The Azores were COMPLETELY different than I imagined them. First of all they were cold! The water temperature just broke the sixties. So no swimming for yours truly. Though I did see the locals getting wet. (Crazy!) Blustery and windswept are two words that come to mind. We wore sweaters mostly and jackets at night.
Secondly, they are sophisticated. Not like the Caribbean AT ALL. It really feels like you are in Europe, not on a speck in the Ocean 1,200 miles from the continent.
Thirdly the islands cover a much larger area than I imagined (duh: James, look at a chart next time!). They consist of about 10 populated islands and some smaller unpopulated ones and although the biggest island (Sao Miguel) is only about 36 miles long, the distance from the most northerly/westerly island (Flores) to the most southerly/easterly one (Santa Maria) is over 300 miles. A good two-day sail, whereas I thought we’d be able to hop from one island to another in just a few hours.
And finally, I guess because I never thought about it, I was surprised by the extent of volcanic activity on the island. The Azores are part of the North Atlantic Ridge and as such they straddle the North American and European continents. They are volcanic islands created where the North American continent slips away from the European one. The same process that forces California into the ocean and created Iceland (where Emma-Kate and I visited for our 10 year wedding anniversary in June 2010 just one year and entire lifetime ago).
Like Iceland, the scenery and geography is spectacular. Though Iceland wins in terms of raw drama.
The volcanic action that created the islands continues to this day – though thankfully mostly underwater. There is a spectacular museum on Faial (the island we visited) dedicated to the volcanism in general and the volcanic growth of Faial specifically – especially the eruption in the 1950s that caused an evacuation (to the USA) of 1,500 people (a huge portion of the islands population at the time), and the growth of the island by several hundred acres. There is a museum built on the ground of the 1950s eruption and the curators have done almost nothing to change the environment since it happened – which is awesome. You get to see how the volcano has changed Faial – without mankind trying to change it back. The explosion of the underwater volcano caused devastation to the light house there, but rather than re-build it, the new lighthouse was built inside the burnt out shell and the museum is a hyper modern facility built underground.
It’s very cool and a must-see for anyone visiting the island.
Before leaving Horta (the Capital of Faial) it is tradition for every boat to paint a picture commemorating their visit. This painting is supposed to bring good luck and fair winds to the vessel so it’s not something a worthy sailor can ignore: The whole family got in on the action.
We looked for other friends of ours who had painted pictures and found Juno’s which has weather the test of time well.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the kids favorite things about Horta: a restauarnt called “Hot Rocks”. Volcanic rocks are heated up, placed in front of you and you cook your own dinner. They loved it!
The Azores are lovely. A good place to hide away and write a novel. Sophisticated enough that you can get what you want, and isolated enough that you can’t get what you don’t need. For example, one day when roaming around we bumped into a bunch of locals dressed in traditional garb. When asked what the occasion was and why they were wearing the outfits, the reply: “For you of course!”