June 29, 2018 Camara de Lobos, Madeira, Portugal

Camara de Lobos Cliffs

Camara de Lobos Street Decorations

Camara de Lobos Decorated Street

Mona Lisa Art from Aluminum Cans

Camara de Lobos Lunch Partial Group

Camara de Lobos Black Scabbard Fish

This afternoon we took taxis to Camara de Lobos, a suburb of Funchal about a twenty-minute drive from our hotel. This town is believed to the original landing point of the Portuguese discoverer Joao Gonçalves Zarco, who is credited with the discovery of the Madeira Islands in 1419. The name Lobos is a Portuguese derivation for sea-lions which were found in the area. The name means the place where sea-lions are. Camara de Lobos is the second largest settlement with about 30,000 residents. It has a very young population with 45% of the population being under 25 years of age and 23% being seniors.

Agriculture and fishing are still considered the primary sources of income although tourism is growing in the area. Bananas can be seen growing on steep terraces up the hillsides and the harbor is filled with small fishing boats.

There was a large celebration going on in town this week in honor of St. Peter the protector of the fishermen. In addition to that festival there was also the black scabbard fish festival or “Festa da Espada Preta” with entertainment live music, traditional dancing, a firework display and food stalls around the port. The black scabbard is one of Madeira’s gastronomic specialties. This festival also pays tribute to the local fishermen who for generations were the only ones on the island who devoted themselves to catch this type of fish. The black scabbard fish are very long and thin growing up to 42 inches in length and weighing up to 15 pounds.

The town streets were decorated extensively with mostly homemade decorations made from recycled materials. They use soda bottles, water bottles, old tires, aluminum cans and other materials to create elaborate colorful decorations mostly hung from wires overhead. Also, of note was the local door and wall art along the streets created out of recycled aluminum cans. They would cut soda cans into small shapes to create notable figures like the Mona Lisa, Elvis, Madonna and Snoopy characters.

For lunch we ate on a lovely patio terrace overlooking the harbor at a restaurant called the Taberna Dos Lobos. The lunch was more like a feast that lasted for about three hours and was more food than any one person should eat at one sitting. We started out with drinks followed by a shared plate of shellfish unlike anything I have seen before. The shells were very flat with jagged edges and contained small mussels of some type. This was followed by a shared plate of breaded and deep-fried fish served with raw onions. Next, they served platters of salads made from lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes and shredded beets. Next, we had platters of corn meal with herbs formed into good sized cubes and deep fried. Then came whole potato’s that were roasted and then smashed flat. Next, came the entrée of calamari, shrimp and two types of white fish cooked whole with the heads and tails still intact. For dessert they served banana splits of whole bananas with ice cream and a caramelized sugar sauce. This was followed by espresso coffees and a local drink called Poncha made from orange juice, lemon juice, honey, sugar and a local liquor made from distilled sugar cane juice. It was all very delicious but way too much. Needless to say, once we returned to the hotel, we did not need or eat any dinner. We retired early.

June 28, 2018 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

Funchal from the Gondola

Toboggan Basket

Mark and Karen on the Toboggan

Another Toboggan Shot

Botanical Garden

Lake at the Botanical Garden

On this day we took the cable car “Gondola” from the waterfront up the hillside to a height of 1,800 feet. The distance traveled is about 12,000 feet taking about 15 minutes. There are 39 cabins with eight seats each allowing them to transport as many as 800 passengers an hour. The cable car opened in the year 2000 to replace the Monte Railway which ran from 1886 to 1943.

Once we reached the top of the cable car at Monte we headed for the toboggan ride. Beginning about 1850 the toboggans were a fast means of transport down to Funchal from Monte for locals. The two-kilometer downhill journey takes about ten minutes and reaches speeds of nearly 50 kilometers per hour (30mph). The toboggans are two-seater wicker sleds with wooden runners, pushed and steered by two men dressed in traditional white cotton clothes and a straw hat. They wear rubber-soled boots to assist them with steering and braking. The ride was a bit scary at times but fun as well. Where else in the world can you have an experience like this? Kent declined as he is accident prone!

Our next stop was the Monte Palace Botanical Gardens where we had a bite to eat before exploring the gardens. The palace dates back to the 18th century when English Consul Charles Murray purchased the property and transformed it into a beautiful estate. In 1897 Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues acquired the estate and built a palace like residence later converted into a hotel called the Monte Palace Hotel. From the hotel you can take in beautiful views of Funchal and the natural surroundings.

After Mr. Rodrigues’ death in 1943 his family was not interested in the hotel and it was taken over by a financial institution. In 1987 the financial institution sold the hotel to entrepreneur Jose Manuel Rodrigues Bernardo who, in turn, donated it to a foundation he created and named after himself. The foundation renamed the property the Monte Palace Tropical Garden adding two new lakes and expanding its already beautiful gardens. The gardens include extensive cycads, orchids, protea, ferns, cedars, laurels, hydrangeas and so much more.

The foundation adorned the gardens further with stones, windows, niches, pagodas, Buddhas, lanterns from around the world and sculptures. There is also a renowned ceramic tile collection dating from the 15th to 20th centuries including a panel of 166 terracotta glazed tiles entitled “The Adventures of the Portuguese in Japan.”

The gardens are quite spectacular and beautifully maintained. To explore the gardens is a bit of a hike as they are located on a fairly steep canyon with extensive paved paths and stone walkways. The lakes are filled with large collections of Koi fish and wandering the grounds are chickens, peacocks and pheasants.

After our visit to the gardens we made our way back to Funchal via the cable car to the local historical museum called the Madeira Story Center. The museum traces the history of the island from its first discovery up to modern day through a variety of displays and exhibits. Luckily for us all of the exhibits are well documented in four languages including English.

In the evening we all walked downtown to a 100-year-old bar and restaurant called the Ritz for drinks and plentiful appetizers. The upstairs bar terrace where we sat overlooks the city park across the street and it was a perfect setting for drinks. There was a light shower while we had drinks but it soon passed. Christian Ritz originally from Switzerland and who was a successful textile merchant doing business between Europe and the Americas opened the business in 1905. He had come here by accident when a ship he was sailing on was sent off course during a storm and fell in love with a local girl. We departed and went back to our hotel to bed.

During the evening we spent most of our time talking with Kent and Christine Zimmerman, our program managers. Sue and Karen sat nearby. Barb, who broke her hip in Croatia, and Bob sat in the center. Cindy, Jan and Natalie decided to stay for dinner, along with Pato and Marcelo. Vince and Cookie and Lynn and David headed out to dinner to another restaurant. Maryah and Bob declined to join our rowdy group.

June 25-27, 2018, Porto and Madeira, Portugal

Kent and Mark in Funchal

Madeira Hotel View

Portugal Travel Group

Fruit Market Display

Kent and his Sea Bass Bones

Monday afternoon most of our group arrived on a plane from Lisbon and we met for a welcome dinner at our hotel. Our group consists of fifteen guests plus our tour leaders Kent and Christine Zimmerman from Colorado. Also, with us on the trip are a young couple from Mendoza, Argentina who now live in Spain, Patricia called Pato or “duck” and Marcello. They are helping with language classes, luggage and anything that might needs support. Many in the group are folks whom we have met on previous trips so a bit of familiarity and fewer new names to remember.

Tuesday, we departed our hotel in Porto for the airport for a two-hour flight to the island of Madeira. Madeira is a Portuguese archipelago situated in the Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal and about 280 miles from the African coast. The archipelago is about 250 miles north of the Canary Islands and has a population of about 275,000 inhabitants. The capital of Madeira is Funchal located on the main island’s southern coast. The islands are called Madeira, Porto Santo and the Desertas. Madeira was claimed by Portuguese sailors in 1419 and settled in 1420.

In the 1400’s sugarcane was the island’s main economy. By the 1600’s, the lack of a labor source led to the import of slaves from Africa making up about 10% of the population. In the 1700’s the production of sugar shifted to Brazil and wine became the most important commodity. Today Madeira is a popular year-round resort visited by 1.4 million tourists annually. Known for its Madeira wine, gastronomy, history, culture, flora and fauna as well as embroidery.

Our hotel for the next 10 nights is the Quinta Bela Sao Tiago located in Funchal a short distance up from the sea. Our room has a beautiful view of the bay and the horseshoe shaped hillsides surrounding the bay. The steep hillsides are filled mostly with white and cream-colored buildings capped with red clay tile roofs. Our hotel has a lovely outdoor terrace restaurant and swimming pool nestled amongst green vegetation. There are palm trees, magnolia trees, cypress, bougainvillea, birds of paradise, fichus trees, sago palms and roses creating a lush oasis.

The weather in Porto had been mostly cloudy and gray although warm and then we arrived in Madeira to sunshine and 74 degrees weather. Unfortunately, the sun shortly turned to cloudy skies.

For dinner we walked a short distance to the cliffs overlooking the ocean where we dined at a restaurant called Riso or Rice. Most all of the dishes on the menu consisted of some type of rice. They had many varieties of risotto, red rice, black rice, basmati rice, rice pudding and so much more. For appetizers they served puffed rice, liver pate and some bread sticks and bread rolls. For starters folks shared things like shrimp kabobs with a mango mayonnaise sauce and goat cheese in a filo dough. For entrees we had the black pork cheeks with pureed potatoes and Portuguese beans that were green and about the size of a lima bean. Everything was really delicious and the setting overlooking the sea was beautiful. For dessert we shared mango gelato, black rice pudding and tiramisu.

On Wednesday, Kent and I walked into Funchal to have a look around town while about half of our group studies Portuguese. It is a beautifully clean city with several city parks filled with colorful flowers, lush trees and even a lake with fountains and white swans. The buildings that are currently occupied are well maintained, nicely painted and generally feature clay tile roofs. Many of the buildings stand boarded up and abandoned from the worldwide recession of several years ago. There are narrow streets with sidewalks decorated with small black and white mosaic stones. The shops are well maintained and restaurants are plentiful. We visited the main farmers’ market in a building where you can purchase fresh fish, produce, fruits, flowers and other merchandise.

We were given tickets for the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour so we could get a good overview of the city of Funchal. The route we took around the city took us to the highest point of the city, around the downtown and to the tourist areas where there is one hotel tower after the next.

In the evening we all gathered at a local outdoor bar and café for happy hour with drinks, sandwiches, fries and olives. After the happy hour some of our group went on to dinner at one of many nearby restaurants while Kent and I chose instead to indulge in the gelato before returning to our hotel for the night.

June 23 -25, 2018 Porto, Portugal

Porto, Portugal

Eiffel Bridge

Aerial View of the Eiffel Bridge



Our flight from San Diego to Toronto started out poorly! When we arrived at the airport the Air Canada Rouge computer system was down. We stood at the front of the line for nearly two hours without being able to check our bags even though we had checked in online. The customer service agents made no announcements and no effort to communicate what was going on with the customers. Only when people came up to the counter and asked an agent would they find out that there was a problem with the computer system. We also learned the flight that was scheduled for the previous day never took off and that those passengers had been re-booked on a flight departing this morning. After waiting for nearly two hours the first-class passengers were manually booked on the flight that was leaving this morning. After the first-class passengers, the handicapped and those with dogs were attended to; then they hand wrote our baggage tags and re-booked us on the flight leaving today. The flight departed about two hours late but the passengers who had waited 24-hours for a flight were excited to be departing……even if it was late.

After arriving in Toronto, we learned that our flight from Toronto to Porto, Portugal was also two hours late departing. The new departure time was 12:20am.

Porto, with a population of about 235,000 people, is the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. The city is located along the Douro River in northwestern Portugal and its historical core was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

The history of Porto began around 300BC with the Celtic people being the first known inhabitants. Ruins from this period have been discovered in several areas. During the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsula the city developed as an important port. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Porto’s shipyards contributed to the development of Portuguese shipbuilding.

One of Portugal’s internationally famous exports is the port wine named after Porto and produced in the Douro Valley as far back as the 13th century. Other top exports include cork and sardines, now in season.

Our hotel for three nights is the Hotel Boa-Vista located in Foz, the noble part of the city where the Douro River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The word Foz simply means beaches. Over 150 years old, the hotel was built at a time when it was fashionable for Brits and well-heeled Porto residents to go on holiday. From the mid 19th century onwards, many of the mansions which can still be seen today in Foz were built and the local atmosphere was extensively portrayed by artists and writers of the time.

June 23rd in Porto is the annual Festa de Sao Joao do Porto or Festival of St John of Porto. The festival is to pay tribute to St John the Baptist and has been celebrated here for more than six centuries. An odd tradition among the participants is rooted in pagan courtship where they hit each other on the head with garlic flowers. Later this tradition changed as a local toy manufacturer added plastic hammers to his product line and local college kids introduced the hammers to the festival in the 1960s. Today the plastic hammers are seen throughout the city on this day and hitting one on the head wishes them a happy new year. They have many street concerts, dance parties, eat barbecued sardines, Caldo Verde soup made from collard greens, wine drinking and launch flame-propelled balloons over the city. At midnight a large display of fireworks can be seen over the Duoro River. After the fireworks and parties some folks continue their celebration by walking about four miles along the Duoro River towards the mouth of the Atlantic to watch the sunrise and even bathe in the water.

Our friends Brenda and Cory Adams, who now live in Lagos, came to Porto for the weekend to see us. (Kent and Brenda attended high school in the same small town in Illinois and have remained friends.) They have lived in Portugal for the last five years and we had the opportunity to visit with them in Lisbon in 2016 when we were on a cruise to the far east. Brenda and Cory came to our hotel on Saturday where we had had drinks and dinner at the roof-top bar and restaurant.

On Sunday we walked (4+ miles)into the historic core of Porto to meet up with a friend, Joakim, a pilot with Easy Jet Airlines, whom we met on the far east cruise in 2016. He and his boyfriend, Pablo, were in town for the weekend celebrations and they spent the afternoon with us. We had coffee and Pastel de Natas at a city center coffee house. These Portuguese egg tarts are originally from Portugal but today are also found in Brazil and other countries with Portuguese immigrants. The small pastries are about three inches in diameter with a crispy crust filled with an egg custard and served warm with cinnamon or powdered sugar sprinkled on top. They were delicious and we could have eaten several more.
After coffee we stopped in at the 1916 train station in the center of town to view the beautiful murals on the walls. These murals are painted on approximately 20,000 azulejo tiles. The tiles are painted in blue on white tiles and are quite extraordinary. They reminded us of the ceramic Dutch tiles. The scenes depict battles, the conquest of Cueta and some generic country scenes.

We stopped into a beautiful church called the Cathedral of Porto for a peak around before crossing the unusual Gustave Eiffel-inspired Bridge over the Duoro River. This double-deck metal arch bridge spans the Duoro between the city of Porto and Villa Nova de Gaia. The bridge spans 564 feet and is the largest of its type in the world. In 1879 Gustave Eiffel presented a project to construct a new bridge over the Duoro with a single deck in order to facilitate navigation. The project was rejected due to dramatic growth in the area. In 1880 a competition was initiated to construct a double-deck metal bridge and the committee selected a project by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. Today the upper deck of the bridge is dedicated to public transportation by metro trains and the lower deck is used for vehicular traffic. Both decks permit pedestrian traffic and the views of the river and the city from the bridge are spectacular.

Once across the bridge we took the Gaia Cable Car down to the river’s edge for a look around the area where the port wine cellars were located. The wine was made in this area and then transported down the Duoro River to the Atlantic Ocean and around the world. We left Joakim and Pablo to meet Brenda and Cory for dinner.

For dinner we went to a local Portuguese restaurant called Pedro dos Frangos where we had a filling local dinner of fish, breaded pork, fries, rice, spit-roasted chicken, melon wrapped with prosciutto and wine. It was very good and the price was very reasonable at only $45 Euros for dinner for four including a bottle of wine and a large bottle of water. We took a cab back to our hotel about 10 PM after some ice cream at another nearby restaurant…..no walking home!