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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

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