Have some Madeira, me dear…

Madeira stinks.

This is not an insult, it’s a very pretty, friendly place, which is very heavily reliant on the tourist industry for its economic survival, but it PONGS. As you leave the cruise terminal, you are greeted by not just warm sun and refreshing breezes, but also the unsanitary odours seemingly emanating from the backs of the excursion coaches, whose rear facilities smell like they haven’t been emptied or cleaned this millennium, although the staff loos at Customs may also be partly to blame. Then, once deposited in town by the shuttle bus, via its usual circuitous route of all the way to the other end of town, u-turn and come back to the beginning to drop us (one-way system), now extended by the closure of the road from the ships to the town, which now entails a trip through not one, not two but three tunnels just to get us back to the point where we can commence the one-way system bit, you are assailed by the smell of the sewers. You daren’t converse for fear of what you might inhale or swallow from the air.

This is, in fact, rather convenient, because it minimises the arguing you can undertake with the taxi drivers who pounce as you disembark the buses. One fool, despite being told several times that we had been here before and did not wish to take a half-day tour, tried to charge us forty dollars to go to our shopping centre of choice, wait and return. We left him and went to the official taxi rank twenty yards away, where we got the one-way trip, the shorts I wanted to buy and the return fare into town and still had change from what he wanted.

For fans of C&A, whether it be Clockhouse, Canda or Sixth Sense, the place to be is a shopping centre called Forum Madeira (pronounced Ma-dare-a, incidentally). It, like the other decent shopping centre, Dolce Vita, is just an ordinary shopping centre, with a supermarket in the basement and a large over-priced electronics store (about 2.5/3 times GB prices), but is quite pleasant and has well-maintained toilets, which do not smell, which is always good to know. It is also quite a scenic drive around the coast to the suburbs of Funchal. C&A still exists all across Europe – only the UK part closed down – so whenever we are in Europe (Madeira is Portugal), we pay a visit. Even with less than half a day (we didn’t dock til 12.30pm), it’s worth the effort, although mum was unimpressed with the current selection and bought nothing. Despite this, we sat and ate ice cream in the shade to reward ourselves anyway.

There are three ships in port today: the Costa Victoria, the P&O Arcadia (obviously!) and the Pullman Empress, which none of us have ever heard of. Looks nice enough, I suppose. This meant that we were moored ‘at the back’ of the quay, furthest away from the town. This wouldn’t be so bad if they didn’t make us walk the entire length of the quayside to walk through (unattended) Customs and then all the way back to opposite the ship to catch the shuttle buses into town. Doesn’t put you in the best frame of mind to arrive with! And then the smells hit you. Not ideal…

Ironic, really as we arrived in a very good mood. We came around about half the island, which was very interesting, allowing us to see a few of the black beaches (Madeira is volcanic) and the haze over the cable car to the top of Monte gradually lifting, while we waited outside the port for a while. While we waited, we noticed a windsurfer with a neon yellow sail heaving his sail out of the water. It took him some time to get upright, but when he did, there was absolutely no wind whatsoever, and he was completely becalmed. He just stood there. We were killing ourselves with laughter. When he finally moved about ten feet before falling over, he got a cheer and a round of applause!

Restaurant review: “O Portao”

I found this restaurant on TripAdvisor. It had outstanding reviews for simple food well done and being cheap but quality at the same time. We were not disappointed. The welcome was effusive and the menu written in about six languages. We were able to fiddle with the food, such as melon without the ham, and so on, and they didn’t bat an eyelid no matter what we tried (sardines and chips?!). We had three courses and two large bottles of mineral water for three people for twenty quid a head, which was very reasonable. We ate outside for the first two courses, but moved indoors for dessert, as mum was getting a little chilled. The melon starters were lovely and the tomato soup went down very well, the steak diane vanished so completely that the plate didn’t need washing up and my chicken and mushrooms with rice was delicious. A warning to the lactose intolerant: Madeiran cuisine is cream and cream and cream and alcohol. Take your LactAid! I forgot mine. For dessert, we annihilated two chocolate mousses (mice?) and received complimentary glasses of Madeira wine for our efforts. No one had any complaints about their meal whatsoever (and we are a moany bunch!).

Whatever you do, you MUST order the sweet potato bread with garlic. It’s divine, but everyone will have to have a bit, cos it is VERY garlicky

For those who judge restaurants by other means, the toilets were PRISTINE. They looked brand spanking new, I felt like I was the first ever person to use them. Clean, spotless, with plenty of toilet paper and soap, but only a hand dryer, no hand towels. Health warning: the Stiebel Elson hand dryer is REALLY HOT!

The only negative point was that they had VH1 playing on a little television behind the door. I have no idea why. But it was on low enough that it didn’t spoil the evening. If they turned it off altogether, the place would be perfect.

Overall, we were very impressed and cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a little tricky to find, but if you go to the Zona Velha restaurant quarter and ask anyone, they will point you in the right direction – it’s just past the church. Six out of Five, Eleven out of Ten, Outstanding.

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