Sunday, January 26, 2014

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.

Part 3

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