Madeira: visiting the garden island

A photo of the succulent beds in the botanic garden
A photo of the succulent beds in the botanic garden
This is the famous view of the botanic gardens in Madeira which we were lucky enough to visit a few years ago. The colours are all produced  using succulents. A photo like mine seems to be  in all holiday brochures.

A Bristol  coach firm used to run a winter trip to Kew Gardens in London.  Unsurprisingly the orchid house at Kew quickly became one of my favourite places to visit when the evenings became darker.  For a short while we could forget the British winter and imagine we were walking through the tropics.  So  I thought I would share a few photos and memories from a winter trip Bill and I made to Madeira a few years ago in case any of my readers were also feeling the onset of winter blues.

Pink and red flowers covering a wall.
This photo was taken in winter when my own garden at home was looking very bare.


Most guidebooks claim that the island of  Madeira which lies in the Atlantic off the coast of North Africa  was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century. However there is some evidence that the Romans knew of its existence.  What does seem to be true is that when the first Portuguese sailors landed there it was uninhabited.  Unlike the Canary islands which belong to Spain, Madeira is still part of Portugal.

Madeira  is one of the few places in Europe where sugar cane can be cultivated.  Luckily for the early settlers sugar was much in demand and plantation owners became very rich.   One of the early sugar traders was Christopher Columbus who lived on Porto Santo a small island off Madeira and married a local girl before discovering America.  These days  a replica of one of his ships is used to take people on trips round the bay.

This photo shows the striking large flowers of Aloes over looking the sea.
Aloe flowers. This is the same family as the Aloe Vera used in sun cream.


Being a volcanic island Madeira has no native plants or animals.  Everything has been imported by sailors or carried by the sea or the wind.  When they first arrived the Portuguese  found a wooded island. Fortunately they had experience coping with the dry Atlantic climate.  Cloud usually covers the top of the extinct volcano.  The first  settlers dug ditches called Levadas  to collect the moisture from these clouds and so irrigate their fields.  Remarkably, some of these date back 500 years and are still in use.  Now they are popular with hikers who want to climb into the mountain.

The soil is extremely fertile and there are few natural pests.  The Portuguese King, Henry the navigator encouraged settlers and the island soon became an important refuelling stop for sailors attempting to reach South America or the West Indies.      Sailors returning from transatlantic voyages often brought back seeds and exotic animals and birds. One eccentric landowner even gave tickets to one of his balls to any one bringing back a new plant.

Madeira is now nicknamed the garden island and here are two gardens I would recommend visiting.  Both gardens are situated on the side of a steep hill so visitors need a reasonable level of fitness.

The  botanic gardens

If you like plants a visit to the botanic gardens is a must. It is a little old fashioned . As well as local plants they have a large collection of plants from Africa and South America.

The gardens also have a collection of parrots. The first time we visited it was also home to Madeira’s oldest inhabitant, a giant tortoise, reputed to be 140 years old.

The botanic gardens are in the village of Monte high above the capital Funchal.  You can reach it by   bus or cable car.   Fit local men push the braver tourists back down the hill in toboggans.

The picture shows the cable car above the houses
We rode in the cable car up to the Botanic garden and enjoyed spectacular views over Funchal.

Monte Palace garden

Another interesting garden close by is the tropical  palace garden which has displays about the history of Madeira.  It also has a large collection of decorated tiles and a gallery with displays of Zimbabwean sculpture and rocks and crystals from around the world.

A chinese garden with a red fence.
The Chinese garden is part of the tropical garden
The photograph shows a black carved African figure
Part of the display of Zimbabwean sculpture in the tropical Palace garden

Nowadays Madeira is a popular cruise destination.  If you have visited the island or enjoyed this post I would love to hear your thoughts or tips.

I packed this guidebook.


If you are interested in visiting you can find out more here. Madeira web in English

Home working successfully after retirement

The picture shows someone home working sat on a soafa using a tablet with their feet up.
The dream life. Home working has many advantages.

I  retired just over a year ago but found I missed the stimulation and I will admit the money from working.   I wondered if there were any interesting home working opportunities that would offer a reasonable rate of pay to older people for a few hours work a week.  After a bit of googling  I soon discovered that quite a few mystery shopping companies had jobs for older people. Now rather to my surprise I find myself home working.  This is all very new to me.  During my working life I  worked in offices, nursing homes, hospitals and even a laboratory but now for the first time I am my own boss and work from home and  I find I much prefer it to watching day time television or knitting.

       10 tips for successful home working after retirement

  • set a target for how much you want to earn each week.  When it has been reached you have done enough.
  • Learn to say, No.  If you are working for several different people you will need to schedule a reasonable quantity of work and schedule some down time.
  • Make sure you get up early and get dressed.  It will make you feel more like work.
  • Keep all your work tools in one place preferably away from day time television.
  • Keep basic accounts recording income, outgoings and time.  (I imagine I am invoicing myself) so you can see what is the most profitable type of work.
  • Pay yourself a wage and keep a float for expenses.
  • Check income tax allowances.  If you work from home you can claim a portion of your heating and other household bills against income tax. (U.K)
  • If you work as an employee tell the tax office and you may be able to offset part of your personal tax allowance against tax. (U.K.)
  • Tell your friends and family that you will be working at certain times.
  • Make sure you schedule in some exercise.

I find it suprising the amount of work that is available for pensioners.   My recent jobs have ranged from sending a tweet to enquire about disabled access at a railway station to asking how to apply for a new driving licence at seventy.  I also do tasks that are not age specific like visiting gardens and local pubs.   Google and you tube have been my friends.  When I am stuck I can generally find a helpful video.  I also use my tablet’s planner and notepad to organise my schedule.

When I was in full time work I used to enjoy helping to mentor students.  I also enjoyed helping my own children with their homework when they were at school so when I found that there were opportunities to help research students I investigated further.  My favourite website for this is prolific academic , My referral link which puts research students in touch with participants.  I have also recently participated in research studies at our local university.

If you work from home do you have any tips to share? Or are you finding the transition to retirement easier than I did.  I would love to hear what you are thinking.  Don’t be shy.

If you are thinking of home working and want to find out more….

For more on mystery shopping and a couple of companies to try see my post

For more on helping with academic research  see my post

A very useful site for British readers to find out about homeworking opportunities is  The money shed

Quincy, a large ginger cat
Quincy – a cat who used to visit. You can’t take time out to cuddle a cat when working in an office

Prague: A short visit to Czechia’s fairytale capital


  A few days in Prague

Last week, we were again acting as roadies for our daughter who teaches English as a foreign language.  This year she has a post teaching in a village school just outside Prague and wanted some help with her luggage.  She needed to take extra clothes for this trip as winters can be very cold in central Europe.

We flew to Prague from Bristol with Easy Jet and stayed at the U Krize hotel which is situated between the Vltava river and the Petrin hill near the Charles Bridge.  We went to Prague for a long weekend a few years ago and my son  visited Prague for a stag weekend. However there is a lot more to the city than cheap beer.

A picture looking over the rooftops
Prague from the Petrin Hill

It is known as the city of a hundred spires and from above you can see the red roofs and green domes of the various churches.  The river Vltava snakes lazily through the centre and while we were there a lot of people were enjoying boat trips or were out in pedal boats.  Many bridges cross the river  including the most famous, the Charles Bridge with its dark statues of medieval saints.

Paddle boats on the river
People enjoying paddle boats on the Vltava river. The Charles bridge is in the background

We caught the hop on hop off bus for a sight seeing tour and saw the enormous Prague castle and the rather ugly Prague Sparta football stadium.  I learnt that the name comes from its former use for Spartacus gymnastics. We were unable to see the famous astronomical clock as it is being repaired and was covered by scaffolding.

The memorial to the victims of communism


Some history

2018 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Prague spring when protesters led by Alexander Dubcek rebelled against communism before the protest was crushed by Soviet tanks.  We noticed a lot of people visiting the monument to the victims of communism opposite our hotel and lighting candles.  We also visited a moving exhibition of testimonials by local people who had suffered under the communists in a local church.

In 1987 the people of Prague protested again led by Vaclav Havel a playwright .  This time the Russians were more sympathetic and the wave of protests in central Europe led eventually to the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia became independent after what became known as the velvet revolution and Vaclav Havel became Prime minister.  More recently there has been a velvet divorce and Czechia and Slovakia have split.

Prague today

Prague is now the capital of Czechia and is a large open and vibrant city of over a million inhabitants with a large expat community.   It is full of Parks and quirky statues.   It has lots of restaurants serving international and local dishes and designer shops as well as shops selling handmade wooden toys and local alcoholic beverages. The area around the Charles bridge is full of buskers playing classical music and talented artists painting tourists portraits. Certainly it is a wonderful city to visit.

Statue of Playwright sitting on the shoulders of a giant.
Franz Kafka statue. The playwright lived in Prague most of his life. Photo Angela Fraser


Westonbirt Arboretum: Going for gold, my favourite autumn walk

Westonbirt Arboretum


Autumn Colours. The picture shows red and orange trees.
The acers showing beautiful Autumn colours in my photo.

One of my favourite local places to visit at this time of year is Westonbirt Arboretum, which is in Gloucestershire about four miles from Tetbury.  An Arboretum is a word for a collection of trees and Westonbirt has 15,000 of them including 2,500 different types.   The collection was started in 1850 by Robert Holford, a rich Victorian Landlord who owned the estate.

Visitors walking through the trees.
Visitors enjoying the Autumn colours.


It is now owned by the forestry commission and has 17 miles of accessible trails. The forestry commission have also been busy planting wild flower meadows.    They are even carrying out experiments to find out how different varieties of tree will cope with possible climate change.  Local naturalists have also identified over 1,000 different types of fungi.

The Stihl treetop walkway which was recently opened allows you to look down on the trees and it is fully wheelchair accessible. A lift takes disabled visitors to the top.   Electric scooters are available for hire but need to be pre booked.   Dogs on leads are allowed in the silk wood area.

Children’s activities

The Gruffulo A large wooden gruffulo has been placed in the wood.
The Gruffulo is hiding in the dark wood.

There are a lot of activities for children including a chance to spot the Gruffulo and several play zones  so children can  climb and scramble. There is also an outdoor classroom which can be used by schools and a bird hide. A large gift shop sells a wide range of countryside books, gifts and toys.

Food and Drink

Westonbirt  has a good restaurant which serves hot and cold food, a snack bar with outdoor seating and  a  picnic area with benches and tables for people to bring their own food.

Autumn is my favourite time to visit when the woods are full of reds and yellows.  The foresters waymark a special Autumn tints trail so you won’t miss the most colourful trees particularly the Acers.

Christmas activities

However there are activities throughout the year including Christmas when  the staff decorate some of the trees  with fairy lights and children can meet Father Christmas.  The woodsmen also hose down the trunks of the silver birches to give the woods a magical feel and Christmas gifts are on sale.

In  summer  the woods are full of colourful azaleas and rhodedendrons.

Admission is £10.00 for adults and £4.00 for children.

More details can be found here:Westonbirt arboretum

The site also has a guide to download in French, German or Japanese.

If you enjoyed this post you might like Two National Trust Properties to visit near Bath.