Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sao Jorge (Saint George) - Photos & Travel Info.

Click on any of the links below the photos to see the whole album

Natural lava arches with Pico Mountain/Island in the background
From Sao Jorge (Sa...

From Sao Jorge (Sa...

Places to Stay (Velas)

We would definitely recommened staying in Velas as it is the largest town on the island. The port is located directly next to the town and you have easy access to rental car facilities, the grocery store, and places to stay. Inquire at the tourist office for more information about lodging other than those mentioned here.

Apartamentos Rosa 35 euros
We stayed at these apartments which are conveniently located near the supermarket. We had a large fully furnished one bedroom apartment with a living room, kitchen, private laundry facility, and access to the central terrace. We wish we’d stayed there longer than two nights! Everything was neat and clean. The owner is a woman whose husband is a taxi driver, so you can easily arrange day trips by taxi from your doorstep. It is also located close to the “Rent-A-Car” office.

Hospedaria Australia 40 euros/44 euros breakfast inc.
Rua Teofilo Braga 25 Phone: 295-412-210 http://www.acores.com/australia
Located in the center of town and only a short walk from the port, this place seems to be popular with backpackers and tourists. They have rooms with private bath, Cable TV, breakfast for an extra 4 euros, a connected bar/pizzeria and scooter rental. The bar/pizzeria was hip, colorful and clean, and we can only imagine the rooms to be as such.

From Sao Jorge (Sa...

To see photos on FACEBOOK click here


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sete Cidades

I've finally managed to get our Azores pics on Picasa, so check 'em out!

Here are photos from "Sete Citades" - Seven Cities. There really aren't seven cities, but two lakes. The legend is that a princess and a pauper fell in love. There weren't allowed to get married, so their tears filled these two lakes. The princess had blue eyes, and the pauper had green eyes. Hence one lake was filled up with blue tears and the other with green tears.

From Sete Cidades

Check out the rest of the album by clicking the link below the photo.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Frankfurt to Karachi...

So this time around we flew from Ponta Delgada (Azores, Portugal) to Frankfurt, Germany, stayed a few days in Frankfurt and then flew on Emirates from Frankfurt to Karachia via Dubai. We arrived at the Frankfurt airport with over two and half hours til our flight, collected our baggage from the left luggage office and started making our way through the normal procedures. Security and everything else took so long that we made it to our departure gate just before boarding. The food and service on the flight were quite impressive, and we would definitely recommend Emirates Airlines. They even gave us a fancy menu card when we boarded so we could start thinking if we wanted the lamb or the chicken.

To make a long story short, we landed in Dubai just fine but then we had to ride in a tram all the way around the airport. I've never driven for more than five minutes in a tram, but we drove around for about half an hour on a crowded tram due to the massive construction taking place at the airport. When we finally got to security, as we had to go through it yet again, everything was chaos. The officers were barely checking the passengers as the crowds were just so big. There were people from everywhere in all kids of ethnic costumes. Africans in colorful dresses, Muslim women covered from head to toe in black burkas, Western women with skirts and men of all nationalities in suits. We ended up going through the "Employees Only" check in line because everyone else was going there again. Once again Duarte had to remove his belt and his shoes and run all the luggage through twice. After clearing security we speed walked to our deparature gate and again made it just before it was about to close its doors. Nobody was sure if we could bring our guitars on board or not, so we were the absolute last people to board the plan as we waited for somebody's manager or whoever to decide about our guitars. Finally we were onboard, guitars safely stored near the first class cabin.

All flights were running late from Dubai that day due to the backup in security. I was already starting to doubt it we would make our next flight from Karachi to Lahore or not. Then we heard a garbled announcement that sounded much too guttaral to be in English, we were right, it wasn't, it was in Arabic. A few minutes later we heard the English translation over the intercom. One of the checked in passengers for our flight was missing. In case he may have filled his bags with bombs, other explosives, contaminents for mad cow disease, chemical warfare or whatnot, we had to wait until they found his bag (he checked in early of course) and removed it from the plane. So we waited. As soon as his bag was successfully removed from the plane, the passenger managed to make his way to the our departure gate. So his bag was loaded BACK into the plane and finally, we were off.

To be continued...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Travel Guide: Pico Island

Pico Island as seen from the neighboring island of Faial

From Pico Island

Desert flowers flourish in the volcanic soil

Click below the photo to see entire album

While we were traveling in the Azores we found want for a good travel guide in English. We weren't able to get the normal Lonely Planet info like how to get there, where to stay, how much a taxi costs from Point A to Point B, where to find affordable food and if the water is safe to drink. So, we collected some info that we'd like to make available for anyone planning to travel to the Azores. Here's the first segment on Pico Island, the island of the volcano.

Getting there and away:

SATA offers daily flights from PDL (Ponta del Gada). Youth (age 25 and under) can get a 50% discount on fares. With the youth discount, we each paid 57 euros. See SATA for flight schedules and fares.

The airport is situated on the north western part of the island, between Madelena and Sao Roque do Pico. Madelena is the larger village of the two (there are no cities on this island), has more housing options, and offers easy access to Horta, Faial by boat. A taxi to either Madelena or Sao Roque should be about 10 euros.

TRANSMACOR offers boat passage daily from Madelena to Sao Roque, Horta (Faial), and Velas (Sao Jorge). They have two boats harbored at the Horta Marina, the Monocasco and the Catamaran. There are also boats from traveling the Horta (Faial) – Madelena (Pico) – Sao Roque (Pico) – Velas (S. Jorge) – Calheta (S. Jorge) – Angra do Heroismo (Terceira) circuit three or four days a week.

Madelena to Horta takes 30 minutes and costs 3.30 euros on the Monocasco.
Madelena to Sao Roque takes 40 minutes and costs 10.10 euros on the Catamaran.

Arrive at the port at least 15 minutes before departure. You can buy your tickets ahead of time to avoid the crowd, or you can buy them right before the boat leaves.

ATLANTICO LINE offers more comfortable passage on a larger vessel, although you must book ahead and plan your travels well ahead of time. They have two boats, the Ilha Azul (blue island) and the Express Santorini. If you are 25 you can use the carao inter-jovem (inter-youth card) and each boat ride is only 1 euro. We traveled Horta (Faial) – Sao Roque (Pico) – Velas (S. Jorge) (three hours), and then from Velas (S. Jorge) - Praia da Victoria (Terceira) – Ponta Delgada (Sao Miguel) for two euros each! The ride from Velas to Ponta Delgada took all day. We arrived at the boat at 7am, departed Velas at 8am and arrived in Terceira at 12:15. We had a three hour stop in Terceira, although the port was too far away from Praia da Victoria to get our and explore. Then we departed at 3:15pm and arrived in Ponta Delgada at 9:00pm.

Food is available on the boat for the cost of a normal snack bar. We recommend that you bring your own snacks, drinks, and plenty of books to read. Arrive about an hour early if you want to get the most comfortable seats. Tickets can be bought from certain travel agencies on each island. Ask around in any major town to find out where you can buy them.

You can also bring a car along with your while you island hop, but this will be more expensive than one euro! Bringing a class A car (no more than five seats) from Ponta Delgada to Sao Roque (Pico) is 122 euros one way and 183 euros return. To buy the ticket for the car you must bring your registration documents and license with you to the travel agency.

You can purchase your cartao inter-jovem in Ponta Delgada without any wait. Just bring 48 euros in cash to pay for the card. They have an office near BCA (bank).

Getting Around:

Taxis are easily found at town taxi stands. You can hire a taxi for the day for about 70 euros. The fare from Madelena to the base of Pico Mountain is between 16 and 20 euros. It is best to arrange for the same taxi driver to pick you up after you descent, as it is a long walk to the nearest town from the base of the mountain. A taxi to or from the airport from Madelena is 10 euros. Taxi drivers usually have their rates posted inside their taxi windows. From our experience they give the honest fare right away and you probably won’t get it much lower by trying to bargain with them.

Buses travel within the three main towns (Lajes, Madelena, and Sao Roque) as well as around the island. There are two main circuits, a northern route and a southern route. Buses from town to town are not very frequent and planning must be done in advance to take advantage of them. You can get the current bus schedule from the Tourist Office, located at the port.

Rental cars are probably the best way to see the island. Two rental car agencies we saw in Madelena were Ilha Verde and Tropical. Tropical seemed to be the cheaper of the two, although with the SATA discount you can get a car from Ilha Verde for 46 euros/day, all insurance and tax included. You must be able to drive standard, as automatic cars are not usually available and come at a significantly higher price.

On foot – the Tourist Office has great maps of pedestrian walks on different parts of the island. The pedestrian walk through Cricao Velha can be walked to from Madelena without a taxi, although other walks would require taxi service to and from the starting and ending points. It is possible to catch a bus to the starting point of your walk and arrange for a taxi to pick you up at the end point. On major roads you can try to get a lift, but in more rural areas passing cars are few and far between.

Places to Stay (Madelena):
The cheapest places to stay are generally rooms in private homes (alojamentos particular).

Fernando Espirito Santo (2 Rooms) 25 euros/night
Rua do Valverde #36 Phone: 916-017-865

One of the two rooms at Fernando Espirito Santo

We were the first visitors of the season at this house about a 15-20 minute walk (1 km) from the city center. It’s a bit of a hike, but the price and hospitality is well worth it. The couple that owns the house lives downstairs and has a separate kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms upstairs which they rent out to tourists. Their bedroom is the only room they use upstairs. We had full use of the kitchen (stove, coffee maker, toaster, electric kettle, dishes) and were treated to pitchers of wine straight from their own vineyard. On clear days there is a great view of Pico Mountain from the terrace.

To get there, walk south from the port towards the Health Center (Centro de Saude -#7 on the Tourist Map) and Rua D. Jaime Goulart. You’ll see the Health Center on your left. Keep following the road at the fork and don’t bear left. Go up a hill and keep walking until you see a white sign on your left for “Valverde.” Take a left towards Valvarde and keep walking until you see #36 on your righ thand side. It’s a big white house with gardens and grape vines. Call ahead to make sure that she has room and so that she can wait outside the house for you.

Jose M. Avila 30 euros/night
About 1 km from the city center
Phone : 292-622-873

Alojamento Mobilado 35 euros/night
Located near the city center
Phone : 917-767-386

Joe’s Place (3 rooms) 40-50 euros/night breakfast inc.
Phone: 292-623-586 www.joesplaceazores.com
Currently this is the most popular place with tourists, and if you arrive at the port you will most likely be greeted by Joe himself who will give you one of his cards. Don’t let the name fool you, he’s Portuguese but he speaks English well. He has three rooms for three different prices, 40, 45, and 50 euros.

Apartments: You can also stay in furnished tourist apartments. Rate info is unavailable here but the phone numbers are listed by the tourist office.
Alberto Oliveira
Phone: 919-590-975

Jose M. Azevedo
Phone: 917-537-910

Renato Ferreira
Phone: 919-589-124

Upscale –We weren’t really looking at anything over 40 euros/night, but we did see one poster for a nicer looking resort called Pocinho Bay – www.pocinhobay.com

Aftermath of Lal Masjid (Red Mosqe)

Every day in the newspaper now we're hearing about a wake of bombings following the seige of Lal Masjid (the Red Mosque) last week. During this time, we've been without internet access or TV, so I've just now started to piece together exactly what has happened.
Lal Masjid is a madrassa (religious school) that has a history of contact with Islamic militants and whose leaders openly oppose the current government.

A profile of the Red Mosque (Lal Masjid) can be seen here:

Surprisingly, the women who study at the seminary there (Jamia Hafsa) are also known to pick up batons and Kalishnovs when they deem need be. Prior to the recent seige, the women, covered from head to toe in burkas, took over a nearby children's library and raided a hostel (dormitory). For six months the female students, along with the male militants, attempted to create somewhat of ther own autonomous area under the jurisprudence of Islamic shariah law.

Before the Government laid seige to the mosque on July 4, about 400 women walked out of the mosque complex. By July 10th the government was ready to break and root out the militants, doing whatever it would take to capture or kill the leaders. Over 1000 people left the mosque during the week long seige. Some were students, some hostages. Some were policemen who had been kidnapped by the militants.

The government troops broke in, and by the time they did so only one woman was left inside. She was the mother of the two major militant leaders. Over 100 died inside the mosque complex during the government raid. The deaths have consumed many other with anger all over the country, as many people believe that negociations could have gone on longer and that it is not right for Muslims to kill fellow Muslims.

The thing that I can't believe is, Lal Masjid is in the center of Islamabad, right near the center of Intelligence and Security.

You can see more about the raid on Lal Masjid here:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Connected Once Again

We are finally writing from Lahore, Pakistan. We arrived on July 4th but since then we have been busy getting settled in our new place. Just today we got our net connection hooked up in our room.

I feel like there’s so much to write, as I barely wrote about our trip to the Azores, our brief visit in Germany, and our arrival in Lahore. Don’t worry, we’ve not forgotten the blog!