The Azores

April 10, 2017 - April 20, 2017

with Catherine Wilson
mru 2017-05-09

 

Brief

I've been curious about the Azores for several years.  I was looking at Google Earth and scanning from the East Coast to Europe.  For some reason it was a night view.  In the middle of the ocean, in the middle of nowhere, was a pinpoint of light.  On magnification, the map turned to daylight, and the countryside was as beautiful as could be, lush with lakes.  This was the Azores (Bloomberg article):


The main caldeira of Faial
 
Azorean Coast
 
The Lakes of Sete Citades
 
Walking to Sete Citades
Photo of furnas fumaroles  

Cousin Cathy had a window in April, so we went!  I found a package deal from Azores Getaways.  It included touring three islands:  Faial (small), Terceira (medium), and Sao Miguel, biggest of all nine islands.  Each had a different look and feel.  Terceira's town was much the most scenic.


Location of the Azores

The Nine Islands of the Azores

Route Taken:
1) Boston->Faial via S.M. & Terceira;
2) Faial -> Terceira;
3) Terceira -> Sao Miguel;
4) Sao Miguel -> Boston
 
 

General

The Azores is a semi-autonomous region of Portugal, where they speak Portuguese and use the euro.  It was pristine from human habitation until the Portuguese Age of Discovery found it ca. 1427.

There are nine islands, mountainous due to their volcanic origin.  The land rises steeply out of the ocean, making for few beaches.  The climate is sub-tropical because it is surrounded by ocean but warmed by the Gulf Stream.  The temperature varies little.  While we were here (spring) the temperature was consistent: a low of 13 and a high of 17 degrees centrigrade.  However, it is very humid and it rains randomly (mostly lightly), so you may get too hot or too cold.  The locals mostly wear rain jackets.  In the summer it is a little warmer but still in a narrow daily range (?? to ??).  It is best to visit in summer because fogs will obscure the mountains less, and there is a little less precipitation.

Due to the large Azorean population around Boston, there are direct flights.  And outside of summer there are good package deals.  We stayed in 5-star hotels, though they weren't really that fancy.

The principal trades appear to be money laundering, fishing, farming, being a trans-Atlantic shipping stopover, and hosting the American military base.  The principal recreations are hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and bird watching.


Daily

Day 1: Travel (Boston -> Sao Miguel -> Terceira -> Faial) (Monday, 4/10/17)

A comfortable 9pm flight from Boston to Sao Miguel.  The continuation flight to Faial happened on Day 2, but this day is otherwise empty!



Traveling Light
<Photo of Azore Air logo & prop>  
The Faial coastline is more palisades than beach.

Map of Faial
   
Map of Horta, the capital
       

Day 2: Horta, on Faial Island: Explored downtown.  Bad dinner at hotel (Tuesday, 4/11)

Taxied to the Azores Garden Hotel, which mercifully let me check in immediately.  The hotel was comfortable, approached by a long road lined with a horse, 2 cows, tennis courts and a neglected fountain.  Slept.

 Cathy eventually showed up.  We walked to Monte do Guia but didn't ascend.  It's the remains of a "small" volcano and now separates the old whaling port (Porto Pim) from the contemporary one.

Drinks and a disappointing dinner at the hotel.  I got violent d-- from the limpets, which tasted unbelievably foul in the first place.

Photo of Cathy Photo of Hotel Photo of Limpets  
       
       
       

Day 3: Horta, on Faial Island (Wednesday, 4/12)

The hotel afforded an enjoyable, diverse breakfast spread, better than the other two fancier hotels.

Cathy is fascinated by Chinacors and there was one on the main street.  Having been wet and cold the previous day, I purchased a heavy rain jacket.

Ascended Monte do Guia, but alas the summit and its caldeira are restricted to the military.  En route is a curious little open-air ampitheater.  Three tough guys in three cars were keeping watch on the harbor.  When we descended in the rain, the tough guys were gone; their ship had come in.

Dinner at a gimmicky place, yet one of the best in this small place, Canto do Daco ("Song of the Dock"), where you select raw meats and seafood, then grill it on hot lava stones.  Cathy liked it more than I.  I've since shopped for lava stones on Amazon and they are ridiculously overpriced ($60).

Photo of Monte do Guia Photo of Lyre Photo of Lava Hot Stone  
       
       

Day 4: Faial: Toured Capelinhos and the big Caldeira (Thursday, 4/13)

Rented a car (delivered to hotel) and toured.  We saw Capelinhos, where a 1957 eruption added a few square km to the west coast.  There's a volcanic museum, which shows the nine islands do not result from single eruptions, but several overlapping volcanoes merging.


Photo of overlapping volcanoes
y z
a b c
d e f

We drove north up the west coast, cut inland and circling around the island's big volcano.  We ascended a half-mile of switchbacks up a steep iron-red dirt road, until we reached the paved road leading to the lookout point.

Photo of Capelinhos Photo of Maradurou en route More photos
Photo of fog Tourist photo of caldeira  
Photgo of Genuino    

Dinner at the fine Genuino.  Cathy was disappointed the eponymous owner, who sailed around the globe solo, would not answer simple questions.

Terceira Island

 

Day 5: Angra do Heroisma, on Terceira Island  (Friday, 4/14)

We drove to the airport and dropped off the rental car.  (I chose the policeman's spot, but he promptly set me straight!)  Easy flight, except we were inexplicably denied the window seats with views, even though they were empty and this was open seating.

Our hotel was nine stories built against a cliff of the same height.  The taxi delivered us to reception on the seventh floor.  Rooms are below.  You can imagine the views of the harbor out of the plate glass windows.  Unfortunately we were there about 10:30 am, and check-in was 4pm!  I was dog-tired and not in the mood to explore the town.  We enjoyed the lobby's Wifi, had espressos in the pool bar, hung out in the lobby some more, and eventually the room was ready.

Somewhat recovered, we followed my walking tour guide to cover a huge distance about the city.  I wasn't much impressed by the shops, but the houses were colorful and often elegant.  It's a hilly city and picturesque with its cobblestone streets (like all Azorean cities).

We dined at the ???? , where they also use hot lava stones.  The owner had too high an opinion of his food, but it was satisfying.  Memorable was the 30 young US military personnel (out of uniform) on their night out.  They were diverse in race and appearance, and seemed happy and lively.

We walked a lot that day.


Terceira
Photo of Hotel    
       
       
       
       
       
       

Day 6:  Angra (Saturday, 4/15)

We did a lot of walking this day too.  Up the local hill (Monte Brazil), which like the earlier volcano in Horta, divides the coast into two ports.  Along the way is an old fortress, still used as a military barricks, with a soldier standing for the tourists.  He did not allow his picture to be taken.

??? What else?

Cathy found us a low-end restaurant which I ended up appreciating, A Minh Casa ("At my house").  Its theme was vinyl records.  I had a hamburger and tasted the local gin, Goshawk, for the first time.

 

PHOTOS: 

       
       
       

 

Sao Miguel Island

 

Day 7:  Flight to Sao Miguel;  Ponta Delgada  (Sunday, 4/16, Easter)

We caught a taxi in the dark for our 7am flight.  The music was loud and the most hard-driving I've ever heard.  I guess the driver might have been on drugs or at the end of a long shift.  He drove fast, like all taxis, but left the lane once or twice, his head bopping to the music.

Uneventful flight.  Easy short taxi to the Park Hotel.  Again, we killed time waiting for our room.  If I manage a hotel, I'll keep track of who has checked out and direct the maids to clean those rooms first.  A tired traveler needs their berth!

When the room was ready I slept 2.5 hours.  Refreshed, we explored the downtown a little using the walking guide.  Sao Miguel is not picturesque, despite its waterfront.

The hills leading down to the water are crowded with small shops and residences along narrow, one-way cobblestone streets.    Pedestrians are confined to the narrowest of sidewalks.  You are tempted to walk in the street, but listen for fast-moving cars.  No doubt the drunks are culled every night at closing time!

Visited a car rental in the rain.

We dined at A Tasca, the #4-rated on TripAdvisor, and were enchanted.  We thought it crowded due to its being Easter, but later realized the holiday was the only thing that got us into this popular spot, favored by the locals.

 


Sao Miguel
Map of Ponta Delgada Photo of Narrow St  
Photo of A Tasca interior, and meal      
       
       
       

 

Day 8:  Sete Citadas (Monday, 4/17)

Breakfast buffet adequate, except for terrible coffee.  The car was delivered by 9 am.  We followed my car/walk guide west to Sete Citades, the mot famous site in the Azores, a scenic sleepy town as promised.

Before that we had a lookout...

...

Massage...

Cathy wanted to dine at a student restaurant call Anfiteatro.  I relented, but they were closed, so we ate outside at "The Yatch Club", a fair Portuguese meal.

       
       
       

 

Day 9:  Tea Factory, Fumaroles (Tuesday, 4/18)

This time we drove east and north, seeing a tea factory en route to Ribeira Grande.

The tea factory is operational.  It lets tourists get closer to the moving parts than litigation-rone US would allow.  You could see the tea moving, on conveyor belts or carried in baskets by hand, through the stages of production:

  1. Drying
  2. Oxidation
  3. ...

If you didn't know what pekoe tea means, the tea grades differentiate whole and broken leaves, as well as the dust and fannings left on the factory floor.  Orange pekoe is the main grade for black teas.

 

Ribeira Grande has no great river, but the town is substantial.  There was a pretty church and a strange museum to St. Francis, the religious founder of the Azores.  (I will remember the museum for showing the raw construction behind a great mural display behind an alter.)

Picnic lunch on a green at the outskirts of town.

Furnas!  Here there be fumaroles where sulfurous steam bubbles out of the ground.  We struggle to find the bath springs, but saw most of the village in the process.

The baths at Poça da Dona Beiza ("Pool of the Lady Kiss"?) were most enjoyable, and the operation well designed.  For a euro you get a locker that opens with an RFID dongle in your bracelet.

Dinner at Anfiteatro.

 

Photo of tea factory      
Photo of Ribeira Grande  
Poça da Dona Beiza
 
Photo of back and front of altar  
Poça da Dona Beiza
 
Anfiteatro      

 

Day 10:  Rest Day (Wednesday, 4/19)

A rest day.  Worked on computer.  2-hr walk around the waterfront, where we found two junkies and a cigarette box with a weird warning image, a naked man curled in fetal position, with the message cigarettes can make you infertile.

Dinner again at A Tasca.  It was good but not magical like the first time.   (For example, the fish was fresh but unnotable in flavor, and unimproved with lemon and herbs.)  The owner greeted us at the door and flattered us by spending a long time telling us about Portuguese emigrations to New Bedford (whaling), East Cambridge and Fall River.  He waited on us as long as he was able.

 

Photo: Cigarette box Photo: Ampitheater Beautiful schooner  
       


Day 11:  Departures and Disappontment (Thursday, 4/20)

Another easy, slow day of catching up on Boston affairs.  Lunch on balcony, using up picnic supplies.  Taxied to airport, saw Cathy off on her flight to Lisbon.  But... my flight home was first delayed an hour, then canceled.  After reversing course through passport control (reentering the country!) and reclaiming checked luggage, waited in a long line with everyone else on the flight.  The girl at the SATA lost and found assured me I had to wait in that line, that I could not come to terms through the phone.

The Azoris Atlantic Hotel is rather like the Azoris Park Hotel, except 4 stars instead of 5, and lacking the swimming pool, sauna, gym & massage facilities.

Overenjoyed myself at the buffet dinner.

Photo of long airport line      
       
       

Day 12:  Back to Boston (Friday, 4/21/17)

The hotel had instructions to call me when my flight was rescheduled.  I had reinforced this at check-in.  But they did not.  The next morning I showered and shaved, then thought I  would check in person with the concierge desk.  I was told the flight was already boarding!  They earnestly showed my hotel room was not on the list to contact, which did not make me feel better. They got me a taxi quickly and I never checked out, leaving behind a 15-euro bar tab.  It doesn't strike me as completely unfair they should be stuck with it after that negligence.  Uneventful flight home.  The Portuguese always cheer when the airplane lands.

 
   
     
       

 

Glossary

Azores/Açores From the Portuguese word for northern goshawk.
Angra do Heroismo Bay of Heroism
Largo Square (city streets)
Lago, laguo, ... Lake
Obrigado Thank you
fumarole  
caldeira  
   
   

Impressions

 

Culture & Language

The Portuguese language is confusing.  It's like Spanish with a strange influence.  Ells often become Rs (obrigado for thank-you).  Juan because Jao.  According to this article, after the collapse of the Roman empire there evolved a number of Iberian dialects.  Portuguese is derived from Galician, and Spanish from Castillian.  Portuguese is closer to the original vulgar Latin than Spanish is!  See also Wikipedia article.

 

Food

Azorean food tends to be simple and limited.  It is mostly based on seafood, beef, vegetables.  Bread and cheese are important, though there are no fields of corn or wheat.  A favorite dish is red sausage (linguica) with pineapple, the latter grown under glass.  Another is octopus stew (with tomato, potato, wine, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, onion).

 

Animals

Birds are prolific in variety and number.  The Azorean cow, mottled black and white, is a common sight, along with chickens and the odd horse or goat or lamb.

 
Azorean Cow

Transporation

The roads are generally excellent.  Renting a car in low season is easy and affordable.  They are accommodating -- picking you up at your hotel and letting you drop off at the airport.

Camera

The photos were taken with an iPhone 7, which has a marvellous camera.  A high-magnification lens would have been useful at times, but there's no beating the convenience of the thing in your pocket.

 

Resources

 

David Buckle, Alan Budris, Edie Erickson, Weekend sq1uash, family, Knut Hansen, Alex Byrne, Brian Gourlie, Irfan, Wayne Hodges.  Mark Harrington.