Life on Madeira as an Erasmus student
This story is based on an experience through Erasmus program, studying IT at the University of Madeira during one semester. It includes information about different possibilities for living in Madeira, Funchal (the capital), also about nature, some interesting facts and the author's story.
The purpose of the story is to share information with all the people, who want to study at the University of Madeira or want to travel here or are just interested in the life and culture of Madeira!
Interesting facts about Madeira
During the time spent on Madeira, we (me and my colleague) found out some notable facts about the place and culture.
- Population of Madeira is about 350 000, but the number of people registered as living there, is almost one million.
- Number one income of the island is tourism, the second biggest income are the 'donations' that people living somewhere else, send home to their families.
- The person, who has the most influence in Madeira's government, has remained the same for more than 25 years.
- The only animals living freely on Madeira, are rabbits, and they were brought to the island by humans.
- The ocean floor depth is over 3000m just about 5km off shore.
- The most popular fish there - black scabbardfish, lives about 1000-2000m deep. Fishermen often go out to the ocean with their boats for 3-4 days to catch the fish - they show light from their boats to make the fish come higher. The fishing rope is about 500m long and it can have many hundreds of fishhooks. If the fishing rope is pulled back from the depth, all the fish are already dead due to the pressure change.
- In February and March, it rains a lot. For example, in year 2010, about 40 people drowned in a shopping center's underground car park.
- On Madeira Island, there are no natural sand-beaches with white sand - sand is black and there are lots of stones in some beaches. Since there are also quite big waves, that move the stones, it might be quite painful to get into the water. Once we saw a tourist, whose legs were bleeding, coming out of the water.
- Weather on the north side and the south side of the island is totally different. The south side is sunny, warm and dry and the north side is cloudy, rainy and much colder.
- It is the second of December and the temperature is 21 degrees right now and the sun is shining.
- The water temperature of the south side does not go under 16-17 degrees.
In my opinion, one of the most surprising things to know, was the procedure of burying the dead on Madeira. As we know, Madeira is a quite small island - about 750 km². That is the reason, why funerals are held a little bit differently there. If a person dies, he/she is buried in the first 24 hours - due to the warm climate. The funeral part, where people come together and commemorate the person, is held in a week. Now comes the different part - after 5 years, the grave is dug up and the body is checked - if he/she is decomposed enough, the bones are cleaned and given to the family members. If there is no family left - bones are put to a communal grave. If the body is not decomposed enough - the person is buried again. Maximum time for a person being buried is 10 years - no room in graveyards. Cremating isn't very popular here - it's a catholic island.
Where to live in Funchal, Madeira
There are different possibilities to stay during the studies or just visiting for a longer period.
- Student Residence - one month is about 150 EUR per student, water and electricity included (due to the climate, no heating systems in the buildings and therefor no paying for it). Rooms are meant for two/three persons, living room and kitchen are shared - one of each for each floor. Beds are mostly two-storeyd. Rooms are quite small and meant mostly for keeping your stuff and sleeping.
- Renting an apartment with binding contract - seemed to be the most comfortable possibility at first. Apartments with reasonable prices can be found only on Portuguese web-sites/local newspapers etc. (300-600EUR in the center of Funchal). You have to take into consideration, that according to Portuguese law, you will have to make the contract at least for 6 months. You can leave earlier, but will not get your warranty money back.
- Renting an apartment without a binding contract - very comfortable! We did not know that it is possible, but there are certain places offer such form of accommodation - 450 EUR month, everything included and no warranty money needed.
- In a hotel - if you have a lot of money, why not! Probably, for a longer period and not during the high season, you can bargain a nice hotel room for month for 800-1200 EUR.
Tourism on Madeira and places to visit
Madeira is being visited by tourists practically all-year-long. As the local people told us, British people visit Madeira all the time. There is nothing to wonder - it is possible to get London-Madeira-London plane tickets for as low as 70 EUR. Late in the autumn, Scandinavian tourists are visiting Madeira and also the Portuguese from Mainland Portugal. Madeira is a very popular place to celebrate the New Years Eve.
Most of the tourist groups are staying in Funchal, the capital. There is a touristic region, Lido, next to the center, which is actually really beautiful, although full of hotels and restaurants. Most of the tourists are over 40-50 years old and go to Madeira for culture trips. Young people usually don't spend their vacation on Madeira and that's why the night-life is not the primary attraction there. People go out mostly on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays - most of the places are closed on other nights. There is probably some activity in the Student Residence though.
Places to visit:
- Cabo Girão - European highest sea cliff - 580m
- Pico Arieiro - one of the highest peaks of the island - 1818m
- Porto Moniz - little city on the north side. Famous for its out-door pools in the ocean.
- Hiking routes - there are many of them in the Island. For example the only way to get to the highest point on the island, is to follow a route from Pico Arieiro.
- Eira do Serrado - place with really impressive views in the mountains.
- Go to the mountains, above the clouds, and watch the sunset! Quite a view!
There are a lot of beautiful places all around the island, it is a good idea to rent a car and drive around the island. For example, we were in the mountains, came out of the car and stopped the engine. We suddenly realized that there was not a single voice anywhere to hear - total silence! No bugs, no animals, no people talking, no cars, nothing! There is almost no population higher in the mountains - people probably do not want to live in a cloud all the time.
Me and my colleague - we took part of the Erasmus program at the same time. We wrote almost a month before arriving, to ask if we have a place in the Student Residence. No answer. We wrote twice more. Still no answer. We were already in London (stopped off for one day) and we wrote again to say that we are arriving already the next day and do we have a place? Just before leaving for Madeira, we finally got an answer - yes, we had the place.
After arriving, we asked about the Student Residence, but no-one knew, where it was. Fortunately we checked from Google the day before and knew the region, where it was supposed to be - Madeira addresses were not correct in Google Map at that time. Finally, we made it to the Student Residence, where we were told that persons from different gender can not stay in one room, because "what happens, if you will not get along anymore etc". Funny explanation, but what can you do. Also - there was no reliable internet connection, but we needed it for an Estonian project development.
It took a few days to find a suitable apartment to rent - 380 EUR for a really nice apartment in the central of Funchal with a fantastic view to the city, mountains and ocean. Superb! The real estate agent also promised the warranty money back. The home-search was over and we started to think about the school. We had no information about anything - where to go first, where to get the information, what kind of activities there are for Erasmus students.
We googled the location of University of Madeira. First we went to the Student Help Office. Wrong place, we were sent to some other place. After 2 hours of waiting - wrong place again! We were sent to another building in another part of the town! Luckily it was the correct place! We also had lack of information about all the courses, but got used to it as the time passed. Everything just seems to work that way on Madeira - even most of the clocks in public places, also in the university, are totally wrong.
After that, we rented a car, drove around the island, saw many breathtaking views and places, talked to the local people and got all kinds of information about the culture, people, island and life on Madeira.
When we finally wanted to leave the apartment and pay the last month from warranty money - we were told by landlord, that it is not possible! We had a quite funny communication with our agent before already - on the first day, he promised to bring us some things we needed for the apartment. He did not. And did not pick up the phone for a week. At last he did pick up the phone, promised again to bring everything the next day - nothing. AND did not pick up the phone for a week. We asked for the contract all the time - same story - promises, no contract, ignoring phone calls. It started to look like a big joke already, especially listening him 'sincerely' promising all the things. Well - the story ended with us moving out and living the last month in another apartment - without binding contract, everything included.
Except for the landlord not giving back the warranty money, everything was really enjoyable and great. And to think back - the memories about the apartment rental and the real estate agent are quite amusing!
Some picturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
More about Madeira
- Madeira Island: The complete holiday tourism guide.
Site meant for English tourists, but has a lot of useful information - weather, places, photos etc.
- Universidade da Madeira
University of Madeira - home page
- Madeira - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Madeira Island
Informative site for tourists