Monday, September 8, 2008

Triple Play - Faial to Terceira to Lisboa

A gorgeous Sunday morning, big puffy clouds brilliantly back lit by the rising sun. Perhaps today is the day that Pico makes it’s debut for us. It feels like the end of the trip rather than the middle, perhaps because I’ve accomplished everything that I hoped to. Besides, we were about to cover ground that we had previously traveled, and there is something delicious about being a foreigner.

Sunday - September 7th - Faial

On the dock waiting to board what looked to me like a pretty small boat to head into the big, bad, Atlantic ocean, I couldn’t help but notice the eclectic mix of passengers. First call was for baggage to be off-loaded in Angra (do Heroismo on Terceira), using the “first-on last-off inventory method. This was followed by luggage, goods, cargo (live animals?) that were only making the trip to one of the three intermediate stops. Hmmm … didn’t know about them, but that seemed to explain the 4 hour transit time.

Our first-on status allowed us to claim inside front seats at a table in the passenger cabin (Rich, being the sailor in the family, assured us that these were the most desirable), and Lu spread out all the breakfast goodies she had hoarded over the past few days. She continues to amaze.

The snug little harbor was colorful in the morning sun, and I took the opportunity to get a picture of the princess against this wonderful backdrop. The water looked calm and before we knew it we were jetting toward Pico along the pasture terraced hills of Faial. Once we cleared the jetty and protection of the bay I was surprised at the amount of turbulence this little craft was able to generate. Had we been on a plane the attendant call buttons would have been popping on like those little twinkling Christmas tree lights. I am not a sailor.

Within a few minutes the boat settled down and I went topside to watch us approach the harbor of Pico (it really is a short ride). More people, more cargo (vegetables, bicycles, kitchen sinks, and about 30 ten gallon plastic jugs of what must have been fermenting wine) were loaded. In short order we were back on the high seas bouncing toward our two stops at St. Jorge where more passengers boarded and more kitchen sinks were piled into the overflowing bow storage bins (piled against what I saw as our only means of escape - the front emergency doors). The boat was now full, and loaded, and contrary to what my sailor brother said the ride did not improve as more weight was added.

There were two TVs at the front of the boat and I tried to concentrate on the TV that was playing a DVD I had seen in every souvenir store in Terceira. Remember the bullfights in the streets, well a camera crew films them and thoughtfully splices together the instances where the bull wins the encounters. In some scenes the bull appears to be so upset with everyone laughing at it that it leaps at people sitting on the walls, and in some cases is able to pluck an antagonist right off the wall to do a momentary head-stand on the asphalt. Ride 'em cowboy.

Finally the pitch of the engine changed and we slowed into the dock at Angra. We disembarked to wait for our luggage and the land did not move and I was grateful. There was a pretty cool collection of passengers and cargo that we had accumulated during our voyage, and I wondered if Henry the Navigator had these kinds of problems. One young lady (I think) was dressed in black everything, a coolie hat, and had more piercings than I could count (never would have made it through the metal detector had this been a plane trip). One of the wine containers must have been shaken a little too much on the “smooth trip” that, when off-loaded, it blew it’s top and sprayed a beautiful purple foam over the dock. I was glad that we had retrieved our luggage moments before.

Agreeing to meet at the town center at 6:00, Rich and Lu taxied off to the airport to pick up yet another van, and we followed (at a discreet distance) the fabulous four along the pier toward the now familiar (and still beautiful) lavender church. After spending so much time with us old folks, I’m sure they wanted to let their wild sides roar.

The city hall (Paços do Concelho) was open so while awaiting our rendezvous we decided to check it out. We took an unguided tour of the legislative chamber (where we almost sat in the mayor’s elaborately decorated, leather bound chair while no one was looking) and ogled the exhibits and stained glass windows. The main hall is the largest hall in all of Portugal. Pretty impressive.

Rich and Lu picked us up right on time and since we had all enjoyed our dinner at the Biera Mar so much we decided to go back for seconds. On the rainbowed road to the restaurant we were stopped by another street bull fight, but only had to wait minutes for the ending signal flare went off to resume our trip. We were not disappointed as so often happens when you return to a place. The food and wine (Matt and Zach have kept track of which Vinho Verdes we have enjoyed) were as good, and the jokes were as old. The proprietor even sent over some complimentary Aguardente (firewater) for us to sample. We've become regulars.

Returning to Avalina's and Luis' house was a little like coming home. Luis had been busy repainting the white masonry and the house looked great (I wonder how often you have to do that in this salty, damp climate). We settled in, began our shower rotation and headed off to dreamland.

Monday - September 8th - Happy Birthday Kat

Black, "Over the Hill" balloons, and 7 voices singing "Happy Birthday to You" greeted Kathy as she emerged from the house. The cows in the pasture across the street starting moo-ing, the roosters crowed, and the sun burst forth from behind the clouds in celebration of the event. Well, almost. There were balloons (thanks to Lu), we did sing, and she did emerge from the house. The ride to the airport was eerily quiet. I know endings are but beginnings, but this part of our trip was definitely ending.

Rich, Lu, et al were booked on a morning flight to Lisboa, Kat and I, the afternoon flight. The young'uns were heading north to Porto, Rich and Lu were staying in Lisboa overnight and hopefully joining us to head south to the Algarve. With an agreement to meet at Cafe Suica in Rossio at 8:30 pm we bid our travel-mates adieu at the airport and taxied into Praia Vittoria. Our (savvy) driver asked us when we had to be back at the airport (he picked us up outside the "Departures" entry) and told us to meet him in the town square at 2:00.

The beach here is reputed to be the best in the Azores, but the town itself does not lack for charm. The central square could be a movie set, perfectly proportioned with plenty of park benches (populated by locals), tubs of flowers and framed by some classic architecture. It is also extremely clean thanks to the high tech equipment and sanitation crew. After a nice breakfast at the local cafe (I like how they served the tri-leveled cappuccino), we (Kathy) bought postcards to send to the folks back home. Finding a comfortable spot to relax, we (Kathy) wrote out the cards and posted them at the Correios at the top of the square. I did help mail them.

Right on time our driver met us and whisked us back to the airport for our uneventful trip east to the mainland. We will miss these islands, and miss the gentle people who inhabit them. We were treated kindly everywhere we went, and there is a warmth about them that is impossible to describe. The islands themselves are a curious mixture of very hard and very soft textures, and we are grateful that we were able to experience them.

It was a little shocking to exit the Lisboa airport and queue for the Aerobus to Rossio square. It is loud and busy, and diesel fumed, and personal space is limited. It is a shock to our systems. Cafe Suica was easy to find, as were Rich and Lu who greeted us with the news that they had indeed landed a room for us at a local Pensao (for 10 Euros a night less than theirs - and that speaks volumes about my brother's honesty), and it was just a minutes walk from where we were seated. They had a room on the other side of the square.

Pensao Beira Minho, is an interesting place, with the reception desk on the second floor above an entry hall that does double duty as a flower shop. It is rustic, the bed had clean sheets, there were clean towels, and I’ve run out of positive things to say. I was going to comment on the fact that our bedroom window overlooked an alley instead of the main street, usually a good thing. What keeps me from counting that as a positive was the 2:00 am serenade by the refuse collectors as they tipped large recycle containers into their big metal truck (the crashing of wine and beer bottles was indescribable).

So that’s the end of our Azores trip, and we were ready for whatever the south of Portugal had in store for us. Rich and Lu swapped a week’s use of their house in San Diego for a week at a villa in a small town called Praia da Luz, just south of the town of Lagos. What could possibly go wrong? Another adventure awaited and we were ready.

1 comment:

Lucy Silveira said...

I feel like I'm re-living the trip as I read your blog entries.

Thanks for the memories.....literally:).

Your writing style and comments are most enjoyable!