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Day 1: Home to Ponta Delgada

After our first trip to the Azores in June 2018, we were definite that we wanted to return one day. Back in 2018 we'd only had a few days here so stuck to exploring the largest island, São Miguel. There are nine major islands in the Azores in total, so we felt like we'd only really scratched the surface of what there was to see. In late 2019, when I'd managed to get a fortnight off work agreed for June 2020, we decided to book a two week holiday which would involve island-hopping and visiting at least six of the main islands. It was a complicated trip to plan, with flights to and from the Azores via Lisbon, then a whole host of internal flights and ferries between islands. We booked accommodation and car hire on each island and I had a complicated itinerary of when we were picking up and giving back each car.

Out of all the 2020 holidays which I subsequently had to cancel, this one was the most difficult by far. Miraculously, I managed to reverse all my bookings without losing any actual money, but I ended up with large amounts of airline voucher credit both with TAP (the main Portuguese airline) and SATA (the Azorean airline). A new spreadsheet was required to track how much credit I had with who and when it was all due to expire :D 

The biggest vouchers were due to expire by 31 December 2021, so just after last Christmas I sat down and tried to rebook everything. I wasn't sure at that point whether the rebooked trip would go ahead because Covid restrictions in the Azores remained strict for quite a long time, but I figured it was best to at least attempt to rebook and then if things got cancelled again, I might get new vouchers with new expiry dates!

Over the course of the next few months, a few things did get cancelled. SATA in particular kept changing the days and times of its flights, meaning that there's one particular car hire I've had to cancel and rebook four times. But - against all my expectations - the main TAP flight out from Heathrow didn't get cancelled at all, and so yesterday morning we finally found ourselves setting off on a very long-awaited trip.

Our first flight wasn't until 11.20, which meant that we had a more civilised start to the morning than we often do when setting off on holiday. We didn't leave home until just after 07.00 and made good time down to Heathrow. The airport parking was slightly stressful, because the instructions we'd been given about how to drop off our car made very little sense, but we got there in the end and checking in with TAP was a breeze. Security was fine too and I didn't get selected for a random drugs test this week, which was an improvement on last week! The only slightly disappointing thing was that we were flying from Terminal 2, which doesn't have a Wetherspoons, so we ended up having breakfast in a much more expensive pub instead.

The flight to Lisbon was pleasant; the plane was only partly full so we had an empty seat next to us. The standard of food and drink on TAP has definitely gone downhill post-pandemic though! We ordered a couple of coffees and I was very confused when the air steward handed Tim two cups of hot water. I thought initially he'd misunderstood and thought we'd asked for two teas instead. But it turned out that we were getting a sachet of instant coffee to pour into the hot water :o I have to say that the quality of coffee on Ryanair and Easyjet is a lot better!

We arrived in Lisbon more or less on schedule, went through passport control plus another security check, and then had a little under three hours to kill in Lisbon airport. Lisbon airport was absolutely chaotic - far too many people in too small a space. It compared really unfavourably with the US airports we flew through on our last trip, which were big and spacious and full of places where you could refill your water bottle for free.  Lisbon was hot and cramped and we had to buy our second overpriced bottles of water of the day, having thrown away the water we bought at Heathrow when we went through security again. But at least we were on our way!

The flight to Ponta Delgada was really full and it took a long time to board. The flight was just short of 2.5 hours, for the most part flying over the sea. Portugal is in the same time zone as the UK so we hadn't had to change our watches when we got to Lisbon, but the more westerly location of the Azores means that they are an hour behind. Our flight left Lisbon at 17.05 and arrived in Ponta Delgada around 18.30. It was a sunny day in the Azores and the views as we came in to land were spectacular.


Once we landed there were a few nerve-wracking moments waiting to see whether our suitcases would come off the belt, but luckily they did! We had car rental booked from the airport, so that was the next thing to sort out. Having had previous experience of the narrow streets on the Azores, I deliberately booked the smallest possible cars on each island. But when I saw the Citroën C1 which we'd been allocated, I was slightly concerned that it might actually be too small for both our suitcases :D Fortunately we did just about manage to squeeze them in; one in the boot and one on the back seat.

The airport is really close to the town of Ponta Delgada, so much so that last time we came we walked in. This time we had a drive of about four miles to the apartment I'd booked, which isn't far from the town centre. I'd mainly booked it on the basis that it had free parking, but that turned out to be a bit complicated. It was one of those apartments where you just get the keys out of a key box, which is fine, but I've had the odd bad experience with not being sent the code to get into the keybox (most notably in Narvik, when we arrived at night in sub zero temperatures to find we couldn't get into our Airbnb!) so I'd messaged the owner a few days ago to ask for the code. He'd replied to say he'd set it at 2pm on Saturday, so I kept having to connect to internet in Lisbon airport to see whether I'd got it. Eventually I did get a Whatsapp message with the code and an explanation that I needed to go into the apartment building, find the key box for my apartment and then within that there would not only be the key but also a remote for the parking garage. So Tim had to stay parked on a very narrow street while I ran in, negotiated the instructions and then tried to work out which button to press to open the garage door. We got there in the end but the car park is incredibly narrow; it's difficult even to fit the C1 into our allotted space, so it's a very good job I hadn't rented a bigger car!

The apartment itself is really nice. There's a living area...


...and quite a good kitchen, as well as a bedroom and bathroom


It was around 8pm by this point and coincidentally that seems to be the time that all the local grocery stores close on a Saturday night. We hadn't eaten since breakfast in Heathrow, so after unpacking a few essentials we walked into town and found a restaurant to get some food. The prices in Portugal are amazing. We each had a meal of burger and chips plus a bottle of wine and a beer... and when the bill came it was £28!


You really can't complain about that - especially with the view we had! We headed back to the apartment for an early night, looking forward to exploring more of the island tomorrow.

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