Destination: Azores (where?)

In keeping with our Christmas tradition of discovering an exotic place, we threw the dart and it landed on the Azores.

At that point, I didn’t exactly know where they were. Had to go after I found out.

They’re islands that are part of Portugal; the result of angry volcanoes in the middle of the north Atlantic. Sort of halfway between New York and Lisbon and considered part of Europe. Home to some of the highest mountains on the planet.

Not to get even more scientific on you, but what I found most interesting is that some of them are connected to the same surface that makes up North America; the rest share a floor with Europe and Africa.

There are nine; we only had time and the budget for one. I chose Terceira because it has a city that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Angra do Heroismo.

Though it’s sort of on the same latitude as The Apple, the weather, even in winter, is mild enough for just a sweater or light jacket. Must be all those currents in the middle of the ocean.

I chose a hotel on the water near the city. A place you probably couldn’t get near in the summer. But since it was off-season, there was lodging for a reasonable price.

The airfare was another story. One airline flies from North America. No seats. Next move was to go with TAP, Portugal’s national airline. But we would have to connect in Lisbon on the Portuguese mainland.

That meant flying across the Atlantic, only to have to backtrack to land in the middle of it. Same thing coming back: From the Azores back to Lisbon and then back home.

The cost for all this back-and-forth wasn’t cheap, even in winter.

So we decided to see what we could see in Lisbon on the two lengthy layovers. I know, it all hurts my head too.

Never been to Portugal. Visited its neighbor, Spain, several times.

Confess I knew nothing about the former; other than the fact that like the latter, it discovered a lot of the world and had an empire for awhile. No small achievement.

But these days, Portugal seems to be overshadowed by its neighbor in part because of the media’s fascination with Spaniards Almodovar, Banderas and The Bardems. 

To the grossly uninformed like me, Portugal’s still known for Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan and maybe Chris Columbus (not the movie director). And the big financial tsuris it’s having these days, along with Spain, the U.S., and a heck of a lot of other places.

Obviously, this dopey Americana had a lot to learn.

Started the Christmas Eve trip from Pennsylvania like a rock star.

Mitch got me door-to-door car service from Lancaster to the airport in Newark, NJ.

I ask you: What could be more luxurious than a pit stop at Yocco’s the Hot Dog King in Allentown, PA? Started by the dad of some guy named Lee Iacocca. Well-worth the stop. And so was the potato peirogie. A first for me. Sort of like Jewish kreplach.

Landfall in Lisbon, 5am Christmas Day, after overnight flight.

We had all morning and afternoon there. Someone at Expedia suggested a cheap place.

The cons: Had to schlep up two flights of stairs.

State-of-the-art security …

Were those cotton balls in the pillows?  And the hard mattress had a plastic cover under the sheet. Mitch dubbed the place the Hotel Incontinental.

The pros: Modern, clean bathroom — a very huge plus.

And those great shuttered windows that say Europe. In a decent neighborhood in the middle of the city. All for $27.

We crashed, then woke up for lunch. Since it was Christmas, no luck finding an open place. Not one Chinese restaurant.

We saw a few people on the street. It was then that I wished we had somewhere to go. Maybe someone would adopt us Jewish orphans for the day.

Steps from the hotel, I thought my jet lag had me hallucinating. I smelled food. Home-cooked food. The aromas seemed to be wafting from what we first thought was a restaurant. The door was open, and people were eating.

I started to enter; then realized it was a private gathering. We were enthusiastically waved inside.

Turned out to be a  potluck Christmas lunch at the neighborhood Evangelical Christian church.

The congregants were largely immigrants from former Portuguese colonies in South America and Africa.

Our host left Brazil a decade ago when the economy really got rough. He’s a waiter who’s working on a psychology degree, and his English was great.

So was the food. Cod, a big dish in Portugal, with potatoes; some kind of kidney bean something or other. Comfort grub.

We were so grateful for the hospitality. And the chance to partake in the true meaning of Christmas: People reaching out to two strangers wandering the streets.

We were on a natural high when we caught our flight to the Azores.

Unlike last Christmas, when our plane to Prague was being de-iced before takeoff, it was so mild, people were dining outdoors at Lisbon airport.

Next stop: Terceira island in the Azores.

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3 Responses to Destination: Azores (where?)

  1. Pedro Cunha says:

    I hope you enjoy Terceira! Portugal have many nice places to visit next time you may come to Vila Real 🙂

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