Tag Archives: Azores

Caribbean Cruise Jan-Feb 2015

Azores Cruise Ship

Yes, we’re off on our travels again, mainly in the hope of missing the worst of the UK winter, but I know that’s not guaranteed, given we’ve had snow as late as April these past couple of years. This time it’s the Caribbean, and though we’ve been there a few times before, it never loses its appeal, and at this time of the year we should be safe from hurricanes!

We’re cruising on the Azores, a new addition to the Cruise & Maritime fleet. The Azores replaces the Discovery, and meets our preference for smaller ships that offer a more personal cruising experience, with a capacity of 550 passengers.

It seems the Azores has had a bit of a chequered history. According to Wikipedia, in 1956 she (at the time she was named the “Stockholm”) was involved in a collision with the SS Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket. Although most passengers and crew survived the collision, the larger Andrea Doria luxury liner capsized and sank the following morning. A number of ships responded and provided assistance, which averted a massive loss of life.

Then on 3 December 2008, the Azores (at that time named the Athena) was attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. There were reported to be 29 pirate boats surrounding the ship at one stage until a US Navy maritime patrol aircraft circled above which led some of the pirates to flee. The crew prevented the pirates from boarding by firing high pressure water cannons at them. No one was injured and the ship escaped without damage and continued on her voyage to Australia.

I trust our cruise will be a lot less dramatic ….or traumatic!

The map and schedule has (once again) been created using the new Google Maps features.  Use your mouse to zoom in or out, click on the location tabs to see the schedule.


Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, the Azores: and then (finally) home!

It was a relatively short ‘hop’ from Faial to Sao Miguel, the largest of the islands in the Azores Archipelago, which was accomplished overnight, so we arrived early in the morning of Saturday 9th February. This is prime dolphin and whale-watching territory, but unfortunately we didn’t see any. A few people who happened to be stood on the fore deck as we approached the island did manage to sight a school of dolphins as they passed in front of the bow – but I wasn’t one of them. Drat!

Sao Miguel is the largest and most populated of the nine islands that make up the Azores. Also known as the “Green Island”, Sao Miguel is home to the Presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores. We docked at the cosmopolitan town of Ponta Delgada, a delightful town with grand monuments, ancient architecture, cobble-stone streets, mingled with a modern marina, lively bars and ocean-front cafe’s that together create a wonderful atmosphere.

We were booked on an organised tour to see the Sete Cidades Crater Lake, with some cheese and wine tasting thrown in (not literally!). The Crater Lake was magnificent to behold, and in terms of visual impact, possibly the highlight of the holiday. We passed meadows bordered by hydrangeas (though not yet in bloom) before ascending the main crater, some 1,900 ft above sea level. The crater has a circumference of 8 miles, and holds two lakes, one blue and one green, connected by a narrow road bridge. On the shores of the Blue Lake is the village of Sete Cidades (Seven Cities), and the village and lakes are surrounded by the dark forest-covered walls of the Caldeira.

Words cannot convey the beauty of this whole region, which has many walking trails for the determined rambler. I was quite reminded of our own Lake District, where we make an annual pilgrimage every June, but in some respects the scenery here was even more stunning. Add to this the fact that the annual temperature range is a very temperate 15C to 28C, i.e. no ice snow or frost, and you have an almost perfect environment for wildlife to flourish.

We also visited the Santiago Lake, inaccessibly situated at the bottom of an extinct crater before heading back to Ponta Delgarda to sample some of the local cheeses and wines.

The afternoon was taken up with exploring the ancient city of Ponta Delgarda, but unfortunately – and despite it being a Saturday – most of the shops and churches were closed. However, we made the most of wandering the cobbled streets and sampling the beer and custard creams on offer at the sidewalk cafes, and did the archetypical tourist thing and had a tour of the town in a horse-drawn carriage. We did manage to get to see the inside of one of the churches – St Peter’s, (Sao Pedro) which features many statues from 16th through 18th centuries and is home to the famous Carvalho painting of the Pentecost.

A truly wonderful day was rounded off by a sea-food dinner at one of the Marina restaurants ( O Marineiro, www.omarineiro.com) with some fellow passengers (and now friends) who we’ve spent the past six weeks with sharing bread and gossip on table 26 in the Marco Polo’s Waldorf Restaurant. The dinner party consisted of Brian, Bridgit, Dermot, Margaret, Dale and Jo (and wife – Lynda), and if any of you ever get around to reading this blog post – thanks to all of you for your company these past few weeks. And don’t worry – whatever happened on the Marco Polo stays on the Marco Polo!

So, this is our last port of call on this epic journey to the Amazon, the West Indies and the Azores. We now have another four days at sea before getting back to our starting point in Tilbury. By that time we will have spent 42 days having the holiday of a lifetime, and with many very happy memories and some truly incredible sights to reflect on. A final word of thanks to all of the staff and crew of the Marco Polo, who made this journey possible, and looked after us every step of the way. And now – to good ol’ Blighty!

The Blue and Green Lakes

The Blue and Green Lakes


Caldeira (crater) with the Blue and Green Lakes
Caldeira (crater) with the Blue and Green Lakes


City Gates in Ponta Delgarda
City Gates in Ponta Delgarda


The horses that pulled the carriage that took us on a tour of Ponta Delgarda
The horses that pulled the carriage that took us on a tour of Ponta Delgarda


Last supper ashore with friends
Last supper ashore with friends

Horta, Faial Island, the Azores

We arrived at Horta, capital of Faial Island in the Azores on the afternoon of Friday, 8th February, after five days at sea, crossing a fairly benign Atlantic from Barbados. Faial is one of the nine islands that make up the Archipelago of the Azores. The marina is a primary stop for yachts crossing the Atlantic, and its walls, and walkways are covered in paintings created by visitors who noted the names of their vessels, crews, and the years they visited. Peter Cafe Sport across from the marina houses the island’s scrimshaw museum; a collection of hundreds of pieces of Scrimshaw work carved on whale tooth and jawbone.

Mark Twain visited Horta in June 1867, near the beginning of a long excursion to Jerusalem. He described his visit, with acerbic commentary on the people and culture of Horta, in “The Innocents Abroad”. Similarly, Joshua Slocum, sailing the Spray, stopped in Horta on the first leg of his solo circumnavigation, which he chronicled in his 1899 book “Sailing Alone Around the World.”

We only had half a day at Faial, so were a bit limited on the extent to which we could explore the island and the city of Horta. We had arranged to go on the “Capelinhos Volcano” guided tour, which took us to the vast volcanic crater known as ‘Caldeira’, over a mile in diameter and 1,200ft deep. Unfortunately there was a mist swirling around the high ground which prevented a clear view inside the crater, but spectacular nevertheless.

We passed the villages of Ribeira Funda, Praia do Norte and Norte Peqeno on the way to getting a view of Capelinhos, about 1km from the coast, an extinct volcano which rose from the sea in 1957. During the eruption the volcano added a whole new part to the island, burying fields and houses with ash and lava. The remains of the half-buried lighthouse can still be seen.

The whole island is filled with hydrangeas, which border both sides of many of the roads. We had to imagine the blaze of colour this would produce because, unfortunately they were not in flower during this part of the season. The island has been called the “Blue Island” due to the burst of colour from the hydrangeas.

A very beautiful island, which we’d like to visit again one day as part of a more extended holiday.

Our next – and final – port of call is Ponta Delgarda on the island of Sao Miguel, where we arrive tomorrow, Saturday 9th February.

Caldeira Volcano Crater
Caldeira Volcano Crater


Horta Harbour
Horta Harbour


Marco Polo and sea wall in foreground with pictures and messages from previous sea-farers
Marco Polo and sea wall in foreground with pictures and messages from previous sea-farers


The old lighthouse, half-buried in lava.
The old lighthouse, half-buried in lava.

Creating a travel guide from Wikipedia

A much-overlooked but useful feature of Wikipedia is the “Create A BooK” tool. This enables you to source useful reference information from Wikipedia’s pages into your own personalised book, that you can either download for a free as a PDF or in open document format.

Alternativley for a small charge, you can have it professionally typeset and bound. Why would you want to do this you may ask? Well, for me it was the desire to have my own personalised reference guide for the places I am visiting on my trip (cruise) to the Amazon and West Indies.

For my guide I’ve sourced information about the places I’m visiting, the indigenous peoples, the animals and wildlife, the climate, the languages and much more. All neatly indexed and collated with photos, text and hyperlinks. If travel is not your thing, you could maybe create a book about your favourite music, composer or a specific professional interest. If you’d like to give it a go, read on. 

How to Create A Book Using Wikipedia

(Adapted from an original article in MakeUseof)

Search, browse and navigate to the Wikipedia article of your choice. On the left hand side, near the bottom is the create a book menu. It includes two items – Add wiki page and Books help.

Start adding the pages to your book by clicking the Add wiki page link on the relevant Wikipedia pages you want to include. The number of pages in the book gets automatically updated in the menu on the left. Two additional menu items ““ Show book (with a page counter) and Clear book appear in the menu.

You can also add an entire category within which the relevant page falls with just a single click. You can find the category hierarchy at the end of the article page.

Add The Title Of Your Book


With all pages added, click the Show book button to review your book. Here it is possible to add a book title (and a subtitle) and change the ordering of the wiki pages of the book through drag and drop. Unwanted pages can be dumped by a simple click of the “dustbin” icon. New chapters can be included using the Create chapter link.

Many advanced functions like adding a particular revision or saving a book and improving the layout can be achieved through a combination of advanced functions. The Help page details those steps.

Download Or Order A Printed Copy

Voila! You have just “written” your first book with the help of Wikipedia. Now, the finished book can be downloaded in PDF or OpenDocument format or ordered as a bound book. To download in the format of your choice, select the format from the dropdown and click theDownload button. To order the book as a bound book, click the Order book from PediaPressbutton.

Wikipedia’s built-in rendering engine assembles the pages, grabs the images and parses them before they are passed on to the user in the final downloadable format. In its final format my 469 wikipedia pages transformed into a 95MB file downloaded as a 275 page PDF book. The end result was good, with neat alignments of photos and text.

If you take the PediaPress option as I have done, you’ll pay for typesetting, layout and binding. Cost will depend on whether you want colour (I did) or black and white, and if you want a hard or paperback cover.  I was pleased with the end result (see photo) and will be using this as my everyday companion during this holiday.