The Honeymoon Part 3 (East Sao Miguel)

We headed south then east on the “fast roads”, up the coast through a bunch of little towns and then due north towards one of the most famous landmarks on Sao Miguel, Lagoa das Sete Cidades.  It’s the quintessential postcard/tourism marketing photo commonly used for the Azores and one of the “seven wonders of Portugal” – two lakes formed in the crater of a volcano on the eastern side of the island.  One lake is blue (ish), the other green (ish).  The legend is that a princess fell in love with a farmhand, but her father forbade the marriage.  One lake represents the tears of the princess, the other the farmhand.

(For the record, they both looked sorta the same to us.)

Our first trip up the windy roads was thick with fog, in some places we could barely see five feet in front of the car.  When we got to the top there was nothing but gray, but we stopped anyway because E needed a break from driving and I needed to pry my hand off the car door handle, because I’d had a death grip on it for the whole half hour up the road.  A sore hand and this picture is all I got from that trip (and for some reason this photo will only post giant-size or thumb-nail size, so giant-size it is):

cd flower

The next afternoon, we thought we had a window of opportunity with the weather and went back.  This time we took the secondary roads, rather than “the fast road”, and I continued with my “We’re gonna die” chant until we reached the top.

cd view

Another shot from a different viewpoint, the clouds were starting to role back in at this point, though here you can see one side is slightly greener than the other:

cd view 2

On the way down the mountainside we stopped at another viewpoint and hiked on a dirt road for a bit –  I’m pretty sure that dirt road is featured in this video (which, incidentally, aptly portrays how I felt the whole week while in the car).  Here, on one side we could see down into the valley, where the fog was trapped:

valley 1

In contrast, on the other side of the road, it was clearing off and we could see down to the coast into the town of Mosteiros, which has these cool big rocks just off the coast:

mosteiros rocks

mosteiros cows

(The cows get the best views.)

We wound our way down the mountain into the little village, where we got a bit more up close and personal with the Atlantic Ocean, where you can really get a feel for how the island was formed from volcanic activity…

mosteiros houses

mosteiros ocean

mosteiros rocks 2

mosteiros volcanic rocks

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a few more vantage points, which were almost always well landscaped with hydrangeas and/or these weird blue flowers (also came in white)  – Google tells me they are agapanthus, or “Lily of the Nile”:

blue things by the sea

blue thing 2

blue thing

And then finally, this peeking out from the treetops:

windmill

Not done yet…

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The Honeymoon, Part 2 (Cha Gorreana)

There were parts of the trip that I found quite emotional.  Ever since my dad passed away I have been acutely aware of his absence, but while we were away I kept thinking, “I have to tell Dad about this” or “I can’t wait to show Dad a picture of that”.  And then, the heartrending letdown when I realized that wasn’t going to happen, that he was still gone.  At one point I burst into tears, but then started laughing hysterically because really?  Dad would have hated this place.  He would have hated the bathrooms, he would have hated the roads, he would have hated the flight, and he would have hated how they don’t debone the fish.  You could kill somebody with that fish, I could just hear him sputtering.   He would have hated the lack of signage, he would have hated the crazy drivers, he would have hated the cows, and he would have hated being on an island that is basically a volcano waiting to erupt sometime in the next 300,000 years.  Because you never know.

But he probably would have liked the tea factory we visited.

Erik is a big fan of kombucha, a fermented tea that he started homebrewing a few months ago.  So when we found out that Sao Miguel is home to the only tea plantations in Europe, we knew we had to visit them.  And we did visit them; in fact, we went to Gorreana THREE times.  The first time, we spent a half day there, first touring the factory then hiking up through the hills.  The second time was because Erik wanted to take a few more pictures and buy some more tea.  I don’t even remember why we stopped the third time, but I’m pretty sure we got the side-eye from one of the ladies working in the gift shop, because normal people probably don’t go to a tea factory three days in a row.  We also stopped by the other tea factory on the island, but it felt like a museum and frankly, we felt unwelcome…it was weird, and it started pouring, so we moved on to other things.  But Gorreana is definitely worth the trip.

gorreana 2

gorreana 1

Located right off one of the “fast roads” on the northern coast, Gorreana is easy to get to from pretty much anywhere on the island.  We were lucky that we went on the one nice day we had all week (though it still rained on us at one point during the hike).  It’s ridiculously beautiful, and we learned a lot.  There’s no tour, per se, you just wander through the building on your own, which felt a little awkward, but there’s some interpretive signage, plus they give you free tea at the end.  I had never given tea growing much thought; I had no idea it grew in hedges, or what it looked like before harvesting.  The factory uses very traditional methods for processing the tea, it’s all pesticide free (because there are no pests), and there was even a small group of ladies in the back who hand-sort the dried tea and then package it.    This was one of the times when I wished I’d learned Portuguese, because I would have liked to ask the tea sorting ladies some questions but they didn’t speak English.  Or maybe they were just sick of being asked the same questions by tourists for the umpteenth time?  (I know I would be.)   We also learned that before WWI/II (I can’t remember exactly which war it was) there were several tea factories on the island, but Gorreana was one of the few to survive in part because they developed their own hydropower from the river that runs through the property.

gorreana 3

Across the road from the factory, you can hike up into the tea fields, and then up even higher into cow pastures and forests of Japanese red cedar.

gorreana 4

gorreana 5

gorreana 6

gorreana 7

gorreana 8

gorreana 9

gorreana 10

At one point we stopped to watch them harvest some of the tea — they have this weird sort of lawnmower-ish contraption that they graze the tops of the plants with.  Note that they are all wearing rubber overalls – I found out why during our hike:  those tea bushes have SHARP and sturdy stems.  I got back to the car from the hike and realized I had blood dripping down my leg from where one nabbed me in the calf.

gorreana 11

gorreana 12

The hike we did was billed as “easy”…a 6km (about 3.7 miles) walk.  They lied, though to be fair the topography chart on the trail map should have been a clue.  Let me just stop right here and say that I’ve spent the past year and a half working out with a personal trainer, and I am stronger now that I’ve been in a good twenty years.  Even Erik, who is an avid hiker and takes his equipment-filled backpack to the gym to walk on the treadmill, said this was not an easy hike, and I don’t think it was an “appease the wife so she feels better” thing.  This hike was basically straight up and straight down.  Luckily, the views were amazing.

gorreana 13

gorreana 14

gorreana 15

gorreana 16

At this point of the hike I thought we were done, and my camera battery chose this spot to die on me, but there was in fact more to climb.  Getting to the top involved navigating a very steep, muddy, and cow-pie filled path, but we made it, and have the iPhone selfie to prove it!

gorreana selfie

The other fun thing about Gorreana was the flowers around the facility.  While Erik bought tea, I amused myself by taking pictures:

gf1

gf2

gf3

gf4

gf6

Last, but not least:  this guy and his friends were croaking their little heads off in a tiny pond on the grounds.  {Their croaking sounded a lot like a certain bodily function, and so “Gorreana Toads” are now to blame for any breaking of wind in our vicinity.  Because sometimes we behave like eight-year olds.}

gorreana toad

One more post, possibly two…

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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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A Knitting Project

A coworker is expecting, and I was going crazy waiting for her to find out the baby’s gender so I could knit something.  (Blame it on my grandmothers, but I believe every baby needs something handmade, practicality be damned, and I am more than happy to fill that void, if only so I can live vicariously through other people’s children.)  I kept going into yarn stores, fondling skeins of pink and blue, and groaning loudly at my (totally insane and socially indoctrinated) indecision.  Finally, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon a few skeins of Malabrigo worsted in this glorious emerald green (“verde adriana”, to be specific) and had a magnificent realization that it would make a fabulous sweater, for any baby.  Thank goodness, because my fingers were literally itching to make something!  And, as it turned out, I had exactly the right pattern to pair the yarn with, which was topped it off with some plain, gender-neutral wooden buttons.  I finally caught up with her on St. Patrick’s Day, of all days, just one day after she found out it’s a boy.  Happily she was as pleased as I was with the result!

olive you baby 2

olive you baby 1

I think my row gauge must have been off because it’s quite a bit longer than I think it ought to have been, but on the other hand that increases the likelihood of her getting an extra season’s use out of it.

Now, I’m thinking this baby boy might need a quilt…

Pattern:  Olive You Baby by Taga Hilliard Designs.

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Arizona, in Pictures

cactus

mountain

cactus bloom

short cactus

fuzzies

flowers

orange tree

prickly

tree trunk

bunny

cactus wave

white tanks

swirly sky cacti

hike 2

hike 2b

hills 2

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Bird Chronicles, Arizona Edition

Last week we spent a few days visiting E’s family out in Arizona.  Except for brief work trips to California and El Paso, Texas, I’ve spent very little time in the Western US, so it was a great treat for me to see this part of the country.  I loved seeing all the different cacti and other plants out there.  I also loved the birds!

First, the hummingbirds.  These little things zipped around the backyard, zooming from one bush to another and making these weird half whistle, half chirp sounds.

female black bellied hummingbird

hummingbird2

hummingbird 3

Then, there were two sightings of a Gila woodpecker – one in the backyard, and then this one on a hike in the White Tank mountains.  Both times there were pairs, calling back and forth from the tree tops:

gila woodpecker

There were numerous sightings of the cactus wren, which is Arizona’s state bird:

cactus wren

cactus wren 2

Then there was this house finch – we see these at our feeders back in Massachusetts, but this particular one kept giving me the eye…

redbirdie

Finally, an owl!  nesting in a cactus!  I’ve never actually seen an owl in the wild, just at zoos or wildlife refuges, so this was particularly cool.

horned owl in cactus

FYI, his was a hard shot to get – the cactus is a lot taller than it looks here, and that owl was snuggled right down in the nest.  We hiked up a little bit past the cactus and, standing on my tippy toes as I balanced the camera on E’s shoulder, I was able to zoom in at the maximum level my camera allows.  Here’s another picture, this time just of his eyes and ears:

owl head

It’s hard to tell in the picture below, but that big cactus in the middle, with all of the different “limbs”, is where the owl’s nest sits.  Widly grateful to our fellow hikers who told us about the nest, because otherwise it would have been easy to miss!

owl ome 2

 

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The Year of Impossible Things

Usually I love a good bout of end-of-year navel gazing, but 2015?  Hoooo boy.  Even after two weeks of vacation time to ponder, I’m not sure I’ve wrapped my head around it.  And I feel like I must have stolen the title of this post from a book somewhere, but I’m too afraid to Google it and find out because then I’d feel obliged to change it.  Frankly, there’s really no better way than to sum up this past year than “impossible”.  If you had told me one year ago that in 2015 I would not only get engaged but get married, and that my seemingly healthy-as-a-horse father would not only be diagnosed with cancer but would die from it, I would not have believed you.  And yet, here we are.

***

I had honestly expected the turn of the calendar page to be a relief, a letting go of all the bad stuff that 2015 brought with it.  Instead, I find myself profoundly sad to see it go.  Leaving 2015 behind feels like leaving my dad behind…2015 was the last year he saw, and now we move into the beginning of years he will not see.  Years we will see without him.  We’re doing all the things we’re supposed to do – being brave, putting one foot in front of the other, carrying on with things as he would want us to do.  We celebrated the holidays and there were tears, but we soldiered on and remembered Dad; we spoke of him often and enjoyed each other’s company, as he would have wanted us to do.  But, as many of you know all too well, there’s a hole there that may in fact get smaller over time, but it will never quite go away.

There were some other disappointments along the way in 2015 – none as significant to me as losing Dad, obviously, but sad in their own right, and I still struggle with them from time to time.  I won’t detail it all here, but suffice it to say life isn’t fair and we don’t always get what we want.  And sometimes even the good stuff brought stress — like E changing jobs this summer, and the wedding planning that got condensed into 3 weeks.

I barely knit or sewed anything, other than a hat for my dad during his chemo treatments and a few patchwork squares.  I just didn’t have the heart for it.  I also didn’t write here much – Dad was a pretty private person and didn’t want his illness spread all over the internet, and it was hard not to write about something that was occupying a good deal of my thoughts.  I didn’t take very many pictures, either, in part because my camera wound up in a bag with a jug of apple cider, with disastrous results.  I also am apparently the only person on the planet who failed the Kon Mari method of decluttering (note that there was never a “Part 2” post).  Although we did make a big donation to the thrift shop and another to the Salvation Army, and we have done a good job keeping our living room fairly clutter free, we continue to struggle with Too Much Stuff.

***

Obviously it wasn’t all bad. I mean, we got married!  And I’d do that day over again a million times.  It was, as we like to say around here, a Really Good Day.  And, shockingly enough for anyone who knows us, the anniversary tier of our cake is still in our freezer, untouched.

Also, I am physically SO much STRONGER!  I’ve spent the past year working with a personal trainer once a week.  It’s been a very up-and-down process because of various health issues, including the stupid sprained knee, but I am STRONGER!  And, my blood pressure last month was 114/70, after running for YEARS at 125/80.  Mind you, I weigh EXACTLY the same as I did when I started, but I dropped a dress size, and given the stress (and stress eating) of the past year I’m actually okay with that.  Frankly, it’s a miracle I didn’t pack on another 20 pounds.

And then, the little things that make up a year:  I discovered I like sushi – at least, the sweet potato and avocado kinds of sushi.  (Still not a fan of raw fish.)  I went to El Paso, and while it was a work trip it was still interesting, and I’d never been to any part of Texas before so I can cross another state off my list.  We did our annual Baxter camping trip, and while I was in agony a good part of the time from the sprained knee, not much can beat sitting at the edge of a pond on a starry night in northern Maine, or driving the Tote Road at dusk listening to classical music and startling a couple of moose.  I significantly scaled back our garden this year, because E was on a mission to move house (a mission he is still on, by the way), but I wound up with strawberries and three tomato plants that were successful (the peppers were another story).  I saved a little bit more in my 401(k) than I did last year.  We bought a new bed.  We cooked more at home, a joint project that continues on (helped along by a number of nice kitchen-related wedding presents).  We binge-watched Homeland and The Newsroom, and binge-listened the Serial podcast.  And, possibly most important of all these little things, we got two of the cats to more-or-less coexist with minimal amounts of growling and hissing.  It’s not perfect, but we’ll take it.

So, that was 2015.  A truly watershed year.  It changed me in ways I don’t think I fully know or understand just yet, and probably won’t know for some time.  The Indigo Girls put it best, I think, with their aptly-titled song “Watershed”:

Thought I knew my mind
Like the back of my hand
The gold and the rainbow
But nothing panned out as I planned
And they say only milk and honey’s
Gonna make your soul satisfied
Well I better learn how to swim
Cause the crossing is chilly and wide

Twisted guardrails on the highway
Broken glass on the cement
A ghost of someone’s tragedy
How recklessly my time has been spent
They say that it’s never too late
But you don’t, you don’t get any younger
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness
And feed the hunger

Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
Till your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while

And there’s always retrospect
(when you’re looking back)
To light a clearer path
Every five years or so I look back on my life
And I have a good laugh
You start at the top
Go full circle round
Catch a breeze
Take a spill
But ending up where I started again
Makes me want to stand still

 On to 2016…

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