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Cunard Queen Victoria 2017
Canaries Christmas Voyage - part 2
Map Introduction and Embarkation at Southampton Madeira - Portugal La Palma - Canary Islands Tenerife - Canary Islands Lanzarote - Canary Islands Christmas Day and other Activities at Sea General Days at Sea - includes the Britannia Club and Verandah Restaurant La Coruna - Spain and Return to Southampton

Funchal, Madeira

We have been to Madeira many times in the past so we usually know what we want to do. This time we wanted to start off by having a look at the damage the huge fires had done in August 2016 in the area above and almost into Funchal. The plan was to take the cable car (or the much cheaper local bus) up to Monte and have a look into the church as we passed and also have a look at the gardens at Monte which we have visited many times then take the pleasant walk along the levadas (irrigation waterways) to the Botanical Gardens and a bus down as we did a few years ago. Monte suffered little damage but we understood the main Botanical Gardens had been damaged and closed for a while. We took a fairly leisurely walk through the main street of town with a quick look into the cathedral which was fortunately open so we could look round and see the small Belén. It was then on through the market and on to the Cable Car station where we discovered that our plan was flawed as the walking path had been closed due to damage from the fires and was still not open - so plan B was to take the second stage of the cable car across to Botanical gardens and then return the same way as there was a ticket covering the return journey on both cable cars and included the entry to the gardens. Last time the second cable car route had been closed.

We looked into the Church at Monte and little of the fire damage was visible from the cable car or in Monte and the Gardens looked fine from the outside so we walked down the short path to get the second cable car. We could start to see fire damage to trees and a couple of damaged roofs on buildings but a lot less than we had expected although some of the isolated burnt areas seemed closer to town than we expected. The winds had been high and it looked as if the fire had jumped quite big distances starting isolated fires which had then been extinguished.

It was a similar situation in the Botanical Garden. Quite a few trees, in particular palms, had been burnt and blackened up the trunks but were growing again at the top. Isolated trees well inside the garden had also been burnt out. A couple of Ilex (Holly) still had their leaves covered in a thick black sticky substance 16 months after the fires but were fine otherwise - one assumes shrubs had burnt around them. But overall the damage was limited and much re-growth had already taken place as you can see in the various pictures that follow.

We caught the two cable cars back. They are much more expensive than the buses but give a slow ascent and descent with plenty of time to admire the views and take pictures. It is also a frequent service. Many tourists rush up and down to Monte as part of a tour missing all the things to do at the top and few continue on the second cable car. Once we were back in town we stopped at the market for Pete to buy some Strelitzias as part of Pauline's Christmas present. The market with its fish hall full of the Espada fish is always a favourite in any case. The next activity we had planned was to go to the Christmas 'Soup Kitchen' which is in the little market area next to their large Belén (Nativity scene). Large round local breads are cooked on hot plates over wood fires having been mixed and proved in containers the size of barrels. They look almost like huge crumpets with vertical holes and are halved and slathered with garlic butter. The soup is again coooked over huge wood fires, in cast iron caldrons. The soup is predominantly vegetable with pieces of pork - Pete had a piece looking like the end of a finger but with no nail (or hole). We were at a loss as to what it was and whether it was edible but a local told us it was the very end of the tail which is quite small on a pig! Wine came in large plastic cups at 1.0 euro a glass so we ate and drank very well for a few euros. We looked round the small market where Pete bought Pauline a large old fashioned wicker shopping basket for Christmas a couple of years ago and we spent a lot of time looking at and photographing scenes from the Belén. One always sees something new.

Funchal is a very pretty city with many buildings and churches dating from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. This is a formal spacious square with a central fountain and with the Town Hall on one side and the Jesuit Church of Saint John the Evangelist on another. The Town Hall was closed to visitors as was the church which was a shame. Last time the central nave glowed in the sunlight, which created a rainbow along one wall. The wooden ceiling is painted with three tromp d'oeil domes and we had a better view of the painting through the window onto the nave as we climbed up to the panoramic terrace. It is normally possible to climb up the tower for a small charge and it is well worth the cost for the views from the top and for the information boards which are on each level. The famous 17th century altar reliquary of the 11 thousand virgins is devoted to the martyrdom of St Ursula and her companions. The reliquary is set with 9 statues with different kinds of reliquary. The attached Jesuit College, founded in 1569 and now part of the University of Funchal, also opens although it was only possible to walk through the central courtyard and visit the exhibition hall. The centre of Funchal is always decorated for Christmas, as usual, and there was a local folklore group performing in the main street. Each year the decorations are different and this year there was an enormous Santa Claus and further along the street the Municipal Gardens were full of red pyramids.

We noticed a sign saying that the Municipal Theatre building had a display of table settings for tea from many of the big hotels such as Reid's Hotel which was free and also gave us a chance to see some of big rooms associated with the Theatre as well as being interesting in their own right. The ticket office had brochures in English which explained that the theatre was constructed between 1884 and 1888. The design follows that of theatres in Milan and Lisbon, with a horse-shoe shaped auditorium divided into a ground floor pit of Stalls and Loggia and three rows of balconies with 9 boxes on each side. It can seat 380 people which compares with the QE/QV theatres which hold 850 people but have only 16 boxes. It was not clear quite what the large upstairs room we visited was used for. For future reference we discovered that the Municipal Theatre has guided tours on Tuesday at 10.00. By the time we had finished it was time to start the walk back to the ship.

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Content revised: 16th July, 2020