The temperature in both Lisbon and Madeira has been surprising. We did our research in advance and were expecting it to be lovely and warm. In my mind – I had envisioned those kind of glorious September autumn days where the sun still has warmth but with just a hint of crispness to the air. The reality has been more like mid-July. 

I am not complaining about this! It’s just a surprise, that’s all. And thank goodness we packed plenty of summer clothes. The only time it has been a minor issue was last Friday when we were making the journey from Lisbon to Funchal in Madeira. I had to wear my boots (there was no way they were fitting in my suitcase) and my feet spent the whole day shouting at me – ‘Are you kidding? It’s 30 degrees out here!!’ 

We flew to Madeira on Easy Jet, one of the cheapie airlines. It’s about a two hour flight and everything was going smoothly until just before we were supposed to land. The captain came on with an announcement. “You may have noticed that we have been flying around in circles.” (I hadn’t.) “The two flights ahead of us have missed their landings. They are circling around for another attempt.”

Is that not the most horrifying/terrifying thing you have ever heard?

And then the plane began to shake. And I’m not talking about mildly exciting turbulence. The folks who had looked like blasé, sophisticated Europeans while boarding the plane were letting out gasps and small shrieks all around us. I was death-gripping Rob’s thigh so hard that he may have some permanent indentations. Rob is usually a pretty cool customer when it comes to flying but even he was looking nervous. 

Apparently when you have a small island in the middle of the ocean and a runway that is lined up along a bunch of steep hills – you get some terrifying wind conditions for landing. As we lunged and tilted towards the runway I found myself fervently hoping that our pilot wouldn’t miss our landing. I didn’t think I could stand another run at it. Luckily he made it on the first try. 

Sometimes when passengers applaud a landing I have a snarky voice that says, ‘Oh please – the bloody pilot is just doing his job!’ but on this occasion – no snarky thoughts! Well deserved applause!

The runway at the Madeira Airport (not even kidding)

After another perfectly timed (anticlimactic) luggage retrieval experience – Uber hubris kicked in. We breezed through the airport doors into the balmy evening air, already looking forward to quickly dropping our stuff off, and heading out to explore. Rob pulled up the Uber app to get us set up and… Nothing. ‘There are no Ubers,’ he said. ‘At all?’ I asked. ‘None anywhere around here.’

We stared at each other a bit dumbfounded. We were woefully unprepared to be thrown back to a time when you had to have actually done a little research around how to get from the airport to your accommodation. I can’t believe how quickly I have come to take it for granted that you can just plug a few things into your phone and magically get transported exactly where you want to go.    

Here is how blasé I have gotten about everything. I didn’t even know that the airport on Madeira wasn’t even in Funchal (it’s in Santa Cruz) and that it is a long drive. 

We pulled ourselves together and headed for the taxi stand. The first cab driver in line was short, round and very exuberant. He was bubbling with personality and rapid fire Portuguese. Who needs Portuguese when I can point? I showed him my phone with the address of our Airbnb. He squinted at it, said several sentences of something and snatched my phone out of my hand. Before I could properly react, he had trotted off to confer with his cab-cronies and there was a lot of mystified expressions, shrugs and arm waving. Things were not looking good. 

Our driver came bustling back and enthusiastically ushered us into the car. He was talking away, either saying, ‘Okay, I’ve got it figured out and I will take you to that address.’ or possibly ‘Nobody has a clue where this is so I am going to drive you around in circles with my meter running.’ At any rate, we nodded and smiled, like the polite Canadians we are, and hoped for the best.

Here’s where our lack of preparedness gets embarrassing! As we started driving – Rob turned to me and said – what if we have to pay with cash? The usual Rob/Justine dynamic kicked in. Me – don’t be such a pessimist – of course we’ll be able to pay with a credit card. Rob – I don’t think we will… 

We dug through our pockets and back packs and pooled a total of 18 Euros. We realized in quick succession – we had no idea how far the airport was from the city center of Funchal, we had no idea what it would cost, we had no idea how prevalent ATM’s would be, we had no real idea where our Airbnb was relative to the rest of Funchal… (Who let us leave the house!?!) 

As we beetled along the highway, watching the meter climb well past our 18 euro cash threshold, through these amazing tunnels, we had to hope for the best. When we pulled off the highway and into the city the driver turned his head towards us. He told us, ‘You GPS. You tell me.’ He was totally old school and didn’t have a phone. 

Rob plugged the address into Google maps. At each intersection, the driver would slow down, alarmingly take his eyes off the narrow road, and look back at Rob. Rob had to shout out whether to turn or keep going. Mostly we had to keep going straight which was quite confusing. The word ‘straight’ and pointing straight ahead did not mean anything to our driver. He would drift through the intersection facing backwards and looking utterly confused and shouting out ‘front? Front?’ It was all so surreal that it took us a while to realize that when he said, ‘front’ he meant ‘straight’.  

Rob got the hang of it and before long – as we approached each intersection – he would sing out ‘front, front!’ if we needed to go straight. 

In fairness to our driver, and his fellow taxi professionals, our Airbnb is on a very tiny and obscure side street. We did eventually find it. I think our driver felt a little like our pilot must have when he successfully landed our plane. I know I felt like giving a round of applause. All three of us felt like we had come through a bonding adventure together. 

And then we asked if we could pay with Visa.

Our driver’s face fell. No – he told us, in a horrified tone, as though we were asking for something outrageous! Rob did his best not to look smug. (I hate it when he is right.) 

After our navigation adventures – the cash thing didn’t turn out to be that big of a deal to resolve. There was an ATM just around the corner. Rob and the driver went and got cash while I beelined for the bathroom (as best I could while trying to pile 4 suitcases into a tiny elevator.)   

Our place is quite amazing. We’re part way up a hill about 600m from the water in a 6 story building. We’re on the 5th floor and have 4 different balconies, 2 in the front and 2 in the back. We’ve got sweeping views across the bustle of the old city and the water. Inside is a little sparse. It is definitely more of an Airbnb rental than a home – with the bare minimum of furniture and necessities.  There’s no art or decorative touches anywhere. At least it is very clean and spacious and we can make it feel homey. 

By the time we hauled all of our stuff in and had a quick look around it was past nine and we were STARVING. We decided to walk around and see what we could find. Within a few minutes we were in the heart of the old city with the most enticing winding, cobbled streets. Most places were quiet and shuttered up for the night. But we could hear the inviting sound of dishes clattering somewhere in the maze of narrow streets. And that was how we found Paula’s Bistro. In a pool of warm light. There was a cluster of small tables set up in front filled with people laughing and chatting. 

Paula’s Bistro

As we sat down Rob pointed to a small sign propped in the window, written in English. It said ‘Vegan and Vegetarian Options Available’. It’s like they knew I was coming 🙂 Our waiter, who spoke fluent English, brought us our menus. There were the usual fish, seafood and meat options. Since they had taken the trouble to make a sign, I asked our waiter about the vegan/vegetarian options and he brought an entirely different menu – full of delicious options. I had a baked red pepper stuffed with a tasty concoction of chickpeas and rice and Rob had a veggie pasta. Everything about our ‘bistro’ experience was just right. Such a good way to start our month in Madeira. 

Not a great night’s sleep that first night. It was lovely to have all the balconies and the refreshing cross breeze but all that open air meant that we could hear all the noises of the city and unfortunately that included an open air concert that seemed to consist of covers of ABBA and Frankie Goes to Hollywood with a heavy dance beat superimposed over top. It was way too stuffy to try to sleep with the balcony doors closed so we just had to put up with it. 

Saturday was all about exploring and of course finding grocery stores and stocking my kitchen. The kitchen situation is unfortunately not great. It’s a check-the-box-kitchen. As in, I imagine there is a list provided by Airbnb that has the minimum of what you need in order to call it a stocked kitchen. Four forks, four spoons, a frying pan, one tea towel, two wine glasses kind of thing… technically the bare necessities for a fully stocked kitchen. But there’s a dearth of what I consider necessities. And I’m not being too much of a princess – honestly. No dish clothes, measuring cups, mixing bowls, a rack that fits in the oven (!), grater, peeler… It’s the kind of kitchen set up that assumes that you may want to make toast or heat up something on the stove – not that you would actually cook in. 

I found a local dollar store and have started to fill in a few holes. Our host has been kind enough to supply us with a blender. I still wish I could figure out a way to use the oven properly but generally I can make it work. 

Funchal is seriously hilly. Seriously. I’m going to let Rob’s photos do the talking on this one. After walking around on Saturday for hours and hours – we were sweaty and thirsty and hungry. It was kind of a mid-afternoon lunch type of meal we were looking for – nothing fancy. We were heading quickly towards tired and grumpy so we decided to head back towards our Airbnb and check out a restaurant we had noticed just on the corner. It didn’t have a breathtaking view or anything – mostly what it had going for it was that it smelled good when we had walked by and it was close to our couch (where we were planning to collapse). Plus it was called ‘The Old Goat’  – Cabra Velha in Portuguese – which for some reason really tickles my funny bone.   

When we arrived it was almost full. All the tables had been pushed together for one large party of at least twenty people. At first it looked as though they wouldn’t be able to squeeze us in but I think the kindly waitress must have seen just how badly we wanted to sit down with a glass of something cold in our hands and found a little table for us. We ordered cold beers. I’m not usually much of a beer drinker but this one was EXACTLY what I wanted and it was delicious. 

The food was the usual meat and fish plates but I’m more and more realizing that Portugal is an amazing place to go with my side-dish strategy. On this menu the side options were rice & beans, salad and then potatoes. For the potatoes you could order french fried or punched potatoes. Obviously I ordered the punched potatoes and unfortunately I am still dying of curiosity around what that could be. They brought us the french fries. I tried to clarify that I wanted the punched potatoes but there were only apologetic smiles and shrugs. The entire staff were totally caught up in the large party. Actually – so were Rob and I. They were fascinating. 

We speculated that they were a big extended family. At first we thought maybe it was a big group of friends or maybe even a work celebration of some sort. But there was just too much drama for it to be anything but family. There was a lot of laughter, gesticulating and shouting. It was so hard to tell, since we didn’t understand a word, whether it was good hearted or angry. It was certainly passionate. Eventually one poor woman was off in the corner crying. Another group of women were gathered shooting death stares at a couple of the men. It would all feel very tragic and then there would be fresh outbursts of laughter. One nice gentleman came over to Rob and I’s table and apologized twice.  

So even though I didn’t get to eat punched potatoes (the beans & rice and salad were delicious – though Rob said that there was chorizo sausage in the beans but I chose not to put on my glasses so I couldn’t see it) it was well worth the stop for sheer entertainment value.

This is getting long!! I’m going to try to be more concise 🙂 Famous last words…

It really is like mid-July here. So beautiful. So on Sunday we decided that we should find a good place to go swimming. We found a place, right in Funchal, where you can swim on the beach and/or you can swim in these natural rock pools that get filled with water when the tide comes in. They’ve built up cement walls on the side by the sea so that when the tide goes out again – the water stays in the pools. We ended up spending a couple of hours there (for a grand total of around 5 euros) and it was refreshing and excellent people watching. It’s a pretty flat-out touristy thing to do, so many nationalities represented. When we first got there, the waves were still coming into the pools, creating some excitement. By the time the tide was out, it was amazingly calm. 

With waves coming in…

Up next – our first death defying hike…

Some photos of Funchal:

The rocky beach
Cruise Ship in the Harbor
Strange Vegan Hot Dogs in Jars
Hurray for Diversity