Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores

This is a statute of Goncalo Velho Cabral, who some say in 1427 discovered the Azores; he was a monk-navigator in the employ of Henry the Navigator. It’s a marvel that these islands in the middle of nowhere in the Atlantic were discovered that early, but they were – that early, or earlier.

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The Azores consist of 9 volcanic islands in the Atlantic Ocean about 850 miles west of Portugal and 1200 miles southeast of Newfoundland. The islands are located on an active triple junction of the Eurasian, African and North American tectonic plates. Earthquakes are common but usually small, and other continuing volcanic activity includes fumaroles, hot springs and boiling mud pots. Sao Miguel is the largest and most populated of the islands. Ponta Delgada, located on Sao Miguel, is the largest city on the islands. The Azores were first populated by Portuguese entrepreneurs in 1439 CE as a small fishing and agricultural village.

When I visited (for the third time this year), it was overcast and sometimes raining in Ponta Delgada. It was a good day for walking and a little shopping and the occasionally ducking into a coffee shop for a cappuccino. The rain made the Portuguese paving patterns in the sidewalks pop. Portuguese paving is made with dark and light (usually black and white) square stone pieces and is similar to mosaic work. The paving practice is said to have started in 1842 when a military commander, Eusebius Furtado, assigned a group of prisoners to lay a zigzag patterned courtyard as a make-work project. The patio made quite a stir and by the end of the 19th century, all new construction in Lisbon had to have Portuguese paving. It is now found throughout the world, wherever Portugal had colonies. Some of the larger pedestrian areas of Ponta Delgada have the most elaborate patterns:

But smaller areas, even narrow sidewalks, are also have patterned pavement.

The last time I was in Ponta Delgada, I walked with a cane and my trekking distances were limited. Now, with new knees, I walk all over the place. For this visit, one of my objectives was to walk up the hill to visit the gardens. There are several gardens, but because of the length of our port stay and the frequent rains, I needed to focus on just one. The garden I visited is called Jardin do Palacio de Sant’Ana. It surrounds what is now the presidential palace of the Azores. The palace is a large coral-red and white structure with classical statuary and suitable gingerbread. It is off limits to visitors to the gardens, although, really, you walk right up to it, around it and behind it and can photograph it from every possible angle.

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Jose Jacome Correia (José do Canto, 1820-1898), a native son of the Azores who was a intellectual, scientist, agricultural reformer, and gardener, built the palace and the gardens in the 19th century. Here is an example of allegorical statuary from the palace – a statue of Navigation.
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The garden contains many mature trees and palms from many places in the world. They have grown large and lush in the Azorean volcanic soil and humid, ocean-regulated climate. Many of us have seen beautiful flowering bougainvillea vines. In this garden, there is a bougainvillea tree, with a trunk 18 inches in diameter. These beautiful gardens include rose gardens that are not at their best at this time of year, and formal plantings including color blocks created with coleus in multiple hues.
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The garden paths are red gravel and curve and twist to reveal spectacular views of plants and plantings.
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This pond is a highlight of the garden, with a cluster of papyrus growing in the middle.
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This plant is from Australia, a macrozamia; its common name is burrawang.
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The plant below is from Madagascar and is a pandanus or pandano, also called a screw palm or screw pine.
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These succulents grow with wild abandon on a small embankment along the garden path.

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Piraeus – watch your step

Piraeus is the port in Greece where a cruise ship docks when its itinerary says it’s going to Athens. Athens is 7 miles away from the port of Piraeus, and the cruise ship will be keen to sell you an excursion to get to Athens. They won’t tell you that you can also take the metro from Piraeus to Athens for 4.50 Euros (all day metro pass) or get your own Ho-Ho bus ticket for half the ship’s price. (Ho-Ho is traveler shorthand for Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tours, which are common in large cities and major tourist sites.) Normally, people from cruise ships don’t spend their day in Piraeus, and I would not have if there had not been a 24-hour nationwide strike of the museum and archaeological site staff.

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The port of Piraeus is huge, the largest in Greece, and among the largest in Europe. In addition to shipping and cruise docks there are jewel-colored ferries flying in and out of the port constantly. The port was privatized as a part of the Greek bailout, and is now run by COSCO, a Chinese state company, which has a 35-year lease on a big portion of it.

Just south of the cruise port are marinas of the harbors Zeas, Pasalimani and Mikrolimano, full of sparklingly beautiful yachts, some as large as ferries.

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Streets are clean at the ports and around the marinas, but in many places, greywater flows down the gutters, and the sidewalks are unwalkable. Cars are double-parked blocking sidewalk access. In hilly areas (which is almost everywhere) sidewalks have unmarked steps and small steep unmarked ramps. Driveways cut across walkways, with ramps raising up as much as a foot high.


There are lots of tiny Greek Orthodox churches, often dramatically embellished. Many were locked up.

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Here are two friendly dog-owners, whose dogs have almost identically suspicious looks:


And here is an indoor gas station, built into the ground floor of a 6 or 7 story building. It seems like a bad idea, but maybe that’s just me. It’s startling to have a taxi swoop at an angle across the sidewalk in front of you, and zip up to a pump inside the parking garage you thought you were walking past.

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Sunday Walk in the Park – Lake Elkton

Is September the new August? With temperatures in the 90’s and humidity in the 70’s, it is a fair question.  At least that is the reading for today, Tuesday, and today is much like yesterday and yesterday was twinsies with Sunday.  Am I mis-remembering, or, back in the day, after Labor Day, was there not a distinct seasonal click on the dial, and you knew we were heading to Autumn. But here it is, September 4, there’s barely a patch of leaves turning, and it feels mostly like the miserable middle of August. And some rain would be nice.

Sunday, I visited Celia and Mike, and Celia and I walked around Lake Elkhorn. It was sunny, hot, humid and a good walk. The paths around the lake are paved, the bikers are very polite (“on your left” and “thanks”) and there are benches and shelters and public parks and a playground. And no mosquitos!


Here is a view from the public deck near the playground. We are not certain, but think those little grassy islands are supposed to float, which is kind of adorable. I used the opportunity to fiddle with a camera I had not been using.


Here we are, Celia and Carmen, just a bit damp toward the end of our hike. Celia is a musician and teacher, semi-retired, and I feel so lucky and blessed to call her my friend. She is always calm, sensible, reliable, and very brave and creative. One of my fond memories of Celia is, on a visit to the Folk Life Festival on the national Mall, Celia getting me up on stage to dance a Berber dance with some Arab dudes. If the opportunity is there, I think of Celia as always ready to seize it.