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Fall 2003

Azores | Madeira | Lisbon | Algarve

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

Our SATA flight from Horta to Ponta Delgada took 15 minutes less than the scheduled 1 hour time and we arrived at l9:25, in time to check back in at the Holiday Inn ((now Lince Hotel Azores) and walk down the street for dinner. Marisqueira Açores, R. Engº José Cordeiro 20, Tel. 296 35093, was completely filled when we arrived and there was a considerable waiting line. The aroma, ambience and huge tank of lively crabs at the entrance were so inviting we gave our name and settled in on a comfortable stool at the long attractive zigzag bar to enjoy an Angelos Bairrada red wine. The attentive staff made us feel very comfortable and kept us updated on the waiting time. We were seated about 30 minutes later, at 21:15, and the waiting line was still growing.

This is the kind of homey place where you are quickly on a first name basis with the staff. The friendly owner, José, sets the tone. Our waiter, Anibal, made a marvelous meal a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Our shrimp starter was awesome - nice size beauties with the right crunch resting in a luscious hot garlic sauce. The mild fresh cheese was served with a hot sauce that added another dimension to the taste of the cheese. The menu choices were predominantly seafood with a good selection of meat dishes and soups and omelets for lighter meals. We were in the mood for arroz de marisco (seafood and rice) and enjoyed a perfect rendition of this traditional favorite. This was the ideal combination of fresh herbs, lobster, clams, mussels and shrimps in a pot with rice, cooked to order. A Terras de Lava white was just right for this meal. The house made flan and amazing local pineapple plus a house offered liqueur (grappa like) sent us happily on our way, but not before making reservations for the next night to try some of those mystery shellfish goodies we'd seen arriving at nearby tables.

An excellent buffet breakfast is served in the cheerful dining room surrounded by high windows with daylight pouring in. For the healthy eaters there was a selection of fruits, breads, cereals and as you chose to move up the fat scale there were lots of eggs, meats and cheeses. We chose a middle route with tastes of almost everything - research, you know.

Today we would head to the western part of the island. As we climbed the green mountains from the seashore, the views of sea behind and the valleys below alternated as we twisted around. We came to two preserved park areas, Lagoa Empadada and Lagoa do Carvao, the former was closed but fortunately the latter was open. Again a spectacular forested area with picnic and barbecuing areas and trails for walking and hiking. There are extraordinary views from the high point at Lagoa do Canario of the sprawling mountains, valleys and lakes all around. A little further along we stopped dead in our tracks at the sight of a huge green crater surrounded by uniform rings of trees and shrubs in the middle of which is the green waters of Lagoa de Santiago. Just when we thought this string of beauty could not be matched we arrived at Lagoa das Sete Cidades. At Vista do Rei (so called because King Carlos and Queen Amelia stopped here in 1901 to view the lakes) we had our look at the "blue" and "green" lakes side by side separated by a bridge. Legend has it that a princess and a shepherd met here and fell in love. They were forced to separate, but swore their love on the bridge. The Princess' tears formed the blue lake and the shepherd's tears the green one. In reality the variance in color is caused by the spectacular vegetation surrounding the lakes and the sky which changes constantly with passing clouds. There are lower points to view this phenomenon and as we descended the sky cleared and the contrast of the blue and green was bright and vivid. This scene combined with the giant bowl of the crater in thousands of shades of green and a cloak of hydrangeas and cryptomerias will always be etched in our memory.
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At the coast the lookout point at Ponta do Escalvado offered fantastic views of the neighboring coastline as far away as the jutting rocks of the village of Mosteiros a bit north. Linda's digital camera was smoking today.

Before heading back to Ponta Delgada we zipped over to Vila Franca to visit a pineapple plantation, Ananses A. Arruda. The pineapple (Ananassa Sativus, Lindl) grown in greenhouses on São Miguel originally came from Central and South America and was brought to the island as a decorative plant, around the middle of the 19th century. The greenhouses are rectangular, covered by glass and whitewashed forming a roof of approximately 33 degrees and heated only by sun. There are skylights that control the temperature and ventilation. The 1st step is the planting of the bulbs 10cm apart. Once the shoots appear they are allowed to grow 6 months before being transplanted into larger greenhouses 50cm-60cm apart. After 3 or so months a smoking operation takes place that forces all the plants to flower at the same time. The complete growing period from planting to picking takes 18-24 months. The fruit is exquisite and we consumed plenty at breakfasts and for dessert at other meals.

Ponta Delgada started life as a simple fishing village and soon became the main port of the island. In l546 it was granted city status over Vila Franca, until then the capital. An artificial harbor was needed for safe shipping and a sea wall was started in 1861 and not completed until 1965. This allowed the establishment of many industries and an increase in sea traffic which made it the Azores' principal port and today its biggest and most important city, with a busy economic and cultural life.

The Avenida Infante Dom Henrique runs along the waterfront and defines the profile of the city. The Praca Goncalo Velho Cabral at this Avenue is the center of the city. The attractive square is flanked by imposing colonnaded buildings (mostly banks) and at the north end stands the City Gates consisting of three arches and displaying the double coat of arms of the king and the city on the central pediment. Nearby is the statue of the man for whom the square was named, the first administrator or donatary captain of this island and Santa Maria. The nearby Parish Church of São Sebastiao is quite beautiful. The main facade has an elaborate Manueline doorway. The south facade doorway is Renaissance style and the north facade with small columns and majestic bell tower are from the Manueline period. The Town Hall is quite attractive with a flight of stairs along the facade leading to a bell tower and diamond points decorating the lintels of doors and windows. The original Synagogue still stands in a plain front building in the middle of a residential street, Rua Brum, 14-16. Unfortunately we could not make contact with the man who looks after the Synagogue and has the keys.
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We proceeded west on Rua do Mello passing an 18th century noble residence, Casa de Carlos Bicudo, with fine basalt ashlar masonry. Mello becomes Rua Luis S. Sousa which leads into Praca 5 de Outubro, formerly Campo de São Francisco, which is the traditional site for military parades and festivals. The large square is surrounded by ancient pohutukawa trees and neat flowerbeds and in the middle is a picturesque bandstand. On one side of the Praca is the Convent and Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca. In the Church the lower choir is lined with historiated ceramic tiles which leads into the chapel dedicated to Senhor Santo Cristo. The image is surrounded by gilded carvings and the walls are lined with attractive ceramic tiles. We entered the convent thru the stone cloister. The small Chapel does not have seating. There are tiled walls with only a floor candelabra leading to the alter area with an eclectic mix of decorations. Blue/white/yellow tiles grace the walls. The windows are covered by lace curtains and fresh flowers surrounded the front of the alter. It is best described as cheerful and warm and very conducive to prayer. On another side of the square is the Church of São Jose, which boasts intricate gilded wood work, stunning altarpieces in the side chapels and a beautiful painted ceiling.
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Across the way at the waterfront is the Castle of São Bras, built to defend the city against pirates and privateers. The original octagonal structure has been maintained and is now used by the military. It is slated to become a military museum. We left ourselves lots of the old town to discover which will serve as added incentive to return.

After a bit of rest and refreshing we returned to Marisqueira Açores for our 20:00 reservation. Our man Anibal greeted us warmly and showed us to our table. Our goal tonight was to sample shellfish native to these waters and to try the naturally raised Azorean meat. The cheese, hot sauce, and wonderful bread appeared immediately to whet the appetite. I needed a red wine fix for health purposes and ordered a Montado from Alentejo which was full bodied, fruity and smooth. The first offering was "Cracas", that comes from deep waters and is broken off of rocks in big chunks and then further broken into smaller manageable pieces. The barnacled shells project tube-like cavities inside of which are tiny morsels of a delicate white flesh, which are removed with a thin metal hooked utensil. The Cracas are boiled in salt water with a bit of hot pepper. This was pure heaven, the tastiest offering ever pulled out of a shell. The flesh is tender and sweet and combined with the salt water and bit of heat could be habit-forming. We will probably go back to the Azores just for Cracas. "Lapas", clam-like limpets, depends on the preparation of butter, garlic, and black pepper to enhance their natural sea flavor, another worthy repeat.

The local lobster was served cold with mayonnaise and a delicious sauce of Onion, garlic, olive oil and herbs on the side. The firm meat was tender and sweet, and the sauce was an exquisite complement. After resting and reliving every mouthful we were served the recommended "Naco", a filet mignon. Words again fail me. Yes it cut with a fork, yes the natural flavor of the meat shone thru, yes the natural flavor was subtly enhanced by the wine, butter, olive oil and garlic mixture that was brushed on, yes it was grilled medium rare as ordered, and yes we could eat this meat everyday. Yes we will return just for the meat. We rarely go to a restaurant two nights in a row, but Marisqueira Açores is that kind of place. We wished we had a third night there but Madeira awaited us.
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