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Saturday April 30 – Last Day in Azores

Our last morning in Sao Miguel was partly sunny. The other guests at Casa dos Hibiscus, Pilar and Emmanuelle, had left by 6:00 AM to catch an early flight, so we didn’t get to see them again. I had told Susana that I’d be down for breakfast about 8:30 AM, so I finally got up and dressed a little after 8 AM. There was again the wonderful assortment of breads and homemade jams, passion fruit yogurt, hot green tea, juice, and some of the homemade chocolate cake from the night before. I was not able to eat very much… I told Susana I felt full from all the food I’d been eating all week. She laughed and said that was the Portuguese way, to eat and enjoy meals and company.

I made comments in her Dos Hibiscos Guest Book – and remarked over a water color a guest had painted last fall when visiting. I promised to write a good review for her on Trip Advisor; she already has some good reviews on AirBnB, and had just started listing on Trip Advisor as well. She was happy that, the night before, two young “Nederlander” men had booked for the coming week, as it had been empty till the following Saturday. We conversed about our stay, her plans for the day (including a vet visit to give the younger dog Lyka an injection), and the story of how she got her current cat Shawnay, and her daughter’s sadness that the black cat had still not reappeared and it was now a week since it had disappeared.

I went upstairs to the room to finish packing. I tried to carefully pad the Azorean ceramics I’d bought in the middle of my suitcase to be checked at the airport, and also wrapped clothing around the ceramics in my carryon bag. Susana told me the blue flowered ceramics are the most difficult to paint, so I was even more pleased with my choice. Hopefully nothing will break on my trip home!

After packing I got some more photos of the house and garden, and a photo of Susana and myself together in front of the orange hibiscus flowers. I felt a little bad that Susana had gone to all the trouble to clean the swimming pool and make sure the pH balance was just right, but I had been gone during the days on activities, and it was still a little cold to be swimming. We both agreed that it wasn’t wasted effort, as probably the Nederlanders will take advantage of the pool during their stay this coming week.

Since the flight back to Boston wasn’t until 5:00 PM, there was time to try once more the route above Ribiera Grande across the mountains to Lago Fugo and hope it wasn’t foggy and rainy this time.

Sure enough, although there were low clouds, there were great views both to the north of the island at one viewpoint, a view down to Lago Fugo at another viewpoint. Clare and I laughed at how the clouds could cover the peaks, or one part of the island, while another part was enjoying sunshine – talk about localized weather! Lago Fugo looked grayish green due to the cloud cover overhead.


13895013_10103168678200336_774287882524539514_nComing down the mountain, which was a bunch of hairpin turns, at one place the Atlantic Ocean could be seen both to the south (near Lagoa) and to the north (Riberia Grande)! Although there were clouds above the mountain peaks, the ocean in either direction looked bright cerulean blue, reflecting clear skies above the water.

It wouldn’t be a day of me driving without trying a few wrong turns and getting lost. I’d taken back roads out of Fenais da Luz, and ended up doing a kind of zig zag until I caught up to the highway. And again coming down off the mountain, I didn’t want to go straight to the big city of Ponta Delgado, so tried first a small village, then got turned around on one way roads and ended up way out in the country, circling round again to where the Lago Fugo highway came down from the mountain again! Clare was wishing she was the one driving instead of me. Then I gave up and tried the new highway towards Ponta, getting off at the Marginal highway exit and going towards S. Roque at the first roundabout.

Deciding against patronizing Cais 20 again, signs were followed to “Oceanwaves” (Ocas do Mar), which turned out to have parking available, and was situated next to the rocky beach. Cheese fondue, beef kabobs and light salad… enjoyed with white wine sangria… was the13872654_10103168678260216_7609863916163914721_n perfect lunch.

Finally it was time to head west toward the aeroport, return the rental car and check my larger suitcase. Hertz charged me 7E because apparently I returned the gas tank at 4/8 instead of 5/8 (it had looked just over ½ tank to me, but oh, well). Aeroport security is very tight. I had to produce my passport and boarding pass several times, had my bags looked through at security (the x-rays of my ceramics did look a little strange, I admit). I like to visit the restroom one last time right before boarding, but the boarding area for Gate 5 to Boston was past another checkpoint, so I had to go back to the snack counter area, use the facilities there, and then go to Gate 5 to wait another ½ hour.

13901499_10103168678270196_2237531371828405184_nAs the Azores Airline A330 Airbus soared out over the ocean, beginning its steep climb in altitude, I felt a mixture of completeness at having made the most of my week-long vacation to Sao Miguel, and sadness it was over too quickly. However, I really missed my Sheltie, and was happy that tomorrow I’ll be home and see my puppy dog again!


Friday April 29 – Nordeste Tour

The last full day in the Azores had already come. The sky was a mixture of clouds and sun, but since weather is both so changeable and so localized, there was no way of telling what the day would bring. At breakfast I tried some of Susana’s pumpkin and coconut jam on my bread, and enjoyed a passionfruit local yogurt. Then it was back over the hills, the 15 minute drive to Ponta Delgado. By now I had a routine of heading east to catch the marginal highway close to the ocean and docks, parking underground, then going to wait at the Futurism kiosk for my daily tour.

Claude, who had brought me back from Mosteiros, was the jeep driver and tour guide. He was going to offer the tour in English and Portuguese; we were going to meet up at Villa Franco de Campo with another vehicle and the 2 German speaking ladies in our jeep were going to change to that one, because Sandy was going to give the tour in German. 13906871_10103168677371996_6351612697461400340_n

Villa Franco de Campo was apparently an original settlement in the 1400s, and the original capitol, but, being nestled in extinct volcanoes, there wasn’t as much room for expansion and agriculture, so eventually Ponta Delgado, on the flatter southwest coast, became the largest city. Our first stop was a Roman Catholic chapel built into the hillside. Steps up to each level brought one to a beautiful ceramic blue tile painting of one of the scenes from the life of Christ and Mother Mary.

13782069_10103168677441856_2841864274931637838_nAt the very top, there were 5 more paintings of the Ascension and Mary being crowned Queen of Heaven. Looking at them against the vibrant green of the hillside where cows were grazing was a wonderful contrast.

13900088_10103168677496746_7208217142941723200_nAt Povacao we got out to see the remains of a freighter accident from 1977 – anchor, chain. This was originally the busy port for the island, Ponta Delgada didn’t get established until much later.


13876687_10103168677591556_1711896459264823534_nThe sidewalk designs indicated it’s importance as a port city. While there, we walked to a plaza and had a wonderful treat of café and fofa (éclair) at a sidewalk coffee shop.

We really needed the jeep for the next portion of our tour, which began on the west-east dirt road up on the rim of the crater, lined with the majestic plain trees, then we were off on a dirt road, crossing through the Nature Preserve, carefully crossing culverts and places where there was road damage from water runoff.

13906726_10103168677631476_5705964701107331730_nClaude talked about some of the history of the Azores as we drove. The laurel trees were native to the Azores, but fast growing cedars have been planted in the last century. Early settlers in Sao Miguel tried first wheat production, then sugar production. With competition from the Canary Islands and other places, they changed to growing oranges for export in the 1700s-1800s. But some kind of blight took out the orange crops.

13907155_10103168677317106_6455166855215820947_nMuch of the island is currently engaged in dairy farming, and both fish and beefsteak are features of island menus. There is a soft Azorean cheese which is served with a spicy tomato sauce. Hard cheeses are mostly imported from the mainland.

Much of the island is still unspoiled by tourists and modern buildings. There are impressive churches around the main square in each town. We felt like we kept going back in time. Our tour guide took us to a traditional lunch at a restaurant in the small town of Lomba da Fazena above Norwest, which was delicious.

13903424_10103168732371776_8804256746012014442_nAfterwards we went southeast to a garden and picnic viewpoint, then back up to a viewpoint of an old lighthouse. Nordeste means “northeast” – apparently sailors followed the northeasterly tradewinds between the Portugal mainland and the Azores. A lot of the island has very steep drops from the mountains down to the sea, so there are just a few natural ports where ships could come in.

13907186_10103168677726286_7608923100571503890_nFor a change the clouds were gone and there were brilliant blue skies as we looked north to the old lighthouse. I finally got the picture in my mind that the Portuguese who immigrated to the coasts in Massachusetts and Connecticut as ship builders and whalers were actually from the Azores! That was why there were decent priced direct flights from Boston to Ponta, then on to the Madeiras Islands or onto Lisbon on the mainland.

While visiting the viewpoint, we ran into our newly made friends from New York State, who’d driven their rental car to see Nordeste and the various sight-seeing locations. They strongly recommended we have dinner at the Cais, in a village just east of Ponta.

13669680_10103168677920896_8658272421135961943_n13661978_10103168678175386_462904648402373678_oThe remaining stops on our Futurismo tour were going to a old lookout point for whales, then an old water millhouse and waterfalls. Everything was so scenic we again felt like there was no way to take a bad photograph.

We had to go on the old road to reach the millhouse – the tour guide is very proud of the new highway that helps connect Nordeste to Riviera, which was the way he took us back to Ponta Delgada.

After the tour ended, for the evening meal, we tried out Cais 20 in S. Roque, both because it was recommended and because it was not far from Ponta Delgada, and we were tired from the long day. We didn’t have as grand a time as our friends had described, but the food was good, and we liked having a view of the ocean as we ate. By 8:30 PM we drove back over to the north side of the island to Dos Hisbiscos, saying again how glad we were to stay in our lovely B&B and not in one of the modern hotels in Ponta that other tour clients were staying in.

Susana greeted us and invited us to share some chocolate cake she had for her birthday. Clare just had a small slice and soon retreated to our bedroom, but I wanted to relish my last night in the Azores by visiting with Susana for the final time. Since I also was a single parent raising daughters, we share some similarities to our lives beyond country and culture differences.


A Day Late and $200 Short

Best laid plans… I missed a day of my vacation in St. Martin, flying in on Tuesday rather than Monday. For the 3rd week in a row, NYC got a winter storm on Sunday – Monday. Not as bad as Boston, but enough to cancel flights or warn flights might be cancelled. Enough to make driving Sunday evening through Monday evening hazardous… A headline Tuesday morning in NYC exclaimed someone was killed in traffic in NJ due to the ice storm.

Jet Blue offered me the option of changing my flight free of charge, but I’d been hoping my flight would still be able to take off.  However, my travel plans had been to stay with a friend at the edge of Queens, and she was supposed to drive me to the airport Monday morning. It was so icy I never made it there Sunday night. When I got into the city to see my 2 grown daughters at dinner time, I miraculously managed to find a parking space in Inwood – but the car had to be moved Wednesday. I thought about trying to drive to the airport myself and paying for parking (expensive), but I was too nervous to drive on ice early Monday. So we decided to make a daughter responsible to move the car around and I was to take MTA – mass transit.

Only I didn’t leave early enough and the trip took forever, walking, changing subways, waiting for transfer, missing the Airport link train and waiting for the next. When I finally got to the Jet Blue desk, the flight was closed, it was less than an hour from scheduled departure.

When I retried this morning, this time driving my car and leaving it at Smart Park (a little cheaper than JFK itself), it took me only an hour instead of close to 3 hours travel time. I was literally at the airport 3 1/2 hours before my flight.

But the parking I thought I’d have for free if my car had been at my friend’s driveway, instead is costing $130, and Dollar car rental in St. Martin decided since I needed a car one day less, I should pay more (since I no longer qualified for he weekly rate I’d locked in).

So the delay is costing a couple hundred extra dollars.

But I got to meet my good friend Valesca for a late lunch in downtown Manhattan and I got to spend some more time with my girls. And by the time I really did make it down to St. Martin today, after an extra day in the ice and snow, I have been very appreciative!

Why Not Go the Caribbean All By Myself?


Most people travel as a couple. Or with friends. Or with relatives. Or tour groups. But why not go by myself? Just because I’m a woman in my 60s, what’s stopping me?
In the States I travel by myself a lot. Just take off in the car and go. Wow, I’ve got 24 free hours and I can go see the fall colors in the Adirondacks! Or, I need to unwind along the St. Lawrence in the Thousand Islands.
Internationally I’ve planned trips to Scotland with one daughter back in 2008 and to Grand Bahamas with another daughter in 2013. Why not plan something just for me?
When you live in a place that has cold, snowy winters, a warm beach in winter sounds incredibly inviting. I’ve wanted to go to Sint Martin/St. Maarten … something about the dual nationality, middle of the Caribbean, online and in person reports that it is a “must see” island.
My first choice was to travel with a friend… but that wasn’t working out. None of us are quite retired yet. And it’s hard to juggle vacation time from jobs so that time off can happen at the same time.
An advantage of traveling with someone else is that costs are often cut in half – hotel rooms for two, or cruise cabins for two, or sharing a rental car, etc. But surely there had to be a way to travel economically as a single person. I just had to find it.
Thanks to Trip Advisor and Google, I planned to fly from JFK to SXM in February for a week of exploring Sint/St. Martin/Marten.