Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Madeira in Madeira, Then the Last Meal in Funchal

Statue of something -- four men hunting a T-rex? -- in front of the cable car station
One last afternoon of vacationeering.  The three-hour cruise aboard the Santa Maria replica was booked up for the afternoon.  Oh well, three-hour cruises can be ominous.  And, besides, where does a cruise aboard a Columbus-ship replica sail next from Madeira?  Hispaniola?  That seemed to be a bit long for a last afternoon.

So a Madeira wine tour it is:

In Porto, I toured a Port wine cellar.  So in Madeira, I toured a Madeira wine maker.  The tour consisted of looking at barrels:

Lots and lots of barrels:

Facetiousness aside, I did learn the key differences between Madeira wine and port from Port.  First, port is aged in cellars.  Madeira is aged in attics, so it is gently "cooked" by the warmth of the attic.  Port digs the cool.  Second, Madiera is made almost exclusively with white grapes, while port can be made with either (but in America our port is almost always red).  Finally, those barrels.  Port is aged in French oak and the barrels are eventually sent to Scotland for a second life as whiskey vessels.  Madeira?  Good old American oak!  Drink Madeira and MAGA!  And those American oak barrels never get too old for wine.

We also got to see archaic machinery that is no longer used:

This is part of the tour group.  As with the port tour in Porto, the tour group was mostly Brit.

Finally, the tour ended with a tasting.

The best part,

A little more wandering the town before supper,  This is the fort:

It's now a sunbathing (and ocean swimming) spot for people in swimwear who you never wanted to see in swimwear.  (I would've fit right in.)

The fort is in a bit of disrepair.

But, fortunately for Madeira, the disrepair is a function of the fact that it really hasn't needed to be used as such for a couple hundred years.  Time for supper.

I didn't supper-blog the previous night's supper because it was only OK:

Scabbard fish with banana.  Or, as I like to call it, A Perfect Day for Bananafish.  Ask J.D. Salinger if you don't catch the allusion.

Dinner tonight, my final dinner in Funchal, my final dinner of this vacation extravaganza adventure, was the Mozart:

OK.  So some (but not all) of the wait staff are dressed in period costumes.  And the dishes are all named for classic composers (love love love the fact that the "Salieri" was a tofu dish).  And despite the name "Mozart," at no point did the wandering musicians play "Rock Me Amadeus," the food was absolutely awesome.  Ótimo.

I opted for the multi-course special.  Three courses and unlimited house wine for 39 euro.  The starter appetizer was gratis:

A very tasty herbed cheese dip, served with what tasted suspiciously like an original flavor Dorito.  I'm not complaining.  It was good.

Next was the appetizer:

The Beethoven!  Which, as you expect from the name, is a "carpaccio" of octopus.  Served with some more of Mozart's fave, Doritos.  The octopi were swimming in an ocean of balsamic vinegar.  Out of this frickin' world amazing.

They were out of grouper so I couldn't get the main course I wanted, the Berwald, which was a combo plate of grouper and salmon and prawns.  So I settled for the John Field, sea bass and clams.

I don't know who Berwald or John Field is, so the substitution was delicious.  And because I'm a philistine, I had the house red.  Plenty of the house red.  The staff at the Mozart were quicker on the wine glass refills than a normal restaurant is with the water or iced tea.

I can't tell you home many glasses of wine I drank because the glass never got below one-third full.

Next was the palate cleanser, some drinkable orange sherbet:

Then the Madeira course:

A very welcome course.  Last up was dessert.  Because it was summertime, and the living was easy, I opted for the Gershwin:

A passion fruit souffle, with a side of passion fruit ice cream.  Yes, it was a symphony of flavor.  Why do you ask?

The meal went on and on and on and on,   But at some point, the Mozart staff stopped refilling the wine glasses and it was time to stumble back to the hotel through the dark streets of Funchal.

And that concludes the vacation blogging for Portugal 2017.  It's time to fly home.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hurtling Down a Mountainside in a Wicker Basket

At the top of the mountain, ready to jump into my own personal private wicker "toboggan"
A favorite thing to do in Funchal, Madeira, is to ride a "toboggan."  How, you say?  It's a tropical-ish island with no snow.  How can you ride a "toboggan" under such conditions?  You can!  When the toboggan is a wicker basket on rails "controlled" by two dapper locals dressed in white with straw hats.

To get to the toboggan run requires getting oneself to the top of the mountain.  And despite two massive cruise ships in Funchal harbor, it was a beautiful morning:

So many monuments in the Funchal downtown:

This one represents how just is both blind and hurtling over Niagara Falls in a barrel:

Well, at least that's the metaphor I took from it and I'm sticking with it.  Soon I arrived at the cable car station:

Despite the cruise ships, the line was brief and soon we were being loaded into cable cars for the long trip up the mountainside:

What?  You thought I was going to walk?  The cable car point of embarking was like that "haunted mansion" ride at the Disneys Land and World:  it never stops.  You climb into a moving vehicle.

And soon we were being whisked up the mountainside for our wicker fate:

It was a long climb:

But soon the car arrived at a destination:  Monte:

Monte is a little village above the City of Funchal:

It has a church (Igreja do Monte).  It has the start of the toboggan run.  That's enough for me.  To the left!

To the right, as you can see from the above sign, is a botanical garden with plants gathered from all over the world.  It is supposed to be a wonderful site, if you are into gardens and plants and the like.  But I like churches.  And I like hurtling down mountainsides in wicker baskets:

Here are the wicker baskets all queued up.  I came to the right place.  But first:

I go to the church and pray:

That I live to see the end of my toboggan ride.

I pray to you, the Blessed Charles of Habsburg, to protect me.  If I survive my wicker basket ride down the mountainside, it just might be the miracle you need to be promoted from beatification to full canonization.  (Charles was the one good Habsburg.  So they exiled him to Madeira.  He's buried in this church.)

I stopped into a church I passed along the way:

You know I got down on my knees ... well, I didn't merely "pretend" to pray, as the Mamas and the Papas sing in their song I'm quoting.

Very nice church:


It ain't the Sistene Chapel, but I liked it.  Here's a happy dog laying out:

OK.  So now is the time to ride a wicker basket down the mountainside:

The guys are dressed in white, so if they had had bloody accidents, you could see.

Oh.  And I did I mention that there are cars and taxi cabs driving down this narrow steep streets at the same time you are hurtling down it in the wicker basket?

That'll add to the sense of exhilaration.

I took this selfie at the top of my toboggan run:

I fully expected the caption to be: last known photo.


And the ride?  It was what you would expect, riding down a mountainside with cars and cabs, and you in a wicker basket on rails.  It didn't just go straight.  There was a minor "tilt-a-whirl" effect as the basket would spin a bit.  (Not a full 360 degrees, thank God and the Blessed Charles of Habsburg.)  I recommend it whenever you find yourself in Funchal, looking for fun.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Having Fun in Funchal

Cristiano Ronaldo statue in the Funchal harbor
The coda to this year's Portugal vacation is two days on the island of Madeira, off the coast of Morocco, in the Atlantic Ocean.

We flew into Madeira's airport, which is a surprisingly big distance from the island's main city, Funchal.  (The name "Funchal" is derived from the word "funcho," Portuguese for "fennel."

The Madeira airport is best known for its recently erected bust of its most famous native son, world football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo:

The bust, and I'm serious about this, is best known for the crazy eyes that the artist gave to Cristiano Ronaldo.

A 40 euro cab ride later and I was in Funchal, the Fun Capital of the Island of Madeira:

I arrived early in the morning in Funchal, so I had time to kill before my hotel room would be ready.  And what better way to kill time than to take a walk to the Cristiano Ronaldo museum.

There are more heroes than Mr. Ronaldo honored by statuary in this town.  Like this guy:

Once upon a time he may have enjoyed fame, perhaps even fame on the same level as Cristiano Ronaldo.  But fame is fleeting.  And Cristiano Ronaldo beckons.  And soon the "CR7" museum is visible on the waterfront.

CR7 refers to Cristiano Ronaldo with the number 7, his jersey number.  (You Pittsburghers could picture a Ben Roethlisberger "BR7" museum somewhere in the Golden Triangle.)

It's a whole complex.  Museum.  Hotel.  Bar/restaurant.  And:

Larger than life statue.  With fans lined up to take pictures with it:

See.  I wasn't the only one.  Let's go into the museum:

I assume the above is a replica of the European Football Championship trophy that Portugal won in 2016.  I assume.  Maybe it's the real deal.  This is Cristiano Ronaldo after all.

I think these are gifts he has received:

Lots of Cristiano Ronaldo representations available for your photographing needs.

Here's a jersey from his first football club, Sporting, a team based in Lisbon.

And here are the hotel and restaurant and bar:

Cristiano Ronaldo is revered in Madeira, which is where he was born and raised.  He's now one of the most famous faces in the world.

Oh, and swans:

I couldn't think of a subtle way to transition from the museum tour to the town tour.  I took lots more pictures inside the museums, such as the rhinestone-studded soccer shoes, but I figured I would forego posting those on the grounds that they would induce boredom.

Well, maybe not the rhinestone-encrusted soccer shoes:

Who could be bored with rhinestone-bedazzled soccer shoes?

After checking into the hotel and taking a brief nap, I did more exploration of the harbor area of Funchal.  First stop:  Zarco;

That is João Gonçalves Zarco, the Portuguese explorer who established the first settlement on Madeira in the early 1400s, decades before Columbus set sail.  Decades before Columbus was even conceived.  That's worth a statue, even in Cristiano Ronaldo's town.

Anyway, wandering the direction opposite the CR7 complex:

Lots of street life.

This next photo illustrates the danger of shooting a picture into direct sunlight:

Nice picture.  Would've been even nicer in softer lighting.

This is the Zarco statue again, at the intersection of Avenida Arriaga and Avenida Zarco:

Not even Cristiano Ronaldo has an avenida named for him in this part of Funchal.  Yet.

Lots of enormous shade trees here.  And here is the marina:

Looks like a normal marina, huh?  Then this pulls into the harbor:

It's a replica of Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria:

Why no Pinta or Nina, I don't know.  It costs only 35 euro for a three-hour cruise.  It's tempting for tomorrow.

This next statue is an honor of all those Madeirans who've lost their lives exploring the world:

After a break for supper -- the scabbard fish with banana was OK but only OK -- time to have fun walking through Funchal after dark.

I couldn't decide which of these two Santa Maria pictures was better, so I posted both.

You decide.

And what's my idea of fun nightlife after dark?  Gelato!

 It's not quite a beacon beckoning.  But this was:

Besides, I like the ice cream cone shaped tables and chairs:

It wasn't the awesomely magnificent Gelatomania in Nazare, but what is?

That's a whole lot of Funchal fun for one day, especially given that the day started with waking up in the Grande Hotel de Paris in Porto at 3:15 a.m., to catch a 5:00 a.m. taxi cab to catch a 7:05 a.m. plane to Funchal.  Boa noite.