The hotel is '70s themed with dark furniture and attitudes to match, the receptionist notes that Dave and I have different surnames, as well as a sest menu from 1974: soup, plaice, veal stroganoff, dessert. I wonder if the poor chef sits there day by day wondering why no-one wants his food as the tourists go out to eat salad by the sea. There is a massive photograph of Marilyn in our room (there is a key to the rooms in the foyer: room 207 has Sinatra, 310 Hepburn, 405 James Dean etc, apart from room 1 which features Concord). The bar plays tinkly piano jazz version of She's Leaving Home and more obscurely, Baby Plays Around by Elvis Costello.
We are between two rivers (safely tamed), one of which we cross to get to the town hall square, past the pink and ornate ex-British consulate, now a series of shops, past the remains of a ruined fort, a shop selling cookware and religious statuary - buy a set of saucepans and get a free Virgin Mary stirrer (later, we see a shop selling wooden dildos and barbecue equipment), round the cathedral square, down near the marina where English pensioners sit with chips and glasses of Poncha (lemon, rum and honey cocktail) under globular lights, looking out on the cruise ships on the water, gigantic glittery cites afloat.
In the morning, we walk uptown to the Santa Clara nunnery and take the guided tour. In 1566, the nuns took off to the aptly named Nuns' Valley (or Curral das Freiras) because of pirate invasion. Nuns v pirates! It would make a great Disney pic. We learn about Captain Zarco, who, despite the name, wasn't a pirate - he was the first Portuguese to settle Madeira and he ended up running half of it. He's buried here; his granddaughters set up the convent. In ye olden days, the first born daughter in a family took holy orders and the first son became a priest. In England, the second, less important sons became vicars. I think we've got it the right way about.
In the chapel, there are 51 seats for a full complement of nuns, each decorated with a frankly creepy angel head (the abbess's seat has a crowned angel). The convent is full of surprises, furniture made from sugar cane boxes (from the days before slavery killed the Madeiran sugar trade), cupboards which open to reveal frescoes (fresci?) and stones slide back to show us gravestones (this one stood in the main church for a while but priests kept tripping over it, which sounds like a Father Ted plotline). There is also a Jesus icon, which the richer families used to take away and play dress-up with. So much of Catholicism seems to involve dressing up, but it's this kind of kitsch OTT side of Catholicism rather than the no contraception/abortion/sex before marriage, or paedo priests, that is attractive to Protestant atheists.
Further up is the 17th century fort looking out over the bay (for pirates). There's no-one around and it costs nothing to go in and look at the views. If this were England, there'd be actors dressed as sailors, a gift shop and an £8.50 entrance fee (£6 children and OAPs). Here it's just us and the picosaurs (lizards) running up the walls, bougainvillea, swan like cacti and orange flora. We go into the delightful cafe opposite the convent and take tea.
We walk down Avenida Amiga, the pedestrian avenue of cafes, gelaterias, (we have a madeira cake (bolo de mel) ice-cream) and theatre. Down to the seafront, which is more tourist central with its lobster restaurants, catamaran trips, tuk-tuks, one living statue (sitting down) and one non-living statue of Ronaldo.
We take more tea at the Lojo Do Cha, which does a hundred different chas and a mean line in scones with passion fruit curd. We try out the swimming pool which is on the hotel's roof with a view of the cable car and mountains but it's far too cold, even for us Brits.
Some things I have learned. Funchal means fennel, although it's not on any restaurant menu; a galao, which was a cafe con leche in mainland Portugal is a latte here, one needs to ask for a chinesa; I went 'round Porto and Lisbon wrongly saying obrigado, rather than obrigada. I bypass this sexism by saying obrigad, or, since everyone speaks English, thanks. Other things: Madeirans are taller than mainland Portuguese, I remember towering over 4'10" matriarchs in Lisbon.
In the evening, we try out a curry joint, which is only catering to English tourists, so it's only OK. At least here, everything opens at 6.30 p.m. so the OAPS can be in bed by 9 p.m., unlike in Spain where you often see English people lurking around restaurants at 8.30, waiting for them to open.
There is no crime on Madeira, so it's surprising that the next morning, we're woken up by a car alarm. Through the old town with is art galleries, restaurants and decorated doorways (murals, collages, 3D shell decor, ironwork) to take a trip up the mountain to Monte by cable car. The journey takes ten minutes in which time we've seen the whole of Upper Funchal, from pink dollhouse type buildings to colonaded houses with pools, to huts clinging to a precarious existence on the side of the mountain with a chicken, a sheep and a vegetable patch. Cats sun themselves on roofs.
In Monte village, we find a fountain-cum-shrine, a bandstand, a church we can't go into because of restoration (we climb the church tower nonetheless), a cafe, and lots of tourist goods: bracelets, bolo de caco (Portuguese garlic bread), hats, religious tat, get your picture taken with a falcon, or a parrot. It's a far cry from Sintra, where everything was shut. Men in straw boaters push people down the hill in toboggans, or stand around playing cards. Nails have been hammered into the walls for them to hang their hats and personal effects.
We go into the Tropical Garden, with its orchids, Chinoiserie, Japanoiserie, water features, statues, aviary, thousand year old olive trees, tiled murals, Buddhas, dragons, koi carp, swans, a duck house that a Tory MP would covet, succulents and ferns. Lots and lots of ferns. There is also a free tasting of Madeiran wine. They sure like to give it away.
The cable car cafe has no veggie food so we improvise, Dave has ham and cheese toastie (sem fiambre) and I have a mixed salad with deliciously fried cubes of polenta. The Lonely Planet food nazis would not like Madeira as every menu is translated into several languages, often with accompanying pictures. Later, we have a pastel de nata in a cafe near our hotel, it is not as good as those in Lisbon, the pastry is shortcrust rather than flaky, the egg custard more custard than ovo. In the evening, we go out for an indifferent pizza, but we do try green wine, which is young Portuguese white wine, and look out at the illuminated trees, all done up in their finery for Saturday's carnival. There are electrical masks and booths selling Poncha and chocolates. The town hall is lit up pink as we walk past it with the jewellery box hills behind.
Off on a road trip to Santana, 16 km and 90 minutes around winding, precarious roads on a bus. I don't look down as we career around the shifty mountain roads with their flimsy looking barriers. First, we travel to the hiking district where a lot of people carrying Nordic poles get off and then on through tiny villages with a glass encased Mary and aloes in terracotta pots, meat hung in nets, air-drying, a solitary white steeple. Goat. Gourds. Mist smoking off mountains. Wooded hills like green broccoli. Rows of round lettuce in market gardens, thousand upon thousands of nasturtiums, giant buttercups, marigolds, geraniums, California poppies, spiky orange bird of paradise blooms, and blue Pride of Madeira, silver trees with branches standing on end, like frightened hair, cedars, junipers, laurels. people in army fatigues cleaning brush. Coming out of ancient woodland into a clearing where the only sign of civilisation is the bus stop and a recycling bin. There are dolls tied to lamp-posts, which I thought might be to do with carnival, but they have signs attached to them, like a warning.
At Santana, we take pics of the palherios, timber and thatch cottages. In the olden days, after they stopped being used as peasant huts, they became cattle sheds, but now they're back to being cute homes, or tourists attractions, selling flowers, Poncha, sweets, handicrafts, postcards and so on. Some have had their thatch removed and replaced by corrugated iron and are used for storing tools or plants.
There isn't much to do after you've seen the houses, so after a pleasant lunch, we get the next bus back and sit with coffee and cake and wi-fi in a cafe before visiting the cathedral when it's open again after its four hour lunchbreak. It's more tasteful and refined than some Spanish churches (apart from the private altar), with no dress-up icons. Near the cathedral, we watch a pre-carnival parade that comprises men playing a tune on clarinet, trumpet and drums whilst teenage girls, dressed variously as an angel, devil, sheriff and mime artist, dance among them, trying to get passers-by and tourists to join in. The young woman sat next to us on the plane told us she was dancing in the carnival but we don't see her. Just think, we could have all this if Henry VIII hadn't fancied Anne Boleyn.
In the evening, we eat at the rather posh Mozart restaurant with delicious food enlivened by a shitload of freebies: wine, bread, amuse-bouche, palate cleanser and digestif (more Madeiran wine).
I miss the fortnight wait for holiday snaps. When you get back, you want to see the landscape again, but in five years time, you want to see yourself in them, what you looked like then. Holidays are simultaneously going into the future (the climate of a few months hence) and the past (old fashioned places where tradition still rules).
We walk through Jardim de Santa Caterina to the Hotel Zone which is where the Victorian entrepreneurs built their first hotels (and where Maggie and Denis had their honeymoon - I want to find the place to spit on the steps). I assumed it would be all colonial palaces and shady avenues, but it's basically a busy main road. We find the bus-stop and take the Rodoeste autobus to Camara de Lobos, a seaside village full of boats, cafes, drying scabbard fish, and tourists. Up above there are lines of lines of plantain plantations. An old ship patrols the harbour. Churchill used to paint here, which explains why there's a Winston Churchill restaurant up the hill, although no artists have set up easels on the quayside.
After we've wandered around and had the requisite coffee/beer, we hang around the bus-stop with the English until it turns up (there's no timetable) to breakneck the journey back to Funchal where we have tea and sandwiches at the civilised tea rooms and then wander down to the yellow fort, now the Contemporary Art Museum and look inside a fancily alter-ed church.
The restaurant situated in an old salt warehouse where I wanted to spend our last night is full up ("No chance," says the waiter), so we go to a place in the old town that has vegetarian options (omelette, pasta, lasagne) and a load of OAP Brits. I'm looking forward to seeing a few people under 40 when we get back. Dave has a flambee for pud, they do also crepe suzette, peach melba and banana split. I don't mind British culture abroad, this is how peoples mingle and grow, but it's always 1970s culture: steak and chips. Full English. Roast dinner every Sunday, whatever the weather. Entertainment in the hotel from an ITV Saturday evening name. Nescafe. PG Tips. Restaurants still serving these meals better up their menus for when the oldsters die off. Luis, the waiter who's been here since was 15 (he looks about 35 now), talks about how nothing has changed since then ("Sometimes we move the furniture around"). But they give us complimentary Madeira wine and pomegranate liqueur before and after the meal, respectively, so I'm not complaining.
There're only two more tourist experiences left to do in Funchal: Blandy's wine lodge and the mercado. The latter is too touristy but the former offers a tour and tasting for pennies.
We spot a fine vintage, quaff some Bual and then there's only time for lunch before the airport run.