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About porcupine

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    ill-tempered sea bass

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    native plants
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    dining out
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    Planet Claire

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  1. porcupine

    Mid-Coast Maine

    Also check this thread, though there isn't anything recent.
  2. I ordered the same two dishes when I went.
  3. porcupine

    Azores (Açores), Portugal

    Two things I forgot to mention: first, unlike Scandinavian countries where credit cards seem to be used for every purchase, many places in the Azores, including some expensive restaurants, do not accept credit cards. This is especially true on the smaller islands. Have plenty of cash on hand (ATMs are easy to find). Although, prices are very low. You can have a very good dinner (not including alcohol) for 50 euros per couple. I stopped at a road side cafe for an espresso and a pastel de nata: 1.95 euros. Also, there are plenty of roadside turnouts for admiring the view. Watch for signs reading "Miradouro", and check them out.
  4. porcupine

    Azores (Açores), Portugal

    A few random notes about traveling in the Azores. Probably really random. As with the Faroes, what I enjoyed most about the trip is that it felt distinctly unique, like itself, not like some simulation of what it used to be that's been put on for tourists. There were very few American stores around (one fast food joint and a Comfort Inn are all that I saw). There were a few European things (Zara), but pretty much everything was homegrown. This isn't a place to go if you like resorts or structured activities or pampering. That might change as they ramp up the tourism infrastructure, though. There are 9 islands. The largest, São Miguel, is easy to get to from the US, with Delta offering nonstop service from JFK and SATA/Air Açores offering nonstop service from Boston and Providence. We flew Delta. A woman we met said she had flown SATA on her last visit, and although it's less expensive, the equipment is old and uncomfortable for an overnight flight. Ponta Delgada is sprawling, but with a compact core that's delightful to walk around in. The streets are incredibly narrow. Cars park on the sidewalk right up against the buildings. I can't imagine a typical DC driver making it through one of these obstacle courses (have you seen how people drive these days? they can't even go two wide on Albemarle St. anymore. sheesh.). However, if you want to get out of town, you should rent a car. Fortunately most of the rental cars are tiny. Also most of them are manual transmission. We saw a few Americans slightly panicked at not being able to get an automatic transmission car. Plan ahead. More about car rentals: we rented from AutAtlantis and Isle Verde on various islands. Both companies provided good service and good cars, clean and reliable. Back to Ponta Delgada: the food scene there is decent, but I think we might have largely missed the best of it. There's so little info online, most of it from Trip Advisor, which I don't trust. We had good dinners at Tasquinha Vieira and Quinta dos Sabores. The former is still fairly new, tiny, with only a few staff, and doesn't take reservations. Service was a bit random but the food was delicious. Quinta dos Sabores is a farm-to-table place that grows a lot of its own food; the whole experience was lovely. Reservations are essential. Most restaurants start dinner service at seven o'clock. For some reason I thought that a place like the Azores would have lots of great produce - they grow pineapples and passion fruit! - but maybe it's the culture, dinners feature beef and fish and shellfish. Not much veg. On our last night we ate at a vegetarian restaurant, Rotas da Ilha Verde, and I almost cried with joy. Largely we were underwhelmed by the food, except the cheese. The Azoreans make some extraordinary cheeses. Stop by the larger of the two O rei dos queijos shops and pick up something to snack on while you explore the island. And to bring home (but check APHIS regs first). There are a lot of fun things to do on São Miguel (check out the good tourism website). The island is beautiful. Mostly we hiked and hung out and drove around and just enjoyed being there. The night before the national holiday (Portugal Day, June 10) there was the most extraordinary fireworks display above the harbor. It's not much of a place for beaches. We went to one small beach on the east end of the island. The road there is so steep that our Smart ForFour almost didn't make it back up. Fortunately Mr. P has excellent car control skills and I found myself flashing back to my instructor days to coach him, for which he thanked me. Seriously: on some slopes he was flat out in first gear and the car could barely climb the grade. Be warned. But the beach was lovely, and we had it to ourselves most of the time. We stayed one night at Hotel Azor before leaving for another island; when we came back we spent a few nights at Casa das Palmeiras. I would recommend both, the former if you prefer a hotel, the latter if you want to feel a bit like you're living there, as it's in the middle of the old downtown area. I keep seeing this advice for places like the Azores and the Faroes, and it's true: be flexible. Islands in the middle of the ocean mean weather, and weather means flights get canceled. If your flight from the US is scheduled to land at 0600 and your puddle-jumper jet is scheduled to depart at 0730, don't bet on making the connection. On the other hand, Ponta Delgada airport is delightfully small, and customs lines move fast. We also spent a few days on Ilha das Flores. Absolutely, stunningly gorgeous place. Sadly the wildflowers were only just starting to bloom. If I ever go back I'll go in late June or early July just for the flowers (airfare prices doubled after the middle of June). Extremely mountainous, everywhere you go is either up or down. The hiking is amazing. Most trails are rated difficult. We did one rated moderate and it was one of the trickiest hikes I've ever tried, mostly because the footing was so awful. It's not for the casual walk-in-the-park type hiker. Speaking of awful, for the most part the food there was... adequate. Only on the last day did we find a really nice restaurant, thanks largely to having offered a lift to and spending some time with a woman from Montreal, who recommended Casa do Rei in Lajes das Flores. If I ever go back, I'll just eat there every night. We stayed at Aldeia da Cuada on the west side of Flores. It's a neat place, an old, abandoned village that's been acquired and restored by a family who run it as a bed-and-breakfast. It's unique. Not perfectly comfortable (we had issues with the hot water), and definitely not a place for anyone mobility-challenged, but really beautiful and secluded. Took a day trip to Ilha do Corvo. We were going to spend the night there and I rather regret that we didn't, as the day trip didn't allow for as much hiking time as I wanted. Still, the boat ride there was thrilling, the village lovely, the scenery gorgeous (again) and, the hiking just grand. Also, the people. We got a ride to the top of the island in an ancient economy car. The driver barely spoke English. He stopped twice along the way to pick up hikers, one Austrian who spoke a little English and almost no Portuguese, and one American who spoke Italian but no Portuguese. Yours truly was appointed translator by the Austrian and the driver, who thought my Portuguese was better than his English. Not sure that I agree, but it was a fun ride up, the car huffing and puffing the whole way. Funny, I'm not a people person, but my fondest memories are of the various encounters we had with people there, and my bumbling attempts to speak some approximation of their language. Which, by the way, has WAY different pronunciation than Brasilian Portuguese. But you'll be understood. Almost everyone we encountered in the service industries (hotels, restaurants, car rental places, airports) spoke decent to good English. Outside of that, hit or miss. Mr. P and I spent a few months with an on-line program and were glad of it, if for no other reason than everyone seemed genuinely appreciative of our attempts. Unlike in Montreal, where the locals can't say "no, no, it's okay, I speak English!" fast enough, everyone I spoke with smiled and encouraged me to keep trying whenever I stumbled and fell back to "desculpa, só falo um muito pouco de português..." SATA is your only realistic option to go between islands (there's ferry service, which is fine for the islands which are close to each other, but some of them are many hours apart). They make it easy, though. So easy that we changed plans once again and spent a night on Faial. I didn't care for the touristy "resort" we stayed at in Horta, but last minute plans means not much to choose from. We had some decent food, nothing exceptional, better than most places on Flores but not as good as the best on São Miguel. Had a nice hike around the rim of the caldeira, but for the fog. Mountainous islands tend to create their own weather, so when you're hiking at altitude, fog and rain are not uncommon. We experienced this also on Flores and São Miguel (at Lagoa do Fogo). Bring rain gear. Sorry for the brian-dump style report. Please post specific questions if you're thinking of going. Do I recommend it? Yes... for a certain type of traveler.
  5. porcupine

    Dinner - The Polyphonic Food Blog

    Shakshouka. I glanced at the recipe in Plenty but didn't follow it; used cumin, fennel seed, a little onion and garlic, homemade tomato sauce from last summer, smoked eggplant, roasted red bell pepper, black olives, and urfa pepper. Plated it with crumbled feta and a generous amount of fresh tarragon. I think the eggplant and urfa pepper really made it special.
  6. porcupine

    Azores (Açores), Portugal

    To be fair, I was working from a very small sample size, and really that post says more about my state of mind than anything else. Back now but too frazzled from travel to write. Don't let me forget to, though.
  7. porcupine

    Azores (Açores), Portugal

    Humanity, not so much. Americans? yes. Five beautiful days of peace and quiet got broken by one loud-mouthed group of Americans. The German tourists speak quietly. The French, too. The Irish. The Portuguese. But the Americans? obnoxious. More about os Açores when I get back.
  8. porcupine

    The Northern Lights

    Thanks, washingtony. I've seen the lights in Iceland. Norway is on my list for a bunch of reasons, not just lights. I will keep in mind about tripod rental. I hate lugging all my photo gear around.
  9. porcupine

    The Northern Lights

    Washingtony, would you mind writing more about this trip? Norway (Tromsø in particular) is near the top of my go-to list and I'd love to read about your experiences.
  10. I don't think the ladies at A&J know our names, but they know us well enough that if we order something a little different, they will come back to check. "Is this right? You always get X, not Y." And if we don't show for a few weeks we'll get a good-natured chiding when we return.
  11. porcupine

    Dining at Airports

    Soon. In a few weeks. Thanks for the link.
  12. porcupine

    Dining at Airports

    Upcoming trip, have 3-hour layovers at JFK, dinnertime outbound and lunchtime on the return. Any suggestions? To the best of my knowledge we will arrive at terminal 2 and depart from terminal 4 on the way out, and reverse that on the way back.