Happy New Year from Funchal on the island of Madeira, Portugal. Funchal puts on a magnificent firework display to celebrate the New Year. While I was watching the fireworks I was thinking about my friends and family back at home. I would like to wish you all an enjoyable, peaceful, healthy, and happy 2013!
Hello from Lisbon, Portugal again! Previously I discussed about some fine side trips outside this great city. (Read about them here.) This time I set out to explore the heart of Lisbon. What I found was a magnificent city with great public places.
Just like San Francisco, Lisbon is known for having cable cars as a staple for transportation throughout the city.
Living sculptures bring great character to cities throughout Europe and Lisbon has one of the best artists who depicts Mozart. This man only moves to greet and bless pedestrians who acknowledge his art by dropping a few Euros in a bowl in front of the Mozart tombstone. These artists can be found in many European cities, but few are as detailed and well done as Mozart in Lisbon.
One Lisbon landmark that should not be missed is the Rua Augusta Arch. It was built to commemorate the city’s rebirth after the devastating 1755 earthquake. The beautiful arch commemorates a beautiful city with fabulous architecture, fountains, monuments, plazas. Adeus! (goodbye in Portuguese.)
Cristo-Rei watches over the city of Lisboa from across the Tagus river on its hilltop perch in Almada. The Cristo-Rei was modeled after the Cristo Redentor in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The nearby 25 de Abril Bridge itself appears to be modeled after the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. But not everything in Lisbon is modeled after things elsewhere. There are many unique treasures hidden in this wonderful city.
Just north of Lisbon is the small hilltop village of Sintra which has some of the classic old-world charm. Residents hang their clothes out to dry in the warm sun, while people wander through streets so narrow and steep, cars do not even dare to drive. Throughout Portugal hand-painted tiles are used to decorate the exterior of the homes. Traditionally the tiles are white with blue paint.
There are several palaces covering the nearby hills. One of them is the Sintra National Palace. With its tall white walls, it is a beautiful structure. It is treasures like these that have made Sintra a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nearby on the Atlantic Ocean is Praia do Guincho. This is a premier surf beach with some of the best conditions for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. For those wanting to relax there is an amazingly wide stretch of sand leading out to the water. From this beach you can see Cabo da Roca–the most western point on mainland Europe.
The nearest town to Praia do Guincho is Cascais. Cascais was originally a fishing village, but it has transitioned into a resort town. The resort nature of the town dates back since the 1880s when then King Luís II used it as a summer retreat. Soon the city became a must visit for rich and famous people across Europe. This created building boom, much of which is still standing today. This gives the city a very unique vibe of being a modern tourist town with wonderfully historic buildings.
Thankfully the village of Cascais has done much to maintain the feeling of a fishing village. The men head off fishing each day and bring their catch back to the local restaurants. This fresh catch is served at many fine seaside eating establishments.
Hello from Madeira again! Instead of heading up the mountain, I decided to stay in the port city of Funchal to capture some of the urban highlights. The trees that line the streets have long meandering branches that give a Mediterranean feel to this island off the west coast of Africa. Another characteristic of the town is the basalt (black) and marble (white) stone that are arranged into intricate mosaic patterns for both plazas and pedestrian walkways. This provides functional and beautiful spaces within the city.
The best way to find some hidden beauty is to enter some local churches. Hidden up on one of this hills in the city you will find the Igreja de Sao Pedro, or Saint Peter Church in English. While the church may look plain from the exterior, the interior is magnificent with the historical gold altar and hand painted Portuguese tiles that cover the walls and ceiling.
It is always fun in Funchal and I cannot wait until my next visit!
Olá (Hello in Portuguese) from one of Portugal’s finest islands, the island of Madeira. This island offers something for everyone. From beaches, to mountains, to shopping, to visiting wineries, to climbing a volcano, to hiking in rainforests, it is amazing the variety of adventures you can find on this small island. However there are two things which are a must do on the island. The first is to take the cable car from the port of Funchal to the town of Monte which is 1,800 feet up the mountain. This 15 minute ride provides the most breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
It is not a cable car in the San Francisco sense. It is more of a closed gondola that hangs from a rope similar to a ski lift.
Upon reaching the top you will find the best attraction on the island–the toboggan ride! That is right, ride a street toboggan down the mountain in the most amazingly wonderful experience!!! Two people may sit in the wooden toboggan wagon, while two experienced men steer you safely down the steep mountain roads. Since the 1850s this has been the best mode of transportation down these steep cliffs. The guides are remarkable as they manage to bring this basket down the mountain while all the cars pass by. This mile-long thrill ride beats most roller coasters. Reaching speeds of 30 mph it seems much faster as you have neither seat belt nor a helmet. So, say a prayer and hope these Portuguese guides have a successful journey for you!
This picture captures the steepness of the hill. Halfway down this hill brings you up to full speed!
The semitropical environment with the volcanic soil give the grapes of Madeira a very distinct taste. These of course can be used to create wonderful wines, making the island a must visit for all the wine lovers out there. One of the island’s finest wineries is Blandy’s which has an incredible selection of wines from the white sweet all the way to the dry. As always, my favorite is the dry red wine. Unwinding by sipping some of Blandy’ dry red is a great experience after the thrilling toboggan ride.