Happy Chinese New Year! What better way to celebrate than to have a terrific guest blogger on this auspicious day.
Good friend and author, Junying Kirk and I share a love of food and travel, so she’s penned a wonderful post about her recent trip to Madeira, Portugal.
Enjoy the warmth of Madeira and Junying’s writing , and then hop over to her website to celebrate the year of the horse!
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Who is Junying?
Junying Kirk was born and grew up in China. A British Council scholarship led her to study English Language Teaching at Warwick University in 1988, followed by further postgraduate degrees at Glasgow and Leeds. She has worked as an academic, administrator, researcher, teacher and cultural consultant. Currently working as a professional interpreter and translator, she loves reading and writing books. Her Journey to the West trilogy, ‘The Same Moon’, ‘Trials of Life’ and ‘Land of Hope’ have been published on Amazon Kindle, CreateSpace, and Smashwords. She regularly blogs on books world travels, food and photography, in fact, anything interesting and worth sharing at http://www.junyingkirk.com.
She lives in Birmingham UK with her English husband.
Learn more about Junying in an interview we did here.
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Madeira, a Garden Paradise & Seafood Lover’s Retreat
To escape from the freezing chills of British winter, we head south, either to one of the Spanish Canary Islands, Gran Canaria or Tenerife, or as we do more often, Madeira.
We do not go to Madeira to languish on a sandy beach under blistering sun, hoping for a marvellous tan.
No, though no beaches, this Portuguese “Pearl of the Atlantic” has plenty of other attractions to offer.
Madeira, closer to the coast of Northern Africa than that of Southern Europe, means ‘wood’, and its capital city Funchal is ‘fennel’ in Portuguese. It is covered with a wide variety of trees, plants and flowers which have inhabited this island from ancient times. Little has changed with 90% of the island since its ‘official’ discovery in the early 15th century by Portuguese navigators.
My ‘discovery’ of Madeira came much later.
At the end of 2006, following the recommendation of a dear friend, my husband, John and I, jetted off to this tropical garden paradise for the first time. We celebrated a warm Christmas in style and watched an amazing fireworks display, indulging our senses with a fabulous selection of gourmet Portuguese food, in fine, tropical weather surrounded by amazing flora and fauna.
We took a cable car up Monte, which boasts a couple of the most beautiful botanic gardens on earth, where we were greeted by the spectacular open amphitheatre of Funchal and the mighty, endless ocean as far as our eyes could see, it was like, WOW.
On our descent, we sauntered into a “tourist information centre”, or so we thought!
We booked a Levada, a mountain walk. It’s a must-do for all tourists.
Even though I was no longer as fit and energetic as my younger self, my desire to experience first-hand, anything adventurous and action-orientated made me tingle with anticipation.
Emerging two hours later, we had been sold a one week time share by a friendly, chatty American saleswoman—an unexpected New Year gift to ourselves.
And here we are in 2014, on our fifth visit. As I leaned on our balcony looking out on the shimmering Atlantic in the sun, listening to the soothing sounds of huge waves crashing against the volcanic rocks just beyond the green palm trees and blue swimming pools below, I felt an incredible sense of calm and peace, a trickle of deep satisfaction about my life – I am a happy and blessed woman on holiday, and Woo Hoo, it’s paradise on earth Madeira!
During my travels I always try sampling local cuisine, and I am especially fond of seafood and exotic fruits. Madeira, as it turns out, promises a most delectable choice of cuisine, both local and international.
Our various visits have brought us in contact with a number of delicious dishes, from celebrated restaurants from Trip Advispr to side street small bars and grills, which offer a great variety. I especially love the local home-made bread, the “balo-do-caco”, made on a hot stone. As soon as you made your order, the waiter would bring you a basket where the bread is warm with garlic and herbs butter – Damn delicious!
Another of my favourites is seafood. The Madeirans do the most mouthwatering fish soups! Believe me, you would want more once you tried them. As a matter of fact, I have made it myself – a great bonus for having a luxurious apartment, where I can actually dirty my hands in a small but adequate kitchen, enough to pan-fry an occasional scabbard fish.
Oh yes, you can buy the freshest black scabbard fish, Espada, which again is speciality of Madeira, as this kind of deep sea fish can be found in that part of the world. And, I simply adore the Workers‘ Market (Mercedo dos Lavradores) in Funchal, where you can get your hands on every kind of tropical fruit and vegetables, as well as a variety of fish brought in from the ocean surrounding this evergreen island. I have found several unusual fruits, including one strange fruit called monstera, a hybrid of pineapple and banana – it’s kind of difficult not to have naughty thoughts when you see one :)!
Apart from the wide choice of seafood, you could try another of the local specialities “espetada”, a skewer with seasoned meat grilled on charcoal, often served on an iron spit hanging from an iron hook.
Then you’re in for a treat if you have a sweet tooth. Have I already mentioned the massive choice of locally grown fruits? How can you resist the temptation of a passion fruit or a papaya pudding with caramel topping? How about a slice of Madeira cake – the island used to be an important producer of sugar, so they boast a number of sweet recipes. My eyes nearly popped out when I saw the selection of colourful cakes on sale during Christmas time. I started drooling there and then!
During our dining at a restaurant in Funchal, the kind waiter brought us a bottle of Madeira wine (5 year old at least) and a basket of home-made ginger biscuits. A perfect way to round off a superb gastronomic treat!
After relaxing by the pool, devouring my favourite books one after another, I loved dipping in the cool waters for a leisurely swim. If you are a good swimmer and fancy a more adventurous pursuit, go diving, or surfing. There is also horse riding, or a thrilling ride on the Toboggan, racing downhill in a massive wicker basket – that was fun and adrenaline-pumping, to say the least.
Finally I’d like to share with you a short video on Youtube, which I made after our previous visit in 2012. Hope you’ve enjoyed the virtual tour with me :).
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Connect with Junying
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Thank you Junying for taking us on a virtual holiday with you to Madeira!
If you would like to be a guest blogger, please comment below and let me know. The goal is to highlight YOUR writing. Connect to me via any of my networks. Twitter and email are best.
Don’t forget to visit Junying at her site and wish her a Happy New Year too!