Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Walking with the gadgette II  March 5th - 12th

  No walk this week as I have been on holiday in gadgieland, aka Madeira, with the gadgette, the gadgiebabes Kate and Lucy, the apprentice gadgie Mark, who has many years to go before he gets a bus pass, and the mini gadgie Alex who has 59 years to wait for his.
 When I was a mere boy I read a couple of books by Ludwig Bemelmans. One was called Hotel Splendide but I can't remember the title of the second, nowadays it would be Hotel Splendide II, or Return to Hotel Splendide. They were gently humorous tales of life in a huge hotel in New York between the two world wars. Living in a forties council house in Lancashire as I did, the luxury and size of the hotel  was beyond my comprehension.  When I got to stay in New York for a few days in 1966 the student hotel I chose was seriously lacking in the spendour of Ludwig's place of work, a bit grubby and the TV  only seemed to show baseball.
 The Pestana Promenade Hotel in Funchal is probably not as luxurious as Hotel Splendide either but it is a holiday hotel offering a pretty high standard of accomodation, swimming pools, saunas, jacuzzis and Turkish baths. We booked a three room apartment which had a living space, kitchenette and two bedrooms. One room for Lucy, Mark and baby Alex, one room for the gadgette and I and a settee/bed for gadgiebabe Kate. Three bathrooms, one hot tub, three balconies and underground parking. A long way from the boarding houses of my youth.

Part of the Pestana Promenade Hotel in Funchal. We had an apartment on the top  two floors.

  We did not do any serious walking on the holiday, Alex was not too keen on the levadas but we had a great family time.  In our rented VW Sharan, with me driving and the gadgette's eyes tightly shut we drove to the Curral das Freiras, Valley of the nuns. Since our  last visit some years ago either a tunnel has been dug avoiding some of the more tortuous bends or we came a different way. Previously we journeyed by bus along narrow roads which climb steeply through tight bends and with only a low  wall protecting vehicles from a vertical descent to the valley floor. 
 The nuns apparently came to this valley to avoid the attentions of fifteenth century pirates who were probably not too keen on their devotions. Now it is a tourist spot with views, roast chestnuts and a serving of chips even bigger than the portions from Gills Fish and Chip Shop on Chillingham Road in Newcastle.

Sister Lucy at the Valley of the Nuns. She has few bad habits, taking the piss out of her dad is one of them.

Looking down the Valley of the Nuns. A good walk on another day.

  Another day we went for a trip on a replica of Christopher Columbus's  ship the Santa Maria. I have nothing but admiration for the men who sailed the Atlantic on these tiny vessels. The replica is fitted with an engine but at one point it was shut down and sails were hoisted to give us some idea of life on the ocean wave. I suspect the sailors were not offered Madeira wine and cake as they crossed the ocean, nor would they have a pump action toilet like this boat has.
Avoiding the perils of the deep, the rum and the lash,
Alex sleeps through a typhoon aboard the Santa
Maria. But he liked the ships dog and the parrots.
He is probably singing "Sloop John B" to himself.
"We sailed on the sloop John B,
My grand daddy and me"
Long John Silver Hair shows Alex the ship's parrot.

Cabo Girao from the deck of the Santa Maria.
Aboard the Santa Maria, safely in
The ship hove to, (naval term for stopping) beneath the highest cliffs in Europe, the Cabo Girao, 580 metres from top to bottom. At the foot of the cliffs is a restaurant and a few houses. The hamlet is served by a lift that descends the cliffs, bringing guests and supplies and taking away local exotic produce, It's either the lift or a boat, there is no road.

After the excitement of the Santa Maria a trip round an extinct volcano sounded tame but our drive out to Sao Vicente on the north side of the island turned out to be interesting and another opportunity to don my Geography teacher's patched jacket.*
The visit started with a well illustrated exhibition of volcanoes and their workings, followed by a short film on the formation of the Madeira archipelago, a journey by lift to the centre of the earth and a 3D film on the formation of the Madeiran archipelago. The CGIs were good, the narration subtitled but sufficient and the trip finished with a walk through lava tubes deep underground.

                                              Inside a lava tube at Sao Vicente. Long
                                      extinct, fortunately.

Apart from the trips we did a lot of strolling up and down the promenades of Funchal like proper tourists, a fair bit of relaxing in and out of pools and some visits to a sauna. On one afternoon I sat with a rather fat German gentleman in a very hot sauna, blackheads popping  and floors wet with sweat. He had rolls of fat, fuelled no doubt by years of eating wurst and drinking good German beer. It was only when he stood up I realised he was completely naked!
And then there were the quizzes. One evening, leaving grandma to babysit the four of us went to O'Hallaransbejesustopothemorningslainte Irish pub to enter the quiz, and have some beers. A fun quiz with occasional clues, needed by me for the picture round because all female TV stars look alike, and we won! The prize was a round of drinks, well worth winning. Next night the hotel held a quiz for guests in the bar. It started at 6pm so Alex could join in. We won, with a fantastic score of 28/30, mainly because the gadgiebabes could answer the music questions and I was old enough to remember such things as the comedy duo who appeared on the last "Sweeney" show. (Morecambe and Wise in case you forgot) and Kathleen knew the name of the dam on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe (Kariba). The prize, collected by Alex was a voucher for two breakfasts in the hotel dining room. As we were self catering breakfasts consisted of healthy muesli and bananas but next morning Mark and I did justice to the complete English and a bit more. Set up for the day with arteries blocked by bacon grease we returned to the healthy vegetarians.
All in all a good family holiday, even if we never made it to a levada. But we did have the lovely Alex to make up for that. As we left Kate said Goodbye to Madeira, a green island of beutiful trees, plants, wine, cake and pensioners. True.

                                                 Alex sporting a one piece swim suit
                                                       and kepi.
When the plane arrived back in Manchester we, along with all the other passengers, had to wait over an hour for our luggage. The reason, apparently, the plane was early so luggage had to wait for its alotted time. There was only one other plane unloading at the time, from Dublin, not a fleet of Boeing 747s from the Dominican Republic. The large TVs in the baggage hall said "Welcome to England."
* Perhaps I should explain. I have never taught Geography but I do like maps. In England it is almost a tradition that PE teachers (Probably called Sports Facilitators today) taught a little Geography when they were not torturing children in the gym. And Geography teachers always seemed to wear sports jackets with leather elbow patches. Today they probably wear jeans and a sweatshirt and  say things like "OK guys, listen up." Standards Michael, standards, as Miss Brown used to say.