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PORTUGAL
Fall 2003

Azores | Madeira | Lisbon | Algarve

SãoMiguel (1) | Terceira | Faial and Pico | São Miguel (2)

We arrived at the airport in Ponta Delgada at 06:00 for our SATA Air Acores flight to the island of Terceira at 07:00. SATA is the carrier to all of the islands as well as to Madeira and the mainland. "SATA International" also operates weekly flights year round between Toronto and the Azores and between Toronto and Lisbon, Porto and Faro. They work with an associated wholesaler named SATA Express in Toronto. Tel: 416 515 7188, Fax: 416 515 0106.

The airport is bright and cheerful and carefully maintained. All the staff from cleaners to security greeted us with "Bom Dia" and a happy smile. The Sata staff was no exception; in addition they were well-groomed and eager to please. The cabin was sparkling clean and the seats good size with decent leg room.

It was a short 35 minute flight to Terceira. Our first stop was to the Quinta da Nasce-Agua on the east side of Angra do Heroismo to drop off our bags. Angra is the largest city of the island and in historical terms is the Atlantic's first European city. It was founded as a result of the Portuguese voyages of discovery and developed because it was one of the axes of the routes that crossed the ocean. UNESCO classified the central zone as a World Heritage site in 1983.

The extinct volcano, Monte Brasil, looms tall at the shore of Angra and is a good place to start a tour of the city with its spectacular overview. The volcano rose from the seabed prior to the formation of most of the island. Its central crater is surrounded by four hills. It forms a peninsula that creates two bays, Fanal and Angra. The large commercial harbor and pretty marina border the shoreline of the city. The hills are covered with the same vegetation as at the time of settlement. A wonderful variety of trees, orchards and vineyards add to the beauty of the scenery which we appreciated as we wound our way to the top.

There was a need to protect the fleets returning from the Indies and America and a decision was made to build a fort (Castle of São Joao Baptista). The strategic position of Monte Brasil, which already had small fortifications, was used and the fort's outline followed the contours of the hill and fulfilled the need to cut off access via the isthmus. The walls stretch for more than 5km and enclose a large portion of the perimeter of Monte Brasil. The fort is still active.

The small old town was established in a grid pattern from the waterfront. Newer construction fans out in all directions. As we walked along Rua da Se with its black and white stone street and black wrought iron balconies we had the feeling we were in Porto. The fact that so many came here on ships from around the world is reflected in the architecture, art and customs. Santissimo Salvador da Se church sits proudly on its raised perch. Contrary to tradition the high alter of the church faces north not toward Jerusalem. This simple elegant place of worship has preserved panels depicting the life of Christ painted on wood on the high alter and a indo-Portuguese lectern made of Brazilian wood and whale ivory which was crafted in the Azores as a faithful testament of the Azores as a cultural meeting point.

Cleanliness is everywhere, not a scrap of litter on the streets and shopkeepers were constantly sweeping and mopping. Most of the buildings were the white with black or gray trim; some were in soft pastel tones of yellow, blue, green, beige or pink. Rua da Palha is an attractive pedestrian shopping street leading to the waterfront. All the narrow old town streets were bustling with activity. Facing the sea is the imposing Misericordia Church. This charitable institution was built in the 18th century on the site that was the original hospital. Two alters face each other, the 'Holy Spirit' to the left and the 'Holy Christ of Mercy' to the right. The design is eclectic and very welcoming.

The Misericordia sits at the corner of Rua Direita which has always been the center of commercial activity. During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries the noble families built their mansions here. Many of the facades are examples of that period's architecture. The building that houses the Tourist Office, with a coat of arms, is a fine representation.
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We drove west along the coast passing many beautiful homes and pristine properties with glorious sea views. In the town of São Bartolomeu we were stopped dead in our tracks by a sweetly designed small building painted in bright blue and yellow. It was an "Imperio" built in 1875. This 'theatre' is opened only for the Feasts of the Espirito Santo (Holy Spirit). The archipelago has deep religious roots heightened by the geomorphology and by the isolation of ages. It has manifestations that go back a long time, the most important of which is the Holy Spirit Festival. The celebration has changed over the years from being very solemn to being much more festive including brass bands. The feasts have different characteristics island to island and from one place to another. They are all based on the crowning of an Emperor and distribution of meat and wine (plus many other types of food) to the needy by the brothers. Every borough has an Imperio, in Terceira there are more than 50. In Terceira the feast takes place from Easter to Pentecost and sometimes until the Trinity.

As in São Miguel there is no building allowed in the middle of the island and they are beginning to limit what can be built at the coast. The rolling hills of agriculture are spotted with attractive trees, plantings and lots of flowers. At the north west coast we stopped at Miradouro do Raminho, a great sea lookout, on our way to the unique villages of Altaras and Biscoitos. Altaras is a gorgeous village over the sea with an Imperio dating back to 1903 which is covered in ceramic tiles. On the other side of the road is the Pantry" decorated all in white. In the village of Biscoitos is an 1872 Imperio with a molding decorated with images of the food served during the festival to Holy Spirit. The Biscoitos Wine Museum is housed in a cellar where the revered "verdelho" is produced. The museum demonstrates the stages of wine production to the storage in wooden barrels. There is a nice display of utensils and tools but alas, no samples. Down at the sea, we came upon our first close up sight of lava rock formations creating natural swimming pools. The village has even put in steps into the pools to make them easy to access. Several bathers were enjoying nature's creation. There's a tiny fishing port adjacent featuring its elongated colorful boats.
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Having had no breakfast we headed back into Angra for lunch at Adega Lusitania, Rua da S.Pedro 63-65, Tel: 295-212-301. It's a cute place with a heavy wood beamed ceiling from which hangs wine jugs, cowbells, farm implements etc. Stone walls surround the dining room and the open kitchen. We nibbled on fresh bread, cheese and olives while waiting for the vegetable soup. We selected a slice of Chopa (halibut) from the fresh fish display which was grilled and served with the customary boiled potatoes, salad and vegetables. Once again, one order was enough for two after the soup.

The Convent of Esperanca and Church of São Goncalo is run by nuns from the Order of St. Clare. The interior of the chapel is stunning because of the richness of the design and decoration. Blue and white historical tiles cover the nave above which wonderful paintings lead the eye upward to the painted ceiling. The high alter has gilded, carved altar panels that are very attractive, but most imposing is the large crucifix made of silver and precious stones. Sister Maria de Lurdes was kind enough to take us on a tour and from the Chapel lead us upstairs to the old Convent area. There are a series of arks along a long wall which the Sister proudly opened one-by-one so that we might see the works of art within. The second floor chapel overlooks the main church chapel and is used for prayer during the day. The chancel and choir stalls are decorated with wonderful figures. Originally the Sisters could not have contact with the public. Sister Maria showed us the area where special visits could happen. The room was divided by a ceiling to floor fence to separate the Sister from the visitor. A new section on the ground floor, with a lovely cloister is where the sisters live today. There are also 20 very nice rooms where needy people can live until they are able to return to life outside the convent. A kindergarten is being built to help children in need.

We headed east from Angra toward Praia da Vitoria, Terceira's second biggest city and its original capital. Linda spotted the Ilheus das Cabras (islands of the goats) off the coast and we stopped for a photo. The two islands have been declared a protected zone. A bit further along is Porto Judeu, a seaside village with gorgeous natural seawater pools. The nearby parish of São Sebastiao is a really sweet spot. In the main square, some of the senior gents were seated on one of the many benches. They greeted us warmly and were delighted when Linda pointed her digital in their direction. The nearby Imperio is very attractive, done with style and grace. Across the way the 15th century church exudes charm and hospitality. The interior walls are covered with the remains of lovely frescoes.

To the north on the east coast is Praia da Vitoria. From the Facho belvedere we had a broad panorama of the city and the surrounding agricultural countryside. The town rests peacefully behind a gorgeous waterfront with a long sandy beach and marina. The main square, Praca Francisco Ornelas da Camara, with its paved stone center surrounded by trees and benches, reflects the tranquility of the Azorean way of life. The adjacent Town Hall and its bell tower are designed in the style of the manor houses built in northern Portugal during the same period and are quite striking. The economy of the city has been greatly helped by the building of a large commercial port and the nearby Lajis Airport.
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The volcanic pit of Algar do Carvao, situated in the interior of the crater of the caldeira of Guilherme Moniz, is located in the center of the island. This volcanic chimney was formed as it did not get completely filled with lava during a volcanic explosion. During the eruption the lava that remained in the chimney drained away. The chimney turned into compact rocks rich in silica, the slow dissolving of which led to the formation of stalactites in the vault and on the walls of the central and deepest chambers. The constant dripping on the floor created massive scattered stalagmites. In the lower part of the pit cave there is a small lake fed by rain infiltration via the mouth of the cavern or through the ground. In the wettest times the depth of water is 15m. In the summer it dries up. The vegetation that covers the inside of the cone is made up of the very specialized habitat of a volcanic chimney (mainly mosses, liverworts and ferns). The large opening at the top allows enough sunlight into the interior to create a stratification of many different communities of vegetation. The mouth of the cavern has a diameter of 15m x 20m, a vertical drop of 45m and a ramp/slope of 18m which terminates in the lake at about 90m. Linda chose to stay at the top and pray for my safe return as I descended the wide, wet stone steps. After getting about 2/3 of the way down, it suddenly dawned on me that I had to climb back up the slippery steep steps. I missed the lake but did appreciate the natural wonder as far as I did descend.

Unfortunately, we missed one of the island's most popular festivities, the street bullfights - maybe next time.

It had been a long day and we were happy to return to the Quinta da Nasce-Agua to relax and enjoy a quiet dinner. E-mail: nasceagua@mail.telepac.pt The Quinta sits on a splendid property with a garden featuring a great collection of botanical species, a pleasant pond and pathways. There's a nice swimming pool and golf is available close by. There are several parlors and sitting rooms throughout, all with fireplaces-very cozy. Our bedroom and bathroom were both very large and like the public rooms furnished with lovely period pieces. The floors are polished wood adorned with area rugs. Our doors opened to a small balcony overlooking the gardens. A very romantic place - particularly if we had enough energy to push the twin beds together.

We were the first to show up at the dining room and were informed that because they had to prepare for a big party the next day they could only offer a set menu which had no appeal to us. After voicing our disappointment they finally agreed to prepare a fish dinner. To make amends, they offered a delicious local brandy which did the job. A tomato cream soup was excellent to start. The Boca Negra fish was nicely grilled with garlic and oil and was delicate and delicious. The boiled potatoes and salad were freshly done and very tasty. The "homemade ice cream' was a cake of chocolate mousse, cream and cookie and was pretty good. It started poorly, but ended well.
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