When we were researching our trip to the Azores, it soon became clear that it's the sort of destination where it's best to hire a car. There is public transport on São Miguel, but it seemed like the bus routes didn't necessarily go to the places we would want to see, and that they weren't very frequent. After our successful experience with hiring a car in Tenerife, we decided to give it a go again so that we had complete freedom to explore. We didn't want to pay for a car on days we weren't using it though, so we decided to rent one from Monday morning to Thursday evening. That meant that our plan for today was to explore Ponta Delgada, on foot
It wasn't such a sunny day as it had been yesterday, but it was still warm enough for us to have breakfast on our balcony before setting off to explore the town. We walked downhill into the centre of Ponta Delgada, along pretty little roads with colourful houses
We soon found ourselves in what seemed to be the centre.
The Bradt guidebook had a walking tour of Ponta Delgada which was supposed to take around 2 hours. We sat down on a bench by the seafront to orientate ourselves and we were just in the process of working out where it started, when Tim's phone rang. Luckily he had it with him and it was on vibrate rather than silent, because it turned out to be someone from the car rental company. That was odd, because they weren't due to deliver our car until 10am tomorrow morning...
After a rather confusing conversation, it transpired that Tim had actually booked the car hire from 10am this morning without realising and the man was currently outside our apartment with the car Oops! In the end the man drove the hire car to where we were, picked us up and drove back to the apartment, from where Tim needed to retrieve his passport. It was all a bit unexpected, but the hire car seems good and now we have it for five days, the hire price only works out at €25/day which feels like good value. Better value than car hire in Iceland anyway
We still wanted to explore Ponta Delgada, so once all the formalities were completed we left the car parked near the apartment and walked back into the town to start the walking tour. It began at the tourist information office, which is not far from the main square featuring Portas da Cidade, the historical city gate.
In the centre of the square is a statue of Goncalo Velho Cabral, who is credited with having discovered the island of São Miguel.
The church at the far end of the square is the church of São Sebastião , the main church in Ponta Delgada.
Meanwhile this building behind the pretty flower display is the town hall, which apparently has the oldest bell in the Azores.
The style of architecture with the white buildings was really interesting, and I also loved the patterned pavements.
After walking around the square, the guidebook led us back down towards the sea. We found the headquarters of the maritime police, which looked a bit like a lighthouse...
...and then we came down to the harbour, with the fortress of São Brás, which was built in the 1500s to defend the island from pirate attacks.
Across the road from the fortress we found ourselves in a huge square, home to a monastery and convent.
The guidebook explained to us that many of the old houses in Ponta Delgada were built with look-out towers like this one. This dates from a time when the island was dependent on the orange trade, and all the merchants would want to be the first to see ships appearing on the horizon.
The next part of the route took us through a beautiful little garden.
I particularly loved this blue tree in the background.
One of my complaints about the Bradt guidebook is that it spent too much time talking about trees and flowers, but now we're here I can understand it a bit more
Our walking tour continued, past more houses with lookouts...
...to a large Jesuit college.
We found another garden...
...though this one didn't have quite as many flowers as the first one...
...and then we were back to the centre once more.
We got lunch at a restaurant by the harbour. It was obviously more expensive than Lithuania, but we each had chicken schnitzel and chips, plus a bottle of water, for less than €20. After lunch, we walked back to the apartment to pick up the car and take it out for a trial run.
Unfortunately, the weather had got significantly cloudier as the day had progressed, so we weren't sure where was best to go. Ultimately we ended up following the road towards Sete Cidades, the twin lakes which we had seen from the aeroplane yesterday. Once we got the SatNav working, we could see that they are only around 11 miles from where we are staying, although it felt like further as we made our way up the mountain roads.
We stopped at a viewpoint, but it was too misty to see anything much.
It was all quite atmospheric though.
We were driving towards a viewpoint called Miradouro da Vista do Rei. We knew we had got there when we saw this ugly building looming by the side of the road.
This is the Hotel Monte Palace, which was built in the 1980s as a luxury hotel. Unfortunately there weren't enough luxury travellers to the Azores to sustain it, and within a couple of years the owners had gone bankrupt. The hotel was left to fall into disrepair and today you can see that it is slowly being taken over by vegetation. It's all rather eerie!
Anyway, the good news was that we were now close to the viewpoint
And what a viewpoint it was
Even though it was so cloudy and misty, the view of the lakes was spectacular.
This was one of two viewpoints which we really wanted to visit. The second is called Miradouro da Boca do Inferno and is a little bit harder to find. The directions we'd read on the internet said to ignore the signs leading to Sete Cidades and instead follow signs to a place called Lagoa do Canário. The final part of the instructions were to drive down this rather bumpy forest road...
...until we got to a place with picnic tables and steps leading upwards.
We began to climb and soon got a brilliant view of the blue lake.
The lakes are in the crater of a dormant volcano.
We couldn't see the second greener lake yet, so we had to keep climbing.
Eventually we got a glimpse.
We were now at a point which we recognised from pictures online as being the most spectacular viewpoint.
Unfortunately the mist was continuing to sweep in and we couldn't see a lot.
It was still fun though
It didn't look like the mist was going to clear any time soon, so we headed back down.
Before getting back in the car, we explored the forest road which was lined with beautiful flowers. As you can tell, it was a bit windy!
The vegetation was really interesting here; quite different to forests at home.
To me it looked like something straight out of Jurassic Park
It was time to head back to the apartment. The SatNav took us back to Ponta Delgada on a different road and all was going well, until the road was blocked by a procession.
We have no idea what it was about, but it seemed very jolly with lots of music
Eventually it passed and we were able to get back on our way, to relax in the apartment and update the blog. We've had a really exciting day Unfortunately the weather forecast doesn't look very good for the rest of the week, with rain forecast all day tomorrow in particular, so the views we had from the plane coming in may turn out to be the best