This winter was arguably the worst in Boston’s history. A total of 8 feet of snow took its toll on the roof, the gutters, and tree limbs. While workers replaced 55 tiles on our slate roof, Jeanine and I gathered and burned off all of the downed branches from around the yard. Today is the last day on which a permit can be obtained to legally do so. There is something very satisfying about completing such a task although I am sure my sore muscles will inform a different feeling tomorrow.
I had the pleasure of lunching with former iRobot head of marketing, Nancy Dussault Smith and Firdaus Bhathena, CEO of Lineage Labs. The company they co-founded is working on a product called “Bevy,” an easy-to-use solution for storing and sharing photos and videos for the entire family. Our conversation turned to a discussion about ways we might work together. An exciting possibility to be sure and one which I will give some serious consideration over the coming days.
I have been playing indoor soccer for the entire winter in a D1 Men’s Over-40 league. This evening was the year end tournament to determine a champion. We accepted a forfeit in the first round, won 2-1 in the semi-finals scoring the winning goal with just 3 seconds on the clock, and clinched first place honors with a 3-0 victory in the finals. For this effort we received an iPhone quality team photo and champion’s t-shirt, … oh … and bragging rights until next winter. Giving up 16 years to some of my opponents, I am just happy I made it through the season without a significant injury.
Maya sustained a minor injury to her foot this evening and requested my assistance with the repair work. For reasons that make no sense in this day and age, our home has five functional fireplaces including one in Maya’s bedroom. Apparently she sustained her cut on some loose grout used for the tile work on the hearth. Maya was returned to service after an application of soap and water followed by hydrogen peroxide and a bandaid.
I was deeply saddened when I heard news of yesterday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal and the resulting loss of life. It has only been 16 months since I visited and images of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that now lie in ruins are fresh in my mind. I find myself angered by US news coverage which seems disproportionately focussed on a relatively small number of foreign climbers on Everest rather than the thousands of Nepalese who have been killed and the loss of history that the country has suffered. My prayers go out to all who are suffering as a result of this catastrophe.
While Jeanine and I were in Portugal, Maya was in France touring Paris on a school organized trip of students studying French. Our preview of being empty-nesters left us very happy to welcome her home this evening as we met the bus carrying the contingent back from the airport. When we arrived back at home Maya presented her mother with the almond croissants she had requested as a birthday present and shared the photographs she took while in the City of Light.
My third flight in as many days, I am ready to stay put for a little while. My interview in Pittsburgh went very well and while the opportunity is extremely exciting, I am going to have to consult with Jeanine about the realities of spending so much time away from home over the coming years. I am still waiting to hear about a local opportunity that is also very compelling and which will factor into the picture. My last official day at iRobot is tomorrow and I suspect next week will be one filled with some big decision making about what comes next.
Less than 8 hours after returning from Portugal, I found myself on a flight to Pittsburgh for a job interview in the area tomorrow. Should I accept the position, it is understood that I would commute from Boston, which while less than ideal, is not that uncommon in the high tech sector these days. While Pittsburgh once dominated the steel making industry (mills can still be found in the area as pictured above) the region is in the midst of a high tech transformation with robotics at its core.
Tall islands in the middle of the ocean tend to make their own weather and are often covered in clouds. Two prior attempts to do justice to a photograph of Lagoa Do Fogo were thwarted by overcast skies. Our perseverance and third visit were rewarded with sunshine and nice clouds. Jeanine photographed me taking photos of the lake and I photographed her as she climbed down for a visit to the beach (you may need to look closely to spot her).
Our last stop on the island was a small ceramics factory where everything is made by hand using techniques passed down for generations. Here we purchased a nice plate to add to our collection from distant lands as well as a few presents for friends back home. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare for our afternoon return to Boston.
I was up before the sun to photograph some of the more prominent architecture in downtown Ponta Delgada. The lighting is interesting but more importantly there are fewer cars and people to meander into the scene. It is also a quiet and serene time which makes appreciating what you are seeing that much easier.
Driving in the Azores requires constant vigilance. Around any given curve you might find a bicyclist, an old man riding a horse carrying huge milk containers, a massive tour bus speeding towards you, a parked truck whose owner is having a chat on the side of the road with his friend the farmer, a massive tractor pulling a wagon laden with bails of hay, or a herd of cows making their way to their milking station.
We started the day with a visit to the Jose Do Canto botanical gardens located within walking distance of our hotel. Not as opulent or large as the Terra Nostra gardens they were still quite impressive with several really massive trees including the rubber tree shown below.
Later in the afternoon we went hiking in search of a vantage point from which to observe Lagoa Pau Pique, a small lake within a perfectly circular crater, the perfect reminder of the archipelago’s volcanic origins.
Jeanine indulged me as I made a second visit to the natural pools of Mosteiros to make a long exposure of the waves breaking against the rocks. My attempt earlier in the week produced an OK image but I was much happier with the one I made this evening. I was also much more careful with the cadence of the waves (every tenth or so is much larger than the rest) and managed to avoid being drenched as was the outcome on my first visit.
Nordeste, the eastern most town on Sao Miguel was our destination this morning. Jeanine got wind of a Sunday brunch at a highly recommended restaurant which turned out to be phenomenal and well worth the one hour excursion. We slowly worked our way up and down the coastline in our trusty if diminutive car. Operating a manual transmission in such a mountainous region (10% grades are quite common) is not for the faint of heart and I was pleased that the skills I developed as a teenager came back so quickly. Pictured above is the Ponta do Arnel lighthouse and public boat launch.
After brunch we made our way up to the Reserva Natural do Pico da Vara where we did a bit of hiking among the great trees which cover most of the island.
Later we visited a salt water swimming pool in Lomba da Fozenda. During the summer months, sea water is captured in the pool where locals enjoy swimming without the risk of the dangerous rip tides and treacherous shorelines. Jeanine did not like the grade or condition of the road which took us to the base and elected to hike back up rather than drive with me. Dotting the coastline are a series of miradores (scenic overlooks) which we visited without exception over the course of our week long stay. Jeanine is pictured below at one which included a small cylindrical building used by whale spotters to survey the ocean.
Our final destination for the day was Lagoa do Fogo, the highest point on the island. Overcast skies made for poor photography so we descended to the Caldeiro Veldha where geothermal springs feed a waterfall and man made pools where visitors indulge in the warm baths.
Established in 1883, Chá Gorreana is Europe’s oldest tea producing company and one of only two remaining in the Azores. Gorreana teas are grown without the use of herbicides, pesticides or fungicides, possible only in the Azores which are free from insects and pests. The factory is heavily guarded by two ferocious attack dogs but we were not deterred from our desire to tour the facility and sample the delicious teas.
Later in the day we did another hike, this time to the Salto Cabritos waterfalls, where Jeanine captured a nice image of a resident frog while I used my tripod to capture a non-resident frog.
Our final destination for the day was Ribeira Grande where we lucked into a private tour of the Town Hall and its pigeon infested tower which offered an exceptional view of the Igreja Matriz.
We started our day with a drive to Faial da Terra on the eastern end of the island where we did a 4 kilometer hike to the Salto do Prego waterfall. The trail brochure described it as easy and hard. Only after completing the 2 hour round trip do I fully appreciate the meaning and accuracy of that description. Having developed quite an appetite, we made a beeline for Furnas where we had lunch reservations at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel. Knowing we would be ordering the Codiza, a traditional dish cooked underground in volcanic steam vents, we stopped en route at the caldera where our lunch was being cooked to watch as men removed pots containing the ingredients for our meal from the ground.
After lunch we strolled through Terra Nostra Park, a 200 year old botanical garden that is among the best I have ever experienced. Pictures do not do justice to the beauty, design and magnitude of these gardens, only a fraction of which we could enjoy during our three hour visit.
Perhaps the most interesting feature of the park is a massive mineral water thermal pool where we treated our hiking weary muscles to the soothing 95F waters. The unusual color of the water is due to the high iron content which is believed to be of some curative value. True or not, I did not care as I positioned my shoulders and back under one of the the 2 foot high main spigots which feed the pool (think hot shower with 100s of gallons of water per minute pounding down on your back). It was the best massage I have ever experienced in my life and reason enough to return to the Azores again.
Sete Cidades, population 793, is located in the center of a massive volcanic crater three miles across containing appropriately named, Lagoa Azul and Lagoa Verde. To enter the town one must pass over the crater rim which offers amazing panoramic views of both the lakes and the ocean in three directions. Located within the parish is the Igreja de S. Nicolau, constructed in 1857 and surrounded by beautiful gardens.
With water in such great abundance, as evidenced by the lush vegetation, I was left to wonder why so many ancient aqueducts could be found on the island.
Located on a migration path for whales and dolphins, the Azores are one of the best places to see these magnificent creatures in their element. Pictured are a pair of striped dolphins, one of three species we encountered during an afternoon outing on the water. Swimming next to our catamaran in the following image is a bottlenose dolphin.
While returning to port we paused to circumnavigate the offshore islet of Ilhéu de Vila Franca which features an ancient caldera that now provides an idylic salt water swimming pool. Visitors are limited to a maximum of 400 per day so as not to degrade this truly unique setting or to disturb seabirds nesting in the cliff rocks which wrap the islet.
Mosteiros, the westernmost town on the island, is arguably the best location from which to enjoy the setting sun. Our final destination for the day, we relaxed while golden light illuminated the rugged coast.
With the four hour time shift, our flight into Sao Miguel, the largest and most populated of the nine Azores islands, arrived at 7am. After collecting our rental car our first priority was locating a cafe for breakfast. We did so in historic downtown Ponta Delgada where the gates of the City Gates (Portas da Cidade) welcome visitors to the administrative hub of the islands. These three arches, dating from 1783, stand at the edge of the square of Praça Gonçalo Velho, across from the seafront.
For those in search of white sand beaches, a vibrant night life, and plenty of shopping there is little to recommend the Azores. If quaint old European hamlets set in lush and rugged terrain with natural beauty at every turn is more your speed then here you will find much to enjoy.
The greatest tragedy to befall the Azores occurred on October 20, 1522, when a violent earthquake hit the area of Vila Franca do Campo, then capital of the archipelago and most important Azorean settlement. During the earthquake and subsequent landslide, 5000 people were killed. Our Lady of Peace Chapel (Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Paz) dating back to 1764, overlooks the town today.