The cloud cover disappeared as the plane banked sharply to the right, making a semi-circle as the engines accelerated to support the sharp descent. Out the right window, I could see three swimmers in the pool below, and out the left window there was blue sea. Within ten seconds, we were on the ground--not quite Mahoe Beach in Saint Martin, but close. The runway is actually a bridge that was built in 1990 over the road leading from Machico--Maderia's first capital--to Funchal. That was not readily apparent until we saw the runway supported by dozens of concrete pillars as we drove back from Machico.
Madeira is a volcanic island that sits roughly 350 miles due west of Casablanca, Morocco. It measures 35 miles (east to west) by 14 miles (north to south), with somewhere around 250,000 inhabitants, half of whom live in Funchal. If you've been there, most likely it was on a large oceangoing cruise liner--600 dock in Funchal each year. If you are an American, you probably haven't heard of, let alone, visited Funchal. Americans are the anomaly. It is a popular vacation spot for Europeans.
Although we both slept poorly on the plane, the sun was the perfect elixir. After checking into our hotel--the Jardins do Lago--we walked down hill to the waterfront, where we took a 15-minute cable car ride up to Monte, the small town where a fantastic tropical garden is located. It is ranked in the Top 10 gardens in the world by Condé Nast Traveler. We concur. The flow is downhill, with lots of statuary scattered throughout--everything from classic Grecian statues to Japanese and Chinese figures. There are Japanese and Chinese gardens, an ornate villa, and even a tennis court that predates the garden. Small waterfalls and lots of hydrangeas dot the landscape, which is thick with green palms, ferns, and other foliage.
After three hours, it was time to take the cable car back down to Funchal. We stopped for an ice tea at a bar that overlooked a rocky beach, and then had dinner at La Ao Fundo in the old town section of town. I had the dirty rice and grouper with prawns. Evelyn enjoyed the espa (a breed of swordfish) over a bed of a polenta-like mash. Dinner was followed by a leisurely walk back to the pedestrianized mall, where I had coffee gelato at the Ritz, a very nice ice cream and dessert parlor. A good first day.
Copyright 2016, Jack B. Siegel. All Rights Reserved