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Azores and Madeira Portugal
Rating: (5.0) (5 Votes)

Azores, Portugal
May 16th, 2005

Pros: Bird-of-paradise blooming everywhere
Cons: None

2005-05-16 Azores

We decided to rent a car with another couple, Paul and Christa. We were first off the boat and walked 1 km into town. The rental office was closed and we asked a cabbie when it would open. The cabbie claimed it would be closed for the whole day because it was a national holiday but he offered to drive us around for EU50 each (EU200 total). No way! Kim asked a local merchant and he said the office would be open. Sure enough, it opened a few minutes later. Our rental + petrol came to EU66, much cheaper than the cab driver.

We started with the overly-ambitious goal of seeing all three caldera lakes. We started off heading to Blue Lake and Green Lake (Lagua Azul and Lagua Verde I believe). We kept getting distracted by the stunning scenery. The mountains, lakes, and ocean were amazing. The entire island seemed to have been landscaped with perfect flowers growing in just the right places.

We know we found a good lookout point for the lakes when we saw the parked tour buses. It was amazing! Two adjacent pristine lakes with deep colors sustaining the reflection of the mountains. I wondered why there was no marina – in Texas such a beautiful lake would have been crowded with boats. Then I realized that the inhabitants had the entire Atlantic Ocean to play in and so they left the lake alone to be beautiful.

We drove through a few towns and were stopped by a small parade. It turned out that it actually was a holiday and there was a procession with banners, solemn music, and little girls wearing their best white clothes. The men wore a red vestment over suits. The boys wore the same vestment over T-shirts. We were reluctant to take picture because the mood was very somber but some of the young girls posed and the somber men would briefly crack a smile. The procession was followed by a couple of teenage boys happily shooting skyrockets.

That ate up most of the day and we spent the rest looking for the second caldera lake. After driving on narrow twisty mountain roads we found a hiking stop and learned that you had to hike to really see the lake well so we drove back to port. Paul and Christa were kind to drop us off at a mall while they returned the car. I asked someone for an internet café. He pointed down the road but informed me that they didn’t serve “café”.
It was a great day. I think I enjoyed the parade the best but the scenery was fabulous as well and everyone was friendly. We asked one teenage girl for directions. Her English wasn’t very good and she was very giggly.

-05-18 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

We had arranged to meet Jim and Peter outside the boat and rent a car at 9:00 am but Kim and I left earlier to scope out the town on bike. The town (and the whole island) was extremely hilly and we had to walk the bikes much of the time. We found a car rental place that was closed so had a hotel arrange a rental. They were asking EU48 but Kim bargained them down to EU40. I signed for the car while Kim returned to meet Jim and Peter.

Once I picked everyone up we set out to find some waterfalls but were distracted by the botanical gardens. It was wonderful but I won’t bore anyone with descriptions of flowers except to say that the gardens as well as the entire city had bird-of-paradise blooming everywhere. That’s my favorite flower (I even tried to wear one at my wedding) and I had never seen it grow wild before.

When we had our fill of flowers we set off in search of lunch. We found a nice little place and ordered the “scabbard fish with banana”. Scabbard fish is a white fish local to Madeira. It wasn’t very exciting but I’ll probably never have another chance to try it. The banana was served on top of the fillet and it’s juices had caramelized which made the dish exotic and tasty. I tried the local beer (Coral) which was a bit too hopsy for me until I mixed some carbonated lemonade into it, a trick I had learned in Germany (they call it Ein Rattler).

At lunch we learned that seeing the waterfalls would require a lot of hiking so we opted to drive around for a bit and then park in Madeira and sample some wine. The Bandy winery had excellent wine tasting. We tried four 5-year-old wines and decided we liked the medium-dry the best though I found it to be very sweet. We also tried a 10-year-old medium-dry wine that we liked even better. I believe the grape was called Bual or Buol. In addition to the free tasting you could buy samples of their vintage wines. We later learned that our maitre d’ (who is married to a sommelier) had tried many of the vintages including a 1860 wine that he loved.

And speaking of Madeiran wine, on the lunch menu we saw a vino verde. Green wine?! One cruise companion later told us that Portugal is the only country to make green wine. She had bought some and I hope to try it at some point.

After the wine tasting we bought and mailed some post cards and searched for an Internet Café. We found that the island had free internet in all cafes and public gardens! It’s funny. I had always thought of Portugal as small and not exactly backward but not progressive. Now I find that a tiny island in the middle of the Atlantic has free wireless internet access while in the hi-tech town of Austin, TX, USA I generally have to pay for it.

The internet is still important for Kim and I because we are still resolving some things back home. It’s unfortunate that we have to spend time in these beautiful exotic locations on the computer but for now it is necessary.

While I was taking care of business Kim, Peter, and Jim found a flower shop and bought a dozen birds-of-paradise and carnations. Our stateroom is now very lovely. Oh, and the shop owner was named Immaculate Conception.

P.S. I think I contracted a cold and I spent a lot of time the next day (today) napping. I’m feeling better now and am writing this on the laptop from a deck on the back of the ship with a beautiful ocean view and perfect temperature under a nice sun.