Trip to the city of Funchal to customs…A drive home in dense fog…One year ago…Livorno, Italy….

Was this the statue we were looking for to indicate we were close to the post office?  We didn’t think so.

Where do we begin?  At 8:30 yesterday morning, we headed out the door, taking several items with us in order to pick up our awaiting package at customs in Funchal; my phone with the turn by turn directions on the screen, my laptop with Google Maps turn by turn directions and, a file on my desktop containing nine receipts for the customs office.

In order for customs to release the package to us, we had to travel to the main post office in Funchal, we had to produce receipts for each item and pay the subsequent VAT (value-added tax) and customs fees. 

While we were in Funchal the dense fog rolled in.

Ideally, all of the receipts would have been in the package with the items. As those of us who shop online are aware we don’t always get anything but a packing slip in the box which may not indicate the actual prices we paid for the items. The cost of the items would be contained in the original online order receipt.

Thus, I gathered all of the receipts from my email folder, placing them in a folder on my desktop, ready to review. Our portable printer died and there was no printing facility within miles. As a backup, I put the receipts on a zip drive.

It looks like smoke, but its actually fog.  I took most of these photos from the freeway through the car’s windshield.

As we walked out the door, we both felt a sense of trepidation. We hadn’t had much luck finding our way around Madeira when streets are poorly marked if at all, GPS doesn’t work and maps are impossible to read. We’d tried every online map app we could find. Apparently, Google Street View Car (or whatever they call it) hasn’t been to Madeira.

Tom knew how to get us to the “via rapida,” the freeway, in order to head to Funchal, the capital and largest city on the island of Madeira. Our first exit was 18 minutes down the “rapida,” Exit 9.  It should be easy, but we weren’t optimistic based on recent experiences.

Having lived far from the ocean in Minnesota we rarely saw anything like this.

Carefully, we watched the exit numbers while I had my laptop open on my lap with the directions. My phone may pick up a GPS signal from time to time, but turn by turn directions are not dependable in Madeira. It was easier to follow the directions I’d saved on my computer.

As we passed Exit 8 Tom hugged the right lane hoping to turn off onto Exit 9. There was no Exit 9. We didn’t bother to go back and try again. We were positive we hadn’t missed it

A terraced farm on the hill.

I won’t spend the next 1000 words trying to explain how we eventually ended up at the post office. It was a combination of assistance from a kindly local, pointing us in the right direction, and pure and unequivocal “safari luck.” It took no less than 90 minutes to find it. Suddenly, out of the blue, we were at the post office that we more stumbled upon than found.

Inquiring about customs at the information desk in the lobby, we were pointed in the direction of the main post office, modern and not unlike those we frequented in the US. We took a number, found a seat, and waited 20 minutes, only to be told the customs office was across the lobby.

At points along the drive, the fog was only visible at a distance.  The 80 on the speed sign is in kilometers per hour which is equivalent to 50 miles per hour.

Squeezing into a tiny waiting area, we began another wait, this time much longer, as a young couple loudly argued in Portuguese with the customs officer.

We were standing in this tiny hallway within four feet of the arguing couple with nowhere else to stand. It was evident that the customs officer was at the end of his rope. This would hardly help our case when the time came for our turn.

The fog rolled in quickly.  By the time we exited this tunnel, we were shrouded in fog.

Finally, the couple left. He spoke English well enough to handle our business. We always prefer to approach these situations as calmly and diplomatically as possible. Within minutes, Tom had the customs officer laughing which helped temper my tinge of anxiety over the fact that our receipts weren’t on paper. 

Aren’t we living in a digital world? Is there really a need to be use paper anymore? Much to our surprise, he decided to accept my handwritten list of the cost of the items in the box that I’d brought along as an additional backup. Gosh, I’m glad that I’d brought the list on a sheet of lined yellow legal paper even if it was written in my usual illegible chicken scratch.

There were puffs of fog on the road as shown in the left lane.

All in all, we spent over an hour with the customs guy, chatting, laughing, and having a good time. He charged us only EU $42.60, US $58.13. The cost of all of them in the box was US $586,  EU $429.43. The taxes were less than 10%. It could have been so much more from what we read online, as much as 40% of the value of the contents.

Once again, we were reminded of the importance of diplomacy and kindness. It doesn’t always work but, it certainly reduces the amount of stress when trying to “negotiate” with a service provider.

Finally done, we vigorously shook hands with the agent and were escorted to the loading dock where we paid the EU $42.60, picked up the box, and were on our way back to the parking ramp across the street. Tom managed the bulky box while I carried my laptop wrapped in my waterproof jacket. It was raining.

On the way home, we stopped at the local grocer for a few items. While I shopped Tom purchased a few muffins at the bakery next door.

A few months ago, a screw fell out of Tom’s laptop causing his screen to crack from opening and closing. We’d hoped that we’d find a computer store in Funchal. Luckily, there was a mall we had to enter in order to go to the parking ramp with a huge computer and digital equipment store.

Tom took the box to the car while he grabbed his computer while I waited for him in the mall. We headed to the tech support department of the huge store. Again, we took a number waiting no less than 30 minutes, only to discover that although they serviced Acer computers, they didn’t have the screw. Off we went.

By the time we were home four hours later this was the view from the veranda. Not quite as beautiful as the usual ocean view, but interesting none the less.

Considering the rain and dense fog, we decided it was best to find our way back to Campanario, stop for a few items at the little grocer, and settle in for the day. As shown in our photos, there was a full fog cover preventing us from seeing the ocean from our veranda. Our drive back up the mountain was uneventful as I busily took photos of the fog.

We’ve since put away the items in the box which included: clothing, iced tea packets, a few cosmetic items, a few bottles of vitamins that we must take (B6 for Tom, probiotics for both of us, etc.), a pair of Keds walking shoes for me and some odds and ends, all of which we needed for continuing on.

Whew! We couldn’t be more thrilled to have that package situation out of the way and go back to relishing in the beauty of this wonderful island and its kindly citizens. 

Photo from one year ago today, June 7, 2013:

We stayed on the ship when we arrived in Livorno, Italy. With little interest in riding on a bus with 40 people to see more old buildings, we decided to stay behind enjoying quiet time at the pool. With this as our final of eight cruises for the year, on our way to Venice, we had to pick and choose which excursions were worth it to us. Ultimately, we were pleased with the choices we’d made as shown in the prior photos. For details of the date, please click here.