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Travel Talk

Local hosts share their insights

Funchal through the eyes of … well, me

Updated: Jun 30, 2022

Madeiran Local Host - Carolina Almada Sousa

I've known this city my whole life. I have walked, ran, and wandered those streets for as long as I can remember and, now and then, even slip and fall because of those sneaky slippery white parts of the cobblestone when it rains. You know, to keep things interesting. I grew up here, so it is only natural that I know every street, every top of every building, what's cool and what's not, where to go out to eat, or even have an awesome and super meaningful answer about my favorite thing to do here. Wrong. I don't. It's actually pretty embarrassing when someone [from abroad] asks me these basic questions, and I just draw a blank and look at them like they're asking me what the country's current inflation rate is, which, funny enough, I also don't know. (Mental note: research on those topics for such occasions.) But you know what I do know? I know the reason I love Funchal so much. In one simple yet so big word, it's because of its peace.

Imagine yourself at the end of a pier, with your back to the ocean. Gentle waves crashing close enough for you to hear them but far away enough for them not to touch you. The sun is shining, and there's a light breeze coming through. In front of you, there's a marina, some seagulls circling the boats, some people walking, and, at the beginning of the pier, there's a very busy street. Cars, buses, people, coming and going, coming and going, coming and going. Behind those cars, some buildings, houses, and then more houses, tinier and tinier the farther you look, crawling up the hill until there's only green and the edge of the mountains touching the bluest sky. And you're still there, witnessing the rush of daily life but somehow not feeling any of it, just the sound of waves, seagulls, feeling the warmth of the sun. Yes, there is such a place. It's the Marina pier, one of my favorite places to go when I need to unwind. Look for a bench on the dock and sit there for a minute. Or ten. Or twenty.

Like in every other city, the charm of Funchal is perfectly captured in its streets, and of course, I am biased, but every single one of them in Funchal is quite beautiful, especially the major ones. We have a little bit of everything: the intricate drawings of the pavement made of cobblestone; the different centuries of History represented in the wonderfully maintained buildings and their details like stone engraved coats of arms here and there, that seem so evident and yet so unnoticed or even a very Madeiran tradition: small clay figures at the top or edges of the roof; many types of towering trees, plants and flowers along the way; local shops, cafés and ice cream places in every corner but also, the people, they are what makes the streets come alive. As you walk down one of the busiest streets in the city, Fernão de Ornelas, there's usually a lady embroidering at the Bordal storefront. If you don't know Madeira Embroidery, it's a great chance for you to get to know one of our most cherished traditions, part of our culture and heritage. The lady, and the practice itself, mean a great deal to many other people and me because back in the day, my grandmother and hundreds of other grandmothers, aunts, moms, and cousins used to do that for a living. One of my fondest childhood memories is actually of my grandma trying to teach me how to embroider. With all the patience and love in the world, she gave me a piece of cloth and pink thread and showed me how to do it, and I made a spectacular version of Charlotte's web with her gold-rimmed glasses on, trying to be like her. So, if you ever see that lady, take a moment to appreciate what she represents, not only a tradition but a familiar feeling, a memory, Saudade.

As locals, and with the rush of everyday life, we tend to forget to "take the time and smell the flowers." It's only when our friends visit from abroad and notice the beauty of this amazing city that we are reminded that we live in the Pearl of the Atlantic, and for that, dear friends, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Oh yes, and welcome to our island, our little piece of heaven.

See you around,

Another GlobeTrott traveller like you. By Carolina Almada Sousa


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