Pearl of the Atlantic
by Chris Nedahl
Sitting at the Esplanada O Vermelhinho, the Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas glides into her berth. Within half an hour the cruisers are strolling along the promenade to the haunting sound of traditional Indian music. Mal Kay-Andes Music, a band of six Ecuadorians, has played here since forming in 1973. Partake of a meal, delicious ice-cream or just have a coffee and ingest the atmosphere of this idyllic island, Madeira. The pearl of the Atlantic, or the floating garden, is sub-tropical and its temperate climate is a haven, all year round, for travellers.
Madeira offers lazy days basking in the sunshine - tours to all points on the island - local bus rides or walks along the famous levadas. Those new to walking can chose an easy, guided route, or one of moderate difficulty, along these mini-canals which once carried rainwater from the north of the island to irrigate the dryer south. Not for the feint-hearted are the longer, more hazardous treks. All offer insight into the magnificent flora and fauna but the seasoned walker is rewarded with hidden gems – and Madeira has many.
A leisurely stroll from one of the hotels in the resort takes you to the centre of Funchal and the port. A modern, cosmopolitan city, it displays its heritage with pride. Buy from one of the many embroidery shops, a souvenir or a whole set of table linen. On the trip to town, see ladies sitting on the walls, crocheting table mats and coasters. Outside ‘Bordal’, one of the oldest outlets of hand-embroidered linen, you are tempted inside by an elderly lady working with skill and speed. Have your credit card at the ready because embroidery, made in the old way, can cost you six thousand Euros for one tablecloth.
Once in the heart, visit the Mercado dos Lavradores - Funchal’s indoor market. An array of colourful produce greets you and stall holders tempt you to taste their exotic fruits or varied wines. Beware of being given more in your bag than you asked for as tourists can get charged more than locals.
Be certain to view the fish market. If you have enjoyed the delicious, white estapada fish at your hotel’s restaurant, you might be surprised, or shocked, at seeing it fresh from the sea.
The walk along the promenade toward the fortress takes you to the old town. Much has been done to revitalise this area. The buildings are old, but restaurants are modern and offer a wide selection of food. The owners politely encourage you to dine, or just take coffee, and you will undoubtedly leave with a collection of business cards and a ‘tomorrow perhaps’.
A fascinating and quirky addition to this part of Funchal is the artistry. Every old front door - whether or not the building is inhabited - has been painted or collaged by local artists. Some depict the modern while others reflect the history - the multitude of things which make this island unique.
There are more than enough places to visit and sights to see without leaving the confines of the city. Art galleries and museums abound, ancient and new, paintings, sculptures, fishing, farming, handcrafting – all are at your disposal.
Madeira has a wonderful cultural heritage. Attend a concert at the English Church at Rue do Quebra Costas, an orchestral event or a piano concerto.
This year, 2013, the Orchestra Mandolin celebrated its hundredth anniversary and what tremendous performances it continues to give the public.
In the Rue Antonio Susi Almeida have a coffee at Apolo or stay longer and take lunch, watching the colourful world of Madeira going about its day. Afterwards visit the Cathedral of Funchal, immediately to the left. It was built in 1500 by the master stone mason, Gil Enes and the master carpenter, Pero Annes. The style is ‘Manuelino’ or late Gothic and houses one of the best Sacred Art collections in existence.
If you have never visited Madeira, consider being there on New Year’s Eve.
It seems the whole of the island descends on Funchal for the delights of the night. By eleven o’clock, the harbour front is heaving with excited people. Madeirenses and tourists, adults and children, pile onto the piers and fill the grassy verges, separating the town from the sea. The night would not be the same without the vendors of cheap ‘champagne’. Their trolleys are everywhere you look and you are kindly provided with plastic cups to enjoy your purchase.
The park of Santa Catarina overlooks the harbour and has its share of onlookers. Once the pyrotechnic feat begins, it surrounds you. It is a magnificent display warranting mention - more than once - in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Once the celebrations begin, however, it is obvious not every inhabitant is good-naturedly jostling for a prime view of the night sky. All over the mountainside, dotted communities are partying too, as a patchwork of colour erupts. The cruise ships that arrived early are berthed while others are just outside the harbour, on the open sea. From their decks, the view is unhindered.
The clock strikes the New Year in, the revellers cheer, horns sound and the heavens spark and shimmer, flicker and flash, welcoming another year.
Chris Nedahl is published in four anthologies and online. She is a member of Writers
Abroad and continues to hone her skills and become more computer savvy with the
help of fellow writers. She enjoys writing short stories and, infrequently, poetry. She is
working at editing a long written novel.
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