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23 April 2020 - Day 12 – Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal

Waking just after 7, I was up and organized and out of the cabin well ahead of “my crew”. At Waves, I asked for a large table to seat 7, explaining that I expected to be joined by 3 couples, and preferred a location near the entrance. Accommodated, I kept an eye out, but as each couple came into the room, they spotted me and joined the growing group. Having learned from my hungry tummy yesterday, I had a Spanish omelet with English muffins and Canadian bacon as well as the obligatory banana, OJ and coffee. Knowing we’d probably get back as the buffet up on 15 was pulling most of the lunch food, everyone got a filled plate.

Finishing up, we gathered our gear, and several made a pitstop as we didn’t know when, over the next 5 hours, we’d find a facility. Down a flight of stairs (I’m a good influence) and we checked out off the ship. Onto the pier, we walked past the stern and viewed the harbor.

At the gate, Roberto of São Miguel Tours was ready with a roomy Mercedes van capable of holding 10 comfortably. Everyone got a window, and I was able to sit up front alongside Roberto.

Passing through the eastern part of Ponta Delgada, we began heading inland to Rabo de Peixe in Boa Vista on the north coast. Standing in front of the church, we looked down on the small harbor and off to the west. We continued along the north coast, passing through small towns including Ribeira Grande until we pulled off the main road and headed towards the water and

Miradouro de Santa Iria. This is a lookout point made for selfie-taking. The sun and partial cloud cover were particularly cooperative, and the verdant green pastures looked like crocheting patchwork as the peninsula projected into the sea.

After passing through São Bras, we came to Fábrica de Chá Gorreana, aka the Gorreana Tea Factory. Roberto took us on the abbreviated tour of the growing fields, which had great vistas north to the Atlantic. Black and white cats abound, seemingly everywhere. The factory included a small café where we had a cup of tea (but I sated my sweet tooth with some tea ice cream instead). The woman behind the counter told us that we were lucky to come today – the weather was better than yesterday, and the place had overflowed with visitors on buses. We only had one other van tour sharing the space.

The main road we were travelling on, the EN11-1A continued to run about a kilometer in from the ocean coast. As we drove through Achadinha and on to Algarvia, we stopped at Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões, a pleasant stone block resort nestled in the valley. We hiked a short gentle trail up to a beautiful waterfall. Being out in nature, and on solid ground was very welcome. Back into the van, Roberto explained that he could take us to a couple of more lookouts to view the Atlantic looking north, but offered the option to skip and take us to his favorite on the eastern end of the island. Given that some more hiking would have been involved, we opted to keep driving.

We had to turn a ways inland to cross a river, and as we approached the bridge, Thuy spotted a sign for a botanical garden. She asked if we could stop, and Shirley and Judy chimed in too. So we got out at Jardim Botânico da Ribeira do Guilherme. The grounds were well tended, and the flowers quite amazing.

Back to the highway and crossing the river, we followed the river and stopped at a pull-off to allow me a great shot of the river mouth and the actual viewpoint. Roberto took us to that observation area, and again there were a lot of selfies (but not me!)

After passing through Nordeste, a lighthouse appeared off to the left, and there was a pull off for the Ponta do Arnel and the Faro do Arnel, which was a great shot. Continuing south, we were approaching Jardim do Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego, which Roberto explained was a much more formal garden in the “English castle style”, rolling over two sides of a small valley. We opted to continue driving south towards Agua Retorta.

Miradouro de Água Retorta, a viewpoint overlooked the actual town at the southeastern corner of São Miguel, bore a directional signpost announcing distances (in kilometers) to eleven major cities, including two on this cruise. [I love the spelling for Nova Iorque.] Continuing on, the road continued to twist and turn, as it had been doing since we had left the

botanical garden. We were further inland, not approaching the coast until we got to Povoacao. Before crossing the river there (after an interesting switchback) we stopped for a vista shot from the Miradouro do Ramalho overlooking the town and port.

Our next destination was the Furnas Caldera. The Azores are volcanic in origin, so dormant peaks form the ridges of the islands. There are still hot springs, and Shirley was keen on seeing them, and perhaps getting a brief soak. From the park where we stopped, dipping

into the springs wasn’t possible – one had to venture further around the park to a resort where pools were featured. Our time was running short, so we drove on to Furnas Lake, where we made a stop at the south end. There was a public restroom there, which pleased everyone, as well as providing a splendid view.

Noontime found us with temperatures in the low 60s and slightly less humidity than yesterday. We were about 45 minutes of a straight drive back to the port, so Roberto figured we had 2 more 15-minute stops he could make and still get us back to the ship with a little time to spare. The highway had much calmer curves as we turned west, after the scary tight turns along the southeastern corner. Much of the land to the interior seemed to be forest reserves, with small towns towards the water down smaller local roads.

As we sped past the turnoff for Vila Franca do Campo, I recalled that Mark and Helen had done a whale watching excursion with a group from the ship from there. They said they’d seen a few breaching whales while out on slightly choppy seas yesterday. Roberto drove us a bit further and crossed the highway to take us down a side road so we could visit Cascata do Segredo. This is a small park with a pipe aqueduct and quiet waterfall filling a shallow pool. It was a good opportunity to stretch our legs, as we were just less than half way back from Furnas Lake.

Our last stop was at the Observatório Vulcanológico e Geotérmico dos Açores in Lagoa. Part museum, part laboratory, geologic mineral samples were displayed as well as narrative explanations of the various kinds of volcanic formations and rocks. After so much green vegetation and blue seas in nature, this was a good reminder of the rocks that were under our feet.

Roberto got us back to the port at 1:15. After we paid him (cash - €200 total before tips), we headed back to the “gangplank” to pass through ship’s security and get recorded as back on the Meraviglia. Just after we boarded, a tour bus pulled in, apparently the last of the passengers on excursion for this Thursday. The seven of us decided to visit to our cabins first to drop off stuff before heading up for pizza at the buffet.

Jon and Keith had asked me to bring the photobook, so after plugging in a camera battery to charge and washing my face, I hefted #CathedralsToTheGloryOfGod up the ten flights of stairs. The team was already seated with pizza-filled plates when I got there, so I dumped my stuff and headed to the salad bar and put together a mixed green salad with a bit of everything. Everyone was smiling, and the book was open in front of Judy and Keith. I got kudos for putting together our tour, but I did explain I’d got the idea from the CruiseCritic forum, where the Wednesday tour had covered the whole of the island. Generally, we all agreed that the four-and-a-half-hour tour had been plenty, and a smaller party was ideal.

While we were eating, the ship’s horn sounded and we pulled away from the pier. After I’d had lunch, I headed up to the top to see if I could get any pictures of São Miguel as we sailed east, but we’d headed well out to deep water as we pointed pretty much due east to Lisbon. I returned to my cabin to make some journal notes and start this posting. And a pleasant nap was in order too.

Yesterday, I’d been on Terceira for martini hour, so I made sure to head to the TV Studio Bar on Deck 7. Ramon gave me a little flack for missing yesterday, but was impressed that I’d actually flown over to the other island and go my photos of the cathedral. Today’s offerings were an appletini (apple schnapps, lemon, vodka) and a blue moon cosmo (lime, cranberry, blue Curacao, orange vodka) with the “brown” contrast to these green and blue drinks being a dragon’s kiss (Fireball whisky and cranberry). Ramon was very popular with the ladies, remaking all of these several times. I snickered and headed across to the Brass Anchor to get a draft to clear my palate. Hanging out at the bar, I ran into the two bearded gentlemen, Dave and Gordon, and we got to chatting about travelling single, particularly on cruise ships. Both men had their own cabin, but had met last fall aboard the #Meraviglia. They would be continuing on another half dozen ships as they did a 4-month cruise around the world. Having a buddy to share times with was a bonus for them, as they’d both been adapting to solo travel after losing partners.

“The boys” left me for their slightly earlier late seating, and I strolled the galleria towards the stern, window shopping as I listened to the music coming up from the deck below. Down “the staircase”, I continued aft to the Panorama dining room and headed to the table. As I was a tad early, I asked the waiter to pour me a glass of my CdP that I’d had opened last night,

while I waited on the rest of the group. Jaime had returned to his early dining table for the evening, so we were 9. It was Mediterranean night, so a special menu was presented. I went with the moules marinieres to start, but skipped the associated duck. The Aloo Palak Saag, curry, sounded adventurous so I gave it a try and enjoyed it, although it, along with the mussels, really didn’t go with the wine. The warm apple strudel was a great choice for my dessert.

While there’s a time change again for Lisbon, the clocks would change on Saturday. We’d all been sampling the shows, and decided that we’d go as a group again tonight. Titled “Virtual”, we were treated to bits of Americana with country music and a hoedown. It was a fun performance.

Down a half flight and around a few corners, I was back in my cabin. Getting comfortable, I pulled a Bailey’s out of the minibar to sip on while I wrote this posting and went about plugging in everything that needed recharging. With the phone back in airplane mode, I checked the onboard app to see how I was doing on my Internet usage and looked to see if there were any bar charges (other than my wine bottles at dinner), but all was good.

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