At 20,000 feet, eti­quette can (lit­era be­come a more press­ing is­sue.

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - Travel@wash­post.com

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.

PHO­TOS BY MATT DAVIS

TOP: The Lagoa das Sete Ci­cades on Sao Miguel in the Azores. ABOVE: The author and her hus­band, Matt Davis.

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