Azores – Welcome to Paradise

In an effort to see more of Portugal, we flew to the Azores, a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. There are similarities to Hawaii – a group of volcanic islands of varying sizes and pineapple farms, for example. Unlike Hawaii, the islands aren’t overrun with tourists or partiers. It’s mellow, with a slow pace of life, and the tourists tend to be hikers and whale watchers. We stayed on the biggest island with the biggest city, Ponta Delgada.

Ponta Delgada

The “big attraction” on Ponta Delgada is a location in the mountains with twin volcanic lakes. The view from the top is spectacular. The light wasn’t great for photography but it doesn’t really matter given how beautiful the location is.

Ponta Delgada

A secondary attraction is the abandoned hotel across the street, the result of a huge mistake years ago when someone thought people would want to stay at one spot across the road from a lookout. Turns out that most people were fine with driving half an hour from the city and being able to go back to restaurants, the waterfront, and a pleasant small city. Although it’s officially off-limits, people do go in and even onto the roof. Not having a good flashlight, I stuck to the ground floor.

Village at the Bottom

It’s a short drive into the village along the lake. There are a few restaurants, a church, and plenty of places to sit by the lakes. Life was pretty slow in the village except in the restaurant we chose. And the ever-present laundry was hanging outside the homes. While most homes have washing machines, dryers are far more rare.

Pineapple Farm

The next day we visited a pineapple farm. Pineapples thrive because of the soil but are grown at a farm in greenhouses due to the weather. They are delicious, and the greenhouses are open to the public. Typical of everything on the island, people are free to wander and just see what’s around. Greenhouses are planted sequentially so there are always pineapples, which means you can see the pineapples at every stage by visiting each greenhouse.

Pineapple Farm

The windows that aren’t used for light turn into art over time.

Saó Miguel Countryside

Driving further into the countryside, the spectacular scenery continued. It felt a bit like a theme park in its pristine and simple beauty.

Atlantic Ocean

And the ocean is never very far away. Sao Miguel, the island we were visited, is long and narrow, it seems like all roads lead to water.

We ate at a small restaurant in a village near the water. The food was excellent – we had  mixed seafood grill that came with fruit and vegetables. There was a terrific display of radios and a typewriter in the corner with no explanation. Great to find art in the back of a restaurant!

Tea Farm

The next day, a tea farm and factory. The Azores are the only place in Europe where tea is grown. The factory is open, complete with machinery that looks at least fifty years old. And you can taste the teas they make. It’s also fine to wander in the tea fields, which look just beautiful.

Milk Delivery

The day trip ended with a meal, of course. We had limpets, a local specialty that is basically a sea snail, and grouper that had been out of the water for only a couple hours. The food was as savory as it sounds but the highlight of the meal came when a couple men came down the street below delivering milk.

The Palace in Sintra

Pena Palace is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Portugal. It’s certainly the biggest outside of Lisbon, with good reason. It’s a monumental “castle” on top of a hill in Sintra, it was originally the summer residence of a king of Portugal. During my visit, which included a harrowing trip up the hill through tight switchbacks and narrow roads in a full-size bus, there were quite a few visitors even on a cool day in early May. Because of all the visitors and a lack of a drone or helicopter (hah), it was hard to take big scenic pictures. Instead, I focused on a somewhat color-warped display of pieces of the Palace. Here’s a slideshow.

The Oceanário de Lisboa

The Oceanário de Lisboa

Europe’s largest aquarium or oceanarium, depending on what word you prefer, is also renowned as one of the best in the world. Typical of Portugal, the building itself is an architectural spectacle, with huge effort put into appearance and experience. Crowds enter through a long suspended walkway as if they were boarding a ship.

Gondola Lift Lisbon

Even before reaching the oceanarium itself, the Gondola Lift Lisbon, which carries cabins of eight people on a 1200 meter ride 30 meters in the air, adds to the anticipation. The lift contributes to the feeling of otherworldliness of this seaside strip. There’s also a walkway underneath.

Submerged Forest

A temporary exhibition, “Submerged Forests by Takashi Amano,” was the start of our visit. The exhibition presents Amano’s take on the underwater forests found in the ocean. It’s an interpretation and it’s quite beautiful. Click here for a video about how Takashi Amono built his underwater forests.

Lisbon Oceanarium

Once in the main exhibit area, a huge tank holds a wide variety of fish. The manta rays, some looking just huge, and the sharks are the first to grab attention, but there is a wide variety of fish large and small in the tank. Viewing can be done on two levels and little windows into various segments of the tank occur regularly while wandering through other exhibits.

Lisbon Oceanarium

Looked at as a tableau instead of fish, it’s fun to find scenes resembling abstract art. The bright colors, the variety of shapes and sizes, and the clusters of sea life could be hung on a wall at an art museum.

Lisbon Oceanaria

And the unreality of underwater scenes can be stunning. Salvador Dali would have been pleased to have painted something like this.

Lisbon Oceanarium

It’s a photographer’s paradise, to be honest, it’s not that difficult to snap away and get some amazing results. The exhibits are so well-executed that there’s an opportunity around every bend. The colors, the shapes, the strangeness of seeing the bottom of the “ocean,” these all contribute to that surreal feeling.

Fountain Oriente

 

Even after leaving, walking across to the mall where the subway station is located, there is a sense of Lisbon’s design. Lisbon truly embraces the modern along with its antiquity, and this odd fountain is typical of the kind of modern sensibility found everywhere, even in the subway stations.

A tip for photographing in aquariums: if you are using a camera, put the lens against the glass, with a phone, get the phone up close to the glass, it will eliminate reflections and defocus dirt on the glass and give much clearer photos.