Our second island stop in the Azores is Sao Miguel. São Miguel is the biggest island of the archipelago. Together with Santa Maria, São Miguel is part of the Eastern Group of the Azores Archipelago. The capital city of the Azores, Ponta Delgada, is found on the island of Sao Miguel. This is our destination.
The industrial port where we made berth was very busy. There was lots of loading and unloading of containers. Visitors are not allowed to walk along the within the port, so the cruise line is providing a shuttle to the edge of the city. There are three ships in port today, all from the Royal Caribbean Company-a Celebrity ship, a Royal ship, and our Azamara ship. It seems that everyone in the company is repositioning to Europe and the Mediterranean this week.
Boris and I had breakfast in the room today, enjoying our balcony. We have not booked a tour through the ship. With all three ships in port and the limited number of buses and guides on the island, options are limited. Once out of the port and at the edge of the harbor, we found ourselves at the Fort of Sao Bras. This is a small fortress open for visitors. Just along the boardwalk, we found locals ready to give you a tour in a car, in a horse-drawn carriage, or on an open-air bus.
We chose the “Fun Bus” easily spotted with the cow decoration on the side. It looks like the hop-on/hop up buses that anyone who reads this blog knows I regularly recommend. However, this was a single visit, no stop, and single language bus with speakers rather than plug in headphones providing the tour in a variety of languages. Our tour was in English. It clocked in right at an hour and cost 15 euros.
Leaving the fort, we drove along the waterfront. We saw more of the Azorean architecture, or what I have come to think of as such-whitewashed buildings with trim or other detailed work in the dark gray volcanic rock. We passed the city gates, now set farther from the water with a large plaza in front of it. This was the magnetic point for people taking pictures, going into the nearby Cathedral, and enjoying the sidewalk cafes.
We would pass many more churches, within and outside the main city of Porta Delagato, all with a similar look. It was only when we saw the modern churches, often built to replace ones that were destroyed in hurricanes, that we saw a departure from the traditional designs. I am sure they take the beauty of these old churches for granted and are ready for a change (not to mention the cost of replacing in the old style and the fact that it won’t withstand a hurricane), but none of the new structures appealed to me. We did however see new buildings continuing to adopt the traditional façade look.
We passed several beaches. There was resurfacing going on at “Big Beach” probably getting ready for the season which begins right after Easter and hits it stride in July. The dark sandy beaches can be rough. The gray volcanic sand can get very hot in the sun and you are unable to sit or walk on it.
Immediately out of the city were small villages with homes packed tightly together. This gave way to what I would call the suburbs, with larger home sites spaced farther apart and grass and garden areas. In both the villages and “suburban” communities, any open space was green with cows grazing on it. I also saw quite a few homes with the traditional ceramic tile numbers, religious tiles, and decorative tile fountains. In the outlining communities on both islands were community fountains where residents could come to draw water. We saw similar fountains on Faial.
Of course we drove by the soccer fields. We also saw ruins of the old walls made of the volcanic rock that could not withstand the hurricane winds. There are also several lovely gardens and parks that would be worth venturing out to see if we had more time in the city. We only got a peek from the Fun Bus.
After going through the posh neighborhoods and driving down some beautiful tree-lined streets, we made our way back to the fort. The Azoreans prune their trees to within an inch of their life, but a few were starting to get their spring foliage.
I was reminded about the debate on Bermuda when we passed by the Home of the Whopper, Burger King. It was the only fast food American restaurant I saw on the island. That said, if you asked what fast food chain I have seen more of in my travels across the world you might be surprised that it is not McDonald’s. The most common is Burger King, with KFC being a close second.
As Ponta Delgada is the capital city of the Azores, they designed and erected a fountain honoring each of the nine islands that make up the archipelago. A circular road allowed us to see the fountain from several angles.
After getting off the bus we crossed the street to the Campo de Sao Francisco lined with pruned trees and benches. A gazebo sits in the center and off to one side was an amazing tree and a children’s carnival ride. The fort sits on the North side of the square. On the south side is the convent and chapel of Nossa Senhora da Esperanca (Lady of Hope). This religious order is still active. The Convent is home to the Lord Santo Cristo dos Milagres, also known as Lord Santo Cristo or Santo Cristo dos Milagres. The image carved in wood is a sacred art piece. The convent’s chapel is currently under renovation. Construction on the church and convent began in 1535.
To the west on the square are the old hospital of St. Joseph and the Church of San Jose. In the sixteenth century this was the site of the monastery of the Order of St. Francis. The present church dates from 1709 and was open to visitors. It is exceptionally beautiful. The lovely blue and white tile work dates from the 18thcentury. Equally impressive to the gilded main altar, were the gorgeous side altars and the church’s statuary.
Boris and I next walked into the shopping district of the city toward Sao Sebastian and the city gates. The streets of the historic town center were like works of art themselves. We found lovely parks and Boris rested while I roamed around taking pictures. His foot is really bothering him today so he headed back to ship while I continued on my mission to see the city gates, main church, find an ATM (Bancomat, Money Machine), and maybe find the linen shop that was recommended to me.
I had success all around. The area was packed, but I stepped into the Church of Sao Sebastian. While lovely, I preferred the Church of Sao Jose. I found the linen shop; it was packed full of tourists. I didn’t have room to look around much, but I did get a tablecloth with blue hydrangeas on it. There were lots of sidewalk tables set up outside cafes and guests were enjoying a coffee and the beautiful weather.
Before heading back to the bus pickup point, I stopped in the square with the old city gates. There were so many photographers it was hard to get a clean shot. Afterwards, I walked back along the waterfront to reach the fort and our bus stop.
There are other things to do on the island. You can visit a pineapple plantation or head out to village of Sete Cidades where you can ascend to the rim of the volcanic crater. This is also the site of a natural phenomenon, twin lakes-one blue, one green. There are vineyard tours on the island. With all those cows, as you can image there are lots of special cheeses to go with the wine produced here. Tonight Azamara is hosting a special cheese tasting from the Azores.
San Miguel is definitely more developed as showcased by the modern highways. I enjoyed my visit, but preferred the charm of Faial. These two island stops offered a nice taste of the Azores. I would recommend them for a longer visit.