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Part One | Part Two | Part Three
SAO MIGUEL, AZORES
It's mid-March, 2012 and we are
standing on our sun filled balcony high above the port
and marina of Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal
watching the pleasure craft, fishing and commercial boats
bobbing in the sparkling dark blue, emerald and turquoise
waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. We are immersed in
fond thoughts of our delicious two months stay. We will
be returning to Toronto later today.
The Azores archipelago is located
1500km from the European Coast and 3900km from the North
American Coast. In 1976 Portugal declared it an
Autonomous Region of Portugal. We came for short visits
in 2003, 2006 and 2011 visiting the islands of Terceira, Faial,
Pico and Sao Miguel, each of which has a special charm
and character. Most of our time was spent on Sao Miguel
which we came to love.
During our 10 day stay last year we
realized that this would be an ideal place to hunker down
for a few winter months and we rented an apartment in the
Solmar Avenida Tower on Avenida Infante D. Henrique, the main
boulevard along the ocean front called "Avenida".
There is a two level shopping center featuring a long
line of cafes on the ground level facing the marina
across the way. The comfortable covered patios are a
great place to people watch, enjoy reasonably priced
lunches and to our delight a large variety of soups daily.
also on Facebook, based in Ponta Delgada, has direct
flights from Toronto to Ponta Delgada that take five and
one half hours. The time difference is only four hours.
Easy on the body, a very good reason to come here any
time of the year.
Sata also has direct flights from
Boston. There are scheduled flights between the islands,
to Madeira, mainland Portugal, and key European
destinations. They also have links with Westjet Airlines
in Canada as well as tour operations in Canada (Sata
Express) and the United States (Azores Express). It's
easy to combine a trip to the Azores and other
destinations. We have flown Sata many times, have always
been on time and enjoyed excellent, friendly service on
the ground and in the air. Their Airbus aircraft are
nicely appointed and well kept. The food, wine and beer
as well as non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary.
We do not like the cold Canadian
Winter nor do we like the extreme heat of the southern
hemisphere. The year round temperate climate of the
Azores is ideal. The median temperatures range from 16C
in the winter to 24C in the summer. We enjoyed sunshine
and blue skies with temperatures at 15C to 17C every day.
It was glorious.
Our attitude is that this is our
home and we will live our normal life and adapt to the
local lifestyle and culture. What makes it really work
for us is the kindness and caring of the islanders. We
have been fortunate to have made friendships with some
remarkable people who have generously shared their lives,
traditions and the secrets of their island with us. Thank
you Joao and Helena, Joao and Iva, Beatriz, Fatima, Ana
and our old friends Joao and Luisa from Lisbon, who came
to spend a week-end with us. You will note that all the men are "Joao",
the most popular male name in Portugal. Lucky for us the
ladies are not all named "Maria", the most
popular female name...
The city of Ponta Delgada is level
and almost rectanglar and about 3km long. Its five
centuries of history developed along the bay it overlooks
and reflects the diversity of the city where tradition
lives harmoniously with modernity.
The old industrial oceanfront has
been converted to a space of leisure welcoming visitors
and islanders. "Portas do Mar was inaugurated
on July 5, 2008 with a maritime terminal for cruise ships
and inter islands ferries. We saw four cruisers,
including the maiden voyage of the newest in the Disney
Line. The morning arrivals and evening departures are
always a draw. Some passengers are whisked away for
island tours while others elect to roam the city.
Portas do Mar also has a
recreational marina with an overall capacity of 440 boats,
with its respective support areas (changing rooms,
reception, storage, etc.), a pool and its support
building, an underground car park for 200 vehicles, a
large amphitheatre, a pavilion (Pavilhão do Mar), about
four thousand square feet, for exhibitions and cultural
events, as well as a garden along the seaside promenade.
This new development is physically
connected to the old marina of Ponta Delgada and its
respective services. There is a broad range of shops that
exist in the commercial galleries, such as the diverse
restaurants, bars, a bank, Azorean crafts and gift shops,
travel agency, rental car, beauty center, pharmacy,
cosmetics and fragrance shop, sporting goods, whale
watching, and other activities.
All of our daily
needs were in easy walking distance and we never tired of
wandering the handsome sidewalks and narrow streets of
the old city center. (If the legs give out, there are
three mini-bus lines, A,B,C that service the city center.)
The churches, monasteries and manor houses that were
built in the 17th and 18th centuries define the essence
of the historic center. New highrise apartment buildings
and hotels have risen to the east and west of the center.
The old and new enjoying life together.
We did the bulk of our household
shopping at Continente Supermercado located in the Parque
Atlantico Shopping Center a fifteen minute walk from our
apartment. The assortment is huge, the prices are right
and the service is incredible. The shopping center is on
two levels and has a nice array of fashion stores. The
gelato at "Ice Dream" near the food court is
pretty darn good. But for the habit forming variety run,
do not walk to the kiosk "Puiosque Tome"
located on Avenida in front of the far west end of the
Portugal Telecom building. The soft ice cream here is
made with real milk and intense flavors. There is always
vanilla and chocolate, fruit flavors change daily. We
would never have found our way there or had interest in
this style without Helena's recommendation.
In front of the center is the Sao
Joaquim Cemetery. The impressive monuments and grounds
are beautifully kept. Photos of the deceased are encased
in protective frames with a visor to prevent fading.
There is a small church in the middle and a cremetorium
at the north end.
In contrast to the modern shopping
center we loved our almost daily trips to the "Old
Mercado", minutes from home. There is nothing like
the aroma of freshness and the shopping tumult to
stimulate the senses. The fisherman drop off their catch
early in the morning. The farmers refresh their stands
daily and the cheese shop has the best choices by far.
They encourage tastings and we usually opted for one of
the famous cheeses from the island of Sao Jorge which are
delicious. Toward the end of our stay we decided to try
one from, Sao Miguel, which was sensational - a bit like
an aged Canadian Cheddar. The island-grown pineapples and
bananas are always piled high. (There are two pineapple
plantations in Ponta Delgada that welcome visitors; Coop. Profrutos
and the family-owned Plantacao de Ananas A. Arruda.). The
pineapples are grown in greenhouses in three stages in
"warm beds" without relying on fertilizers and
pesticides. The small sweet bananas grow everywhere, from
large producers to private gardens.
Speaking of local
products, because of the orange crises in the second half
of the 19th century, growers looked for alternative crops.
One of those was tea which was introduced in the 1870s.
Today there are two tea plantations, both of which
welcome visitors. Cha Porto Formoso sits on a spectacular
site overlooking the coastline. Lovely gardens lead to a
comfy patio. Just inside we were shown a video about the
history of the company followed by a tour of the factory.
The equipment is new, state of the art. We finished with
a sampling in a picturesque dining room. The other is
Gorreana which we have visited and written about
Cows are everywhere. They wander
freely in the manicured lush natural grazing pastures
that dominate the land. They produce outstanding dairy
and meat products, both major industries for the island,
which we enjoyed in one form or another on a daily basis.
Another major product is canned
tuna. Greenpeace has proclaimed the tuna caught in the
archipelago waters to be the greenest in the world.
Filets are offered in a variety of ways, the most common
being with olive oil. The "Santa Catarina"
brand from the island of Sao Jorge is famous for canning
them with unusual ingrediants such as sweet potatoes and
oregano. After reading about these two in the Sata
Magazine we were intriqued. The only place we could find
that had them was the wonderful wine shop "A Vinha"
at Av. Infante D. Henrique, 49 just a few steps from our
home. Fresh grilled tuna (albacore) is available in most
restaurants and not to be missed.
Every bar and restaurant has
locally-brewed Melo Abreu Cervejaria on tap which was our
beverage of choice. The local red house wines are cheap,
cheerful and a fine choice when not in a beer mood. The
whites from the island of Pico are excellent and quite
Fresh white cheese with a hot red
sauce and crusty dense bread is a basic to start every
meal, at home or out. We were told the cheese is easy to
make. The first step was to find a round "form",
the right diameter and sturdy. The few we found did not
meet our criteria. We were walking along Rua Dos
Mercadores and passed a large open doorway and caught a
glimpse of shiny metal objects. We discovered, "Metalatoaria
Acoreana". They craft steel products, from oil lamps,
lanterns, milk jugs (tiny to large), sauce dishes to
fittings for home and industrial needs. Question; do you
have forms for making fresh cheese? Answer; what size?
Yes they had the perfect one! we also bought tiny milk
jugs for the gang back home. We walk this street every
day and Rui is usually there waving hello.
Another serious contributor to the
island's economy is Perola da Ilha.
Our snack food of choice was shell peanuts, favorite
brand, Perola da Ilha. When possible, they source locally,
and also import all kinds of nuts and snack goodies that
they process, package and distribute. In recent years
they have developed a line of frozen foods that has
become quite popular. Do we know how to pick a winner?
When our hair became shaggy we made
salon shopping an important part of our daily walks. It's
a challenging roll of the dice. Our problem was solved
over coffee one morning with our friend Beatriz whose
judgement we always found to be right on. She recommended
the salon "Visos" which was just around the
corner at Largo de S.Joao, 6A. Manuela and Patricia are
sweet, talented and fun - we were happy campers with
great cuts and professional hair coloring.
Feeling pretty good about ourselves
we headed over to Hotel Marina Atlantico for lunch in the bright, airy dining room
overlooking the marina. We had a very comfortable 10-day
stay here last year and enjoyed the outrageous buffet
breakfast and on one occasion a delightful late lunch. We
started with smoked salmon on toasts, creamed crab in a
pastry shell and local ham and melon. Our main course was
abrotea, a delicate white fish often battered and fried,
this version was lightly roasted and served on a bed of
freshly steamed vegetables - wonderful! We shared
chocolate cake and apple pie with ice cream for dessert.
Garotos (espressos with hot milk) to finish. Obviously we
skipped dinner that night.
Tradition binds all together. We
were fortunate to be around for Festival, Carnival and
the visit of the Romeiros of Sao Miguel. Festival is a
celebration of men, women and children, each separately.
The guys and gals each make the restaurant and bar owners
very happy. The children dress in colorful costumes and
gather in Praca Goncalo Velho Cabral (the center of the
city) and in front of the adjacent Parish Church of Sao
Sebastiao. It's party time with music, dancing, fun and
games and it doesn't take long to spread along all the
side streets. The clean up crews worked late to remove
the confetti and litter. This city and this island are
immaculate, a credit to the pride of the people.
The highlight of
Carnival is the water fight along Avenida. We were warned
not to go to the street so we stayed on our balcony high
above the action and were very happy we paid attention to
the warning. Open trucks filled with young people drove
back and forth and when they passed threw plastic bags of
water at each other which exploded on contact. People on
the sidewalks also threw bags at those on the trucks who
responded in kind. Lots of very wet participants and
streets. It was hilarious. The video Linda took from our
balcony is on Facebook.
We saw the Romeiros of Sao Miguel
last year. The tradition goes back hundreds of years. The
pilgrims come from all around the world. They walk the
island roads for 8 days, with humility, during the months
of February and March. They travel clockwise in groups of
dozens, from dawn to dusk.They carry a staff and a rosary,
a scarf around their neck, a bag and shawl on their backs.
As night falls they are given shelter by families that
offer dinner and some hours of sleep. It's through prayer
that they free themselves from the burdens of the world.
Some have been pilgrims for 2 or 3 decades consecutively.
Some are pilgrims once, as if they had done it forever.
Faith does not change it's a life commitment. We first
saw them this year from our balcony arriving at the
Church of Sao Pedro and then many times around the city
and on the roads of the island.
Valentines Day is very special here.
Lots of love and faith. They even have flashing hearts
imbedded in the traffic lights for the day.
Part One | Part Two | Part Three
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