Saturday, January 03, 2009

Downhill adventures - 29 December 2008

According to the weather pundits, this was to be our best day so far (only 45% chance of rain!) so we hopped aboard the 81 Bus and Setting off in the cloudsset off for Eira do Serrado. At 1094m this is the starting point for a walk that descends 450m to Corral das Freiras (Nun's Valley). In 1566, the nuns of Santa Clara Convent came to this secluded valley to escape 1000 pirates who raided Funchal. This spectacular valley, almost entirely surrounded by steep sided mountains, was until 1959 only accessible on foot - the route we took. (TV only arrived in 1986)

The bus left Funchal in sunshine, but the sky over the hills ahead was very black. However, when we arrived at Eira do Serrado, The town appearsalthough we were totally in a whiteout, it was only low cloud, not rain, so we set out. Only a short way down the hillside, the clouds parted briefly, to give us an encouraging glimpse of the spectacular view. As we descended, the glimpses were better, until we were totally below the cloud. It is a great walk, and on a fine day, must be absolutely stunning.

The actual town, when you eventually arrive, is quite boring. So as the bus timetable indicated a bus was due shortly, we decided Terraced hillsidesto head straight back to Funchal. An enterprising taxi driver, who had obviously brought a fare up there, kept encouraging us and another gentleman at the bus stop, to accept a ride back to town. He set the fare at slightly more than a bus fare. He was happy to not go back empty; the elderly gentleman and we didn't need to wait in the cold, so all were winners.

As the afternoon was still fine, we decided to make the most of the remaining day, and make sure we didn't miss out on Funchal's unique tourist attraction, a basket ride from the hillside village of Monte, up in the cloud above Funchal. Us being taken for a rideThe total tourist deal would be to take a €10 cable car ride to Monte first, but as the day was dismal, and about a third of the ride would be in the cloud, we economised and took an 85c bus ride. Monte was totally surrounded by low cloud, but we weren’t aware of that as we enjoyed the basket trip down to below the cloud level, a 2k trip down steep roads, where a car had to stay behind us part of the way. Various websites suggest it is a total tourist rip-off, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

There is always someone slower aheadWicker baskets on wooden runners were originally used to get produce down the hill from Monte to Funchal, however the cobbled streets have been sealed, the run shortened to avoid the Funchal traffic and the produce replaced with tourists undoubtedly providing a better return than the produce ever did.

Dinner this evening was a real treat. We had seen Le Jardin restaurant, in the old town, earlier where one of the specialties is Scabbard fish cooked with banana. Various guidebooks mentioned this as a local delicacy so we thought we should try it. One tip is, 'do not visit the markets and look atThe Flambé Chef the Scabbard fish first'. They are long black eel-like fish that are ugly and villainous, with jaws full of menacing teeth and huge evil eyes: enough to put one off for life. However, when put in a dish by the chefs at Le Jardin they are a gastronomic delight.

Le Jardin prides itself on the flambé dishes and the table we had was right beside the flambé chef so we had entertainment laid on for the evening. The problem was that we watched him prepare crepe suzettes and having seen the ingredients and smelt them cooking we felt compelled to try them too: oh the power of advertising!

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