Turning 40 in February was to bring some bloomin’ fabulous celebrations… some abroad!
But y’know, COVID! So, a hot tub, balloon arch, doorstop visits from friends, girly zoom night doing life drawing (ahem) and lots of cake and gin was the outcome. It was still bloody brilliant BUT with my mum’s present being a trip to Bologna, we couldn’t wait to get booked and enjoy a few nights, child free (whaaaaaaaat?), indulging in all the lush food and drink.
But y’know, COVID!
We ended up rebooking for Madeira which is currently on the green list.
We uhmed and ahhh’d over whether it was worth the stress of getting all the right documents sorted and uploaded to the right places. Was it worth getting excited knowing that any ‘bubble’ could pop in the run up to us departing or would one of us have to actually isolate with the holiday having to be cancelled? Figuring out how to get the rapid test whilst in Madeira so we could fly home (crossing everything to have a negative result) and also booking the UK test that you have to do after 2 days of returning. Being both double jabbed and desperate to get away, it WAS a faff but worth it!
I have two young boys, aged three and eight so this was a real treat. A long weekend (child free!) in the sunshine having quality time with my mum. Luuuuuurverly!
Again with it being such a short break, we questioned whether it was worth all the planning and potential risk of having to isolate abroad. Worst case scenario, one of us testing positive whilst away and having to isolate for 10 days in Madeira. Not great with 2 young boys at home, my own business to run and my husband’s work diary to then jig about. Because boy, we’ve done enough of that over the last 16 months right?!
Even writing this, it seems so bonkers with all the uncertainty for just a short break abroad.
But y’know, (COVID!) has messed with enough plans and events that we were definitely more up for it than not.
Arriving at Manchester airport was a bit surreal because it was so quiet. There were queues for package holidays with Tui and Jet2 but nothing too ridiculous. We had hand luggage (remember, no kids and all the holiday stuff that comes with them) so it was really straightforward going through security etc. It was quiet and we were chilling with a coffee within minutes. A rarity!
A taxi from the airport (prebooked with our hotel) was approximately 20 mins and €29. It took just less than seven hours door-to-door from South Manchester to Funchal, the capital of Madeira.
We stayed in a cute boutique hotel centrally located. Bags dropped, face masks on, we headed straight to the marina for a seafood lunch and caipirinhas. No high chairs or colouring books required!
Our first impressions of Funchal was that it was a beautiful city with a calm and cool atmosphere. On the coast with plenty of green space, it’s very clean with many open spaces and pretty gardens. There’s a great promenade with various piers often with a restaurant or bar on them. There are amazing eateries everywhere. We felt like we struck gold for quality food wherever we went and that wasn’t because we were on Trip-advisor lots! It was rare our bill was more than €70 and we’d always have a few cocktails, G&Ts (yaaaaaassss!), the most amazing garlic & parsley bread to start, a seafood main and dessert each. You’d struggle to find the same quality in the UK for anything close to that. Perhaps it’s because of y’know COVID, that they keep their prices low to keep the tourism going or maybe it’s always like that and very reasonable. Maybe I need to return to find out, ha!
We spent most of the time just mooching around the city and the old town (cute but a bit more touristy) and found lots of beautiful little streets full of character and history.
The only downside is that there isn’t a decent beach. It’s a black rocky beach and not at all appealing, especially compared to other Portuguese beaches on the mainland. With it being a short break and having a pool at our hotel, we weren’t bothered at all.
I would definitely return to Madeira, for a girly weekend again (woo!) or with my family. With all the outdoor space, my young boys would love the parks, the promenade, the cable car up to the Monte, the ice creams, my eldest would love the Christian Ronaldo museum and statues, the stunning gardens and the general calm vibe. Unfortunately, (y’know COVID) all the play
areas were taped off so that would definitely suck for them! The flight time is good with a short transfer too.
COVID HOLIDAY PREP
Regarding the COVID regulations, before we departed the UK, we had to upload proof of our double jab-ing to ‘Madeira Safe’ and fill in passenger locator forms. We had paper printouts and online copies too. All very straightforward. However, because my Mum had uploaded a screenshot of her NHS vaccine certificate and not the actual document (easily done if you’re a bit of a technophobe), we did encounter a heap of stress at the gate in Manchester and even though Jet 2 were happy for us to fly, the steward’s words were ‘I hope you’re okay at the other end and not sent back.’ Eek! Rather frustrating when you have paper documents and have been double jabbed etc. Before take off, I quickly uploaded the relevant documents properly and once we arrived in Madeira, all was verified and fine.
*Make sure you have printed off or received in the post any paper documents you might need, or downloaded anything and make sure you take your phone FULLY CHARGED to the airport!
On arrival to Funchal airport, staff offered free rapid Covid tests which are necessary to have within 48 hours of arriving back in England. They check your details on ‘Madeira Safe’ and a link is instantly sent via email with a long list of all participating chemists. You then have to contact a chemist close to you (the hotel concierge was happy to do this) and book in for your rapid/fit to fly test. Easy. If anything, it’s best to do it sooner rather than later to get a convenient time that suits. After a nurse literally dug for coal up our noses, we were there for a total of just 40 minutes with negative results. Phew.
Whilst waiting, we got talking to a Canadian woman who was flying back to Paris. She too had to take a rapid test within 48 hours but having (luckily!) checked her entry requirements to fly back to Paris, realised that France had changed the time frame to 24 hours just 2 days before.
*Do keep checking the UK's rules for your country while you're away
On another note, her daughter who flew from Canada to Paris, had a transfer in London. Even just transiting through London required a rapid COVID test which she hadn’t had. She (nor I) would think of that. Definitely something worth factoring if you’re changing planes anywhere. She had to wait in London for 3 days before getting another flight which of course she had to pay for.
Entry requirements are changing all the time and I’d definitely advise to check the GOV.UK website regularly in the run up to both departures. Check your destination government website too. The airlines seem hot on the changes too and I found Jet 2 to be extremely thorough and up to date with COVID rules.
I’m writing this on the plane back to sunny Manchester (it was actually hotter than Madeira when we were away, lol!) and on reflection of all the little stresses (big stress with the screenshotted doc!) I’m sooooo glad we went.
We all need a holiday, a break, a change of scenery, some sunny normality and to send this COVID hell, packing! There was a big case of CBA with all the faff but the COVID hurdles won’t stick in my memory… the fabulous weekend away having quality time ACTUALLY ABROAD with my Mum will.
I hope you manage to get away safely (and stress free) soon!
WRITTEN BY FAYE MARQUES
Faye is mum to two boys aged eight and three. She lives in South Manchester where she runs her own clothing business Just Coops and Lu. www.justcoopsandlu.com