Lyon and Grenoble, France

Finally made it to Lyon after three attempts — thank you COVID-19. EasyJet decided to change my return flight prior to leaving Faro, enabling me to extend my adventure several days and take a trip to Grenoble.

The Saône River in the light
The Saône before rainfall

I’m going to mostly write in real time; it’s easier on the ol’ noggin and I can post it as soon as I edit and return. Tenses may vary due to blogging style.

Travel

Summer has not been easy on my psyche; COVID, Portuguese red tape, failed friendships; to name a few. This trip would hopefully be the start of some exciting, long overdue, travels.

Faro airport was a breeze. I printed out my boarding pass and I didn’t have to show my EU vaccination certificate until I reached the gate. The flight was uneventful, except that EasyJet tries to sell you everything including the airplane, making closing your eyes for a few minutes impossible. It was a fairly easy two hours; add 30 minutes on the return.

Upon landing, everyone, and I mean everyone, got up to grab their bags. I always choose an aisle seat, making it easy to pop-up when I need to. I was in aisle three; a fella in aisle one had to put his luggage in an overhead bin in the middle of the plane. There was no way this guy was going to wait until everyone deplaned, so he insisted on muscling his way to retrieve his bags — I was somewhat sympathetic. He stalled next to me and pinned me against another passenger and an aisle seat. I waited a minute thinking he’d move, but the passengers behind me were not going to allow him through. He even tried yelling to the back passengers to grab his bag; however, no cooperation. After being pinned for several minutes I asked him to please give me a bit of breathing room. He tried to justify staying put.

“Please give me a little space,” I said.

“Don’t you speak French,” was his reply.

I admittedly told him to shut up. Yes, it was late and I was travel weary, sweating, and fed up. The plane was completely full of vacationers returning to France, so my frustrated response didn’t land well. The seas parted and I moved away from him. It was over in a flash, but I’m certain my angry American persona was duly noted by my fellow travellers. Drama seems to follow me wherever I go . . . or perhaps, I create the drama?

I had researched getting to Lyon Centre where I had an Airbnb reserved. I had to take a train which was not right outside the terminal, but the signage to get there was good (about a six minute walk). I arrived at a massive train station where there were no people. It was like the twilight zone, except it was only 10:00 p.m. There were machines for tickets everywhere, but I had no idea which one to use. A stranger entered the vast rotunda; fortunately for me he refused to leave me until we found someone who could help. He looked around and located someone who was going my way, he was not only going to the same train, but he was from Grenoble where I was off to in a few days. He offered restaurant advice and told me about some hiking trails I will explore. There are no accidents.

A Snack

Lyon is known for being the original culinary capital of the world. Many say haute cuisine started here. For this reason (and because I love food), I am going to mention eateries throughout this blog. As always I will only post names of restaurants or cafés if they are exceptional — why bother with mediocrity when you can have sublime.

When I arrived close to midnight, many restaurants were still open in Bellecour (my Airbnb neighborhood). I was tired and hungry, so I gave in to the hunger before bed. There was a sweet little French tapas restaurant at the base of my building. It was quiet, open to the outdoors and that was just about all I needed. I had a slice of country terrine that looked a lot like the one pictured here. Accompanied by a glass of French Bordeaux and some toast points, I was fairly satisfied.

French Style Country Terrine or Pâté (Terrine de Campagne) | Meanderings  through my cookbook
An example of a French Terrine

A terrine, in traditional French cuisine, is a loaf of forcemeat or aspic, similar to a pâté, that is cooked in a covered pottery mold (also called a terrine) in a bain-marie. If I’m going to be honest, it reminds me too much of my French Culinary Institute days. It’s a lot of meat and it looks and tastes way too fatty for my liking. I do love pistachio nuts and this time, the combination of the fat and a bold French red was sublime.

Old Lyon

Vieux Lyon sits on the River Saône quayside, overlooked by Renaissance-era mansions with hidden courtyards and terracotta-tiled roofs. The medieval Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste is noted for its ornate astronomical clock, while the Movies & Miniature Museum showcases scale models by miniaturist Dan Ohlmann. Hilly, medieval streets lead to fine-dining restaurants and stylish bars selling Beaujolais wines (Google).

I often choose the “Old Town” in European cities; it’s where you’ll experience the rich history and traditional foods of the region — Vieux Lyon was no exception.

My Airbnb (click for URL)

As I said before, this trip has been rescheduled numerous times, but this AIrbnb is the one that I chose over a year ago. Delphine, my host has been patient and kind, as I shifted around dates and number of nights.

I’m providing the URL (see above) because I found this accomodation to be one of the best I’ve ever stayed in. Stylish, cozy, comfortable, quiet, and nicely situated in the very heart of the old town. I think if it was chilly outside and had a fireplace, I would have squatted (unlawfully occupying an uninhabited building or unused land).

The building is probably close to two hundred years old. The apartment is on the second floor facing a small courtyard. To say that it’s quiet is to understate the silence. I don’t remember the last time the only thing I could hear was the hum of the refrigerator. Between the peaceful quiet and the cave like atmosphere, I am sleeping soundly.

That machine pictured above is the smallest washing machine I have ever seen or used. It is perfect for three or four garments and since I pack light, I was happy to take advantage of it.

Honestly, you cannot find anything like this in a hotel. Delphine provided a Nespresso coffee maker with pods, a cabinet full of staples and she told me about a restaurant in the neighborhood that I will mention later. I am pleased to share that this gem was just over $130 per night. Anything close to this at a hotel would be four star and easily $500 a night. Airbnbs are not always the way to go, but this one was the right choice.

Coffee Shop

I asked the owner of the restaurant where I enjoyed my snack on my first night, where I should go for coffee in the morning; without hesitation, he pointed to Slake. Fortunately, it is very close to where I am staying. My apartment is surrounded by quaint cafés; no doubt they are all good (I got to try several).

Slake Coffee House is warm, inviting, and the coffee is powerful reminder of how a good cup of coffee should taste. I could have sat there all day with my laptop and this view.

Although I love Portuguese cafés, I have nothing even close to what you see here, in Faro. I paid three times what I usually pay for a cup of Joe back home, but hey, I’m on vacation and this is paradise. I didn’t try all the baked goods, however, what I did taste had me wanting more.

The far left corner of the café was my cozy spot. I could see and experience everything.

My First Lunch

Café Terroir, recommended by my Airbnb host, is steps away from my apartment. I had the menu of the day. I ate well and I did not blow away my budget. All fresh, all local, and all good. I provided the menu if you care to see what I devoured.

Philosophical Thoughts for the Day

My idea of a good day on holiday is good coffee in the morning, a walk around the city, trying out the local cuisine, and a restful night’s sleep. My first day in Lyon offered all of that and then some.

Skipping the gym and walking for hours instead, is a great way to burn off calories and discover or rediscover, a city.

I have friends who have travelled the world and offer great recommendations. I think it’s important to listen to the people you trust; however, doing your own research and making your own choices is essential for making a vacation your own. I’m trying to be diplomatic here.

The Weather

Fall weather anywhere can be tricky. What I like about traveling in September and early October, is two things: 1) kids are back to school and not on holiday (sorry parents), and 2) it’s not as hot as summer can be. Lyon gets a lot of rain in the fall and I knew that I would experience rainy weather on this trip. Still, the temp is in the high 70s and thunderstorms are one of my favorite things — another thing I don’t get a lot of in Faro (300 sunny days a year). For the most part it’s been partly cloudy and pleasant. The weather, is what it will be, as they say.

Second Day

The weather my second full day in Lyon is absolument parfait. I’m headed to the train station to get tickets for Grenoble (the French Alps), where I head tomorrow. How could I be only two hours away from the Alps and not take a trip? A train to the station and a bus back. Public transportation is amazing in Lyon; easy to navigate and it takes you very close to where you want to go. Ticketing on buses is sort of on the honor system.

So far I have covered about half the city on foot and by train and bus. I return in a few days, so I thought I’d see as much as possible and get an idea for where I want to return.

Cuisine et Dépendances

I have a friend in Portland, Maine that has lived all over the world, travelled extensively, and she knows good food. When she told me about this restaurant in Lyon, I made a reservation immediately. Fortunately, unlike a couple of others I also wanted to try, it remains open.

The food was delicious and the service was outstanding. I had dishes I don’t cook and cannot get cooked this way back home. Escargot and magret, cooked to perfection; just enough on the plate to satisfy. I’m no longer in the business, so describing each dish is not going to happen.

It’s a good thing I brought my EU vaccine certificate; I’ve had to show it just about everywhere in France.

The restaurant was about a 15 minute walk from my apartment — providing a bit of exercise to ward off the guilt.

A Film

I know, I know, don’t give me a hard time. When I travel and I have the time, I see a film on the big screen I’m not sure will come to Faro (one multiplex theatre, however, not every film I want to see is shown there and sometimes, it’s only showing for a few days).

Tonight, instead of a big meal, I’m going to the movies to see Dune. I love space films and the trailer on this one looks pretty good. There are some films that are just better when they are bigger and louder, especially when they’re intergalactic.

Dune review — I think this Vulture review sums it up well. I will say that I enjoyed the film, even though it was dark and confusing at times. You’re told that it was only Part I from the get go; it will be interesting to see how far they go with the Dune series. I know that I’m spoiled in Faro where the price of admission is five euros and change, 13.50 euros was steep, but I am on vacation.

Moments to Share

Morning light
More morning light
Naturally I arrived at the Saturday outdoor market before it officially opened

Don’t you hate it when you see something and you can’t have it. Here’s what happened:

I have never gone wild for mussels. I’m not sure why; I love shellfish, always have. On my way back from dinner a few nights ago I passed a mussel restaurant in Lyon’s Old Town. Can’t explain why, but I wanted those mussels. For whatever reason it just didn’t work out. A couple of days later I’m doing a 45 minute walk to the Part Dieu train station. I had purchased a ticket for after lunchtime so that I could eat before boarding. I also wanted to arrive in Grenoble close to 3:00 p.m. for my Airbnb check-in.

I found Hippopotamus Steak House near the train station. I think it’s a chain, but none of the other places I passed were appealing; this place had a nice vibe. I look at the menu and right there, three down in the fish column, chorizo mussels — voila! Waiter comes over and I point to it on the menu. He quickly shares that they do not have the mussels. I may have wept loudly, I don’t recall. Instead I chose the fish & chips. But suddenly, divine intervention:

“I’m sorry sir, I misunderstood, oui, we have les moules.”

Again, I may have wept. Perhaps it was the size of the mussels or maybe it was the circumstances, but I know now, without a doubt, that I love mussels when they are small and happen to be in Lyon on a perfect day.

The waiter felt so bad for telling me they did not have mussels, that he showered me with extra dishes. I was happy to accept what was offered.

________________________________________________________________

Grenoble

First let me say that I’m glad I will be returning to Lyon on Monday. I held back a bit on the tourist stuff knowing I would be returning. There are several restaurants in Lyon I’d like to try and I will get to do just that. I’m also looking forward to a hotel I booked in a different part of Lyon.

Grenoble was planned because I love mountains and I have never been to the Alpes. I took a train through the Swiss Alps a number of years ago, but it was just a pass through. The Airbnb I choose is actually on the side of a mountain with a private terrace and a view (middle photo). I’m looking forward to a relaxing 90 minute train ride (I got a senior ticket, oy vey) and highly anticipated Grenoble. I should have plenty of time to take a walk and relax before dinner this evening. I made a reservation for dinner; if it’s good, you’ll hear more about it.

As I mentioned earlier, the airline changed my flight, I was able to add a few days to my trip, hence Grenoble. I honestly did not do a ton of research, but here I am. The weather forecast was for two days of rain and my expectations were low. I did make a restaurant reservation I was excited about (the one thing I did research). To my delight I exited the train and the sun was shining high in the clear blue sky and it was about 80 degrees; fortunately I had worn my shorts. I walked and hiked to my very secluded Airbnb, nestled into the Alpes (how the French spell it).

There were many people walking around visiting a multitude of art galleries and museums. I discovered that the Biennale Saint Laurent 2021 was in progress. These are the times when I remind myself just how fortunate I am.

I climbed the mountain (seriously) to my Airbnb, sat on my terrace (middle photo above), to marvel at my view and then I left to join the Biennale goers and find a bakery. I had a French press in my studio; morning coffee on the terrace would require the accompaniment of some French pastry (bread would be stale by morning). I visited a dozen galleries, saw some artwork I really liked, but not enough to schlep it home. I then walked into the centre of Grenoble where I found a marvelous bakery, a shoppers paradise (specialty foods, clothing, books, etc.), the Old Town. I wasn’t into shopping at that point and I had a bottle of French white chilling in my little refrigerator. My private terrace was calling my name and I was badly in need of a shower before dinner.

Chez Marius

Chez Marius might have been my favorite meal on this trip to date. I had flank steak in a porcini mushroom sauce and traditional potatoes baked in a light cream sauce; accompanied by a beautiful salad (fresh greens with a vinaigrette). An excellent organic Cote du Rhone, a beautiful clear night, and a table on the edge of an open doorway. I was in the most Zen state I have been in, in a very long time.

The End of a Magnificent Day

A seven minute climb to my mountain retreat, a sweet night’s sleep; window open, a slight cool breeze and rainfall as I dreamt of what the next day in Grenoble might bring.

As I crossed the Isère River on my way home from dinner (by bridge)

My Second Day In Grenoble

It’s day five of my trip and I can’t help missing Paco and my own bed. This happens everytime I go anywhere, but I push myself because I am compelled to see as much of our amazing planet before I die.

Side note: Celebrity just cancelled my cruise in Asia (five countries) scheduled in January ’22. I’m rescheduling it for January ’23 with a big cancellation credit. Plenty of time for COVID to play out and for a nice cabin selection. I’m learning patience — shhhhh!

The Esère River and the road I walked along side it:

The music part of the Art & Music Biennale

A fabulous female vocal trio, Trio Nazani. They sang acapella — mostly chanting and chamber music, astoundingly beautiful.

Lunch at La Toscana

Remember I told you about the guy who helped me find my way to Lyon from the airport. He was coincidentally from Grenoble. When I told him I was going, he shared this little gem. Grenoble is not far from Italy and there were many Italian restaurants. La Toscana was the real deal. I had orecchiette with eggplant, onions, and tomatoes and it was perfection. Good Italian wine from Abruzzo and the best Italian bread. I was so pleased.

Pasta always takes me to my happy place

Tonight a cocktail before dinner and then a local Thai restaurant. My Airbnb is so comfortable, I don’t want to leave. Since I have to hike up a mountain to get to it, I can’t drink too much or get home too late.

This is a good time to mention that although I love good company, I have been meeting many wonderful, interesting, kind, people all week. I bought a small piece of artwork today (see below) from the artist and truly enjoyed our conversation.

By the way the night did not go as played; see below:

The Sixth Day

This is when I start to wonder if I made my vacation a bit longer than I should have. I didn’t have much of a choice this time because EasyJet only flies in and out of Faro twice a week — four days or eight days, those were my choices. And so it goes, in a few hours I’ll get on a train for Lyon. The good news is that I have an upgraded room at a very nice centre city hotel and I get to see the Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth film that I missed in Faro (Supernova only played for two days).

A quick and cynical recap of my evening last night: I was getting ready to leave my studio tucked into the French Alpes and I hit the top of my head on a vaulted stairway ceiling — I’d been doing really well with that fucking ceiling till then. I waited for the bleeding to stop and it didn’t so I left with toilet paper stuck to my head. I hiked down the mountain and crossed the bridge to where the Thai restaurant supposedly was, but my Google Maps wasn’t googling properly and I ended up too far in the opposite direction. I murmured, fuck this, to myself and decided to go to this sandwich spot closer to where I was staying. I had seen pictures of the sandwiches before lunch, but I’d already decided on Italian and there was no turning back. I got to the sandwich spot and it was closed. I thought, fuck this shit, and I walked to this British ghetto where I intended to drown my sorrows in whiskey and fish & chips. If you’re thinking, “British ghetto in the French Alpes?” I promise you it’s true. There was this sprawling, out-of-the-way spot in Old Town Grenoble that was swarming with Brits and British pubs. No wonder the French kept it far from the rest of the village. I’m not sure why, but I’ve noticed when Brits travel, they like to go to British pubs; stick with what you know I guess. I picked the pub with the least number of humans, showed my vaccination certificate, and crawled into a corner seat where I intended to sulk and hide and sip my whiskey. American rap music was blasting into my ears and I thought, I gotta get the fuck out of here, but where the fuck will I go? I sat in suffering silence for what seemed like hours and no one came to take my order. I went to the bar where a lone service person tells me that I have to order drinks and food from her, there at the bar. I sigh, it was a big sigh with lots of drama attached, perhaps even Oscar worthy, I said, “I’ll have a dark & stormy and fish & chips,” she screamed over the rap, “I don’t know what a dark & stormy is and if I were you, I wouldn’t order the fish & chips.” It was a freakin’ British pub for Christ’s sake (she was British by the way). I thought, ain’t this the fucking worst night of my life? and said, “Have you got a bandaid, my head is bleeding.” I saw no sympathy in her judgmental eyes. She hollered, “I’ll go check.” My lady returned 10 minutes later sans bandaid. How is it possible that a commercial kitchen doesn’t have a bandaid? I ordered a rum & ginger ale and a medium rare burger, thinking I was already dead so what would it matter if I were to die again. She handed me one of those plastic disks that lights up like a spaceship and she told me to come back when it explodes. I ate that overcooked god-damned burger as fast as I could so that I could exit that rap den while I still had an ounce of dignity and or life left in me. I walked slowly dreading the mountain I still had to climb before I could crawl into my bed and sleep off the dread. I’m not proud of this, my blood stained pillow case and I have only ourselves to blame, but there is one thing I do know and that is that today will be better; I’ve set a low bar after all.

I posted this recap on Facebook and learned that my friends really do read my posts. The F-bombs were not said out loud by the way.

—————————————————————-

Easy train trip back to Lyon and a short walk to my hotel. My Google Maps is super wanky these days and it took me there in a roundabout way; I’m certain it knows I need the exercise — cheeky GPS. I settled into Greet Hotel, a recently opened, trendy hotel that was priced right. I had upgraded to a larger room on an upper floor. I asked not to be put in a room with a skylight because I wanted to have a view. But of course they put me in a room with a skylight. After a few apologies, I got my view and a very comfortable room for my last two nights in Lyon.

May be an image of text
From my tiny balcony: Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourviere on the top of Fourviere Hill in Lyon

I walked over the bridge to Kenbo, an excellent Asian street food restaurant that was open (many restaurants are closed on Monday night). The restaurant was in a very funky, young neighborhood that had a good vibe. Not a bad day. Everything was smooth and easy and I finally got to eat the Asian food I was longing for. Almost forgot, my head feels a lot better, although it is still tender at the top.

Day Seven

I must admit I am ready to go home. I miss my dog, I miss my bed, I miss the gym, and I miss my normal life. I imagine most people feel this way after a week away.

Today I will do whatever I please (I know that’s what I do everyday), when I please. I did not pay for breakfast at the hotel because all I want is a coffee and a cookie. I have not stopped eating since I got off the plane in Lyon. Today will be a light food day and lots of walking. It will be partly cloudy and cool. Sunshine is forecasted for my day of departure and for several days after; isn’t that always the way? I can’t complain, I did have lots of cloudy sky and some rain, but I also so had some unexpectedly beautiful weather as well.

HEAT Lyon

I went on-line and found this amazing street food court about 30 minutes walk from my hotel. It was in a part of Lyon I had not been to and I love street food. The internet had it opening at noon.

I happily strolled to the location and viola, no more Heat. This sort of this has happened to me before. The problem with the internet, is that it is often not updated. I had past an Italian restaurant along the way with what looked like amazing wood fired pizza. I went to A Tavola and had an outstanding pizza. I could have been upset about Heat, but getter older teaches you to breathe and let it go.

The southern part of the peninsula is being built out and renovated. I think if I lived in Lyon, this is where I’d want to be — in that area on the Saône (the lesser known river in Lyon).

Don’t miss Supernova (Tucci and Firth), it’s outstanding cinema.

Final Impressions

Lyon is beautifully laid out; most of the city is a grid, making it easy to find your way. The rivers on either side of a center peninsula (where I stayed when I arrived and when I returned) help you navigate without too much effort or dread. I walked for hours and stopped in many galleries and food shops. I passed numerous churches and only went into one — I have strong feelings about the Catholic Church, I will not go into now. The people who live and work in Lyon and Grenoble are kind and helpful people; for that I am grateful. Many do not speak English, but thanks to Google translator, I got by. There were many museums I did not visit. I prefer the art being created now; especially by local artists. I’m not sure I will return to Lyon, there is so much more of the world to see.

The Rhône and Saône converge to the south of the historic city centre, forming a peninsula – the “Presqu’île” – bounded by two large hills to the west and north and a large plain eastward. Place Bellecour (my first location) is located on the Presqu’île between the two rivers and is the third-largest public square in France.

A whimsical piece I purchased in Grenoble. It will always remind me of this trip. I know it’s a bit off, my pic, not the painting — I took the photograph without lining up the lens.

The Final Day

I happily leave this place later today. Not that I didn’t love it here; in fact, I’m thrilled to have finally made it to Lyon. I want my Paco and my Portugal. It’s nice to be going home to a pet and a place I love so much — a choice I have never regretted. I’ve come to a time in my life where a cup of coffee out on my terrace, watching the sun come up, is all the paradise I need.

Au revoir pour le moment!

São Miguel Island, Azores

I’m getting a bit of flack for traveling during a pandemic, but there are some advantages and I believe in freedom to choose (if the law allows):

  • The airplanes I’ve travelled on have only been about a third full and studies have shown the air filtration systems are safer than if you go into a grocery store (for example). I usually pay for a comfort seat, ensuring more distance.
  • Plane tickets to European destinations have been greatly reduced.
  • Hotels that are open have been clean and fairly inexpensive (I stayed in a one bedroom apartment on the marina in São Miguel for a week, with breakfast, four star: 425 Euros).
  • The airlines and destinations require COVID-19 testing
  • You are helping the tourism industry. Frankly, without some influx of funds, many will go bust. This will create monopolies and greater costs to the customer in the long run.
  • A great way to visit places you’ve never travelled to.
  • A good cure for cabin fever.
  • Once crowded destinations are calm and peaceful.
  • Paco needed a break from being around his dad 24/7.
  • I’m not sure I can stop myself.
A full day eastern São Miguel tour

Getting There

From Faro I always have the choice of getting to Lisbon three different ways: air, train, or bus. I usually choose first class on the train. It’s a little over three hours, no pre-boarding obstacles at the station, lots of space to move around, very inexpensive, clean, and relaxing. My roundtrip ticket was 35 euros, and I think, a good value.

There were a couple of airlines going to São Miguel, however, Sata Azores Airlines, was reasonable and the flight times in both directions were perfect. I could take the train from Faro in the morning with more than enough time to make a 1:35 p.m. flight. The flight time was about 2 hours 15 minutes. A great way to get there. You may have to wait for the train on return, but I made the best of it by dining out for lunch (see Choosing Where to Stay).

I believe Air Portugal also flies out of Lisbon to São Miguel. They have decent fares, but they also have a lot of add-on fees (seats, bags, etc.).

If you’re going to any of the other islands, I believe you have to take another flight or a boat. I honestly did not explore these options. What I did learn, was that São Miguel was the only island that imposed restrictions on restaurants.

The airline insisted on luggage check which actually worked out well because I was able to purchase several authentic liquid products that I have not seen in Faro.

Choosing Where to Stay

I checked out Booking.com, Hotels.com, and Airbnb and ultimately went with Booking.com because the rate was good and I get free upgrades due to my status with the site. I also like that you can cancel most reservations up to a couple of days prior and you usually do not have to pay until you check in. When I booked the trip two weeks ago, restaurants and museums were open. Since then there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases and until the end of April, the restaurants (just a few), are only able to do takeout. Having learned this at the airport in Lisbon, there was obviously no turning back. I figured I’d go with it and in all honesty, it wasn’t a big deal. Well, the casino closing was a big deal, but in the long run I probably saved boatloads of cash.

I decided that it would be crazy to be in a double room for a week, being that I had to sleep and eat in the same space — I’m not in college any more after all. I asked the desk staff what it would cost for a larger room on the marina and he told me it would be an additional 80 euros. I was pleasantly surprised, paid for the upgrade and headed to my room. I was elated when I got to the room and it was a large, fully equipped, one bedroom apartment. Considering the hotel is fairly full, I felt very fortunate. Not only could I eat in a dining area on a dining table, but I could also reheat leftovers. This made the week a whole lot nicer. Hotel Gaivota is a four star property in need of a little redecorating. All in all, I was pleased with the service, cleanliness, and breakfast was excellent; especially the freshly made cakes and breads.

I was walking distance to just about anywhere in town and there was a walking/bike path right on the edge of the marina that went for miles along a beautiful coastline. It was the perfect spot for a week of sun, storms (I love storms), and lots of wind.

Unfortunately, I did not get my 5:00 a.m. wake-up call. I’m an early riser so it was fine. I never sleep well the night before an early flight so I was up by 4:15 a.m. You can never rely on a hotel wake-up call. I had also set my cell phone alarm as a back-up. You can see how being obsessive-compulsive can help you get places . . . and ensure that you lose your mind.

Wearing a mask from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. wasn’t easy. I had lunch at PekingPeking in Lisbon and so, a short reprieve. The best Chinese food I have had in Portugal to date. Delicious buffet and a very pretty restaurant . . . and indoor dining on the mainland. Paco was in surgery to remove a tumor on his paw while I was dining; not a great situation, but by the time I finished lunch he was out of surgery and doing well. Five hours later he was cuddled up by my side. This fella is a trooper.

Culinary Highlights

As I mentioned earlier, take-out or delivery was my only option and only a dozen or so non-chain restaurants were open.

I had take-out from Ramires twice and the food was excellent and travelled well. They’re well known for their piri piri chicken, however, I thought the ribs were even better. A full meal delivered to your door for 10 euros. They were on the marina and nearby.

These are the restaurants I heard and read were fantastic that I did not get to try because of the pandemic: A Tasca, Ōtaka, Balcony Restaurant, and Restaurant Mariserra. No doubt that I will return at a later date.

I discuss the famous cozido das Furnas stew later in this piece. You cannot visit the Azores without giving this dish a try.

There are several pineapple growers on the island. I learned that the São Miguel was once known for its oranges, but a plague wiped them out and the crops were replaced with hardier pineapple plants. Pineapples were not yet in season. I did eat pineapple, however, not certain of where it was grown. The pineapples from São Miguel are smaller and supposedly sweeter.

Impressions

  • Mainland Portuguese people are extremely welcoming and helpful, but the people I encountered on São Miguel were far more open and very laid back — island life I guess.
  • The food is different; spicier and more flavorful. Perhaps it’s the influence of other cultures. It’s out in the middle of the Atlantic and the cuisine has its own distinct signature. I was pleasantly surprised, especially since restaurants were not permitted to serve, indoors or outdoors.
  • Considering it’s a tourist destination, everything was quite reasonable. I was surprised that mainland wine was the same price as you pay on the mainland. I tried a couple of wines from the Azores and decided to stick with wines from Alentejo and Douro.
  • Hiking is amazing on the islands. It’s peaceful and naturally stunning. If hiking is your thing, the Azores is a great destination for you.
  • If you’re looking for nightlife and partying, this is probably not the right place. I was told that even during non-pandemic times, the nightlife is fairly mellow. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of bars and many public spaces for evening strolls. Definitely more my speed.
  • The natural thermal springs were my favorite part of this trip. There are several on the island and most were open.

Tours

My review for: São Miguel East Full Day Tour, Pure Azores (Miguel)

I had the great pleasure of spending the day with Filipe touring the eastern part of São Miguel. Despite the wind and the rain, I had a special tour in a naturally beautiful location. I was served an excellent lunch — a traditional Azores stew, cozido das Furnas, cooked in the ground. My first time experiencing food slow cooked this way and I enjoyed every bite. Four different kinds of meat, cabbage, greens, yams, and natural juices. If you can make the time for this island tour, you will be glad you did. Communication with Miguel was excellent. A five star experience.

The hot springs, Poça da Dona Beija

My second tour (experience) was a gin tasting with Ali. I booked it through Airbnb. I have mostly found Airbnb experiences to be a great value, entertaining, easy to book, and memorable. Makes me wish that I owned stock in Airbnb. I don’t always use Airbnb for overnight stays because I enjoy staying in the center of the cities. You can get to key locations quickly and a car is unnecessary. I find center city flats to be more expensive than high quality hotels. I’ve grown very fond of the breakfast usually included in European hotel stays. Having said this, I have found beautiful apartments at a good value, especially when I book early. For example, I’m going to Lyon in June and I found a beautiful apartment in the center for less than 100 euros a night. It takes a bit of work and planning, but always worth the extra effort. Hotels are also competing with Airbnb these days by offering suites and apartments at decent rates. I’m sure Airbnb owners are not happy about this. I understand having a cleaning fee; however, I have found some Airbnb owners abuse this part of the cost.

Gin Tasting details: “We will conduct our gin masterclass in the Gin Library, located on the grounds of The Solar Branco 1885 Eco-Estate. Perfectly located less than 10 minutes from the main city of Ponta Delgada.The heritage house sits on top of a hill, surrounded by farmland, overlooking the quaint town of Livramento and the ocean beyond.”

Ali is a British expat living the dream. He is renovating ruins on his property and he was happy to show me around; a real treat. I’m always amazed at the commitment and perseverance it takes to restore a centuries old property in Europe. Ali and his wife have been getting approvals and restoring since early 2018 and they are close to completing their living quarters, just a small part of this ambitious project. It felt special to be in on the details of making this happen.

Ali shares some great tips about the Azores. The best was his taxi resource, Carlos. Carlos was a treat: good driver, nice car, and reliable (+351.962.374.849). He also told me about Joana who delivers sushi to your door. Couldn’t ask for better than that when dining out is not an option.

That’s Ali of course and Brooklyn Gin — which I didn’t try or purchase because I’ll be in Brooklyn in a few weeks and I thought it would be fun to try to find it. Ali assured me it was a fin gin.

On my final day, I did an all day tour of the western part of the island. This is when I went to Sete Cidades (seven lakes) and visited several beautiful sites and small towns. The pineapple plant was a highlight. Due to closures, this tour was good, but not great. Once again I had a private tour, this time with the tour owner’s son. If you would like to know the name of the tour company, please let me know. I don’t believe it’s fair to judge them due to pandemic conditions.

Photographs of the Island

It’s easy to take great photos in the Azores. Everything is lush and green (several shades) and the light is beautiful no matter what time of the day. The weather changes frequently, but that adds to the charm and mystery of the place. I’m excited to see some of the other islands; the locals say they’re all different and worth a visit. Several are a short boat ride away and others are quick plane trip. Pico Island is the one I’m most excited to visit in the future. I selected only a few photos to share; as you know I try to remain in the moment and minimize my picture taking:

Future Travel

New York, North Carolina, and Boston May 11 if all goes well. I have be tested within 72 hours of travel and that means weekend testing. This might not be so easy in the Algarve. Booked for Lyon, France June 9.

Question of the Week:

Have you been to the Azores? What was your experience?