At 20,000 feet, etiquette can (litera become a more pressing issue.
Our readers share tales of their ramblings around the world. Who: Carrie Davis (the author) and Matt Davis, both of Crownsville, Md. Where, when, why: Last September, my husband and I spent a week visiting two Portuguese islands in the North Atlantic Ocean: Sao Miguel and Madeira of the Azores. We were looking to explore some places that were off the beaten path. That, combined with our yearning for European culture, mild temperatures, scenic hikes and natural beauty, made the islands the perfect destination for us. Cultural connection or disconnect: Sao Miguel Island was a lot less touristy than we had anticipated and we ran into several people who spoke very little English, including the owner of the inn where we stayed. We asked her for a restaurant recommendation in a little town called Mosteiros on the west side of the island. Although she could not recall the name of the cafe, she was able to describe its general location and recommended that we order cracas, an Azorean delicacy that she said “tasted like the sea.” We both like seafood, so we took her up on her suggestion and ordered them. Cracas are actually sea barnacles! They came out on a plate covered in algae and everything. Once we figured out how to go about eating them, we were pleased to find that they were delicious and tasted, as advertised, just like the sea. How unexpected: We were struck by how different Madeira was from Sao Miguel, even though they both are Portuguese islands and are only a two-hour plane ride apart. Sao Miguel was marked by sheer seaside cliffs and rolling green hills, dotted with small island towns and few tourists. Madeira was full of jagged, rocky peaks but also had a more metropolitan feel — especially the main city, Funchal — complete with outdoor cafes, gardens and plazas galore. We appreciated each island for different reasons. Highlights and high points: On Madeira, highlights included a tour of Old Blandy’s Wine Lodge (and subsequent tasting of several varieties of Madeira wine), a picturesque, waterfallfilled hike along the island’s levadas (irrigation channels created to provide water to various parts of the island) and swimming in lava pools in Porto Moniz. The literal high point on Madeira came on the last day of the trip, when we did a beautiful, but strenuous, ninemile round-trip hike between two of the island’s highest peaks, Pico Ruivo and Pico do Arieiro. It renewed my appreciation for my husband’s Boy Scout-like preparedness; the headlamp he stored away in his hiking pack came in handy while walking through some of the long, pitchblack tunnels that had been built into the rocky peaks.
On our last afternoon on Sao Miguel, the clouds in the higher elevations finally lifted enough to give us a good view of the Lagoa das Sete Cidades, two connecting lakes in the crater of a dormant volcano. Surrounded by blue hydrangeas, which were blooming in staggering numbers across the island, we hiked up to a lookout and were treated to the most breathtaking view either of us had ever seen: bluegreen lakes in volcanic craters, lush greenery, wispy clouds and deep-blue ocean that stretched beyond the horizon. Words and photos simply could not do it justice, and we lingered at that vista for a long time, trying to commit the spectacular scene to memory. Biggest laugh or cry: On both Sao Miguel and Madeira, the roads are narrow and the hills are steep — really steep. And on both islands, our rental cars were small, not-so-powerful stick-shift vehicles. This made for some entertaining (and sometimes terrifying) drives around the islands. Thankfully, we had done our research and remembered that for certain views on Sao Miguel it was recommended to park the car at the top of the hill and walk down to the viewpoints. (The concern is that some cars might not be able to make it back up some of the steeper hills, and our car probably would have fallen into that category.) We were lucky and grateful that we did not have to find out the hard way. Favorite memento or memory: Our only souvenir from the trip was a couple of bottles of Madeira wine that we packed in our checked luggage. They almost didn’t make it home with us though, as we missed our connecting flight in Lisbon and our bags had an unexpected extended layover there. When the airline finally delivered our lost bags to our doorstep several days after we returned home, we opened them to find two intact bottles of wine. We sampled them (to make sure they were still good, of course) and were instantly transported back to two beautiful little islands in the North Atlantic and our unforgettable week.
TOP: The Lagoa das Sete Cicades on Sao Miguel in the Azores. ABOVE: The author and her husband, Matt Davis.