she won several awards for, was a hotel called The Vine in Funchal. With nothing planned we thought we would be nosey and go and have a drink there.

The bad news – It is in a horrible building which includes a shopping mall. It is in a horrible part of town. It was soulless. It was very brown with hints of purple. The panoramic bar with infinity pool was windy beyond belief. It had absolutely no ‘warm and cuddly’ factor anywhere.

The good news. There was a Skarcher shoe shop in the mall and I bought myself a pair of walking boots.

We skipped the windy drink and returned to the comfort of The Cliff ( no relation to Living Doll) Bar at our hotel to catch the end of Happy Hour to plan our itinerary for our last day.

Pass the Madeira m’dear – Day 3

Saudações de Funchal. Welcome to day 3 (of 5) of our little blogette.

I thought I would start with a little potted history of Madeira. On and off, Madeira has been in Portuguese ownership since the early fifteenth century. It stated life, along with the Azores as an early ‘service station’ on the M1 out of Lisbon to the rest of the world. The Portuguese were great explorers and this island proved very helpful as a stopover to refuel on their way to discovering India and later South America especially Brazil which as you may remember is Portuguese speaking.

Madeira takes its name from the Portuguese word for wood and refers to the woods that were burnt down to make way for development and occupation. Funchal comes from the word fennel which used to grow wild here in abundance. Madeira played an important role in what became known as the ‘Age of Discovery’

That”s the lesson over for the day so let’s report on how day 3 developed.

After another delicious breakfast we caught the 10.00am bus to the foot of the Telegraghico, or the cable car that would take us to the tropical gardens

With little or no breeze, unusual for Madeira, the journey up was uneventful. I gather a bit of wind and the journey takes on the characteristics of a theme park ride. But not today.

At the top we entered the tropical gardens of the Monte Palace. A bit disappointing not helped by the fact we appeared to have a rainstorm whilst in there. Perhaps the clue was in the name.

After a damp visit to the gardens it was time for our toboggan ride.

Pretty Officer Sue’s recollection of her visit in 1957 was that children threw flowers at the toboggans as it made it’s journey downhill hopefully in return for money. An occurrence that at the time had made Sue feel very uncomfortable. Fortunately nothing like that occurred today.

When the ride finishes one is at the mercy of the yellow taxis to take you on in to the Centro. The first taxi we got in to wanted to charge €30. Aghast we went to get out the price dropped to €25. We still got out. It’s a ten minute journey ffs. The next thing was another driver rushed up to say he’d go for €20, then another said €15. I was convinced if we had stuck around they would have paid us. As it was we finally agreed with one driver €10 which was in my opinion still far too much but it would’ve been a long walk.

We had booked lunch at the Armazém do Sal, a recommendation we had lifted from TripAdvisor.

Fantastic

Foie gras rolled in chocolate powder served with a glass of sweet Madeira. A marriage made in heaven

The afternoon was spent sunbathing including a little dip in the hotel’s indoor/outdoor pool

I would have swam for a little longer had not the fellow guests try to push me back out to sea.

In the evening the hotel had a champagne (again I use the word champagne with a certain amount of poetic licence) reception for the guests. I was quite expecting to be hard sold something, another holiday perhaps, but no, just free flowing wine and canapés. Just as well really. I would probably have spent a bit more of the kid’s inheritance. I’m rather prone to buying another holiday while on holiday.

Ended a wonderful day with a light supper of fried baby mackerel and half bottle of vino verde in a little bistro near the hotel.

Pass the Madeira m’dear – Day 2

Breakfast was not a disappointment. Ten out of ten for presentation and the same for quality.

All that fruit. I treat my body like a temple!

Yes the average age of the guests was quite old but that didn’t seem to stop most of them drinking Buck’s Fizz with their cornflakes. Maybe they are all over 100 and they’ve discovered the elixir of youth. I’ll have to try it!

After breakfast and a walk around the gardens we again took the shuttle bus in to town. Shoe shops seemed cheap and I wanted to see if I could find some proper walking shoes before our Lake District trip. I couldn’t. I could have done if I had had size 6 or size 11 feet.

So again we spent 2d and Uber’d our way back to to the hotel.

This afternoon we are having, sorry, taking tea at the Reids Palace hotel. It is famous for its afternoon tea

But that is not the principal reason we are visiting this historical icon of Funchal

Back in April 1957 POS (aged, that’s for me to know and you to find out but obviously very very young) came here, the only hotel in Madeira, with her mum and dad and not very big, bigger sister.

And they came by flying boat from Southampton journeying via Lisbon, Las Palmas and finishing in Funchal.

This journey was supposed to take around 9 or so hours involving an early start from Southampton

However bad weather continually hampered their journey and after five days and several unscheduled stopovers they finally arrived in Madeira.

We have, at home, cine footage of that family holiday at the Reid’s Palace including the toboggan rides that still go on today, so we were very interested to see how it had changed. More about the tobogganing tomorrow.

The Hotel has a number of display cases and hanging pictures capturing the history of the hotel.

The book says the sea-plane that crashed was a DeHavilland but with my pedantory hat on I believe it was a Short Bros Solent 2

What was amazing was that later that year the same or similar plane making the same journey from Southampton crashed in the IOW and killed 45 people. No more planes of any type flew to Madeira until they built an airport in the mid sixties.

Report on the air accident with footage can be found on YouTube. Isn’t YouTube amazing.

The tea was lovely by the way although we both agreed that the hotel was getting a little tired. The Cliff Bay is much nicer

This evening’s entertainment came by way of a wine tasting. Madeira wines of course. I managed to persuade POS that, as you can’t beat them you might as well join them, to come with me. I’ve been to these wine tasting events before,where the talk is large and the tasting is small. At least with POS joining me I get a chance of combining samples and getting one glass wet. As it turns out the wine producer, the Blandy family, one time owners of the Reid’s Palace , are now a major shareholder in this hotel chain so the portions were more than generous. To accompany our wine tasting we were offered some Madeira cake. Their Madeira cake and our Madeira cake bare little similarity. Bolo de Mel or “pastry of honey” is neither a pastry nor made of honey. It is rather akin to McVite’s ginger bread but made with molasses. Not unpleasant and perfect with a glass of the sweeter Madeira wine

I really quite like Madeira. I think I might try some other vintages. I just hope I don’t land up like Falstaff as in Shakespeare’s Henry IV where he has Poins give Falstaff a right telling off for having sold his soul to the devil for a cup of Madeira wine.

Another earlyish night tonight. Another busy day tomorrow involving cable lifts and downhill tobogganing and all without a flake of snow in sight!

Pass the Madeira m’dear – Day 1

So having selected Madeira as our destination of choice it was a simple task of selecting a package holiday. With the recent demise of Thos Cook I thought this might prove a bit of a minefield but actually EasyJet were superb.

We decided on a 4 night break in or near Funchal. We quite fancied staying at the Belmomd Reid Palace Hotel but a quick check on TripAdvisor listed The Cliff Bay as the number 1 hotel and as it was cheaper than Reid’s Palace by quite a long way so yet another decision was made for me.

All booked.

A 0710am flight meant arriving at Gatwick for before 0600 which meant getting up at a sparrow’s fart. The things we have to suffer in the pursuit of happiness.

Although I thought we had left sufficient time, not factoring in the M23 southbound being closed plus trying to park in the wrong Sofitel car park, we landed up running for the gate. But we made it

A very strong tailwind took an hour off the four hour flight and, on our arrival at Cristiano Ronaldo airport, our private EasyJet organised taxi was there to chauffeur us to our hotel.

I wonder if there will come a day that I’ll start a journey from David Beckham International airport. Ridiculous. Now Jonny Wilkinson International airport, well that would be totally acceptable.

On arrival at our hotel, to say we were impressed would be the understatement of the year. A really lovely hotel. Not like me to book something this nice. Must be going soft in my old age ( no rude jokes please)

Before being shown to our room we were presented with a glass of very acceptable sparkling white wine (POS opted for the tropical fruit drink). Nice touch.

On arrival at our room we found we have been upgraded to a Junior Suite. Things are just getting better

The view from our sun-filled balcony of our room is fantastic

After all this travelling a pre lunch libation in one of the many hotel bars was called for

After a light bite we took the free shuttle bus in to the Old Town to suss out our itinerary for the next few days. Funchal is a bit curate’s eggish but on balance a very agreeable place. Plus the sun shining makes most things look good.

Having checked out the cable car ride up to the botanical gardens plus the couple of restaurants that had been recommended to us and that I had booked from England, we returned to the hotel. Unfortunately we missed the return shuttle bus but, like Portugal, they have an extremely efficient Uber taxi service and for the price of a Starbucks latte we were back at the hotel in no time.

Can you, the reader, imagine the pleasure I felt (alas not shared by POS) when I discovered on returning to our room that we had been left a complimentary bottle of sparkling white wine ( let’s call it champagne even though it wasn’t) on ice and two champagne flutes. Not wishing to drink alone I poured a little into each glass then took it in turns to sip from each one. They had also left a plate of petit-fours which POS was more enamoured with.

After all this excitement we had a relatively early night. We need to get our strength for the highlight of any holiday. Breakfast!

Pass the Madeira m’dear – Preamble

Another day of continuous rain in December finally drove Pretty Officer Sue and me, Cap’n Ed to seek some January sunshine. Destination proved a no-brainer. Last years trip to Barbados was wonderful but as we only wanted to go away for a few days it was too far to fly. Europe would not be warm enough and quite frankly neither of us are over keen on the Middle East just at the moment. So the Canaries was shortlisted but Madeira was finally selected as being perhaps a little less ‘tea like mother makes’ than we had found on previous visits to GC and Lanzarote.

Only as the holiday approached were we made aware that we could well be the youngest tourists on the island.

The other reason for going was nostalgic. POS had, as a very little girl along with her mum, dad and only little bit bigger sister visited Madeira in April 1957. More on that later

So Madeira it was.

Taking Pretty Officer Sue up the Inside Passage – Day – 14

This is the final passage of the Inside Passage.

Watching the ship take on two weeks of stores in readiness for the next two weeks was like watching an episode of Robot Wars. Lorries and fork lift trucks everywhere but not one one collision or one load dropped.

This morning we abandon ship. A very early start. A half hour after the above picture was taken chaos prevailed. We have to have packed last night and be ready to disembark by 0745 (and to have had breakfast, one cannot travel 4500miles on an empty stomach). It was a tall order not helped by the fact I had stayed until the fat lady sang last night so didn’t hit the sack until midnight. I’m not getting any younger you know! Sillier maybe but definitely not younger.

It’s a 3 hour coach journey to Anchorage. It’s only 75miles as the crow flies and unfortunately we’re not crows.

Our flight to Vancouver, where we pick up our connecting flight to London, is at 1pm so should have time for a quick beer or three.

On the way to the airport we finally saw a moose. I feel like we’ve almost completed the arctic version of the big five.

Three hours at Vancouver airport have us sufficient time for a light lunch. Funnily enough we lunched at Lift in the Terminal which was the sister restaurant Lift on the Bay where we ate at on night 1 at the start of our trip in Vancouver. There does seem to have been be a lot of eating on this trip.

The easiest of journeys home to Cobham and by 2.30pm the holiday was but a dream.

Where next? I quite fancy taking POS up the Balkans. We shall see.

Interesting fact…

Inside Passage was the name given to the route many intrepid explorers had searched for that would negated the need to sail into the wild Pacific Ocean. The goal was either the Spice islands as spices were often worth pound for pound much more than gold,or it was to find a much less dangerous alternative to the Silk Road overland route from China, a journey frought with risk around every corner.

Having established a route however, Inside Passage was not without it’s dangers. Over 100 boats fell victim to it rocky shallows with much loss of life.

The Passage became much safer and open to cruise ships only after they, in 1958, with 1400 tons of explosives, dynamited an underwater mountain off Vancouver Island. The British Columbians refer to it as the ‘Big Bang’

Taking Pretty Officer Sue up the Inside Passage – Day – 13

Day 13. Unlucky for some but not for us. POS and I have had a truly wonderful and memorable trip. We have very much enjoyed being with our travelling companions even if most of them don’t subscribe to my blog.

This morning, in glorious and unforecasted sunshine we docked in our final port, Seward. More prosperous than yesterday’s Valdez but still has that ‘Icelandic detective novel’ feel about it.

We visited the Alaska Sea Life centre. Sea World Florida it isn’t. It’s actually part of the Alaskan university and as such much more research oriented.

Somebody told me once or maybe I read it in the Daily Mail that jellyfish have no dna strand that fits any know species on earth and therefore it has been suggested that they may have come from outer space. Maybe even a galaxy far far away

POS and took an early last supper and captured the moment on camera.

Aida, live from the Met (actually it was live but in 2012) was being shown in the big cinema at 8.30pm hence the early supper. We got there early to get good seats in the 200 seater auditorium. Wasn’t that well supported. As I write this during the interval POS has gone to bed and there are 199 empty seats. Not sure I’m going to do the full three hours.

Taking Pretty Officer Sue up the Inside Passage – Day – 12

Another beautiful morning.

Everybody else in our group have gone off in a small boat to look at glaciers. As we overdosed on glaciers yesterday and POS and I are going on a small (well narrow) boat for month or so when we return home, we didn’t feel the need for that extra fix.

A free day in Valdez is what is described in the itinerary for today.

Valdez is not a lucky place to live. In 1964 there was a massive earthquake and consequent tsunami which led to the complete destruction of the town. The town was then rebuilt 4km away and the original torched and literally raised to the ground. Then in 1989 an oil tanker carrying the Valdez name, the Exon Valdez hit a rock in n the harbour here and jettisoned its cargo of crude oil causing a marine catastrophe to wildlife that is still evident 30 years on.

As it happens we visited three very small museums which had some interesting exhibits

I love mechanical things plus I finally managed to photo a bald eagle

OK so you can see the wires. And the bears?

…and the mandatory moose

My photographic cup runneth over with wild life or perhaps I should say wild dead.

Tonight we all had dinner at the Chef’s Table. Might be the last supper as tomorrow, the last night, is always busy so we may not secure a table for 8. Dinner overran a little so we missed the Captains address. Phew, that was a close thing.

We did manage to catch an evening singalong with the Beatles

The funny thing is that given the Viking Orion’s home port is Bergen, I thought they might have sung Norwegian Wood

We arrive in Seward, our final port of call 8.0am tomorrow. 😭