Our trip of over a year was coming to an end. We had to say goodbye to the beautiful Languedoc region in France and get back to Barcelona in time for the cruise. Though we had been looking forward to the cruise for months, it was bittersweet because it was an ending of a remarkable journey. I had very mixed feelings as we left gorgeous St. Ferriol and started back to Barcelona. One of the many feelings was fear that we might not make it back as my dad once again got behind the wheel! We did make it ok, and one of the most scenic parts of the drive was leaving St. Ferriol and driving through the grey rock mountains of the surrounding area. The car was surrounded on all sides by the rock at several points and there was a sweet little river next to us at times. Castles on hilltops were in the distance under the bright blue skies.
Another of the many feelings was some pressure to get nicer clothes for the fancy dinners we would have every night with my parents on the cruise. The six of us had very few items of clothing that fit properly and were free of stains, rips, and other embarrassments. We had stocked up at thrift stores but these were few and far between. Heading out of France, we were in search of discount clothing stores, of all things. We had about 30 hours until all aboard. The pressure was on! If anyone ever made a movie of our trip, this would be the dressing room sequence where we all try on different outfits to some upbeat pop music. In reality, I was possibly more stressed out than I had yet been on the trip since I was frantically buying new, poor quality, slave-labor produced, overpriced clothes made of synthetic fabric at a mall. Arghhhhh! This is the polar opposite of our usual slow-paced, second-hand, natural fiber, frugal wardrobe additions. I told the kids to live it up since they loved it and I hoped never to do this again! We found a shop in Quillan and a mall near the highway close to the French/Spanish border. Also notable was a thrift store a few blocks from our Barcelona apartment. I think we pulled it off.
We returned the rental car, did a little shopping and errands in Barcelona, lost the apartment key (unorganized to the bitter end!), packed our backpacks and the new clothes, and made it to the cruise ship on time. This cruise was 11 nights and included days in Portugal and Canada. It was with a different cruise company, but we knew we would be spoiled, overfed, and possibly bored like last time. We boarded in a bit of a daze, apart from the kids who had been dreaming of this since the last cruise and knew just what to do. This ship was much better in terms of kid programs and theater productions, a bit better in rooms, similar in gym and food, and completely lacking in educational programs. We missed Chelsea the marine biologist! And the library! But I’m not complaining because being on a ship is so awesome compared to flying. And we got to go to the Azores!
My dad rented a car, the kids stayed on the ship, and the four of us adults drove around the island of São Miguel. We first explored the historic 1550’s fort of São Brás, above, which houses military artifacts and currently serves as a base for the Portuguese Navy. It is a large place; we saw a lot in the underground tunnels and other exhibit spaces, but didn’t see everything. We were interested in the town and lakes in the extinct volcano (second photo below). The roads are beautiful and there were exhuberant pink flowers blooming here and there.
The town is called Sete Cidades and the ex-volcano in which it is situated is three miles across. There was a church in Sete Cidades, and a statue Mr. Fantastic liked of a pastor named Eduardo Costa Tavares.
We had a lunch there that was very modestly priced. The setting was unreal with so much green and flowering vegetation and the just-discernible rim of the massive, ancient volcano. The next place we wanted to see was Mosteiros off the northwestern part of the island with a black sand beach and coastal cliffs. We just walked around here and admired the stunning setting and views.
Also, we met an interesting woman on a bicycle there who runs community cob structure building workshops. She travels internationally by bike. Inspiring!
Next, we were back to the port area, Ponta Delgada. I was struck by the amount of volcanic rock used in building here. Very striking dark color against the white, and very nice sidewalks and other structures.
Then it was time to head back to the ship. As always, I’d love to return. The island had much more to offer- we had heard of hot springs, whale and dolphin watching, and food cooked by geothermal heat- and seemed affordable despite the cruise ship scene. For now, onward we went, west towards the US.