The trip to the Azores was rocky but one beauty of solo travel is no one else suffers for your planning mistakes. You just chalk it up to learning and get on with the adventure.
Connecting flights were tricky – Lisbon north to Porto (1 hour) and over the Atlantic Ocean from Porto to Terceira (2.5 hours). The weather between Porto and Terceira was stormy and the small aircraft undulated during the entire flight. When booking the flights, I failed to notice that my accommodation was not on Terceira Island but Sao Miguel, so upon arrival in Terceira I had to book another flight to Sao Miguel.
The carrier, Ryanair, isn’t in my book of favorite airlines. They market themselves as “the low fare airline”, but their policies seem designed to extract the maximum amount of money from every passenger. Baggage requirements are extremely strict and punishment for exceeding them, even by a few kilograms, is severe. This is not a problem for those on short vacations, but it’s a nightmare for long-term travelers with more than one small piece of baggage.
My two pieces of baggage – one small and large – met measurement and weight requirements for British Airways and American Airlines, not for Ryanair. The weight allowance for the large bag on the other airlines was 50 lbs. On Ryanair, there is no free checked baggage and their limit per bag is 15 kg (33 lbs.). Of course I had to pay extra. My carry-on bag also turned out to be too large for their standards. While waiting to board the airplane I was asked to check my carry-on and pay an extra $50 fee!
Ryanair requires e-ticket passengers to print their own boarding passes – emailed a day or so before the flight. I didn’t have access to a printer and planned to use my iPhone instead. However, I hadn’t downloaded the boarding pass for scanning and at check-in couldn’t get an Internet connection to open the email attachment. Without a boarding pass in hand, Ryanair either rejects you or charges a 15 Euro fee.
Customer service doesn’t seem to be in Ryanair’s vocabulary. To the contrary, you must follow their rules to a T and be careful not to irritate their staff for fear of reprisal – really.
Passengers were interesting – including several screaming babies, members of Brazil’s soccer team who seemed to have just won a trophy, and a variety of European tourists. I met a friendly Egyptian musician / singer who was also bummed about Ryanair’s impossible baggage restrictions. He told me his band made extra money by selling t-shirts at their concerts. To stay within Ryanair’s weight limit requirements, he was wearing about five under his jacket! Paying their excess baggage fees would cancel out most of their profit. Apparently, body weight is the only measurement for which Ryanair doesn’t charge – for now.
On board, no services are complimentary – not even water. The seating space is smaller than most airlines. For example, if you put your tray down, you can’t open your laptop screen all the way. When you’re finally seated and hoping to have cleared all obstacles, the flight attendants circulate asking for contributions to charitable organizations the airline supports. If you must use the toilet – good luck! Getting through the narrow aisles is difficult and once inside, it’s about half the size of toilets on other airlines. OK, so enough whining about Ryanair…. :o(
Since visibility was zero, the airline delayed the flight from Terceira to Sao Miguel for several hours. We finally boarded and after surviving a few rough spots in an otherwise uneventful flight, landed at Ponta Delgada an hour later. The weather there was clear with starry skies.
Sao Miguel is the largest of the nine islands in the Azores Archipelago:
- Eastern – Sao Miguel and Santa Maria
- Central – Terceira, Graciosa, Sao Jorge, Pico, and Faial
- Western – Flores and Corvo
This morning I woke up to stormy skies, rain, and a temperature of about 60 degrees. The forecast for tomorrow is clear but with a location in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, weather in the Azores is unpredictable at best. I’m here for five days and considering several hikes. Weather permitting, a whale watching expedition would be glorious as the Azores are one of the largest whale sanctuaries in the world.
There are many attractions on Sao Miguel Island including “sapphire blue and emerald-green lakes, fertile prairies, volcanic cones and craters, colorful hydrangea and azalea fields, 15th century churches, and majestic manor houses”! The crisp unpolluted sea air and luscious green vegetation are heavenly!