What a day. What a day. We had (reluctantly) decided to book one of the offered tours. It was an all day around the island bus tour. We thought Monday (early in our week) would be a good day because if we were hurried somewhere we could rent a car and go back another day ourselves. It was an excellent choice. And no need to go back.
9 am - board the bus at the hotel. First thing he drove up Monte Brasil to the cross. We could not believe the bus would actually fit through the gate of the fort. There was a hand width left to spare on either side. The weather was not so good as on Saturday so we were happy that we had been there in glorious weather.
This is the caldera (crater) of this vulcano which we had not seen either because we had walked up but not on that road. We had been told that is where the stationed (in the fort) Portugese soldiers do practice shooting.
Then we drove through the city and stopped at the bullring. No bulls are killed or even hurt. And it's not happening often in the ring. Mostly they seem to enjoy when the bulls are running through the streets. On the way back he played some videos on the bus and we didn't think it was our kind of sport. The bulls are running loose and seem to have fun and men with too much beer or wine are teasing them, running in front of them and when the bull charges they run away, often stumble and fall and are trampled. It seemed in the video that there were some kind of protectors on the horns but the bulls were still able to flip people in the air. Everybody (spectators in the video) seem to enjoy that. Sometimes a bull managed to run through a fence or jump over a wall and then spectators were running. We were told it is a custom dating back celebrating when the bulls were set loose and drove out the occupying Spaniards.
We drove from Angra do Heroísmo East along the coast.
Then we stopped briefly where you have the best view of "Goat Island". The story goes that the first discoverers brought goats to it and left them for three years to see whether they would survive. Since they did the islands were declared habitable.
Hugo across the street from where the bus had parked watched us very closely.
A stop at Sã Sebastião to take a look at this church.
All the walls had been covered in beautiful frescoes at one point until somebody had decided to whitewash over them. They are trying now very hard to restore what is possible.
There must have been something going on for the children because of the decorations around. There is a letter missing in the writing in front of the altar. It should be "JESUS GOSTA DE MIM" = "Jesus loves me".
Of course I had to take pictures of the lace. The ladies seem to be good crocheters, particularly filet crochet.
Miguel also told us that all over the island are these very colorful houses which seem to be for devotions. Couldn't quite understand what he was telling us about them.
The bus was parked right in front of a little cafe and there was still time ...
Then we drove across the biggest caldera (vulcano crater) 15 km wide and up to a point on the rim "Serra do Cume". It was a gorgeous view. Unfortunately it was not the best of days weatherwise. When you stepped onto the platform you could hear a loud noise and you thought the wind would carry you away.
The elevation was 54 meters here = 177 feet.
We drove further north towards the airport. The airport is mainly an American base and Miguel told us (and showed us) in detail where American soldiers used to live and now live etc etc. Then we continued driving towards Praia da Vitória which is on the east coast.
Picture taken from the driving bus of Vitoria.
We made a stop to have a nice view of the town. It is one of the two major harbors for cargo ships and cruise ships stop here sometimes too. This is a panorama picture and you can see the dark beach in city center were the bus is going to park.
I was nosy how the sand feels like. It is very fine and soft. The wind is probably easily blowing around and that is why there are some kind of containing features.
We were given time to run around town by ourselves and went up the hill. Guide Miguel had told us that there was a "blue church" and a "yellow church".
Two front altars. It's strange to me. But it is not the only one we have seen here like it. And then there was a free standing altar in front of both.
These flowers are growing wild everywhere and decorate the churches in abundance.
We came too late to see (and hear) the procession to this church. We could not find out what the occasion was. The church was full though and service was going on even though it was a Monday.
Not sure why blankets were hung over balconies on the left and on the wall in the back. I assume just to add color to the way of the proccesion.
Going downhill again and coming to this plaza. James finds out that this is not another church but city hall. An unusual looking building.
We leave the town and from the driving bus another photo of those colorful little devotion places.
And then it's time for lunch. We are back in São Sebastião. The building used to be a mill. Miguel tells us that we are going to have a very typical Azorian meal.
There were lots of people all on tables for 8 (4 on each side). Red wine, white wine and water were all on the tables. Cloth napkins. Really nice.
Bread and butter. Olives, chirozo and that very soft cheese.
First course: vegetable soup brought in a typical pot. Helen did the serving. She questioned James in detail because she wants to walk the camino, the pilgrimage in spain.
The main meal. A pot with mainly pieces of beef which had been in the oven for several hours. It was very tender and the juice is very tasty too. It was served with boiled potatoes and a sweet bread you should use to clean the liquid off the plate. I didn't care for the sweet bread but everything else was very nice. The earlier hearty bread would have been much better for the dunking but it was gone. We were surprised that there weren't really any other vegetables. And we noticed that the whole week. Really missing them.
And then of course we were served "Dona Amelia" which seems to be the pride and joy of every restaurant. This one was actually a little better than the one we had before.
Miguel also had promised us a "digestive" which he described as "grappa with honey". It warmed the tummy nicely.
A quick look around in the old mill.
And on to the next stop pretty much in the middle of the island. This is a lava tube. They assured us that the vulcanos were really extinct. I think there are three kinds: extinct, dormant and active.
I have been in a lot of caves but this was definitely different. Awesome! Thinking of our William who probably really would have liked this. If he is still interested in vulcanos when he is older Papa and Omi should take him there.
A staircase into the water. I don't know how deep the water is. Miguel said he has been in it.
The open hole is somewhere there.
Next stop: the Wine Museum in Biscoitos in the middle of the north coast.
We wondered why the stone walls everywhere were so high and the partitioned fields so small. Answer: the stones collect the heat during the day and warm the plants in the nights.
The vines just go everywhere but actually doing not that well in this soil. The industry can not compete and is dying. Most wine we drank was from the mainland. Portugal has nice wines.
There was a small museum but not so much of interest to me.
This is a true patchwork!
Welcome to the tasting. Miguel gives us all camellias. I put mine in water in an empty beer bottle with water and enjoyed them the rest of the time in the room.
From there to the beach. We had some drizzly rain which made a nice rainbow.
And then we drove a while to our last stop, the cheese factory west of Angra. It might have been in the town of São Mateus. We drove the last of the way on some lesser roads and it was very interesting but much too dark already for photos. In the cheese factory we weren't really shown anything but it was actually a tasting.
We were back at our hotel about 7:30 or 8 pm. And thanks to the cheese tasting we were not really hungry for dinner. We just had salads in the hotel bar.
I took a photo of the map we were given. It might help to see that you can drive around the whole island in a few hours.
We were glad we had booked this tour. It was very interesting.