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24 Dec 2005: Feliz Natal

A picture

Fortaleza do Pico

On Madeira, Monday seems to be the equivalent of a Sunday in Britain. Many places close so don't expect to go to museums or the like on a Monday. Bearing this in mind, we decided to go to a location which was, by all accounts, free and open every day.

The Fortaleza do Pico is one of the old fortresses that were used to defend Madeira from attack. Its hillside location, within the city streets of Funchal, give it a perfect vantage point to survey the surrounding area and the sea that lies beyond the coast.

The climb to the fortress was not an easy one. Although it is city streets you are negotiating on your climb, there are two interesting twists that need to borne in mind. One is that some of these streets are on a pretty damn serious incline; if you were looking for a good slope, you would be getting good value for your money on most of these streets. Two, there is generally no pavement when you leave the city centre. Which means while ascending a narrow, sloping street you need to look frantically up and down in case any driver is also making their way along the narrow street.

We were impressed when we reached the fortress and surprised that we were the only tourists there. I think there are several reasons for this. The fortress is not an easy place to get to (you could make it easier with a bus or taxi); you can get good views from other, more accessible locations; other than the magnificent view, there is little else to see as the main building is closed to visitors and the rather pathetic excuse for an exhibition room features just a handful of pictures and a pile of leaflets.

Still the view was worth it. Aki is on the other side of the battlements in the above picture.

We made our way back down to the city centre and then the rain began to pour... and pour... and pour... Madeira, which is generally sunny all year round, is subject to freak showers which are temporary. So I was little surprised by this offensive act on the part of the weather. As most places other than restaurants and shops were closed, and the town was packed full of Monday shoppers, we eventually went back to the hotel and waited out most of the afternoon.

I started to notice that my throat felt a little funny too.