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Phespirit goes to Madeira
Funchal     September 2008

The Portuguese island of Madeira rises from the Atlantic Ocean 560km west of Morocco, 165km north of the Canary Islands. It is a beachless craggy rock, redeemed by the richness of its plant life and the year-long comfortable warmth of its climate. The island's densely populated capital, Funchal, is a semi-tropical garden city with modern European characteristics. These are the things that attracted Phespirit. He landed at Funchal airport in the hour before midday and caught a 113 bus into the city. This was the first of several buses that Phespirit would be using to get around the island. Funchal itself would be easy to traverse on foot as Phespirit had booked to stay at Hotel Windsor, centrally-located close to the Old Town.

That first afternoon Phespirit strolled through the city, down to the seafront, around Santa Catarina Park and then back down along the main harbour wall. He took lots of photographs. The next morning he continued his exploration of Funchal, starting at the magnificent Colégio Church and the Town Hall, then heading down to the Museu de Arte Sacra, the cathedral, and São Francisco Gardens. He took lots more photographs.

Phespirit paused to take a rest in the São Francisco Gardens, but after five minutes decided to switch to a more comfortable-looking secluded bench on the far side. There he sat for twenty minutes browsing his guidebook and jotting a few notes, and when he got up to leave he noticed ..... his camera was missing. He had almost certainly left it on the first bench. Needless to say there was no sign of it when he rushed back. Bugger. Suddenly a good value week in the sun had become very expensive. There was no realistic hope he would find the missing item but at least he quickly managed to locate a shop that was selling disposable cameras. He bought one and carried on: Forte de Pico, Casa Museu Frederico de Freitas, São Pedro Church, Old Blandy's Wine Lodge, the cathedral again. All good stuff. Pity about that camera, though.

The next three days were occupied hiking around Madeira. Hiking is a popular activity on the island, in particular around the vast network of artificial water courses known as 'levadas', with accompanying trails. Phespirit picked two coastal paths and two levada walks that looked interesting in character, hopefully not too strenuous, and that would connect well with the local buses. Strenuous or not, by the end of day three he had a blister on almost every toe, which forced him to abandon his plans for the morrow. A shame, as each one of his walks had been uniquely rewarding, and there were several others still tantalisingly within reach from Funchal.

Common sense prevailed, so Phespirit's penultimate day was taken up with a look around Funchal's old town, followed by cable car trips up to the village of Monte and back down to the Botanical Gardens, before walking on to the Museu Henrique e Francisco Franco. He ended his week with an off-the-shelf coach trip around the parts of the island he hadn't visited or passed through thus far: the northwest, south-southwest and south-centre.

It is sad that Phespirit will inevitably remember Madeira as the place where he lost a good camera through his own stupid negligence. When eventually he gets over his self-reproach, though, he will think of his leisurely levada strolls, the satisfying bustle of Funchal, the harsh beauty of the remote coast, the gorgeous climate and the endlessly green landscapes. Those memories are better.

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