Madeira Island - Day 3 - Exploring Funchal - Part 1
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Flowers, fruit and scary monsters!
I was spending today being shown around Funchal by Marta from the Madeira Promotion Bureau who met me from the hotel shuttle bus by the harbour.
As we headed to the farmers’ market, I stopped at one of the many flower vendors’ stalls, transfixed by the stall holder’s Teletubbie style headgear. Marta explained that the “antenna” contains wire and they believe that workers in the fields used to twist them into a loop to hold their wedding ring.
We were heading to the famous Mercado dos Lavradores (workers market). Near the entrance was a shop window displaying the traditional Portuguese dried, salted cod “Bacalhau” and the notorious cocktail, Poncha, made from Aguardente de cana (distilled alcohol made from sugar cane juice) mixed with honey, sugar, lemon rind and with different fruit juices such as passion fruit or lemon.
As we entered the undercover market I was overwhelmed by the heady aroma of flowers, fresh fruit, dried herbs and strong coffee mixed with the pungent stench of fish. Colourful displays of strelitzia, protea, orchids, montbretia, anthurium sat alongside bunches of bananas and baskets of plums, cherries, oranges, lemons, custard apples (whose creamy flesh really does taste like custard) and chayote - a prickly green type of squash originally from Mexico. Handmade wicker baskets of every shape and size were on sale as was embroidered table linen. However, Marta explained that some of the embroidery was machine made and imported from China: I needed to look for the Blue Hologram Quality Seal that confirmed it was handmade in Madeira.
Upstairs the stalls were more aimed at tourists and vendors plied the unwary with samples which, once accepted, would inevitably lead to a purchase. I headed for a stand covered with drying herbs and enjoyed a pleasant chat with a knowledgeable young man about his produce and its uses in treating various ailments. Whilst I had no conditions he could cure, I happily purchased a fragrant bag of herbal tea containing a heady mix of melissa, peppermint, fennel, mallow, pennyroyal, balm-of-gilead, lemon verbena and lemon grass.
It was quite a shock to the system to walk from this aromatic haven into the whiffy fish market where slabs of marble were covered with fish of every shape and size from tiny, shiny golden morsels to large, dark creatures of the deep. Men armed with huge knives were ably gutting and slicing magnificent tuna into steaks.
In the restaurant the previous night I had enjoyed a delicious dish of Black Espada or scabbard fish. I had heard it was a scary-looking fish that had to be dragged from the very depths of the ocean. Long and thin with a black skin and sharp teeth, it grows to a length of 100 cm (about 43 inches). Unsurprisingly, it was quite easy to spot!
After a fascinating visit with so many photo opportunities, it was relief to get out into the fresh air. As I had expressed an interest in the embroidery, Marta thought I might like to visit the Embroidery Museum before taking a cable car up into the mountains. However, first we needed to pop into the Cathedral Se before it closed for lunch.
The Cathedral Se, which takes pride of place in Funchal, was completed 500 years ago. It is a fairly unassuming building and I loved the simplicity of the cedar roof inside. This contrasted sharply with the gold leaf decorations on the other side. The knave was concealed behind screens and scaffolding as it was undergoing refurbishment with many beautiful wall paintings being restored to their former glory. This was due to be completed by Monday 9 June – the day we returned home. Certainly worthy of a return visit.
• Read Madeira Island - Day 1 - Casa Velha do Palheiro
• Read Madeira Island - Day 2 - Walking along the Levada
• Read Madeira Island - Day 3 - Exploring Funchal - Part 2
• Read Madeira Island - Day 3 - Exploring Funchal - Part 3
• Read Madeira Island - Day 4 - Exploring Funchal - Part 4
• Read Madeira Island - Day 5 - Jeep tour into the mountains
• Read Madeira Island - Day 6 - Tasty food, fireworks and rock music
• Read Madeira Island - Day 7 - Vivaldi and Apollo
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