The Azores

It has been quite a while since I wrote the last blog because quite a lot has been happening, and I haven’t spent a lot of time at home, but most of that will have to wait until the next blog.

Sue, Sarah and I had a very good journey on the train to Manchester Airport. All trains were on time, all reserved seats were vacant and we managed to stow our considerably sized suitcases in the luggage racks (not what I was expecting). Unfortunately the flight was exactly 1 hour late in departing and annoyingly touched down at Gatwick to let passengers returning from the Azores off and take on some going there. We had to depart the plane while this happened and again we were exactly an hour on the ground. We arrived just before midnight. After checking in, we discovered that the room was lacking a bed for Sarah.  After notifying reception the situation was humorously rectified quite quickly. We slept well.

The following morning after breakfast, we booked a car for the rest of the week, to be delivered the following day. Armed with a street map of Ponto Delgada we set off to discover what there was to see. We were very impressed at the way traffic stopped when you turned to face the street, even if you didn’t want to cross the road! Several times we did, as we felt obliged to, even though we were only looking at what was across the way.  The locals do not look for traffic when they cross a road, they just step out. They should try that in Cairo, but then I suppose those that have , never came back to inform the rest. I noted that the roads were extremely narrow, just cm’s wider than your average small car. I thought this could be a problem, I was right. We meandered around the town, it was quite delightful and had wonderful gardens and a very nice Marina. We ate at a Chinese restaurant that night.

The following morning the car was delivered and parked out side the hotel. We decided to visit Seta Cidades, which was a volcano in the west of the Island (Sao Miguel) that had some beautiful lakes in the crater. Driving through the streets of Ponto Delgada was nerve racking, with no margin for error. When we left the town the roads were wide, exceptionally surfaced (by EU money) and very quiet. We only occasionally met tractors, tour buses and a few other hire cars (mostly Nissan Micra’s, like mine). The Volcano was huge, the lakes were stunning and we had lunch in a small village. Sarah got stung by what appeared at first to be a friendly wasp, but it decided to test its stinger and luckily she was nearest. We did have very interesting drive around part of the lake, Sarah had a paddle and then we found a tunnel that had been dug through the wall of the crater. It had taken 7 years to dig and water from the lake obviously flowed down through a pipe to somewhere. We saw a light in the tunnel and thought at first that it was the end. Around 20 minutes later a couple of hikers emerged. What a fabulous walk they were on, if we ever go back, Sarah and I will do that one.

The journey back was fine, until we entered the narrows of Ponta Delgada. The town has a rather crazy one way system, and try as we might we couldn’t get onto the road that passed the Hotel. THEN, I whacked the wing mirror of a parked car! Of course I stopped. The traffic backed up immediately to Portugal (no room to get by). The other driver was still in his car. I picked up the bits and pointed out that it could be fixed. In perfect English (he was Azorean) he said, ‘It is broken.’ I couldn’t argue with that as I was holding the bits. It was a fair cop. I showed him a map of the Hotel and said I would see him there. Concentrating 100%  I continued to roam the streets of the town until I found the Hotel. I had been told that when I got back to Hotel, to drop a passenger off who would inform reception I was there. They would then open the parking bay doors which was round the corner, further down the street. Sue and Sarah got out. I drove around the corner and sure enough there was a white single garage door. I waited. Nothing happened. I waited more. Still nothing happened. After half an hour I got out of the car and walked back to the Hotel to see Sue and Sarah smiling at me in reception.  ‘Did you not tell reception I was here?’, I said. ‘No, did we have to?’ was the answer. I spoke to the concierge. He smiled. I went back to the car. The white door rose and I saw a box. I had to fit a car into it. It was a 90 degree turn on a single track road with no pavement only very solid walls all around. The concierge was smiling. It was the slowest manoeuvre I have ever done in a car, but I fitted it in. There was no more than 5cm clearance on either side,. How was I to get out of the car? Suddenly the car dropped, it was a lift, how novel I thought. At the bottom the concierge was grinning. I saw why. There were 5 parking bays, with one vacant at the end of a shoe-boxed size garage. With a lot of hand gestures, turning of the steering wheel and fine clutch control I easily beat my previous record for slow manoeuvres in a motor car. On reaching Reception I discovered that the other driver had got bored waiting and winged it. I get reception to ring him and let him know I was there (he had left his number).  He returned at 7pm that evening, we had a chat in the lounge. He apologised for breaking his wing mirror on my car and he hoped it wouldn’t spoil my holiday. He said he could get it fixed for 200 Euros. I apologised for breaking his wing mirror and asked for his details to pass on to the hire company as I had taken out Super CDW which would pay for it. I showed him my policy and he was satisfied. He was a really nice person, though he obviously had quite a lot to drink and I was getting tipsy just talking to him. I am pretty sure he wasn’t drunk when we had our collision. He said he would drop off his details at the Hotel reception the following day. I promised to ring the Hire Company when I had it, so they could arrange to fix his car. Surprisingly there wasn’t so much as a scratch or a scuff mark on mine. Though I checked every morning and evening, we never saw him again and his details were never left at reception. After that, every where we drove in town, I did so with the wing mirrors pulled in and only pushed them out when in the country side. An observation on Ponta Delgada is that it is very pretty and obviously historic, there are far too many cars (don’t try driving at school kicking out time). And, oh yes, it won’t be long before you notice the cars with broken wing mirrors.

On the second day we went East to Lagoa. They are building a new coast road. Where it finished, it is brilliant, Where it is not, you have to dodge between diggers and lorries. We had a pleasant lunch there and then drove further east to Villa Pranca d’Campo. and then onto a tiny fishing village. On the way we came across a thermal spa on the coast. Sarah had a swim in it with a couple of Germans (they sounded German). We looked for whales, and walked around botanical gardens.

On the third day we again went north east to Ribiera Grande. We went up so high up the volcano to see a lake that we were in cloud and couldn’t see anything. We found some thermal springs and enjoyed the odour of rotten eggs. We diverted down a treacherous track to a secret valley. It was enchanting, so remote, until after an hour, another car arrived, stopped for 10 minutes and left, presumably because there was nothing there. Sarah and I gulley bashed up a small stream to a Col, hoping to find a lake. Disappointingly, there wasn’t one. There had been a little community there at one time, how hard life must have been. It provided a very haunting memory with such bleakness, yet further down below every thing was so lush. That day all three of us found a garden that had a swimming pool, which was so warm and full of minerals it turned our hair and skin orange. It rained while we swam, it didn’t matter.

On the fourth day we drove all the way to the end of the island, Nordeste. We stopped at scenic views, fishing villages and meandered around the places we came across. We continued to look for whales.  A high light was the lake called Lagoa Des Furnas, it was the lake we didn’t see the previous day. It was very beautiful, but quite remote as you could only look down on it. There were no roads to it, but you could follow a path down the crater wall, but we didn’t. Using my binoculars I noticed (briefly) that a couple of nudist bathers were on a beach below, they were obviously German.  It was the furthest we had driven so far and we didn’t return until late.

On the fifth day we drove north and covered those areas that we had not been to before. We returned through Seta Cidades. What a beautiful place it is, I think I could live there. We never did see any whales.

The following day we did some shopping and wandered around the town again. We ate out in Ponta Delgada each night. I think my favourite place was down on the Marina, we ate there twice. The second time we were treated to a night of music, it was well played by the group but listening to Beatles hits wasn’t what was wanted.

We flew home the following day. The journey back was a repeat of the journey there, but of course we flew direct to Manchester. We were home just before midnight.

It was a very relaxing break. I am glad we chose to go there. I would go back.

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