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Monthly Archives: November 2012

To follow where we went and where these pictures were taken, use this map of Madeira. Recap: the main city is Funchal where we were staying on the south side of the island (see post on our hotel). In an earlier post, we had pictures of Pico de Ariero, one of the peaks in the middle of the island. Our bus took us from the peak to Santana on the north shore and continued along the shoreline to Sao Vicente (see last post).

In this post, we are posting pictures taken on the way from Sao Vicente to Porto Moniz located at the north western tip of the island. Most of Sao Vicente is hidden in the valley just behind the beach near where the main north-south cross-island thoroughfare ends.

We continued heading west towards Porto Moniz at the northwestern tip of the island in the bright yellow bus from Windsor Tours.

We stopped at another view point near Seixal. The city was visible in the background.

A waterfall splashes directly into the ocean. The old cliff side road is still visible. We used a 2-lane highway-tunnel to get through this area.

Near Seixal on the northern coast of Madeira.

Rocks and cliffs. In case you are wandering, the green bars in the sky were reflections of the interior lights (not to be confused with the birds) – many of the photos shown here were shot on a moving bus.

It must be so scenic to sail around these rocks and look at them at sea level.

Porto Moniz.

This was the turnaround point where we began to head back to the other side of the island.

Porto Moniz is famous for its natural swimming pool. Too bad we did not have time to jump in.

Continuing with the day trip around Madeira … after Pico de Arieiro, the bus took us north to reach the other side of the island (relative to the main city of Funchal) and started to climb again as it headed west.  See the cliff on the right  ? Remember that there were houses on top.

In this photo, the houses on the cliff were at about the same elevation as our tour bus – but we were separated by a valley.

The picture below is not taken from a plane but from the bus about 8 minutes after I took the picture above. You may recognize the same string of houses that are built on a cliff. That’s how far the bus had climbed!

In the above photo, the eastern tip of the island is clearly visible. The landscape is beautiful and dramatic.

Santana is one of the bigger village/city on the north shore. We stopped there to visit the traditional small thatched triangular houses – they were a bit touristy but cheerful.

From Santana, we went along the shore in a east-to-west direction.  We stopped at  Beira de Quinta – one of the most beautiful view points.


Beira da Quinta overlooks Arco de São Jorge which is situated on a plateau next to the ocean.

The view at Beira de Quinta is stunning – even having a wide angle lens on the camera, it was not possible to capture the vastness of open space that was in front of us here – the open Atlantic Ocean on the right, and on the other side an arc of a mountain sits behind a plateau, casting a shadow on half of the plateau with terra-cotta roofed houses.

Looking further west.

After the view point, the bus descended onto the plateau and continued along a road that runs along the cliff. Our destination for lunch is at Sao Vicente, located roughly in the middle of the north shore.

The restaurant  is situated right by the ocean at the base of a cliff and it has a gimmick.

The dining room rotates very slowly – about one revolution per hour so that all the diners have a chance to be seated at the waterfront.

For lunch, we were served fried  black scabbardfish fish (I think) and fried banana, and Madeira wine of course.

Pictures of the trip continue in our next post.

One day before A and F’s wedding and after most of the guests had arrived from mainland Europe the night before, A’s parents arranged a day trip for all the guests to see the island. A tour bus came by the hotel in Funchal, the main port and city, to pick up all the visiting wedding guests – the bride and groom came along with us – so it became a party bus.

Some of the pictures may appear blurry or patchy. That is because many were taken in the bus on the move through glass that might be reflecting some interior lights.

Our first destination was Pico de Arieiro which is the third highest peak on the island  (1818 m, 5965 ft).

The road was winding and narrow, and the bus had to skirt right against the barrier when there is a vehicle on the other side. As we gained elevation, there were no trees to block our view. The passing scenery was great as was the illusion that we were about to fall off or fly off.

We think Madeira and the Spanish Canary islands are to Europeans like the Hawaiian islands are to mainland Americans. However, Madeira is much closer than Hawaii to the mainland, and it is in fact closer to the African continent than to Portugal (same latitude as Casablanca I was told).

At the top of Pico de Arieiro, there is an observatory, a gift shop and a small exhibit about local birds.

There is a path that leads northwards towards Pico Ruivo (1861m, 6106 ft), which is I think the highest peak in the island.  That path has a daily average of 1000 tourists trekking on it, according to Wikipedia. It looked fairly easy – we could have done it if we had more time.

On the day, the weather was fine with partial cloud coverage of the surrounding peaks.  Supposedly on a clear day, one can see both sides of the island as well as the neighboring island of Porto Santos; but on a cloudy day, the place can be completely covered by mists with zero visibility.

Madeira reminded me specifically of the big island of Hawaii. Both are volcanic in origin and each has an observatory at the top of the mountain. The difference is that Mauna Kea in Hawaii was  4,207 m (13,803 ft) and the air was so thin that it was hard to breathe at the top.

After the bus came down from Pico de Arieiro,we went through Ribeiro Frio (“cold river”), an area that is designated a UNESCO world heritage nature site due to the prehistoric wild Laurisilva forest. A trout farm is located here, however we did not stop as there were too many people.

After many more hairpin turns, ascents and descents, the bus took us north towards the shore. We passed the town of Faial.

The tour continues with our next post.

Last month (October), we came to the Portuguese island of Madeira to attend a wedding of Sue’s friend.  Her friend, A who is from Madeira was marrying F from France.

A’s family is in the travel business and they put together a wonderful package for the bridegroom’s family and guests who came to the island. All visitors stayed at the CS Madeira Atlantic Hotel & Spa.

The bulk of the hotel and rooms are on top of the cliff while the spa and pools are right next to the ocean.  There are several elevators that take guests up and down the cliff.

A water aerobics class had just started in the pool.

The hotel was rather quiet as it was not yet the peak season. The atmosphere was very relaxing – the pool and spa services were at our disposal.Neither the ceremony nor the reception was held at the hotel. Because the place is so spread out, it would feel a bit impersonal. For us, the arrangement was great because we had a chance to make new friends and be part of the party for the entire stay.

There is a dive site near the rock just offshore.

The hotel has two infinity pools.


Madeira is a subtropical volcanic island but surprisingly it has no beaches. The hotel built these jetties (see photo below) that allow guests to access the ocean – one can just jump off – it is not very deep as the bottom is just visible but deep enough for diving in head first.


More pictures of the island will be posted soon.

There are about 1.6 million French-speakers in Switzerland, about 20% of the total population. My tutor is Swiss and has lived his entire life in Lausanne. His father is French. I(Chris) suspect that I will be learning French with a slighty Swiss accent. But it is really not a concern one way or the other, because my English-American accent will be so strong that it will mask any Swiss influence.

Unlike the spoken standard German (Hochdeutsch) and Swiss German, there is as far as I know not much difference between Parisian French and Swiss French. A Swiss French speaker would have no trouble understanding a French speaker, while a French speaker would encounter only a few unfamiliar Swiss French words. The French also thinks the Swiss speaks relatively slowly and any deviations are just provincial (at least for the Parisians).

I will keep a running list of the differences here. In my first class, to check my competence, my tutor and I went over the numbers quickly. In France, the number 60 is soixante. To go higher than 69, one must also know base 20 mathematics. For 70, it is soixante-dix (sixty-ten). For 80, it is quatre-vingts (four-twenties) and 90 is quatre-vingts-dix (four-twenties-ten). The Swiss saved us from that mental calculation – 70 is septante (sept is 7), 80 is huitante (huit is 8) and 90 is nonante (neuf is 9, so this one is a bit different). Huitante is used mostly in the cantons of Vaud, Valais, and Fribourg, but not so much in Geneva or Neuchatel.

While we were staying at Bournemouth, V took us to see Hegistbury Head which is located at the Eastern end of an arc that spans a stretch of the Dorset coastline, with Bournemouth roughly in the midpoint and Sandbanks at the Western end. See our earlier post about Sandbanks.

On our way to Hegistbury Head, we stopped along Southbourne’s Overcliff Drive to see the (mostly empty) beaches below.


After passing rows of homes, we reached a parking lot with a cafe which marks the beginning of a nature reserve area.  From here, we took a little train to Hegistbury Head.

The train took us through a shrubby area and then across a marshland on a paved path, we could see a row of beach houses in a distance.

They are not houses but rather large, very colourful cabins – much bigger than those we saw at Swanage.

The cliffs at the tip of the Isle of Wight from the beach.

Out of the blue sky in a flash was a formation of Red Arrows jets.

The Red Arrows is the British Royal Air Force aerobatic team (like the Blue Angels of the US navy).

There must be an air show nearby in Christchurch. Lucky us to have seen this unexpected feat.

As soon as the smoke trails faded, the weather changed suddenly with dark clouds rolling in from the north east direction across Christchurch Harbour.

Very dramatic dark clouds.

The ferry was rushing back to Mudeford on the other side of the harbour.

On the Channel side, it was just as spectacular.

Luckily, we were not caught by the rain and managed to get back on the train to the parking lot. We even managed to see a rainbow!

This is a Google map overhead view of Hegistbury Head with the harbour on the left and the Channel on the right.

Corfe Castle is on a hill overlooking the village which bears its name in Dorset, England. We and V got here by steam train from Swanage (see earlier post).

The castle was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and commands a high point in the Purbeck Hills overlooking the area from Wareham to Swanage. Apparently, it was one of the earliest castles in England to be built using stone.

The castle was bought by John Bankes, Attorney General to Charles I in 1635. Bankes was a  Royalist and the castle was besieged for many months during the English Civil War.

In the end, the Parliamentarians entered the castle and ordered it demolished, which resulted in the castle’s current  form. The stones were taken by locals to build their homes in the village.

The castle was bequeathed by the Bankes family in the 1980’s to the National Trust which declared it a “nationally important” historic building and archaeological site.

From the castle which sits on top of a hill, looking north, Poole and its harbor are clearly visible.

Looking south, one can see the village of Corfe Castle and farms beyond which is the coastline. The white tents visible near the entrance were set up for a temporary exhibition about medieval life.

After visiting the castle, we wanted to have cream tea but were too late for the National Trust tea room. So we settled for the Bankes Arms and it was disappointing.

The scones were ok but the clotted cream was just not what we expected as it came out in plastic cups and tasted heavy and blend. Well, I (Chris) lived several years in Devon and had some very nice memories of Devonshire cream tea. Perhaps, because we were in Dorset ?!

At the end of the day, we took the other Purbeck Breezer route no. 40 from Corfe Castle back to Poole. So we circled Poole Harbour once in the clockwise direction. See earlier post about the no. 50 Purbeck Breezer which we took from Westbourne, crossed the entrance to Poole Harbour near Sandbanks, and reached Swanage.


We really had a great time with V touring the sights of Dorset by public transportation.

After a fish’n’chips lunch by the Swanage waterfront (see earlier post), we and V stumbled into this train station while strolling in town. There was a train on the platform for Corfe Castle. We bought tickets hurriedly as the train was very much ready to depart (judging by the puffs of steam pouring out of the locomotive). We did not even know the timetable.

According to Wikipedia, the Swanage Railway was opened in 1885. After more than 70 years of service, it was due for closure in the 60’s as the British railway infrastructure was being electrified. British Rail was proposing a bus service to connect Wareham and Swanage but it was deemed inadequate to handle the traffic in the summer months. Remember, Swanage  is a beach town.

The line was closed in January 1972. But 4 months later, the Swanage Railway Society was formed with the objective of restoring an all-the-year-round community railway service linking to the main line at Wareham and which would be ‘subsidised’ by the operation of steam-hauled heritage trains during the holidays.

The Swanage Railway was about 6 miles in total linking Swanage to Nordon via Corfe Castle and Wareham. It reopened in 1995.

I (Chris) vaguely remember the upholstered seats in this type of carriages – the doors cannot be opened easily from the inside – most people lean out and turn the door handle on the outside.

As I leaned out the window, some unknown fine particles were hitting my face. It did not look black so I was not sure if it was soot.

Later during the day, we saw another steam locomotive. It was pulling a Pullman first class carriage with big windows. The Pullman luxury train concept was pioneered by George Pullman, an American that developed the sleeping car. The Pullman mainline rail service that ran in these parts of the UK ended in the late 60’s, so these carriages are more than 50 years old.

Corfe Castle signal box(?) at the railway station.

Waiting room at the Corfe Castle railway station.

More about Corfe Castle in our next post.