The exercise pattern that is emerging after a year is this – if we don’t find something in our first few days in a location to sign up for or buy passes to – we let exercise ambitions drift away.

Lap swimming in a local pool is turning out to be our go-to activity. It’s something we’ve done with kind-of consistency on our travels so far in Toronto, Montreal, Victoria, Yarmouth and now Funchal. The gear is pretty minimal: swim cap, goggles, bathing suit, flip flops, towel, water bottle. Easy to pack. Easy to purchase if you forget to pack it (Rob).

Swimming in Funchal

Out of all the pools we’ve been to so far – the swimming complex in Funchal is the best by a million miles. It is absolutely gorgeous. We can’t bring our camera in and take photos – but here is a photo from the official website. (

In our first week, Rob did his usual in-depth research, got us all plotted into Google maps and we walked up to the complex – it’s not just one pool. There’s a 25m pool, a 50m pool, a dive pool and a kid’s pool. When I say ‘walked up’ I do mean that literally. It’s a good trek straight uphill.

We knew we were off the tourist-beaten-track when the lovely women at reception, Sylvia, spoke very little English. Of course it was way more than our limited (okay non-existent) Portuguese but it made asking questions challenging. The website isn’t too clear on details like:

  • Is the pool open to the public?
  • What times can you go and do lane swims?
  • How much does it cost?

Those are surprisingly hard questions to ask and answer with charades and smiles. Eventually we got it all sorted out.

  • Yes the pool is open to the public
  • It’s open from first thing in the morning until 9 at night – and you can go ANY TIME! (How awesome is that?)
  • It costs 1.5 Euros per drop in. (Far and away our least expensive swimming place yet.)

That first visit was just a fact finding mission to see if it would work. Once we gleefully discovered that it was going to be awesome…

Rob got back into research mode and figured out what bus we needed to take since the prospect of trekking all the way up the hill would just be an invitation to come up with excuses not to go. Now we feel like such savvy Funchalians (a word I just made up) as we hop on the bus, tap our bus passes, and make our way to the pool.

The first time we went, we had to go through all that tentative rigmarole of figuring out the nuances of the change rooms, how to use the lockers, which pool we were supposed to be swimming in (the 25m) and how it all works. They have a system where you check in with a woman on the pool deck and you get assigned your own lane! None of the passive-aggressive business about self-assessing whether you are slow, medium or fast or the inevitable awkward apologies that spring from sharing a lane with strangers.

Now that we have it all down, it’s easy and efficient. We are settling into a routine of going three times a week. We bus it there (up the hill) and walk back home. There is an awesome fruit stand that we pass on the way that I have discovered has TWO different kinds of dark leafy greens. Produce is so amazing and abundant on Madeira but those dark leafies can be elusive. So it is so relieving to have a source that gets encompassed by my routine.

The way the light comes into this pool is incredible. The higher you get up into the hills of Funchal, the cloudier it can be. The pool is about half way up the hill. So while swimming one 25m length the sun can duck in and out of the clouds and shine through all the skylights making it feel as though you’re swimming in an outdoor lagoon.

There is one slightly embarrassing thing about our gear. About ten years ago (and I swear I am NOT exaggerating that timeline) I bought towels that were on sale at the grocery store. Both kids were involved in swim teams at that point, and Rob and I were doing a lot of swimming. Basically it was impossible to have enough towels in the house to keep up with the demand. Towels on sale were an opportunity to stock up. The design printed on the towels didn’t even enter into my consideration. Cheap, great, I’ll take four.

Well these towels were on sale for such a great price because it was right after Canada day. You know when you go to the store right after the holiday and all the beer can cozies, t-shirts, towels etc are on sale – the sad, sorry, rejected left overs? That’s where these towels came from. They are emblazoned with maple leaves in bold red and white patterns. And they are INDESTRUCTIBLE. They have been washed thousands of times, sat wet and neglected at the bottom of swim bags who knows how often, and generally been treated with minimal respect for over a decade, and they’re still going strong. They are such familiar old friends that we didn’t think twice before packing them as part of our ‘maybe we’ll find a pool’ kit. It wasn’t until I was pulling mine out in a Portuguese change room that I really noticed how, um, patriotic, they are. Oh well.

On our second trip to the pool Rob forgot his bathing suit.

One of the rules of the pool is that you have to be wearing officially designated swim trunks. For men – we’re talking speedo. You don’t have to wear a hip-to-hip-peni-grip (as my sister’s and I used to call it) but it does need to be speedo material and fitted. Rob has a suit that extends down to just above his knee and fits the bill just fine. But as I said – he forgot it. Luckily, he thought, the board shorts he was wearing were technically a bathing suit.

He went to the front desk and did the very elaborate charades required to communicate:

  1. I forgot my bathing suit
  2. Silly me
  3. Can I just wear these shorts-actually-swim-trunks for today?

Horrified no.

But Sylvia, who is truly lovely, was delighted to have an alternate solution. She held up a finger, bustled off, and came back holding a speedo that she had clearly fished from the lost and found. It was still damp.

Here is where Rob gets the gold medal for dedication to swimming. He wore it! I wish, I wish, I wish that I could have been allowed a camera on the pool deck. But I’m afraid you will just have to use your imagination.

On Wednesday, when we went swimming, they were cleaning the 25m pool. We got to use the 50m pool. Wow. It took some getting used to going that extra distance each length but I really liked it.

Running in Funchal

Left to my own devices, I am not a very consistent runner. (I miss you Leigh Fettes!!!) I have been trying to get out on days when we are not swimming. I’ve been sporadic at best.

I’m pretty quick with an excuse to not go but, to my credit, there are a few valid obstacles. The first is finding a good stretch that doesn’t also present as a massive hill workout. The most logical place is down at the harbor. The promenade offers a decent couple of km that are nice and flat. But here’s the problem that I keep running into…

Cruise ships.

I’ve tried at different times in the morning but my timing appears to be jinxed. I always seem to choose a time when one of those massive beasts has just docked and disgorged thousands of passengers. I feel like I am on the start line of a race where I have a historically disastrous strategy. Even though I know I am a slow runner, as soon as I get into a start line situation, I forget this critical fact and go out WAY too fast. There’s something about the feeling of having people immediately in front of me – I have to pass them. This means that I inevitably poop out a few km before the finish. It’s not working out too well for me here in Madeira as I elbow my way past cruise ship passengers (that don’t even realize they are in a race).

The other obstacle is actually a good counterbalance to accidentally running too fast. The different routes that I have tried are chalk a block full of interesting things to take pictures of.

So basically I sprint aggressively through the crowds and then stop abruptly to take photos šŸ™‚

I’m going to post some of the photos I’ve taken on my runs – but keep in mind they are not at all up to Rob Horton standards!