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Madeira has long been regarded as a destination for middle-aged and retired holidaymakers. The sub-tropical climate; the lack of golden sand beaches; the traditional morals held by the strongly Roman Catholic local population; and, its historical role as a convalescing island have all contributed to the generally held opinion that Madeira is not a young person's best choice for a holiday destination. Funchal, Madeira's capital city, shares this reputation. Being the archipelago's main economic centre, you might suppose that Funchal would deserve a more upbeat reputation. Surely, the hustle and bustle that naturally accompanies any economic hub brings its own dynamism? Well, if you ever needed an exception that proved the rule, look no further than Funchal. Madeira's capital city displays a distinctly laid back attitude. It may be the year round warmth - the temperature rarely drops below 17 degrees Celsius. Or, it may be the fact that, being a rugged volcanic island, communications bringing new ideas and inventions have historically been severely hampered by Funchal's geographic circumstance. Or, maybe it is because the Madeiran population has just been too contented with their beautiful surrounds that they have not eagerly sought change. Whatever the reason, Funchal never fully embraced the innovations of the twentieth century. Indeed, one aspect that illustrates Funchal's resistance to modernisation was its erstwhile main means of transport. It was not until the early 1960s that the internal combustion engine began to make an impact on the cobbled streets that typified Funchal at that time. Up until this date, the main form of vehicular transport was oxen drawn carriages devoid of wheels. These carriages were pulled along the roadway on two, wooden sled runners. Two men, usually wearing white straw hats, walked alongside these "carro de bois" vehicles. One man was required to steer the bullocks. The other man used a grease laden rag to lessen the friction between the wooden runners and the road. Both men would fan the flies away from the oxen and, when it was dark, the steerer held a candle lantern to light the way and warn others of their approach.


The vehicle also commonly had white linen drapes that hung from the roof. These could be drawn to protect the passengers from the direct heat of the bright sunshine. It was not uncommon in the 1950s to see the belief reported that Funchal's narrow, winding, often steeply incline, cobbled streets would never succumb to the motor car. The assumption behind this belief being that mechanically propelled, wheeled transport could never compete with the perfectly adapted bullock carts. Of course, the skeptics were ultimately proved wrong as motor vehicles inexorably became the dominant mode of transport. However, it was not until the onset of the twenty-first century that Madeira fully tackled the problems that its topography presented to motoring. The Autonomous Regional Government finally building the Rapida - a fast motorway linking all the major population centres on the south coast. The Rapida is unlike any other motorway you are likely to drive along. Numerous tunnels and wide-span bridges conquer the challenges of Madeira's mountainous terrain and deep ravines. It is no accident that Madeira possesses more road tunnels per kilometre of roadway than any other nation on earth. Today, Madeira has actively sought to encourage younger visitors to their archipelago homeland. Nowadays, the island, and Funchal in particular, is a cosmopolitan, open-minded society willingly welcoming the twenty-first century and taking positive steps to become a trailblazer in the sphere of modern innovations. So do not be mislead, certainly you will still encounter many middle-aged and retired holidaymakers on Madeira, but the youthful visitor will find plenty to keep them entertained and amused. Š All Rights Reserved. Republishing this article, or an extract from it, without the author credit, the active links and this copyright notice remaining intact is not allowed.

Robert James B.Sc (Hons) is the editor of the informative and interesting Madeira travel guide. His career as a freelance writer has spanned more than 30 years. During that time he has had many articles and feature items published in the trade press. His love of Madeira island dates back to the 1990s when he first became aware of the charms of Funchal, Madeira's capital city. He now returns frequently to update himself on the latest developments that this Portuguese outpost regularly implements in order to promote itself as a modern, cosmopolitan centre of culture.

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