A Travellerspoint blog

March 2018

SANTA MARIA ISLAND, AZORES, PORTUGAL

THE EPITOMY OF PEACE, CLEAN AIR AND WARM HEARTS

semi-overcast 17 °C
View Portugal on curlygirl's travel map.

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I always feel fortunate when work takes me to a place in the world that I likely would not have discovered otherwise. Santa Maria is a place I had not even heard of until I began my career in Air Traffic Control. Starting out as an Oceanic Controller in Gander, daily conversations with the people there, were the norm. Many have no idea that little ole’ Gander, Newfoundland controls a large chunk of the airspace over the Atlantic Ocean and over 1500 aircraft per day. Sharing the responsibility for controlling the bulk of this traffic, are the adjacent control centers in New York, USA, Reykjavik, Iceland, Prestwick, Scotland and Santa Maria in the Azores, Portugal. My work in system automation and international procedures, has allowed to build relationships with my colleagues in these places and on occasion, visit. This was one of those cases.

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Our meeting of the North Atlantic International Civil Aviation Organization Procedures and Operations Group was held on Santa Maria Island. This was a fantastic group of guys who brought expertise in many fields of Air Traffic Services and many laughs but was admittedly a little light on the female presence. I made sure they knew I was there.

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Santa Maria Island is one of nine islands in a group of islands known as the Azores. It has a population of 5500 people and is well equipped although people regularly take the 15-minute flight to the nearby and much larger island, Sao Miguel. I was shocked to learn that the flight to Santa Maria would be 2.5-hours from Lisbon and I would end up literally in the middle of the Atlantic, even though I had looked at a map many times. I was also pleased to learn that this island, unlike my homeland which is also surrounded by Atlantic waters, has a lovely climate year-round with temperatures between 15-25 degrees. It was much warmer than Lisbon and it reminded me, and incidentally, my Irish colleagues, of rural Ireland in that it is lush and green with lots of sheep, cows and chickens. Unlike Ireland, it has tropical plants including succulents, cactus and palm trees.

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Each day, after work, I would go for a walk, a very very hilly walk around Villa de Porto. The first day, I walked down into a valley and then up onto the cliffs overlooking the ocean. On my way, I met a man who grew up there but had moved to Ontario at 19 and now, in retirement was building a home on the island where he would return during Canadian winters.

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The main port remains intact and standing there, you could almost feel the weight of the responsibility that the men must have had guarding their land from the predators on the open sea.

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The streets are beautiful and truly show the history. I loved all the old buildings, and their doors and windows, often dressed with traditional lace. The people seem incredibly chill and nothing happens fast unless they are behind the wheel of car and then they are in a terrible rush. I was shocked at the speed at which cars zoom down the narrow cobblestone main roads.

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I took every opportunity to walk and explore. I even snuck in a few gardens to talk to the animals. I am sure someone must have seen or heard and wondered about the crazy in town.

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We also enjoyed this local watering hole, right next to our hotel.

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Another highlight was seeing the ATC Operations. I am such a nerd and was geeking out completely seeing the current and new state of the art system about to be installed.

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We enjoyed incredible food and hospitality from our Portuguese colleagues. The food was often simple but with incredible flavours and richness. The local cheeses and sausage were to die for and the many varieties of fish, always fresh.

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I know that Newfoundland’s roots come primarily from England and Ireland but I can honestly say, I have never felt such a connection to a place whose culture reminded me of home more than Portugal. Santa Maria was an extension of that and reminded me of visiting some rural Newfoundland place like Fogo or Fortune. They eat lots of salt cod, and I was quick to remind them they stole all ours. Cod is on every menu but is not local. It is now fished in Norway and Iceland.

My only disappointment this trip was that I did not spend an extra day and get to tour the island. I am told you can drive around the entire island in a couple hours and really see the highlights in a day. As glamourous as these work trips sound, there is a downside. You have to work and often for long hours in a board room. This was one of those trips. Although my host, my friend, Luis, was disappointed he didn’t get to show me around more, I am so grateful for the time he spent with us each evening, meeting people, chatting and enjoying the local food and wine. He has convinced me I must come back.

Many thanks to you, Luis, and to your colleagues. I look forward to the next time.

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Posted by curlygirl 17:00 Archived in Portugal Tagged portugal azores Comments (2)

ALFAMA

A BEAUTIFUL LISBON NEIGHBOURHOOD

all seasons in one day 14 °C
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I knew the neighbourhood of Alfama was going to be one of my first stops on my visit to Lisbon. But even before deciding that, I luckily booked my hotel right in the middle of one of its steep alleys. I read the hotel was in a great location but did not know it would be in my #1 neighbourhood to see, so I was delighted.

I arrived late afternoon yesterday and feel pretty good after some solid naps on my flights so I went out and explored the streets and hilltop views near my hotel and grabbed an amazing dinner. It was the first, but will not be the last time, that I had grouper. Lisbon is famous for its fresh fish.

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In my research, Alfama was described as Lisbon's most rewarding for walkers and photographers which was enough to peak my interest. It is one of the oldest districts of Lisbon and was once located outside the city walls. I am told, that locals often say, “they are going to Lisbon for the day”. It was originally settled by the Romans and the Visigoths ( I had to google them Check them out) but it was the Moors who created the district as it is today.

Because its foundation is dense bedrock, it survived the 1755 earthquake, and so, this traditional residential neighborhood was preserved beautifully. It is a village within a city made up of narrow streets, trams, tiny squares, churches, and whitewashed houses that have the most incredible tile and wrought-iron balconies adorned with pots of flowers, and my obsession, drying laundry.

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I began my day with the mandatory visit to the castle and the church. This was nice but more typical Europe.

The views were great from atop the castle.

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A little like Signal Hill at times.

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Many peacocks...again, a little obsessed

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Wine available everywhere

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After this, I started wandering downhill to the water. In the middle of this wander were a number of rain showers and blasts of wind that produced the sideways rain that I know from home in Newfoundland. Once I got to the main square, Praça do Comércio, the heavens opened up and it blew a gale. I had to take cover for 30 minutes. But, again, much like home, the weather changed like this off and on all day. I giggled at the silly people who wore parkas this morning but by mid-day, I was wishing I had considered the difference in 14/15 degrees inland and by the sea, and brought a parka of my own. Although it was a little chilly, I ended up having a wonderful afternoon.

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I stumbled upon a free walking tour just as I was leaving the square. These free tours are in almost every major city, and the guides work off their tips. Generally, because of this, they are very good. This was no exception. Yuri was amazing. I loved wandering through the little alleys and stairwells. The tiles, little doors, and stone houses are simply beautiful.

Apparently, I took A LOT of pictures.

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We stopped for cherry wine....excellent. Made by this lady in her home.

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Loved the people poking out their windows and chatting to us and each other. In one of these pictures, you see 3 neighbours.

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I learned lots about the area and ended my day by visiting a nearby neighbourhood, Graca, and a mom and pop restaurant recommended by our guide. The walk was lovely and dinner was a hoot. No one spoke English, so I only knew I was getting fish. As the place filled up, a French couple were seated at my table. I loved it. Dinner was fine. I figured out that I had Dourada, which I later google and learned to be sea bream which came with greens, boiled potato and carrot. Pretty much exactly what my mother would serve me on a trip home. Minus the fish head and without her yummy beets.

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And a few more.

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Many people had these ropes outside their windows in the narrow alleys...they prop up the stick and have a clothesline.

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A pretty great day despite the weather and, with any luck ,the forecasted rain and wind will stay away tomorrow. It ended well.

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Posted by curlygirl 15:47 Archived in Portugal Tagged fish doors windows lisbon portugal alfama Comments (2)

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