The Honeymoon, Part 1

Eight months and two days later, we were finally able to get away for a honeymoon.  For awhile, we thought we’d go to Iceland, but in the end went to the Azores — well, one of them, anyway.  We stayed the whole week on Sao Miguel, the largest of the nine islands that constitute an autonomous region of Portugal.  Why did we go there?  Basically, we found a super deal on Travelzoo, and it seemed like it would give us lots of hiking and picture-taking opportunities.  Plus, the flight over there is relatively short from Boston (4 hours there, 5 1/2 coming back), and they drive on the right side of the road.  After my Ireland adventure a few years ago I knew for certain I could never drive on the left, and I’m too much of a backseat driver/control freak to be a passenger while Erik drove on the left.  I was fairly certain a trip that involved driving on the “wrong” side of the road would lead to one of us (me) being left in a field somewhere.

So we booked the trip, bought a guide book, and then tried to teach ourselves Portuguese using the Duolingo app.  That went about as well as you might think (ie, it was a disaster), but happily most people on Sao Miguel speak at least some English.  And for many, we learned that they were fluent in English because they had left the island for the US or Canada, before moving back a few years later.  Leaving the island seems to be a rite of passage for many, and so I was perfectly content to be the dumb American, getting by with the basic phrases of obrigada (thank you), bom dia (have a good day), boa noite (good night), and cafe leite (coffee with milk).  I also learned the word gato, because I am the cat lady who takes pictures of other people’s cats while I am on vacation in a foreign country:

portuguese kitty

{All joking aside, other than the bathroom situation (more on that in a minute), the most disturbing thing was to see so many stray cats and dogs.  Most of the island is still very rural pasture land, and the weather is pretty mild most of the year, and none of the strays we saw looked hungry…but it bothered us to see so many homeless animals roaming the countryside/supermarket parking lots.  This particular kitty was hanging out in an upstairs window in Furnas and was most likely a beloved pet.}

We left on an overnight flight, landing bright and early on a Sunday morning.  Neither of us had slept much, but we found the rental car and were given a map.  Erik had actually printed out directions from the airport to the hotel from Google maps, and I was shocked to realize the hotel was on a different part of the island than I thought. Not that big of a deal, really, except that I had planned that our first day would be spent roaming around the city of Ponta Delgada after a short nap.  Instead, the hotel was on the northern side of the island, in a very small village called Fenais de Luz.  Basically like the small town I grew up in, in Maine, except on the ocean.  We later discovered the hotel is a great source of pride for the islanders, as it just opened and it is the island’s only 5 star resort.  The hotel sits right on the ocean, with the front side facing a beautiful view of the Atlantic.   However, I had booked a mountain view room, which came with the added bonus of a cow pasture:

a room with a view

The cows were actually quite lovely, and happily the winds off the ocean meant that we never smelled them.  But it was funny to have them right outside our window.

The other surprise was the bathroom in our hotel room.  For some odd reason, the front wall of the bathroom, where the shower was, was entirely glass.  See-through glass.  The side wall had a sliding door…but why put a door on the room if one wall is completely see through?  There was a screen that you could lower, but it too was see -through.  It was clearly a nod to prudish guests, except it failed in the execution.  Crappy iPhone pic:

bathroom

All of the rooms were like this – I know this because I had to ask Housekeeping how to lower the screen – which left us perplexed.  It’s one thing for two married adults, but what if you were traveling with teenagers?  And look, we get that Europeans have less hangups than Americans do, but why the door???  why a screen at all if it is just as transparent as the glass wall???  If anyone can make some sense out of this please comment or message me, because otherwise I will be 80 years old and still wondering about this.

****

Sao Miguel is ridiculously beautiful – lush and tropical, with the ocean and mountains, and enormous hydrangea plants lining the stone-walled roads.  We quickly learned that the weather was unpredictable – it was often warm and sunny at our hotel, but we’d soon reach rain and heavy fog as we headed inland into the mountains.  It rained every day we were there, which made driving even more difficult than usual — and it turns out driving in Sao Miguel is a nightmare.  The roads fall into two categories — two lane “fast roads” which are full of s-curves and switch-backs, up and over mountains and along the coastline. People were driving these roads at speeds ranging from 60-100 km, which was just INSANE.   There are also secondary roads,  which are two lane roads that connect the villages and intersect at round-abouts.  The problem is that a lot of people park along these roads, and the buildings are right up against the roads, so you basically have two-way traffic trying to fit into one lane.  Fun times.  And then there is the random horse, donkey, goat, or cow being moved from pasture to pasture, in one case we saw a farmer moving an entire herd of cows down a fast road in the middle of the morning!  I didn’t get a picture of the cows, but here are some goats we almost ran into:

goat parade 2

 The major signage across the island is excellent – you could easily drive from Mosteiros in the west to Nordeste in the east and not need a map.  But God help you once you actually get into a village.  There are no street signs like we are used to; their “signs” are tiled onto the side of a wall of a building, which most of the time you can’t see unless you are standing on the sidewalk across from the sign.  Like this:

street sign

And the maps often left out side streets altogether, so it was hard to know exactly where you were.  Our stupid rental car (Hertz, I am mad at you!) had GPS that would tell you where you were, but was completely unable to tell you how to get where you were going.  Ponta Delgada, the major city, was the worst – on Monday, we were so hopelessly lost there it wasn’t even funny…and then our rental car died, and nobody answered the emergency number Hertz gave us…so after twenty minutes of THAT I took to Twitter and messaged them.  Coincidentally (or not?) Hertz then called us back, and after talking to the lady for a bit she said, “Are you at the school?  because I think I just passed you”.  Yep, that was us…and then they sent a guy who started the car right up again.  Because of course it did.  (We’re pretty sure it just overheated, but we spent the rest of the week worried about whether the car would start.)

***

So, after the car crisis was dealt with and we finally got our bearings, first up was the abacaxi plantation – or where they grow pineapples. They grow them inside these little shed-like structures — you can see how overcast it was:

pineapple 5

pineapple 1

pineapple 4

pineapple 2

I’d always assumed pineapples grew on trees, like coconuts, but that’s not the case.

pineapple 3

This one shed had a pane missing, where the nasturtium was trying to peek through.

After this we walked around the city, trying to find the city gates.  I had read that you are supposed to walk through the city gates and make a wish, which seemed like the sort of thing to do on a honeymoon, except when we got there we discovered that the gates were blocked off for a car racing event.  Oh well.  Lots of interesting architecture, though:

ponta deldarda arch 1

ponta delgarda arch

ponta delgarda arch 3

Our final stop for the day was the Jose do Canto botanical garden, which was one of my favorite stops of the whole trip.  It was a nice way to end what was otherwise a pretty stressful day, and I was once again reminded that happiness is a walk with my camera and my husband.

canto 1

blue thing 3

canto 2

canto camellia

At the back of the property we stumbled on a really beautiful circular rose garden, planted in a way that reminded me of a meditation walk.  Unfortunately it started to rain at this point so I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked…but it was really beautiful!

rose garden 2

rose garden

More to come…

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About Lori Allen Writes

Lori is plotting to take over the world one essay, one quilt, and one hand knit sock at a time.
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One Response to The Honeymoon, Part 1

  1. Art Laramee says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this visit. You write vividly. Looking forward to the next installment.

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