Azores: Vila Franca do Campo

As strange as it sounds, Mina loves dark, enclosed spaces. We often find her in the back of a closet or on a bed deep under a blanket. So of course she was attracted to the wardrobe in our Airbnb. I’m surprised the poor thing survived our visit, frankly. Linus would say, “Mina, come in here!” and she’d trot over, hop in, and stand quietly while he closed the door. Sometimes we’d stop what we were doing and realize she as missing – and every time, she was in the wardrobe.

São Miguel, Azores

São Miguel, Azores

This was probably our worst day weatherwise. And by “worst,” I mean it was merely dreary. Hey, if you want lush hillsides, you’re going to get some rain from time to time.

Miradouro da Vigia das Baleias das Feteiras, São Miguel, Azores

Miradouro da Vigia das Baleias das Feteiras, São Miguel, Azores

These next shots are from a quick rest stop we took along the way to our next stop. I’ve told a number of people since we returned that the Azores are “the next Iceland” – by which I mean, it’s the next hip destination. It seems that everyone I talk to is either planning a visit or wishes they were planning a visit. And the Azores seem to be ready: English is spoken everywhere, food is delicious and cheap, the roads are easy to navigate (not to mention fun to drive), and there’s a huge list of things to do. We also found little picnic stops everywhere we went: this is clearly a people that values being outdoors and intends to take advantage of the beauty and mild weather any chance they get.

The one thing I’m going to give them low marks for is restrooms. After having three babies, I have to go rather more often than most people, so this is a big deal to me. Few of the picnic areas we visited had a restroom, and those we found were generally locked. The big tourist stops (like the view over Lagoas Azul and Verde) had no facility at all. I’m quite the pro at quietly slipping off a path for just a moment, but I’m sure they don’t want everyone to rely on that.

So, Azores: make with the public toilets!

Anyway, while I’m walking about looking for a large bush, Mina of course located a cat.

Miradouro do Pisão, São Miguel, Azores

And Linus and Jamie found stairs and a wall to climb so they could alarm us all.

Miradouro do Pisão, São Miguel, Azores

Miradouro do Pisão, São Miguel, Azores

Lovely family shot! Have I mentioned the joy of going about in light jackets over Easter weekend? We really have been doing a good job of vacationing during cold weather lately. Must keep it up!

Miradouro do Pisão, São Miguel, Azores

Linus! Get down! Linus! Down! Linus, can you even hear me?!

Miradouro do Pisão, São Miguel, Azores

The destination of the morning was the Quatro Fabrica da Luz. It’s a little hike along a stream bed and a series of canals to a destination hand-picked to charm Linus. You’ll see… The kids got right to work traversing an empty canal bed whlie Cindy monitored. I think Jamie is down there somewhere too, but he’s gone way deep.

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

As I prepare to post these photos, I can fairly hear Grandpa having a heart attack. The theme of this site is most decidedly not safety. You’re about to see three little kids crawling over things that an adult probably shouldn’t have access to without guard rails. Hey! It’s vacation!

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

In December, I started to think I was copying Mina’s haircut and should probably get my own. Oops. Now I have Linus’s haircut.

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

Down we go! The comparisons to Costa Rica throughout our trip were constant, but none more than on this hike. And it was at this point that Yen and I started to rethink our plan for this coming December…

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

And here’s our destination: an old pump hydroelectric* station for bringing water down the mountain to the coast. Yep, just sitting here in the wilderness, left to nature, and waiting for a middle-aged American to turn her ankle on something.

*Yen corrected me after I published this post. Apparently they situated it so water would run down the ravine and run the turbine, thus creating electricity. Makes sense – and it shows how early in the island’s history they had renewable energy sources.

Don’t worry: I was wearing proper hiking boots.

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

Linus was beside himself. He splits his time between constructing machines using LEGOs and other toys, and imagining (and describing in detail) machines he would like to build. So seeing this giant contraption was right up his alley.

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

The forest is reclaiming it, of course.

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

I suppose most of the time there would be water in this creek bed, which would make the machine worthwhile. Or maybe that’s what the canals up the hill were doing?

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

Here Linus and I were headed back up the hill again. Straight up, big steps, no rails. At least it wasn’t raining hard or very muddy! I was sure Linus was going to ask me to carry him all the way up, but he decided to be a steam engine and pull me up.

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

We got to the top to find that Jamie and Mina were already there and having a lovely stroll together. As I said in a previous post: language was definitely no barrier for these kids.

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

We contemplated the dam for a while, and then the kids set to work throwing every rock, pine cone, leaf, and anything else they could find into the water while we searched for a likely lunch destination.

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

And then Yen remembered he had a camera with a timer, and we were able to snap a group shot!

Quatro Fabrica da Luz hike, São Miguel, Azores

At last we headed into the nearest village, Vila Franca do Campo. It actually used to be the capital, but was destroyed by an earthquake… I can’t remember when. Now it’s a fishing village with lovely parks in the center of town.

Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

And a church. Linus is still obsessed with bells, so he dragged Yen over to take a look while we walked toward lunch.

Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

Speaking of lunch… We chose one called O Jaime. Excellent choice! You can see here that I’m having a giant plate of roasted octopus with potatoes, and everyone else has gone for the mixed grill. And wine – lovely local wine. We also enjoyed the local fresh cheese that’s standard at every meal – you eat this with bread instead of butter. The food was so fresh, cooked perfectly, and plentiful, as you can see. This is also where Linus discovered his new favorite dessert, Queijadas de Vila Franca. These are tiny cakes invented by local nuns and covered in powdered sugar – don’t exhale while eating one. We brought a box home for him that’s presently sitting undisturbed in the cabinet. I wonder how long they stay fresh?

O Jaime restaurant, Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

After lunch we headed back to the car with a stop along the way at this fountain. We cannot pass a fountain and not stop.

Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

Even Miss Shorty tried to get in on the action.

Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

I don’t know what’s going on here, but it looks intense and a little bit dangerous (they’re in a parking lot). Probably an interesting insect? Meanwhile the adults were studying the GPS to find the route to our next destination. When the GPS read the street name, it was so long she went on for at least 30 seconds. Between that and the wine, I went into a positively epic gigglefit. But at last we got on our way.

Vila Franca do Campo, São Miguel, Azores

Mina fell asleep in the car by this time, so she miss everything you’re about to see, which is the view from a shrine at the top of the hill. Despite careful planning with Google Maps, we simply could not get there from here. At one point we entered a rotary only to find Peter already in it, leaning toward the window with his hand on his face in a classic “I have no idea what’s happening but I’m going to keep driving” gesture. At last we decided to wing it and go by feeling, and soon came upon some hand-drawn signs that led the way. The view really was worth it, even with the low clouds.

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

Here it is. Just try being a little boy and not immediately running to the top.

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

Meanwhile Mina was still asleep, so I stayed near the car, contemplating all those banana plants below me.

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

At last Yen came back down and I got to check it out for myself. Linus insisted that we each go up separate staircases and shout, “Surprise!” on each landing.

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

Linus did some contemplation of his own. Probably about all the queijadas in the town down below.

Nossa Senhora da Paz chapel, São Miguel, Azores

We climbed into the cars then and headed for a beach we’d seen earlier in the day. The kids were pleased to find it full of driftwood, and immediately got to work on an art installation.

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

There were jellyfish all over the place! The poor things were so fresh that some of them were still pulsing slightly.

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

I’d like to make another plug here for putting toddlers in hiking boots before turning them loose on the beach. When we were ready to head home, I took Linus into the bathroom to clean his feet up, but found no sand at all between his little toes.

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

Linus carried some of the driftwood closer to the water to build what he said was a town. Unfortunately he’s not strong enough to really drive the sticks into the sand, so the tide ripped them all out immediately.

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

Never fear! Jamie joined his effort and made everything much more structurally sound.

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

Linus was incredibly proud of the black sand on his fingers. Ew.

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores

And with a last look at the town by the sea, we headed back toward the house and another lovely home dinner. Get a good night’s sleep, everyone. We’ve got an adventure planned for the morning.

Água D'Alto Beach, São Miguel, Azores