Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Azores - Ponta Delgada and a tearful Legend

With a shopping (Parque Atlantico) within walking distance to the hotel, part of the morning was spent looking around the shops and part was spent going into the city centre as well. We bought souvenirs as well as a few of pieces of clothing and returned to the hotel around lunchtime to meet up with our brother in law and young niece and have lunch together.

The hotel where we stayed - Sao Miguel Park Hotel - was very comfortable, had an indoor pool, sauna and gym, as well as an outdoor pool which wasn't being used at this time of year.
The staff was also very friendly and attentive and the breakfast buffet was very good. 
The  Sao Miguel Park Hotel

The hotel bedroom

Views from the hotel balcony
Views from the hotel

Sunset view from the hotel 
Murals on a garage door near the Hotel

Traditionally all the buildings in the Azores islands are painted white with the volcanic basalt stone surrounding window and door frames. 
Churches and other important older buildings show off intricate designs around their doors, windows and gates.

Basalt door surround
Basalt columns support the gates
A pale blue building in the city centre  with a city park

Portas da Cidade -  The city "doors" (photo from net)

Portas da Cidade (Doors of the city), built in 1783 origby the old city harbour were later transferred to this area in 1952. They are an architectural landmark in the city, in the middle of a cobbled plaza made with basalt from the region and white marble from Portugal. 

                                                                        The city doors at night, and a church

After lunch, we drove about 26km to Lagoa das Sete Cidades  (Seven cities Lagoon) on the western side of the island.
This lagoon in a volcano crater, the biggest lake in the island, is made up of 2 lakes narrowly connected, and crossed by a bridge, with the particularity that one side appears to be green and the other blue. The width of the lakes is 4,2km and the depth reaches up to 33mt.

Legend has it that in this local, a blue eyed Princess fell in love with a green eyed goat herder. The King who wished for his daughter to marry a Prince, when he heard about his daughter's love interest, he prohibited their relationship. The Princess asked for a last meeting with her love and while they both talked about their sad destiny, they both cried so much, that from her blue eyes the Blue Lagoon was formed, and from his green eyes the Green Lagoon was formed. Both were separated, but their tears were forever united side by side in the Seven Cities Lagoon. Isn't this beautiful?

From the top of the crater, 250mt above sea level, there is a scenic viewpoint called - Vista do Rei (King's View) - so called, because this was the place where in 1901, the Portuguese King D. Carlos and Queen D. Amelia, were dazzled by this view, when they visited the island.
Seven Cities Lagoon in the crater of a volcano

The lakes with the bridge across them and the Sete Cidades town on the other side
At Kings View - The family with the lagoons behind.
Left to Right (back) - my husband, his brother, my brother in law, our daughter/ L to R (front) - my sister, our niece and me.
Panel made with tiles showing the lagoon
A half finished and abandoned Hotel looks a bit lost in the scenery
We drove down the twisting roads to the village of Sete Cidades, and on the way stopped to photograph some cows  freely grazing in the green fields.

The Azores produce one of the best meats, very tender and tasty, and this is all due to the fact that their cows roam around eating grass. They are also producers of good quality milk, butter and various cheeses - one of my favourites being - Sao Jorge cheese, with a peppery taste. We even bought some to bring to Australia!

Cows grazing in grassy fields in Sete Cidades

By the water's edge there was a complex being developed that will include restaurants and Cafes, but at the moment, only one Cafe was in operation. We sat down for a while drinking coffees and teas, at the same time taking cover from the drizzle that was falling.

Although we mainly got sunny days at this time of the year, being the end of winter, it was still slightly cool. The island also gets a lot of rainfall, but most times it's just a drizzle, not enough to warrant opening an umbrella! 

Rainbow over the lake

I took some photos that showed the beautiful blend of colours around the lake, and managed to catch a rainbow too.

We drove back to the hotel and while the men played pool, my sister and I enjoyed some relaxing time in the sauna, jacuzzi and swimming pool before getting ready for dinner.

Another day in Paradise!!
Hope you are enjoying the Island, there's more to come soon.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Amsterdam to Lisbon to Ponta Delgada

We left Amsterdam, on the 1st March, not without some drama, as our son-in-law had forgotten his French ID card, which is too big to be kept in his wallet. As we were checking-in when he realized that, and called my daughter who was on her way to hand in the hired car. She raced home to go and fetch it and still made it in time. Luckily we had gone to the airport 2 hours ahead!

I still managed to get the IAmsterdam photo I wanted, as there is another sign (apart from the one at the Rijksmuseum) outside the Arrivals hall at the airport and it was crowd free too.

On arrival at Lisbon Airport we were greeted by my sister, and that evening we had a family dinner with my parents, niece, sister and brother in law and chatted well into the night.

From right to left - my sister, my daughter, son in law, Father, niece, Mother, me and brother in law (husband taking pic)

Early the next morning, on my birthday (March 2nd), we got on a plane again to Ponta Delgada in the Azores island of Sao Miguel. 
Our group consisted of my sister and brother in law, our daughter and her partner and us.
We were picked up by my husband's brother J who lives there, and because of the large group a car had also been hired.

Because the hotel check-in was only after 2pm, we decided to do some sightseeing and only go to the hotel later in the day. Our first stop was at a local beach for a coffee and chat to catch up on family news with brother in law J.

Grey skies, volcanic dark sandy beach

Views of the city of Ponta Delgada

A short while later we were on our way to Caldeira Velha Park in Ribeira Grande, about 20km from Ponta Delgada. 

I still remember when you could actually drive all the way to the hot pools, but now the park has been renovated, it looks amazing, has modern facilities like showers (albeit cold) and dressing cabins and is more environmental friendly too. 

For an entry fee of 2Euro, you can swim in the bubbling hot thermal waters. At the top close to the mountain side is another pool  with a waterfall, but the water is cooler.

Take an old bathing suit and towels as the iron content in the water will stain them.
There are walking trails through the lush forest, and there is an Interpretation Centre explaining the island's volcanic formation. 

Entry to the Caldeira Velha 
Hot bubbling waters coming from the mountain into the pool
Where the water falls the temperature measures 61C ! Hot, hot, hot!!
The pool at the top close to the mountain side is cooler and has a water fall
The pool at the bottom of the park is hotter and more popular with visitors
Everyone I encountered from various nationalities was amazed with the pool, the hot waters, the park itself. We gave Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lake) a miss as it was foggy and we wouldn't be able to see the view.
Nearby the Geothermal plant produces 42% of the island's electricity.

It was time to go for lunch, and we drove another 20km, to the town of Furnas, to eat the typical Cozido (meat stew) cooked in the hot spring waters, which had been ordered from the restaurant at the Camping place. 

At the end of this post you'll find a Youtube video about how the Cozido is made in the Furnas. This way of cooking in the hot geothermal waters makes the food taste quite different, so if you ever visit the Azores islands, don't miss this experience.

A big platter of Cozido (meat stew) 

The town of Furnas nestled against the mountain

After lunch we drove to the town's hot springs and walked around the park, tasted the sulphurous waters (tastes like rotten eggs or iron). The area is beautiful, green and peaceful.
The small pools of bubbling waters are now enclosed due to the danger of people falling into them. This is where the Cozido is "cooked" during a few hours.

At the Furnas Park each car pays and entry fee to visit the park (sorry can't remember how much we paid). We then walked around the lake and the hot waters (this is the area where they have the holes where the pots with food are cooked in).

The big lake at the Furnas Park

Me sitting on a  wooden elephant sculpture
The area had a few stray cats all huddled around the warm earth. I read somewhere that they get fed by the council.
Stray cats sleeping on the warm earth

Time to go to the hotel, check-in, have a shower and change so we can go out to dinner and celebrate my birthday.

My brother in law chose a restaurant in the city centre - A Tasca Tapas Bar and Restaurant - and ordered various Tapas. The food was delicious, service was great, atmosphere very good too. Booking is recommended.
My brother in law then surprised me with a birthday cake and I blew the candles and cut up the cake. There was still some left over and I took it to the hotel for the next day.

One of the Tapas board with cheeses and meats

It was a day well spent, and we were exhausted by the end of the evening!
Time to rest to be fit for the next day.

Watch the youtube video about the Cozido, to see how it's made.

PS - I've noticed that all photos are dated 3rd March instead of 2nd, I had started using my husband's camera by this stage and must have programmed the wrong day.

Sunday 1 and Monday 2 March 2015 

Giethoorn - the village with no roads

In the rented car, the three of us set out to Giethoorn, 120km north east of Amsterdam, known as Venice of the North, or Dutch Venice.
On the way there through the A6 and A1  we came across a lot of fields full of wind turbines.

Fields of wind turbines

Giethoorn was founded in 1230 by Mediterraneans fleeing religious prosecution, and the name comes from the discovery of goat's horns (gietehorens) in the marshland, which were remnants of a 10th century flood.

The town became known after 1958, when a Dutch film director used the village in his comedy "Fanfare", turning it into a tourist attraction.

Nowadays there are about 2600 people living in the farmhouses from the 18th and 19th century which boarder the canals, and the only way to get around most of the village is by boat, bicycles and bridges that cross over the canals. 

Being winter the tourists weren't there, the boats were packed away, and there was only a tour boat operating and a couple of private electric dinghies for hire either from the restaurants or from private people. The town has a couple of Museums, but we actually didn't get to visit them. There is also a holiday park with bungalows, which must be quite popular in Summer.

The main road bordering the main Canal
We started by having lunch at the first restaurant we came across - Rietstulp - and we loved the set lunch menu comprising of soup, meat and dessert for 17,50 Euros. The young man in charge of the restaurant was very knowledgeable about world affairs, languages, etc., and we enjoyed having a chat with him.

After lunch, we decided on a private boat ride and were indicated a house where we could hire a boat for 20Euros to ride during 1h following a set route on the map. 

We had a great time, cruising the canals, looking at the beautiful thatched houses, the ducks and the birds...Magic!!

Lots of bridges criss crossing the canals

Beautiful thatched houses

My husband and I enjoying our canal ride

My daughter and my husband, while I moved to the front to take the photo

wildflowers in a corner garden

The map showing the canal route for the 1h trip

After we handed back the boat, we needed some warming up due to the cold wind, and returned to the same restaurant where we had lunch. 
Coffee, mint tea (with real leaves) and Gluhwein were our choices. You can see how beautifully served they were, with a special candied stick to stir the tea, and a small cup of cream and caramel for the coffee, plus a cookie on each plate.

Mint Tea and Coffee

The inside of the  Rietstulp Restaurant - I loved the saying on those plaques

What a great day we had! 
I would love to be able to go to Giethoorn again during summer to experience the different atmosphere. 
We arrived in Amsterdam just in time for dinner and to pack our bags for our flight to Portugal the following morning.

Saturday,28 February 2015