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Clare

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  1. We had a flight booked from Flores to Ponta Delgada this afternoon, marking the start of our long journey home. That wasn't until 17.25 though, so we still had most of the day on Flores. We had to check out of our accommodation at 10am and the weather looked quite cloudy inland at that point, so rather than try and drive across the island we decided to head down to Fajã Grande for another walk by the coast. It's always lovely to walk by the coast but it's extra special when you can see waterfalls too We walked past the waterfall of Poço do Bacalhau, which we'd climbed up the wet path to the other day. But there were several other waterfalls coming down the cliffs as well. We followed a path around the coast which enabled us to look up at them. Such beautiful waterfalls And of course there were some nice views out to sea too. Once we'd finished admiring the falls we jumped in the car, drove across the very cloudy middle of the island to Santa Cruz das Flores, then drove northwards on the one main road on the island we hadn't explored so far. This road followed the coast which we'd sailed along yesterday on our boat trip to Corvo. We sailed through the middle of those rocks yesterday! The most northerly village on the island is called Ponta Delgada. It's a little bit smaller than the main town of Ponta Delgada on São Miguel; this Ponta Delgada only has a population of 280 people. Just a little bit beyond the village of Ponta Delgada is the lighthouse of Ponta do Albernaz. From the lighthouse we drove back down the coast for a while, before heading inland to see whether the weather had cleared up at all over the highest parts of the island. It still seemed to be quite cloudy so we didn't hold out great hopes of seeing the crater lakes, but it felt like it was worth one last try! Once we were in the middle of the island, we pulled over into a parking area between the two lakes of Lagoa Seca and Lagoa Comprida. There was a signposted trail leading to a viewpoint. Admittedly the view didn't look too promising, but we decided to give it a go. As with everywhere on the Azores, it was very green here Not much sign of a lake though! We kept peering over the edge where we thought the lake was supposed to be and suddenly we got a glimpse! We carried on along the viewpoint trail in the hope that the weather might improve a bit and we'd see more... ...but we didn't really. At this point it had just started raining, so we decided to turn around and give up. This was the photo of me with the lake that we took for the blog But no sooner had we decided to give up than the clouds began to move! We could actually see one of the crater lakes We started snapping pictures quickly before the clouds moved in again. And sure enough they did soon start covering it up again. It was great to have got a proper view of at least one of the lakes though When we got back to the car I crossed to the other side of the road to see whether I'd be able to see Lagoa Seca as well. It turned out that I sort of could, but this was a lake without water in it. I guess I should have deduced that from the name "Seca"! Never mind, at least we'd seen one proper lake! We drove back down to Santa Cruz das Flores where we got some lunch, then headed to the airport to hand back our final rental car of the holiday and catch a plane back to Ponta Delgada (the big São Miguel one!) where we're staying in a hotel tonight before flying home tomorrow via Lisbon. Although the weather has been varied at times it's been a great holiday, visiting seven different islands and having some absolutely incredible views. I'm very glad that we finally got to make the trip
  2. When I said the other day that we'd arrived on our final island of Flores, I wasn't being strictly accurate. There are nine inhabited islands in the Azores archipelago and our hope was that on this trip we would manage to visit seven of them. There were two islands which we had deliberately left out of the itinerary because we just didn't have time to fit everything in. Firstly Santa Maria, which is significantly further south than the other islands so just didn't work with our itinerary geographically. Secondly Graciosa, which is a rather small island and doesn't have a lot of must-see sights. So far on this trip we had visited six islands: São Miguel, Terceira, São Jorge, Pico, Faial and Flores. The seventh island we were hoping to see was the island of Corvo, the smallest and most northern island in the Azores. I say that we were "hoping" to visit it, because visiting it isn't terribly straightforward. There is a ferry service which runs between Flores and Corvo during the summer, but it doesn't run every day. It's also a pretty small ferry and when I searched for tickets at some point during August I found that they were already all sold out for the day that we could do. The other way to visit is via a boat tour with a private company, but finding information about those online is quite difficult. At least, it's quite difficult if you don't speak Portuguese! After a fair bit of googling, I found a company which sounded promising and emailed to try and make a reservation. I succeeded, but the trips depend on weather and sea conditions so I wasn't going to find out for definite whether the trip was going ahead until two days before. As it happens I didn't hear anything at all so I had to chase up the booking people yesterday. But they replied with good news - our trip to Corvo was going ahead The less good news was that we needed to be at the port in Santa Cruz das Flores at 08.45 this morning, so we had an early morning drive across the island ahead of us. It actually turned out to be a really pleasant drive. It was a bright sunny morning and as we passed one of the many marked viewpoints on the way to Santa Cruz, we realised that we could actually see Corvo in the distance. This was the first time so far on this trip that the weather had been good enough for us to see it. Weather on the Azores is always mixed though and by the time we got down to Santa Cruz das Flores, it was raining slightly. We parked the car and made our way down to the port. We found a group of people waiting for the boat and paid our fare (€20 each) to the skipper. Then we were fitted out with our life jackets. I hadn't quite known what to expect from the boat in advance, but it turned out this was it! It was fairly small, with two long benches running down each side of the boat which the passengers sit astride. We squeezed in and then we were off, leaving the coast of Flores behind us. As we pulled out of the harbour, the water seemed quite calm... ...but once we got out into the open sea it soon became a lot choppier! The boat took us along the northeastern coast of Flores, where there are some amazing rock features. We saw waterfalls cascading into the sea... ...hole and arches in the rocks... ...and even sea caves. In fact, the boat took us inside some of the sea caves. We were right next to the waterfalls! And we could see all kinds of interesting rock formations. We exited the cave... ...and sailed past some more great views of the coast. There were more waterfalls... ...more colourful rocks... ...and at one point the skipper even stopped the boat because we'd all just caught a glimpse of a pod of whales It was definitely an experience travelling on this type of boat and at times there were some pretty vicious waves. Once we'd moved away from the coast and were on the open sea we didn't take many photos because we needed our hands to hold on And we were sitting on the side of the boat that was being hit by the waves, so from time to time we were sprayed with salty water. I ended up with salt in my eyes, in my nose, in my mouth...! But before too long we could see Corvo getting closer on the horizon Here it is: you can see it's a small island with only one settlement - Vila do Corvo - which is where we were headed. Before too long we were in the calmer waters of its harbour There were taxi vans waiting at the harbour to take tourists up to Corvo's main attraction: it's caldera. The boat company had recommended that we travel with one particular provider, so while we waited for space in one of their vans we had a little stroll around the town. We learned later on in the day that the population of Corvo is 384 people, so Vila da Corvo is definitely not a large town. We found the church though... ...and walked uphill to a viewpoint where we could look out over the sea. Soon we got high enough that we could see Flores in the distance. The boat was coming to pick us up again at 3pm and I was wondering what we were actually going to do on Corvo for that long. I didn't have great hopes of us seeing the caldera, because as we'd approached the island we'd seen that the top of it was covered in cloud. Never mind. We walked back down to the harbour for the taxi, which was €10 each for a round trip to and from the caldera. The driver assured us that the weather was actually good and we should be able to see the view.... ...and when we arrived at the top and stepped out of the taxi, we found that we could! There were some clouds on the highest rims of the caldera, but we had a perfect view down to the lakes at the bottom. I think it's quite rare to get views as good as this; I'd seen various reviews online from people who had travelled by boat to Corvo only to find that the centre of the island was covered in cloud and they couldn't see a thing. The taxi driver explained to us that there was a walk we could do, following a path down to the bottom of the caldera. We could then hike around the edge of the lakes, before climbing back up to the top. It was about 11am by this point and he said he'd come back at half past one to pick us up. So off we set! The first part of the path was relatively easy, just following a grassy downhill trail. We did stop to take a lot of photos on the way down. Possibly too many photos! But we were really very excited to be here and be able to see this view As we got lower down the path became a bit steeper and muddier, but it was still far less slippery than yesterday's path to the waterfalls. We made it down to lake level without any difficulties. And once we were down to the level of the lakes, we had some great views up to the sides of the caldera. I think this has a bit of a Jurassic Park feel to it as well! It was mind-blowing walking around down here and thinking about how long ago the landscape was formed. The island of Corvo was created by a volcanic eruption 730 000 years ago! The volcano would originally have had a large central cone, but that collapsed during a subsequent eruption about 430 000 years ago. That collapse created this caldera, which is about 300m deep and 2km wide. The volcano is now extinct, so Corvo isn't one of the islands that has to worry about future volcanic eruptions. Locals say that the islands in the lake represent the nine islands of the Azores. I couldn't quite make that out but it was a beautiful view to look at anyway The path had been quite busy when we set off, with various groups of people getting out of taxis and starting around the same time, but as we progressed further around the bottom of the caldera everyone became more spread out. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, completely alone. (If you look carefully towards the end of that video you should be able to see me for scale compared to the caldera!) We did have cows for company at times... ...and at one point there were some horses too! But otherwise it was pretty peaceful We could see that it would have been even more beautiful if we'd been here a few weeks earlier; we passed hedgerows of hydrangeas which were now just going over. At one point we passed this tiny little waterfall too The route was well-marked by little red and yellow striped poles. You should just be able to make one out next to this cow Shortly after this point we realised that we'd completed a full circuit of the bottom of the caldera and it was time to start climbing up. Climbing up was hard work, but as we got higher we did get great views down again. Here is me being very pleased I've finally made it to the top and don't have any more uphill to do! At the point at which we reached the top, we could still see down into the caldera pretty clearly. It was probably about 13.20 when we got to the top, so we had ten minutes or so to wait around for the taxi. During that time, the caldera started to cloud over. We went to have a look at the view on the other side of the road, where we could see down to the sea... ...and to have a look at the info board, where we could see the trail we'd just completed around the caldera (and feel grateful that we'd paid for a taxi up and down, rather than walking the entire thing!). By the time we'd done that, the view had completely disappeared That just reinforced how lucky we were to have got all the views that we did! The taxi arrived promptly at 13.30 and we travelled back down to the town. The driver stopped at one of the viewpoints on the way so that we could look down over Vila da Corvo. We could see that there is a runway, right by the sea, so it is possible to fly here with SATA from some of the other islands. The driver also pointed out the school, where children can stay until they're 14 (after that, they have to go to one of the bigger islands) and the hospital (which has two doctors and two nurses). For such a remote place, it feels like Corvo is quite well-equipped! We were absolutely starving once we got back down to the village. Luckily there was just time for a drink and some pastries in the local pub Then it was back on the boat towards Flores and another battle with the local WiFi to get some photos online! It's been such an exciting day; I'm really happy that our trip to Corvo worked out
  3. With all the waiting around to pick up the hire car last night we arrived at our accommodation on Flores after the supermarket had closed. So Tim's first task when he got up this morning was to go into the nearby town of Fajã Grande and pick up some provisions for breakfast. There was not one but two rabbits in the garden outside when he set off! When he arrived in Fajã Grande he had to wait a while for the supermarket to open. Luckily there were plenty of waves to watch for distraction. And what incredible waves they were! Once Tim returned with the supplies we were able to sit outside in the garden to eat breakfast. The weather wasn't exactly sunny but it was quite warm and the main thing was that it wasn't actively raining. As we set off for our day's adventures, we walked past the row of cactuses outside our apartment. A bit reminiscent of Arizona, although Arizona wasn't this humid! We'd noticed this morning that our WiFi was down and thought it was just a problem with the router in our room. As we walked towards the car park we met the owner who explained that there was a bigger problem; something had been destroyed by a storm and he was waiting for the company to come and repair. When we got back to the apartment this evening the internet was back up again... but it's very, very slow. I guess we can't really complain when we're in such a remote location! We got in the car and drove back into Fajã Grande. Now I was able to see the enormous waves too And they really were crashing against the rocks here This is the most westerly part of Europe - that is, if you don't disqualify it for being on the north American tectonic plate - and it certainly felt wild enough to believe that there's nothing else out there until you hit America itself. The actual technical most western point in Europe is the Ilhéu do Monchique, the pointy rock which you can just make out in the background of this photo! But impressive though the waves were, we'd come down here to see something else: waterfalls! There's an absolutely amazing coastline here, with multiple waterfalls coming down the steep cliffs. We've been to lots of beautiful places, but nowhere quite like this. We followed a trail towards one particular waterfall, Poço do Bacalhau. This one falls from a height of about 90m and apparently you can swim in the pool at the bottom of it, although that wasn't on our bucket list for the day! The path up to the waterfall was quite slippery and we were glad we were wearing our walking boots. At times it felt like a stream was running down the path itself. We made it though and it the effort was worth it for the view. When you've been to Iceland like we have it's hard to pick a favourite waterfall of all time, but I really liked this one Once we'd finished admiring the views, we followed the trail back down to the coast and the car. There was another waterfall view which I was hoping to see today and so we drove a few miles up the road towards it. We parked the car and set off on what was supposed to be a short walk of just 600 metres, but a few steps into it we came across this sign. The first bit of the route was okay, just a slightly muddy forest path. But it soon turned into a steep path paved with rocks. These rocks were all wet and very slippery. I didn't get very far before I decided that I was going to turn around. It felt like the sort of path I might get up but would struggle to get back down without slipping. Tim was more adventurous and decided to carry on. The path didn't get much better though! At this point he thought he might be nearly there when he spotted a small stream running alongside the path, but there was still a way to go. The path became more gravelly and easier to walk on for a while... ...but that relief was short-lived and it soon became steep and slippery again. There was just one final obstacle to overcome... ...and there it was, the view! This place is called Poço da Ribeira do Ferreiro and is one of the most famous views on Flores, with multiple waterfalls cascading down green cliffs into the lake below. The surrounding forest and greenery makes it feel like a location from Jurassic Park; I could just imagine some velociraptors jumping out of the bushes Seeing as I didn't manage the climb, Tim took a video of the scene for me. If you watch carefully towards the end, you'll be able to make out the reflection of the waterfall in the lake Tim made it back down the trail in one piece and we left the forest behind. Clouds were starting to descend over the higher parts of the island now so we decided to drive around the southern coast of the island, stopping at some of the viewpoints there. This one was particularly pretty - we could look down to the little village of Fajazinha, complete with a blue and white church. After that things became really cloudy everywhere, so we didn't see a lot until we stopped in the town of Santa Cruz das Flores on the eastern coast of the island. This is the biggest settlement on Flores and the place we'd arrived to at the airport yesterday. We had lunch at a little cafe-bar here and then attempted a few other viewpoints. As you can see, it was a really sunny day at the coast now and the weather looked quite promising inland too. As we got to a higher viewpoint, things began to look a bit cloudier... ...but still really pretty There are a series of crater lakes in the centre of Flores which we wanted to explore. We made it to the first one, Lagoa da Lomba, just before it was swallowed up by clouds. We could literally see the clouds moving across the lake in front of us. We drove to the next viewpoint and climbed up a scenic path. We should have been able to see two crater lakes from here. Instead all we could do was just about make out part of the green ridge in between them The weather didn't look like it was going to improve over the higher ground any time soon, so we retreated back to the apartment, where I've had an evening of battling the WiFi to try and get some photos uploaded!
  4. The weather did not look very bright when we woke up in Horta this morning, so we made a slow start to the day. Once we'd packed up our things and checked out of the apartment, we strolled down the hill to a nearby cafe where we enjoyed a nice second breakfast Our flight to our final island of Flores wasn't until 16.10 so we still had the best part of a day to spend on Faial. We hadn't actually intended to spend another day on Faial, which is ultimately a fairly small island that we've already driven around once This flight to Flores had originally been an early morning flight when I'd booked it back in December, but at some point between then and now the airline decided to change their schedules and turn it into an afternoon flight. Never mind! I'd had a read through the Azores guidebook and managed to track down some bits of Faial which we'd missed on our first circuit of the island. Our first stop today was Monte da Guia, a nature reserve just on the outskirts of Horta. We had to drive up quite a steep and winding road to get to it, but once we did we had some beautiful views. We could see all the way back down to Horta and even count the number of church spires in the town. We could see Horta's marina and port in the distance too. And when we climbed up to the highest viewpoint we found there was a little church on the top of the hill. We followed a trail for a little way along the top of Monte da Guia. The path soon came to an end, so after a final look at the view we got back in the car and started driving towards the southern coast of the island. We'd only been driving for a few miles when we came to a sign for a coastal viewpoint. This wasn't one we'd known about in advance but there were some fantastic views here, including back towards Monte da Guia where we'd just been. There were also some amazing arches and caves in the cliffs which were really cool to see. Our next stop was a viewpoint outside the small village of Castelo Branco. The road to get there was a bit hairy and our small Fiat only just made it! But once we'd got there, the views were great. This large lump of rock, called Morro de Castelo Branco, is a protected area used by various migrating birds. We followed a trail alongside it for a while and there were some nice views down the coast in the opposite direction too. Then it was back to Horta, where we both ate the same chicken curry for lunch as we had yesterday Once lunch was finished we still had over an hour before we needed to hand the car back at the airport, so we decided to drive a final loop around Faial. As we did so we found a signpost to a viewpoint we hadn't visited before: Miradouro do Monte Carneiro. It felt quite remote and we were the only people there. If the weather had been better there would have been great views of Pico from here. As it was we could barely make out another island on the horizon. There were some good views down to Horta though. The green bump in the distance is the Monte de Guia nature reserve where we'd been in the morning. We handed back the rental car at the airport without any problems and then joined a long queue to check in our bags for the flight. We noticed that the people in front of us were being asked some unusual questions, like what they had in their suitcases. We thought this was an odd thing to ask and when it was our turn, Tim launched into a long list of everything he had in his bag But the lady behind the desk explained that she had to check whether we had any prohibited items... and it turned out that we did! Tim had an illicit bottle of red wine in suitcase, which had been left for us as a welcome gift in the first apartment where we stayed in Ponta Delgada. We hadn't yet got around to having a meal which would go with red wine so it had remained undrunk and so far the bottle had been successfully transported in Tim's suitcase on two flights and two ferry crossings! But it wasn't going to be allowed on this plane, so we checked in our suitcases without it and then Tim donated it to a nice lady at the car hire desk who had just released the deposit from his credit card Horta airport was very small and a little bit confusing. The info board said that our flight was due to depart from Gate 3, but there were only signs to Gates 1 and 2. Tim went to ask someone and it transpired that Gate 3 was in the same place as the other gates, just not signposted. Security was a little bit slow. I got told I didn't need to take off my walking boots to go through, but then got pulled over for a random drugs test which was annoying. And when we got through to the gates, the room was absolutely tiny! There were three inter-island flights due to depart within half an hour of each other but none of the incoming planes had arrived yet so everything was delayed and there were lots of confused people milling around. We were quite lucky that the plane for Flores was the first one to turn up, so in the end we were only delayed by around half an hour. We were also lucky that we managed to get on it; there didn't seem to be an official announcement that it was ready for boarding, just a woman shouting "Flores!" at one of the gates. Never mind, eventually we were in the air and flying west towards Flores. The journey took around 40 minutes and was mostly through the clouds, but as we started coming in to land I could see the sea... sea that we seemed to be rather close to without any land in sight! It was only within the last few seconds of the flight that the island itself came into view; the airport is right by the coast. We didn't have to wait too long for our bags to appear once we'd landed, but we did have to wait an extremely long time before we were able to collect our rental car. There was only one desk for multiple car hire companies and there were five people in front of us in the queue. We've been lucky in that we haven't really had to queue for any of the cars we've picked up so far on this holiday, but this queue was horrendous. There were two people at the front of the queue having some sort of complex problem which seemed to be going on indefinitely. Eventually they stood to one side while the single staff member serving customers dealt with a couple of easier cases. The flight had been due to land at 17.00 and I'd told the owner of the property where we're staying that we'd be there to check in around 18.00, but at 18.00 we were still standing in the queue and I was having to send him a message to say we'd be running late... When there was only one more person in front of us in the queue we started to get excited, but our hopes were soon dashed when he turned out to be representing a group of elderly people who seemed to be trying to rent a car without a credit card with a sufficient credit limit for the hire company to hold the deposit they wanted... Finally that man walked off and it was our turn! It all went very smoothly for us, given that we'd had the best part of an hour to make sure we had all the required paperwork to hand! Partway through our rental contract being finalised, the man who had been in front of us returned with his group - this time seemingly with an adequate credit card - and wanted to push in in front of Tim to be served. He picked the wrong person to try that with Eventually we got the keys to our car and were able to set off on our journey across the island. We'd landed outside the town of Santa Cruz das Flores, which is on the eastern coast of the island. The accommodation which we're staying in is near a place called Fajã Grande, which is on the western side, so we had a cross-island journey ahead of us. Luckily Flores is only a small island and so we got there without any difficulty. And the accommodation is really nice It seems more spacious than the place we stayed in Horta... ...and the decor is all a bit more modern too. We even saw a rabbit in the garden just outside! It feels like it's been a bit of a long day of travelling! But from the glimpse we've had so far, Flores looks like it's going to be a really interesting island and we're looking forward to seeing it properly tomorrow
  5. There was a weather warning for severe rain over the central islands of São Jorge, Pico and Faial for most of today, so when we woke up this morning and saw that it wasn't actively raining yet we decided to set off as soon as possible for a road trip around Faial. Faial is the smallest island that we've visited in the Azores so far, so driving around the entire island in a loop is only a journey of about 40 miles. We started off by driving along the northern coast of Faial, stopping at any viewpoints along the route which looked promising. This one was the Miradouro de Ribeira Seco. There were some pretty flowers here... ...but the weather today didn't allow for much of a view of Pico. We drove up a very bumpy road, following a signpost towards a second viewpoint called Miradouro das Pedras Negras. It was rather cloudy up here too, but a little bit more of Pico had become visible. As we drove round towards the western side of the island, we came to Miradouro da Ribeira das Cabras. The weather was taking a turn for the worse at this point, so we were a bit limited in what we could see. We were now close to the bit of the island that I was most interested in seeing: Capelinhos. This is the site of the most recent volcanic eruption in the Azores, which started in September 1957 and lasted for just over a year. Prior to the start of the eruption, this lighthouse marked the end of Faial. During the course of the eruption, 2.4 square kilometres of new land was added to the island; essentially all this dark earth beyond the lighthouse. All these rocks were created during the eruption and so are pretty young in rock terms! The new ground is all quite barren; there isn't currently a lot growing here. The eruption was catastrophic for the local area, with the volcanic ash destroying fields, houses and livelihoods. The population of the surrounding villages was evacuated, with the majority ultimately emigrating to America. It was a really unique place to visit. And I also learned that this part of Faial is considered to be the westernmost point in Europe; while there are other islands in the Azores located further west, in terms of tectonic plates they are apparently on the North American plate. After Capelinhos we continued around the coast, visiting a seaside resort called Varadouro. There's a little beach here and some natural bathing pools, but once again the sea looked quite rough. I enjoyed the views, but I wouldn't have fancied swimming here. The coast in the direction I was looking in was amazingly green; one of those views that makes me think of Jurassic Park Before too long we'd completed a loop around the island, finishing up back in the capital of Horta. We went back to the restaurant where we ate yesterday and attempted to eat outside with a view out over Horta's marina. The staff recommended that we come inside though; they weren't sure whether they were going to be serving outside as they were expecting more torrential rain! We went for another non-beef, non-fish option on the menu and both had a chicken curry The weather seemed to temporarily clear up a bit while we were inside eating. Tim went back to the room to do some work and I had a bit of a stroll along the coast. I found Horta's beach, though it wasn't really much to write home about! The town's park was more impressive. I loved this tree in the foreground. And there was another Horta sign. On the way back I saw what looked like the ferry coming across from Pico. I walked through a colourful little square... ...admired some of the local churches... ...and was particularly impressed by this official-looking building... ...which had a frieze of blue and white hydrangeas on the front of it. We've seen so many hydrangeas over the past week or so; they're everywhere in the hedgerows here Then there were just a few more colourful streets for me to navigate... ...including the rather steep one down to our apartment. The weather definitely hasn't been perfect today. But because Faial isn't a large island, we've managed to see quite a lot of it regardless
  6. The weather was much brighter when we woke up this morning than it had been for most of yesterday. It was so good we were actually able to make use of our terrace, sitting outside to eat breakfast with this amazing view of Faial. And Faial was where we were going to be heading very shortly! We packed up our things and drove a couple of miles up the road to the port at Madelena, where we handed back the rental car and checked in our luggage at the ferry terminal. We had plenty of time to spare before the ferry departed at 10.00, so we sat outside with a view of the harbour... ...and enjoyed a second breakfast! There was a ferry to Velas departing at 09.45 and after that it was time for our boat to set off. We got a seat towards the back of the ferry, which meant that we could spend the journey looking back towards Pico. And because the weather was better today, we could make out the shape of the volcano much better than we'd been able to when we were actually on the island itself. This was a short ferry journey of around 30 minutes, so it wasn't long before we could see Faial getting close behind us. We pulled into the port of Horta, which is the biggest town on the island. Once we got off the boat we retrieved our luggage and picked up our new rental car. The lady who sorted out the car for us was very helpful and recommended that we drive up to a viewpoint just above Horta. This viewpoint is called Miradouro de Nossa Senhora da Conceição. We had a great view back down to Horta and the port where we'd just arrived. And finally we had a really good view of Pico I read somewhere that the best thing about Faial are the views of Pico and that may well be true The island of Faial itself looks very green and attractive though. We carried on a bit further up the road to a higher viewpoint. There were some pretty cool views from here too Faial seemed very sunny at the moment, but we knew that wasn't set to last; there was heavy rain forecast for this evening and for tomorrow too. We decided to try and make the most of the sunshine and continue upwards towards Faial's highest point, the Vulcão da Caldeira. As we progressed further up the road, the views started to become cloudier though. The highest point of the volcano is at 1,043m and there is often a lot of cloud up here. We parked the car and followed a little bit of the trail which leads around the rim of the caldera. We could look down into the big hollow at the centre of the volcano, which is 400m deep. It was the initial eruption of this volcano, many thousands of years ago, which formed the island of Faial. Today, the inside of the crater is a protected nature reserve. The cloud was getting worse at this point, so it didn't seem worth us walking around any further. We decided to head back down to the sunshine! Before too long we were back down at the port of Horta We had a stroll along the sea front, into the centre of town. The marina at Horta is quite famous, being a place where yachts typically make a stop when crossing the Atlantic. It's traditional for the crew of each yacht to paint a picture in the marina before they depart. The harbour walls are therefore covered in all kinds of different pictures which record where different boats came from and when they visited. It's quite an unusual custom, but it certainly makes the harbour area look very colourful! By this stage we were hungry, so we walked through the town centre looking for places to eat. We eventually found a place serving hot food. We've almost exclusively eaten beef so far on this holiday (there are a lot of cows on the Azores and beef is generally the only alternative to fish!), so we were excited by the prospect of getting some variety. Tim chose pork, while I opted for a chicken skewer which ended up being slightly more dramatic than I'd anticipated For pudding I had a chocolate cake... ...while Tim had this enormous coconut concoction. The apartment which we're staying in for the next two nights was just around the corner from here. We checked in and found that it's at the more basic end of the accommodation we've stayed in on this holiday so far. The decor looks a little bit old fashioned. However, it does have air con and WiFi - plus there's a small balcony from where we'll be able to see Pico if the weather permits - so it could be worse! Shortly after we checked in there was a burst of torrential rain and the rest of the afternoon has been rather wet. The forecast isn't great for tomorrow, so I'm not sure how much of Faial we'll be able to see. But we've certainly had a good start seeing it in the sunshine today
  7. It was a bit wet and cloudy when we woke up on Pico this morning. Our plan had been to drive across the middle of the island on what was supposed to be a very scenic road which crosses the island and passes a number of lakes. It didn't look like the best weather for it, but it wasn't raining too much by the time we'd finished breakfast so we decided to give it a go and see what happened. It turned out not to be the best of ideas! We soon drove into the clouds and we stayed in the clouds for an hour or so as we made our way from one end of the island to the other. We turned off down a side road towards the first of the lakes, but it was raining so heavily and the clouds were so low that we couldn't even see the lake from the lakeside car park! Once we got to the far end of the island and began to descend towards the coast, things began to brighten up though and the lower we got, the better the weather seemed to become. We were driving towards a small village called Manhenha, which is located at the eastern tip of Pico. It was on the verge of being sunny here We were walking towards a lighthouse on the edge of the island, Farol da Ponta da Iha. The landscape here was very obviously volcanic; so much black rock! We saw signs for a trail leading off through the lava field. It was quite difficult climbing over all the rocks though, so I didn't get very far. Tim made it a little bit further before turning round and coming back. The lighthouse itself was very pretty and well maintained. The best of the weather definitely seemed to be by the sea, so we decided to follow the main road around to the town of Lajes do Pico on the island's southern coast. We parked in the centre of town, next to the church. We strolled through the town, down to the sea. The clouds were beginning to lighten a bit and we could just start to make out the shape of Mt Pico's volcanic cone in the background. The view was a bit better as we got further around the harbour. It must be spectacular here on a clear day. Lajes do Pico felt like a tiny little place, but I think it's actually the third biggest settlement on Pico. Historically a lot of people here were employed in the whaling industry. Since that was outlawed in the 1980s, whale-watching has become big business instead and we passed a lot of signs advertising tours. Something I haven't figured out is why there are so many of these little red windmills on Pico. We saw one at Sao Roque yesterday, we've driven past several of them and there was another one here on the edge of Lajes do Pico. We enjoyed the views of the coast for a while, but we were starting to feel hungry. We couldn't find anywhere to eat in Lajes, so we jumped back in the car and drove back around the island to Madelena, Pico's biggest town. Unfortunately the weather had taken another turn for the worse by this point, so when we got to Madelena it had started to rain. From the harbour, we could barely see across to the neighbouring island of Faial. We found the church in the centre of town but we failed to find any restaurants which were open. Eventually we resorted to eating in a branch of Burger King which we'd spotted next door to the supermarket we went to last night By the time we'd finished eating the weather had started to look a bit more promising again so we decided to try and re-do a part of our scenic drive, as far as a lake called Lagoa do Capitão which is located in the middle of the island. The drive started off promisingly, but as we got closer to the lake we found ourselves surrounded by clouds once more. Never mind, we decided to carry on to the lake anyway and see what we could see. When we eventually arrived at the car park, we were greeted by a family of ducklings! They were very cute The lake was still pretty much submerged in cloud. This was a huge improvement compared to how little we'd been able to see on our first visit here this morning though! We found an info board showing us that on a clear day there would be a view of Mt Pico behind the lake. Today was definitely not that day Before heading back to the apartment, we decided to try one final lake. Somewhere over the edge of this hill is supposed to be Lagoa do Caiado, the biggest lake on Pico. This was about as much as we managed to see of it. Never mind, as we turned to drive home we did get a glimpse of a bonus lake This is Lagoa Seca, a small volcanic crater lake just around the corner from Lagoa do Caiado. We haven't had the best possible weather for seeing Pico today, but I think we've made the best of it. Tomorrow we'll be moving on to Faial, the island we can see from our terrace
  8. Another day, another island! Today we were due to travel to Pico and, unlike with the other islands we've travelled to so far, we were going by ferry. There is an airport on Pico and so it would have been possible to fly, but because São Jorge, Pico and Faial are all relatively close together, it makes more sense to travel between them by boat. Our ferry was due to depart at 11.40, so we were booked to return our rental car in Velas at 10.30. The booking confirmation said that we should return it to the city office of the rental firm in the centre of Velas, but after we'd navigated our way there we found that it was closed. Tim rang the company and they said to bring the car to the port, which was luckily just around the corner. Once we were in the right place we handed the car back without any problems and then tried to figure out what the procedure was for checking in for the ferry. I'd bought our tickets online in advance and they were really good value; €11 each. It turned out that all we had to do was go to a desk, show our tickets and then hand over our suitcases to be stowed away in the boat. It was quite similar to checking in for a flight. We still had a bit of time to kill before the ferry departed, so now that we were free of our suitcases we decided to have a quick final stroll around Velas. Right outside the port we found the main gate into the town. On the wall behind the gate there was a map of the island and we were able to see all the places we'd visited yesterday. Walking through the gate, we found ourselves in the town's main square. Somehow we'd manage to miss this on our first trip to Velas, but it was very pretty. I really loved the tiled pavement again. As is fitting for an island named after St George, the square also featured a statue of a dragon. Once we'd finished exploring we said goodbye to São Jorge and headed back to the port buildings to catch our ferry to Pico. As soon as we stepped onto the ferry we could feel it being rocked by large waves. Fortunately I still had a supply of seasickness tablets, which I'd bought for all our holidays to Scottish islands during the pandemic, so we'd both taken one of those after breakfast this morning. We found seats outside at the back of the boat, which gave us a good view of Velas as the ferry pulled out of the harbour. As we got further away, we began to get an impression of what a long and mountainous island São Jorge is. I'd read yesterday that in times gone by, the inhabitants of Topo were closely linked to Terceira, importing their supplies by boat from Angra rather than making the difficult land journey to Velas over the Serra do Topo, the range of mountains separating Topo from the rest of the island. Looking at the top of São Jorge disappearing into the cloud today, it definitely made sense! There were some big waves in the sea today and the crossing was quite choppy as a result. We were fine with our sea sickness tablets, but there were definitely some other passengers who weren't coping so well. Tim managed to climb to a higher deck to shoot the video above, but the waves were so huge that I decided to stay sitting down! It was only a short journey though and by 12.30 the boat was arriving at the port of São Roque on Pico. We got off the ferry and waited by a small luggage carousel to retrieve our bags. Then it was time to pick up yet another rental car and explore a bit of Pico! We didn't actually drive very far in the first instance, just a little way around the coast from the port. There was a nice viewpoint here, complete with bright red windmill. We admired the views of the windmill and the sea for a while. Then we walked back towards the port and found a small cafe to get something to eat. After lunch we drove about 15km down the road, south of the main town of Madelena, towards the holiday home we'd rented. We were allowed to check in from 15.00. It's quite a spacious little house, with two bedrooms... ...a well-equipped kitchen... ...and a comfy living area. We've got an outdoor terrace too, from where we can see across to the island of Faial. As you can see, it was a bit wet and cloudy again today and it rained for a while after we'd arrived. Once the rain stopped we set out for a walk down the road. The view of Faial became much clearer. We are staying in a neighbourhood called Criação Velha, which is next to an official world heritage site called "Landscape of the Pico Island Vineyard Culture". We were walking down towards the coast to try and find some of these vineyards. Early settlers to Pico soon realised that the volcanic soil here, combined with the mild climate, meant that it would be an excellent location for growing grapes. The only problems they ran into were the strong winds and salty spray from the sea, which had a nasty habit of destroying the vines. In order to work around this, they built an extensive network of stone walls out of the black volcano stone that was lying around the island. The walled enclosures were designed to protect the vines from the wind and the sea - and they worked! Pico's wine became famous all over the world and was a particular favourite of the Russian tsar! Unfortunately, most of the vines on Pico were wiped out in the mid nineteenth century by a plague. The majority of islanders were dependent on the wine trade by this point and so mass emigration ensued. Many of the emigrants went to the USA and some of them later returned with a new Californian breed of grape that was more resistant to disease and well suited to growing in Pico's climate. So wine production on Pico continues, admittedly on a small scale than it once was. After we'd finished exploring the vineyards, we went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of Pico wine to try it out The cloud has been too low for us to be able to see the volcanic peak of Mt Pico today, but once we got down to the beach we could definitely see that this area had been formed by lava flows. Pico seems like a fascinating island and we're looking forward to seeing more of it tomorrow!
  9. It had been really sunny all yesterday evening and we'd sat on our terrace, eating pasta and enjoying the view of Pico. We'd hoped to have breakfast on the terrace this morning too but no such luck; it rained heavily during the night and when we woke up it was still very cloudy and windy. There was no sign of a volcano on the other side of the water at all! Our plan for today was to explore as much of São Jorge as possible. It started raining again just after we'd finished breakfast, so we held off on going out for a bit until it looked like the weather was clearing up. Then we set off on a road trip around the island, starting with a drive along the northern coast. The northern coast is probably very scenic but we ended up not seeing any of it! The rain got worse and the visibility was terrible. As we made our way across the island, all we could see were clouds. Luckily, by the time we got to the south coast and descended from the higher inland part of the island, things began to brighten up a bit. As we were driving along we saw a sign towards a place called Cascata do Cruzal and decided to pull over and investigate. We followed a beautiful path by the side of a small stream. As with everywhere in the Azores, the countryside which we were walking through was really green After a few minutes we reached a little platform, from where we had a view of the waterfall. There was certainly plenty of water in it! As we walked back up towards the car the weather was starting to look a bit less wet though. We were driving towards the eastern end of the island, to a small village called Topo. There's a lighthouse here at the edge of the island. I loved the fact that when we got to the viewpoint below the lighthouse, there was even a lighthouse pattern in the pavement From the viewpoint we also had a view of another small island. This is Ilhéu do Topo, an uninhabited islet off the coast of Topo which is protected as a nature reserve. There were some lovely views of the coast in the opposite direction too. And some more pretty patterns on the pavement We climbed down a series of steps towards the sea. There was a small beach and bathing area here. The waves were quite fierce today though; it didn't look like a good day to swim! Once we'd finished admiring the waves, we climbed up the steps on the opposite side of the beach. There were some lovely views of the coast here too. Now that the weather had improved, our plan was to visit a place called Fajã dos Vimes on the southern coast of the island. We had an exciting drive to get to it, down steep and winding roads towards the coast. The village that we were heading to is built on a geological feature known as a "fajã". There are lots of these fajãs on São Jorge and they're essentially flat pieces of land beside the sea, historically created by lava flows or debris falling from the high cliffs above. The land on the fajãs is very fertile and so there are lots of things growing here. We'd come to Fajã dos Vimes because there's something rather unusual growing on the outskirts of the small village here. Fajã dos Vimes is home to one of Europe's only coffee plantations So of course, we had to stop at the local cafe and try the coffee! It was really good! And while we were sitting there, the owner offered to give us and another couple a little tour of the coffee plantation. They have around 700 coffee plants here and they harvest them all by hand. We were able to see the coffee beans growing on the plants. They're all green at the moment. They won't turn red and be harvested until March. It was really fascinating to see. And we were able to buy some coffee to take home as well Afterwards, the man also showed us a workshop next door where a couple of ladies do traditional weaving... ...making amazing carpets with patterns like this. It looked like very hard work! We had a second coffee, then had another stroll around the fajã. We were hungry by this point so headed back to the apartment for some food. In the early evening we set out for another walk on the western side of the island. No views of Pico from the path today, but it was a lovely place to walk nevertheless. Everywhere on the Azores is so wonderfully green! Although the weather hasn't been perfect, visiting São Jorge has been fun and the views from our apartment have been amazing. Tomorrow we are moving on again, having our first ferry experience in the Azores with a boat across to Pico!
  10. I set the alarm for 7am this morning so that we'd be up on time for our flight to São Jorge. It didn't feel too early compared to some of the early starts we had when we were in the USA, but it was early enough for us to see sunrise We enjoyed a large breakfast in the hotel before checking out and driving to the airport. We handed back the rental car without any problems, but the rest of Terceira airport turned out to be a bit chaotic. There were multiple inter-island flights departing within minutes of each other and so there was a long queue to check in and drop off baggage. The queue was so long that it actually went outside the airport building! But luckily they did put more staff on the desks to try and get everyone through, so we were ultimately at the gate with plenty of time before our flight. The flight itself was a short one - around 30 minutes - which was good because it was incredibly hot on the little SATA plane. And it really was a little plane! It was around 11am when we arrived on São Jorge and picked up our new rental car. We couldn't check into our apartment until 2pm so our plan was to drive towards Velas, the largest town on the island, which is only a few miles away from the airport. As we drove along the main road towards Velas, we passed a viewpoint called Miradouro das Velas and we had to stop to take a look at the view. Wow! We were looking across the sea to the island of Pico. As you can tell from the photos, the island is defined by its volcano, Mount Pico, which is the highest mountain in Portugal at 2,351m. I think it's often obscured by clouds, so we were lucky to get such a good view of it. We could also see down to the town of Velas, where we were heading next. And further in the distance we could just make out the island of Faial. We drove down into Velas and found somewhere to park, not far from the sea front. More great views of Pico here The town of Velas itself was bright and colourful, but it's pretty small. The total population of the island is less than 8,400 people, so there aren't any big metropolises. We strolled along the sea front for a while and enjoyed the views. There were some bathing pools here which were a bit reminiscent of Biscoitos on Terceira yesterday. The waves weren't quite as big though! I'd read that there was a beautiful natural arch just outside Velas and we soon tracked it down. It was very impressive and the water was a gorgeous shade of blue. My original plan had been to get lunch in Velas but we weren't hungry after our large hotel breakfast, so we decided to explore the western side of the island. We found a small forest park, which was really pretty, and we appreciated the shade on what was quite a hot and humid day. We found another little pond, full of ducks... ...and some ducklings hiding under some bushes too. We started walking along a pleasant trail along the western peninsula of the island. We still had views of Pico as we walked, though it was getting a bit cloudier now. At this point I got a message saying that our apartment was ready to check into, so we decided to turn around and head back to Velas. It's a studio apartment, so not the biggest in the world; in addition to this bed we've got a small kitchenette. The best bit is the terrace though - look at our view! We settled in and enjoyed the air con for a while, before driving back to Velas to stock up on supplies at the local supermarket. We're definitely looking forward to exploring more of São Jorge tomorrow
  11. The benefit of staying in an aparthotel is that breakfast is included, so we made the most of the hotel buffet this morning. I was particularly excited to find that, alongside the usual breakfast offerings, there was a place of mini pastel de nata After breakfast we set off for a road trip around Terceira. We're not staying long on any of the islands, so we wanted to make the most of the time we had, especially when the weather is good. It was quite sunny when we woke up on the coast this morning, but the weather wasn't forecast to be perfect for the entire day. We left the hotel and began driving along the northern coast of the island. I'd read that the northern coast was impressive and before too long we saw a series of viewpoints signposted from the main road. We turned off to investigate one of them. It was a lovely spot and we had a good view of the cliffs. The first scheduled stop on our road trip was a place called Biscoitos. The coast here is quite reminiscent of Mosteiros on São Miguel, with lumps of black lava going down to the sea. It's really quite an unusual landscape. And we could see that there were some big waves crashing against the rocks. As we walked a little further around the coast we came to a bathing area. Some of the waves here were absolutely incredible! We stood for ages watching them splash onto the rocks... ...and trying to catch some action shots. It definitely didn't look like a good day to go swimming! We continued driving around the coast of the island and soon the sea began to look a bit calmer. The next sights we wanted to see were inland though, in the middle of the island, and the weather there wasn't quite so good. As we drove upwards, towards a small lake I'd read was pretty, the weather became increasingly misty. We managed to track down the car park for the lake and then just succeeded in crossing the road before these cows came along! There really are cows everywhere on Terceira! My Azores guidebook recommended against trying to hike on this island because there are so many fields with bulls in too. The area around the lake was ridiculously green. It looked quite atmospheric in the mist and light rain. Bizarrely, there were some chickens and cockerels wandering around all this greenery. The lake itself turned out to be tiny... ...and almost obscured by the low clouds. But there were lots of ducks! And ducklings too The next stop on our road trip sounded really exciting: Furnas do Enxofre. This is another area of volcanic activity, similar to the site we visited near the Furnas lake on Monday. Unfortunately, it was so misty today that we could hardly see anything! We could certainly smell the sulphur in the air and see some scorched earth which very much looked like you wouldn't want to tread on it. But the weather meant it was hard to tell what was steam rising from the earth and what was just general cloud There was one more must-see sight on Terceira that we wanted to visit but for some reason it only opens in the afternoons. We headed back to the hotel for a bit, then set out around 2pm towards Algar do Carvão. This is an ancient lava tube, located in the centre of Terceira. You can climb down several hundred steps, inside what would once have been an active volcano. When you get down to the bottom there's an amazing pool of bright blue water. Actually, we cheated and didn't quite climb down as far as the water; we were conscious of the fact that every step we climbed down we were going to have to climb back up! It was a fascinating place though - it felt like a cave, but a very deep vertical kind of cave. And a very damp cave - we constantly had water dripping on our heads The most spectacular views were arguably on the climb back up to the top, looking upwards towards the entrance. Like everything on Terceira, it was all so green! I'm not sure I'd want to climb up all those steps again but it was an interesting experience and we've definitely had a fun time on Terceira Tomorrow we will be moving on again, with a flight to the island of São Jorge.
  12. We had an early start to the morning today, with the alarm set for 05.30. I'd arranged for us to hand our rental car back at 06.45, ahead of our 08.25 flight to Terceira. We're a little bit nervous about car rental now after a negative experience in Mallorca earlier this year, but today everything went fine; the car was checked and pronounced to be fine and we got a slip to prove that the deposit had been released from Tim's credit card. The advice was to be at the airport 90 minutes before an inter-island flight, but in reality it felt like that might be overkill. We didn't wait more than 5 minutes to drop off our baggage and getting through security was similarly quick, so we had a while waiting around until it was time to board. That did give us time to have a second breakfast in the airport though It's only a short flight from Ponta Delgada to Terceira, so within 35 minutes of taking off we were landing on a new island. How exciting! Our first hour or so was admittedly taken up by not very exciting tasks, like waiting for our bags to come off the carousel and taking photos of our new rental car. But by 10am we were on our way, ready to explore Terceira. Our first stop was a viewpoint called Miradouro da Serra do Cume, which we reached by driving steeply uphill on a single track road. I should say at this point that we're not expecting Terceira to win any prizes as most spectacular island of the holiday. It's the third largest island in the Azores in terms of size and the second in terms of population. We've seen it described as the party island of the Azores, although I think anyone coming here and expecting an Ibiza-style clubbing scene would be sadly disappointed. Mainly it's an agricultural island with vast quantities of green fields. There are also a lot of cows on Terceira, with the mild weather on the island meaning that they can graze outdoors all year long. We even got stuck behind a small herd on our way up to this viewpoint! Once we'd finished admiring the views we drove back downhill, towards the island's main town: Angra do Heroísmo. After parking by the waterfront, we started climbing uphill towards the town centre. On the way we caught sight of this unusual-looking building. It turns out that this is Angra's bullring. Outside there's this rather unusual statue, showing a man being gored by a bull. Bullfighting is popular on Terceira, but it works differently to the traditional Spanish variety. Here, it sounds more like the bulls are let loose in public squares and then the local men try to run away from them. It sounds rather dangerous! And that wasn't the only bull-related statue that we found; as we drove into the town we went around this traffic island, complete with a sculpture of three enormous bulls. Leaving the bulls behind, we turned off towards the town centre. We walked down some pretty little streets... ...and there were some really colourful buildings. We soon found ourselves walking through beautiful gardens. The plants were quite exotic and the weather was so humid today that it felt like we were walking through a hothouse. The colourful building which you can see above the gardens is the Convent of São Francisco, originally founded in the 15th century. The gardens are built on quite a slope - which luckily we were walking down, rather than up. As we did so, we got a glimpse of an interesting church in the distance and decided to walk towards it. We were soon down in the lower part of the town. Everything was really pretty here too. This blue church, Igreja da Misericórdia, was particularly stunning. It was set in a wonderful location, right by the sea. We walked along more pretty little side streets... ...and eventually tracked down the church we'd seen from the gardens. Really stunning! We had lunch in Angra before driving back across the island in the direction of the airport. We're staying in an aparthotel, on the outskirts of a town called Praia da Vitória. Having been up at 05.30 we were quite tired by lunchtime and hoping to check in at 14.00 and have a short nap. But despite that being the permitted check-in time, our room was still being cleaned when we arrived and so we had to wait in the hotel bar until closer to 15.00. Never mind, we've got a nice little apartment with a living area... ...bedroom... ...and sea view So far Terceira has been good. We're looking forward to exploring more tomorrow!
  13. It was another bright sunny day when we woke up in Ponta Delgada this morning, which was good news because we still had a lot of the island that we wanted to see. First on our list was the town of Furnas, on the eastern side of São Miguel. It took us about 45 minutes to drive there. Once we'd parked, we started strolling through the colourful little village. Our route led us across a stream... ...then up a forest road. We passed some beautiful flowers on our way. Our destination was Lagoa das Furnas. Last time we came here we walked all the way around the lake, but that was quite a long way! Today we just wanted to have a bit of a stroll and enjoy the views. Lagoa das Furnas maybe isn't quite as spectacular as the two lakes we visited yesterday, but it's still very pretty. It's another place that seemed a bit busier than when we were here in 2018. We had to pay a €3 entry fee to access the lake area. It was worth it, though. The reason I'm standing staring at the ground here.... ...is because I'm watching this steam coming out of it! The main attraction of Furnas is not the lake, but the volcanic activity. The earth is so hot here that the locals cook stews by putting pots into holes in the ground. The holes belong to different hotels and restaurants and many of them were labelled. We saw a man come to start digging one of them up... ...and there it was Once you've paid your 3 Euros there are a series of little walkways you can follow around the thermal area. Sometimes there was so much steam coming out of the earth that it was difficult to take a photo! In some places we could see the water bubbling like crazy. In other places it was mud that was bubbling. It was definitely a unique place to visit! Once we'd finished admiring the volcanic activity, we walked back into the village of Furnas, having lunch in a cafe there. Yet again, the prices were very reasonable. After lunch we got back in the car and drove towards Nordeste, the most northeastern part of the island. We remembered that there had been some really beautiful viewpoints on this part of the island last time we visited, and we weren't disappointed. June is perhaps a slightly better month to visit for flowers, but it was still really pretty here. And Tim really enjoyed making friends with the local cats! My favourite viewpoint today was Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego. There's a lovely garden here, with lots of plants and trees. And there's some beautiful views of the sea too It's such a beautiful landscape and so green! You can tell there must be a lot of days of rain for everything to look like this Once we'd finished admiring the views, we walked back through the garden to the car and drove home towards Ponta Delgada. Tomorrow we'll be leaving São Miguel behind and flying to our next island of Terceira. We've definitely enjoyed revisiting this island; I think it's been worth the wait
  14. We were tired after our long day of travelling yesterday, so didn't make the world's earliest start to the morning today. Tim went out around 8am in search of an open grocery store, returning shortly afterwards with some breakfast supplies. We hadn't made a firm plan for today because so much on the Azores depends on what the weather is like, but today seemed to be remarkably sunny so we decided to make the most of it and attempt to re-see some of our favourite sights from 2018. There's one viewpoint which is always at the top of our minds when we think about the Azores: Miradouro da Boca do Inferno. When we were here in 2018 we had multiple attempts to see the view from there in the sunshine before finally getting lucky towards the end of our trip. It felt quite off the beaten track back then and we only found it by following instructions in somebody else's blog post. When researching this trip I had read that it was definitely not off the beaten track any more and that turned out to be true. Last time we came, we were more or less the only people parked at the bottom of the road which leads to the viewpoint. Today, that road was closed off and there was a long line of cars parked along the side of the main road. We got the impression that the Azores have been "discovered"! Never mind. After 15 minutes or so of walking down a forest road, we got our first glimpse of the lakes at Sete Cidades. It really is a stunning place From here the trail climbs upwards and it was actually steeper than I'd remembered; fine going up but a bit steep going down. It felt like there'd been some soil erosion since last time we were here. Still an amazing path though! And despite the procession of people going up and down, Tim even managed to get a shot without anyone else in it The views of Setes Cidades from the edge of the viewpoint are incredible. In the left-hand corner of this photo you should be able to make out a second lake too, which is a deeper shade of green. It's a beautiful place but we didn't linger too long because there were other viewpoints we wanted to see while the weather was this clear. We walked back up the forest road towards the car. On the way we spotted a small sign pointing towards Lagoa do Canario and went to explore. This was just a small lake, but it was very very green. A few miles up the road we came to the viewpoint Miradouro da Vista do Rei. This is the more famous of the Setes Cidades viewpoints and there are a couple of large car parks nearby. One of the lakes is blue while the other is supposed to be green, but we couldn't see a huge difference in colour today. The views were still spectacular though and we were even motivated to try taking a selfie We'd parked in a car park which was about 1km away from the viewpoint and as we walked back up the road we passed another couple of gorgeous viewpoints. In the opposite direction we were able to see the sea. And the sea was where we were heading next We wanted to visit Mosteiros, a small village on the northwestern coast of the island. The beach here has been formed by lava flowing down to the sea and solidifying. It's a really unusual landscape to walk around! There was one more part of the island which I really wanted to see in the sunshine: Lagoa do Fogo. This is another stunning crater lake but this part of the island is frequently covered in cloud so it isn't always visible. I was very happy that I got to see it today I could have stood and admired the lake all day but we were getting hungry, so we decided to drive back to Ponta Delgada. After successfully squeezing the car back into the parking garage, we walked into town in the search for somewhere to eat. There weren't many restaurants open at 4pm on a Sunday, but we eventually found somewhere that was still serving. It wasn't quite as cheap as yesterday, with the final price coming in at £49. However, for that we had a three course meal including wine and coffee, so I'm still pretty impressed We tried some cheese from the island of São Jorge to start, then I had a steak and Tim had a meal with chicken. As part of our dessert we also tried a pastel de nata with nutella in the middle, which was quite an experience Overall it's been an amazing day. I suspect most of our other days in the Azores won't be quite so sunny, but today has definitely been a strong start to the holiday!
  15. 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 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 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 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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