Saturday, May 18, 2013

Day 2 - Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel Island (Azores)

Ugh. What a "night." If you want to call it that. We landed in the Azores at 3am Boston time. 7am local time. I'll say I slept for 30 minutes, and that is generous. I could not for the life of me get comfortable in those tiny seats. Matt, on the other hand, slept most of the way. Except for when I was wiggling around like a "spider monkey" and woke him up countless times. He asked me if I was exercising at one point, haha. And then glared at me and said he was about to stab me! I liked it better the other way around like when we flying to Amsterdam and I slept while he was awake the whole time. ;)

Anyways, we landed on time and got off in cool and cloudy Ponta Delgada on the island of Sao Miguel. (Matt asked me if I enjoyed my Zumba session on the plane, haha. Guess I was a little too squirmy?) We were towards the front of the plane so the immigration line wasn't too long. And no forms to fill out at all! Just a stamp and through we went! Small airport with birds flying around in the baggage claim area. And plants growing I side. Very tropical feel!

Took forever for our bags to come and I was already on the verge of a meltdown, haha. Thank goodness for a cute little dog I got to play with to cheer me up. ;)

Walked through "customs" and no one even looked at us. Then it was off to find our rental car, Ilha Verde rentals! It was the cheapest, but we couldn't find anyone working at the stupid desk!!

Eventually, she came, after we had the Hertz girl next door call her! She gave us a "very special deal" for today only (yea, right) for a better car. Either way, Matt was right, it's a manual. No automatics available. O. M. G. I was nervous. It's been SO long since I drove one of those! Just in case it didn't go well, I purchased extra insurance. You never know. I figured if in ever going to buy the insurance, it should be my first time driving internationally. 

So off we went, keys in hand, to find our little black beauty - a Ford something that only takes diesel fuel. (She reminded us of that numerous times.) The parking lot was just outside the door to the airport. Ocean to the right, and giant green, tropical hills on the left. It was cloudy, so it wasn't that pretty yet, but we were still excited to be on a tropical-ish island!

Did I mention I was nervous?? I was nervous. I sat in the driver seat for awhile running through things in my head. What I could remember, pushing on the clutch etc. All the while Matt was coaching me along. "You're going to do fine! It's like riding a bike! It will come back to you!" Ha, he doesn't know that I never was that great at it!

I started in reverse, and very VERY slowly...did fine. (Once Matt took the parking break off when I couldn't figure out why it wouldn't go.) 1st gear, stop sign, 2nd, 3rd...and we were cruising down the highway! Not going to lie, I was pretty dang proud of myself for doing so well and not even killing it once! 

I had directions printed off from the airport to our hotel in the city just a few kilometers away. Unfortunately, there are NO freaking road signs anywhere here and we completely missed whatever turn we were originally supposed to make.  Confident, we kept going and ended up somewhere in Ponta Delgada. It's a pretty little town, old buildings, definitely a European feel with little narrow one way streets. Not cool for driving a stick shift though. 

Yes, I took this while driving.

We drove around and around...and around. We knew we had to be close. Eventually we saw the name of our street after looping around the neighborhoods a few times, and somehow ended up in front of our hotel, Hotel Ponta Delgada. Still can't believe we actually found it! And parking right on the street directly in front of it!

Checked in without a problem and made our way to our little room on the third floor. It's really not a bad place, especially for the price. It was cheap. Great location, just a couple blocks from the ocean, restaurants, the main square, etc. 

The front desk lady who checked us in told us that we would need to move our car before the ticketing guy came around. She said we could find somewhere else on the street or park in the "very small" garage underneath the hotel if we could find a spot. Sure, why not.

So we drove down, and "very small" doesn't quite do it justice. It was pretty much impassible with a car in every spot except one at the very back, surrounded by walls and cars. We decided to go for it. Aaaaaannd got stuck between spots. No joke.

We could NOT make it work. I was trying to inch forward and backward to turn around and just make it out of that place...when it happened. I backed in to the giant cement pillar in the garage.

UGH. THANK GOODNESS for that car insurance. First time I've ever bought it and first time I've ever damaged a rental car. The Good Lord takes care of me!! So I wasn't that upset about it, and was too tired to be anyways. The big thing was we were still stuck between a car and a cement pillar. I don't even know how to explain it, but we were. And then the lights went off in the garage.  No idea why or how - and we couldn't figure out how to get them to go back on.  Matt was standing outside the car yelling at me how to turn the wheels and get out... Oh it was good times. Somehow we did finally manage to make it in to the spot with about half an inch to spare on each side and decided to just leave the stupid car there and not drive it again. No way was I ever getting it out of there. 

The damage.  See - its not THAT bad!!

Back up in the room, we knew we both needed some sleep, but not before we got some breakfast. Our hotel had free breakfast from 7:30 to 10:30, so we decided to check it out. It was average. But I mean you can't really complain when it's free, right? We each had toast with jam, some un-sweetened corn flakes with warm milk, and some oj. It did the trick. 

I had been emailing back and forth with a guy from "Amazing Tours" about possibly doing a tour around the island with him. There's a lot to see here, but I knew I wouldn't have a clue on how to get to it all. (Especially with the lack of road signs here!) So we gave him a call and asked if we could do something this afternoon. He set up a guide to come pick us up at 2pm in the lobby for a 4 hour tour of the western part of the island. 

Perfect. Now for some serious sleep in our cute little room. (Oh, we went down to ask the front desk for more pillows, because there were only two small decorative pillows on the bed. She told us to check the closet. Jeez.  Why not just put them on the bed??)

We spent forever walking around trying to figure out how to turn the stupid hall and bathroom lights off. Neither of us could figure input so we jut laid down, dumbfounded, around 9:45am local time after flipping every single switch in the room multiple times. They weren't that bright and we were exhausted. About a minute later, they turned off. Motion sensor. We felt like idiots. 

Two little beds (pushed together of course) with not so soft mattress. But we were both out pretty quickly. I slept fine and did NOT want to get up when the alarm went off at 12:30. I immediately re-set it for another 45 minutes. Still didn't want to get up then! Pretty sure I could of slept all day. 

Matt hopped in the shower, I stood on the balcony and enjoyed he nice weather. The clouds burned off and it was a nice blue sky sunny day!

We went down to the lobby a little early to try and find some food before our guide came. We walked up the street a block or two and asked a nice young Azorean gal who pointed us back towards the hotel to a restaurant near there. It looked okay, but to too good - and not quick. So we asked the lady at the front desk of our hotel, who of course told us to go to the bar at the hotel. 

We were the only ones in there, so 10 minutes later we had a bottle of water and two ham and cheese toasted sandwiches in front of us. Perfect!

By the time we finished, our guide Victor was waiting on us at the front door. Super nice guy. Born in Bermuda but family is from Azores. He's lived here a long time and knows a LOT about the place.  Like, everything.

He drove us all over and stopped and lots of lakes and view points along the way. He's good at taking pictures. (He's had some practice.) I'll update the rest of this part with details when I'm back, but here are some of the good pics for now. 

The island is pretty awesome. So green! I guess we really kicked out with the weather. It's usually pretty cloudy and rainy here, but we got some great views of several of the over 30 lakes on the island. 

Victor told us all about the plants and trees along the way. The little dirt roads are all lines with hydrangea plants that I bet are just gorgeous when are in bloom. 

We stopped at a little shop in a small village and ordered a local made treat. Not sure what it was called, but it was good!

After that, we went to the best view point of the day overlooking the town of Mosteiros. It was just gorgeous. Big cliffs coming out of the water. Beaches and little houses. If we come back, I think we'll stay in that town. 

Mosteiros in the distance

We were heading back to Ponta Delgada to a pineapple plantation when we came upon a parade of sorts for the big celebration going on this weekend. (Don't remember what it was called!) Bulls pull these super old wooden carts with wooden wheels that make the most horrendous sound. They moved so ridiculously slow. They were delivering sweet bread and wine to the little towns and they even gave us some, too, as we drove slowly by! Victor said his dad used to do that and it would take him THREE DAYS to get to the other side of the island and he would sleep under the cart at night!

They were barely moving.  For real.

Once we made it through that, we went to a pineapple plantation. I was shocked to learn that they grow in the ground and it takes two years to make one! Learn something new every day, right?! It was pretty cool to see, and we go to try pineapple liquor and jams too! (And I bought some earrings made from local lava rock there!)

Victor dropped us off after that. Well, once he got our car out of the parking garage first! He is seriously a ninja at parallel parking.  It's amazing.  As soon as we saw him park his big van in a spot with about an inch to spare on each side, we knew he could get our car out. Of course it took him all of three seconds and he made us look ridiculous. Oh well. Car is on the street now and it's free parking on the weekends!

Matt and I decided to set off on foot to a new-ish area of town where there were some restaurants that Victor recommended. We stopped in a few little stores and checked out all kinds of stuff. I have some more pics of the city Ill load later. 

We ended up at a all-you-can-eat meat place down by the water. I had a fish dinner and Matt did the meat. Neither were that great. Well, mine was fine until I started hitting all the fish bones. I just couldn't do it. 

We walked around some more after that. It's so fun to just walk around and explore a little European city - cobble stone one way streets and all. I loved it. And it was surprisingly dead. I mean for a Saturday night, I couldn't believe the streets were empty and everything was closed! Also surprising that at 9pm it was still light out!

Anyways, we are back in the room now watching "You've Got Mail." Going to get some sleep and hopefully get up early in the morning for a long run before another day of touring with Victor!

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