Wednesday, 24 May 2017

I Guess I Have Always Had This Nose

This is what I looked like exactly 33 years ago today, though only the nose is recognizable to me:

"30 minutes after delivery the flash bulbs start popping."
Photo by George Sweeton 
May 24, 1984

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Me, On A Sailboat, On Tuesday, In The Azores

When Jason shared his photos from the trip I was surprised how many there were of me. I am just not bothered by having my picture taken so it doesn't really register. We both only had our phones with us in terms of cameras but Jason came away with more pictures. I thought I would show what our sailing day looked like based on photos, it was a nice post to do about Monday, lets do it for Tuesday too. (All photos are Jason's unless otherwise noted)

Setting off! A beautiful day, a beautiful boat!
Skipper Pedro (left), First Mate Rui (right), and Jason
Photo by ME

Touring along the coast, passing cities and towns.
The architecture is very 'European.'

They let me drive!
I think there was some type of autopilot going too, 
but when I turned the wheel the boat moved.

Left the wheel to hang out at the bow.
One of the quiet coves along the southern coast of Sao Miguel.

I can see it! Our destination far ahead. 
It doesn't lie far off the coast of the city of Vila Franca do Campo,
but we left from Ponta Delgada so had to travel east to get to it.

The reason for it all!
something that I REALLY wanted to explore.
While we didn't see it from this angle (helicopter?)
you did get a sense of its shape from sailing around it,
climbing along the rocks on the inside, swimming in the lagoon, etc.
Photo from Tourism Website

We are getting closer.
The weather was perfect.
Just enough wind to be exciting,
not enough wind to make Jason uncomfortable.

I can't take my eyes off of it.
It is literally an ancient submerged volcano, and looks like it.

Rounding the islet to get to the entrance.
The cliffs show the rocks at strange angles and formations.

So beautiful.
Not just lava rocks and harsh cliffs,
also tropical vegetation.
(And later we would learn,
tons of newts and crabs.)

Time to swim!
We reach the entrance and they anchor the boat.
Jason and I swim into the Islet to explore.

Docking the boat.
After our excursion, we went into town for lunch.

It has moss still on the shell!
My reaction to one of the pieces of seafood served at lunch.

Full on tentacles.
But then I had fresh octopus for my main course,
it was amazingly delicious, melt in your mouth good.

Saying goodbye. 
Left the islet and the city Vila Franco do Campo,
time to sail back to the main port.

Spent the ride back enjoying the sun.

A bit bigger than us.
Came into port just as a cruise ship was leaving.

We want to thank our friends and family who supported this trip, which was our honeymoon, and those who participated in our crazy wedding back in September. The money that was gifted to us was used on this trip and allowed for the types of adventures we might not normally splurge on. We had so much fun and are very grateful.

Boats, Bones, & Bikinis - Tuesday In The Azores

I got to swim in the ocean again today, but this time it wasn't warmed by a hot spring. It is our last full day in The Azores and our postponed sailboat charter was scheduled. I was so excited to finally get to explore the Islet of Vila Franca do Campo, but we had been told when we booked with Sailingside that we would have to swim into the centre of the crater on the islet because it was too shallow. The sail boat could anchor near the opening and wait for us.

This swimming idea did not appeal to Jason when the internet kept telling him that the ocean was around 16 to 17 degrees. We had done the Toronto Island Triathlon in similar temperatures, and Jason had bad memories of it being way too cold. So we woke up early this morning to go find him a wetsuit to rent. The major town that is just slightly down the road has a surf school so we set out to rent a wetsuit there. When we found it, there was just a number to call. They were set up on the other side of the island where the waves were better, but that was still on our way to the boat. When we met up with them, in a moment of weakness, I decided to rent a wetsuit too.

I am glad we held off going on the sailing trip because the weather today is much better for being out on the water. We got onto the boat and headed out of the harbour with our Skipper Pedro and First Mate Rui. We explored the coast along the way and finally made it to the islet. Jason and I went into the cabin to change and I decided that I would be fine in my bathing suit since the sun was shining and I don't really like the feel of a wetsuit. So this is why in the photo below taking by the skipper who stayed back on the boat - you can see me clearly but Jason blends in with the rocks in his head to toe black.

Jason (wetsuit) and I (bikini) in The Azores
Photo by our skipper Pedro
April 2017

We jumped off the back of the boat with snorkelling masks and breathing tubes, which I didn't know how to use so just ignored. Jason and I swam, through the thin entrance area and climbed up on the rocks inside the crater. We walked around, though the seagulls have taken over during the months when they don't run the ferries - so there were bones everywhere. There were also newts! Tons of them that were sunning themselves on the rocks but would run away when you got near. There were also quite a few crabs, including big red ones. 

Another couple had come in a sailboat too that was parked near the entrance and they were scuba diving in the lagoon area. They said that the previous day they had seen giant manta rays in the lagoon from the land and had come back to see if they could see them in the water. We didn't have any luck but we did see a couple of schools of beautiful silver fish. Jason saw other cools things since he is better at snorkelling than me, I think I kick too loudly.

We went into the town of Vila Franca do Campo for lunch before heading back to Ponta Delgada, this time sailing further away from the coast so we could get consistent wind. 

For dinner we went to an interesting restaurant, Quinta dos Sabores, that we had gone looking for earlier in our trip but required advance reservation. It was a farm to table style and they cook a five course meal just for those attending that evening. The food was good and we were hungry from being on the water all day.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Photos For My Favourite Day - Monday In The Azores

I didn't know how excited I was to swim in the ocean or how much I have started to enjoy hiking on holidays but today was so much fun, I think it has been my favourite so far. Let me detail our activities using photos (unless otherwise stated, all pictures were taken by Jason.)

We drove to the south-west coast 
to go swimming in the ocean at Ponta da Ferraria.
The cliffs are steep, would our little car make it?

Of course it would!
The switch-backs helped of course.
That truck is not ours, we rented a little car.

The jagged lava rocks make for an eerie looking coastline.
But this is the best place to swim in the ocean 
when the weather is a bit cool out.

Because these natural pools are fed by a hot spring.
At low tide the ocean is 28 C in this spot.

These pools have been used since the fifteenth century.
History was onto something, we enjoyed a nice swim.

Then we went for a hike at nearby Sete Cidades.
We set off to get to the lookout point for the 'twin lakes'
wanting to see the iconic crater formation.

The walk started off taking us pass an aqueduct.
(Which I could find no information about,
obviously it killed me to have no facts on this!)

About half way through we noticed
fog had started to roll in.

Was it going to be worth the climb
if we couldn't see anything? 

Because it really was a climb!
It was another hike with a big elevation gain,
almost 200m again, in a short period of time.

But we stuck it out, worked up a sweat,
and reached the top. (Hydrate!)
It was an enjoyable walk, no one else was around.

But at the top instead of seeing this:
Photo from a travel site.
Iconic image of the Azores,
seen a million times while researching the trip.

We had this view:

Still, it was a wonderful day!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Sulphur Stew - Sunday In The Azores

We were scheduled to go sailing today but when we arrived at the marina the captain suggested postponing the trip and waiting for better weather. It was pretty chilly and very grey, also apparently quite windy out on the water. We appreciated him giving us a chance to come back on a nicer day and we agreed on a Tuesday trip. That will be the day before we leave so it is cutting it a bit close, but the forecast is good for that day.

Both the captain and first mate highly suggested that we go to Furnas, pretty much everyone we talked to had mentioned this place. It is also the main destination for tourists when cruise ships come to port for the day. Basically it is the one big unique attraction. But the whole island is amazing, I didn't understand why everyone kept going on about this small part of it.

We decided to go because it was crappy weather and that is recommended. The first stop was in the main place for geothermal, volcanic activity. A conservation area with geysers and boiling mud and all that awesome stuff. We had seen some of it before at Caldeira Velha but this was at a much larger and more intense scale. As you can see from the short film from my phone HERE, I am not a good videographer. I also really like boiling mud!

In that video you can see piles of dirt with posted restaurant names, this is for a dish called cozido and it is another main reason to visit the Furnas area. It was recommended by a lot of people because it is very unique to the area - seeing that it is a stew cooked in the ground using geothermal heat it does lend itself to being pretty unique.

When we went into town Jason got the stew, though admittedly not at a very appropriate location. The stew is made from hearty and root vegetables, various cuts of meat, and types of sausage. It really would be best enjoyed in a very casual setting. However, we had lunch at a fine dining restaurant in a luxury hotel, see my photo of Jason on the right eating the stew with white table cloth.

The reason were at such a fancy place was that the hotel owns these beautiful gardens and hot springs and if you eat lunch there than the admission is included. The admission on its own is surprisingly high, especially as we just ended up walking around - I didn't think the hot springs would be a good idea for me. The gardens were spectacular though, they were started in the 1700s so some of the trees are huge and everything is very exotic and magical.

We drove home along the north-west coast which is a fairly remote area with gorgeous scenery, jagged cliffs and rough seas. So beautiful. (I only feel asleep for a short period of time in the passenger seat.)

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Hospital Tales And Watching Whales - Saturday In The Azores

My Saturday started really early with multiple trips to the toilet to pee. I recognised the symptoms of a bladder infection (UTI) right away. I decided to go to the hospital to get antibiotics, told Jason, left him in bed to sleep, and headed over the hills on the short 15 minute drive to the main city. This also gave me a chance to practise driving standard again during a time when there were no cars on the road (literally none, I saw a total of three the entire time, both there and back.) 

Since it was the middle of the night, the hospital was fairly quiet and they moved me through quite quickly. When I first got there they said that it would cost 170 Euros to see a doctor, more if there were tests. (They did end up doing blood work.) Jason called our travel insurance from the hotel and by the time I was leaving the hospital payment information had been faxed and it didn't cost me anything.

After a bit of sleep and breakfast we went back to Ponta Delgada for our Whale Watching trip, stopping first at a pharmacy to fill my three prescriptions. We did have to pay for the medication, but it wasn't a lot and I am pretty sure we can claim it when we get home. For someone who enjoys hospitals, this was not at all the issue it might have been for other travellers (though I did not enjoy the IV going in so they could take blood.) The only unfortunate thing was another night without enough sleep. 

The whale trip was rescheduled to start half an hour later because the boat hadn't returned from the morning trip. We were told that the captain had taken them far out to see blue whales and that we would likely get a sighting too. Jason was so excited, he was practically bouncing in his chair as we sat on the marina patio having ice cream and waiting for the boat to come in. 

We boarded quickly and were on our way to many hours at sea looking for whales. Jason did get a glimpse of a blue whale, as we saw one surface a few times. We also got great views of a sperm whale that hung out near the boat for a long time. We do have a great video of the friendly sperm whale, including a dive that involved a tail flip. However, I can't figure out how to load it up onto the blog so instead I am included a photo from Jason that is reminiscent of my mom's famous seal shots:

"Whales" by Jason 
Atlantic in April 2017 near The Azores 

The captain would have kept us out on the water longer but a couple on board had a flight to catch. We could see the 'blows' of other whales in the distance, as it was our four hour hour trip ended up being almost six and a half. Jason struggled a bit to not get seasick and stayed outside the whole time. For the last little while I headed into the enclosed area to have a nap. Sadly my sleeping made me miss seeing some dolphins that Jason said showed up off to the side of the boat at one point, but the nap was still nice. 

Ring Science

Jason looked up what happened to our rings yesterday and it is pretty interesting!

So, our rings are silver and the sulfur in the hot springs reacted with it, turning into 'silver sulfide,' if we had stayed in longer the colour would have moved past gold to brown to black. It is known as Black Sulphide.

To fix this, you can polish the rings, since it will normal silver below but that results in losing some of the material. Our plan is to reverse the reaction when we get home. If we put the rings with aluminium foil and baking soda than it will reduce the silver and silver Sulphide which will reform the silver metal.

There is not point doing anything about it now since we plan to visit more hot springs during the trip and exposing the rings to sulfur again. Even though Jason really doesn't like the bownish gold they are right now.

Part of the reason that gold is considered a more precious metal is that it is less reactive with other elements, so this wouldn't have happened if we hadn't gone with the cheapest material option like we did. But I love it, makes me like our silver rings even more!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Rings, Springs, And Organizing Things - Friday In The Azores

Breakfast is included in our hotel, so after a bit of a sleep in we went downstairs to see what the buffet would look like. I was very impressed, four rows of food including a full row of bread and pastries, lots of hot food, fruit, yogurt, even chia seeds!

We went into town (Ponta Delgada) to sort out whale watching and figuring out how to get to the Islet of Vila Franca do Campo, since the ferries don't start running until May.

We booked our whale watching with Moby Dick, one of the main operators and top rated on Trip Advisor. We are going tomorrow.

While we were booking, I noticed a brochure for sailboat charters; this is one of the ways I had figured out we could get to the islet. Also, it seems like a fancy thing we normally wouldn't consider - perfect for a honeymoon treat. The lady at Moby Dick said that the brochure was for a friend and she would call him for us, a few minutes later he was leading us to the boat (that was finishing up a film shoot for a French travel show.) We booked a private full-day trip for Sunday, and have no idea what to expect!

After a quick stop back at the hotel we headed over to Caldeira Velha hot springs. It was only 2 Euros each to go in. The short walk through the forest was breathtaking, with a stream, palm trees, and ferns everywhere. We passed a small pool and patch of boiling mud (so cool!) The larger pool was a bit cold but had a natural warm water waterfall so if you stayed close to, or under, it you were fine. It was totally magical. We did spend some time in the smaller, warmer pool too. After we got out Jason noticed that our silver wedding rings had changed colour!