It’s been a while since I’ve made a post, and for that, I have a very good reason. Over July, I joined a group of fourteen other Luso-descendants (people of Portuguese heritage) in Funchal on the beautiful island of Madeira. At Universidade da Madeira, I took part in a month-long intensive summer course studying Portuguese language, literature and Madeiran culture. It’s free for people with Madeiran heritage and really is an amazing experience!
I’m going to have to break my trip down into a few different posts because there are so many things I’d love to share that happened over this four week period that I couldn’t possibly fit it all into one post. So today I’ll be giving a quick overview of Madeira and the course.
I love Madeira. It is truly one of my favourite places on the planet. Absolutely stunning natural vistas and quaint villages with white walls, orange roofs and green shutters, surrounded by fields of bananas stretching up the mountains on one side and looking out over the crystal blue Atlantic on the other. The island is about 500km off of the west coast of Africa and was the first territory discovered in the Portuguese Age of Discovery in the year 1419. This is the island where my family came from. They travelled from Madeira half way around the world to Fremantle, Western Australia where they became the first registered Portuguese in the State (I swear I’m not too biased).
I’d been to Madeira three times before, each time a holiday so this was quite a different experience. Jam packed from the start, let me run you through a few things that went down. We met both the Presidents of Portugal and the Autonomous Region of Madeira, saw Cristiano Ronaldo in the flesh, watched Portugal win the Euro Cup in a crowd of thousands, climbed to the highest peak on the island, drank Madeira Wine – the wine that America’s Founding Fathers drank after signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, saw a side of Madeira I never knew existed, became conversationally fluent in Portuguese and made a group of friends that I’ll keep for life.
Every morning, we would get up at around 7:30, scoff some delicious bolo do caco (a traditional bread from Madeira), down a cup of tea and head into Funchal to meet the group for our daily excursion somewhere on the island. The excursion destinations ranged from museums to beaches and we even visited Quinta Vigia, Madeira’s equivalent of The White House.
The excursion would usually wrap up at around 12pm and was followed by a two hour break to allow us to immerse ourselves in what is arguably the most important part of the day in Portugal – lunch. The two-hour break gave us more than enough time to try a huge range of restaurants across Funchal. My favourite Madeiran dish is ‘Espada com banana’ or ‘scabbard fish with banana’. Which is exactly what it sounds like. The scabbard fish is a long, deep sea fish that kind of looks like an eel, but tastes amazing glazed with passionfruit and caramelised banana laid over the top. And of course, as always when visiting Portugal, I absolutely gorged myself on many pastéis de nata – the Portuguese custard tart.
Post lunch, we made our way to the university for two and a half hours of either seminars on Madeiran culture or Portuguese language classes – depending on your level of Portuguese. As a relative novice, I went for the language classes. Our teacher, Idalina, reminded me so much of my aunt, her mannerisms and energy, things that made the classroom a great place to be, it was so immediately obvious that she enjoyed teaching and was passionate about sharing the Portuguese language with us.
That is what it was like, Monday to Friday, for four weeks. And there were no lazy days on the weekends either. Saturday day were filled with excursions of our own around the island and the nights were spent out in Zona Velha, Funchal’s bar and restaurant filled old town. There is a bar, called Venda Velha, which sells the best poncha I have ever had in my life. Poncha is a fruity Madeiran drink, kind of like punch, but even more delicious. Saturday nights (or should I say Sunday mornings) usually ended at Madeira’s most famous nightclub – Vespas, and as Europeans, unlike Australians, like to party until the sun comes up, the whole of Sunday was pretty much wiped out in the name of recovery.
It was an intense month but it was also one of the best experiences I’ve had. And for anyone reading this who has Madeiran parents or grandparents, I couldn’t recommend it enough, so, stay tuned over the next few weeks as I tell you all Madeira has to offer! From going out in Funchal to climbing to the peak of Pico Ruivo. If you’re interested in going on this adventure yourself, send me a message and I’ll give you the details!
I’m going to just make a special mention here of Duolingo. The lion’s share of my Portuguese language learning up to the course had really been happening from October 2015. I have used Duolingo to facilitate most of my learning and really only have good things to say. Whilst the Portuguese course is based on the Brazilian use of the language, it will fully accept answers written in European Portuguese and the utility of learning over 3,000 words of vocabulary and rules is immeasurable, and incredible value for a service that is completely free to use.