The Royal Yacht Britannia was launched way back in 1953 and only decommissioned in 1997.
During its working life this vessel carried varying members of the British Royal Family, dignitaries from around the world and was the setting for more than one drama.
If only those cabin walls could speak. What tales they would be able to tell.
Of course the Royal Yacht in question was by no means the first such vessel.
Great Britain had used such vessels since the 1700s. but this particular Royal Yacht is known by many, even if only in a small way. During its working life it travelled to all corners of the world. Commissioned in 1954 the Royal Yacht made 968 official visits; even for forty odd years that is a lot of travelling.
Despite having seen this yacht many times on the television I had never actually seen it in the flesh, so to speak. Called a yacht, one imagines it to be fairly small. Having said that though, as it is the vessel of the British monarchy, in other ways I imagined it to be large and luxurious.
So just what did I find when I visited the Royal Yacht Britannia at its current home in Leith Docks, near Edinburgh?
We visited Scotland for a short break a few years ago and our trip involved a day excursion to Edinburgh which in turn included a brief visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia.
It was the end of October and a lovely clear day although there was a nip in the air. As we approached the docks the weather certainly became much colder and the wind was quite strong. Our travel courier paid our entrance fee of £7 each and we were in.
Prices have more than doubled since we visited and are now :
We spent quite a while in here reading the story of the Royal Yacht and its occupants over the years. However as we were limited for time we did have to skip over some things a little.
There was a royal car and small royal barge also on display. Following the display around you end up entering the dock area.
I am not sure what I expected with this yacht but it did seem small in some ways. It is the sort of vessel that I would describe as "homely" looking from the outside.
Entrance was by walking up some stairs in a small enclosed tower and then you were on board. If you have mobility issues check before you visit .
There are some places on the yacht that are out of bounds but there is still a lot to see.
Some cabins and rooms are only viewed through a glass screen. Others, you can walk part of the way in but much of the room is cordoned off behind ropes, similar to a formal museum.
There are headsets available for your use as you wander around the vessel. You will hear interesting facts and figures which will help you get the most out of your visit.
There are photographs of people such as Princess Diana, and the young Queen Elizabeth many years ago, placed in appropriate places. It is strange to look at these and imagine the scene unfolding before your eyes.
We did find that some of the furniture and decorations looked a little tired, worn out and simple. Of course no doubt the best items are not on display. It does make you realise just how cramped everyone would have been during a long sea voyage though.
The engine room is painted pristine white and apparently always was.
I would definitely visit the Yacht again. As we were part of an organised group our time was limited and our visit more rushed than I would have liked. In order to do the Yacht justice allow yourself enough time.
The gift shop is quite expensive but no more than similar places.
It is possible nowadays to book an organised tour, group booking or educational visit.
Check out the website for full details, opening times and current prices.
As with most of these type of attractions the Royal Yacht attraction has changed a little since my visit and will no doubt change more in years to come.
"The Royal Yacht Britannia, Ocean Terminal, Leith, Edinburgh EH6 6JJ, Scotland. We are just 15 minutes' drive from Edinburgh city centre. Our Visitor Centre is in Ocean Terminal on the second floor."
Just where is Switzerland?
As the map on the left shows Switzerland is another one of those European, land-locked countries. The five countries that border Switzerland are Italy, Germany, France, Austria and the Principality of Liechtenstein.
I visited Switzerland as part of my first holiday abroad but it was brief and so this report is just a taster.
I was not sure what to expect but had in my mind's eye a vision of beautiful green rolling hills, tan coloured milk cows and yodelling Swiss maids. Apart from the last item Switzerland did not disappoint; in fact it surpassed all expectations.
Our journey from the UK to Switzerland took 36 hours in total. This included a brief ferry crossing from Dover to Calais but other than that, the rest of the journey was by coach. This was tiring, at times frustrating and something I would never do again. When I go to Switzerland again I shall take the plane.
Our final coach journey was extended as the driver got lost. I must admit this gave us some breath-taking views from the coach window but was tiresome. After sleeping on the coach overnight we were all just ready to disembark.
Whilst he was trying to get his bearings the driver stopped at a magnificent viewing point over Lake Thun. Little did we realise that such sights would be around every corner in this beautiful country that is called Switzerland.
Switzerland is divided into distinct regions which are called Cantons. Switzerland remains one of the richest countries in the world and some would that is in part due to its so-called neutrality during WWII. Check out 'The Sinister Face of Neutrality' online here.
The country has lovely rural areas which are only slightly populated and some fine cities. As during the last world war Switzerland remained neutral despite the raging war in its surrounding countries it did not experience war damage.
The people speak a mixture of languages and the Swiss spoken varies from Canton to Canton. Sometimes it has Romany roots, other times French. You may find in the rural areas that English is not widely spoken.
Amongst the best buys in Switzerland are hand made cuckoo clocks, watches, gold jewellery, cheese and chocolate.
Our resort to this day remains nameless to me. It was a tiny village in the region of Lake Lucerne. The village had stunning views all around it and was great for walking in the summer evenings ( we visited in early September ).
Our room in the guest house was at the very top. The lady who took us to it apologised but we loved it. It had slightly sloping ceilings and views over the mountains. With the clear starlit nights it was certainly beautiful. All I could think of was my childhood illustrated book of Heidi. The scene when she sleeps with the stars shining through the open roof sprung instantly to mind.
Lake Lucerne was so beautiful. The driver offered a choice of arriving in Lucerne by boat or by coach. Hubby and I opted for the boat even though we are not huge lovers of boat trips and it was worth it. As you approach the town of Lucerne the scenery is breathtaking. We were also very lucky that the air was clear and crisp on the day we visited.
Lucerne has a distinctive bridge which in recent years suffered fire damage needing restoration but when we visited it was perfect.
Lucerne oozes wealth, the shops have expensive goods on sale and there is a bank on every corner. However it was a lovely place to stroll around. It was hard to see why Lucerne, at that time, had a local drug problem. There was some evidence of this culture around the bridge. Perhaps the beauty is not enough if you are down on your luck. Maybe it is only special when experienced rarely but really who knows. For me, at that time it was one of the most beautiful places I had seen in my entire life.
Make sure you do not drop any litter at all though as you will be in big trouble. Everywhere in Switzerland is exceptionally clean. There are no or few public toilets but you just go into a bar or cafe and use theirs. These toilet facilities have large displays of flowers and ornaments decorating the area and are spotlessly clean. Traffic stopped at lights has by law to have their engines turned off. No wonder the air is so clean.
Our journey back to our accommodation included a tour of a cuckoo clock workshop. The goods were a little pricey but it was interesting seeing the work in process.
I guess my favourite place though was Grindelwald.
This village is set beneath mountain peaks including as the Jungfrau and is stunning. Again I guess we saw it in all its glory. It was a hot bright sunny September day and the sky was bluer than blue. The snow capped peaks which surrounded Grindelwald set the scene perfectly. Each of the wooden houses had balconies full of flowers, often pink ones and it really was picture perfect.
Interlaken was also on our itinerary
This is a little further from the base of the mountains. It is set in the vale and is flat for walking. It has expensive cake shops but a little treat was in order and it was yummy.
My final memory is of visiting Lake Thun at closer view and travelling over the Bernesse Overland. Both were yet again breathtaking. At the top of the Bernese Overland there is a huge reservoir. One side is full of water and the other resembles the landscape of the moon.
We sat on the terrace of a local restaurant, eating our lunch and surveying the scene. All was definitely right with the world. Our all too brief stay in Switzerland was over and Austria beckoned. However Switzerland will always have a special place in my best memories.
If you love clean fresh air, beautiful scenery, expensive classy shopping and the simple things in life Switzerland could be for you but take plenty of spending money!
My Switzerland tourism
(Images are grainy as they more than 20 years old and via a non digital camera-(C) Eileen Kersey)
Why we chose Malta
Hubby and I were late starters as far as foreign travel goes. We finally booked a holiday abroad that included a plane journey back in 1991. It was to Yugoslavia.
As we excitedly returned home the turned on the TV we were greeted by the sight of unrest in Yugoslavia. This quickly turned into a full scale conflict and we were left wondering just what would happen by September when we were due to visit.
Our £100 deposit would be lost if we chose to cancel and so we sat it out.
When finally later in the year the UK foreign office advised its citizens not to travel to Yugoslavia we had our deposit returned but where would we choose to visit with such short notice?
Having finally plucked up the courage and found the money to travel abroad we were determined to have a two-week vacation in a 'foreign' land.
Malta was the choice for a multitude of reasons.
Did we enjoy our holiday?
People the world over will tell you that you will either love or hate Malta and thankfully we loved it.
We flew out of Manchester airport and both Hubby and I were absolutely terrified believing we would run away when faced with getting on the plane. Somehow or another we managed it and had a fairly settled night flight to Malta.
We arrived and disembarked the plane around 7am
Despite the time and the fact that it was early September the weather was hot. It was very humid and the temperature was in the high 70s fahrenheit.
Most people had told us that it was a different heat abroad to that experienced in Summer in the UK but the weather in Malta for our vacation was similar to back home as it was so humid. Apparently it was unusual for Malta. The heat though was nothing like the UK summer and as the temperature began to rise each day we sizzled.
We had also been informed that Malta was very British and that you would come across old English telephone boxes and the like. Well, although this is true, Malta felt very foreign to us. It was our first encounter with armed army personnel in an airport and they looked very scary. The skyline of Malta was full of TV aerials and had a strange feel to it. Also, if our first glimpses of Malta were anything to go by it resembled Beirut during its worst bombings.
Our accommodation was in Bugibba, which is in St Paul's Bay
We stayed at the Santa Maria Hotel and it was fine. It was not the best hotel we have ever stayed but nowhere near the worst. As it was toward the end of the season there were a few minor problems in the room but reception tried to get things fixed. We were on a half board basis which meant we had breakfast and an evening meal in the hotel each day.
The sun was very hot each day and the air dry and dusty. The first day we browsed the books outside a nearby shop we thought that the colours were faded but itnwas as they were all covered with a fine dust.
The buildings are all pale coloured anyway as they are constructed from local stone.
The local buses are fun, if not a bit of a white knuckle ride. The driver usually have lots of crucifixes, pictures of saints and the like hanging in their seating area adding to the quirky feel.
The bus fares are quite reasonable. The main bus station is in Valletta, the island's capital.
The Sunday market in Valletta is huge but it does get very crowded.
You may see small wild birds, hi g high outside of residential properties in small cages. These are captured as they fly over Malta to migrate and make a sad sight. But worse still Malta continues to have a bad record for shooting and killing migratory birds as they wing their way over this island.
The locals speak fluent English and are very friendly.
Malta can suffer from power cuts
One night during our holiday even the street lights went out. This happened around 8pm. Any beer for sale was warm as cooling equipment stopped working. Everyone was sweating profusely.
Following a friend's advice before our vacation we had packed a torch in our luggage and were glad of this. We usually slept with the large ceiling fan switched on all night to keep cool. The power suddenly resumed at around 4am and the fan shot to life nearly frightening us to death.
We avoided tours offered by the reps as they were quite pricey
We opted for TIS Tours, which stands for tourist information. The vehicles were smaller and the excursions more personal. However the back seats of the mini vans were very bouncy and not for those who do not travel well.
The Malta Experience, in historic Valletta, details the fierce battle these plucky islanders put up against the German Nazis. Walk around Valletta or take a horse draw carriage ride. Remember to barter for the best price available.
Hubby was fascinated by the seemingly ancient models of cars being driven around the island. It would seem that Malta's dry climate has extended the life of these cars by years.
We visited Sicily and Mount Etna on a day trip. It is a long journey. Overall it was not a great visit. A better option would be an overnight stay.
We used the local bus to visit Mosta, Valletta, Sliema and took a tour to Mdina.
In Mosta there is a famous domed church which still has the huge second world war bomb, in situ, that dropped through the dome whilst the church was full. Thankfully it did not detonate.
Remember if you want to enter a church in Malta ladies must cover their shoulders and men their knees. So, women no strappy tops and men trousers, not shorts.
Our trip to Gozo and Comino was part of an organised TIS tour and the price included the ferry ticket plus transport on themislamd of Gozo.
Golden Bay has a beautiful beach area and will be perfect for those wanting a quiet vacation.
Bugibba was fine in September but does get busy and commercial in high season.
St George's and St Julian's Bay have a great nightlife if you like clubbing, loud music and a European feel. It was not for us.
We visited Mellieha quite a few times on the bus and enjoyed the sandy beach. Most of Malta's beaches are not sand. From Mellieha we took the short walk to Popeye Village on the south of the Island of Malta.
This is a small theme park built around the set of Robin Williams film Popeye. The beach here was a lovely soft sand and the waters a clear turquoise blue.
Although the water in Malta is safe for using to clean your teeth and the like it is advised that you buy bottled water.
At the time of our visit canned drinks were not sold. Drinks such as Coca-cola came in bottles which you could return to the shop when empty. We had to buy a small bottle opener though so if this is still the case it might be worth packing one.
At the time of our vacation Malta had an unfinished feel to it. There were cranes all over the island and half finished buildings. However fellow travellers told us they had visited ten years earlier and it had been the same.
Of course all of this building work means that Malta may be completely spoiled by now.
Malta has a year round tourist trade with many older people taking an extended vacation through the winter months. It does however have something for all ages.
If you accept Malta, warts and all, it is a great place to visit.
Note: Although our visit was some years ago a relative visited tecently and it seems little has changed except that in 2008 the country adopted the Euro as its currency.
In summer more and more people are looking toward taking day excursions to places and attractions. Scarborough on the North East Coast of Yorkshire, England, and its many attractions, has always been a firm favourite. With a train journey of about 11/2 hours from Kingston-Upon-Hull Scarborough is easily accessible. A favourite for visitors to Scarborough is the ruins of the Castle. A visit to Scarborough almost demands a visit to this headland Castle but a visit to the Castle does involve a steep and tiring walk which is great for using up children's energy but not for those less mobile.
Scarborough is essentially a traditional, well almost, sea-side resort on the East Coast of Yorkshire, England. Although it has obviously had some changes over the years it still remains very much as it was, when I visited as a child, some 50 odd years ago.
There is a North Beach and a South Beach which are both a little different.
Along the middle runs the main strip, which has all too many amusement arcades these days, but there is a lovely clean, sandy beach. However, as Scarborough is on the coast of the North Sea the water can be cold, even on a summer's day.
The last time we visited Scarborough Castle I thought 'I know I am getting old' as the walk felt as tiring as when I was a child but you can reach the Castle by a few different routes.
There is a drive at the end of a road which leads you to the impressive, stone, large Gatehouse of the Castle and cuts down on most of the uphill walking.
However, hard as the walking is, that is part of the fun of the place. You can either start at the bottom of the winding path, which leads you up-hill to the castle, or climb the stone steps, between some of the red roofed houses, arriving half-way up the other path. As you walk up the slope you have the deep, now grassy, moat on one side and beautiful views over the red rooftops at the other side looking towards Scarborough and its harbour. The moat used to have some children's swings in it, at one point, and I presume it still has.
Ideally you want to visit Scarborough Castle when it is a really sunny day but not too warm. Too hot and the walk can be sticky, plus there is little shade when you reach the Castle at the top. Too cold and you can feel very windblown in the open areas of the Castle.
You can do the walk without paying to enter the Castle. However, if you have not visited before this would be a shame. You pass through an entrance, the Gatehouse, to the Castle and its Ruins. As I have already said, it can either be very hot up here or more than likely a little cold. The views are spectacular and the historical site has lots of information scattered throughout.
Looking through the narrow window slits, that the Archers would have used in years gone by, the views and scenery are magnificent. The battlements are still impressive and help to give a good feel for the place. You can almost imagine what it must have been like all those years ago when this Castle was a hub of activity.
This Castle was used 2,500 years ago to defend the headland on which it is built. It is situated 300 foot above the sea and offers views to the North and the South.
This headland now separates what is the North Beach from the South Beach and, as such, it is easy to locate for a visit, once in Scarborough. It is visible from the sea front and from most parts of the town. However, back in the middle ages, of course, it would just be a Castle on the headland looking over and protecting the two bays.
Having been attacked over many years, by peoples such as the Roman armies, the Vikings, the Kings of the middle ages, being besieged in the English Civil War and even more recently being bombarded by the German Navy in World War One, it is little wonder that most of Scarborough Castle is in ruins. However, much of the wall is intact, there is a Well, Henry the Second's 13th century Keep, a Gunner's house and the impressive Gatehouse. Near to the Gunner's house there are a few picnic tables free to use, weather permitting. Throughout the grassy area there are information boards and remnants of a bygone age. Evidence of the Iron Age was discovered on this site but a Castle, as such, was not built until the 1130s. This building was added to over the years that followed.
Usually when we visit we leave the Castle through the other entrance which leads down to the North Bay. This Bay has Peasholm Park and nearby is the Sea Life Centre. The North Beach area is less commercialised than the South.
It is odd to think that the North Bay is where Scarborough's resort status began. This side always had, and still does, the slightly classier hotels and the like. Of course you could always visit the opposite way around, starting from the North Bay. Either way, though, Scarborough Castle is an uphill walk.
Admission fee to the Castle is usually quite reasonable, although obviously it depends how many are visiting. It is an interesting sight with much for children to see and read about.
Simply as a pleasant area, with spectacular views over Scarborough, it's two bays and over to Oliver's Mount, with a great area for the children to let off steam, it is a good day out.
Recommended, but only when the weather is clement.
The market town of Beverley in Yorkshire is a great little place to visit.
It is probably also a good place to live but house prices are relatively high compared to similar properties in the nearby city of Kingston-Upon-Hull.
But whether you visit for a day or a longer vacation remember to pop into Beverley Minster.
We visited the Minster recently having visited Beverley many times in recent years without venturing as far as the Minster.
The trail of shopping snakes along through Beverley with the Westwood at one end and the Minster at the other and the main market place somewhere in the middle.
The Minster was well worth visiting and unusually in 2017 it is free to enter.
Donations are welcomed and we were generous. It is surprising how when you are not forced to pay up you give more generously.
But we also did so as it was a beautiful place to visit.
Where is Beverley?
The historic market town of Beverley is around seven miles from the city of Kingston-Upon-Hull on the North Bank of the River Humber. It is in the county of Yorkshire.
In summer race-goers flock to the town but Beverley racecourse is also host to other events.
For a small town Beverley has plenty to offer including historic buildings, the Saturday and Wednesday Market, folk music events, pubs, cafes, restaurants, an Art Gallery, the Minster and the Westwood which is a great area for walks.
It is a good place for a holiday base if you want to explore parts of Yorkshire including York and Kingston-upon-Hull the UK's 2017 City of Culture, but also coastal towns.
It has a train and bus service and plenty of pubs, cafes and restaurants.
The Minster welcomes tens of thousands of visitors a year and is usually open every day.
The islands of Madeira are situated of the North West Coast of Africa, in the Atlantic Ocean and are Portuguese. They lie above the Canary Islands but below the Azores. Traditionally these are a holiday destination for older holidaymakers. Typically the age of those holidaying on Madeira is fifty plus. When we visited a couple of years ago we were just the right age but that was not why we chose to visit.
Madeira is known as a floating garden. This is because of its sub-tropical climate. We had read that it was beautiful Island, had little if any trouble, would not be overrun with screaming children and was a great place to visit. Holidaying on Madeira is not the cheapest vacation you can take but it can represent good value.
We stayed a little way outside the Island's capital Funchal in a small resort called Canico De Baixo. Our accommodation was four star and a little more expensive than we would normally pay but it was worth it. Having had some holiday accommodation that left a lot to be desired the Oasis Atlantic was sheer heaven for us.
We visited Funchal on the local bus and found that the cable cars for Monte were just next to the bus station. Perfect. Our more recent holidays, such as this one, see us carrying a digital camera and so we were able to take some really good photographs.
THE CABLE CARS
You can pay for a single or return ticket on the cable cars. Many people choose to return via the traditional sleds which are pulled along the steep streets by local men. We watched these from the gardens and decided to give it a miss. If you choose this toboggan remember that you do not have to accept and pay for the photograph unless you really want it. Do not let yourself be pushed into buying. Similarly as you embark onto the cable cars you will be snapped, like it or not. This image is then flashed to the top via computer link ready for you to purchase as you disembark. Again say no if you do not want it.
The Cable cars were fun and do give you some spectacular views over Funchal and its bay. They are never extremely high as the earth rises from Funchal up to Monte. However I guess they are not for those with a fear of heights.
The small village of Monte has a few gardens open for you to wander around, for a fee of course. You can stroll around the village though and take in the lovely clean air and scenery. There is another Tropical Garden which we did not visit which is accessed via further cable cars from Monte.
We just visited the Tropical Gardens of Monte but oh what a visit.
Our visit to Monte Palace and gardens
Monte has a beautiful church or two, cafes and more. When we arrived at Monte village we just seemed to end up in front of the Monte Palace Gardens. It looked a good place to visit and while away an hour or so, and in we went. Included in the price of your entrance fee is a leaflet which has a map of the Gardens.
There are buildings which hold displays and these were interesting. When we visited, one had African art, another precious minerals of South America and another a Japanese display. These buildings were lovely and cool compared to the daytime heat and humidity. There could have been more but I cannot recall.
There were some toilets here and my advice is use them. You never know how long it may be before you find any more.
Near here there was a Japanese garden which was lovely and calm.
As you wander around the gardens you will come across all sorts of peculiarities, strange plants and flowers and different garden layouts. On we trekked like the explorers that we felt.
Two hours later we appeared to be in the depths of god knows where.
Looking around all we could see were trees and plants, but at least we had the map, I hear you say.
Well hubby is a lovely guy and not very bad tempered but when he blows he blows.
As the heat got to him, and I guess a feeling of desperation, we tried in vain to get to grips with the map. Too late. It was crushed into a tiny ball and pitched as far as he could throw it and I did not even dare to laugh out loud.
Of course we did later.
We found a lake, a waterfall and Monte Palace, which was not open to visitors but you could peek through the windows.
Another hour or two later we came across a restaurant. Hallelujah. As I hastily headed for the toilets Hubby got the sustenance ordered. When I returned he had also acquired another map as the restaurant had a ready supply on the counter.
A kindly waitress showed us just where we were and how to make our escape.
Don't get me wrong it was a lovely place and I would visit again but next time I would be prepared.
We just had not realised how big a place the gardens were.
Worth a visit?
Yes Monte and the gardens are definitely worth a visit. Monte sits high over Funchal and on a clear day the views are really special. The cable cars and toboggan rides add to the fun.
The toboggan though only takes you back part of the way into Funchal town and you will either have to walk the rest of the way or take a bus or taxi.
The cable cars take you back to near the bus station and the coastline of Funchal.
Set aside a whole day or decide to visit Monte more than once in order to give all of its attractions the attention they deserve. Remember tourist trinkets will be more expensive at places such as Monte. Shop in Funchal instead.
Even if you do not take a toboggan ride watch those that do for a great laugh.
Gardens of Monte Madeira
The Island of Madeira is situated in the Atlantic Ocean. It is Portuguese and lies above the Canary Islands, below the Azores and off the North West coast of Africa.
The Island's capital is Funchal, which is also the name of the Island's modern airport. This airport is not actually located in Funchal though but is on the eastern side of the Island.
Our two-week vacation was spent in the small resort and village of Canico.
It was a short trip from there into Funchal by local bus. Some days we used our hotels free courtesy bus, for at least one way of the short journey. The bus timetable gave us more freedom about when to visit Funchal and our length of stay each visit.
Madeira is not British, but having being visited by so many British people over the years, it does retain some olde world British charm, unlike Great Britain these days. Just about all of the locals speak English and the currency is the Euro.
Madeira has a sub-tropical climate that suits we British perfectly. The temperature is fairly constant throughout the day and throughout the year. The temperature never rises or falls much out of the seventies. This climate is beneficial to Madeira's plants and you will find a wealth of flowers blossoming all year round.
When we visited, in early September, there were huge hydrangea flowers growing wild on even bigger plants. Travelling around the Island you will find that the flora and fauna varies depending on the region that you are visiting.
We visited Funchal quite a few times when were holidaying in Madeira. It is a busy, bustling place with lots of bars, cafes, museums, shops, hotels, restaurants and more. It has a real cosmopolitan feel.
Most of the Island's population live in Funchal and so it is always busy.
You will find that the main roads around Funchal and Madeira are in very good order. The people of Madeira have worked hard to make Funchal and the whole Island an easy place to get around.
As the centre of the Island is mountainous and Madeira is a volcanic Island the terrain was difficult many years ago. Travelling away from Funchal you may still come across narrow and high roads but the views are spectacular.
Plenty of visitors to the Island choose to stay in or near to Funchal.
The hotels around the Island tend to be first class but they can be pricey. However if you shop around you may find a bargain. Do not expect bargain bucket prices though.
There are no yobs or lager louts on Madeira or in Funchal. Some young locals do resent the tourists a little but it is not plain to see. On the whole the people of Madeira will welcome you with open arms.
Funchal has a large market which is a great place to visit. You can buy cheap, delicious fruits and flowers here. Such items are much larger than back home in the UK for example and extremely fresh.
Take a look in the fish market section to see the catch of the day. We saw the local black fish called Espada for sale here. It looks horrific but is a local delicacy. Make sure that you ask the restaurant to bone it for you though before eating.
There was a local traditional dance troupe playing and dancing close to the market when we visited on a Saturday. Later in the evening this same dance troupe were entertaining at our hotel in Canico. I guess Saturday is their busy day.
Near the bus station there are cable cars that will take you up to the village of Monte which sits high above Funchal. There are some beautiful gardens up there, toboggan rides, cafes, churches, shops and spectacular views.
As you can see from some of my photos there were some terrible fires when we visited Madeira. These had been started by local farmers who had issues with the government over land. The smoke in the mountains looked really fierce some days but Funchal survived unscathed. There have been similar fires more recently.
As Madeira does not have an air-force as such fighting these fires was difficult. The fire services could only reach so far and so some fires were just left to fizzle out.
Funchal has great shopping and plenty of banks with cash points. It also has a cathedral that dates back to the 1400s and is well worth a visit.
Blandy's Wine Lodge is in the centre of Funchal and you can visit and sample some great tasting Madeira, the local wine.
Just wandering around the streets of Funchal is fascinating and there are channels between the main streets so that the winter rains can pour down from the mountains. In summer these channels are full of flowers. Small bridges allow you to cross over the streets.
There are sculptures all over the place and many are modern and quite impressive.
The coastline of Funchal has two distinct halves, before and after the main harbour. From this harbour you can take a ferry or helicopter over to the smaller, much quieter Island of Porto Santo. Unlike Funchal and Madeira in general it has a long golden sandy beach.
Funchal just has a few volcanic rock beaches.
Boat trips out of Funchal include a day trip on the Santa Maria, which is a replica of Columbus's vessel.
At the sea front there is a large yacht which once belonged to The Beatles. It is now moored and is a cafe.
Near here there is a large Balloon which makes for a good meeting place as it is easy to spot and find.
There are lots of little cafes and even one that is made up of small boats. These are fine for a quick snack or drink but not really ideal for dining out.
There are local open topped buses that offer a tour around the Island's Capital, Funchal.
Book a boat trip whilst near the harbour for simply sightseeing or to try a little fishing or whale spotting.
Above the ferry port and harbour there is the Santa Caterina park, a hotel and Casino.
Travel around to the other half of Funchal and you will find a Lido and the world famous Reid's Palace Hotel. Even if you cannot afford to stay at Reid's you can take afternoon tea on the terrace for a reasonable cost.
Make sure that you try Espetado at least once during your visit. This meal has chunks of beef which arrive at your table hung from a large metal hook. It sounds odd but is delicious.
Is Funchal for me?
Funchal has plenty to see and do but it is not what I would call lively. There are no loud clubs, drunks or parties into the night. It does have good food and drink, pleasant company and a relaxed and welcoming feel.
Funchal is probably not well suited for families and children. Yes, I know some holiday there and enjoy it, but there are few traditional family attractions.
On the whole the average age of tourists in Funchal and Madeira is 50.
We chose not to stay in Funchal and were glad as we needed to relax.
However if we visit again I would be happy to stay in Funchal itself as long as the actual location was right. Some parts of Funchal have hotels all on top of each other. The best hotels soon get booked up and can be expensive. Although Funchal is bustling it is not excessively so, if you compare it to other capital cities.
Madeira is a clean Island, with lovely fresh air (apart from the fires when we visited) and a charm all of its own. When we visited a small town in the north west of the Island we were fascinated to watch two local ladies cleaning the street. As we sat eating lunch these ladies fussed and cleaned the street until it was spotless. Perhaps our towns ought to have more female street cleaners.
When we visited Funchal had some scam merchants on its streets. They will try and tell you that you have won some item or another on a free lottery ticket and then reel you in. If you are not careful you could waste hours trying to get away. Worse still you could be conned into joining ridiculous holiday schemes.
DO NOT GIVE THESE PEOPLE THE TIME OF DAY.
By now they will have no doubt moved on to another means of conning tourists.
However, remember that if an offer seems to good to be true then it probably is, and is a scam.
Funchal the capital of Madeira
Visiting Santana on the Island of Madeira
The Island of Madeira is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, below the Azores but above the Canary Islands. This is off the North West coast of Africa. Its situation means that it has a sub-tropical mini-climate all of its own. The temperatures here seldom climb out of the mid to high seventies but neither do they fall out of them either. Even at night the temperature is nice, steady and warm.
Madeira is often referred to as the "floating garden" due to its abundance of flowers. It is also classed as a holiday destination for those of us who are a little older.
Most British holiday makers tend to be aged in their mid-fifties.
However, Madeira has plenty to offer all age groups. It does not have excessive noise and clubs though, which for us was a bonus, but I guess if you are young may be a downside.
Among all of the different sights to see around the Island of Madeira, the tiny village of Santana is well worth a look.
The Island of Madeira is situated in the Atlantic Ocean, below the Azores but above the Canary Islands. This is off the North West coast of Africa. Its situation means that it has a sub-tropical mini-climate all of its own. The temperatures here seldom climb out of the mid to high seventies but neither do they fall out of them either. Even at night the temperature is nice, steady and warm.
Madeira is often referred to as the "floating garden" due to its abundance of flowers. It is also classed as a holiday destination for those of us who are a little older. Most holiday makers tend to be aged in their mid fifties. However, Madeira has plenty to offer all age groups. It does not have excessive noise and clubs though, which for us was a bonus, but I guess if you are young may be a downside.
Among all of the different sights to see around the Island of Madeira, the tiny village of Santana is well worth a look.
Getting to Santana
We joined a local coach trip to visit Santana. It was actually a small min-- bus which was comfortable and the people were friendly. The bonus with this form of transport was that we explored the side roads and villages which large coaches could not access.
When we visited the Nuns Valley, another day, we actually travelled further into the heart of the Valley which larger coach tours were unable to do. We used Turitanor, perhaps they were called Turitas Tours, and booked via an agent in our holiday resort of Canico.
We had read about the houses of Santana in a travel guideand just wanted to see them for ourselves. I have to say that they were better than expected. The village is pretty, the air clean and the views are breathtaking. The tour was part of a 'Best of the East of Madeira' trip and took in plenty of other interesting towns, villages and local attractions.
As the map shows the interior of the Island of Madeira is mountainous. This is due to the fact that Madeira is a Volcanic Island. The beaches of Madeira are made up of volcanic rock apart from the odd man made beach. This is probably why all of the hotels have fabulous swimming pools and many are set near to the coast. Ours was just a few paces from the volcanic beach and the ocean.
Santana is the most famous village in Madeira. Its main attractions these days are the tiny, traditional houses that, once upon a time, would be home large families but these days the form part iof a museum like village. These have been lovingly restored. They have thatched roofs which go all the way down to the ground. The houses are triangular in shape and very distinctive.
It is possible to book a short stay in one of these houses. Apparently honeymooners are the most likely to book this unusual accommodation.
The house that we visited was still occupied by a middle aged man and his extremely old, but friendly, Mum. This house was beautifully painted on the outside and looked like something out of a fairy tale. Our local driver knew the man and had arranged our visit. There were only 6 of us on this tour and so it was relaxed and personal.
This house had been extended over the years but was still small. The guy invited us all in handing around a tray of delicious Madeira wine. We had already drunk a little of the local fire water, or as they call it liquid Viagra, and we were already in a merry mood. This fire water is called Poncha. If you visit Madeira aim to drink some that is freshly, and locally, made. The bottles that you can buy in the local supermarkets are OK but not as good as the real McCoy.
Still back to my experiences.
Along with the Madeira wine came home-made biscuits. As we left the chap's home we all tipped him but this was not demanded. It was really up to the individual. However, we had enjoyed our visit and felt a small payment was in order.
We finished viewing this house by sitting outside with the old lady. In the small garden there was a fish pond and lots of plants. This old dear prattled away although none of us could understand a word she said. Still a smile and nod are universal, aren't they?
From here our driver took us to the main tourist area of the village. Most of these houses are unoccupied now and set out as museums and shops. Some where painted but not as beautifully as the one we had just visited. That one reminded me of reading the story of Hedi as a child and the accommodation she lived in with her grandfather. It was a sweet house but hard to imagine a whole family living there permanently.
As we drove to a local restaurant for lunch we passed some of these old houses that were falling into disrepair and they were not much more than simply barns. All in all though we had a great day visiting Santana. It helped as our driver, the English couple and the German couple who were our travelling companions, were all fun and great company.
Additional information about Santana
Strictly speaking the Portuguese word Santana translates to Saint Anne. Santana is located in the north of the Island of Madeira near to the coast and tends to receive most of its visitors as passing trade. It survives on tourism and farming these days. Coach parties and local excursions call in at Santana to have lunch and explore the traditional Madeira houses. These are only really found in and around Santana now but once upon a time would have been the main type of accommodation for all locals.
The 'Madeira Theme Park' as it is called is situated in Santana and details some of Madeira's history and culture and has a lovely open area of park, come garden, that suits Madeira perfectly.
Santana, short form for Santa Ana is a municipality along the northern coast of the island of Madeira, in Portuguese archipelago of the same name. The population in 2011 was 7,719, in an area of 95.56 square kilometres. Wikipedia
Why did we pick Albufeira for a two-week vacation?
We absolutely love the Greek Islands but sometimes the accommodation there leaves a little to be desired. We had visited Madeira in recent years and loved everything about it. As Madeira is a Portuguese Island we thought we would go the whole hog and visit mainland Portugal.
Just how we decided on Albufeira as a destination I am not sure. Possibly the travel company offered us a good deal and we thought why not. As it turned out, for us The Algarve and Albufeira was a mixed bag.
Arriving in Albufeira
We flew to the Algarve, Portugal, from Manchester Airport in the UK landing at Faro airport on a blazing hot afternoon, tired and sticky, obviously desperate to get to our accommodation. We needed to shower, change our clothes and start to unwind but this is where we had our first problem.
There were only a handful of us looking for the small coach which would take us to our resorts, but no-one could find it. Eventually a very laid back driver realised that he had forgotten to put the number on display in his coach. No wonder nobody could find it; still problem solved, off we went, eventually.
The journey from Faro Airport to Albufeira was not long but was boring as it followed the main road along the coast passing factories, car dealerships and shops. Not very picturesque but I have experienced worst. Having droppped various people off at hotels in the area there was just one other couple left with myself and hubby.
The driver stopped outside a large hotel and demanded that Hubby and I disembark. I said to hubby "this is not our hotel" but he thought the driver must know best. As soon as I disembarked the driver hot-footed it around the small coach to the other side and was off leaving us to wander into the hotel.
The receptionist was lovely as she gave us our directions to our actual hotel; it is only four or five minutes along the road she smilingly told us. 20 Minutes later hot, sticky and cranky we found our hotel. Had we known it was that far we would have taken a taxi. The mountain of luggage I always take abroad was certainly difficult to lug about.
Of course eventualy we laughed about it but we did complain to the travel company when we returned home. If we had been elderly or infirm we could have been in trouble being so unceremoniosly dumped.
We had travelled with a well known travel firm. However these days they do not supply a rep on all of their coach links. A rep did ring us just as we arrived in our room cheerfully asking if everything was alright now that we were settled in. Of course he got an ear bashing.
Unfortunately our hotel left a lot to be desired. We had asked for a quiet room and thought that may be why ours was a bit duff. However speaking to other guests they felt the same. The Perola Do Algarve, as it is or was called, means Pearl of the Algarve, but it was anything but and should be rated lower. If it had been cheaper it would not have seemed so bad. As it was, it was over-priced.
Our accommodation in Madeira had been so lovely that The Perola came in a poor fifth or sixth place by comparison. Yet they were star rated the same and cost a similar price. Situated down a slope, off a backstreet, just behind a large supermarket, there was little scenery around the hotel.
The images in the holiday brochure had been carefully taken so that it looked as if it was possible to walk directly from the Hotel to the coast, but it was not. There were many negatives about this hotel but this report is about Albufeira.
The hotel staff were all charming, thoughtful and did their best to offer help when needed. The reception staff provided us with a few basic directions and a small map of Albufeira, and off we went to explore.
Albufeira has a lot to offer but it is very commercial. The old town which used to have just a few amenities and the Fisherman's beach is now crowded with bars, shops and tourists.
The beaches of Albufeira are lovely clean sand but it is hard to find a deserted spot. Sunbeds and parasols are for hire and they are not overly pricey. With restaurants and cafes almost on the beach it is easy to leave the sun bathing for a spot of lunch and return later.
The Old Town
In the old town there is a square with many side streets and alleyways leading this way and that. It is a lively and vibrant area which has a market sort of feel. Just near where there is an archway leading through to part of the beach there is a tourist office. Here you can get timetables for the tourist train and buses. They will also provide you with maps and more.
If you decide to wander around the old town you may find yourself exploring upwards. We did and came across a small but interesting museum. It was also nice and cool away from the heat of the day.
Wandering further on through and past the old town you will find lots of little treasures. We found a restaurant perched out over the cliffs with spectacular views. We also came across Cliff Richard Street which was a bit strange. However I understand it is something to do with a wine of his, from Portugal.
We ended up walking towards the next small resort and harbour and found this more peaceful and less over developed.
In the opposite direction, away from the old town, is Albufeira's Strip. This is a long stretch of road which holds the bars and clubs of Albufeira. For those who want a noisy, modern travel experience of clubs and booze at night this is the place for you. All age groups visit at night, I guess some for the 'experience'.
We only visited during the day and there are some nice places to lunch plus plenty of shops to browse if that is your thing.
At night we preferred the cafes and bars of inner Albufeira. If you seek them out you will find good food and company but the choice is yours. There are burger bars and the like if you prefer.
Albufeira can be loud and brash. We visited in late August and saw the resort change as September approached. There were less children and young families and more couples arriving all the time. The weather was still hot and we had no bad weather at all in the two weeks we visited the Algarve.
Most tourists travel around Albufeira on the tourist train which operates on a circular route taking in The Strip and the Old Town. There was a train stop not far from our hotel and so we used this train occasionally. Some days we would walk one way or take the train, and then walk to another beach near a train stop. The train travels along the road and does struggle at times with some of the hills. Return tickets are cheaper but the tickets are a good price anyway.
There is a bus station in Albufeira and good bus routes. We never actually used any of these buses at all though. The station was across town and we could not be bothered to find it.
We tend to book local tourist excursions and generally enjoy these. From the Algarve we visited Lisbon, Gibraltar, Seville, Lagos, Sao Vincente and Zoomarine. We booked through our hotel and found that we had paid more than we needed to. Speaking to fellow travellers we discovered that many of them had paid a quarter of the fee we had been charged. So the advice here is to shop around for the best deals. Book such trips with local offices which you will find dotted around places such as Albufeira Old Town.
Tips and advice if visiting Albufeira
Overall, for me, Albufeira was just too commercial.
We still had a great holiday as that was down to our state of mind. There is no point grumbling when you are on holiday, just look for the fun and enjoy what is there.
I guess Albufeira had a lot to live up to as our previous year's holiday to Madeira had been such a great success. Our hotel in Albufeira was disappointing and on the whole the resort was just too much like England with sun for us to enjoy it completely.
There were some great places to experience within easy reach of Albufeira.
Reflecting on the holiday later though made me realise that Albufeira was not the perfect destination for us. Not for a two week stay anyway.
But it may be for you?
Happy New Year, Scottish style
Most people in the UK will tell you that the Scots truly know how to celebrate New Year. In fact, many British people and tourists from around the world, find their way to Scotland for New Year or, as it is called in Scotland, Hogmanay. Certainly we British celebrate each New Year but with nowhere near as much tradition, pizazz and style as the Scottish do.
For them The Holiday Season is all about New Year.
Yes Christmas is spent in the usual way, with family and friends gathered around but the Scots save their biggest and loudest celebration for the New Year.
Hogmanay in Scotland usually lasts more than just New Year's Eve. The celebrations may begin New Year's Eve but they usually last at least a day or two.
It is widely believed that Scottish people celebrate New Year more than Christmas due to the influence the Vikings had on them in the long distant past. Before Christmas was a December celebration Scottish people celebrated the passing of the shortest day by pushing the boat out at Hogmanay. As a far northern country the long dark days of Winter were dreaded and it was a time for celebration when they were starting to pass.
To this day Christmas is celebrated as a secondary holiday in Scotland, with New Year as the time for huge celebrations. Edinburgh in particular is host to many, many visitors over the New Year and there are huge firework displays and so much more.
In recent years, it has been ticket only, to enter the centre of Edinburgh and these celebrations, due to the impossible amount of visitors. Usually such tickets have been allocated long before Christmas. There are current bands and so many events. Celebrations are ongoing from around the 29th December.
Although the celebrations have plenty of traditional bagpipe playing and swirling kilts, these days there are plenty of modern attractions on offer also.
Have you ever visited Scotland?
We have and we loved it. Winter may not be the perfect time to visit, especially in you want sunny climes, but Scotland has a lot to offer.
So what can Scotland offer the visitor or tourist?
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland. The loudest and largest Hogmanay celebrations centre around this city. There will be others though across Scotland, in the towns, villages and other cities. As a capital city Edinburgh can be pricey to visit. This applies if you stay in many Capital cities. Move a little away from Edinburgh and you could get a good deal. Travel links are pretty good with rail and bus services covering a wide area. Driving is not too bad but during Hogmanay roads will be busier than normal.
If Scotland opts for independence it could end up with the Euro as its currency. For now its currency is like English currency. Scotland does have some bank notes of its own that are legal tender, in for example England. However some shops in England will not take them and you may end having to visit a bank to get them changed. It is best to refuse them at source unless you know you will spend them in Scotland.
If you plump for Edinburgh you will be spoiled for choice. It has many fine historical buildings, plenty with Royal links and associated history. Towering above the city is Edinburgh Castle. It offers visitors a wide panoramic view of the City and its surrounding countryside, for miles.
During the Christmas and New Year holidays places such as museums may have limited opening times. Some days they will be closed. You need to plan your Hogmanay vacation in order to get what you want from it.
Scotland could provide you with a perfect Winter vacation. If you combine one week in Scotland with a week in say the sunny Canary Islands of Spain you will get the best of both worlds.
If you opt for sticking with Scotland arrive for Hogmanay and enjoy your vacation in January. There will be bargains to be had with January Sales plus once the revelers have departed Scotland will be peaceful. This is when you will get the best prices ever.
Where in the world do you want to go today? One Woman uses personal experiences to show you some of the best places to visit in the United Kingdom and beyond. Enjoy!