Madeira: A Welcome Surprise for Sea Weary Cruisers

Cruise Flashback; Galveston to Dubai 2013

Madeira, Portugal; May 2, 2013

JAN. 22, 2021, DALLAS — My lasting impression of Madeira is of an overabundance of flowers. Who knew they are growing everywhere on this remote island. If that’s not enough, vendors sell cut flowers on every street corner. The island’s temperate climate and stunning mountainous landscape make it a popular tourist destination for Europeans. I imagine most American visitors come on cruise ships as part of a transatlantic crossing.

I first visited Madeira in the early 1990s after a 14-day non-stop repositioning cruise from Barbados. I only spent a night there before flying home, but we had a wonderful afternoon to explore the gardens and city. Mom chastised me for not planning to stay a few days longer. “When will you ever get to Madeira again?”

Little did I know that I would revisit Madeira often. This cruise flashback stop in 2013 was my fourth visit. I’ve taken private tours, joined ship excursions and walked the streets of the capital Funchal with friends.

For those who haven’t been to Madeira, it is well worth exploring west along the coast. You’ll pass by numerous resorts on the way out of town, most of which are new since my first visit in 1993. Nearby is the small fishing village of Camara de Lobos where Winston Churchill came to paint in 1949. Just a little farther is Cabo Girão, the world’s second highest sea cliff. A transparent glass skywalk has been added since my last visit, but even then it was daunting to look down to the cultivated fields far below.

Looking down from sea cliff, 2011

In bygone years the top tourist attraction in Madeira was a ride on the wicker sledges in Monte on the hills above Funchal. Take the cable car to Monte, and then sledge drivers control your sled as it careens down the curvy streets. More adventurous tourists like to hike, rock-climb and go diving.

During this return visit in 2013, I was seeking leisure instead of adventure. I packed a sketchbook and graphite pencils, settled on a park bench and spent an hour trying to capture an interesting building, a courtyard and the massive jacaranda trees that were filled with purple flowers.

As I wrote in my blog back then: “I don’t think I had sketched in a couple of years, and the output wasn’t great. But I didn’t really care if I had something to show for my time. I loved sitting in a quiet and beautiful place enjoying the process of looking at things in a different way.”

Madeira courtyard sketch, 2013

Later while walking back to the ship, I stopped to do a “quick study of Madeira rooftops.” Again, my pleasure came from the act of sketching more than the result.

Madeira Rooftops sketch, 2013

These ended up being my only two sketches during this entire cruise. But perhaps they foreshadowed my later interest in urban sketching. So recently I painted a watercolor of those Madeira rooftops to add to my cruise flashback sketchbook.

Madeira rooftops, painted 2020

It’s easy to explore Madeira on your own. A beautiful city park, complete with a small lake in which black swans swim, is within walking distance of the pier. Just a little farther is the market, where fishmongers prepare the morning’s catch and vendors sell flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Earlier, in Nassau

Before I move on to more flashbacks of future ports on my 2013 cruise, I want to mention Nassau in the Bahamas. It was our first stop, and as I mentioned in my introductory post I spent my time ashore there downloading instructions for my new blog.

As we left, we sailed by a lighthouse at the entrance to the harbor. A couple of years ago I painting that lighthouse from a photograph as part of a watercolor challenge.

Last week I painted another view of the lighthouse, with the Atlantis resort in the background. When we get to the end of this cruise, you’ll see why I am mentioning it here.

Nassau Lighthouse and Atlantis, painted 2020
Nassau Lighthouse and Atlantis, 2013

Original Madeira post, 2013.