military hops, Portugal, Space A, The Azores

Donuts, pizza, burgers, travel planning… and beautiful scenery

Military lodging is cheap and convenient.  Our room at Lajes Field was only $55 a night and had a lot of conveniences that you wouldn’t find in most quaint hotels.  Not too many regular hotels have laundry facilities that aren’t coin operated, free internet, microwaves, and fridges.  The drawback to staying in military quarters is that you’re behind a gate and that makes getting around for local food somewhat of a challenge, especially if you don’t have a car.  The first thing I ate on Lajes Field was a cheeseburger and fries.  It tasted okay going down, but my stomach was really queasy from the flight and probably from being so tired.  My body rejected the fast food about an hour later.

After sleeping for five hours on our first day, we were in no mood to go looking for food.  So we ordered pizza from the Oceanview Grill, which is a place on Lajes Field run by Portuguese.  They stay open 24/7, which seems crazy to me, since I can’t imagine they have the business to sustain that.  On the other hand, there are also Portuguese forces at Lajes Field, so maybe they come in during the wee hours of the morning for food.  Anyway, Bill got us a pizza from there that was surprisingly good.  I mean, it was probably the best pizza I’d had in months.  And this time, it stayed with me.

One of two pizzas we enjoyed in Lajes…

I turned on the TV because I felt like watching the Armed Forces Network, which is famous for its cheesy PSAs.  They were running a video that was obviously done during the Christmas holidays.  I recognized a couple of people from our flight on the video.

In the mornings after the three nights we stayed at Lajes, Bill would visit a little coffee shop run by a local.  He picked up coffee drinks and pastries.  One thing I learned on this trip that Portuguese people love their donuts and pastries.  They were offered everywhere!

I would have liked to have stayed on Lajes a little longer, but Sunday and Monday were kind of wasted by our need for rest and not having access to a rental car.  So Bill and I started making plans.  He was told we should visit the travel agent on base, who had “deals” to get to Lisbon.  Bill and I had never been to any part of Portugal before and I was curious about Portugal’s capital.  So on Tuesday, we went to the travel agent’s office to see what we could do with the rest of our time.

I don’t usually use travel agents when I go places.  I like to keep my options open and I enjoy finding things on my own.  I also have certain things I look for when I book hotels.  But the lure of a “deal” got me in the travel agent’s office.  A young Portuguese lady tried to help us, but it was pretty plain that she was used to dealing with Americans who just want to take a bunch of guided tours and stay in business class hotels.  Her colleague was an American expat who has lived in Portugal for a couple of decades.  The American lady had a somewhat better sense of what we wanted and gave us some good advice.  We still ended up booking a boring business class hotel, though.

Round trip tickets to Lisbon weren’t that much more expensive than one way tickets were.  We paid a little more to get the round trip ticket, just in case we needed to get back to Lajes to catch the Saturday flight home.  I strongly doubted we would need to do that, but it made Bill feel better to have the option.  The Lisbon hotel for two nights and the tickets cost about $850.

Once we were finished with our travel planning, we went to the base exchange to rent a car.  We ran into the Air Force captain who was on our flight with her kids.  She was friendly and seemed happy to see us enjoying her home base.  I’m sure if we’d stayed longer, we would have run into a lot of other folks from the plane, too.

A joyride around the island…    

Our first taste of Portuguese food 

We rented a small car with standard transmission so we could get a better look at the dramatic scenery on Terceira and maybe find some authentic Portuguese food.  We did manage to find a little cafe in Praia Victoria, but they mostly offered sandwiches and soup.  I will admit the soup and sandwich I had there was satisfying, but it still bordered slightly on junk food.  My body was craving vegetables, especially if they didn’t come in a box.

As it turned out, we never did find a restaurant.  We probably could have, but we were overcome by laziness and not wanting to deal with the time constraints one often finds at restaurants in European countries.  Meals are served at certain times and they don’t tend to cater to patrons who aren’t quite ready when they are.  Also, parking was kind of a pain at some places.

Anyway, we had a very enjoyable time driving around the island.  Here are some very dramatic photos from our driving tour…

The island has a lot of amazing, dramatic coastline…

Most of the land is parceled out and surrounded by stone fences.

We stopped to check out this overlook over Raminho.

Apparently, the Portuguese want to free Tibet, too.

The roads are narrow and sometimes covered by trees.

I could look at these views all day!

These are just a few of the dramatic photos I got on our trip around the island.  I would have loved to have visited other islands in the Azores.  Hopefully, someday we can go back and I can see more of this extraordinarily beautiful place.  I’m sure when it’s not winter, it’s even prettier!

 
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military hops, Portugal, Space A, The Azores

Delayed and in need of rest!

The pilot announced over the loudspeaker that we had “an issue” that prevented us from flying.  He sounded really annoyed, but didn’t tell us what the issue was.  We had to find that out from a gate agent.  The pilot was probably as irritated as the rest of us were as we went back to the gate.  I got the sense that the delay was as inconvenient for him and his crew as it was for the families who were hoping to get home.

It turned out the pilots and flight attendant had been delayed for so long at McGuire AFB that they were overdue for rest. We could not leave BWI until the flight crew had a chance to sleep.  Though I got the sense that the pilot just wanted to gut through it, I realized I’d rather he get some sleep than risk the lives of everyone onboard.

It seemed to take a long time to get the whole story and figure out what we would be doing next.  Bill dealt with the officials while I collected our luggage and sat with the bags in the baggage claim.  As I sat waiting, I remembered being boldly accosted just the night before by a bum who was looking for “coffee money” as we got our bags from our Delta flight.  He was the first of many bums we would run into on this trip.  Fortunately, he was easy to resist and no one else at BWI bugged me in that manner.

Finally at about 2:00 or so, Bill found me and said we’d been given vouchers for a hotel, lunch, and dinner.  We were surprised we were being given the vouchers, since we were just on vacation and they were worth a lot more than the taxes we’d paid for the flight.  It took some more time to get the shuttle, which took us to the Hilton right next door to the Aloft we’d stayed in the night before.

We were told to be back at the airport at 11:00pm and hopefully we’d be on our way by midnight.

I was slightly chagrined by the late departure, since I hate sitting up all night on planes.  But I was already tired from being up so early, so Bill and I gratefully accepted the hotel voucher.  We dropped our bags in the room, had a bite to eat and some beer at the hotel bar, then went back to the room.  I showered and then crashed for a couple of hours.  Surprisingly enough, a couple of the families opted to hang out in the USO lounge at BWI, which was very crowded with folks hoping for the Germany flight.  The Germany flight was also seriously delayed, probably because we were.  I would not have wanted to hang out in the USO lounge for anything because it was really packed with people.

The bar at the Hilton at BWI was a lively place.  The bartender was a former Marine and kind of fun to talk to.  We also got to know more of the Lajes folks, who warned Bill and me of the very dry wine made in The Azores.  By the time we got on the shuttle to go back to the airport, we were kind of bonding with the Lajes folks.  One very nice lady even offered to run us to the Air Force Lodging once we got to Portugal.  That turned out to be a very kind favor, since there’s no easy way to get there on foot and as we were arriving on Sunday, no rental car place would be open.

The flight and welcome to The Azores…

 

The Azores are about 2200 miles from New York City and 900 miles from Lisbon.  There are nine islands in the group and Terceira, which is where Lajes is, is one of the central islands.  Our flight was bumpy and there was no entertainment.  We did get a snack and a meal.  The meal smelled horrible, so I skipped it.

We landed at Lajes Field at about 9:00am.  After we disembarked, we entered the tiny terminal where we were greeted by all the base commanders.  They cheered as we entered the hall and shook hands in receiving line fashion.  A couple asked Bill if he was PCSing there, but Bill said we were just on vacation.  A lot of people seemed surprised we’d want to vacation there, especially in January.  But I am here to tell you that the Azores are beautiful.  Even in the dead of winter, they look like Ireland.

One of the first islands of The Azores…

Welcome!  Many of these people had simply come to the terminal to welcome people back to the island… or just to say hello to me and Bill, since we were the only ones there on vacation.

Our new friends very kindly gave us a basic orientation and took us to the lodge.  They gave us their phone number and encouraged us to call if we needed anything.  It turned out the woman was a teacher at the local DODDS (American) school, which was responsible for about 200 students in grades K-12. She told us there were plans to stop allowing families to go to Lajes.  Seemed a shame to me.

We checked into Air Force Lodging– there it’s called the Mid Atlantic Lodge.  The Air Force base is high up from sea level, so there’s a lot of wind and we could easily see the ocean as we made our way to our room.  I think they even refer to Lajes as “the rock”.  The enlisted/officer’s club is called the Top of the Rock Lounge and you get a great view from there.

Like most military lodging, our room had a sitting room, microwave, fridge, and TVs in the bedroom and sitting room.  We guessed these had once been dorm rooms that were turned into visitor’s lodging.  There was a free laundry room– you just had to buy the soap– and even though we were not based at Lajes, we were allowed to use the BX/PX and commissary.  I was surprised to see that the inn itself stocked some interesting supplies, too…

They even stocked Vagisil…

Safety is always on the brain, even when you’re sitting on the can… This was posted on the door of a bathroom stall in the ladies room.

Bill and I had a quick meal at the bowling alley, which looked the same as it does on every military base I’ve ever been on.  Local folks staffed the place.  If I hadn’t been so tired, I might have bowled a few rounds.  Bill and I used to bowl somewhat often when we lived on Fort Belvoir and in Germany.  As it was, the food I ate at the bowling alley didn’t agree with me and I lost it fairly promptly.  After a shower, I was ready to get some sleep and get into the new time zone… four hours ahead of Eastern.

Monday… a repeat of Sunday, sorta…

 

As it turns out, most everything is closed on Mondays on the base.  We were not able to rent a car and the nearest town was a somewhat stout walk.  It wasn’t actually that far away, but there aren’t any sidewalks and we had to dodge a lot of cars as we made our way along the hilly terrain.  We stopped at the front gate to get passes so we could come and go freely.  The wife of the AFN guy on our flight recognized us from meeting us in the terminal.  She offered us a ride, but we needed those passes, so we declined.  Then we started walking and ended up in Praia Victoria, a cute little town.

These are some of the things I saw as we walked.

The view from the Air Force lodging area…

A pretty field on the way to Praia…

Cows everywhere!  No wonder the cheese in the Azores is so good!

Chickens!

He overlooks the town of Praia.  We didn’t go to the top.

Winding through the park…

Fresco

Close up!

Water view…  the water was actually pretty warm for January.

Underwear on the line!

A map of the area.

More dramatic water…

There were what looked like student made tiles on this Passeio… 

Near the town square where we spent a pleasant couple of hours drinking Portuguese beer.

Mail!

Picturesque village.

You want American fried chicken?  You got it.

This was taken with an iPhone…

So was this…

We patronized this bar because they like Americans.

Super Bock… one of several good Portuguese beers we drank…

Will write more tomorrow, when I’ve had a full night’s sleep.  There will be beautiful photos.

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military hops, Space A, The Azores

The Azores came up again…

The other day, Bill brought up going to the Azores again.  It seems there are flights that go there pretty regularly and we could probably get a Space A flight with relative ease.  The Azores, while remote and rather primitive, are also extraordinarily beautiful.

Would you look at this place?  It’s stunning!

I don’t know what we will do if we manage to get there or how long we’ll stay.  But those views are enough to make me want to try to go.  That, and the promise of fresh fish and good port… and maybe a hop to the mainland for a few days.

My mother-in-law has kindly offered to look after Zane and Arran so we can make this happen… or perhaps we’ll end up somewhere else.  Even if it’s another trip to Germany, I’d take it.

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military hops, Space A, The Azores

The Azores…

As I sit here pondering the last year of Bill’s active duty Army career, I realize that soon he will likely have less leave for good trips.  He will also have lower priority for trips on military hops.  I have never been to Portugal.  Neither has Bill.  The Azores, which is a group of islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is part of Portugal.  It’s also stunningly beautiful.

Bill and I noticed that there are regular flights going to the Azores every week that usually have seats available.  Looks like they also have regular flights back to the US with seats available.  So last night, we were talking about visiting the Azores.  One of my friends lived in Portugal in the 1980s and visited the Azores.  He said it wasn’t a very interesting place to visit.  Having looked around on the Internet, I am inclined to disagree.  From what I’ve seen in photos, the Azores look like a cross between Hawaii and Ireland.  Parts of it are very green, with deep blue ocean and volcanos.  There are hydrangeas everywhere.  And anywhere there’s that much ocean, there is bound to be great seafood.

I have a friend who visited the Azores courtesy of a military hop.  She said when they visited, she and her husband were able to pick up some delicious port.  I am also a port fan.  I like laid back vacations, beaches, friendly locals, and unusual non-touristy places.

I don’t know if that’s where we’ll go next… I do think our next trip will probably be via a military hop, though.  We don’t have as much money in Texas as we did in North Carolina.  We will in February, when we’re done paying off my car… Then things will temporarily be better… but we will also be preparing for Bill’s retirement.  I was hoping we could take a good trip after he retired.  I think that a hop may be the best way to do that.

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