São Miguel, Azores, Portugal

São Miguel, Azores, Portugal

I started my Portuguese adventure in Lisbon but ended it on an island out in the middle of the Atlantic. São Miguel is the largest in archipelago of the Azores and is known as the “green island” (for good reason!) .

We were able to hit most of the major sights on the island.

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Sete Cidades

Possibly the most famous sight in the Azores, these two lakes, one green and one blue, formed from the tears of two separated lovers are in the crater of a volcano. I drove from the west (I stayed in Mosteiros) and recommend that direction, visiting the town of Sete Cidades first in the center and then getting the views before getting to the King’s lookout (and avoiding the crowd).

Sunsets

I stayed in Mosteiros on the western edge of the island - famous for its beautiful sunsets! Here are the three I saw.

Coastline

The beach and the water have obvious appeal, especially the jagged lava flows and black sand beaches. In several places hot springs mix with ocean water naturally warming it to a more tolerable temperature.

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Ponta Delgada

This is the main town on the island - home to the airport, harbor, a pineapple farm, and several great restaurants.

Furnas

The town of Furnas is built on top of an active volcano! Steam pours out of the ground from geysers, hot-springs and fumaroles all over town. People in fact use the heat from the ground to make the delicious Cazido das Furnas, a stew cooked from geothermal activity.

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Lagoa do Fogo (Lake of Fire)

I am told this is a hard one to see, it is so high up in the mountains that it is usually cloudy but we lucked out with some super clear skies. The drive down the mountain was a highlight for sure!

Tea Plantation

São Miguel is home to the only tea plantations in Europe. I visited Plantacoes de Cha Gorreana to view the tea, the processing of the leaves, and of course taste testing (its delicious!).

Terra Nostra Gardens

Home to thermal baths, a 5 star hotel, a delicious restaurant and a beautiful sprawling garden complex.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

I spent 4 days, 3 nights in Lisbon in beautiful hot weather. The food was amazing not to mention the vinho verde. I think of Lisbon as a place light on “essential sights” and heavy on atmosphere (and old fashioned street cars!) . I climbed up and down its hills, covering over 30 miles on foot through the neighborhoods of Baixa, Chaido, Bairro Alto, Alfama plus a hike out to Belem to see the Capela de Sao Jeronimo (don't wait in line, go in like your going to church), Belem Tower, and the Discoveries Monument. I also thoroughly enjoyed the top notch Gulbenkian Museum. I also happened to be in town while the beautiful purple flowers of the jacaranda trees were in bloom everywhere - gorgeous!

L.A. - Palm Springs - Las Vegas

L.A. - Palm Springs - Las Vegas

Sometimes in the winter you just need to go somewhere warm. I considered going to a tropical island, someplace with a beach and pina coladas - but for whatever reason I just thought - THE DESERT. So this itinerary (that I was able to take advantage of with some of my free airline miles) came to me, and I was able piece together some unusual stops along the way.

Los Angeles

I landed in LA and picked up my rental car (a tip - I took an uber to nearby Santa Monica to pick up my car, it was an easy out at the airport, a quick pickup with no waiting, and saved me over $150). I started the trip out at the Pacific and took a drive to the Santa Monica Pier. I played ski ball in the arcade and took in the beautiful views (and sea lion vocalizations.

I went to the Getty (I’ve been watching both Trust and All the Money in the World) and while I was certainly interested in the collection - the view alone is worth the price of admission (which is free).

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Next day, I did the quickie road tour of Los Angeles (Sunday morning is a great time to try to drive around without traffic) Rodeo Drive, TCL Chinese Theatre , Griffith Park Observatory and then a non highways drive across LA to Orange County to visit the Richard Nixon Library and Museum. It was Pat Nixon’s Birthday so free admission(!) - as someone who’s read a lot about Nixon and Watergate it was really a fascinating place.

Palm Springs

On the open road again, heading West towards Palm Springs. Possibly my favorite stop on the trip were the “World’s Biggest Dinosaurs” in Cabazon. CA (As seen by me in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and The Wizard) . WOW also to the simply gigantic wind farm here - expect a painting in the future!

Stayed the night in Indian Wells - I could live forever by the pool of The Sands Hotel - and got ready for a day long adventure in the desert.

Back on I-10 to CA62 for a stop in Pioneertown! The town was constructed in the 40’s as sort of a living breathing film set of the Old West, tons of tv and movie westerns have been filmed there.

back in the car, through wonderful rock formations, to Yucca Valley, 29 Palms and a sharp left up into the Mohave National Preserve. We passed rock formations, blooming desert flowers, cacti and the worlds largest forest of Joshua Trees. We also took a short cruise on part of historic route 66 and visited the abandoned railway depot in Kelso before connecting with the Interstate again near the Nevada border. One knows one is in Nevada by the sudden explosion of giant casino theme parks on the side of the road.

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Las Vegas

The final leg of the trip was in Las Vegas, NV. I saw Mr. Las Vegas himself Wayne Newton live at Caesar’s Palace and dined in the eiffel tower at the Paris and in an Italian piazza at the Venetian. I tried crapless craps at the Stratosphere and somehow came out $100 ahead overall in gambling for the trip. I walked from the strip down to the downtown casinos on Freemont Street and back. It was surprising to go the short distance from the jam packed strip to a pretty busy downtown and have the area in between be so empty - there were large portions of that walk without other people or cars.