Have Some Madeira, My Dear-ah

There is definitely something different about islands. And, we mean islands in general.

OK, it’s not the obvious that they’re all surrounded by water. It’s that people who live on islands need to be somewhat self-reliant. Consequently, they develop their own subcultures and their own sort of quirkiness. And it seems the smaller the island, the quirkier. For example, Jay’s mom grew up on a small island in the middle of the Columbia River. Everyone on the island knew each other (and each other’s business) and the “islanders” were looked upon as being different from their neighbors in oh-so-cosmopolitan Cathlamet on the mainland of Washington. Even the folks on large islands, like Great Britain, are so quirky they can’t even agree to be part of their European neighborhood 20 miles across the Channel. And, the odds are that the 100 residents on Pitcairn Island definitely have developed their own individual subculture. All this verbiage merely serves as a prelude to our adventuring duo’s final stop on their 2017 Insanity tour, the Portuguese Island of Madeira, a wonderful conclusion to this around-the-world madness.

Folks on Madeira definitely display their own unique quirkiness. Who else would think it was wildly entertaining to have two guys in white outfits and straw hats push and guide two-person wicker baskets on a 10-minute sleigh ride down city streets? This activity has continued for decades ever since someone once had this goofy idea and it’s now a major tourist event on the island. IMG_3399

Or, how about the idea of marketing a sweet port-like wine, sold in regular, five and ten-year vintages as a product that was miraculously discovered after a barrel of normal wine was accidentally left out in the hot sun, and when opened, “voila”, Madeira! Seems that we’ve heard something similar in the Dom Perignon story of the French monk who discovered champagne, “Brothers! I am drinking stars!”.

Another oddity—Madeira supposedly features the world’s largest New Year’s Eve fireworks show, a claim we’d never heard before and have no way of verifying. There aren’t all that many people who live on the island so maybe this is their big way of entertaining themselves once a year.

But, arguably the quirkiest spot on Madeira is the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens. Accessed by taking the Teleferico do Funchal cable car up to the hillside overlooking the main town of Funchal, this place is both beautiful and bizarre.

Originally developed as a pleasant estate by the British Consul to Madeira, Charles Murray, in the 18th century, the property was acquired in 1897 by Alfredo Guilherme Rodriguez, a guy who obviously possessed a certain degree of quirkiness. He built the Monte Palace Hotel on the site and developed a portion of the grounds based upon the places he had traveled to. IMG_3395 Rodriguez especially liked the castles he had seen on the Rhine River in Germany and tried to replicate some of what he had seen.

But then Rodriguez really got carried away and developed the grounds into a Japanese style park.

Rodriquez then went on to include in the park one of the largest collections of tile panels in the world, many of which are from the 15th and 16th centuries, depicting Portuguese history. This particular tile caught our eye and shows a smiling warrior gouging out another guy’s eye before doing him in with his sword. Poor smiling guy doesn’t see the enemy warrior behind him who is about to chop off smiling guy’s own head. Very entertaining. IMG_3393.jpg

To top off the variety of themes at the Monte Palace Tropical Gardens there is a little museum that features a collection of sculptures from Zimbabwe and a display of minerals from Brazil, Portugal, South Africa, Zambia, Peru and Argentina. We overheard one visitor leaving the museum saying, “What the heck was that all about?”. The hotel and complex were closed after the death of Rodriguez in 1943, taken over by the bank and finally sold to another quirky guy in 1987, who was responsible for the African art, restoring the grounds and keeping the operation going. The Gardens may be unusual but they are indeed beautiful and a highlight of Funchal, Madeira.

The city of Funchal itself is full of gardens and its residents, many of whom are retired, enjoy the sunny days and overall relaxed atmosphere of this beautiful island.

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