Date of Trip: July 2016
ANDORRA, MADEIRA & TENERIFE by vagabondginger July 2016
My summer in Europe continues. I spent almost the entire month of June in the British Isles with a French connection and that leg of the trip ended in Bristol, England. So next I was on an Easy Jet flight to Barcelona. I would have loved to have seen this beautiful city again, but I was on my way to Madeira. But, as so many times in my travels, I was side-tracked. In my pre-trip research I learned that there is a bus running every 2 hours from just outside Terminal 2 at the Barcelona airport to Andorra. Why am I now going to Andorra? Because I have never been there is usually reason enough for me. Besides, I’m sort of in the ‘hood.
Andorra is a landlocked mini-country in the Pyrenees Mountains bordered by Spain and France. It is a monarchy co-ruled by both these countries, yet Catalan is the official language. It is not a member of the EU yet the Euro is the currency. It has been a member of the United Nations since 1993. Due to the mountainous nature of Andorra, there is really only one road from France and one from Spain so entry into this country happens at one of these 2 points. There are no airports or train lines. My trip from Barcelona airport to my hotel was 125 miles long in under 3 hours. The Hotel Sol Park I pre-booked was nestled in the surrounding mountains in the lowest town in the country, Sant Julia de Loria, at an elevation of just 3,000 ft. Tourism here is based mainly on skiing so during the summer months the hotel was only 35 Euros and because there are so few guests the restaurant and bar are not operating for dinner. I spent the afternoon and evening wandering around this town of just 9,200 and found an outside table to have one of my favorite dinners of pulpos gallegos (octopus & potatoes in olive oil & paprika). Back at the hotel I was able to reserve the Spa for 2 hours for just 10 Euros. This meant lock the door and get naked personal use. Jacuzzi, Turkish steam room, sauna, infrared rain shower and chill shower with invigorating jets. It was pure bliss. This relaxing night plus a free full breakfast in the morning made it a worthwhile trip. The bus picked me up at 9am to go back to the Barcelona airport.
My TAP Portugal flight from Barcelona was thru Lisbon arriving in the capital city of Funchal, Madeira in the late afternoon. This island is located about 600 miles from mainland Portugal.
A bus from the airport dropped me near the Residential Zarco, my hotel just off the promenade at the harbor. A long climb of steps brought me up to Cristina at the front desk who was most welcoming. The room and the breakfast were really sparse, but the price and the location made up for it. Everywhere I walked were restaurants with outside tables, the city was alive with people. This picturesque city of 111,000 with it’s white buildings, terra cotta roofs and colorful flowers spills down the mountains to the bluest of the blue Atlantic Ocean. The distinctive black & white cobblestone patterns of the sidewalks are like the ones in Rio, Lisbon and the Azores. This first night in was the 2016 Football between Portugal and Poland. World class footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is from here and the game was being shown on screens all over. Of course when Portugal won in overtime at midnight, the blaring horns and cheering went on for about an hour.
The next day was July 1st, Madeira Day and there were lots of festivities going on to celebrate when Portugal granted autonomy to Madeira Island back in 1976. As I was wandering down the sidewalk I noticed a crowd gathering outside a TV station, limos lined up in the street and lots of security and I was told the President of Portugal was coming out. He immediately walked among the people kissing cheeks and shaking hands. Then President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa walked over to me to have a chat as the TV cameras rolled, so I may have been on the local news that night. I love that Portugal speaks such good English.
There are cable cars running up the mountain but I used the city bus for 2 Euros to get up to Monte Palace and Gardens. Because of Madeira’s mild climate and rich volcanic soil, exotic plants bloom here year round. The colorful garden walks feature fountains, lakes, waterfalls, bridges, pagodas, sculptures plus there is an art museum and a gem & mineral display to visit. Needless to say I was up there for several hours. Then climbing steps to the very top of Monte was a beautiful church and a hotel’s garden restaurant where I had a light lunch with stunning views of the city. Besides taking a bus or the cable car back down, there was a much more interesting way to go. Wicker toboggans originated back in the 19th century as downhill public transportation but now it’s a tourist thrill ride. Seated in the sled with greased wooden runners I was pushed off by 2 men dressed in white who hopped on behind me and used their boots to steer and brake. It’s a fast way down the steep street. It is said Hemingway came down this way on his visit back in 1954. It was pricey at 25 Euros plus a tip for the guys who got me down safely, but cable cars I’ve done before.
When I went to Sao Miguel island in the Azores last December, I found day tours running all over the island and they were so easy to get booked once I was there. However, I was not able to do this on Madeira, due to it’s large size of 286 square miles. The day tour I wanted going across the island was not going on the days I was there. Then I found that the day cruise going to Porto Santo Island was full on both my days left, so I probably should have pre-booked that. But I was enjoying the city of Funchal so much even though it really does not have any kind of a real beach. People just lay out on the black pebbles. Madeira has some really fine wines very cheaply priced both in bottles and by the glass. A typical Portuguese food is espetada, skewered beef chunks seasoned with garlic and bay leaves and hung over the fire. The skewer is then served at the table hanging on a rack over a plate of french fries and with a jar of red wine, bread and a side salad, it was a really fine meal.
From Funchal I flew Binter Airlines with a connection at Gran Canaria to North Tenerife in the Canary Islands, a distance of about 250 miles. Several islands make up the Canaries and it’s just 62 miles to Morocco and 621 miles to mainland Spain. It is the outermost region of the EU. They too are an autonomous nation since 1982. A bus from the airport took me to Puerto de la Cruz where I was able to walk to the Puerto Azul Hotel I had pre-booked. It was on a nice pedestrian street just a short walk to the waterside, restaurants and shops, and Lili at the front desk did speak English. I chose North Tenerife over the warmer, sunnier South because it was less touristy so I was mainly among the locals, yet I found myself dismayed that more English was not spoken. Everywhere are outside tables for eating and drinking. The beaches are black sand due to the volcanic base. The volcano, Mount Teide , is the highest point in the islands of the Atlantic at 12,198 ft. I wasn’t really interested in the day tour going up there and the day tour I had hoped to take on a loop around the island did not have enough bookings. The weather around the island is so different from one place to the next. I took a bus to La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage site just 19 miles away but a sudden squall of wind and rain made it impossible to enjoy walking around.
I then decided to hop on the train and go to the capital city of Santa Cruz in the east, population over 200,000, but with no plan, no map and no English spoken, I couldn’t really figure out what to do there. It’s unlike me to not have a better plan but the weather in Puerto Cruz was good and I liked this small city of about 30,000. I spent my time relaxing, people watching, reading at the coastal cafes, eating, drinking, walking. Like a local I had a manicure, a haircut and a fish foot spa treatment. I dangled my feet into an aquarium of minnows who nibbled at the dead skin cells of my feet. It was tingly and was followed by an excellent lotion foot massage.
When leaving North Tenerife it was completely fogged in so all flights were cancelled. They bussed us all to the South Tenerife airport so I did get to see the difference from North to South. It was completely sunny there. My Norwegian Airlines flight was into Madrid. My daughter and her family have been living there for 6 years so I have been all over Spain, but they are making a move back to London so this was to be my last visit to their house in Madrid and the summer heat was on!
My time for Andorra, Madeira and Tenerife took just 10 days. As an Independent Traveler I seek out new places to go but I do like to just keep moving along.