A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

To Lisbon first…


View Azores - on horseback on bejjan's travel map.

So it was time for yet another trip and I must say that it has its advantages to travel abroad now during November because it can be incredibly dark, cold and rainy here in Sweden at that time.

Woke up to an abundant snowfalls and about 10 centimeters of fresh snow at the ground which is unusual this time of the year, but it immediately became much brighter outside. Took out the suitcases and started packing. After eating breakfast and finished packing the bags it was still snowing. Thought for a while if I was to wear my snow boots… but how would that look? Ha ha, arrive in the Azores with snow boots? No, I would sweat to death. So I decided to wear the snow boots until I parked the car at Arlanda, leave the snow boots in the car and change to some more summer shoes. I plodded my way to the car in the snow with my bags. Oh yeah, right. The car needed to be shoveled out. Since I nowadays only have 30 minutes to Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, you might wonder why I didn’t take the train. Unfortunately you can’t rely on the train anymore, at least not if you have a plane to catch. Train delays are reported on the radio every day and most often the trains to/from Arlanda are affected. And especially now with 10 centimeters of fresh snow, there will be chaos.

So with good cheer and plenty of time, I drove off with the car. But I didn’t get far before I heard a traffic report on the radio with information about several cars slipped of the road close to Knivsta along the E4, i.e. on my way to Arlanda. Oh well, wasn’t that just my usual bad luck then. Always something! And indeed, two cars had slipped into the wire barrier and one company car was upside down in the ditch, all within a couple of kilometers. But I was lucky because the police had not blocked off the E4 yet, since they were waiting for tow trucks to arrive. Well at the long-term parking lot at Arlanda I left the snow boots in the car, took my bags and rode the transfer bus to Arlanda and Terminal 5. Smooth and easy I had already checked in online and therefore assumed you also could print out a baggage tag in the automatic check-in-machines and then drop off your luggage at the baggage drop (they even had a separate queue for only baggage drop). No. No. Why make it that easy? You now had to line up for the counter and the personal still had to check your passport/boarding card to be able to check passenger’s data and then print out a baggage tag. So tell me, what have you gained in time? The time it takes to print out a boarding card? Thus, the point of having a baggage drop (if you have a separate queue for it anyway) must be that the passenger should be able to print out a baggage tag from a machine herself and then leave the bag at baggage drop? Or am I thinking wrong?

Passed the security check and bought a Cesar Salad Wrap, they wanted SEK 83 for that. Shameless! The aircraft was fourth delayed and obviously made my flight delayed thereafter. Well, well. Nothing you can do about that. And the snow kept on falling which didn’t make work for the ground staff any easier. Runways were plowed and taxiways as well, deicing the aircrafts wings… in other words full activity on Arlanda this early afternoon. The flight was supposed to have departed at 2.25 pm but took off close to 3 pm. I have traveled once before with TAP, 3 years ago, and they then had really great service. Between Stockholm and Lisbon, we were served hot food with real flatware (in metal) in economy class. So I was almost expecting similar this time, between Stockholm and Lisbon, but not. A small mini-baguette and a tiny Fruit Shot Juice, and beverage of your choice, were the only things served. Was a bit disappointed actually. But TAP has to cut back on something as well, in these economic times saving.

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The plane landed at Lisbon Portela Airport on time. The pilot must have flown in time or we had a strong tailwind. Probably the latter, because the pilot had to use both spoilers and air brakes to reduce speed before landing, and it’s usually not needed until the aircraft has touched down. We disembarked the aircraft and were transported by bus to the terminal, picked up my checked-in bag and called for my hotel shuttle.
Besides me, a couple from Brazil also went with the shuttle to the hotel. The man spoke fairly good English and asked where I came from. At first he thought I came from Switzerland, but with a little help by well-known brands like Volvo and SAAB he understood I’m from Sweden. People from outside Europe seem to have trouble distinguishing Sweden and Switzerland from each other. Checked in at Hotel Inn Express, situated only a few minutes away from Lisbon Portela Airport by car.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged traveling

São Miguel – not that small after all…


View Azores - on horseback on bejjan's travel map.

Up in time for breakfast and check-out before the shuttle back to Lisbon Portela Airport. Being “continental”, the breakfast was okay. Though it was 8 am, it was heavy traffic along the way to the airport. But still it took only 7 minutes before I arrived at Terminal 1. Found the TAP check-in and got in line. TAP had one long queue for about 15 check-in desks, so I prepared myself for a long waiting until my turn. But it went surprisingly fast and before I knew it, I had checked in my luggage and was on my way to the security check. My flight to Ponta Delgada had not gotten a gate yet, but would be announced at 10 am. So there was time to visit the tax-free shop and maybe get something to eat. Pretty clever by the sales manager at the airport to let the gate number be announced close to boarding, then passengers will spend time walking around shopping or getting something to eat. Number of seats in the shopping/restaurant area is also limited so that passengers should not just sit and wait but go around and be “shoppers”. But such things doesn’t affect me, ha ha ;) Boarding started at 10.20 am and would take-off at 11 am, which it also did. The aircraft was far from filled up, only about 50 passengers, which represent almost half of the total amount of passengers that an A319 can accommodate. But it could be due to low season in November in terms of tourism in the Azores.

It takes 2 hours to fly the 1500 km between Lisbon and Ponta Delgada. Ponta Delgada is the capitol of São Miguel, the largest of the nine islands that are included in the Azores. The archipelago counts as Europe’s western outpost and if you would set sail and go straight north from the Azores you would reach the Arctic, just as if you set sail straight towards the south you would reach the Antarctica. Thanks to the location in the middle of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores have a temperate climate year around. Despite its small area, the Azores archipelago houses great contrasts in nature with volcanoes, tropical rainforest, pine forest, lava landscape and lush greenery and roads lined with blue hydrangea hedges. Azores is probably not the first tourist destination you come to think of in terms of sun and beach holiday, but is perhaps better known for its hiking trails in the first place.

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During approach to João Paulo II Airport (named after Pope John Paul II, who visited São Miguel during 2 hours) you get a really nice overview of the island São Miguel. Frankly, I was surprised that the island was as large as it was. I had expected a really small and tiny island out in the Atlantic Ocean, but it wasn’t that tiny compared to Easter Island ;) Christina was waiting for me in the arrivals hall and we went out and sat in her Volvo V70. It ought to be mentioned that the local people, however, buy smaller and more suitable cars to get around on the narrow streets of Ponta Delgada. Though Christina had not managed to sell her Volvo before she and Claude moved to the Azores approximately 15 years ago. So she drove the car all the way to Lisbon and had it shipped over by freighter to São Miguel. It should be added that the majority of the transportation to the Azores is being shipped from Lisbon, which takes 4 days, mail is the only thing being flown.

Christina chose to drive through the older parts of Ponta Delgada (instead of the highway) and gave a quick guidance of the city. The streets in Ponta Delgada are definitely not designed for car traffic, literally, since they up to 25 years ago still came down with horse/ox and carriage. In places sidewalks are non-existent and can sometimes be only a half meter wide. The white mineral houses dominate the streets and the contrast with the dark lava rocks makes the environment exotic. While steering her way along the streets with her big Volvo, Christina pointed out that you had to watch out for people stepping straight out into the street. Since the houses in Ponta Delgada are so close to the road that people literally steps right out into the street when exiting a front door. Another phenomenon I found very surprisingly was the Azorean way of parking. If they wanted to park their car, they did it where it pleased. Didn’t matter if it was along a narrow cobbled street, on the sidewalk or along the highway. Very strange phenomenon and it didn’t seem to be any traffic warden or police going around ticketing neither. Since Christina drove through the older part of Ponta Delgada we got down to the harbor where one of the Azorean Coast Guard’s warships could be seen. She told that one of the main exports is tuna and to protect their fertile fishing waters against illegal fishing by other countries, the Azores patrol their waters with these warships.

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When we arrived at the 17th Century farm Quinta da Terça located in Livramente (an upscale suburb to Ponta Delgada) we were welcomed by their four dogs; Ida, Vida Jack and the fourth dog I can’t remember the name of. The dogs are so called rescue dogs as the majority of the 43 horses on the farm which have been saved from neglect and mistreatment by previous owners. After a quick tour of the farm I was taken to my room for the week. The girl who had been living in the room before me, Matilde, came from Norway and was flying on towards Costa Rica later that day. Matilde and I were served lunch and we got to talk about everything. Earlier the dining room had been a part of the stable, but Claude and Christina chose to rebuild as a dining area. They had kept much of the old existing frame and beams and stone floors, though they had to raise the roof due to Portuguese laws that require at least 4 meters of headroom if you run a restaurant on the premises.

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A cozy thing they had built was a small window shutter in the wall between the dining room and the stables next door which you could open up and let the horse in the box on the other side look in.

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I decided to walk down to a small beach close to Livramente before sunset, and said goodbye to Matilde that was soon going to the airport. The sandy beaches at São Miguel are few and those existing have dark sand surrounded by lava rocks. The ocean temperature is about +18 °C, no bath temperature really.

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The Azorean people are very keen about protecting their homes from the sun and have the shutters closed around the clock. The people are also very concerned to prevent their neighbors from looking in through the windows and into the yard. The first thing you look for when buying a house is to ensure that the fence/wall is high enough towards your neighbor, i.e. at least 1,80 meters. Otherwise they immediately build one that gladly is over 2 meters.

We were served 3-dish dinners at Quinta da Terça every evening at 7.30 pm. They had an Italian chef that cooked the food several days a week. The rest of the week Christina cooked the food. Before dinner I met 4 British ladies that had arrived at the farm a few days earlier than me. They had been on the Azores twice before and had only positive things to tell about the island and also about the farm, horses and Claude and Christina. Tonight’s dinner consisted of soup as starter, chicken and potato wedges as main dish and a delicious chocolate cake for dessert. No way would you leave the table hungry! All beverages (beer, wine etc) during lunch and dinner were included.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged traveling azores

Dolphins, whales and trail ride to Ribeihinia


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Up in time for breakfast at 7.30 am. Two of the four British ladies were booked for a dolphin and whale safari this the morning, so I took the opportunity to join them. Safari out on the ocean is something you should really take the opportunity to do here in the Azores. Our transfer departed at 8.20 am from Quinta da Terça down to the harbor in Ponta Delgada. It was about 15 people who gathered for the briefing and from what I could see from the attendee list there were two other Swedes participating. At the briefing we were informed about which species we might see at this time of year. Now, in November, the chances of seeing whales and dolphins are limited, but the weather was predicted to be good and the waves out on the ocean were relatively calm. Equipped with a rain coat (in case of rain or high waves) and life jacket each we walked down to the boat, a larger rubber boat (RIB boat?).

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In the harbor it was calm but once outside the breakwaters the waves got higher. On shore they had people looking out over the sea localizing possible whales and dolphins. The radio was quiet for a long while before we got the directive where to steer the boat.

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Once in place, we saw both dolphins and whales (sperm whales and pilot whales) in groups showing themselves with their cubs, so our guides were very satisfied with the day considering the small chances of seeing any animals at all. And after being out on the ocean for about 2 hours you were just about that seasick. After the whale and dolphin safari we were picked up by car for return trip to Quinta da Terça and lunch.

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On the way back we made a stop at Alto da Mãe de Deus, one of the earliest settlements in Ponta Delgada. During erection in 1567, the building was a chapel and was so until First World War. Due to its superior location on top of a hill with perfect view over Ponta Delgada and the ocean, the chapel was turned into a military fortress with heavy artillery to defend the city against attackers.

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Today, the chapel swaggers on top of the hill with its white colored facade and thorough stone work. The view from up here is magnificent and it’s easy to understand why the place was of great importance during the world wars to defend Ponta Delgada.

Once back at the estate we had lunch and thereafter it was time for my first ride together with the ladies from the UK. Just after 1.40 pm, the horses were loaded in the lorry and we riders were given a ride in a car to Ribeihinia, on the north coast of São Miguel. When we had arrived it took about 10 more minutes for the lorry with the horses to get there, so we riders had a few minutes to enjoy the fascinating view. The edgy lava rocks ended abruptly out in the ocean and despite the Azorean autumn, the contrast between the distinct green grasses, dark lava rocks and deep blue ocean were stunning. Temperature was about +20 °C and the wind was tepid. The sun was warming, but not too much. The lorry showed up and the horses stood calm and quiet in the lorry and waited for their turn. Two of the ladies rode off first with Rodrigo, on a slower ride. Then it was time for the rest of us to bridle our horses and ride off with Lara.

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My horse for the day was Dita, an energetic chestnut mare that was a mixed breed between Lusitano and some draft horse. I was asked to ride last, but Dita didn’t agree to that at all. As long as Dita and I were last, anything that moved was terrifying (according to Dita). After half of the ride we switched places and we rode second last. Dita liked that better and became o totally different horse.

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The ride started along the rocky coastline before we rode towards the centre of the island and started a long ascent up towards a viewpoint.

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Once up at the viewpoint, the view was amazing with the city on one side and the rocky ocean side on the other. On the way down we had to walk the horses down. And furthermore a little muddy so both riders and horses partially slid downhill. Now we continued further towards the island center and in more lush areas with more canters and trotting.

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While walking along a road with a lot of bushes, Dita saw the perfect opportunity to scratch her butt. She was a little clever though and made it during half-pass with her hind towards the bushes, which meant that she never stopped but continued walking forward though side sideways. We all started to laugh, me included. For one could really see how Dita enjoyed getting scratched. Ha ha!!
After almost 3 hours in the saddle we spotted the lorry further ahead. When we arrived, Rodrigo and the other two were already there and had loaded their horses. We unbridled our horses and haltered them. Then we just led the horses, one at the time, to the ramp and let go of the rope and the horses went up in the lorry on their own. Totally amazing! Of course, a guy inside the lorry received the horses and tied them up, but the thing that the horses didn’t took their chance and run away…

Well back on the estate Quinta da Terça it was nice with a shower and some rest before dinner at 7.30 pm. Today the Italian chef was there and cooked. First course was seafood mix (Linguine), main course was tuna and broccoli and as dessert fruit salad was served.
That evening, as every evening, we discussed about everything. One thing I remember talking about was that it still is ongoing seismic activity on São Miguel. Not that it’s about any big quakes, but still as disturbing that some people do wake up from their sleep at night

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged azores horseback_riding

Half day ride in Remédios and excursion to Furnas


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This day started with breakfast at 8.30 am and then gathering for departure by car and lorry (for the horses) to Remédios. Remédios is an area situated just east of Livramente, not to be mixed up with the parish Remédios on the northwest side of São Miguel. Today, two of the ladies rode with Rodrigo (slower ride) while I and the other two rode with Christina (faster ride).

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My horse for today was Cabana, she was a chestnut mixed breed (Lusitano and something else). Cabana was a little smaller at the withers but had plenty of fat on the body, perhaps a little too much. It felt like you sat on a meatball. Today’s ride went in a more hilly terrain and most of the canters were uphill. The first canter Cabana was caught on, but after that she enjoyed it less. Christina gave me a whip as motivation (the “motivation stick”). Then she made some changes. I didn’t even have to use the whip to make Cabana canter, it was enough that she knew I had one.

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After a while we came out in more open landscapes with fields and pasture. Majority of the Azorean farmers have mobile milk machines, sort of trailers, which are driven by diesel generators. All trailers are guarded by watchdogs to prevent theft of the generators. The watchdog is tied up when the farmer is not around the trailer and if the dog is loose the farmer is there working. The farmers dock the tail and crop the ears on the dogs because they, besides their job of guarding the milk machines, also are used herding cows. The terrain is often brushy and the less the dog has to get caught and tear up wounds with, the better. The chance of developing otitis in the humid environment decreases as well.

The roadsides are often dominated by a plant called Ginger Lilies. The name Ginger Lily comes from the plant’s root system that looks like ginger. The plant originates from Asia and didn’t exist on the Azores. Ginger Lilies was brought as a decoration plant and then started to spread uninhibited over the islands. Today, the locals see the Ginger Lily more or less as weeds as it starts to take over the vegetation and drives all other vegetation up at higher elevation. The Ginger Lily is non-poisonous and the horses are very fond of eating the leaves.
After the ride the horses were loaded up in the lorry and we the riders were transferred back by car to Quinta da Terça for lunch at 1 pm. Big hamburgers with bread was served in a plate each when we entered the dining room. The bread was a local Azorean white bread that tasted a little sweet. It was delicious and not as dry as hamburger bread can be. You really had enough to eat.

The four British ladies and I gathered at 2 pm for departure to Furnas, together with Rui. We went for about 15 minutes before stopping by at a local café at the city Vila Franca do Campo. We were invited to taste a cupcake called Queijadas de Vila Franca each, one of the city’s main products. It is a very sweet cheese cake, a true sugar bomb. According to Rui, the cake has a secret family recipe that has been passed on for generations. Just outside Vila Franca do Campo, about 1 km out in the ocean, you can see the residue of a volcanic eruption which now forms a lagoon. Today, “the island” is a nature reserve and a popular tourist attraction and during summers boat rides are arranged. In the beginning the number of visitors on the island was unlimited, but it changed some years ago due to safety regulations. Nowadays, the number of visitors is limited to 100 people per day. This small island became world known after the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Championship was arranged here and is an excellent place for diving.

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We got into the car again and went to the temple Ermida da Senhora da Paz, built in 1764. The original temple built on this site is believed being dated all the way back to the 16th Century. According to the history, pastors had gathered here in one of the grottoes at Vila Franca do Campo, due to bad weather. There they found an image of a virgin which they brought back to the church and parish priest. Next day, the pastors found the image again, in the same grotto. They also brought back that image to the church. The phenomenon repeated itself during a few days until the people realized the image wanted to stay at its place, alone. They decided to start building a small chapel just below the grotto. The day after when the workers came back to start working, all the material had been stacked and placed on the site where the images originally were found. So on that site, the temple Ermida da Senhora da Paz, with the virgin with Jesus in her lap with an olive branch, was built.
The temple is built on a hill with the same name. The panoramic view over the south coast of São Miguel is amazing and just as we were there they were all painting and decorating for a catholic feast, which took place the day after.

Back in the car we started the ride up towards Furnas, a village situated in a volcano crater at 109 meters above sea level, on the east side of São Miguel. The cloudbank was heavy around the crater and the sun didn’t have a chance to shine through. On São Miguel, the village of Furnas is the place where the volcanic activity is most noticeable, with more than 20 boiling and bubbling hot springs and the sulfur smell cannot be missed.

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For a second I got flashbacks about Yellowstone and its hot springs. If you have made it all the way up to Furnas, Terra Nostra Park is a must; a botanic garden which dates 200 years back in time with plants from around the world. It has not only endemic flowers and plants, but also birds and water streams. If you’re not interested in plants, perhaps the Fountain of Youth will attract you. A hot spring that is warmed up by underground sources and the water temperature is about +40 °C.

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The water is tanned and full of iron and is told to have a rejuvenating capacity. I want to add that I didn’t swim, since the air temperature was chilly and on top of that the water color wasn’t that attractive. And it should be mentioned that you swimsuit easily gets discolored by the iron-rich water.

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We went for a turn in the botanic garden and even though it was autumn and cloudy, it was still green and lush. Before leaving Furnas, we visited a souvenir shop where we were offered a liqueur-tasting with different local liqueurs. I’m not a big fan of liqueurs, but the one flavored with pineapples wasn’t that bad.

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Returned to Quinta da Terça for a shower. Tonight’s dinner was a surprise dinner back home at Roland and Yves, two of Claude and Christina’s friends. The four British ladies had been over there before, so it was just me who had no idea who they were. Roland and Yves is a married couple from Belgium (or was it Netherlands?), where Roland is a chef and cooked all food for the dinner, while Yves took care of the serving during the evening. Yves Decoster is an artist and gave us each a limited edition art he had painted. He earns the living by selling his paintings but also by paint walls, houses and other buildings (with owner’s permission of course) on São Miguel. After a 3 hour long 5-cours dinner you were full of food and super tired. After a short taxi ride we were back at Quinta da Terça.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged azores horseback_riding

Full day ride to Sete Cidades


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Breakfast was served at 8.30 am and we gathered at 9.30 am for departure by car (horses in the lorry) to Sete Cidades. From Livramente and out to the west part of the island where Sete Cidades is located took almost an hour by car. This is mainly because the road followed the coast’s windings and the speed was adjusted thereafter. If the road had been a bit inland it could have been much straighter and higher speed, but then you would have missed out on the stunning coastal landscape. Anyway, we arrived at the starting point for today’s ride.

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My horse today was Imperador. Sounds very powerful, right? He was a roan gelding and also a mixed breed (Lusitano/draft horse) where his draft horse genes were the dominant side. He was big and heavy and you could barely see he had Lusitano in his pedigree. But kind he was, like a little lamb. But that’s about how they breed their horses in the Azores. It’s especially the temperament they breed for. Ii doesn’t necessarily has to be a pure bred Lusitano, they happily cross-breed their horses with endurance breeds like the Arabic thoroughbred or draft horses. Every year the Azores borrow different Lusitano stallions from Portugal to breed their mares, in order to get some new bloodlines for the islands.

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We started the trail ride together as one group and rode along a volcanic crater ridge which surrounds Sete Cidades. In the beginning it was a little chilly and the sun was hidden behind the clouds. But as we got closer to the viewing point Vista de Rei we had the offshore winds that somehow blew away the clouds. Along the crater ridge we had beautiful view over the ocean coastline to the right and on the left we could increasingly glimpse more and more of Sete Cidades in the caldera (with the twin lakes) the longer we rode.

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At the site of Vista de Rei we tied up the horses and approached the viewpoint. We had a clear view of the twin lakes but the sun wouldn’t completely shine through the clouds. To be able to see the color difference between the waters of the lakes it must be a cloud free day, which unfortunately it wasn’t today.

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Sete Cidades (“the seven cities”) is the name of the village inside a 5 km in diameter caldera, Sete Cidades Caldera, on São Miguel’s west side. The Caldera also includes Sete Cidades Lagoon, consisting of Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azur (“Twin Lakes”) which unites by a shallow canal. The Twin Lakes are the largest fresh water lakes in the Azores and its water is normally slightly turquoise. But during a sunny cloud-free day the color differ between the lakes where the larger lake, Lagoa Azur, is deeper and therefore reflects the blue sky instead. The lakes are said to have been created by the tears from a shepherd and a princess’ forbidden love. Sete Cidades is one of Portugal’s seven Natural Wonders, which is easy to understand. It’s a fascinating wonderland with the volcano crater ridge steep green lush slopes surrounding the calm turquoise lake waters, which can only be seen on site. An abandoned hotel is still standing which once was built by Vista do Rei. But the profit wasn’t that great as expected so the owners left the hotel as it was, with furniture and all. When the local people found out the hotel was abandoned, the hotel was ransacked on everything. Today it still stands, though empty and abandoned.

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Even though it was sunny today, it wasn’t cloud-free. So we never got to see the two Twin Lake and their different colors. But the view was amazing and it’s really hard to understand that there are places like this on our Earth. After a number of pictures taken of the surroundings we started to lead the horses downhill the crater ridge slopes to Sete Cidades. It went well in the beginning but as the ground became more muddy, both humans and horses started to slip and skid around. So once we all had come down from the slopes we mounted the horses and continued the ride through the caldera to Sete Cidades. After many canters we had arrived at the bridge between Lagoa Verde and Lagoa Azur. Traffic was heavy and you got a little nervous about how the horses would react. But our horses didn’t care at all about the cars, trucks or buses passing us by on the bridge. Still today I’m amazed how cool temperament and mind the horses had. We arrived at the shore of Lagoa Verde, where a picnic lunch had been set up for us. We untacked the horses and put them in a small pasture and fed them. My horse, Imperador, felt a huge need to roll in the mud and did so three times during the time we ate. It was served potato gratin, ribs, salad, bread and beverage (wine, beer, soda, water).

When it was time to tack the horses again, Imperador wasn’t a roan anymore. But lucky for me I didn’t have to brush him though since one of the grooms did it. Now we split up into two groups; one group riding with Rodrigo for a slower ride and the other group with Lara in a faster ride. Unfortunately we couldn’t circle around the Twin Lakes but had to ride along one shore, turn around, and then back and along the other lake’s shore, turn around, and back. But it didn’t do anything, the experience to ride down in the caldera itself was amazing. So green, so calm, so peaceful. And towards the end of the ride the sunset began and the sunshine got a warmer color. So unreal! We rode down to a sandy beach and tried cantering along the water’s edge, but Imperador thought trotting was good enough. The horses knew very well when it was the last canter and it became a real race in the end. So much fun! Now the lorry had arrived at our meeting point and we took care of the horses after the ride. And as nice as usual the horses went in turn up the ramp into the lorry.

We who had been riding during the day got seated in the car and started the long car ride back to Quinta da Terça. It took about an hour to drive uphill from the caldera, over the volcano crater ridge and down to Livramente again. On the road back we got to see a magnificent sunset showing off all its colors and shades. Dinner was served as usual at 7.30 pm. It started with a tomato soup, then fish and potatoes and finished off with a superb chocolate cake. One of the topics discussed at the table this evening was the EU. The Azores are under Portuguese rule but has successfully managed to get money directly from the EU marked for the Azores. They were afraid Portugal would take almost all money themselves. The Azores have used the money wisely and invested in new paved roads to benefit both locals and tourism. Portugal still has a major economic interest in ruling the Azores, since the US has an established military base here and pays millions every year to Portugal.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged azores horseback_riding sete_cidades

Full day ride – from south to north


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Breakfast was served at 8 am. I was going to ride alone with Lara today, while the other ladies had another curriculum. I met up with Lara at the stable where our horses already were saddled.

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The horse I rode today was Mariñho, a relatively young, brown gelding who was cool as a cucumber. He was a very nice horse who did exactly what you asked for; no more, no less. But he had a short step during the walk, so you had to work a little to get him to lengthen the step.

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The trail ride started at the estate and began by cruising through the streets in Livramente. The horses were fearless when cars swished by. Some cars didn’t even slow down but passed in full speed. But we got pretty soon out of the intense city traffic and got into the outskirt of the city. When the paved road crossed over to dirt roads we could speed up and canter more. You could tell the horses knew the trails because they started to speed up and knew exactly when it was time for cantering. We passed a village where according to Lara the richest person on São Miguel lives. His house was surrounded by a high wall and if you succeeded to get a glimpse over the wall you would only see bushes and trees. Lara said that the man owns 1/3 of São Miguel. If that’s true or not – I’ll leave unsaid, but it sounds really incredible.
Even though a huge part of the locals has a low income, the largest occupational group in Azores is lawyer, closely followed by medical doctor. A normal week of work id Monday to Saturday, with exceptions for the rich people, i.e. lawyers, doctors etc. People who doesn’t manage to get a job get a minimum wage from the Azorean government in exchange for four hours of work per day by clearing roadsides, mowing lawns etc.

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We kept on riding north and passed a national park. The vegetation started to surround us more and more and became jungle-like. On the way uphill to a view point, we rode through high bushes of Ginger Lilies. The horses pushed forward through the vegetation and sometimes it was so dense I could barely see Lara riding in front of me.

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I was truly fascinated by the horses that just walked on, straight into the jungle without really being able to see where they put their hooves. Talk about good mentality! After that we kept on riding for about half an hour until we arrived at the picnic lunch. The horses were fed, as Claude had set a table for lunch with macaroni lasagna, salad, bread and beverage of choice. Tasted really great after some hours in the saddle. We had great view over the golf course Batalha which has a really nice ocean view on the north coast.

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After lunch we tacked the horses again and continued along dirt roads enclosed by lava stone walls. In the pastures cows were grazing and seemed curious about us.

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If there is anything that is plenty of here in the Azores, it is cows. They estimate the number of cows to be about 120 000 over the nine islands in total, which is almost one cow per inhabitant (130 000 people). The most common breed is the Holsteiner cow which are held in herds together with 2 or 3 Jersey cows. That is because the Jersey cow’s milk has more fat and increase the fat content in the milk from a Holsteiner cow herd, which gives the farmers more money for the milk. The islands are completely self-supported regarding milk and dairy products and beef. São Miguel has a Nestlé fabric producing formula etc which is exported to Europe and other countries.

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After some long great canters we finally reached our goal for today, the north coast. We stayed in one of the villages and waited for Marco to come with the small horse trailer (we only had two horses) and picked up us. I returned at the estate just before five in the afternoon and took the opportunity to rest before the evening dinner at 7.30 pm. The Italian chef did the cooking tonight. The starter was a soup (don’t remember what), then chicken for main course and rounded up with a Tiramisu as dessert.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged azores horseback_riding

Fire Mountain and Fire Lake


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Woke up and made myself ready for breakfast at 8.30 am. The four ladies from the UK left the estate during the morning and traveled on home by flight. Bit of shame though because they were very nice company and I got to practice more on my English. That’s why it was only me together with the guide Lara on a half-day ride on horseback during the morning. I was down at the stable at 9.30 am and met up with Lara and Corante, my horse for the day. There was some love at first sight. He was a beautiful brown-white piebald and the story of Corante’s life before arriving at Quinta da Terça is a bit heartbreaking.

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Corante which means the Colorful is an appropriate name for such beautiful horse. He grew up as a stallion in Livramente in the Azores in company of a mare and her foal (not his foal though). The owner fed the horses with only pineapple greens, which is inadequate and under-nourishing for a horse. When Christina and Claude tried to buy all three horses, being in poor shape at the time being, they got a no. But 6 months later, the owner had a visit from the local animal police and Christina and Claude then got an offer to buy Corante. Today, Corante is in good condition and is a happy horse and has gotten the nickname “the Pineapple Horse”.

But how can they do so? Some of you might think. According to Claude it’s kind of a status to have a Lusitano stallion, as well as a house and a car, preferring a nice model. It doesn’t matter whether you know how to take care of a horse or not, there should be a horse in the backyard just for status sake. It’s also popular to buy a horse for their kids.

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Today’s ride started at the estate in Livramente. We rode through smaller villages, rode in a tunnel underneath the highway before coming into more nature. The sun was more absent today and became cloudier as we approached Pico do Fogo, the Fire Mountain. But it never got to rain.

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Despite the cloudy weather it was a nice view from the viewpoint. When we rode back to the estate and was almost at Quinta da Terça, Corante thought it was time to lie down and roll. Though it was in the end of the ride and I was kind of relaxed and didn’t have total focus on Corante, he suddenly folded his legs underneath him and thought “Here I want to roll”. It was really weird and it all went in like slow motion and I had time to think “Don’t get caught with your legs and get your feet out of the stirrups!” After all commotion and Corante was back on all four legs we continued riding to the estate. Since it was my last day of riding tomorrow, Lara asked me which horse I would like to ride. Despite today’s blunder, I still wanted to ride Corante tomorrow. Now I knew what signs to look for and how he behaved when he wanted to roll.

Back at the estate in time for lunch at 1 pm. It was some kind of omelet and salad. Today new guests would arrive; one German woman and a French couple. The German woman arrived at the estate when I had lunch. We had a short moment of getting to know each other before I had to get ready for my excursion to the Fire Lake this afternoon. Soon after 2 pm my guide Paulo picked me up at the estate. He drove a black Mercedes, newer model, that I can bet didn’t have one scratch in the paint. The car was meticulously cleaned inside and looked like it was just driven out from the manufacturer fabric. One of the sites for today was Lagoa do Fogo, Fire Lake, situated in the middle of the island São Miguel.

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The Fire Lake is surrounded by a volcanic crater lined with endemic plants. The clear calm water and the white sandy beaches are a quiet peach and beauty classified as a nature reserve. To reach one of the viewing points overlooking Lagoa do Fogo you must drive uphill a number of altitude meters. The clouds were low around the volcano crates and initially it looked like I wouldn’t get to see anything, once up there. But when we arrived the sun shined and the sky cleared up. Way down below you could spot hikers on their way down to the lake and a few people taking a swim. Up where I was standing, the wind was chilly though so you really didn’t feel for a swim.

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We kept on downhill to Caldeira Velha. Here was several waterfalls and hot springs that during the high season (the summer) is a popular destination for tourists. I walked on a path and the green vegetation with palm trees and various other plants made it feel like the Amazon for a short moment. Pretty soon I had reached the hot springs and the waterfalls.

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It was changing rooms and restroom, also a souvenir shop. When I got back to Paulo and sat down in the car, I noticed he had cleaned the car floor mat up from the little pile of dirt I had accidently left. Wow, is he that caring about the car?

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We kept on north and towards the coast to Ribeira Grande, second largest city on São Miguel. Ribeira Grande means “big river” and the name was given the city due to its location along a big river. It’s a beautiful city with many narrow streets, where they maybe not should allow car traffic because it’s so narrow. The religion plays a big part in the Azorean life which can be noticed in number of churches around the island. A beautiful bridge, Ponte de Oito Arcos, with its eight arches from the 18th Century can be seen in the City Garden.

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As a last stop during the today’s guiding we stopped at the only tea plantation on the island (and Europe); Gorreana Tea Factory. In 1874 Chinese Tea Plantation experts visited São Miguel and learned the Azorean how to grow tea. It takes 6 years before a new plant can be harvested for the first time. Then it can be harvested until it turns 9 years, after that it is consumed. Gorreana Tea Factory is ecological and neither pesticides nor chemicals are used here and the tea factory is one of the most important incomes in the Azores.

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When I arrived back at Quinta da Terça it was almost completely dark outside and soon time for dinner at 7.30 pm. Bean soup as starter, potato gratin as main dish and blackberry pie and ice cream as dessert. For dinner the French couple had also arrived at the estate. They told they had started to learn English just 3 months ago and if that’s true, they had learned very much and many words!

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged azores horseback_riding

Riding lesson and full-day ride with Rodrigo


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Last day of riding here in the Azores and what a day! It was predicted to be great weather and being able to ride all day on my favorite horse Corante would be great. But first riding lesson with Rodrigo.

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Since I rode the lesson privately, I ate breakfast before the others, already at 8 am. I was then ready down at the stable for riding lesson at 9 am. I would ride Olé, an Arab/Lusitano gelding highly educated in dressage. He was slender and elegant and white as snow. You felt privileged to be able to ride such experienced dressage horse. And to have Rodrigo Ferreira as instructor who didn’t just look nice, but he also had a very beautiful smile. It went from ear to ear and you couldn’t help yourself smiling back at him. You instantly became in good mood when you saw him.

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So after spending 45 minutes in the small estate arena (would guess it was only about 15x30 meters) and instructed by Rodrigo I was completely exhausted. Not only because I had not been riding dressage lessons in a while, but also due to a small arena. You could imagine shoulders out in canter on the diagonal, it became quite sharp shoulders out and then to fit in a canter change on top of that… yes if I may say, you really knew you had something called abs after the riding lesson ;)

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Soon after 10 am we all gathered for a full-day ride with Rodrigo. I got to ride my favorite horse Corante. All our horses were loaded in the lorry and all riders went by car to Relva, where the ride started.

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The whole ride basically went along the ocean coast. Sometimes we rode along paved roads, but most of the time we rode on lonely dirt roads where we could trot and canter much. Just before lunch a donkey with her foal showed up. Considering the last meeting with a donkey, during a ride, wasn’t that positive experience I got a little bit nervous this time (read more about “the Killer Donkey” in the blog http://trailrideincatalonia.travellerspoint.com). But luckily nothing happened this time around. But Corante was very interested and started to piaffe (or it was probably a mix of piaffe/collected trot) with ears forward and wanted to greet.

Lunch was served at a restaurant. The horses were left tied up in the back yard and were fed food. The restaurant was situated by the ocean and it got really warm when the sun shined. After lunch you had pretty much a food coma and getting back up on horseback again you felt all stuffed. But you pretty fast got back into the game again and we had more trots and canters during the afternoon.

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We passed through villages with abandoned houses mixed with luxury villas. Big contrasts.

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The sunset slowly began and it got darker. Before it got dark we arrived in Várzea where the lorry waited and we loaded the horses up again. From here it took about an hour back to Quinta da Terça. Tonight’s dinner was served at 7.30 and my last dinner at the estate for this time. A little sad, but yet nice with journey home tomorrow. Had heard it had been snow chaos back home in Sweden while I had been gone, so I wanted to get home and see it with my own eyes.
A spinach soup was served at first, followed by a Filé Mignon and rounded up by a Lemon Tarté. The evening didn’t get that late for me since I had to get up very early tomorrow morning.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged azores horseback_riding

Journey home


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Yes, up early indeed. At 3.30 am more particularly. Christina, who usually wakes up early in the morning, was the one that served me breakfast at 4.30 am. And why on Earth choose to fly such early flight? Well, this time of year there aren’t too many flights to choose from and if I didn’t wanted to spend another night in Lisbon this was the only option. At 5 am Christina gave me a ride to the João Paulo II Airport and it wasn’t that many souls out; neither on the roads nor the airport. Inside the terminal there were plenty of travelers. It turned out there were two flights departing early in the morning, one with TAP (which I would fly with) and one with Ryan Air. The Ryan Air flight departed at 6.30 am and I guess that flight was fully seated. A huge number of people boarded that plane.

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My flight departed at 7 am and it wasn’t more than 30 people on board.

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After almost two hours I was back at Lisbon Portela Airport and now had time to eat something without any stress before the flight to Stockholm Arlanda Airport departed at 12.50 pm. The flight to Stockholm however, was fully seated. A little disappointed I disembarked the plane at Arlanda and realized all snow chaos more or less had melted away. And on the way from the shuttle bus to the car it rained. Yaay!! Or not… snow mud, grey and boring.

But yet again a fantastic riding vacation! The Azores is an amazing destination and to see it from horseback was wonderful. The horses I have been riding during the week were well taken care of and in good condition. Very good lodging at Quinta da Terça and you really feel like one in the family from the second you set your foot there. Fantastic food and you really don’t have to leave the table hungry. If I travel back to the Azores and not for horseback riding, I could very well see myself hiking instead. The landscape is amazing!

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged traveling azores

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