Ponta Delgada, Azores 2011


Since we usually take our vacations in the winter months, flirting with the idea of planes being cancelled and trips delayed is nothing new to us…and this vacation is no exception. The drive to Boston was a bit crappy today. We knew it would snow most of the ride, so we left ourselves plenty of time for the drive. It was the kind of drive that kind of sucks when you are going to work, but really sucks when you are driving what ordinarily takes 3 hours. It took us close to 5 hours to make it today and the only good news on our trip was that the economy lot that we parked in 8 years ago is now a parking garage and there will be no reason that we have to dig the car out when we get back. The shuttle was easy to get and we wind up in the airport so early that our airline has not even opened its check-in desks yet. It is now 6:30pm and we decide to get some dinner while we wait. The ticket counters open at 7:00pm and as we are ticketed, assured the plane is on time and through the security check by 7:30pm.

Sitting in Logan Airport at the Dine Boston Bar and Grill. We get some dinner and people watch for awhile. My seafood pasta with vodka sauce does the trick and the place’s waitstaff offers us all we need in the people watching department. At one point the waiter at a nearby table pulled up a chair and discussed menu options with the couple- which was really strange considering there was no outside relationship between them. I mean, when was the last time your waiter pulled over a chair and sat at the table with you? Our flight is scheduled for 10:55pm and we are hoping, once again, that the weather holds up just long enough to let us go. The forecast calls for a couple hour break in the precipitation that should be to our advantage. Otherwise, I shudder to think how long we could be stranded here as we expect a monster storm to come through starting tonight into tomorrow dumping 1-2 feet of snow. We hope for the best.

Anyway, this winter has been quite a mess from the above average snowfall totals to the sub-zero temps, this vacation can't come soon enough. Usually, it takes until mid-February for us to get sick of winter and need to get away, but this year we timed it just right and are leaving on Feb 1. This year, based on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, we decide to go to the island group of the Azores. Located in the middle of the Atlantic and belonging to Portugal, the climate is said to be very mild. They have never seen snow, but 50’s to 70’s is the year round temperature. There are very few airports that have service to Ponta Delgada (the capital of the Azores) on the island of Sao Miguel. The closest for us is Logan Airport in Boston. We had heard of the Azores before that episode, but didn't know anything about them. The things that he ate made us look into the island as a possible destination and it made it onto our list of potential vacation spots. When discussing our list of potential vacation spots with a friend, we mentioned that we would like to try to go there someday. Well, as fate would have it, one of the travel deal websites that she subscribes to had a featured trip to Ponta Delgada. We took this as a sign and booked our trip immediately. We had a couple hundred Euros left over from a previous trip which will make our first couple of days a lot less painful on the bank account. Now if we can only get out of here tonight before the weather turns ugly(ier). We are feeling good as we get settled at our gate and wait for the boarding around 10:00pm (fingers crossed). We wound up taking off pretty much on time, delayed only by the time it took to de-ice the plane. The plane is only about half full which is infinitely more comfortable than a full one. I fully expect to get to the hotel several hours before check in time, so we will have to improvise keeping our overly tired selves occupied until we can get into the room for our obligatory first day nap. We found that there is surprisingly little information on the internet about the activities available when visiting the Azores. Even though the Azores is a chain of 9 islands, I have been warned of the impracticality of island hopping. We were told to pick one island and stay there. We chose to visit the capital of Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel. All indications are that the food is supposed to be really good and there are some touristy things to do. We did as much research as we could and hope for the best vacation as we can make in a place we know so little about. In fact, with all of the people that El and I told we were going, I think only 2 had ever even heard of the Azores at all and only one of them knew they were in the Atlantic and owned by Portugal. With a record like that, it's no wonder it is not as popular a vacation destination as they would like to be. Everything works out as the plane and airport crews were getting planes in and out as fast as they could. Once all of the passengers were accounted for, we de-iced and were on our way. We heard that the entire east coast was disrupted by the storm that we just missed. Our flight time is 4hr45min and there is a 3 hour time difference, so our 10pm flight arrived just at daybreak on Wednesday.


I understand leaving the US to Europe on night flights, but depending on the distance of your destination, unfortunately you have the problem of arriving in the morning. So early, that there is no way you will be able to check into your hotel. Sometimes they have a room ready or will call up to have a room cleaned quickly. But, we have been on trips where we were reminded of the check-in time and told to leave our bags, but that we would not get into the room until then (London 2002). So, we arrive at the Ponta Delgada Airport around 7:00am and the airport, which is the smallest international airport I have ever seen is still mostly closed. The sun is just coming up and the businesses at the airport are just starting to open. The car rental places, food, gift shops. I looked at the website of our hotel which said they were located “5 minutes from the airport”. It is 7:00am and if we take a taxi, we are surely going to be at the hotel trying to check in at 7:05am. Even I thought that would be an unreasonable check-in time. I then proceed to make a decision that turned out not to be my brightest. I rationalize, if it is only 5 minutes (by car), how bad could a 5km walk really be?? Yes, we have luggage, but it has wheels, and we have nothing better to do. Heck, we might even find or see something we wouldn’t otherwise experience. El is game and we decide to hoof it. El stops at one of the open car rental desks and asks for a local map- which was really good, since I only had a map of the whole island of Sao Miguel that did not have the detail that we needed. We exit the terminal and feel that it is sprinkling. Not full on rain, just spritzing. I don’t even bother with fishing my rain gear out of the luggage. We look around as if to get our bearings, but since we have no idea where we are, we are really just trying to make sure we are heading in an eastward direction- using the seacoast as our reference point. By the time we get to the end of the airport parking lot, it is now raining hard enough that we have to decide to just get the raincoats or just bag the whole idea and go back and get a taxi. Being the “intrepid travelers” we are, we grab the rain gear and forge on. Walking just a few more feet, we cross a threshold by leaving the chain link perimeter fence. Before we know it, the street we are walking on turns into a 70 km/hr motorway! We keep to the side but can't help but feel like our car broke down and we grabbed what we could, and left to seek help. Our map is not really helping yet (it eventually became a useful tool). Soon we have passed the point of no return- where we cannot turn back and that we must press on as our only option. On the list of all of the bad ideas I have ever had, this one ranks up there, although, in retrospect, it could have been somewhat worse. Imagine walking down the highway with your bags rolling behind you. No sidewalk, just highway and no map to tell you if you are even heading in the right direction. It was a little scary as we pressed on since we got to the point we only had the exit signs on the highway to guide us. At one point we find ourselves walking past the highway maintenance crew- you know people who work where you don’t usually walk! We press on regardless. If a taxi pulled over and offered us a ride, we would have taken it, but since they did not, we just kept going. Eventually, after an hour or so, we started seeing some other people on foot and then at last saw a crosswalk which indicated people should be walking there!

walking around town

We know we are in less danger now, and already start to chalk the experience up to one of those stories we will talk about for years to come. Now, for the first time, the streets on our map start to make sense and we know where we need to go. We start recognizing the features we were walking near. Once we figured out where we were, we were fine and did make it to the hotel with minor adjustment. In retrospect, I think we should have just taken the taxi, but I don't think that is always true, since we have been happy taking alternate transports to hotels in the past. To our surprise, the hotel lets us check in. We are so early that our experience told us we would be waiting for check-in time- but luckily we got in. Beat from the travel, we take a nap before heading out to explore the neighborhood. After the nap, we head to the tourist office on the marina row. We get a map of the mini-bus lines and a guide book. We find out that, unlike Spain, dinner here is at a more reasonable hour, like 8pm. Almost all restaurants close at 3:00pm and open up around 7:00pm for dinner. Later is when people go to pubs. We find that there is a free Wi-Fi network along the marina and El starts working on connecting to that. We stop into a gift shop and grab 10 postcards. The stamps are rather expensive so we only get a few to get us started. We are in the need of some light fare now so we ask around and find a little café called Prazeres Da Terra. Only three tables and we are the only customers, for now. Eventually a woman comes in and orders soup that smells wonderful. The cook speaks English and is happy to chat with us. We each get a cappuccino and a grilled ham, cheese, hard-boiled egg, and tomato sandwich- a sandwich that they call “mixte toast”.

a plate of "mixte toast"

It really hit the spot while we plan our next stop on our discovery journey. The cappuccino is not our classic cappuccino. It is made from a packet of powder that is presweetened. They pour the powder into cup, drip some steam into the cup, stirring to make a paste, then fill with steamed milk, and top with chantilly (sweet whipped cream). The result is a mildly coffee flavored drink that could almost serve as a dessert! Am I enjoying some version of instant coffee? It was really good, even with the saltiness of the mixte toast. At this point we have no idea that this is how almost every cappuccino will be served for the next week, and that this is in fact, one of the three best mixte toasts we will eat all week! We journal and look at maps to plan our next stop. The weather is nice and sunny. It is about 60 degrees and comfortable. A couple degrees warmer would have been even better, but considering the weather we left behind in Boston, I refuse to complain.

we took a seat on these steps to rest and I would journal while El takes some photos. obviously, she couldn't stay away

We wander through the streets for awhile until one of us has to pee, then we find a café and order just enough to not feel guilty about using the bathroom. We find a promenade at the marina that has a bunch of bar type places. We sit at Doris Bar and order two cappuccinos. They arrive with a generous helping of whipped cream on the top. Nice and sweet. They have free Wi-Fi, so El gets connected. Afterwards we continue to walk around the town, familiarizing ourselves with the street names and how to get ourselves back to the hotel. After walking for awhile we head back to the hotel and decide on a dinner spot. Our research includes some restaurants that have been recommended online- usually through Trip Advisor, but we will consider suggestions from any source. We rest and head out around 8:00pm. One recommendation is Restaurante Alianca on Rua Acoriano Oriental which sounds like a steakhouse from our descriptions. Since we have been traveling we have become accustomed on vacations to eating very late (by our standards). We expect that places start to open around 9:00pm, and arriving before 10:00pm, will pretty much guarantee you will be the first in the place. We get to Aliance around 8:30 and see a few people inside, most of whom are at the bar watching the soccer game. We are seated immediately and work out the order and wine suggestion with the waiter. We can’t help but feel that we are more like the late arrivals for the night instead of the early birds that we thought we would be. We each order the half portion of the house specialty Bife a Alianca and a bottle of the house recommended Curral Atlantis red wine. The waiter brings us a basket of bread, a small plate of queso fresco and a small cup of a red pepper puree for saltiness. The dinner arrives. A small cut of beef smothered with whole roasted garlic cloves in a Madeira wine sauce. Served with a side of really greasy french fries. The taste was very good, but, it was introduced to us as the "best beef in the Azores." I hope not! The dinner is fine, but if this is the “best steak on the island” we are in some serious culinary trouble. We finish off with a dessert of fresh pineapple which the Azores is known for. It is OK. Not as sweet as I would like, but the price is right. El remarks noticing that there are no other women in the restaurant and only men older than 30. It probably has to do with the soccer game on the TV. Meal runs about 50 Euros. We plan to wrap up here and go find a wine bar to start winding down our evening. Well, it is close to 9:45pm as we finish our dinner and start our wander for our post dinner drinks. However, we quickly learn that the streets are a bit quiet on this Wednesday night. So quiet, in fact, that it hardly seems worth it to follow every lead just to arrive at a closed bar. We wander a little on the mostly deserted streets- not scary or uneasy, but definitely empty and finally decide to walk towards the hotel. If we see something in our path, we will stop. If not, we will just call it a night and plan to start earlier tomorrow. One thing in our favor is that there is a soccer game playing with FC Porto vs. Benfica (another Portuguese team). So the bars that cater to those crowds are actually pretty crowded. As we get about a block from the hotel we spot a café called Favorite that advertises the game on the chalkboard out front. The display cases tell us they are less café, and more a diner/tapas kind of place. Naturally, they have the soccer game on a big screen. We each get a Cerveja Especial, which appears to be a Portuguese beer. When served it looks like pee and tasted like water (only reverse would be worse!) Anyway, it is a nice way to wind down the evening. We sip our beers, play Scrabble, work on our journals. We had ordered a "bean cake" that was recommended. Sadly, we are informed that they do not have any more dessert, but instead offer us some prewrapped cookies which are about 1 Euro each. Pretty disappointing. We were hoping for something closer to a bakery with pastries and other fine dessert selections. About this time it looks like the soccer game is ending and the people in the place are starting to clear out. Before long, it is obvious that now with the game over, they will be closing soon. We take our queue and head back to the hotel for the night. Our game plan for tomorrow is to take a walking tour of Ponta Delgada that we found in our guide book, learn how to take the mini-bus, and find out how to take the intercity bus to some of the other towns or attractions like Furnas and the town of Riba where there is a restaurant we wanted to try. Sidenote: the cookie turned out to be 1.20, but the beers were only 1.50 each which, even though they did not taste too good, was still a very reasonable price for beer. So far, I am noticing things to be on the cheaper side of what I expected, I guess I expected more of the pricing of Iceland (very expensive). This is a pleasant surprise. At 10:30 we are back at the hotel and ready for bed, which is good in that our body clocks are not too far out of whack. If tonight is any indication, we will be making it earlier nights and earlier mornings for the rest of the vacation.


We had such a well laid plan to get up and out early today. We did not set an alarm and got up whenever we woke. Too bad one of the neighbors to the hotel owned a rooster that made his presence known around 5:00am! Yep, just about every ten seconds for about 15 minutes! This also got some of the local dogs involved in the noise making. We are both able to get back to sleep, but the noise was unwelcomed. Alas, at 11:00am we are just about ready to leave the room. On the agenda today is to take the self-guided walking tour that is in our guidebook.

at one of the surf overlooks along the esplanade

It says it should take about 2 hours to complete and starts at the tourist information center. We walk around the town center and grab some breakfast at a café called Portas de Citade that is supposed to be popular with the locals. So local, that the counter staff speaks no English. They are said to have a cheap and excellent, though limited lunch menu. Well, we were not expecting this limited! The place is recommended for their food, but unfortunately, because it is early in the day, at 11:30am, it seems like they are not yet ready for lunch and can only offer us ham and cheese sandwich or a slice of cake. We ask if there are other choices or a menu. The counter man gives us the “wait one minute” sign and goes to the kitchen. A young woman returns with him. She speaks English, but says that they are working on the night’s preparations and we can get fish stew, bean stew, ribs, or spinach soup. I order the ham and cheese sandwich (called “mixte toast”) and a bowl of the soup. We both get cappuccinos. The sandwich is disappointing. I much preferred the “toast” yesterday. The soup is good, tasting much like a Knorr mix with some chopped spinach thrown in. The cappuccinos are workable, but not the large, sweetened coffees we have gotten here. The place is a good start, but not the "excellent, must stop" I read it would be. I am willing to try another place though. We continue the walking tour and eventually make it to the citadel. It is a fortress on the west end of the marina that is today host to the Azores Museum of Military History. We have had good luck with military museums in the past, so we inquired about the tours. It is a self guided tour that costs 3 Euros each. We pay and start in the room across the main corridor. The room consists of ten glass cases with uniforms in them as well as a few other objects. With identification cards reading “General’s uniform: 1950-55” and “Captain’s gloves and sword” this part of the museum was a quick in/quick out. I think it took us longer to walk across the corridor to the room than we actually spent in the room. We exit and follow the tour line (a painted line guiding your way to the next part of the exhibit). We then come to an area of the courtyard where some military looking vehicles were parked. There were a couple of Jeeps and some large guns that are attached to wheels that can be hooked to a Jeep to be towed around. They all appear to have the same paint, leading me to believe that all of these pieces have been restored at some recent time. Then we find what would be the funniest moment of the day. As we make our way around the motorpool we get to a pile of wood planks and beams and assorted hardware. Above the stack is a photograph and a description of the machine. If this was not the laziest museum exhibit I have ever seen, I don’t know what was. Close your eyes and imagine what this contraption would look like if the kit spread out before you were put together?!

a DIY museum exhibit. luckily, the assembly instructions have been provided. good luck

We stand here a few moments laughing heartily in disbelief that this is what we paid for? After the military museum, we take a stroll along the shore watching the waves crash. Also heading up to the scenic overlooks of the shoreline. At some point, we stop and get bus information for our trip to Furnas tomorrow.

Our dinner tonight is at A Colmeia Restaurant. We start around 8:00pm and get a fresh fish salad that is served on a few leaves of boston bibb with tomato sauce. It is not fishy at all. The fish is chunked and has a light mayo or oil dressing. Next up is zucchini and basil soup. The flavor of basil was not too strong...which is good. It tasted like it was thickened with potato starch and not cream. Then comes a mushroom and “old” cheese spring roll - I think the old cheese was like a swiss...it was really nice and served over carrot and zucchini ribbons. For entree comes honey orange pork loin with mashed potatoes and more carrot/zucchini ribbons. The pork loin has a slightly smokey flavor...so it tastes more like an orange ham. The orange honey sauce is sweet with a tart orange flavor...really nice with the smokey loin. Side of mashed potatoes is nice to sop up the sauce. Our wine choice was Curral Atlantis vino blanco de pico. A simple white wine. Dry, but not too much flavor. For dessert: fruit Colmeia - crispy fruit stack with vanilla ice cream. It was with 2 fried wontons (something like that) one smaller than the other...so a layer of fresh fruit on the bottom - oranges, plums, apples, and kiwis, then the big wonton, more fruit the small wonton round topped with a rich, very creamy vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey and dark caramel sauce....we agree it was the most “vanilla-y” ice cream we have tasted. The dinner runs 75 Euros and we agree it was very good and we are satisfied. After dinner we nightcap at Collegio 27, a bar/jazz club which was not too busy- then call it a night.

a quiet nightcap

Friday February 4, 2011

Up and out bright and early, or dark and early as it were. Today we will take a day trip to the town of Furnas. It starts on time as the bus pulls up alongside the promenade in Ponta Delgada. It is a big, luxury coach with leather seats and music playing (more about the music later). One other person gets on and we are off. The sun still hasn’t come up but we felt a sprinkle or two as we walked toward the bus, hopefully it will clear up and get warmer. During the ride, the outside temperature was very warm at 14 celsius, but inside the bus is freezing cold and El, as usual, packed appropriately. The bus continues on, winding its way on roads that seem much too narrow for a bus this size. A number of times either we have to pull over to let people through, or vice versa, they let us pass. We are slowed down by farm trucks and even cows walking across the road. The curves are sharp and at different times it feels like we are looking straight down at the water as the road hugs the coast. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the driver does this route every day. Along the way we stop at small villages and pick-up more people and kids who must be going from their small town to the only town in the area with a school. Yep, the tour bus doubles as the school bus. I am not sure at what point in our 2 hour ride the music videos started...but at some point the bus driver put in some DVD that played music and video. My iPod keeps me in my own world, whereas El is driven near crazy and cannot wait for the trip to end. Beyonce or Jay-Z, are not a problem for El, but at 8:00am, the music just didn’t seem to fit the ride. The best thing about the ride though, and why it was just fine, was that it cost 3.75 Euros...which is nothing compared to the 150 Euros the tour guide had quoted us yesterday. Because there are no tours in the winter, we would basically have to do a private tour. Taking the public bus on our own is a lot cheaper and we can do our own thing, at our own pace. When we arrive in Furnas, the gardens are not yet open for the day. We drop into Café Dairy Moo for a cappuccino to pass our time. One of our destinations today is the Terra Nostra Gardens. The gardens were very nice, very lush, and well manicured, but still had a lot of moss everywhere because it is so moist, humid, and misty here. El has been taking some photography classes recently and was using the opportunity to try different settings on the camera, using her tripod, which she lost part of, but then found it as we retraced our steps - whew! We even got to try taking pictures of water while leaving the shutter open - using the tripod.

not polluted brown, hot springs bubbling through clay brown

El taking shots of running water

another babbling brook shot

My patience was tested at some of these photo stops, but it all is worth it when I see some of the shots El got. We both had an opportunity to try out the bathrooms...clean and garden-y! Besides taking pictures, there’s not that much to do, just leisurely walking the grounds, reading exhibit cards set up along the walkways to point out items of interest- botanically speaking. After the gardens, we find another café and sit to eat a lunch. I wind up with pork chops with a fried egg for my meal. We sit, the only two people in small café/restaurant in Furnas getting ready to walk to the fumaroles and sulfur lake which are features of the volcanically active area.

a plume of steam from a hot spring in the town of Furnas

a bubbling hot spring

soaking our feet in the hot spring pools. they can get very hot, as you can imagine

Once we arrive at the warm, steamy, brown, spring water pool where people can swim or just soak their feet, we agree that the Blue Lagoon (in Iceland) was prettier...but it was good for a lot of laughs. We find a tourist information office and probably got some info/maps of the area. Afterwards, we stroll around town stopping at a teahouse called Chalet Tia Merces.

we ordered a pot of tea, so she threw some tea leaves in the pot and went outside to a continuous flowing spring that flows with near boiling water. no extra heat needed

tea and biscuits for snack

After tea, we head to soak our feet in the hot mineral springs. We catch the 5:15pm bus back to Ponta Delgada, very happy with our day trip to Furnas. We did a lot on our own and for not a lot of money, figuring out the bus and visiting the tourist office for some helpful information. When we get back to town we head to Restaurant Sao Pedro enjoying dinner...and there are actually a bunch of people here...not quite full, but still more people than we have seen in all restaurants combined since we have been out to dinner. Also, so far, the most expensive place...let’s hope it’s worth it. We both agree the wine isn’t very good. Kind of like the Budweiser of wine, not a lot of flavor and kind of flat. Salad with corn, carrots, orange, pineapple, grapes and coconut sprinkled on top. We get oil and vinegar on the side. We get a steak with coffee bean cream sauce, mashed potatoes, and creamed spinach in a pastry crust on the side. The steak is very heavy on the cream sauce, if it had been a light coffee cream sauce it would have been really nice, but this was just a bit too heavy. Also we have both noted that our cuts of meat (beef and/or pork) have been very tough. We both agree that last night’s dinner was better. After dinner we walked towards the water and the esplanade, where there is bound to be some action. And in fact there is. Lots of different types of bars, snack-bars, restaurants, and cafés.

a sunset over the marina

We have cappuccinos at the first place, then to Baio Dos Anjos, one of the most popular bars in town. In fact, it was pretty crowded, but we found a table inside and we each had small beers. It is 12:30am, and we find ourselves back at Collegio 27, the bar/jazz club we were at last night. We are not the only people here tonight, as opposed to last night when I think there was one other couple and it was only 11:00pm. We just finished dessert of nice Azorean pineapple and maybe some guava jelly (not really sure that’s what it was). We are also sipping some nice port before calling it a night.

Observation: the patterns of stonework range from simple to complex. I think it is funny that they have the cobblestone sidewalks that look so bright and vibrant, yet the painted lines in the cobblestone street is faded and needs to be repainted in many places.

designs in the sidewalk

designs in a narrow sidewalk

more sidewalk designs

workers shaping bricks to be inlaid in the sidewalk


Our first stop today is back to Prazeres Da Terra for breakfast, although it’s almost 11:40am! We were out late last night, and without our afternoon nap, which we haven’t needed since the places have closed so early the previous nights we were really tired. Although we both slept a bit on the bus back from Furnas. The owner/man behind the counter offers us something he calls “special toast” and further explains/reminds us that his toast are made from fresh ingredients- which makes them better than others. So here we sit enjoying cappuccino and waiting for a surprise toast from this little place which has, in fact, turned out to have the best toast on the island so far, and we have eaten a bunch. It’s like the empanadas in Buenos Aires, it’s the snack bar food that everyone gets. The “surprise toast” is different for both of us. El’s had sliced salami (he called it sausage), pineapple, sliced hard boiled eggs, and cheese on nice crusty italian bread - might sound weird but it was good. Mine instead, was a pork meat paste (that tasted like ham) and pineapple, on grilled bread. Very good. For the afternoon we take a bus to the town of Ribiera Grande which is about 20 miles from Ponta Delgada. Our guidebook mentioned visiting this small city in the “things to do” section. We had seen the tourist office on our way back from Furnas yesterday, and it was right around the corner from the bus station, so that was going to be our first stop. But, since it’s Saturday it was closed. We have a map and a tourist guidebook with some information, so we are optimistic that we'll be able to get around the small town. We had read about the Museum of Ethnography, but discover it too is closed today. We find a place for cappuccino and try to figure out what we can do/see in this small town. During our wanderings we came upon a liquor store where we were able to sample many of the locally made fruit liquors. The woman who was running the place had spent about 10 years in Providence, RI and moved back here in 1980. She was eager to have us try the liquors and very friendly. She wanted to sell, but was happy to chat with us about how much she loved New York. Of course, we bought some. Our walk takes us to the center of town where we see the Eight Arches Bridge, the main church, and town hall, but it is obvious that there is not all that much to see here.

Eight Arches Bridge. No idea how they came up with that name

We have read about a restaurant called O Gato Mia that is supposed to be the best restaurant on the island. When we got off the bus, we tried to ask the women at the snack bar for some information on where the restaurant was in town, but come to understand that it wasn’t in town, but located somewhere between Ribiera and Ribierhina. We could walk, but it might be far- and these days we are a little shy about walking to unknown places. We realize just finding it will require getting a taxi and not knowing their hours- we are afraid it would go like the rest of today and it would be their closed day. We ultimately decide to bail and catch the next bus back to Ponta Delgada. All in all, our day in Ribeira Grande was not very successful. Things were closed and it was just going to be too much work to get from Ribeira Grande to the restaurant and back, then have to wait until 10:00pm to catch the bus back to Ponta Delgada. It was just too much. We walked around the town and visited the sites indicated on the map. Luckily the day started sunny so walking around wasn’t too bad. But, by the time we left, it was getting really windy. I was glad to have my jacket while we were waiting for the bus. We are back in Ponta Delgada around 7:00pm and enjoying a before dinner “toast” at Aviao. We are hoping to find Wi-Fi, but no luck. This toast isn’t anywhere near as good as what we had yesterday. Our dinner tonight is at Restaurante Adega Regianal. After dinner we wind up back at Baio Dos Anjos. Then we call it a night.


We are both hungry and for lunch we walk outside of the downtown city center. It’s an easy enough walk, to Café Espirito Santo eating our morning toast today with prosciutto instead of ham because he was out of ham (any salty meat will do). The toast is one of the better ones we’ve had because he used nice crusty bread to make it. We are the only two people sitting, but some men have come and gone, grabbed a coffee, stayed to chat, watch the soccer game on TV, since it’s Sunday. We also try a pineapple soda drink called Kima which is not bad at all, in fact pretty good with the salty toast. Today is starting out as a rainy day, so we changed our plan of visiting a botanical garden and hoped to find some museums which all turn out to be closed on Sunday, so we find ourselves just wandering as the rain comes and goes. We find a tall church with a nice view and also El pushes for us to stop into a supermarket for a look around. Eventually we head into Jose Canto Park.

a wall of grass as you walk through the botanical garden

a well manicured walkway

El taking a rest in the botanical garden

photos between rain showers

We wander through, stopping along the way for El to take pictures. I humor her as much as I can trying different settings and set different shots- she even takes some of my suggestions. It has been worth it to lug the tripod around. This way we don’t have to wait for someone else to take our picture and oftentimes, since this is the off season, no one is around. It seems like we are the only people in the garden today. After the botanical garden we walk back into the city center and start walking out of town in the other direction. We walked along the esplanade pretty far out and then turning back about 4:30pm and finding H2O Bar where we spend at least 1½ hours...surfing the internet, taking pictures, and drinking white and classic port wine. The bartender teaches me to drink white port with ice. Otherwise it’s just too sweet.

another sunset over the marina

We were all ready to go to Restaurant National for dinner, as it was recommended by our toast guy, but it was closed today. We wind up going to a Mexican restaurant called Arriba for dinner where the food was really great. El gets a pineapple margarita to start, that was nice and fresh and foamy. I ordered a pitcher of white sangria which took awhile to get to the table, but well worth it...as it was loaded with fresh fruit that our waiter had just cut up! We got a plate of loaded nachos. It wasn’t some huge, plate of chips with just cheese thrown on top and melted. It had mostly fresh veggies, guacamole, and a nice garlic-y sour cream with pulled meat and beans. Not too salty, but very tasty. El got a chicken burrito that she liked and I get a lobster and shrimp enchilada that is also really good. We both agree that this is our second best meal so far. And to top it off they have a group of three people dressed like banditos, complete with bullet belts, ponchos, and sombreros who come around to each table to offer a complimentary shot of tequila and as you take the shot they shout “yi-yi-yi-arriba!” in unison. Oh, it’s quite the spectacle. After dinner, we walk over to Baio Dos Anjos where we can use their free Wi-Fi to get on the internet and watch Portugal's Got Talent as they seem to care as much about the Superbowl as we do- which is to say none! We reflect on the day and agree that we managed to turn a dreary, sleepy Sunday into a really nice day together. Roaming the streets of Ponta Delgada and into parts of the city we hadn’t explored yet. Tomorrow will be a big day for us, so we make it an early night.

Observation: most of the sidewalks in this town are narrow a their widest and virtually non-existent at their narrowest. In fact we took a picture standing on the sidewalk and there was no room for passersby. It is kind of funny that if you are walking on the sidewalk and someone is coming the other way, one of you needs to step into the street to allow for a passing.

Monday February 7, 2011

Sadly, the journal I have been keeping during our trip was lost today in a computer mishap. Because of this, I will do my best to recreate the file, full well knowing that I may forget or miss some details. We had no set plan today, only hoping that if we were up to it, that we would take the bus out to the town of Sete Cidades on the west coast of Sao Miguel. We got up at 7:30am and made to our 8:25 bus starting our day on another nice new bus with leather-like seats, but without the loud music, on our way to the town of Sete Cidades to see two lakes side by side, one green and one blue. It costs us 3.20 each for the hour plus bus ride. After our decent experience to Furnas, we figured we should give it a go. After our gray and rainy day yesterday, it looks like it will be a nice day. Cool, but if the rain clouds don’t roll in we should be good. Hopefully we will find a tourism office as helpful as the one we found in Furnas and unlike Ribiera Grande. We make our way through the small towns, barely making it around some curves and through some towns where it seems like the bus will scrape the side of the buildings. All of a sudden the bright, sunny day turns into a foggy, soupy day and we both fall asleep on the ride. The bus finally makes it to the proverbial “middle of nowhere” and we are awakened by the driver gently saying the words "endo of the line". As we exit the bus, we find ourselves standing at an intersection surrounded by extremely dense fog. So dense, we can get no sense of where we are in relation to the closest town or even where the lakes are that are the attraction in this town. The driver of the bus tells us to catch the return bus at 4:30pm at the same place. He also points us in the direction of the lakes. As the bus pulls away leaving us standing on the roadside, we can barely make out that we are standing in front of an empty house, separated only by the distance of a short driveway. We start to walk through the fog so dense that we can see the moisture floating through the air- we are literally walking in clouds. As we come upon the lake, the morning is breaking and the fog has started to lift and the view is starting to become apparent.

when we arrived, the fog was this thick, but blanketed the whole area

as we reach the lake, the fog is starting to lift and burn off

We stop at a landmark plaque that shows us a map of the area and points us in the direction of Vista de Rei which is the overlook where you can see both the green and the blue lakes at the same time. According to the map, we are standing on a bridge between the two lakes, which seems odd to us because the bridge features arches below that allows water to flow between the two lakes. Maybe this blue/green lake thing will make more sense when we see it from a higher elevation. I should mention that there are actually three lakes in this town. Blue Lake, Green Lake, and Lake Santiago. Not figuring the overlook to be very far, we start walking, fully expecting to hit a spot for breakfast on our way. We head towards the Vista de Rei, stopping along the way for pictures and some rest- an extended rest at Lake Santiago on the way up. One thing that becomes obvious very quickly is the lack of almost any constructed buildings along the way. No tourist information.

a last look at the lake before our ascent

a look down on the town as we head up the mountain

No place to buy food or drink. And no bathrooms! We are both pretty hungry now. Thankfully, we both have a bottle of water. The thing about the bathrooms, is that we did not know that we would not see a bathroom for several more hours. This hill is quite a hike for us. We pass only a couple of people on the hike up- mostly overseers of cow herds sitting on portable stools in pastures along the road. The road rises 800 meters over 7km. It became kind of funny to both of us that at each bend in the road we would each be thinking the overlook is just around the corner, only to pass the bend and see no sign of overlook- or bathroom for that matter. Once we got to the top, the main road turns left and we turn right to go to the overlook. After three hours we reach the Vista de Rei and take our pictures. The view is great and momentarily makes us both forget how badly we need to pee. There is a map of the view and after seeing glimpses through trees and natural formations on the way up, we are finally seeing everything at once that we have been working towards all morning. A birdseye view of the Blue and Green Lakes and the entire town of Sete Cidades in the valley below. We are even able to make out features of the town that we couldn’t see when we were standing in the middle of it in the fog. The “mountain” we have been hiking up is actually a volcano and we can now see just how far we’ve come. With a great view and perfect weather, ironically, we get out of the stop everything we wanted, except neither of us could actually recognize the blue vs. green lake color. Maybe it is more apparent at different times of the day or at different times of the year, but today- both lakes look the same brown to us. But we got some nice shots anyway. There is a group of construction workers taking their lunch at the Vista and we ask if they can help us in English. Nope. El is able to communicate a little with one of them in Portuguese. Our question is, is it better to turn around and walk back the way we came up or can we press on and get back down to the town- in a full circle kind of way? The guy tells us that we can go straight but that most of the way is a dirt road. It took us three hours to get up here and we have about three hours until the bus picks us up.

some nice morning shots

It is now about 1:30pm. We are hungry and still need to pee. We keep going and right as the paved road ends, we see a sign/plaque that explains that this is a well marked trail and that we will make it down the 7km to town in two hours if we don’t stray from the path. Ironically, the path down starts with a sharp incline. The left side overlooks the ocean way below and several cow pastures off the right. There is no one in sight and we are able to make a private bathroom stop in a wide open space. At this point the path snakes downwards and we feel that we are making headway towards town. At one point we faced a herd of cows head on, and had to step aside to let them pass us. It can be a little scary to look up (or down trail) to see a small herd of cows walking towards you- lead by a farmer in a truck. El grabs her phone and gets a few seconds of video as they pass us. The path eventually turns into paved road which the trail directions had said it would. But, as we walk, we eventually see a trail marker pointing us off of the road and onto another dirt trail. Following directions, we see a small sign confirming Sete Cidades is ahead. The trail turns quite moist, but there is no mud in sight. The smell tells us that the herd we passed must have been coming from their feeding. After almost exactly two hours we arrive into the town of Sete Cidades. The last leg was the worst since it was so steep coming down. It was all dirt. No pavement. And the dirt kept crumbling under our feet creating quite a slippery situation. We both almost fell several times. At several points, the rocky path separated from the cow pastures with only a simple string makes us feel like we are walking through someone’s farm. The funny thing is that I had no intention of walking 7km up a volcano today and El remarked at one point that the guidebook walking tour time of 4½ hours was unreasonable. When all was said and done, we had hiked 15km and gotten back into town after five hours. As we reach the town around 3:00pm we find what is probably the only restaurant in the area as our return bus doesn’t come for another hour and a half. The place is empty but the bartender motions for us to come in. We make our way to a table, and bathroom, of course. Our waitress who speaks some English, but has a bad cold, comes to take our order. El goes with a cheese omelette. I order a grilled chicken breast. It comes with a side of french fries, salad, and a scoop of rice. I also get a glass of house red wine. The taste of the chicken is quite good. The waitress manages not to sneeze, just sniffles her way over. She must feel miserable, but she has to work. El likes her lunch. After lunch we head to find the bus stop. We actually have no idea where it is since it was so foggy this morning. But there is a unique looking house on the street that we could see from the top of the mountain. We walk until we come to the house, then we turn around to see that we were only yards away from the town, but couldn’t see it through the fog! The bus arrives on time and we make it back to the hotel around 6:30pm to shower and get ready to go out for the night. All in all a good day, and definitely an experience. The first place we hit is the Bar H2O where we went last night. This is where we were introduced to white port. We each got a glass and sat while a band was having band practice on the stage. Sadly, after one hour, we heard untold start/stop takes of Shania Twain's "Man, I Feel Like A Woman", 4 Non Blondes "What's Up", and the Ike and Tina version of "Proud Mary". It was a tough hour feeling like a supportive parent stopping into the garage while the teenager wails away on the song they are trying to learn. Then we head to the esplanade and start with a cappuccino and cheese toast at Farggi- a chain of cafés/sandwich shops. Then back to the old standby of Banjos dos Anjos for a Sarges beer. The beer is cheap, the music is decent, and the crowd is comfortable. After this we are exhausted from our hike and call it a night. It is during our time here that my journal is lost, so my disappointment overshadows my good time. Once back at the hotel we reflect on our long day. The scenery was really beautiful and in retrospect, we are both glad we made the choices we did today, though we are sure our legs will be feeling it tomorrow! At the end of the day we ponder our ability to vacation anywhere- or at least have a fun time testing our own limits of adventure.


Our plane leaves at 5:45 this afternoon, so we have a couple hours to kill before we have to get the taxi from the hotel. We wake and pack our bags to make the 12:00 checkout time. Then the first stop of the day is Prazeres Da Terra for one last cappuccino and "surprise" toast. We found a church and a gardens that we have not seen yet that we will visit before heading back to the hotel at 4:00pm.

Today’s surprise toast was cheese, hard boiled eggs, LTO, and a mixture of herbs (oregano, thyme etc). For dessert we get a fried dough as recommended by the server. When all is said and done, we have had a fun time talking with this gentleman who has treated us well on our times here...and we thank him. Next stop, postcard shop to buy stamps. The stamps are a bit pricy at .80 Euro for each postcard. As we walk around we notice many more people on the streets than usual and many more shops open in the otherwise sleepy community. We don’t understand why there are more people on the street today than we have seen all week. As we get to the marina, we get our answer. Today is cruise ship day and there are passengers everywhere. El stops into a few wool shops but does not see what she wants. We head up to the Iglesia Do Collegio to see the Museum of Sacred Art. Of course, it is closed. We go next door to the library to see if the two are connected. Indeed they are and we are told that the museum will open at 2:00pm. We head over to the Jardim Jorge Borges to see some of the prettiest gardens we have seen on this trip. Well manicured and maintained. The garden is surprisingly free of charge and we wander until 2:00pm when we can return to the Museum of Sacred Art. The garden is not that big, but is laid out nicely and really nice to stroll through.

surrounded by topiary. not sure if they are rabbits, kangaroos, or jackalopes

As we walk through the garden, the rain really starts to come down hard. We are prepared with rain gear and continue to walk even in the showers. We get to the Museum of Sacred Art and are struck by a pretty amazing hand carved altar that is partially gilded. The piece is very big and takes the space of the entire front of the church. Some of the artwork is particularly gruesome and interesting. We meet a couple who is here from the cruise ship (we can tell by their accents). We tell her about the Church of Emacula that was much smaller than this and you could take pictures. In this one we cannot. We finish in the Museum of Sacred Art rather quickly, since it is small and no photos, it doesn’t take too long. We head back to Doris Café on the esplanade for one last cappuccino. Then walk to hotel, grab a taxi to the airport and get Boston bound. All goes as planned. We make it to the airport in much shorter of a time than it took us to get from the airport to the hotel on foot. We are through the security check immediately and all is smooth. The airport is small, with only ten gates and only 4 flights out for the rest of the day. We are on our way back to Boston. Awhile ago I asked El if she thought that we could make a respectable visit to any city/town or is it only worth visiting places that are known as tourist destinations. I guess the answer lies between the two. Everyone knows NYC is a tourist destination, but what about Toledo, Ohio. I mean when push comes to shove, is it possible to spend 48-72 hours in Toledo without having to sit in your hotel room watching television? We've all heard the jokes about Toledo, but really, are there museums, churches, things to do that would make it a respectable vacation? As we are at the end of our week on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores, by the third day we had seen everything that we wanted to see (in retrospect we should probably have spent 3 days here and 3 days in Lisbon, but we didn’t). After arriving last Wednesday we saw Ponta Delgada on Thursday, went to Furnas on Friday, went to Ribiera Grande on Saturday, then we woke up on Sunday with no further plan. Not that we thought we'd done everything there was to do, but we thought we had hit the highlights and if we didn’t do more, we would have been OK with that. Sunday was raining, so we had to come up with something to do, preferably indoors. So, now I have to answer my own question- can we find something to do in this town that is fun and vacation worthy after we have already hit the highlights? Well, I think the answer is yes. We were able to spend another day in Ponta Delgada, and since it did not rain all day, we were able to walk around and explore more of the city than we had planned or expected to. Then on Monday we took the bus to Sete Cidades, which turned out to be a way better time than I expected it would.

views from the top.

I was so glad that the weather held up for us there. Then we needed a few more hours to fill on Tuesday before we left for the airport and were able to find two more sights that we hadn’t seen before. We ran into a German tourist who was visiting the Azores for a week by himself. We saw him at the Sete Cidades as he was on our bus. We struck up a conversation with him. Then we saw him when we were trying to go the Museum of Sacred Art this morning. It was just starting to rain. We said that since the museum was closed (we did not know yet that it would reopen in an hour) we were going to go to the Jardim Jorge Borges until our plane. He, on the other hand, said that the weather was a real disappointment and that with this museum being closed he was just going to head back to the hostel. We thought, wow there was so much more this town had to offer than this museum. So, I guess what I am trying to say is that it seems that different people have a different definition of a productive vacation. As I think, on every vacation I take, I am so glad that El and I travel well together. I now see that it is (at least so far) possible to make a respectable vacation for 48-72 hours in a town that you have already hit the highlights of. Maybe someday I'll get to test my theory out in Toledo.

In conclusion: this was an interesting trip. We came here knowing very little of the Azores and have probably had our lifetime fill of them. The food, for the most part, was a real disappointment to us. Usually very salty and tough. There were some spots with good dishes, but we were hoping for cuisine closer to what we had in Spain, but instead got closer to Chilean food. The people, everywhere we went were so nice to us. Almost everyone spoke some measure of English, which is always a bonus for us. Everyone seemed to at least appreciate my "bom dia" and “obrigado" though. The weather was fine- not as if anyone could change it. On many occasions we heard people say "you should come back in the summertime" to which I replied, "why, summertime in New York is great. It's the snow and cold I left behind a week ago that makes this the best weather I’ve had all winter!" They seemed to understand it when I put it that way. Here is a place that has some great things and some things that are a little wanting in the way of tourism. The people are prideful of their island and that feeling can be infectious. On our last day here, the cruise ship came into port, and I thought, this could be an interesting way to see the Azores, or at least Ponta Delgada. That could be my recommendation to others...if you are thinking of visiting the Azores? If you are a little adventurous, you can probably have a fun time. If you are coming to experience the cuisine...go to Spain instead.