Monte Palace Tropical Garden Madeira

 

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On our recent family holiday to the gorgeous Portuguese island of Madeira we walked around Monte Palace Tropical Garden, reckoned to be one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world.

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Madeira’s southerly location (same latitude as Marrakesh), moist Atlantic air and rich volcanic soil combine to provide ideal conditions for year-round, frost-free cultivation of all kinds of flora ranging from English roses to tropical bananas to native laurel trees.IMG_3309

Early British settlers on the island played an important role in the local economy and they spent their wealth on lovely estates and gardens where they could enjoy the healthy climate and great views.

Monte Palace was one of these estates, developed by Charles Murray, a Scottish merchant and British Consul from 1777-1801, high on a hill overlooking Funchal, the capital of Madeira. This home came to be known as Quinta do Prazer (Pleasure Estate).IMG_3276

The property was acquired by Alfredo Guilherme Rodrigues in 1897 who built the current house, inspired by castles he had seen on the banks of the Rhine. The house later became the Monte Palace Hotel until it was closed down in the 1940s. It is now owned by a charitable foundation which transformed the grounds into a tropical garden and museum open to the public.IMG_3319

The Tropical Garden covers seven hectares of sloping hillside and contains a fine collection of exotic plants from around the world including cycads, proteas, azaleas, hydrangeas, heather, sequoias, acacias and olives. People like us, visiting from Malaysia, can feel at home to see hibiscus, heliconia and orchids.

There are two oriental gardens with and koi fish ponds, with Japanese and Chinese style bridges, stone lions, pavilions and so on.

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Panel of Tiles “Nymphs”, Jorge Colaço, Lisbon late 19th century

One of Portugal’s most important collections of tile panels dating from the 15th century up to contemporary works, depicting historical, religious or purely decorative designs is displayed along footpaths around the garden.

IMG_3300IMG_3295A separate exhibition centre shows off the Berardo Foundation’s collection of stone sculptures from Zimbabwe and rocks and minerals from around the world.

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The best way to reach the Monte Palace Tropical Garden is by cable car (Teleféricos Da Madeira) from Funchal but it is possible to get a taxi or drive.

You can find details of opening hours, admission prices and location on Monte Palace’s official website, www.montepalace.com

If you still have energy after seeing the Tropical Garden there is another botanical garden in Funchal, Madeira Botanical Garden, which you can reach by a second cable car.

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Malaysia’s Old Post Offices

Pos Malaysia has done a good job in preserving a number of Malaysia’s old post offices, some of which date back a hundred years or more. While most of the large cities in Malaysia now have large modern mail distribution centres and post offices there are still a number old post offices which can be considered heritage buildings.

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In 2010 Pos Malaysia issued an attractive set of stamps featuring 28 post offices, mostly old ones.

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The oldest surviving post office building in Malaysia is probably in Taiping. It was finished in 1884 and has recently been converted into the Telegraph Museum. My picture was taken prior to its restoration.

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The old general post office in Kuala Lumpur (completed in 1907) still stands although it has not been used as a post office since 1984. Ipoh and Kota Kinabalu also have old post office buildings which are over a century old but they are now being used by other government departments.

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The grandest post office building which is still being used for its original purpose is, in my opinion,  Kuching’s General Post Office, completed in 1932. It proudly displays the Sarawak State motto, Dum Spiro Spero, meaning While I breathe, I hope.

Here are some arty images of more old post offices which I have snapped during my travels around the country.

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‘The Mouse That Roared’ Solution to Britain’s Brexit Dilemma

Britain has got itself into a hopeless muddle over Brexit. Two years of dithering and bickering have still not produced a viable exit proposal and the country remains as divided as ever. With the exit date fast approaching perhaps a radical new approach is needed.

Introducing …..

The Mouse That Roared Solution

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Inspired by the 1959 comedy film The Mouse That Roared, the United Kingdom should apply to the United States to become part of the USA or, more precisely, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to become the US’s 51st, 52nd, 53rd and 54th States respectively.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea let’s consider the advantages:

  • The EU would not be able to bully the US on Britain’s exit terms.
  • No need to pay the £40 billion EU exit fee. Mr. Trump would never agree.
  • No need to renegotiate trade deals since USA already has global trade deals in place.
  • Scotland and Wales would finally be free of English domination and could call themselves autonomous States, albeit as part of USA.
  • London would not have to subsidise Scotland any more. That would be the job of the Federal Government.
  • Britons could once again be proud to have the world’s strongest armed forces.
  • UK’s enormous national debt would be merged with USA’s even larger national debt and seemingly disappear.
  • Britons would exchange their Pounds for Dollars and feel richer as a result.
  • Some Britons would benefit from America’s generally lower income tax rates.
  • Britons could sell their over-priced UK properties and move to the American ‘mainland’ where real estate is much cheaper.
  • Britons concerned about immigration should be happy as most immigrants would immediately move to California to become millionaires. Also President Trump would be in charge of UK’s borders.
  • Talented British politicians (can’t think of any off the top of my head) would be eligible to run for President. Tony Blair or David Miliband might fancy their chances since they are far more popular on that side of the Atlantic than at home.
  • Those Brits who dislike President Trump would have the opportunity to vote him out of office.
  • The Queen could remain Head of State for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with the equivalent rank of State Governor. After she passes away her successors would have to stand for election as State Governor if they were interested. Prince Louis of Cambridge would be the last royal to inherit a title. Future royals, earls and other nobility would be just regular untitled American citizens, only richer.
  • The National Health Service would become a State Health Service and, deprived of Federal support, would rapidly become bankrupt. It would be replaced by a self-funded health insurance scheme which is what the current British Government would secretly like to achieve but is not brave enough to suggest.

The issue of the hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic would remain. Maybe Eire would also like to join USA, as the 55th State, which would eliminate the problem. Since most Americans claim some Irish heritage they should feel very much at home.

England could be renamed Old England to avoid confusion with New England. Or better still, Ye Olde England, to maximise the tourism potential of the brand.

Those are some of the advantages of this proposal for Britain but what’s in it for America?

  • They gain 65 million new citizens who can’t speak a word of Spanish, thus swinging the language mix in America firmly back in favour of English.
  • They would be able to absorb Britain’s highly regarded armed forces into their own.
  • They get control of GCHQ and the other UK intelligence assets.
  • They get the City of London’s financial centre.
  • They will learn about cricket, football and rugby.
  • They acquire history, culture, royalty, entertainment, etc., etc.

Ok, Britain will lose its sovereignty but that’s an overrated commodity in today’s world. We would be able to celebrate America’s Independence Day instead.

The more I think about the Mouse That Roared solution, the better it sounds. What do you think?

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Flor De la Mar’s Colourful History

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In Melaka, on the quayside near the mouth of the Malacca River, stands a replica of a Portuguese galleon, or carrack, called the Flor de la Mar which sailed in these waters in the early 1500s.

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Afonso de Albuquerque

This vessel, which is often (mis?)spelt Frol de la Mar, was the flagship for the Portuguese fleet in the Indian Ocean under command of the famous conqueror Afonso de Albuquerque.

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Flor de la Mar was built in 1502 in Lisbon. Weighing in at 400 tons, with a length of 120 feet and a height of 110 feet she was the largest vessel of its kind at the time. She was armed with 40 cannons distributed over three decks with a high stern and forecastle from which the crew could rain down fire on her enemies but this top-heavy design also made for poor stability when fully laden.

Her maiden voyage to the Indian Ocean departed Lisbon in 1502 under command of Esterão da Gama, a cousin of the explorer Vasco da Gama, returning to Portugal in 1503. The next voyage left Lisbon in 1505 under the captaincy of João da Nova. On her way back she sprang a leak and had to spend the winter in Mozambique before being commandeered by Afonso de Albuquerque for further missions in the Indian Ocean. She never saw Portugal again.

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Al Jalali Fort, Muscat

Flor de la Mar plundered her way around the Indian Ocean taking part in various bloody sieges and brutal raids against unsuspecting towns and ports in Arabia and India. She took part in the conquest of Socatra (now part of Yemen), Kuryat (Quriyat), Muscat, Corfacão (Khorfakkan), Quelba (Kalba), Sohar (all in modern day Oman and UAE), Ormuz (Hormuz, Iran) and Diu, Calicut and Goa (India).

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Hormuz Fort 

By 1505 King Manuel of Portugal’s attention had turned towards Malacca. When Vasco da Gama returned from his first voyage round the Cape of Good Hope as far as Calicut he brought back tales of a fantastically wealthy distant city called Malacca where all the goods of Asia were traded – pearls from Arabia, porcelain from China, cloth from India and nutmeg, cloves and pepper from the Spice Islands. It was the most cosmopolitan city in the world where over eighty languages were heard, according to the account of Portuguese apothecary and traveller Tomé Pires. With over 100,000 inhabitants, Malacca was larger than Lisbon at the time and almost as big as Venice, and it was ruled over by a Muslim Sultan.

Plan of the Portuguese Fortress in 1512

Pires wrote in his book Suma Oriental in 1515  ‘whoever is Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice’ meaning that Malacca was the source of Venice’s spice monopoly wealth.

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Tomé Pires

Albuquerque was determined to throttle Venice by seizing or at least gaining access to Malacca’s lucrative spice trade. Although he only had a small force of 700 Portuguese and 300 Indian soldiers he set about defeating the Sultan’s army with his usual ruthless efficiency and Malacca was conquered in 1511.

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Battle of Diu

The city was plundered and Albuquerque, leaving a small force behind, set off with his loot for India aboard the Flor de la Mar accompanied by two other vessels the Trinidade and the Emxobregas. Some accounts, possibly exaggerated, say he had 60 tons of gold and 200 chests of precious gems with him intended as gifts for the Portuguese king and queen as well as a jewel encrusted table, a pair of bronze lions and a rare map drawn by a Javanese showing the routes to China and other lands.

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Replica of the old Sultan’s Palace in Malacca.

 

His crew were reluctant to sail on the Flor de la Mar which by now was nine years old and barely seaworthy. Normally the ships on the India run could only survive four years or so before shipworms, nicknamed termites of the sea, caused irreparable damage to their unprotected wooden hulls. Also the vibrations caused by continual cannon fire had caused the Flor’s timbers to shake apart and the ship leaked badly and required constant pumping. 

When  stormy weather struck off the coast of north Sumatra, Flor de la Mar anchored in four fathoms of water to ride out the storm. Heavy seas pushed her onto a reef where she ran aground and broke into two with only the superstructure visible above the waves. Albuquerque and a few other survivors managed to escape the wreck and they were taken aboard the Trinidade. Many of his crew and a number of slaves were not so lucky and were lost along with the treasure.

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The Malacca Museums Corporation seems in no doubt that Flor de la Mar’s sinking was an act of divine retribution for the misdeeds of the Portuguese conquerors.

The Trinidade was overcrowded and they were desperately short of food and water.  Some captives were thrown overboard in their sleep to reduce the number of mouths to feed but the ship eventually made it back to Goa.

Numerous wreck divers and salvage companies have tried to find the location of the Flor de la Mar wreck in the hope of recovering some of the lost treasures but seemingly so far without success. With the ship sinking in shallow waters close to the shore you would have thought something would have been found by now.

Had this happened in our modern age of conspiracy theories and fake news people might have speculated that Albuquerque deliberately sank the ship and kept the loot concealed for himself rather than handing it over to the king. He wouldn’t be the last Portuguese colonial governor to enrich himself corruptly before proceeding on retirement. But that would be a terrible slur to make against a Portuguese national hero! Even if he did succeed in keeping some of the plunder for himself he would not have lived long to enjoy it as he died in Goa in 1515.

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Shiroi Koibito Park

While in Sapporo recently we took the opportunity to visit Shiroi Koibito Park which is a chocolate factory with an England-themed attraction attached.

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The factory production line itself was under renovation but there was still a lot to see. Shiroi Koibito by the way means white sweetheart or white lover.

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The mock tudor architecture was reminiscent of Chester Rows and Liberty of London. A colourful display of seasonal flowers filled the courtyard area.

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Playful touches such as this leaning tower of biscuits (my name for it) added to the fun for kids.

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Also outside was a miniature railway, treehouses, a London double decker bus, a mechanical clock tower with singing and dancing dolls and a soft ice cream house.

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Inside, the decor was as lavish and ornate as the exterior.

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Indoor exhibits included the Aurora Fountain produced by England’s Royal Doulton Company in 1870 and a chocolate cup collection.

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Examples of chocolate packaging and advertising from years gone by were displayed along with information on how chocolate is produced.

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A misspelling here perhaps? Fly’s Milk Chocolate might not have been so successful as Fry’s.

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There was also a rare collection of vintage Japanese toys dating from 1868 onwards.

Needless to say there was a shop selling the full range of chocolate and confectionary products as well as an elegant cafe to enjoy those decadent chocolate drinks in bone china cups and their trademark Shiroi Koibito parfait.

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The Japanese are masters at making authentic-looking copies of European architecture. If Britain ever wants to regenerate some of their drab town centres maybe they should ask the Japanese to build some replica tudor buildings for them!

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Sapporo – Places to See

Sapporo is the regional capital of Hokkaido with a population of 1.9 million and there is plenty to see and do in and around the city.

Mt. Moiwa Ropeway

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We took the ropeway (cable car) to the top of Mt. Moiwa, 531 meters above sea level to enjoy a panoramic view of the city and to give my daughter the chance to touch the rapidly melting snow, something she doesn’t get to experience in Malaysia.

This spot is also popular at night and is regarded as one of the Three Most Beautiful Nightscapes of Japan along with Kobe and Nagasaki.

Otaru

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Canal boat rides are available. Too cold for us!

Otaru is a 30 minute train ride from Sapporo. Otaru was a booming trading port from the late 1800s until its decline following WWII. The town has a nostalgic feel to it with canal-side warehouses, historic buildings and old gas lamps which have helped transform it into a popular tourist destination. Many of the old warehouses and buildings have been converted into bars, restaurants, shops and museums.

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Iwanaga Clock Store in Otaru with carp roof ornaments.

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This fire lookout tower is part of Denuki-koji, a tiny village of 18 food stalls in alleyways built in retro style.

Here too is a sign for the Rita Nikka Bar named after ‘The Scottish girl who married the founder of Japanese whisky’. This must refer to Rita Taketsuru (née Cowan), wife of Taketsuru Masataka, the founder of Nikka whisky. You can read an article about her here.

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Nice Coat!

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This century old building contains Otaru Orgel Doh, a store with over 3,400 types of music box, the largest collection in Japan. OK if you need an overdose of cuteness.

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One of Otaru’s specialities. I found the weather too cold for ice cream and opted for the Glühwein instead.

Noboribetsu

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Noboribetsu is a hot spring town about 80 minutes away from Sapporo by train. Apart from the onsens the main attraction here is the Bear Park.

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About 80 Ezo brown bears live in two or three enclosures here. Visitors can buy bags of tidbits and toss them into the mouths of the bears provided the greedy crows don’t catch them in mid air.

The park is reached by a 7 minute cable car ride. Apart from the bear enclosures there is a brown bear museum, an Ainu exhibition (indigenous people of Japan), a duck race and a great view overlooking Lake Kuttara.

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Sapporo City

Back in Sapporo there are a number of places to see. These include:

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Maruyama Zoo is well worth a visit. We particularly liked the meerkats, the reptile house, the wolves and polar bears.

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The Clock Tower was built in 1878 as a military drill hall for the Sapporo Agricultural College which, at the time, was under the leadership of Dr William S. Clark from the Massachusetts Agriculture College. It is now a museum.

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Tanukikoji Shopping Arcade is one of the city’s many shopping districts.

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We appeared to gatecrash a wedding at Hokkaido Jingu Shinto Shrine. Note the wedding party’s handbags lined up on a protective mat.

Hokkaido Jingu Shinto Shrine is the enshrined home of a number of deities including Sukuna-Hiko-Nano-Kami or the Divine Spirit of National Administration, Medicine and Sake Brewing. That seems an odd combination to me. The adjacent Maruyama Park is one of Sapporo’s best cherry blossom viewing spots.

There was one more attraction in Sapporo that we enjoyed which I’ll write about in my next post.

 

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Sapporo Beer Posters

With hindsight, the last week of April was probably not the best time to visit Sapporo, the vibrant regional capital of Hokkaido, Japan.

The winter ski season was over though it was still cold with patches of snow about, especially in the hillier areas. Spring comes late in these northerly latitudes and the cherry blossom was appearing just as we were leaving.

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Still, we had a good time and managed to find plenty to do. One of the highlights for me was a trip to the old Sapporo beer factory which is now a museum and beer garden.

I was interested to see how the brand’s label designs and advertising posters had changed over the decades since the brewery was established in 1876.

The first brew master was trained in Germany and the original brewing machinery came from there so it is not surprising that there was a good deal of German influence in some of the early beer labels.

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The first advertising posters featured kimono-clad geishas to appeal both to domestic audiences and the export markets of Asia and further afield.

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By the 1920s and early 1930s Japan was copying the fashions and styles of the West and this shows in this poster.

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In the lead-up to World War Two Japan was turning nationalistic and this may be why this 1937 poster features traditional Japanese dress again.

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After the War, kimonos were out and Western styles were back in favour. The model in this 1956 poster had something of the Audrey Hepburn about her, an actress who is still fondly remembered in Japan.

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From the 1990s onwards, TV and sporting personalities tended to be used in posters. I prefer the old poster art but I suppose the modern adverts sell more beer.

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A selection of beer brands on display at the museum. I haven’t come across Borneo Beer in my travels to Borneo so I guess this brand is defunct.

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After the tour around the Sapporo Beer Museum we retired to the tasting room to sample a selection of beers.

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I find that the taste of beers made by the major Japanese brands such as Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory are much of a muchness – all excellent quality and very refreshing but it would be nice to have a bit more variety of flavours and colours.

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