Madeira: 2016 (going back to 1950s)


Lyn and Rob have just come back from a nine-day holiday in Madeira; they bought me this beautiful, traditional, Madeiran tea towel – honeycombed, pure white cotton with an embroidered pattern.  This one is an Agapanthus in brilliant, vibrant blues.  It’s not often these days that you get a tourist tea towel with embroidery.  Lyn seemed surprised at the excitement I showed over receiving this tea towel.  It’s not just the fact that it is a beautiful tea towel, and I don’t have one like it, but it is that someone has acknowledged the bizarre ‘hobby’ I have and has contributed to it.  In this case, I only have to look at those vibrant blues and the memories come flooding back.

I was first ‘introduced’ to Madeira in 1950’s by my Grandmother; she and her husband were regular cruise holidaymakers, at a time when cruising was definitely only for people with money.  They travelled all over the world by cruise ships and, in those days, Madeira was a regular stop on both Mediterranean and Caribbean cruises.  Unfortunately, in those days I didn’t collect tea towels (otherwise I would have been overrun with tea towels by now) but I did collect foreign dolls.  I remember that from every holiday she went on she brought me back a foreign doll in traditional costume.  By the time I had given away my whole collection, I had about 60 dolls, three of which were from Madeira.  They were delicate dolls, in long, heavily embrodiered dresses, edged with lace and had a lace cap.  My Grandmother loved cruising but was not so interested in travelling (I think they rarely got off the boat) so she didn’t inspire me with tales of foreign parts, but the dolls did.  They made me want to go and see the places where she had bought them.  By now, I have been to most of the places she had visited, except for the Caribbean.

My next foray into Madeira was in 1997, or more accurately 1996.  John and I had been abroad quite a lot, had seen some amazing places and we always loved going to gardens.  If there was a Botanical Garden we’d be there; that’s one of the reasons we loved the National Trust.  When we came back from Uzbekistan (See Blog dated 5/12/15) in 1996, where there was not a garden to be seen, we decided to go to Madeira, the land of gardens and plants, and booked immediately for February 1997.  I liked having something booked in advance to look forward to.  That holiday never happened.  John died in November 1996.  That holiday hung over me; what was I going to do? I did the only possible thing – cancel it.  You get a full refund for the death  of a partner.  That was a ‘wake-up’ call and made me re-think my approach to booking holidays in advance. What was the point? You never knew what was going to happen.  It was my friend, Liz, who convinced me that I couldn’t spend my life not planning things in case the worse happens, in case I had to cancel something.  Her philosophy is ‘So, what’s the worse that could happen if you had to cancel an event?’ And she’s right.  It’s not the end of the world; much worse is not having anything to look forward to.  So, in 2006 Liz convinced me that I could not just ‘write-off’ Madeira as a holiday destination, just because I had had to cancel it once; I still wanted to see Madeira.  She was right.

Madeira is one of my favourite places.  I love the weather, no extremes of hot and cold; I love the food, all that fish; I love the Portuguese Tarts (Madeira is a Portuguese territory); I love the Monte cable car from the centre of Funchal, up the mountain with the most amazing views (even though I am not that keen on heights, I can go on a cable car with my eyes closed, most of the time); I love the highly decorated traditional pottery (and can never resist buying a piece); I love the Botantical Gardens with the contrast of very formal gardens, huge pieces of topiary and the more natural garden areas; I love the giant cacti both in the Botanical Gardens and all over the island; I love the traditional toboggans that run along the streets, down the mountain (I would never dare  to travel in one, although Lyn and Rob have); I love hearing about walking the Levadas although I don’t think I have the stamina for it; I love travelling around on public transport, which is so easy to use; I love the tea room we found which sells Azores loose leaf tea (a tea with an amazing taste); I love the tea room we found in the middle of nowhere which was part of a Rose Garden; I love the fish market in the centre of Funchal with rows of slabs of marble displaying Black Scabbardfish, which you can look at from a balcony on high; I love the fruit and veg market with the vibrant colours, including the fruit that is a cross between a banana and a pineapple, that I have no idea of the name, but which tasted as you would expect; I loved looking at the banana trees growing on the hillsides; I loved the contrast between the east and west sides of the island; I loved the history of Madeira, not something you learn much about in Britain, and much more….

Having persuaded me to go to Madeira in 2006, Liz and I have been back twice since then, the last time in November 2014, just before Christmas when the weather was balmy and I discovered a black tea towel with a traditional Madeiran bird embrodiered on it (see below).  I decided to buy it because it was perfect to use as a hand towel in the kitchen (being black it doesn’t show up any stains!).  As I look at my Madeiran Agapanthus, I am minded that not only would I like to return to Madeira but would also like to go to the Azores, see the tea plantation, taste the tea on site and go whale watching; the Azores is another place that full of gardens and unusual plant life.  They will probably also have a tea towel.  When I look at the tea towel, I will always remember the look of surprise on Lyn’s face, stunned by the fact that anyone could be so excited about a tea towel.


Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum

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