35 Before 35: Progress report 2

Now that we’re approaching the fourth month of the year (eeeek!!), I thought it was time for another update on how I’m doing with my 35 before 35 list. My last update was in August 2013, just after my 30th birthday. Now, with 4 years and 4 months left to go, here’s how far I’ve got…

Number 3: Learn Spanish

After doing nothing for months and months and months, I recently started using Duolingo again. So far, all I’ve done is repeat the lessons I’d done previously to refresh my memory, but new words have been added since last time I logged on so it wasn’t all just refreshing. Better than nothing, anyway.

Number 13:  Read (or re-read) 50 non-fiction books

I’m really not good at reading non-fiction. No matter which book I choose to read, it takes me so much longer than reading a novel… I even read German fiction faster than non-fiction in my native language! Last time I updated, I had read 2 non-fiction books… now I’m up to three! I finally finished reading Crimea by Orlando Figes, a book about the events leading up to the Crimean War, the war itself and the aftermath. It ended up being quite relevant to current events… but I had started reading it some time last summer! Very interesting, but I’m so glad I’ve finished! Oh, and if anyone can recommend any books on Ukrainian history I’d be very grateful! The Crimea was the closest I found…

Number 15: Read 30 books in German

Last time I updated, the task was only to read 20 books in German, but I’ve been doing so well I decided to increase the number. I had read three German books in August 2013, and now I’m up to ten having recently finished Bis in den Tod hinein by Vincent Kliesch – a crime/thriller set in Berlin. You can see which other books I’ve read in German here.

Number 16: Spend New Year in Madeira and see the fireworks display

If you haven’t read about my trip to Madeira yet, you’re obviously very new to this blog 😉 For those who don’t know, the boyfriend and I spent New Year 2013/14 in Madeira… and yes, we saw the fireworks!

The famous Funchal fireworks
The famous Funchal fireworks

Number 18: Bake 10 different kinds of biscuits

Last time I’d baked one, now I’m up to three. Since August 2013, I’ve baked Honey Gingerbread Biscuits and Chocolate Brownie Biscuits. The latter went down very well with my colleagues!

Number 20: Attend a world cup rugby match

Not done yet, but the rugby union world cup is taking place in England next year, and I’ve already asked my dad to try and get us tickets once they go on sale.

Number 21: Read all the books from the BBC Big Read that I hadn’t before starting this challenge

In August 2013, I’d read six books. Now I’m up to 7… or technically six and two thirds. I’ve read 2 out of 3 books from the His Dark Materials trilogy! Currently I’m reading Middlemarch by George Eliot (also on the list) and not enjoying it at all! I’ve barely started though, so hopefully it will improve…

Number 31: Watch 15 films I haven’t seen before

I hadn’t even started this last time I did an update and now I’m up to a whole 5 films. Woo hoo! Two of them are thanks to my little brother (age 7), who forced me to watch Planes at Christmas and Thunderbirds when I went over in February. You can see what else I’ve watched here.

Aaaand that’s all I’ve done since my last update. I do have an idea about which biscuits to bake next, though. Stay tuned….

 

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Wine tasting at Blandy’s and Madeira miscellany

This is my final post about Madeira, so I’ll start off by telling you about Blandy’s Wine Lodge and then finish with some miscellaneous stuff about Madeira that hasn’t been covered in any previous posts…

Old Blandy’s Wine Lodge is located in the centre of Funchal. Acquired in 1840 by Charles Ridpath Blandy, the old wine lodge remains an integral part of the process, and until relatively recently some wine was actually still produced there (they do the actual crushing of the grapes part up in the mountains nowadays, or so our guide told us). These days, it’s mainly used as a place for barrels of wine to mature and age, before being transferred to giant barrels for storage before bottling. These means that, while you don’t actually get to see Madeira wine being made, the premises are not there purely for tourism purposes… as evidenced by the wonderful smell of Madeira wine in the rooms where the barrels are being matured!

There are several tours available, and we chose the Premium one, which cost €5.50 per person and included a tasting at the end. I have to admit, I preferred this tour to the one we took of the Old Jameson’s Distillery in Dublin, which really was purely for tourists and seemed to be more of a marketing exercise than a tour that was actually designed to give any information! Naturally our tour guide in Madeira wouldn’t have told us that any wine other than Blandy’s is the best 😉 but at least the entire tour wasn’t a huge advertisement for Blandy’s! We were actually given some quite interesting information about grape types and the different temperatures and barrels that are needed to produce the different types of Madeira wine. It’s just a shame I barely remember any of it! At the end of the tour, we were given some time to look around the mini museum section before heading on to the most important bit… wine tasting! We were given two Madeira wines to taste… one was Malmsey, a sweet Madeira wine made from Malvasia grapes. If I remmeber correctly, Malvasia grapes are the only one of the four grape varieties used to produce Madeira wine that are actually native to the island. Sadly, I don’t remember what the other wine we tried was, but it was a dry variety. Both were very tasty, though.

Madeira Miscellany

A few more observations from our trip to Madeira that didn’t seem to fit in anywhere else. 🙂

There are dogs EVERYWHERE! I never did manage to decide whether they were all strays or some actually belonged to people. We saw at least 15 dogs just running around loose, with no owners to be seen… including two that hung around outside our hotel! We discovered at some point that one of them was called Bobby, but I have no idea whether they belonged to the hotel or had just been hanging around so long that the staff decided to name them. Either way, I’m assuming that if they were dangerous the hotel staff wouldn’t tolerate them? I still didn’t want to touch them though, and when one of them decided to follow me while I was carrying food, I did feel a bit nervous! He didn’t do anything though, and eventually seemed to realise I wasn’t going to give him anything. In the time we were there, I spotted three dogs wandering around with collars on (two in Funchal and one in Santana) – so presumably they belonged to someone – but said owners were nowhere to be seen. We also spied three dogs being walked with actual leads! Here are some of the (presumably stray) dogs we saw – the first and last photos are of the hotel dogs, while the middle one shows a dog in Monte.

On the first day, after looking around Funchal, we drove up to Cabo Girão. The most unusual thing about this cliff is that, looking down, you can see cultivated land at the foot of it. Until relatively recently, the only way for farmers to reach this land was by boat… a cable car was installed in 2003 to provide an easier way for them to reach their crops. Brochures and the Madeira website claim that Cabo Girão is the highest cliff in Europe (and second highest in the world), but Wikipedia says it’s not. Regardless, it provides a nice view – especially with the glass viewing platform that juts out over the water! If you’re scared of heights, I wouldn’t recommend  looking down…

I haven’t mentioned much about what we ate in Madeira (other than the bread and soup in Funchal on the first day) because Jan tends to tease me if I take too many photos of food, but I need to tell you about the Espetada… or meat on a skewer! This traditional Madeiran kebab-type dish is delicious! The meat is marinated, then cooked in an open fire. Traditionally the meat was threaded onto a bayleaf stick, but we had to make do with plain old metal skewers 😛

Also, have another picture of some of the garlic bread. I love how this photo turned out! If I had a food blog, this would so be my cover photo!

Yum, yum!
Yum, yum!

Finally, I want to finish my Madeira series with a photo taken from the aeroplane shortly after take off. This was shortly before the evil turbulence got hold of us (so bad that I actually felt like we might be blown out of the sky, and the pilots changed their plans slightly and got permission to fly at a lower altitude than originally intended!). The sheer beauty of the sunrise above the clouds made for a fitting end to a wonderful holiday.

Leaving Madeira... very early in the morning!
Leaving Madeira… very early in the morning!

And that’s it… the end of our trip. Now I believe it’s about time I started thinking about where to go next! Any suggestions?

~ I am counting Madeira as my January 2014 trip in the Take 12 Trips challenge, even though we started the holiday in December ~

Monte, Madeira

Monte is a suburb of Funchal, located in the mountains up above it. During our holiday, we actually went up there twice… once by car up the incredibly steep hills! I’m talkig so steep that I actually found myself wondering whether the car was actually going to make it… visions of us sliding back down the hill definitely entered my mind once our twice! The second time, we went up by cable car and back down in a wicker toboggan…

The view from the cable car station in Monte
The view from the cable car station in Monte

Monte houses two main attractions, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte church, where Emperor Charles I of Austria, the last rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire is buried, and the tropical garden. Obviosuly I took lots of pictures of plants in the tropical garden, but I shall try not to bore you with too many of them 😉

From the tropical gardens, we could see people going down the mountain the famous Monte wicker toboggans. Of course we wanted a go, too even though it’s really expensive! Here’s what they look like… and yes, that is an actual road with actual cars on it! I actually bought our official photo (they had a guy taking photos halfway down), which I know is a total tourist con, but it’s not like I could take a photo of us myself and I wanted the souvenir! I would show you the photo, but Jan wouldn’t like me plastering his photo all over the Internet…

I've blurred out the tourists' faces to avoid getting in trouble...
I’ve blurred out the tourists’ faces to avoid getting in trouble…

The toboggan takes you down 2km, to the suburb of Livramento. Once there, you can either take a taxi the rest of the way down (there are loads hanging around), or walk as we did. If you choose to walk, you get to go down a street with some beautiful flowers! Literally everyone was stopping to take photos there…

Our ticket to the tropical gardens also included a free taster glass of Madeira wine at the cafe, and Jan also decided to sample some Madeira honey cake (I had an icecream to cool down, but I did try his cake and can confirm that it was delicious). This set us up nicely for our next stop… after wicker tobogganing it down, we had a tour of Blandy’s Wine Lodge complete with Madeira wine tasting booked… but you’ll have to come back tomorrow to hear a bit about that. This post is long enough!

Madeira wine

Touring the west of Madeira

I’ve already told you about the final day of our holiday, when we drove to the easternmost point of Madeira, and about Funchal, which we visited on the first day and again on subsequent days.

On the second day of the holiday, we decided to drive West.
Our first stop was the bay at Câmara de Lobos, which is on the south-central coast of the island, but it’s west of Funchal anyway 😉

Here are a few photos. I loved the boat with fish drying on it, but I’m not sure whether I would like to eat the fish! I imagine it would be incredibly salty.

Next, we stopped at the Sao Vicente Caves & Volcanism Centre. I’ve been to caves before, of course, but always ones that were formed by water. These ones were volcanic caves… the result of lava flowing through the earth after the volcanic eruption that caused Madeira to be formed. Our guide told us that you won’t find stalagmites or stalactites in those caves because there isn’t any limescale.

Continuing our drive, we stopped at a few view points along the way. I don’t remember exactly where any of these photos were taken, but I like them all, so onto the blog they go.

Our next proper stop was at Porto Moniz, in the northwestern corner of the island, to see the volcanic rock pools. They form a natural outdoor swimming pool, and we did see a couple of people in the water. We didn’t swim though. There are also little black fish in there. I loved the pools and took far too many photos! Here are a few of them:

After leaving the pools, we went for a drive among the mountains in the west of Madeira. Paúl da Serra is located at 1,300 – 1,500 metres above sea level. At the top, we just had to stop to take more photos… if I hadn’t known better, I could have sworn we were in Scotland! Just look at this landscape:

After a very brief stop in Calheta, where we found a supermarket and purchased some small bottles of sparkling wine, it was off back to Funchal for a meal followed by New Year’s fireworks. And thus concludes our tour of the west of Madeira. Next up in the Madeira series: Monte, and the experience of sliding down a mountain in a wicker toboggan.

~I am counting Madeira for January in the Take 12 Trips challenge, although part of the holiday was in December~

35 Before 35: Madeira New Year’s Fireworks

Number 16 on my 35 Before 35 list is to spend New Year in Madeira and watch the fireworks display (which got the Guniess World Record for world’s biggest in 2006). Since I did, in fact, spend New Year 2013/14 in Madeira, it’s probably fairly obvious that I also saw the fireworks 😉 But I thought I’d provide some evidence anyway…

You probably can’t really tell from those photos, but we actually managed to get an excellent spot! There was much less of a crowd than we had expected, and we were able to find a space next to the harbour wall right in front of one of the places where the fireworks were being set off from! (They were being ignited at three or four places simultaneously).  It was flippin’ loud down there, I can tell you! These next photos will hopefully make it a bit clearer how close we actually were:

They’re a bit blurry, but hopefully you can see that we had a clear view of the fireworks actually emerging from the explosive thingies!
It wasn’t the longest display we’ve seen (the one in Brussels takes that title – I actually thought those ones would never stop!), but a lot of fireworks were set off in a short time. One member of staff at the hotel told us 17 tonnes of fireworks were set off in 8 minutes! I don’t even have words for a number that big…

So, that’s another item crossed off the list and I’m pleased to say it was 100% worth it! If you’re ever given the opportunity to spend New Year in Madeira, my advice would be to take it (as long as you’re not afraid of fireworks, of course…). And for any of you who’ve ever spent New Year in a German-speaking country, I’m sure you’ll be very pleased to know that no fireworks were thrown! A few people had their own to set off, but they sensibly pointed them up at the sky, where they belong 🙂

Madeira fireworks

Funchal door art

Walking around the Zona Velha, or Old Town in Funchal, you will notice that many of the doors feature art work of various kinds – mostly paintings, but some other forms of art as well. These works are part of the  Projecto artE pORtas abErtas, or ArT of opEN doors project, a scheme that aims to “open” the doors of Funchal to art… and give new life to old, dilapidated doors, often of abandoned and forgotten buildings. Here is just a small selection of the photos Jan and I took of those decorative doors.

Obviously I couldn’t possible resist taking a photo of the following door… colourful artwork and one of my favourite things combined!

Boooooks!
Boooooks!

Here are some of my favourites. For a few, I took close up photos of the various details because a photo of the entire door just didn’t do it justice.

Have you ever been to Funchal? Which is your favourite painted door?

First Friday letters of 2014!

It’s not the first Friday of 2014, but it is the first one on which I’ve a) been in Germany and b) had access to a computer, so these are my very first Friday letters of this year…

Friday letters

Dear Madeira. You are beautiful! I wish we’d had a few more days to spare so we could do more hinking and maybe go on a whale watching trip, but alas work called.

Dear ticket collectors. I would appreciate it if you could announce your presence before you’re standing directly behind me, so I could get my travel card out in advance and not be left scrabbling for my purse in a panic while you stand there staring at me.

Dear Banoffee Pie. I’ve never made you before, and I’m planning to try you out for the first time tomorrow. You’re coming with us to a birthday party, so please work out okay!

Dear weather. I have to admit you are worrying me slightly. Temperatures have been almost Spring-like this week, which leads me to suspect that winter will creep up when I’m least expecting it. Probably in April…

Dear 2014. So far, you are a clean slate! I have no firm plans for you yet, only a few tentative ones for March and June. I want you to be a good year so it’s time to get my thinking cap on! I still have another 8 trips to plan for starters!

Dear readers. It’s nice to see that some of you are still there, despite the fairly long break I took over the holidays. I’m still playing catch up with my comments, but I’m sure we’ll all be back in the swing of things soon. Here’s to a fabulous year, both in blogging and outside it!