The Azores! What else except a huge dose of tectonic magic explains the nine wayward, islands of the Azores, scattered randomly in the middle of the Atlantic.
These sleeping beauties are not especially easy to get to, so they’re lightly touched by time and tourists. Nice.
There is a four-hour direct flight from Boston via SATA Airways (http://www.azores-express.com/en/content/home-page), but few, if any, other direct flights from US cities.
Most go through Lisbon and reverse direction to fly west to the islands.
Ponta Delgada is the capital of the largest island, Sao Miguel, and of all these Portuguese-oriented, Portuguese-language archipelagos.
It’s been a fishing center since the mid-1500’s, and colorful fishing boats still bob in active fishing harbors.
The sound of workmen tap, tap, tapping the cobble stones into place with ordinary mallets echoes across the town plaza.
It’s the same tapping heard a century ago on probably the same stones in the shadow of the same Emanuline-style church with its arched, stone gates and flowering bushes.
Take a seat at a red and white-checkered table.
Have a coffee and a pastry.
Watch the people.
Listen to the church bells.
Smell the flowers.
When you’re ready, stroll the small city streets.
There all kinds of statues and stories shrouded in mysteries and miracles.
There are poets who shot themselves (de Quental), young girls who pleaded with popes to build convents, processions of holy statues, Lenten pilgrims and festivals.
Try for the late May festival Santo Christo dos Milagres (Christ of the Miracles), an intense, colorful celebration that emphasizes the deeply religious, sea-faring traditions of the people.
Note to travelers: The food is authentic, but quite heavy. Fruits and veggies and, surprisingly, fish, are less plentiful than meats and gravies. Go Easy.
In 1877, Samuel Clemens wrote, “I think the Azores must be very little known in America.”
Not much has changed. See for yourself!