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Cunard Queen Victoria 2014
Christmas Cruises - Part 4
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As this was booked as two cruises we once more had a free lunch in the Verandah as we are cunard World Club Diamond memebers and it is one of the perks along with 8 hours each of Satellite Internet access and extra cocktail parties.
The next day started with the Food Fair like the last cruise in the Queens Room. We had to sample a few of the delicasies such as the Stollen, mince pies and little merangue snowmen before we looked round the exhibitions and items for sale.
This was followed by a very interesting and informative demonstration from the Executive Pastry Chef, Renato Dizon and Chef Jeffrey Jordan on making sweets in the Grand Lobby which was packed with people all up the stairs and on all three levels. Not only were the demonstrations interesting but they also gave some fascinating insights into the preparations they were responsible for in the run up to Christmas. There will be a series of gingerbread villages round the ship in the restaurants, the Grand Lobby and other locations which will involve the making of 120 gingerbread houses each over a foot tall. They will be making over 2000 chocolate Father Christmases and even more snowmen, not to speak of the Christmas Cakes. The Christmas Cakes are made in dozens of huge baking trays are and the mixing bowls each hold 10 litres and the cakes in total will contain 45 bottles of Brandy and a further 45 bottles of Rum. There was lots of light hearted banter about the effects of working with so much Brandy especially when Jeffrey put a foot wrong. Jeffrey showed how the strawberries dressed in chocolate jackets were prepared and how the Christmas cakes were iced and decorated. Renato demonstrated how the Chocolate fallen cakes were prepared - they contain a frightening quantity of special chocolate as well as a large amounts of cream etc; we have seen that demonstration before and recall each portion is about 750 calories.
To our surprise, the Strawberry Mascapone Neapolitan also contained a large number of whole eggs and egg yokes - we had expected the Political Correctness Police (PCP) would have banned raw eggs by now but Cunard still keep to proper traditional methods we are glad to say. The Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta also contained nothing but heavy cream, sugar and chocolate and some gelatin leaves to set all rigid. It was interesting to see how easy the spiral and other chocolate decorations are to make - the plating is very important part of the presentation of sweets. We have copies of all the recipes and took pictures of the results - mouthwatering.
We have been to Madeira many times before so we saw no point in taking an organised excursion - the town is within walking distance. We arrived in Funchal and were alongside in the harbour on the far end of the wall as usual which gives a moderate walk to get into the town itself - there is usually a shuttle bus but we usually reckon it is quicker on average and healthier to walk in, we use the shuttles if we have a lot of purchases such as bunches of Strelitzia flowers which we often buy to take home with us as presents or for ourselves. We found that the waterside has been undergoing some extensive reclamation and big new areas of public space and beaches are now in place behind some new sea walls and breakwaters
The centre was alive for the Christmas/New Year Festivities and we walked slowly through, admiring the marvelous nativity displays outside the cathedral and listening to the youth choirs, local singing, brass bands and mandolin players. Madeira and Funchal take the Christmas and New Year period very seriously and not just as a tourist activity. There were many girls in this years green costume helping and posing for pictures and many men and lads in old costumes walking round with goods on their shoulders.
We continued to the little area full of locals where they were making 'soup' and local bread over wood fires and decided it would be something to try again. The breads were about 10 or 11 inches across and nearly an inch thick and rather like an overgrown crumpet in internal texture. We were far too early and were told that the food was available from 1230 onwards so we set off to visit the gardens opposite the Ritz Hotel. It always has extra children's amusements, including life size model reindeers pulling a sleigh and a small model train.
Our next objective was the Indoor Market which we found was closed on Sunday, although the local flower sellers had set up on the pavement outside. Although the market was closed, many of the little supermarkets were open and we bought a typical local custard tart and sponge cake, and one of the local honey Madeira cakes - these are very different to the "English" Madeira cakes being dark brown, very solid and rich. We will use it for our 'coffee morning' when we get back. We walked along to the base of the Cable Car to Monte. The views back over Funchal from the top of the cable car are spectacular but we were short of time for much more than a return trip which is a bit expensive and there isn't very much to see at Monte itself although the Church of Nossa Senhora do Monte is special; it contains the tomb of the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor and there is his statue outside. At the bottom of the church steps is the start of the famous sled run.
By now it was time to return to the the center for the local lunch where we got two huge bowls of thick meat and vegetable soup, a whole bread cut in half and covered in lashings of garlic butter and two beakers of local red wine for less than 10 euros - almost too much to eat. We were thankful we had not ordered two of the breads and hoped our little cakes would keep until breakfast.
We could not go into any of the Madeira Wine Lodges this time as it was a Sunday, usually we make one our final stop. We have tried several of the very old Madeiras from Blandys Wine Lodge Vintage Room on previous visits including an 'anniversary' 1974 Sercial which was very good. We understand that was put into the bottles from the barrel in 2004. Unfortunately this is rarely available for tasting, although last visit one could still purchase a bottle but they were over £150. Some time back we also tried a 1948 for Pete's birthday which is the oldest wine we have ever tried. Blandys Wine Lodge also offer a guided tour which often forms the end of tours. We did not buy any Madeira this year in the shops as we still have several still unopened, mostly ten year olds, from earlier visits and we have found we can purchase many of the ones we have tried in the UK.
We walked up the hill past the town hall as we hoped to revisit the St John Evangelist Church, once the Jesuits College of Funchal which we discovered last year. It has a tower giving views over the town and harbour but more importantly it was undergoing a very major restoration and we spent some time reading about how it was being done. It dated back to the 15th century and in some places there were 7 different layers of paint to understand from sample areas before work could be planned. The results were spectacular. The organ is also very old and will be restored at the same time as a modern replacement is installed for concerts. We would have really liked to have seen how the work was progressing but by the time we got to there everything was closed, maybe because it was Sunday or maybe we were just too late. We have added some of last years pictures to remind ourselves (and our readers) to go next visit
The shuttle bus stop is near the Ritz Hotel and with all our various bits of shopping we decided to take the easy way back to the ship; it was free with our full Cunard fare else Saver Fares have to pay $4.50.
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