Ponta Delgada, Azores

Trip Start Oct 20, 2012
Trip End Nov 03, 2012

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Flag of Portugal  , Azores,
Thursday, October 25, 2012

Got up at 11:48 a.m. aboard Norwegian Epic docked in Ponta Delgada, Azores, our first port of call on this 13-night trans-Atlantic cruise from Barcelona to Miami. Ate a salad in the Garden Café – saving room for dinner tonight at the Brazilian churrascaria.

I went ashore at 12:32 p.m. There was no tourist information at the cruise pier, so I checked a map on the terminal wall and started walking west along the oceanfront. Ponta Delgada is a large city on Sao Miguel Island, one of nine principal islands that make up the Azores chain in the eastern Atlantic. The islands are an autonomous territory of Portugal.

I came across a tourist office on the oceanfront avenue, Avenida Infante D. Henrique. I picked up a map of Ponta Delgada and an employee gave me a quick orientation of some highlights to see during my afternoon on shore. My first stop was Fort Sao Bras, which dates to the 1500s.

"The fortress was built due to the need of protecting the island from the pirates," according to a display outside. “They were attracted by the rich ships that stopped in Ponta Delgada, coming from India and Brazil.”

It's believed that construction began in 1552. The fort today houses the Military Museum of the Azores, which has a three-euro ($3.93) entry fee. I opted not to visit the military museum and instead walked around the exterior of the fort.

Next I visited nearby St. Joseph Parish Church, then sat down in the plaza outside St. Sebastian Parish Church, where I discovered free Wi-Fi provided by Portugal Telecom. I was only online for six minutes when I tucked my laptop back in my backpack and walked over to Avenida Infante D. Henrique to board the Fun Bus, a double-decker open-air bus that does a one-hour sightseeing loop of the Ponta Delgada area every hour. I had seen the bus pass Fort Sao Brass at 12:56, so I figured it left the bus stop near the cruise pier on the hour. A sign at the bus stop just notes the one-hour tour time and the price of 10 euros ($13.10), but didn’t list any times. I waited for the 2:00 bus, but it never showed up, so I left at 2:10 and went back to the plaza to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi by uploading dozens of photos to my blogs.

I returned to the bus stop at 2:50 to try for the 3:00 bus. But now the Fun Bus sign has vanished.
Doh, I guess the last bus, whenever it showed up, was the last one for the day. So I abandoned the plan to ride the Fun Bus and set out to continue my own walking tour. Ponta Delgada looks very much like an old European city with narrow cobblestone streets and short, mostly white buildings packed densely together. It’s like being in Portugal, except your on an island in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles from Europe. It was a neat place to wander around, although there didn’t appear to be that many big tourist sights.

After a quick stop in the covered market, where fruits and vegetables were for sale, I did a 46-minute, 2.4-mile walk through the University of the Azores campus, Jose do Canto Botanical Garden, Antero de Quental Garden, and Ponta Delgada City Hall, ending up back at the St. Sebastian plaza at 3:54 to upload some more photos and check e-mail.

From the plaza, I walked down to the oceanfront and followed it back to the Norwegian Epic, boarding at 4:28 – two minutes before the guest “All Aboard” time of 4:30. Dropped my backpack in my cabin, grabbed a small snack at the outdoor buffet, and then watched at 5:05 as we sailed away from Ponta Delgada. We now have five full days at sea before arriving into our second and final port of call, St. Thomas, USVI.

I sat down in the “library” at 5:48 to blog. I put library in quotation marks because this is the biggest joke of a “library” I’ve ever seen on a cruiseship. There is no dedicated library; rather a bunch of book cabinets are placed in a nook of the Maltings bar, right outside the entrance to The Humidor Cigar Lounge. This is one of many things I do not like about Epic – there is no quiet space on the ship where you can go to read or write. The “library” is extremely noisy being part of a bar and just above the casino. It’s about the furthest thing from the quiet atmosphere of a library. In addition to the noise, you get a whiff of smoke every time someone comes in or out of the cigar lounge. I don’t think you could possibly come up with a worse place for a “library.”

Returned to my cabin at 7:31 to get ready for dinner, then headed downstairs to Deck 7 to Moderno, a Brazilian churrascaria. This is a premium restaurant with a fee of $20 per person. A group of about 10 solo travelers signed up for dinner here.

The dining experience begins with a trip to the salad bar. In addition to a salad, I had a cup of mixed seafood chowder and a glass of mixed seafood ceviche, both of which were outstanding. Then came the meat. In traditional Brazilian steakhouse style, gauchos came around with 10 cuts of meat served tableside from large skewers. It was a challenge, but I was able to eat all 10 meats: Costela de Carneiro (flavorful rib lamb chops from the spit), Filet Mignon (succulent filet of beef seasoned to perfection), Garlic Beef (center cut sirloin marinated in garlic and sea salt), Picanha (prized cut of sirloin known for its rich flavor), Chicken Breast (wrapped in hardwood smoked peppered bacon), Chorizo (Spanish sausages with red wine and parmesan cheese), Costela (slow-cooked tender juicy beef ribs), Costela de Suino (pork ribs marinated in red wine and spices), Franco (chicken leg marinated in lime juice, sea salt, and garlic), and Linguica (Portuguese sausages flavored with herbs and garlic).

My two favorites were Franco and Linguica, so I had one each more of those, for a total of a dozen meats. I felt like my pants were going to burst open at the conclusion of dinner. When the waitress asked for dessert orders, I shook my head.

Jon and I both had tickets for the 10 p.m. Blue Man Group show, so we had to scramble out of dinner and across the ship to the Epic Theater. I was worried there wouldn’t be any decent seats left, but the theater was about 40% empty when we arrived, so there were still plenty of good seats to choose from. I looked for Craig, who was also joining us for the show, and saw him come down the aisle a couple minutes after I got there. Craig suggested we sit in the second row, even though the folks sitting in the first two rows were wearing clear plastic ponchos provided at each seat. Craig had seen a Blue Man show last year aboard Epic, whereas I had no idea why there were ponchos provided for the first two rows. I figured what the heck, why not? So we put on our ponchos and settled into our second-row seats.

The show began a few minutes after 10. Three men whose faces are painted blue come out and start pouring paint on drums and banging them. We quickly realize why we have the ponchos, though fortunately the paint is not shooting into the audience so we don’t really need them after all. The show went on for about 80 minutes. It was quite strange. There is no dialogue. The scenes are all pretty weird including eating Twinkies with a female member of the audience, banging on pipes, and dancing with costumes full of bright flashing lights. It’s a visual feast for sure, but I didn’t really make sense of most of it.

Returned to my cabin at 11:57. Hurray, there’s a laundry special flyer! I need to do laundry but the normal prices are unbelievably exorbitant – it would cost $106.30 to do my load of laundry at the listed prices. Epic doesn’t have any self-service laundry machines, so your only option is to send it to housekeeping to have it done for you. This is insanely expensive at the list prices – from $2 for a pair of underwear to $5 for a shirt or T-shirt. The laundry special is $25 for all clothes that you can stuff into this bag – which fortunately is just big enough to cram all my dirty clothes in. It’s still very expensive to pay $25 for a bag of laundry – I could wash and dry this at a laundromat for probably $6.

After preparing my laundry bag, I sorted today’s photos, got ready for bed, read, and bed at 2:19 a.m. We are southwest of the Azores at 36º 52.14’ N, 28º 32.73’ W.
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