Category Archives: world travel

Wednesday April 27, Trip to Furnas

Wednesday was an all-day Futurismo tour to Furnas. This proved to be a van tour, with 8 passengers and Trine as tour guide. We took the east-north highway over towards Ribiera Grande. Then further east to visit one of the two tea plantations on the island.

13903339_10103168677930876_6623881498237559308_nThe stop at the Che Guerrera tea plantation was neat – we saw rows of tea planted on the hillside, and displays inside a building showing the different steps in separating tea leaves from twigs, and the process distinguishing green tea from black tea (same leaves, just more oxidation makes it black!). There were people working, sorting and boxng teas for sale. We stopped in the gift shop and purchased a couple of varieties to take home.

13882414_10103168675675396_5558257436466246575_n Clare has an amazing knack for photography, and got some great shots with her I-phone of the tea plantation and the hillside around it.

13912508_10103168675944856_3859169919787279618_nThen we reloaded and drove down across the island towards Furnas. Furnas (pronounced “furnish”) is related to the English word “furnace” – there are active volcanic features in this part of the island.

We had the chance to walk around the edge of the Furnas lake, ending at the mudpots. 13654127_10103168675515716_8404717670343564809_nThe heat of the mudpots is used to make a traditional stew with beef, potatoes and other vegetables. After cooking in buried pots in the morning, it is hauled to local Furnas restaurants for lunch, and our tour had reservations at a restaurant featuring this specialty.   I was in the slowest walking group, and we narrowly missed seeing our lunch being pulled out the steaming mudpots. While others lingered over the wooden paths weaving around the active mudpots, as someone who has lived in Wyoming and frequented the mudpots in that national park, I wasn’t as impressed.

13698061_10103168675585576_297996122728372037_oWe had to reboard the van, because lunch itself was actually back in town, at a restaurant with a large dining room. Two huge platters of meat, potatoes, carrots and cabbage were brought for the main course, this traditional cooking style. We also feasted on, of course, fresh bread and cheeses, wine or fruit juice or water to drink. Clare and I stuffed ourselves – as did everyone.

13872791_10103168676284176_7171459776939127120_nAfter lunch the tour visited the viewpoint in town where the calderas are located. From one spot we could view steaming mud pots in town. At another there was a place where villagers were filling their water bottles with spring water.

13912885_10103168676543656_8412766774446313637_nFinally we headed to the Botanical Garden, where we had choices of what parts of the garden to walk in, or to spend part or all of the time in the shallow thermal pool.  The gardens had been established in the 1800s by a wealthy man who wanted to establish a world famous, English style garden.  I was more interested in the native plants, but he had brought in all kinds of exotics.  Clare took some photos of the flowering bushes and then captured a photo of some of the koi in the pond. 13882162_10103168676164416_4597898243764878250_n

13892270_10103168676383976_8140181874648750570_nAfter touring a small part of the garden, we went back to the thermal pool. Since my grandparents used to run “Utah Hot Springs” when I was a child, and we later enjoyed the thermal pools at Thermopolis in Wyoming, getting my now senior citizen body into a swimsuit and into a thermal pool that smelled of sulfur and would discolor my suit was not appealing. However, Clare got into the shallow, large pool, and two other couples from our tour also tried it out. I sat on the ledge, just soaking my feet, which felt good. Clare was glad her suit was dark navy, as the water discolors white and light colored swim suits!

It seemed like too short a time at the Botanical Garden before it was time to reload into the van and return to Ponta Delgada. We returned along the southern coast, so it was a slightly different route. We’d made friends on the tour with an older couple also from New York State, originally from Long Island but now living about 2 hours away. We liked everything about them except their political views (very conservative, right wing), so took their suggestion and tried out an Italian restaurant in downtown Ponta for dinner that night. The other New Yorkers had thought the much younger waitress was probably an Eastern European immigrant wife of the older restaurant owner and chef, which we also thought was the case. She didn’t speak Italian or English, and as we didn’t speak Portuguese, our efforts to ask about menu items didn’t work out really well! Our food was good – but as New Yorkers, we’ve had great Italian food, so having it just be “all right” was a let down. But it was a nice change from the steak and potatoes we’d had.

When we got back to our B&B, the other 2 women guests had arrived. Pilar was originally from Spain and was a teacher, and Emmanuelle was a librarian at the Sorbonne in Paris. We all stayed up late talking and drinking wine with our hostess Susana and her daughter – with most of the conversation in English and French, with a little Spanish and Portuguese thrown in. This ended up being the only evening we were all around and in a mood for conversation – our first 2 nights in Sao Miguel we were jet-lagged and had gone to bed early; the French women were off each day and evening seeing the sights and didn’t socialize after that first night.

 

Amtrak Lakeshore Express

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There is a Cafe Car on this Lakeshore Express Amtrak train that offers beverages, chips, hot dog or hamburger. Or, down one more car is the Dining car, which offers different menus for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Since reservations had been made & the dining car was pretty fully booked, I was seated across from a young man from Rochester who is on his way to Boston to a conference.  Adam enjoyed a sirloin burger, while I tried out the daily special of BBQ pork shanks & mashed potatoes. Both dishes came with opening appetizers of marinated vegetables and sliced fruit.

Two women were seated across the aisle from me, and asked if I would use their phone to take their picture. This is their first train trip. Another older couple got seated at their table across from them. They are from California and travelled overnight through Colorado, then a 2nd overnight from Chicago heading east. After seeing NYC, including the new Ground Zero museum they will take another train down to DC.  They’ll fly back to the West Coast from there. My seat mate back in the coach car is a student at Geneva heading home to Boston for the weekend. He plans to drive his car back. Such an intriguing cross-section of folks from around the States.

As an extrovert, it’s easy for me to talk to strangers and find out a little of their story. But the train is perfect for introverts – there’s no need to talk at all. I spent most of the time looking out the window at passing scenery, checking where the train was on an Amtrak app that showed progress along the route, and checking email and social media on my smartphone. The passenger seats on the train are about 4 inches wider than on a plane, recline more, and it’s easy to walk around… like down to the Café Car for snacks.

Trip to the Azores!

 

(Looking out train window… trees in Upstate New York still haven’t leafed out yet)

I was going to fly to the French Caribbean with a relative when she had a week off at the end of April. But due to the zika virus, those plans were cancelled and we get to visit the Azores instead. I made the arrangements, keeping in mind the countries and types of places Clare had said she’d like to go to, and trying to find reasonable airline tickets. SATA was offering reasonably priced flights to the Portuguese Azores Islands, and some friends had taken a wonderful “trekking” trip to the Madeiras just 2 years before. So I booked our flights, having a vague idea that we were flying to islands somewhere off the coast of Portugal.  Then, when we looked at a map, we realized we were flying to a tiny little dot in the Atlantic Ocean! I guess the Azores are 900 or 1000 miles off the coast of Portugal.

Apparently when whaling ships were being built near Boston, Portuguese from the Azores helped to build them. Azores Airlines offers direct flights between Logan International and Sao Miguel Island, with connections on to Lisbon or to the Madeira Islands. Clare is going to meet me in Boston tomorrow for our overnight flight. But I decided to start my trip by taking Amtrak between Syracuse and Boston. I haven’t been on a cross country train trip since 1988 when I traveled between  Chicago and Santa Fe  (Lamy really).

Trains got a little fancier in the last 30 years (although not as advanced as Europe or Japan). Nice padded, reclining seat, electricity to recharge my phone or other electronic devices. I’m going to go check out the dining car, since it’s lunch time!

My Last Day in Martinique

 

Although I’d figured out to turn the A/C up to 26C, which was more comfortable for sleeping, I still didn’t sleep well Thursday night because the stupid roosters crowed in the middle of the night! Ah well, as a woman over 60, I needed to use the bathroom again anyway, but it was hard to get back to sleep. When it was early light around 6:30 AM, and I was awake again, I thought about getting up and seeing the beach in the early morning, but decided I was on vacation to relax and refresh myself, not push myself, so returned to bed after drinking some juice.
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So my last day in Martinique I didn’t get up till mid-morning – 9 AM Caribbean time, 8 AM New York time, and headed out to enjoy a petit dejeuner. There was a bakery with croissants and other breads, but I wanted a real breakfast. This was the time I sat down at an open air café table and perused the menu in French, both trying to translate what the menu items were, and trying to decide how hungry I was. I settled on the petit dejeuner Americaine – which had 2 eggs, ham, half baguette, croissant & beurre plus jam, jus locale and hot beverage. When the waitress brought my plate, I about fell over. My petit-dejeuner was anything but petite. It was huge. Since it was getting close to 10 AM, I decided this would be a big meal for me and consider it brunch. I took my time tackling my food, and still couldn’t eat it all, but it was tasty and filling.

After breakfast I walked the block back to my apartment, and changed to a swimsuit top but long loose pants to protect my legs from sunburn.  Since my feet were already hurting,  I ventured back out to the shop area to buy sandals without a strap between the toes, where I’d developed blisters. That was when I found the white Birkenstocks with wide straps across the top of the foot. With my feet more comfortable, I walked down towards the beach by way of the small grocery, purchased a couple more cold juice drinks, then crossed the street to the beach cut through and found a place on the sandy beach shaded by a palm tree. The view is of many anchored sailboats out in the Bain du Port du France, with the capitol city across the water in the distance. The beach area isn’t very wide, but vacationers took advantage of every inch of it, lying on towels or white lounge chairs. My skin is sensitive, so I didn’t want to get direct sunlight or go in the water,  I just enjoy hearing and watching the waves roll in, and observing adults and children relaxed and playing.
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Close by me was a family from some French speaking country, with brothers about 7 and 10, I’d guess, who chased each other into the water, and had a splashing contest. I think the darker haired one was “Igor” from hearing his mother call to him. The mother wanted them to leave but the boys talked the parents into staying longer. A little girl about 3 with floater wings on her arms, and swim bottom but no top, was entertained first by a long gray haired older woman, then by a dark haired younger one, whom I took to be her grandmother and her mother. Lots of people strolled down the beach in both directions, both older retired couples and young couples. Sometimes men would be walking with each other and a few times women were walking together – it was impossible to know if they were friends walking along – perhaps wives of close friends who’d left their husbands somewhere else on the beach, or lovers. It didn’t matter.

It also didn’t matter what kind of beach body was stuffed into scraps of fabric that passed as a swim suit. There were some very large, and some very obese bodies enjoying the sun and the water. I didn’t want to take a photo of any of them because it seemed rude. Even if I didn’t say anything to them, to have the internal intention of taking someone’s photo because I found them extremely overweight seemed like it would put a negative vibration out into the universe.

There were also a lot of people who didn’t seem to care that they were getting burned – turning lobster red even. One older gentleman who appeared in his 70s, had a fair complexion and ended up red on his front side, still white on his back. While on American beaches I’m used to seeing folks slathering on sun screen and being careful about getting too dark a tan, let alone burning, I didn’t see as many precautions against sun exposure by the French on the plage of Anse Mitan. I also saw a lot of older people whose skin was leathery and wrinkled, making it evident their disregard of sun exposure had been a long term attitude for them.
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I finished both fruit juice drinks, and as my shade from the palm tree shifted, finally moved to walk down the beach, trying to walk in the wet sand as close to the water as I could without having a wave get my pants wet. I thought about heading back to the apartment, but chose instead to walk the opposite direction down the beach, walking along where the waves had just receded, letting my poor blistered feet feel the comfort of wet sand. At one end of the public beach near a quay I got a Coke at a restaurant bar. It was late afternoon, so I walked a little way and “borrowed” someone’s vacant beach lounging chair. Apparently you had to pay to have the chair and a towel, but it was the end of the day, after 5:30 PM, and people were leaving. I enjoyed a conversation with a 20 something French woman next to me. A large group close by sounded Italian… even though I didn’t understand a single word they said, their gestures and intonation were very different from the French I heard from everyone else. And the men and women seemed to be in better physical shape, as if they were conscientious about working out and keeping their middle aged bodies toned.
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After about 20 minutes, an attendant began gathering up chairs & towels to put them away for the night, and everyone left had to move. I went back up to the restaurant, connected with a hotel, asking to see a dinner menu and when dinner would be served. Not for another hour – at, of course, sept heures. I went down the steps and walked down the beach for a bit, watching the remaining beach goers in the late afternoon take a last dip in the ocean or begin to gather up their beach gear. Along with several others lingering near the water, I tried to take some photographs as the sun set.
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Rather than walk back to the apartment, I decided I would indeed have my last dinner at the hotel restaurant. I got back about 6:30 PM, and ended up watching a film being made at a nearby table at the bar. A young couple were being given directions in English to pretend they’d just seen a parade, and to say they liked the vibe on Martinique, and were about to go to St. Lucia – via catamaran. The director was giving such insipid directions, and the young woman and man playing a couple were spouting such generalized and banal dialogue that it was painful to listen to. Several takes were made, and after yet another comment that it was “Awesome” I muttered something trying not to make it sound like an episode of “The Bachelor.” My comment was, of course, unappreciated.
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When dinner was finally served, it turned out there was a buffet in addition to the menu items, so, since I was quite hungry, decided it would be quicker to just eat from the buffet. I chose a table near the edge of the open air restaurant above the beach so I could still hear the waves and look out across the water. The salad bar line was long, so I started my meal with ribs, chicken, rice and vegetables. I followed the main course with salad, then tried two of the desserts. A glass of white wine was a nice accompaniment… forget the hard liquor. There were several cats roaming the floor of the restaurant, and I was amused when an older woman at a nearby table ended up feeding a tiger cat from her plate. The cat was long and lean and very polite, stretching out to nibble the proffered tidbits out of the woman’s fingers.
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I walked slowly back down the beach towards my T2 near Creole Village for as long as I could, before cutting over to the street. I was sad that it was already my last night in Martinique and I had to leave early in the morning. Once back, I packed by suitcase for the next day, enjoyed my last hot shower, and retired early to bed – wanting to get up by 4:30 AM to make sure I had time to get to the airport and through security for my flight home.

 

 

Women Who Buy Shoes

I can’t believe I came to Martinique and bought shoes.

A daughter who lives in New York City was upset when her puppy chose to chew on – you guessed it – her designer heels. I’m now a senior citizen. Not only do I NOT care about designer heels, I don’t care for heels at all. I don’t know how those young women can walk around NYC in stilettos, and think they’re crazy. Especially with all the grates in the sidewalks. I gradually stopped wearing high heels as I got older, and gave them up completely in my 50s. Then, after breaking a bone at the bottom of my foot, I gave up even low heels. I now wear running shoes or other shoes that support my feet.

For my trip to Martinique, I brought an older pair of white running shoes and flip-flops. But, it turns out the older pair of running shoes are getting worn down and were hurting my feet after walking around all day. So I switched to the flip flops. Only I ended up with blisters where the stupid thong fits between the big toe and next toe, and also sores where the plastic rubbed the tops of my feet.

Old women have different priorities from younger ones. While my daughter cares about style, I just wanted shoes that didn’t hurt my feet! I decided I couldn’t last even the one remaining day of vacation, so hobbled over to the shopping district in search of comfortable shoes. Most of the shops had swim suits and more flip flops; I found one store that carried a few pairs of patterned canvas high tops that looked like they were meant for skateboarders. Finally I found a store that had Birkenstock sandals with 2 straps across the foot and nothing between the toes. They were 49 euros, but I probably would have paid even more to save my feet.

So, the souvenir I’m taking home from the French Caribbean is German shoes. LOL!

Vous Parlez Anglais?

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The area I was staying in had very few English speakers, and I only ran into 2 couples from America. They had also taken advantage of the cheap Norwegian Airlines flights from the U.S. At the end of my first full day on Martinique, Wednesday night, I was walking back to my apartment from spending the evening on the beach, when I overheard an older couple coming towards me on the sidewalk speaking English. I was startled at how glad I was to hear English again. I stopped them, asking if they spoke English, and it turned out they were from New York City. The wife especially had a strong Brooklyn accent. They were here for a week, and it was also their first time. We chatted for a minute about how lovely this place is, and the French and Creole cuisine is great, but they too were struggling to communicate in French, and had the same experience I had, that very few people knew English.

The second American couple I met on Thursday late afternoon near the Harbor. They were from Washington and it was their first time in the French Caribbean as well. After a week in Martinique, they were going to Guadeloupe before returning to the States. I met this second couple of Americans when we had all tried to see if a harbor side restaurant was open for dinner yet. It was almost 6:00 PM, but it turned out dinner isn’t served until sept heures. Cultural differences… my body thinks dinner should be earlier, not later!
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Ducking in and out of shops and covered walkways in between rain showers, it was about a quarter to seven when I stopped at a fancy restaurant called Infinity up some stairs at Creole Village. I stared at their menu, trying to understand what their daily special was. The original waitress didn’t speak English, but she called over the bartender, who translated for me. The only word I had recognized was “camembert” – and I was guessing that “truffe” meant mushroom, which turned out to be correct. I felt reassured to have the English translation so I’d know exactly what I was ordering to eat!
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The next morning, Friday,  I stopped for petit- dejeuner at a café, and the waitress again didn’t know anglais. When I saw oeufs on the menu, I remembered those were eggs, and decided that jambon was ham, since it was listed under the “Americaine” version of their petit dejeuner. But when my order arrived there was no salt or pepper on the table, and I had no clue what they are called in French. Pantomiming shaking salt onto my eggs, the waitress finally understood and brought back the shakers to the table.

I think it’s like white privilege. I found myself expecting that, even though I’m not bilingual, other people should be able to speak English. And it’s not true that others always speak English. Over my petitdejeuner Americaine, I chatted briefly with a retired Frenchwoman waiting for her husband at the next table. She said she had studied English for 8 years back in school, but because she never used it, and didn’t converse, she had forgotten almost all of it. So our broken conversation was conducted mostly en francais, since my pathetic French was better than her even worse English!

Not Open Until Sept Heures

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I got back to my apartment on Rue de Flamboyants right before a downpour happened, so I took a nap, recharged my phone and worked on a blog entry. When it stopped raining, I sat in the back garden for a while – it was very private, and besides the pots of flowers and other plants, the chickens were out of their coop, with the roosters providing amusement by going after each other and crowing, although it was mid-afternoon, not dawn. Late afternoon I decided to stroll back to the restaurant and shopping area by the harbor, and decide where I wanted to eat. All the tourist boats had come back from their afternoon trips and were unloading or preparing for the next day. I looked at the possible boat trips but decided again I wanted to take it slow on my last day, Friday, and just hang around the beach and town here. I began checking out restaurants – a lovely one overlooked the harbor from its upstairs location – but none started serving dinner until 7:00 PM, and it wasn’t even 6:00 PM yet. It was then that I ended up talking to another couple from the states – we were used to US dinner times starting at 5:00 PM.

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While deciding what to do, another rainstorm began, so I sheltered temporarily in a bar. But I really didn’t want anything alcoholic to drink, and was told their restaurant also didn’t open until sept heures. I window shopped under shelter and gradually made my way back to the street when the rain let up. Then I got trapped for several minutes by a downpour, but made it to an art shop while I was waiting. The art shop was to benefit turtle sanctuaries and had lovely water colors, but I didn’t have funds or room in my suitcase to take anything home. Finally I dashed across the street to Creole Village and tried to decide which restaurant to try. I ended up at the top in a modernistic restaurant Infiniti. I was the first customer, arriving a little before 7. I wasn’t really hungry, but wanted something to tide me over through the night. There was some kind of daily special, and I tried to translate, recognizing camembert as a cheese and guessing at Truff as a mushroom. The waitress didn’t speak English but she called the bartender over, and he translated that it was an appetizer meant for companions, with baguette and cheese. I had him suggest a wine to go with it – I got vin rouge. And best of all, he offered the password for their internet! So, for the first time on Martinique I was able to get online, check email, and social media. My smart phone informed me it was freezing back in Upstate New York, while it was 73 in the evening there in Martinique.

I ended up in a WhatsApp long chat with my youngest daughter – she’d told me to download it because it can be used internationally even when phone texting isn’t available. We chatted about the challenges of my trying to remember French from back in my high school days – she told me “I want” is “je voudrais” – I’d been saying “je desire.” We both complained about the zika virus scare, and she wished she could have been with me. I definitely want to come back here – 3 days was not nearly long enough, and hope she’ll be able to come with me.

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When I checked my email, I had another message from a high school friend – we’re talking about a big trip together to celebrate our 65th birthdays. After I responded to her original message, I saw in another email that Norwegian Airlines was announcing another sale to the Caribbean – this one starting next November. Apparently they cease service May – October and only fly November – April. The cheapest flight from NYC was only $49 one way ($149 cheapest to return). Holy cr*p! I wrote her. We may have to consider this!

Although I made a valiant attempt, I couldn’t finish the whole camembert by myself, and asked for it to be wrapped to take back to my apartment. Although it wasn’t yet 9:00 PM, I was ready to relax and unwind in my temporary quarters.