Two Days in the Azores

The first stop on the current itinerary finds us 850 miles due west of Portugal on a volcanic archipelago consisting of nine major populated islands. The islands are a possession of Portugal but are characterized officially as the Autonomous Region of the Azores (in Portuguese they are Açores). Considering the autonomy we found it odd that there appears to be an independence movement declaring itself with stencils on a number of walls. One local described that as people with nothing better to do and few take it seriously.

Geologically the archipelago sits over an ancient hotspot on the Gibraltar Ridge near the eastern side of the Mid-Atlantic Rift. There is still geo-thermal activity on the islands in the form of warm springs and mud baths. A short drive outside the city of Ponta Delgada are the blue and green twin lakes in a dormant caldera which have become a major tour destination.

Because of their proximity to the Gulf Stream the archipelago has an amazing climate. Year round the average high temperature ranges from 65° to 78° and it rarely makes it to the low eighties. There has also never been a recorded temperature near freezing. Because of this the foundations of the economy are agriculture, fishing and dairy farming with tourism recently developing into a major new sector. One of the major cash crops is pineapple with grape vineyards also being important.

Ponta Delgada is the largest city in the archipelago and you have to admire a city where all the streets and sidewalks consist of mosaics of black and white rock pavers. Maybe this has a practical explanation but the artistry involved left us stunned. I’m not sure we have seen anything like these before. The pace of life here seems relaxed with numerous outdoor cafes and restaurants. As is expected, seafood is the cornerstone of the diet with a decidedly Mediterranean flavor.

Not surprisingly the islands occupy a strategic position in the North Atlantic with a fifteenth century fortification protecting Ponta Delgada harbor. During the Second World War the Allies used the islands as a base to protect the sea lanes and were a base for airplanes hunting German submarines. Even today the United States Navy uses them as a refueling station for ships and aircraft heading back and forth across the Atlantic.

Convent and Shrine of the Lord Holy Christ of the Miracles.

Because of the location of the archipelago it is on the migration route for a number of whales and other sea mammals as well as a favorite wintering location. Blue whales, Sperm whales and Humpbacks are frequently sighted and whale watching is a growing attraction for tourists. The city has a number of impressive Catholic churches and a beautiful theatre which seems to favor ballet, symphonies and opera singers. Ponta Delgada is also a favorite stop for yachts and ocean racing sailboats and the waterfront and Yacht Club area is a good place in the evening to sit and enjoy a coffee or glass of local wine or port.

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The State Department Has Some Advice For You

DC Snow

Extra Protection While Traveling

The United States State Department has a program to help you while you travel internationally. Travelers are urged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency. The State Department uses security messages to convey information to you about terrorist threats, security incidents, planned demonstrations, along with information about natural disasters.

Enrollment is free and it creates an account that includes your contact information along with how to get in touch with your emergency contacts should something happen. You use the account online to update your travel information before and while you travel, which is automatically transferred to embassies and consulates near your travel locations.

Sometimes having Big Brother watch you might be a good thing…

Surprise Gem of the Italian Adriatic Coast

Ravenna in the northern Italian province of Emilia Romagna is a bit off the usual tourist trail. Located only two and a half hours from Venice by train with frequent service starting at €12 it is well worth a side trip. This city is a treasure trove of art and history with its basilica containing an extensive collection of mosaics. The city was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 AD until its collapse in 476. Today, Ravenna is home to eight world heritage sites, is known for its great food and is located on good beaches on the Adriatic coast that include world class resorts.

Old city gate

Eight Unesco World Heritage Sites

  1. The Mausoleum of Galla Placidia meant to be the resting place of Galla Placidia, the sister of the Roman Emperor Honorius who had transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milan to Ravenna in 402 AD.
  2. The Neonian Baptistery along with the
  3. Arian Baptistery with both including plain octagonal shaped brick exteriors with lavish interiors.
  4. The Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo with its 26 mosaic scenes from the New Testament, the oldest in the world.
  5. The , the only chapel of the early Christian era that is still fully preserved.
  6. The Mausoleum of Theodoric built in 520 AD by Theodoric the Great, King and unifier of the Ostrogoths.

    flying buttress on the Basilica of San Vitale
  7. The Basilica of San Vitale. One of the most important churches of the early church.
  8. The Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare, located in the countryside five miles outside Ravenna.
Dante’s Tomb

The city is also the site of the Tomb of Dante Alighieri

The author of The Divine Comedy who was exiled from his native Florence to Ravenna in 1318, where he completed Paradise, the final section of his famous three part work. Dante is buried in the graveyard beside the San Francesco Basilica.

The “Basilica of San Vitale” church in Ravenna, is one of the most important examples of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture in Europe.

The Roman Catholic Church has designated the building a “basilica”, the title bestowed on church buildings of exceptional historic and ecclesiastical importance, although it is not an architectural basilica form.

The church was begun by Bishop Ecclesius in 526, when Ravenna was under the rule of the Ostrogoths and completed by the 27th Bishop of Ravenna, Maximian, in 547.

The church has an octagonal plan. The building combines Roman elements: the dome, shape of doorways, and stepped towers; with Byzantine elements: polygonal apse, capitals, narrow bricks, and one of the earliest examples of the flying buttress. The church is most famous for its collection of Byzantine mosaics, the largest and best preserved outside of Constantinople. The church is of extreme importance in Byzantine art, as it is the only major church from the period of the Emperor Justinian I to survive virtually intact to the present day. Furthermore, it is thought to reflect the design of the Byzantine Imperial Palace Audience Chamber, of which nothing at all survives. The Church also inspired the design of the church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus in Constantinople, and also was the model used by the Emperor Charlemagne for his Palatine Chapel in Aachen in 805, and centuries later theSan Vitale dome was the inspiration for Filippo Brunelleschi in the design for the dome of the Duomo of Florence.

Besides the history and good food the city is also a very easy place for walking with a number of wide pedestrian malls lined with good shops.

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Outside the city towards the Adriatic beaches we passed a number of canals dotted with interesting fishing huts with huge and elaborate fishing net contraptions that didn’t seem a very sporting way of fishing. Even at the beach there was a long pier also with a number of these fishing huts and nets. I’ve never found a description or explanation of how these places worked?

Minerva’s Pencil Case has a great  post HERE with some breathtaking interior photography.

Yellowston’s Old Faithful Lodge

Last summer, after years of trying to plan a trip to Yellowstone, with a stay at the Old Faithful Lodge, we actually got there.

The Old Faithful Inn is as much an icon of Yellowstone Park as the nearby geyser(s) and was an experience we had looked forward to for a long time. We planned that trip around a land tour with Caravan Tours which included the two nights at the lodge and we couldn’t say more about the tour.

Named for the famous geyser in the basin its construction started in 1903, the Old Faithful Inn epitomizes the use of rustic architecture on a large scale and has been copied a number of times. Construction was done using local stone for the building’s foundation, and local lodgepole pine logs for its walls. Craftsmen framed the windows and stairways with gnarled wood selected for its beauty in the construction. It was designed by architect Robert Reamer, and the inn combines rugged materials and organic motifs in a way that expresses both frontier sensibilities and elegance.

The Old Faithful Inn opened in 1904, and was equipped with electric lighting, but Reamer designed the light fixtures to look like candlesticks. Both the electricity and the radiators were fueled by a unique steam generator. Dinner was accompanied by a string quartet (which still plays in the lodge), and dancing was customary on most nights. The east wing was added in 1919 and the west wing was added in 1927, both under Reamer’s supervision, bringing the inn’s total number of guest rooms to about 340. Since that time annexes have been added to increase occupancy and provide for park staff.

Just being in the Upper Geyser Basin is the experience of a lifetime and spending time at the inn is just icing on the cake. The lodge is a magnificent structure with a lobby that stands four stories high with numerous seating areas, a huge fireplace and includes a main dining room, a snack bar and a bar that features light fare. The rustic architectural details are worth special attention and there is a front deck where you can sit and view the geyser.

It seems almost a requirement to have at least one meal in this historic log dining room with its impressive stone fireplace, more for the ambiance than the food. Its best buy is a buffet breakfast and lunch along with a buffet option at dinner. There are several other eating options in the main lodge including a snack bar as well as out-buildings. The general store just down the hill has a good lunch counter and there is a cafeteria in the newest building off to the side of Old Faithful.

We had a good breakfast and dinner in the main dining room and really enjoyed the bison chili and burger in the bar. Prices are not really excessive considering the location. There is very little to brag about in the Spartan guest rooms that have no air conditioning, TV or WiFi but luxurious accommodations are not what we came for.