MILAN : April 2017.

25th April 2017

It’s National Liberation Day today here in Milan and a public holiday to celebrate the end of the Nazi Occupation and Fascist Era in Italy.

The Duomo

There is a lot of protest round the Duomo but otherwise things are quiet, no traffic coming in from Linate Airport, the Airport Express Bus dropping us at that monolithic icon of Mussolini’s reign, the Central Railway Station. 

Continue reading “MILAN : April 2017.”

MADEIRA : 2020

Pedro-of-the-Green :  Travel Notes  :  Madeira 2020

22 January, 2020.

Dear Friends
A few weeks in Madeira seemed like a good thing. We checked into our lovely apartment here after a smooth flight from Gatwick this morning as EU citizens! When we return on the 28th February we will be walking down the “others” channel! How strange that will seem.

The last time we came here was with the grandchildren for Christmas 2018 staying in a hotel along the coast near Reids. This time we are here with Friend Richard – he of Tarry Tour fame – and have an AirBnB above the town in the Santa Antonio district for five weeks until the end of February.

23 January, 2020.

It’s a whole house. Up a lot of stairs and hills and with a rather disconcerting garden; very pretty but with an enormous amount of rather kitsch garden decoration: gnomes, cement flamingos and other “bricolage”. Suzanne Costa, the owner, lives in the house immediately below us with her husband, her mother and Rocky the dog plus a perpetually cooing cageful of beautiful white doves – in fact there are two more cages in amongst the tropical shrubs and flowers. It is the mother who is the green-fingered Costa.

Suzanne Costa has a South African accent and lo-and-behold, hails from Johannesburg where she was born and lived until nine years ago when she returned to the ancestral heimat so-to-speak, her grandparents having left here to make a go of a new life after the war. They have all returned, including one grandparent, the grandmother, who sadly hangs by a thread at the local hospice being 98 years old. Costas from all over are assembling as we speak for the inevitable, sad departure.

Its lovely here. The weather is mild; warm in the sunshine, cool in the shade. There is neither aircon nor heating in the house and warm clothing is needed in the evenings with welcome duvets and blankets bedside. There are three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It is double-storeyed with large reception rooms, a laundry and kitchen filled with the usual questionable wares, but it all works and we are all domesticated and managing well. Why are AirBnB’s so badly equipped in the kitchen department and always but always, have blunt knives? Richard has brought a set of ceramic knives thank goodness.

Shopping is nearby though getting both our luggage and all the piles of shopping from the street up stairs and terraces was a mission that nearly induced a cardiac arrest! 

But here we are Friends and intend taking things gently: there is no need to hurry to every Lavada on the island all at once. 

8 February, 2020.

Pencils at the ready Friends for some note taking! Don’t think our wintering in Madeira lets you off the hook! Just because you’ve not heard a peep from us for nearly three weeks doesn’t mean we are not here nor does it mean you must stop your researches!

What a cheek!

It’s a great lark this notion of “wintering”. We have settled into a good routine in a kind climate from a comfortable base in a large two-storeyed house with a gnomically groomed garden and a partial view of Funchal. 

We were above the clouds and our hearts were singing! (Too much?)

Its famously steep, Madeira. Exhaustingly so which is why their Lavadas are perfect for us and a miracle of ancient engineering. An irrigation system that clings to the cliffs and hills but runs along gentle contours for miles and miles is a truly lovely way to walk this island with its mighty cliffs and gorges thrust up from the sea by unimaginable forces aeons ago. Now covered with trees and flowers, not all blooming quite yet because this is February, and thousands of banana plantations, small vineyards, vegetable allotments and orchards on terraces that induce dizzying vertigo, making one wonder how many of these patches are reached to be worked and, indeed, even some of the houses? How on earth did anyone get the bricks and mortar there in the first place. 

Poiso to Porto da Cruz

We are companionable. The three of us flew out here, and  quickly established distances to good shops and markets – either uphill or downhill and either way of course up and down! Thank heavens for the newly established Ubers – U is for UP and so is Uber. Down in the bus and up with the shopping. Fortunately we are good at cooking and so far have not, except for once when I dined out two friends who live here, eaten out. Wine is cheap and plentiful, fresh fish and sea food amazing and a fairly well equipped kitchen (no decent knives; we had to bring our own as we know of old how 

We are companionable. The three of us flew out here, and  quickly established distances to good shops and markets – either uphill or downhill and either way of course up and down! Thank heavens for the newly established Ubers – U is for UP and so is Uber. Down in the bus and up with the shopping. Fortunately we are good at cooking and so far have not, except for once when I dined out two friends who live here, eaten out. Wine is cheap and plentiful, fresh fish and sea food amazing and a fairly well equipped kitchen (no decent knives; we had to bring our own as we know of old how 

We are companionable. The three of us flew out here, and  quickly established distances to good shops and markets – either uphill or downhill and either way of course up and down! Thank heavens for the newly established Ubers – U is for UP and so is Uber. Down in the bus and up with the shopping. Fortunately we are good at cooking and so far have not, except for once when I dined out two friends who live here, eaten out. Wine is cheap and plentiful, fresh fish and sea food amazing and a fairly well equipped kitchen (no decent knives; we had to bring our own as we know of old how 

useless the cutlery is in these AirBnBs) means we treat ourselves well on the culinary front.

Plentiful fresh fish!

Friends have come and gone. Richard’s brother Philip joined us for an action-packed week last week; Tony has tripped to and fro the MBFIL in Trivandrum, Kerala, where he was wined and dined and had a positive and happy interaction with the many writers there. They were kind enough to fly him from here to there and back again – not through London. And next week Friend James arrives for a week. With three double bedrooms and two bathrooms this is all comfortably possible. Any more takers?

Friends have come and gone. Richard’s brother Philip joined us for an action-packed week last week; Tony has tripped to and fro the MBFIL in Trivandrum, Kerala, where he was wined and dined and had a positive and happy interaction with the many writers there. They were kind enough to fly him from here to there and back again – not through London. And next week Friend James arrives for a week. With three double bedrooms and two bathrooms this is all comfortably possible. Any more takers?

Other friendly coincidences have been lovely. Friend Di Langford was here for a week though we never actually met as our plans did not quite fit and then from our disastrous cruise to South America some years ago, Friends Hugh and Howard are here for a month.

There are museums and galleries and I have been once to a concert by the Orquestra Classica da Madeira under Ariel Zuckerman in fine form with works by Johann Strauss, Elgar and Saint-Saëns, the 2nd Piano Concerto being the centre piece of the evening – well played by Suzana Bartal. The orchestra is a permanent asset of the island and I hope to hear more. We’ve not heard any Fado yet.

But it is the Lavadas that possess us and on which we have spent the most time. They are long hikes. Eight to as much as 15 kilometres and in gentle weather manageable even though knees and backs and hips twang with pain!

Yes, the weather: ambient temperatures in the upper teens, mostly sunny and as high as 24 midday. Cool at night; a little humid. There have been spits and spots but mostly clear skies; clouds on the mountains; sunny along the coast.So that’s what wintering is Friends. As Storm Ciara approaches the UK, and with no ghastly Brexit news, no Coronavirus (yet), no bush fires, no lying presidents and silly prime ministers – we are having a delightful time.

Back at the end of the month.

Boa sorte e saudação, amigos!

12th February, 2020.

Thank you, Friends for all your observations about Madeira. So interesting. Thank you for bothering to read them at all!

We are here for almost six weeks which means that we are actually living here properly; not in a hotel but in a house which we rent from Suzanne Costa.

The South African connections are fascinating for us of course.

Suzanne, her husband and young son, and her mother and, until last week, her grandmother, live here in what for Madeira is a large property with adjoining houses and some land. Imagine my surprise when we arrived and were greeted by perfect, South African-accented English. It transpires that after the war, Portugal having been very much impoverished by isolation and a breakdown in international trade led to a sad decline for what was once the oldest Nation in Europe (Founded in the 9th Century), with the longest and oldest still-serving navy and the first global trading Empire. It was the Portuguese who sent forth the Da Games, the Henri Navigators, the Bartholomew Diazs to discover a new world – and they became rich and powerful – more so even than Spain. Her oldest ally was and still is, uninterruptedly, Britain. Both maritime traders. 

Wars in the 18th century and the advent of Napoleon ended all that success and Portugal did not keep up, nor progress industrially though clung to her enormous Empire. Indeed during Napoleon’s rampages the Portuguese Royal Court removed itself to Brazil whence it ruled its Empire. The First Republic ended the monarchy and the influence of the Catholic Clergy.

The advent of Salazaar, Hitler and World War 2 kiboshed everything and what I am leading up to saying was that many Portuguese, like the British in 1945 sought work and success in places like Angola, Brazil and Mozambique among others. Because the Union Castle and other ships stopped in Madeira en route to and fro Africa and where there was no work, the fruit (banana) industry having collapsed, took ship south and many went to SA. Suzanne’s granny who died last week and granddad were one such family. 

Now that Angola & Mozambique, like Zimbabwe and to an extent SA have collapsed for whites, the Portuguese are returning to their roots just as the English South Africans are moving to the UK and the Commonwealth. 

So Madeirans are loyal and have returned in their droves where they find an Island that prospers and a lovely setting in which to live. So we have come across, almost every day, SA accented Portuguese or, even, just South Africans holidaying here.

The Livadas obsess. They are astonishing; and vital to the island’s existence. Temperate though the climate may be with mists swirling the mountains and rain falling fairly regularly, even snow on the peaks, because Madeira is basically a rock sticking out of the sea, the water runs off it like a roof; there are no rivers, just gorges and flash floods. There are water shortages and the livadas act like gutters collecting the run off and diverting water all round the island along a maze of complex canals that run in contours at unimaginably impossible heights, sometimes through tunnels, along ledges and there is always the gurgle of water to be heard. It is miraculous.

Today we went to look at the Palheiro Gardens, inextricably entwined with the fortunes of Madeira wine and the Blandy family: a merchant dynasty founded two centuries ago on the Atlantic island of Madeira by a young Englishman in search of better living. Today the Blandys are best known as the leading shippers of Madeira wine but, from the foundation of the firm in 1811, they built up an extensive trading business, sending shipments of wine and goods across the oceans, to North America and Caribbean, to India and the Baltic. The family made remarkable sums from coaling and victualling passing ships, supplying both Yankees and Confederates during the American Civil War. While numerous English wine houses were ruined by the devastating wine plagues of the 1850s and 1870s the Blandys emerged with the world’s finest stock of vintage Madeiras, a tradition magnificently maintained at their Wine Lodge in Funchal.

They restored the old Estate of the 1st Count of Carvalhal, re-establishing the beautiful gardens and building up a considerable collection of exotic trees and shrubs.

There is a tea house there overlooking, believe it or not, an 18 hole golf course, surely the only course on the island, where we were delighted by and fell for the Pasteis de Nata, a custard tart of inestimable wonder that I cannot keep my eyes off and my mouth away from!

And we all fall for them!

Valentine’s Day, 14th February, 2020.

And don’t forget Fado. I love Fado. Many say its music and poetry to kill yourself with its so depressing. Get out the razor blades and Nembutal!

Not so.

Its warm and funny; sad and evocative and as Alexandra Sousa explained to us, the feelings, the passions are more important than the technical perfection of the singing. Justice must be done to the truth of the poetry.

We visited Sabor a Fardo a restaurant in the old town run by a family of singer/restaurateurs who served up typical Madeiran fare and entertained us to an evening of Fado: Mother (Alexandra Sousa), Father, Daughter, Daughter-in-Law (Sofia Ferreira) and on guitar and Portuguese Guitar – a beautiful instrument – son and a cousin.

It was an evening so filled with warmth and love; clearly this family get along well and their commitment to the music was obvious. Much dedication there.

We spoke to both Alexandra – definitely the most mature voice and clearly a matriarch – and Sofia and they told us of the history of local Fado and their part in it.

Justice must be done to the truth of the poetry.We visited Sabor a Fado a restaurant in the old town run by a family of singer/restaurateurs who served up typical Madeiran fare and entertained us to an evening of Fado: Mother (Alexandra Sousa), Father, Daughter, Daughter-in-Law (Sofia Ferreira) and on guitar and Portuguese Guitar – a beautiful instrument – son and a cousin.

It was an evening so filled with warmth and love; clearly this family get along well and their commitment to the music was obvious. Much dedication there.

Fado

We spoke to both Alexandra – definitely the most mature voice and clearly a matriarch – and Sofia and they wonderfully explained the history of Fado and their part as a family in it. We came away from the evening feeling warm after an evening of great humour and love. It’s a tender music. The Portuguese Guitar looks and sounds very like a mandolin but is not; rather, it was explained, it is an English invention, the English guitar which caught on in Portugal during the 16th Century and was imported and slightly adapted into its present shape and sound. We came home very happy. 

Here is a sample of Alexandra Sousa’s Fado.

16th February, 2020.

I first came to Madeira when I was a little boy travelling from Durban to Southampton on the RMS Edinburgh Castle.We arrived early in the morning and 

stayed for the day. Madeira had recently extended the harbour so that our 28,708 ton ship could just squeeze into it. Before that ships rode  anchor and you went ashore on lighters. Little boats would put out from the shore with tourist trinkets, lace and clothing made on the island for sale, Madeira wines and cakes and other tourist knick-knacks.

Lithe men would dive for coins from the boat deck in an amazing display of prowess and bravery.


Ashore steep, narrow roads, mainly cobbled, led you to the island’s secrets: tea at Reids Hotel, a pony trap ride up to Monte to see the church and resting place of the last Habsburg Emperor, Karl 1 of Austria who died here aged 34 in 1922. You were amazed by the tropical gardens in Monte and then thrilled by the descent in rickety basket sleds pulled by two white clad young men, returned to the Funchal Esplanade before embarking the ship for the last leg north to England.

Today in feats of staggering engineering there are modern motorways that thrust through the mountains in long, complex tunnel systems and over gorges on impossibly stilted, concrete viaducts all around the island; cable cars whisk you from the centre of Funchal up to Monte and then across the gorge to the Botanical Gardens; there are ubers and taxis and buses that fetch and carry you from shops, to and from livada walks and to pretty eating spots with lovely views. 

But still the white clad toboggan drivers ply their energetic trade and there are even a few horse drawn carriages though poor things must get exhausted, horses and men!  

It’s a world away from that visit I made when I was a little boy!

Fine dining at Quinta da Casa Branca, Madeira after lolling around the Lido and overpriced Henricks Gs&Ts + Cucumber preprandial on the Roof Terrace at the Nine Andrade Silva Design Centre. 
Quinta da Casa Branca is brilliant. If you come here ever dear Friends, its worth the money. They do a superb tasting menu too which we will go back to sample next week. Their Chef came out and chatted afterwards and told us that he is aiming for Michelin status. Good luck to him. It was a superb evening.

Today, Friends another 10 kilometer hike through sensational scenery, along terrifying levadas, up roads so steep one driver requested a re-routing. Steps up; steps down; steps along to the 25 Fontana at 1,400 metres. Returning to Funchal the smell of heated brake linings was distinct! How cars, gearboxes and big ends last here is a miracle! 

24th February, 2020.

We have had high, hot winds from North Africa the past few days. Flights have been cancelled from Madeira’s terrifying airport and at one point it was closed altogether. East Nor ‘Easterly winds are not good for planes. There were diversions to other destinations and in some cases, planes were simply rerouted to return to base. 

But the weather through it all is warm and sunny. Pot plants have been flying and garden gnomes smashed; chairs thrown all over the deck and most colourfully of all, ostrich feathers and paper streamers have been everywhere.

Yes, Friends last night was the Madeira Carnival. Not to be confused with Mardi Gras at the beginning of Lent next week, nor the spectacular New Year’s Fireworks display which we witnessed a couple of years ago.

This was The Madeira Carnival – more a winter-end celebration than anything much to do with Easter and Redemption!

What a sight. Made more dramatic by the high winds which played havoc with the parading dancers and performers. I have never seen so many ostrich feathers in my life, many of them airborne, as the parade passed us by from 8pm for a solid two hours to just past 10pm. We had seats in one of the galleries that lined the Esplanade as two miles of glittering paper mâché, tulle, feathers, lycra, gauze, organdie, organza, wobbling embonpoints and converted bus-bodies paraded by to a variety of the loudest music we have ever heard. It had to be loud else the dancers could not keep step. Indeed many did not!

How many mothers and daughters slaved over sewing machines to create such a vast array of costumes; how many dance master/mistresses rehearsed the throng, for how long? For some not long enough.

It seemed the entire population of Madeira went by – every size, age and shape – so that we wondered who was left to watch the spectacle, man the restaurants, drive the taxis!

An incredible logistical feat nearly blown away in a few puffs of wind and this morning there seems little evidence of any of it left : no strings of streamers or nike shoes hanging from wires, everything quickly back to normal while the wind still blows us about – today from the Lido where we survived only a few hours, a toastie or two and a beer, five pages of my book and three movements of a Paganini violin concerto before returning to the house.

Oh and I should mention excellent music after the parade at House of Jazz an unpretentious jazz cafe just off the Avenue Arriaga where we supped on pork and chicken and an excellent bottle of Douro. 

Bon chance, Friends all. 

27 February, 2020.

The Fellowship of Funchal has been dissolved. 

Yesterday Richard flew back to England Coronavirus notwithstanding, nor dust clouds from the Sahara. 

Friends and family have been and gone, Tony has  visited The Literary Festival in Trivandrum and he and I are now alone with two days in hand having made a mighty cock up with the return air bookings.

What to do?  A short booking at The Belmond Reids Palace, an hotel of stupendous luxury, is what you do!

The Belmond Reids Palace Hotel, Funchal.

So here we are and it does indeed live up to its world famous reputation situated on a promontory overlooking Funchal and the harbour, with decks at all levels facing South and the sunshine, a Harris’s Hawk named Sasha, and her gloved handler, to keep the pigeons away, swimming pools both heated and chilled, a lido at sea level for access to the ocean and perfect service including a Spa whence I have returned from a pampering massage much needed after our last Lavada walk yesterday:

Ribiero Frio, 14 kilometres of gut wrenching galleries, ledges, caves and narrow paths high, high above the valley; dizzying views down to Porto da Cruz – perhaps too much this time as the knees are in a shocking state, particularly the left one, and “something will have to be done”.

You’ve probably heard of the mighty Saharan dust storms that closed airports in the Canary Islands earlier this week and streaked the buildings red in the rain? Not to mention of course, the thousand tourists isolated in a large hotel because of the Coronavirus?

The dust storm didn’t hit us in the same way but it raised the temperature markedly and the air was hazy with dust brought by powerful winds that among other things, smashed up some garden gnomes and a few pot plants!

It wasn’t conducive to walking or swimming so we hired a car and drove the more exciting routes around and across the island instead.

On Shrove Tuesday there were further parades and another visit to Sobor do Fado. Everyone dresses up and the children are much indulged. Maria, the 7 year old  granddaughter of Alexandra Sousa, joined her granny to sing in the Lenten season and we were enfolded once more in a warm, family atmosphere of eating, drinking and Fado in which three generations of singers and players took part. 

There are more “last-times” – we returned to Quinta Da Casa Branca, Tony and I, last night for the weekly Tasting Menu which was brilliant. Discounting the Amuse Bouche, there were five courses with wines from Portugal to match. But I don’t want you to get jealous so I won’t tell you what they are. Written requests for details will be accepted. 

Tonight we are at The William in Reids, a 1 Star Michelin restaurant that the hotel is very proud of. But that is the future as is our flight home tomorrow, for now we must loll on the sun deck and Tony must be wrapped in warm towels and massaged & sauna’d.

Tea on our balcony at Reids

If you are all very good and have bothered to read this far, I’ll make your exams less fiddly and enable you to write them online. But you will have to know the code and disclosed to me that you have read this far to find it. When you access your exam forms there will be a place to enter and submit it.

Or else all is undone…………..!

Thanks for travelling with us – hope to see you again. I will leave you with a terrifying picture of Madeira’s airport – the tenth most dangerous in the world!