The trip has been and gone, and finally a blog entry. Sorry. My intention was to be much more disciplined and write one for each day but that all went awry.
Although it was only just about six weeks since we returned from our adventures down under before we flew to Madeira in many ways it had seemed longer. Our plan to miss the worst of the winter failed as we suffered with the rest of Norfolk from the Beast from the East with all of its various incarnations.
Karen picked up a couple of supply days at Brisley Primary that then got extended full time until the end of term. It was good to see her happy back doing a job she loves, but painful to see her being drawn back into the long unpaid hours and all the stress that goes with a full time role. The longer assignment meant she was drawn back into all the planning and preparation. She puts her heart and soul into doing the role it to the detriment of herself. In my humble opinion she is now at the stage of life where it is more suitable for her to doing supply work on an ad hoc basis where she just goes in, does a first rate job (as ever) and then leaves it behind to go onto the next one.
I was busy catching up with various people and are pleased that many of them are now mostly gainfully employed (back at Aviva). Also my 'project' also took up a lot of my time and after a few set backs, was put back on course and is now winding down.
That means I could move onto other things and so have been in the project initiation and tender stages for work around the house. These should all be coming to fruition over the next few months.
There has been lots of fun things like several Theatre visits, from the high brow to the low brow, along with the chore of trying to keep warm at Carrow Road whilst watching the 'project' develop on the pitch. There had also been a visit to London to catch up with people.
Anyhow back to this trip. This was our first venture with Jet2 and from the start we were very impressed. From check in to the transport to the Hotel, every interaction was positive. It was also our first 'package' tour for many years. The cost of adding a Hotel to our booking made it a no brainer. Cheery staff, well organised, nice planes, for a low budget company they seem to be doing everything right. Long may it continue.
I'm not sure what I expected from Madeira but it was very nice. In fact better than just nice. The sky was blue, the sun shone and Karen was happy, all the things I need for a good time. We are already planning to return despite the problems wee had getting home (more about that shortly).
The Hotel Pestana Village was top notch (even if our balcony was too shaded for Karen - but she also would have equally complained if was too sunny). As with the rest of Funchal, the Hotel is set on a steep hill. It is also joined to its sister Hotel, The Miramar. Now we didn't realise the reception we checked into was on the 6th floor. Our room was on the 2nd. Yet we were convinced we were taken up in a lift to our floor. Now depending what part of the Hotel you are in, the lifts seem to number the floors differently. We got horribly lost and confused and befuddled the first few days.
The pool area was lovely and we particularly enjoyed the happy hour there everyday from 4pm to 5pm.
The first night we wandered right out of the Hotel and found a rather up market Italian restaurant called Mamma Mia. It set the scene for the whole place as it had tablecloths and everything!
The second day we enjoyed a very busy breakfast and decided to head off for a walk. Again we turned left out of the Hotel and found the Promenade down a steep hill. It was glorious and we spent several hours ambling along and had a long but simple lunch at a small Bistro above the Lido on the cliffs.
The following morning we decided to venture for the first time right out of the Hotel towards the Old Town. We first went down by the Harbour where there was a large Cruise Ship docked, with a local Madeira band welcoming people as they came down the 'gangplanks'. We walked past the CR7 Hotel and stopped to look at the Ronaldo larger than life statue that did actually look more lifelike than the surreal one outside the airport terminal.
We kept walking along the main drag and eventually arrived at the Cable Car station and bought tickets for the return trip to Monte and the Botanical Gardens. The journey up was interesting as it literally took you over the centre of the town, straight over houses/shops/gardens and roads etc. The building of the Cable Car must have been quite disruptive. Up in the mountains it was noticeably cooler. Once we had our bearings we decided to hot foot it to the Toboggan ride down. There was a short wait and it cost us 30 Euros.
The Toboggans consisted of a cane basket with a seat which was rather unceremoniously pushed and steered down the hill on public roads with 2 men in costume hanging on the back. It was quite hairy as they at times struggled to control the direction and we also had to go straight over a traffic junction with only the 2 mens 'heels' as brakes. About ⅔ way down there was a guy who popped out from behind a wall and took our photo as we were flying past. By the time we reached the end of the ride (about 2 miles), the photo had been printed and was handed to us to purchase (which we did at a cost of another 10 Euros).
We then realised we were half way down the mountain and could either walk the rest of the way down (and forfeiting the return ticket we had purchased along with the Botanical Gardens ticket) or somehow get ourselves back to the top. There was a line of taxis waiting so I asked the cost for a ride back up and was told 25 Euro. I declined and told Karen we would walk. The first taxi driver told us it would take a hour to do so and I believed him. Nevertheless we set off. We had barely gone 10 yards when another taxi driver caught us up and eventually offered to take us back for 15 Euros to which we agreed. I am glad we did as it was incredibly steep and even longer than I thought.
At the top we took the second separate cable car down a different mountain to the Botanical Gardens. I though these were a little disappointing, they needed a lot of work doing to them and parts of them were shut. Back at the top we stopped for lunch. By now the clouds were starting to roll in over the mountain and the temperature was dropping further, so we hurried and caught the return trip cable car down to the marina area where the sun still shone.
That was as far as we travelled during the week. We had some lovely other walks all around the Old Town, including tea at The Ritz. We found the market and went back to the Lido for lunch a couple more times. We decided to leave the Levada's walk until our next visit.
We ate again another evening at Mamma Mia. On the Tuesday night we went to the Irish Bar where we had an OK meal and then joined with the pub quiz. Another older couple asked us to join their team which we did. He turned out to be an ex Premier League Referee Assessor who commented positively about the food at Carrow Road. Anyhow despite their efforts of over ruling us on a couple of questions, we won the quiz by loads of points. The prizes were free drinks which we donated to the other couple.
One evening we went to Beef & Wines to eat, which is where they bring the meat to your table and carve as much as you want.
Whilst a nice experience, I felt it was over priced, the meat quality was not great and there were intervals of bringing the meat round was too great. They should also have topped up the chips as we went along.
One evening we didn't go out at all. That was not our intention. We had arrived back at the Hotel after a days strolling in time for happy hour in the Winter Gardens. We had ordered a glass of wine each. Whilst supping that I noticed a table being set up with dozens of bottles of wine and glasses. Then all around us people started arriving and just helping themselves. Eventually I thought I would join in and they happily passed me a couple of glasses. Then some plates of 'fishy' canapés were delivered to each table. We devoured that quickly and soon another plate was brought. Whenever we had drunk half a glass of wine, it was refilled. We had no idea what was going on, but got really into it. Everyone else seemed to well dressed and were sipping much more carefully. By 7.30pm we had 5 empty plates of Canapes and I think had consumed 5 or 6 very large glasses of wine. We were very giggly as we staggered back to our room. It seemed we had inadvertently gatecrashed a drinks reception before a special dinner for owners of apartments in the Hotel. By 8.15 we were both sound asleep laying on the bed so didn't venture out again that night.
Our other funny evening was the last one. I had spotted and read about a restaurant called Atlantic that overlooked the sea. We wandered along and found we were lucky to get a table as most people had pre booked. The tables were quite close together and next to us were an elderly British couple. I would guess they were in their early 80's. It turned out they were on a 'date'. Their conversation was so interesting that my ears were quite tuned in, whilst of course still devoting my attention to my beautiful wife sitting opposite to me. The food was really good. But it was when I took my first bite from my steak when I overheard the Judi Dench lookalike next to me ask her 'date' what he thought about sex and if he wanted it, that I thought that I had been set up and my reactions were being filmed. I looked at Karen who carried on as if nothing had happened. I wasn't sure if she was in on the joke or not heard anything. When Judi's date offered to get hold of some Viagra I had to put my cutlery down and have a drink to compose myself. Now I know these conversations are important and perhaps if you are dating at that age there is not much time to lose - but over dinner on perhaps the first date and also when you are sitting literally less than 2 feet from other people?
The couple left shortly after (to where and why I do not really want to think about) which left me to ask Karen what she thought of it all. It seemed she had just zoned their conversation out but wished she hadn't when I relayed it back to her. Our conclusion was good for them!
The last full day was slightly overcast.
All too soon our week came to an end. We were being picked up for the trip back to the airport at 1pm so we managed to have a walk in the sun beforehand. A Limo picked us up on time which we shared with another couple. They asked if we had heard if our flight was on time as they had heard there were some delays at the airport. For some reason it hadn't crossed my mind to check.
When we got to the airport there was controlled chaos. There had been no flights in or out all day. We were advised to check in, drop our luggage and await announcements which we did. We decided to wait outside the terminal and found a spot on the wall in the sun. Here we sat for the next 3 hours apart from occasional wanders to speak to Jet2 staff.
Madeira airport is one of the most dangerous in the world. Very few pilots are 'rated' to land due to the perilous wind conditions and the short length of the runway. We watched several planes trying to land and it looked very scary as they were jettisoned by the gusts of wind before they diverted to the Canaries. We learnt that some flights actually just returned back to the UK.
After 3 hours, Jet2 staff started to tell some of their flights that their planes would not make it today and sent them back to different Hotels. Our flight was not one of them, but we were issued with a food voucher. When the first flight of the day actually managed to land there was a buzz that went round the airport. This was then followed by 4 more landings over the next hour, including ours which had managed to only divert to Porto Santini a nearby island.
Before our plane had even taxied to the terminal, an announcement over the tannoy said that it was a final boarding call for our flight. We were actually waiting in a long queue trying to spend our food voucher. A frantic rush from all the passengers then ensued. We had been prevented from going through Security prior to this as that area was full. For some reason the security process was very tight and very slow. This meant we were all literally running straight to the gate and onto the plane.
Everyone made it. However we then spent 45 minutes going nowhere as apparently landing slots at Stansted were now not available due to Fog. Finally the captain came on and announced that a further problem was that the entire crew were now going to be out of flying time. He said they would instead fly us to Faro, where another crew would be flown in and would hopefully complete the journey for us.
By now it was becoming farcical but we were grateful just to heading home. We landed in Faro where the new crew boarded, but it was another hour before we took off again.
Finally we arrived safely back at Stansted. However we were then kept on board a further 40 minutes as there were no buses available to take us to the terminal. At 2.30am we actually got off the plane. Then unbelievably we hit a queue of a few thousand people all trying to get through Passport Control. It took another hour to get through to collect our bags. We actually got home at 5.30am, some 7 hour later than planned. We were not best pleased with Neil's alarm then going off at 6.30am!
Has this put us off Madeira? - No. Apparently these sort of delays happen as frequently as monthly. But as long as you are prepared for the worse then it is all worth it.