Land Ahoy!

It was with excitement that we heard the Captain’s voice coming over the tannoy at 8.30 this morning to say that we should be arriving in Ponta Delgada, Azores, between 9.30 – 10.00.  By this time I think all the passengers were looking forward to being able to get off the ship and walk around on dry land.  Eagerly looking out of our portholes we could spot the hazy outline of land in the distance.  🙂

After breakfast we went outside on deck and watched the Braemar sailing into her berth; it was quite a feat for the team on the bridge as the sea was quite choppy and the ship had to dock a few metres forward of where she should have been, as the swell at the stern was so lively.  We were pleased to see touches of blue sky here and there – we were advised that it was 19ºC which, although much cooler than the Caribbean, was certainly better than it would be at home this time of year.

Once the Braemar was berthed and the gang-plank made fast, we hurried back to cabin # 3074 to get our jackets, bags and whatever else we’d need to take ashore.  We weren’t booked on an excursion until this afternoon, so we had a couple of hours to ourselves.

Ponta Delgada is the capital of the Azores; this Portuguese archipelago consists of nine islands altogether and enjoys a moderate year-round climate.  It’a bit windy, but then you’ll find that is the case with most of the Atlantic islands.  We had visited this port once before, on the Arcadia back in 2005.  It is a clean and modern town with an airport right next to the shoreline and lots of attractive buildings, apartment complexes, shops and charming little pavement cafés.  The main source of income in the Azores is cattle farming; they export a lot of beef and leather goods all over the world.

We disembarked the Braemar and walked through the port terminal building onto the main street.  It was really pleasant walking along in the bright sunshine, but we did notice that phenomenon which is common after many days at sea; the feeling that you are still moving.  Going up or down any steps was particularly challenging; it felt as though the steps were either dropping away from beneath me or coming up to meet me.  🙂

We wandered around for a bit, looking in the shop windows and trying to find a café which had free wi-fi, as I had my laptop with me and we hadn’t been able to check our emails since leaving the Caribbean.  While you can get an internet connection on board ship, it tends to be very slow and very expensive, so we tend not to bother with it.

We went into a bar-café and ordered a hot strong coffee and a pastel de nata each.  These are the scrumptious egg custard tarts with the flaky pastry that are so popular in Portugal and its territories and they are very moreish.

The café did indeed have free wi-fi so we were able to check our emails as well as upload some of this blog.  I also Skyped my aunt to see how she was doing and to tell her all about our voyage so far.  We followed the coffee with a glass of the Portuguese beer Sagres each.  🙂

When we came out of the café time was getting on so we had to go back to the Braemar and get our tickets ready to go on this afternoon’s excursion.  Our bus (no.3) was called more or less immediately so we disembarked the ship once again and made our way to the row of waiting coaches for our 3½ hour tour.

Our first stop was at the Arruda Pineapple Plantation.  The guide explained how the pineapple fruits were started off from sprouting tubers which were planted in large greenhouses kept at a constant temperature of 38ºC.  It takes 18 months to two years for a pineapple to grow to maturity.  Each greenhouse housed rows of the plants at various stages of growth; some had not yet flowered while others carried fairly large fruits.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a pineapple growing before now, and it was all very fascinating.

After viewing the pineapples we went into the small souvenir shop where they were selling pineapple liqueurs that you could sample.  They tasted quite strong but as we’ve already bought enough booze to take home we had to resist this time.  😉

Then it was back on the bus for the main part of this tour – the visit to the Sete Cidades crater lakes.  The Azores is pretty volcanic and some lakes had formed in a couple of extinct volcano craters.

The bus wended its way up the winding roads, higher and higher through the leafy byways with here and there a glimpse of the Atlantic ocean through the trees.  It was a lovely ride.  When we got to the top we alighted from the vehicle and got our first glimpse of the lakes.  What a fantastic view!  One of the lakes was a bright green whilst the other was a darker blue – it was quite amazing to see them against the mountainous backdrop.  We took loads of photos and enjoyed an ice-cream was a little mobile stall that had set up and was doing a roaring trade from the cruise passengers.

Back on the bus we set off for our final stop; to a large park that was spread out over various levels.  It was gorgeous walking through the park looking at the various trees and flowers and just enjoying getting some exercise (albeit with our ‘sea legs’).  A friendly black and white cat emerged from some bushes and rubbed around our legs, purring with its tail in the air as we bent to stroke it.

Then our guide rounded us all up and we set off for our return journey to the port.  When we got back, around 4.45pm, we didn’t want to go back on board yet; this was our last port of call before we returned to Blighty and, in any case, the Braemar was in port until about 11.00pm, so there was no hurry.

We therefore found a little bowling alley and bar-café which we discovered was selling caipirinha, my favourite cocktail.  The bar was lively and noisy from the bowling and the cheers and encouragement of the participants, a lot of whom we recognised as entertainers from the ship, who had been given some shore leave and were making the most of it.  One of them told us that they would be disembarking Braemar in Dover and going their separate ways until their next assignment, so it was the last port where they’d be together.

The caipirinhas, when they arrived, were cold and strong and totally delicious.  It was just so brilliant sitting here in this friendly little bar, not a care in the world, and enjoying being on holiday.  There was no hurry to be back on the ship so we ordered another cocktail each.  Halfway down it, I looked out of the window and said to Trevor, “That must be a massive ship there; look at all those balcony cabins!”.  Trevor looked and shook his head, smiling widely.  It was an apartment block and it wasn’t even on the same side as the sea!  Those caipirinhas were good!!   🙂

We finished off by having a third cocktail before finally getting back on board about quarter to seven.  After a quick wash and brush up (what’s known in nautical terms as a submariner’s dhoby) we went to the Palms Café and had a bite to eat before making our way to the Neptune Lounge to see tonight’s cabaret, which once again featured the Welsh comedian Lloyd Davies.  We managed to get decent seats at the front and really enjoyed Lloyd’s show, which was hilarious.  🙂

Then it was the usual – the Coral Club for the quiz (we didn’t win!) and the second show, which featured a duet between host Duncan Johnston and his colleague Bethany Gore; their show was very good indeed.

Afterwards we sat around listening to the Revolverlites and enjoying a few (free!) drinks.  Around 10.45pm we became aware of the increased vibrations coming up through the floor as the Braemar put to sea once more.  Our next stop would be Dover, in five days’ time, but we weren’t going to think about that just yet – there was still much more of our voyage to enjoy.  We’d had a lovely day today.  🙂

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