22 November 2019

Azores Trip

  1. Thanksgiving trip! Nov 22, 2019

    One more Thanksgiving trip to a different country. Like every year, this year too, we will be celebrating Sharmila’s birthday away from home.

    But first, we have to pick up our missing family member Natasha from New York….

  2. First stop!! Nov 24, 2019

    Picked up Natasha from New York and crossed the Atlantic to reach Paris … Now what?

  3. Not done with flights quite yet… Nov 24, 2019

    Hopped from Paris to Lisbon. A wee bit tired. But not done with our flights yet…

    Where to next?

  4. Reached our destination!! Nov 24, 2019

    Azores Islands!!

    There are about 7 (8 if you count the Australian and Indian plates differently) tectonic plates in the world. The ones underneath the Atlantic Ocean are the North American Plate, the Eurasian Plate and the African Plate.

    Right where these three meet (see the Google map attached – magnify it time see some islands) as expected, there has been some pushing and shoving due to the tectonic movements. As a result of the pressure, the earth has moved up and created some volcanic islands – right where these three plates meet.

    In fact thirteen such islands. These are called the Azores Islands…

    That is where we have landed up after a rather circuitous route from Atlanta to New York to Paris to Lisbon to Ponta Delgada for the Thanksgiving and Sharmila’s birthday!!!!

  5. View from the room into the Atlantic Ocean Nov 25, 2019

  6. Where the ocean meets the mountains Nov 25, 2019

  7. The hotel garden Nov 25, 2019

  8. Colorful Politics Nov 25, 2019

    Apparently, the previous government of Azores Islands (held power for some 16 years or so, our driver told me) needed all houses to be painted white. The new government has given full freedom for home owners to choose their outer wall colors. And the home owners have responded effusively. A lot of houses we saw in Ribeira Grande were being colored. A few more years later I am sure this will small town will remind us of the town of Burano in Italy…

  9. Beautiful City Center of Ribeira Grande Nov 25, 2019

    Sao Miguel is filled with a lot of “Ribeira”s. Technically. the word means a river but these are more like rivulets. Basically, the rains just hurry down the sides of the volcanoes and head towards the ocean.

    Ribeira Grande is the original town in Sao Miguel. (Now the bigger town of Ponta Delgada is the more important town).

    I love how they have dug into the side of the slope and built the sitting benches..

  10. We found somebody familiar in the Azores!!! Nov 25, 2019

  11. On our way to Miradouro de Sant Iria Nov 25, 2019

  12. View to the Ribeirinha (left) from the look out point Nov 25, 2019

  13. And the view to the right from the look out point Nov 25, 2019

    (I could not find the name of the area)

  14. Did you know that there is only one tea plantation in all of Europe? Nov 25, 2019

    And it happens to be in the small island of Sao Miguel in the Azores Islands. We went there today and tried out their “Cha”! Indeed, in Portuguese, tea is the same as in China or India – “Cha” (or minor variants thereof).

    This is the Tea Plantation of Gorreana.

  15. We reached a “tipping” point Nov 25, 2019

    There was this room inside the “Fabriea de Chai Gorreana” where a few ladies were separating tea leaves. I was not sure how genuine they were. I remember in Bali, they had these completely make believe activities going on to show as if they were the real deal. They were not. They were not acting it out…

    Here, this room was in a complete corner and there was no guide – you just go around as you want. On the other hand, there was no earnestness with which these ladies were working. So, I could not come to a full conclusion.

    They had no issues when I asked if I could take a picture. In fact, they did not even look at me. There was that tip jar though…. I put an euro in it and a small note saying “With a spot of milk”. I still think that is the best tip when it comes to drinking tea.

  16. The Roy girls reading the tea leaves? Nov 25, 2019

  17. Nikita took this picture Nov 25, 2019

    Fairly well taken, I must say…

  18. Furnas Lake Nov 25, 2019

    This lake is in the crater of a volcano. There are three of them in Sao Miguel. After the volcano erupts and settles down, the top usually collapses. Over the years, rain water collects and forms these kind of crater lakes.

  19. Unique way of cooking Nov 25, 2019

    This picture is taken from the top of the volcano crater lip. You can see the Lake Furnas in the picture. Now look towards the bottom portion of the picture… Do you see some smoke coming out? If you zoom in, you will see a few small holes and that is boiling water and steam. The water is getting heated by the hot magma way underneath. (This is a dormant volcano).

    Every morning, restaurants nearby start cooking meat by dropping the stuff in containers way inside the holes and let it be for nearly five hours. You need to make reservations early!!

  20. On the volcano rim… Nov 25, 2019

    … Literally if they stepped a couple of feet back, they would have been about a few thousand feet below….

  21. Caldeiras everywhere… Nov 25, 2019

    Came down from the top of the volcano rim to the village of Furnas. In the middle of the village, there is an area which is pock marked by caldeiras like this. There are either a lot of water vapor escaping from holes in the ground or water boiling at the surface from the heat of escaping water and gas from below.

    That is when you realize that you are literally walking on top of a dormant volcano!!

  22. The three sisters 🙂 Nov 25, 2019

  23. Good thing Jay Jay is not on Facebook!! Nov 25, 2019

  24. Rare picture of the sisters with dad… Nov 25, 2019

    … willingly taken, that is…

  25. Great evening with our bartender Nov 25, 2019

    Sharmila and I spent a great time with Arsenio – our bartender at the hotel. He has an amazing knowledge of all alcohols and their stories. Of course, it is the local stories that intrigued me the most.

    I never realized the amount of local liqueurs, rum and gin that is made in the island! Or that aguardente (aguardiente in the Spanish world) is so popular in the Portuguese world.

    Took a lot of notes… and tried a few local beverages…

  26. Visit to the local distillery and liqueur manufacturing Nov 26, 2019

    What I was not aware of is how many different liqueurs are made in Sao Miguel island. Tiago Mela in Mulher de Capote took me thru the whole list and showed us around the manufacturing process.

    An interesting anis liqueur (which is not Licor Beirao – from mainland and is Sharmila and my absolute favorite anis based drink) caught my eye. The bottle has a anis plant inside and covered with sugar crystal. Think sweet and think anis. And if you are a Bengali, think yummy!

    While I finished up my deep dive into gins over a year back, decided to pick up a bottle of Goshawk gin, nonetheless. The previous day, Arsenio had me try the local gin at the hotel bar.

  27. Next stop – a ceramic factory Nov 26, 2019

    Arsenio, our bartender at the hotel had talked about the local ceramic stuff. Based on his information, this morning, we headed out to the town of Lagoa. Our trusted driver guide Henrique took us to the Ceramica Vieira. This establishment has been making ceramic pottery for nearly one hundred and sixty years. All throughout, it has been owned by the same family (Vieira is the name) – thru five generations.

    In fact, you can see an elderly gentleman with his cane. He is the current owner. Also there were his two daughters who helped run the place.

    One thing I did not realize is that typically blue color on ceramic pottery does not start as that color. It is somewhat pinkish – see the square tile at the end in the last picture. Apparently, after getting burnt in the fire kiln, it turns blue. All the clay comes from a different island – Santa Maria.

    I got myself a small cup to drink aguardentes (aguardientes) – one more drink I had heard about but never tried before I met Arsenio.

  28. Two very alert security guards… Nov 26, 2019

    … keeping a watch of over the communication tower. This is at about 2000 feet above sea level on a mountain.

  29. Lagoa Do Fogo Nov 26, 2019

    The highest of the crater lakes in Sao Miguel, this lake was formed only about 5000 years back when the top of the volcano cratered (you can clearly see the lip of the volcano in the background).

  30. A cross sign in a strange place Nov 26, 2019

    While looking around the volcano walls, I spotted a cross sign up across from me. Curious, I asked Henrique what was the cross sign doing there. I assumed there was a monastery or something there.

    Turns out there was a plane accident there. A small plane owned by a famous French person (a boxer??) crashed into the mountain there. I need to find out more details of this later.

    But if you zoom into the spot, you can clearly see a big mark of impact on the ground.

  31. The Roy girls with the Lagoa do Fogo in the backdrop Nov 26, 2019

  32. Those funky looking pipes Nov 26, 2019

    Found out that bulk of Sao Miguel’s power comes from geothermal energy. Those pipes – I assume – are carrying hot water. One thing I could not figure out is the weird shape of the pipe. At one time, I came close to the pipes and saw a dirt road run under one of those “gates”. But that cannot be the purpose. If you carefully look, there are those “gate” structures horizontally too.

    Do you think this could be to allow for expansion due to temperature fluctuations?

  33. One more DSLR shot from Nikita Nov 26, 2019

  34. At Caldeira Velha Nov 26, 2019

  35. European Robin Nov 26, 2019

    These birds are fairly common in the mountains here in Sao Miguel island. I believe they are European Robins. This one was fairly fearless and sat next to us in the bench and did not even flinch as I took a few pictures.

  36. The unmistakable volcanic soil… Nov 26, 2019

  37. Twin lakes in Sete Cidades Nov 26, 2019

    Another of those volcano crater lakes. Actually two of them. The Green Lake (smaller one) and the Blue Lake (bigger one).

  38. Last crater lake for us this trip – Lagoa Do Santiago Nov 26, 2019

  39. Ready for a puzzle? Nov 26, 2019

    Do you see something intriguing in the picture?
    Check out the clothesline with all the clothes hanging (a lot of unmentionables, I must admit) between the two buildings (sort of in the middle of the picture). Now look at the height of the buildings… how the heck do they put them up there?

  40. A shot off the shore of Mosteiros Nov 26, 2019

    Back to the northern shores. The water is just beautiful. Those rocks are at least 30 feet high.

  41. Another shot off the coast of Mosteiros Nov 26, 2019

  42. Last item of the day… a visit to the pineapple plantation! Nov 26, 2019

  43. Good Bye, Azores Nov 27, 2019

    We had a fantastic experience in the Azores. We had no idea what to expect and had not met anybody who had come here. Based on a Conde Nast article, we had chosen this place for Sharmila’s birthday.

    The island is beautiful – with lovely water, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, thermal spas – all condensed within a small island. People are extra nice and very English friendly, food is very flavorful, everything is inexpensive and the island is a very safe and secure place. You can easily rent a car and go around but we prefer to take a local driver always since they tend to know a lot of details and unknown places. Henrique was fantastic that way.

    You will not get a lot of beaches – especially with white sand and shallow waters. This is a volcano that was thrust itself thru the ocean. So the water is very deep, the waves are huge and the beaches that are there have black sand.

    We give two thumbs up to Sao Miguel Island in the Azores!! You might want to visit here before it gets too popular and overrun by tourists.

  44. One last look at Ribeira Grande Nov 27, 2019

    From the air thru a hole in the cloud cover

  45. Bar with a long history… Nov 27, 2019

    2004: at this bar in Lisbon on a Saturday evening, I was all by myself. The bartender had introduced me to a liqueur – Licor Beirao. Fell in love with it. Bought a couple of bottles from the airport and took them home.

    Sharmila and I love this aniseed based drink (less sweeter and less kick than a Sambuca)

    2009: Sharmila’s 40th birthday! We came to this bar again in Lisbon and started the evening with a Licor Beirao!

    2019: Today, 10 years and a few wrinkles later, Sharmila and I came back yet again to the same bar. To kick off her 50th birthday, I started with the same drink. She started with a vodka. (We had way too much of Licor Beirao in the Azores).

  46. At Estoril station Nov 29, 2019

  47. Cascais Nov 29, 2019

  48. Another view of the Atlantic ocean (Lisbon in the background) Nov 29, 2019

  49. Those mighty waves nearly drenched the pedestrians Nov 29, 2019

  50. Mauricio Flores!!! Nov 29, 2019

    Mauricio and I worked long time back. I think I have met him twice – once in Buenos Aires and once probably in London during our office meetings. He was working in El Salvador (where he is from) and I was in our Atlanta office. He is one of those persons who I have kept up with after meeting once or twice thru birthdays and Facebook.

    Last month, I had called him up to wish him for his birthday and realized that he now lives in Lisbon. (moved from El Salvador to Portugal via Peru). Turns out he was going to be in the Azores too. However, we missed each other there by a few days. On the other hand, we did meet up in Lisbon!

    We went thru at least twenty of our old friends and updated each other on their thereabouts. Also, learnt a lot about El Salvador and a particular beach on the Pacific Ocean that might be a a great target for us to visit some day!

    Thank you for taking the efforts, Maurcio! It was great seeing you!

  51. The famous Tram #28 in Lisboa city… Nov 29, 2019

  52. Great airline, weather and local spirits karma Nov 30, 2019

    We had a fairly messy schedule – to reach the Azores islands and come back, we had to use three different airlines, seven different flights, three different countries (I am counting the autonomous zone of the Azores as the same as Portugal) and five different airports. Not a single flight was delayed or had any other issues. Every single flight was early in landing at its destination. That is some real good airline karma.

    Also, we had some great luck in getting local spirits this time – we got a gin and an anis liqueur made in the Azores Islands, another anis liqueur from Porto area in Portugal and of course, some Port wine. Even the TSA folks had become suspicious. Every one of our suitcases had the note from TSA that they had to open the suitcase for inspection. But each of the bottles and the ceramic pieces made it without any damage!!

    Finally, the weather Gods were super cooperative this time. The whole week was supposed to be raining in the Azores and Portugal. For some reason, for every day of the week, the weather forecast would change the previous night to no rain and full sunshine. That followed us the whole trip!!!

    We can do with some luck like that. Of course, if not, we had some spirits with us to keep our errrr… spirits up!