Do as Hemmingway did and risk your life for a moderately thrilling 6 minutes.
Paradise? Yes. I think so.
Holland America Westerdam deckplan
Our floating home for two weeks.
How to begin a journey around the world
The first post in this travel series, in which I expose my optimism and best laid plans. Ha!
Funchal, on the island of Maidera, Portugal
If I were to imagine a sleepy kind of paradise, it would come very close to Funchal, Portugal. The perfect position of this town on the island of Madeira many hundreds of nautical miles from Africa, and even more from Europe allow not only for year-round temperate weather, but also an isolated, slower passage through the pricklier points of our societal advancement.
The town has a distinctly European feel, with cobblestone roads and cafes lining fountain plazas. Everyone smokes. Everyone drinks, at two in the afternoon, on the street, for hours. Everyone seems born with a higher level of fashion sense than the rest of us. Everyone is beautiful.
Daughter and I wandered through the fruit market sampling imaginative fruit hybrids such as the lime mango. (Delicious!) The took our time strolling down the narrow alleys of old town snapping pictures of the wildly diverse art painted on every other door. A cable car carried us over the town and deposited us near the Church of Our Lady Monte, where we climbed to the top to look down at our abandoned cruise ship in the blue bay.
The way back into town, we followed the advice of Hemingway and risked our lives in a wicker sledge. The experience hasn't changed much since Hemingway deemed it "exhilarating", with the exception of the photographers positioned along the way down that capture your wind-blown portrait as you slide past to offer you for sale as soon as you reach the bottom.
These woven toboggans do not come equipped with any steering or braking mechanisms. Rather, two sledge men dressed in linens and wearing red-banded fedoras hop on the back runners and guide us through the turns by throwing the weight of their bodies to one side or the other. When we approach a cross street with traffic, their rubber soles scrape along the smooth road to slow us just enough to check for oncoming trucks before they lift their feel and we blast through the intersection.
At the bottom of the course, you may sit your shaky legs in a cafe chair and enjoy an espresso and ice cream while you regain composure. Various groupings of retirees from our cruise ship packed the place, hands over hearts, heads on palms, retelling their adventure with moans and shrieks.
Daughter slumped into a chair. "Hm," she said. "I thought it would be scarier. Too bad they don't go faster."
The ladies around us clutched at their blouses and leveled steely looks in her direction.
We whiled away a perfect afternoon in a cobblestone courtyard in a city park. A stand nearby sold martinis and esspresso to well-dressed men posed with perfect flair at the umbrella tables scattered about.
On a long cement bench, we unloaded our mass of art supplies, poured out water from our bottles and played with watercolors. My talented daughter painted a beautiful young woman with long brown hair, not unlike the ones we'd seen passing us on the streets all day. I attempted a hillside view with a church and a spec of our ship in the distance. To dip the wet tip of the brush in the paint and spread the colors over the page brings a pure kind of joy. Simple. Childlike. Very satisfying.
On the long walk back to the ship, a family of stray cats accosted us. Or, more accurately, on the walk back, my daughter accosted a family of stray cats. They dispersed without allowing her to touch them, turning back after safe distance to ply her with plaintive meows. At that moment, the purpose of our trip became crystal clear to her. We are on an international aid campaign to feed the poor kitties of the world.
With an embarrassingly small amount of coercion on her part, we rushed back to the ship to visit the dinner buffet. My daughter affixed her sweetest, most innocent expression upon her face as she handed the server a giant bowl.
"I know this may sound strange," she said. "But could you fill this with meat cubes?"
"Meat? Just meat?"
We smuggled the cold ham cubes back off the ship and through customs in a green plastic shopping bag. The grateful kitties gathered around my daughter as she distributed her aid in the most even portions for each that she could manage. The felines rewarded her with song and affection, thereby cementing her grand calling.
From this point forward on our travels, it would not be unusual to find a biggie of meat or cheese shoved into my shoulder bag. Not for us, of course, but for the poor kitties of the world.
This post was written in April of 2017. So many grand adventures on our trip around the world to fill you in on! Next update coming soon. (If you missed it, here's the first post in the series.)