You can drink the tap water, but it smells of chlorine and is better for washing hands.

The hotel's breakfast buffet is excellent and through the large panorama windows we watch the sun rush from the sea to the sky. Down here it doesn't rise with dignity. We can see some distant islands - that must be Ilhas Desertas, the uninhabited islands.

By cable car to Monte

The cable car Funchal - Monte


Sledges in Monte

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The weather looks really good, so we stick to our plan of going by cable car to the village Monte, high above Funchal. Well, it is called a village and probably once was, but it is more like a suburb today - Funchal has climbed high up the mountain slopes.

The cable car is new, from 2000, and the price for a return ticket Funchal-Monte is no less than 13,50 Euro. You could go by bus instead, but the cable car offers an exceptional view over Funchal, so we want to try it at least once. At the top, in Monte, the temperature is a few degrees lower, but the sun is generous today and it is truly pleasant.

Monte was once a mundane holiday resort for the rich, in particular the English upper class. With no need to work they had nothing better to do during winter than to move their household to Madeira's pleasant climate. In those days there were no cars - with or without cable - and everything including the lazy Brits had to be carried up and down the steep mountain.

Sledges in Monte

That was when someone invented the chair-sledge, a chair on wax-treated runners. Instead of carrying the lazy Brits to high tea in Funchal, two "sledge-drivers" could transport them in gliding chairs - at least down. Today tourists can go for a shorter trip - not all the way down. Two white-clad "chauffeurs" with straw hats and special shoes steer, the speed is fairly high and it looks pretty risky.

Monte is still a mundane resort, and it also has a pompous church with twin towers. We're not particularly interested in churches and instead we seek out refreshments with a splendid view over Funchal, walk around and then return to Funchal.

At full speed Monte. Sledges are driven back up
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After siesta we go for a long walk in the city centre before settling under a parasol at Largo do Santo, a square in the old town, where we enjoy an aperitif while watching life and tourists pass by. I have often wondered what makes so many men from Northern Europe believe that the strict dress code for holidays is shorts and sandals. I still don't know the answer and still prefer the look of textiles to flesh-coloured cacti.

The first hungry tourists trickle in and are served. Dogs of uncertain race and breed try to beg at the tables, when the waiter is not there to scare them off. I presume they aren't stray dogs - they look too well fed - but they live a free life.

Supper and Fado at Arsenio's

Dusk and romance at the sea front in Funchal
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At half past six we stroll along the sea front, where young couples flirt in the twilight, before we go to "Arsenio" in Rua Santa Maria, the restaurant we passed yesterday evening. There are a few tables and a charcoal barbecue outside, but that would be too chilly so we enter the large and dimly lit room inside. We get a table close to the door. In an aquarium 5-6 lobsters with waving antennas bide their time. It is evident they would like the restraining rubber bands removed so they could pinch each other. Eventually that wish will come true.

For starters we both order ham and melon. The bread comes straight away with butter and something I presume must be very fresh cheese. The wine, a Vinho Verde, is excellent: fresh and pearly. The first course arrives soon after; a quarter of a honey melon nicely cut and arranged in cubes with 3 rolls of air-dried ham. The melon is juicy and sweet, the ham delicious. Very, very good!

The main course is "Espetada Mista Atum", a spit with grilled swordfish, tuna and squid. The waiter pulls the well-sized chunks off the spit and pours a sauce. The sauce is made of butter, white wine and garlic and goes very well with the fish. With this crisp carrot cubes, potatoes and haricot vertes.

It is heavenly and the swordfish in particular makes the angels sing. When done we sip at the remaining wine. The light is dimmed and we're entertained with true Portuguese folk music, Fado.

Accompanied by string instruments women in black sing and release their sorrow with vigour. We don't understand the words, but the subject must be really serious - such desperate wailing cannot be justified by ordinary mishaps like unhappy love or a dead cow. It is probably great art, but we're not connoisseurs. Much better to our ears is the waiter who, while serving, sings with a powerful and mellow voice.

We were lucky to arrive at half past seven, because now every table is occupied. Unfortunately we're too full for dessert and the wine bottle is too empty. We had better leave before the women in black get another fit. The evening air is warm and gentle, and we walk home.