Six weeks before the trip to The Azores we didn’t know the islands existed. A cheap flight to them popped up on the Google Flights.
We soon bought our tickets with the official airline of the Azores, Azores Airlines. $575 canadian, return and direct YYZ – PDL, João Paulo II Airport.
After doing the initial online scout of Sāo Miguel, we knew that we wanted to make it a Hasselblad exclusive trip, even though the company is pushing the X1D, a mirrorless medium format camera, as an ideal travel camera. We picked up the flagship H6D-100c, as we have a decent kit of H Series Lenses (all purchased as stellar BGN grade from KEH.com).
After we announced our trip, many people emerged from the woodwork with information and stories. It appeared to be held closely in the hearts of friends. One of which, was a local friend of ours, and travel blogger, 5 Globe Trotters . It looked like they were there a season ago, and gave us plenty of travel tips!
Kate: We hopped off the plane, spent way too long waiting for a rental car, then hoofed it along the quaint, decorated streets of Ponta Delgada so Ryan could find a SIM card for his phone. Nearly 24 hours of traveling at that point, we were pooched.
Ryan: Walking around Ponta Delgada early in the morning before all the shops open there is a calming experience. Something I would suggest, as it shows the city in a different light then when it’s all hustle and bustle. Don’t bother asking people for a place to buy a SIM card. We asked a few, and were met with casually dismissive responses. I was about to give up, but we found a Vodafone store at a square. 5 mins later we had a working phone with 30Gb of data for 20€. I turned on the Hotspot on the LG G6, and we both had plenty of data for the 10 day trip.
Kate: I have to admit, I had one of those “Oh no” moments as we got off the plane, early in the morning of the first day. It was raining, windy and cold. Our last 4 trips have been to more extreme warm climates, so this was a bit of a shock. Getting to our AirBnB, and taking a nap for a couple of hours, the sun was shining, and the air was pleasantly warm, with a cool breeze. It was only about 18-20 degrees C there at this time of year, but I don’t think I minded not sweating through my clothes, for a change.
Ryan: I was told the food was going to be amazing. A mix of fish, shrimp, lobster, crab and East Indian flavors. With all the emphasis on fish, I only had one fish meal. It wasn’t even that great. We did have pizza twice. One from Canadiano Pizza in Ribeira Grande. Ryan: The city of Ponta Delgada had a rich street art vibe to it. If we cheated down an alleyway to get somewhere quicker, we were always met with some art that ended up making our tours slower.
Kate: Ponta Delgada was definitely considered more of a “modern” city, compared to the rest of the island, but all of the old traditional architecture shone through at every turn. Kate: Despite doing plenty of research about currency, food, rules, etc, we failed to think about how to pay for parking at a meter when we arrived in Ponta Delgada. We had exchanged currency back in Sarnia, but we both only had bills, and no coins. A man with a young son (no older than 3), stopped, and asked us in broken English if we needed help. He got the parking meter sorted, AND paid for an hour for us when we painfully tried to explain that we only had bills. I was floored by his generosity, and kindness, especially while trying to look after his toddler.
Ryan: I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure the man was our second airBNB host. He looked pretty close, and it’s hard to tell with how flustered we were.
Kate: It wasn’t, but he was just as nice.
Ryan: These are the city gates. I can’t remember any other city we were in having gates in any of our travels. Although we didn’t ever search for them. Now every city here had a rainbow after it rained. The Azores were the place for rainbows. We had no idea before we went there.
Ryan: all the sidewalk in the Azores were this busted up what and black cobblestone tiles. Something I would really like to see here in Canada. With Canadian sidewalk widths and not there not even shoulder width sidewalks. Ryan: I had a goal to get photos of star trails photos while we were there. It was cloudy every night. I was able to get this before yet another storm rolled in. As you can see, I did get a little trail on Venus, but that’s about it. Ryan: Expect rain every day while you’re there.
Kate: But not necessarily for long. Since the island is sort of situated in the middle of the ocean, weather tends to change and move around really suddenly and unexpectedly. I can’t for the life of me imagine how they ever make weather predictions. Kate: Our first outing after a refreshing nap, and shower. With a four hour time difference, we had to will ourselves not to go to bed super early. I, for one, was extremely jet-lagged. Luckily, the sun gave us the energy for a bit of an explore into Nordeste. Kate: Nordeste is so picturesque. This first day, we ventured out, once again, with a pit stop here to pick up groceries. Every little town has a church, and they all look very similar to the one at the end of this bridge. Kate: It was fairly overcast, and calling for storms. As I mentioned before, however, it was sort of tricky to know what to expect in terms of weather. Luckily, we only got light mist most of the day, until about 5pm when the downpour started. But that was fine with us. Kate: Nordeste is beautiful. Located about a 15 minute drive from our AirBnb in Santana, Nordeste is such an eclectic little town, with tons of old buildings (most of which have newer additions). I loved the arches of the bridge leading to the centre of town. Ryan’s hiding in this photo. Kate: Buying some groceries at a supermarket in Nordeste, we knew we wanted to do a little exploring. We had passed a little driveway-like exit off the of the main road on the way to Nordeste, and we decided to pop in, to see if there was anywhere to park (we had snacks). Down a spiral road, there was this gorgeous little park with pretty trees and concrete tables. The whole setting was under an overpass, and it was surprisingly serene for being so close to the main road. Kate: Ryan, with a few of his newer toys (would you just look at what Hasselblad, and LG hooked him up with for this trip?!), and snacks, of course.
Ryan: Doughnuts are always something of a new place or culture is something I have to try. I would say you can tell a lot about a place by their doughnuts. You don’t have to try them when you’re here, they’re nothing special.
Kate: I believe these were actually the cheap, crappy version of doughnuts. Nothing to write home about… not like the rest of the pastries we were lucky enough to sample throughout the rest of the trip.
Ryan: Also this was the last photo of the drone alive. It died the next day.
Kate: The overpass in question. What I’ve seen of Sao Miguel island is absolutely stunning, in such a unique way. Every time we went around a curved road, or over a hill, I found myself gasping and saying “Wow, that’s gorgeous!”
Ryan: I wanted to explore past that gate. I had no idea if it was a home, a park or something else. I still don’t know.
Ryan: In typing that I had to google maps it. There was a waterfall there ?!?!?!? It’s Jardim Botânico da Ribeira do Guilherme, it appears to be a really good flower garden…. Even one worth going back for.
Kate: To find an automatic rental car in Europe is painful, and pricey. Our little rental was a manual, and Ryan had to relearn how to drive one. I’m not going to lie, I was terrified when we stalled 5 or 6 times in the rental lot at the airport. However, after a handful of minor mishaps, he had pretty much mastered it. Getting comfortable behind the wheel of a manual car had certainly made our “quick photo stops” much easier.
Ryan: If you’re going to get good at driving stick, do it in a rental car. Ours was an Opel Corsa Turbo. I could really do without relearning it on pretty much all uphill roads. Then uphill on loose gravel, on a road that’s the same width of the rental, with cliffs on either side. I do have to give it to Opel their little Corsa could handle a newb in all of those trying conditions.
Kate: On the drive back from Nordeste, we went over one of many bridges, and had to pull over, and take a few photos… The reason why is (hopefully) self explanatory. This continues to be one of my favourite shots, as I feel like it captures much of the driving on the East coast, to a T. Kate: This little buddy was hanging out in the driveway of our AirBnB during our stay. We had been instructed not to touch the cats, as most of them are semi-feral, and/or carry transferable diseases (not clear about that, but figured I’d rather be safe than sorry). He was a chatty guy, and meowed at us over and over until he proceeded to spray the stone wall next to the driveway. He didn’t seem threatened or territorial though, so I’m not sure why he did it. In the end, we all became friends, and I’ll admit I felt rather guilty when we left.
Ryan: He came back and I kept giving it the scrapes of our cheese. He was all about it.
Kate: Jardim do Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego On our way to Faial da Terra, we happened upon these incredible gardens. The thing I love about Sao Miguel is that all their little parks are beautifully landscaped, and thought out. Not just a chunk of grass with play equipment, like back home. Every bit is designed to drink in the spectacular views, and calm your mind. Let me tell you, it really works. Looking back, I wish we had had more time to revisit this place on a warmer day, to take full advantage of the serene surroundings. Kate: Here, kitty, kitty! Cats. Cats were seen everywhere on the island. And all of them acted like they wanted to come close for a pet, but were too scared. Kate: Basically, this was a garden of Eden. You can see some sort of coniferous type tree in the background… They’re very strange, and the needles grow upwards. I felt a little bit like Alice in Wonderland walking through here. Plus, we passed by many other travellers, most of which sounded like they were from Germany. Ryan: Around every bend on the highway you can be greeted with a vista like this. I don’t see why everyone goes to the usual spots. The whole island is great.
Ryan: 1600km’s in the distance is Morocco. Pure horizon photos are always my favorites. I could stare at the small details that can’t exist in anything other than stills. Ryan: Halfway though our trip I started looking at the real estate websites for the Azores. A few of the houses in the picture are probably around the €3000. Move to the Azores now.
Kate: I had to keep discouraging him from the idea of packing up his life, and buying a small cottage on the side of a mountain. Let me just say, I didn’t have the heart to discourage too much, as the idea sounds wonderfully dreamy.
Ryan: On the way to the waterfalls we never found, we stopped off at Miradouro do Pico Longo. One of the islands many scenic points. All the scenic points are labeled as you come up to there. A blue sign with binoculars, is the goto for a great view. They’re the most common road signs there. I wouldn’t be surprised if over half of all the signs on the island are these scenic signs.
Kate: I was pretty bound and determined to get a few photos of us together on this trip, and had to figure out where the timer was on my camera.
Kate: My partner in love, life, and travel. I’m so lucky to be with someone who is so eager and hungry to explore the world. As much as I love travelling, I tend to naturally want to hole up at home, most of the time, but this guy pushes me until I give in. I’m incredibly glad he does, because my soul needs travel. They say travelling becomes an itch that needs to be scratched, and it’s so very true. Kate: While trying to find a hidden waterfall (which we failed to find, I might add), we went down a random road, which led to a very small lot, and then a dirt walking path. We figured we might find what we were looking for down the road. As it turns out, the dirt road/path led to Faial da Terra, but we didn’t walk the whole way, as it was gravelly, and a bit hard to get good footing.
Ryan: With our extra days on the island I reached out to Chris Hua ( ) of Know Hua Media. I asked if he know of anything we should check out. He said to just explore. I would chalk that up to a brush off message, but that’s all you need to do on the island. Just explore.
* Chris had done tourism videos of the islands if you want to see the common tourism things to do on the Islands.
Kate: On our drive around the bend, I spotted a wee little daschund trotting up the road. I ran back to find him, but alas, he had gone.
Ryan: If you’re going to the Azores you need to hire a rental car, and the added insurance that goes with it. There’s a few in the airport that are island specific. They also can negotiate, never pay full price.
Kate: Faial da Terra. I’m not sure what the name means, but this gem of a town is hunkered down in the valley, surrounded by huge hills. A stream runs down the centre of it, creating two sides, which are connected by a little bridge in the middle. I loved being here. Everything was so pretty, so photogenic, and the coffee shop we stopped at had amazing tarts.
Ryan: That was our first introduction to those tarts. I ate maybe three dozen on the trip.
Kate: Faial da Terra had such a homey feel to it. Ryan’s words were “If we were going to relocate ourselves in this island, this is where I’d want it to be”. That more or less sums it up, I think. Kate: The coast at Faial da Terra. The sheer cliffs were enormous. The kind of huge that makes you a little dizzy when you look up. With a narrow footpath running the visible span, there really wasn’t a need for a beach. I felt a bit like a character in Game of Thrones, moseying down the coast line. Kate: The storm rolled in as we were exploring the coast line. It came in lazily and slow. Once we were done here, we can planned to move on and try to find those hidden waterfalls, but the rain rolled in before we even got back to the car.
Ryan: You’ll also have to note that you’ll be in 2/3rd gear going up steep hills. The other half of the time you’ll be riding the brakes going down hills just as steep.
Ryan: A road in Faial Da Terra. This is the standard goto road width in the Azores. Yeah that’s why you need the add-on insurance on the rental car. Driving down roads like this, only to be met by an oncoming greyhound sized bus coming in the opposite direction Happens. We know, it happened to us. The bus driver was completely boss about it. He directed us with hand signals while backing the bus up. Dude pretty much drove a car and a bus at once down a street that’s the width of a sidewalk in Canada.
Ryan: As you can see from below, the roads also can get thinner for no reason.
Ryan: I never understood the push for a light mirrorless camera for travel. If you’re going on a once in a lifetime adventure, why would you value weight over quality. Add decent lenses in it the weight difference is negligible. A comfortable padded strap, and who care, grow some muscle.
Kate: As someone who doesn’t generally use a Hasselblad is her main body, I’d like to add that I didn’t mind having this baby on my shoulder the whole trip.. except while I was trying to climb mountains, and it was swinging all over the place. More on that later.
Ryan: Below, is just a bit east of Faial Da Terra. A wild walk, less than 4 minutes just outside of town. The cliffs would be something I’d attempt to climb. I’m only a indoor 5.8er right now, so it might be in a few more years. The cliffs looks to be about a 2-300ft 5.10er.
Ryan: Being able to have all this information in the pixels is amazing to have. The H3DII-50 starts to tap out at about 1ev, this was about a min exposure at dusk, and I didn’t even notice any noise or reciprocity failure on the sensor of the H6D-100c.
Ryan : Heading into the trip. Furnas looked like a good home base if we were only going to have on rental on Sāo Miguel. It’s pretty central, there’s a lot of airBNB‘s with good reviews and it had a good amount of stuff the tour. It’s the tourist trap of the Island. Las Vegas without the casinos, museums, mobsters or adult entertainment. It’s Las Vegas without anything Las Vegas. Furnas was uneventful. It was boring, and as quickly as we got into it, we wanted to leave it. I’m glad we didn’t get our airBNB there, I think we would’ve had a whole different opinion, one not so good, of the Azores if we had set up home base in Furnas.
Kate: To be fair, Furnas had a lot to offer, just not so much for us. We don’t really like crowds, and were more so looking for an authentic experience, rather than a carefully westernized one.
Ryan: I have an explanation of that further down. Don’t skip over anything, hold your ponies.
Ryan: The walk in the park was one of my fondest experiences on Sāo Miguel. Funny, at first I said “fuck it”. The park around the lake was pretty lame. There was a little spiral maze that looked half assed, probably made by that one solo lonely duck. That’s why the duck was lonely, because he built lame mazes.
Ryan: I like those actually “fuck that, fuck this” moments. When you decide not to do something, out of no reason other than being lazy and moody. Then you decide to do it, because fuck it, prove yourself wrong. Spit in the face of being lazy and moody.
Kate: It was much too chilly, and damp for me.
Ryan: I felt bad for the one couple I meet walking up the mountain. I always accept the fact that my feet and everything from the knee down will probably end up wet and muddy eventually so I don’t dodge puddles. Most of the walk up there was dry and fine, there was a few little sketchy areas that were wet and muddy. In my go-to fashion, I was covered up the leg joints in wet mud. Back to that couple. They saw my wet and muddy legs, and quickly decided to turn back. From the looks if it, they had walked the 7km up the mountain, (we drove it,) and decided to turn around about 700 metres from the summit.
Ryan: I had actually gone to Ribeira Grande the night before, when Kate was sick. We needed to top up the gas in the rental car, and grab something for supper. They had a pizza place there, so we went with pizza.
Kate: This is a little central square in Ribeira Grande where we popped into the most darling little ice cream parlour, and tasted genuine handmade Portuguese ice cream. I got strawberry, with real chunks of sweet delicious strawberries. Heaven.
Kate: Even when I like to think I know what I’m doing, I really never do. I’m glad I’ve found a partner who’s much more eager to hop into new experiences (even when he also has no idea).
Kate: I could not understand why we had to go “off-roading” when there was a perfectly decent and available path.
Ryan: The sense of scale of this photo is throwing me and everyone off. I look like a little figurine on stock beach rocks. I also slid down cliffs to get there. That brown on my butt isn’t shit.
Ryan: Yeah, I didn’t do that. I now know why people slather it on their nose. By the end of the day my nose had a eggshell of dead destroyed skin all over it.
Kate: I have to admit, I was really bummed that it was such a gloomy, overcast day when we explored this area. I had intended on taking some spectacular, sunshiney photos, and it just didn’t happen.
Kate: While driving back down the mountain, we flew across roads I don’t think we were meant to be on, past a handful of loggers doing their thing, and stumbled across this beauty. It appeared to be a ruin of an old aquaduct, and it was truly a sight to see. Naturally, we took some photos with it.
Kate: Hotel Monte Palace is perched up on a hilltop, not too far from Sete Cidades. In order for guests to arrive, back in 1989, they would have had to drive up several winding roads. Approaching this beast of a building is somewhat intimidating, particularly when it’s super foggy and rainy. The first bit of graffiti I found said “Don’t Go”, which freaked me out… until Ryan reminded me that no real warning would be written in English.
Ryan: The ice cream was still good, the weather was a little weak, but that’s the Azores for you.
Kate: The day we were supposed to leave to come back to Canada, our flight was cancelled. There were at least a dozen other flights cancelled that day as well, due to a strike with Azores Airlines. When our flight had a whole 43 people waiting in the departure lounge, I had a sneaking suspicion they wouldn’t be flying us anywhere, with such a small passenger load. I was right. We were put up for two days in a hotel in Ponta Delgada, with our meals covered. Unfortunately, by this point, we had already given our rental back, and had no way to continue exploring the island, so we bummed around Ponta Delgada, and did some shopping, and general hanging out.
Kate: We didn’t take many photos on day 8, and none on day 9. Since they weren’t supposed to happen at all, I like to consider them the “lost days” of our trip to The Azores, 2017.
Kate: Overall, Sao Miguel was amazing. Even now, I’m finding myself thinking about the winding mountain roads, that are impossibly narrow, and the breathtaking views around every hairpin turn.The quaint little towns, with modest eateries, and adorable parks. The pink, and blue and purple and green houses, all in a row. The hilly roads and sidewalks (my legs have never been so beefed up in my life). So many perfect little details, that I’ve tried to capture in photo form, and so many more that will get lost in the recesses of my memory. We’re already dreaming about where to go next, and if the next #TwoFarrAway venture is anything like this one was… I can’t wait!