During our last full day in Sardinia we made the long drive from Cagliari, which is far in the south, all the way up the east coast back to Olbia. Along the way we passed through the mountainous regions, even catching glimpses of snow-capped peaks in the center of the island. The road, known as l’Orientale, also took us through some incredible towns that seemed to barely cling to the sides of the mountains, where the side streets were pericolosissimi–not only was there barely enough room for one little Fiat on the two-way streets (which people natually parked on anyway), but they twisted around blind curves, and were unbelievably steep. One such town we drove through was Orgosolo, famous for its beautiful and fascinating murals, many of which comment on life in Sardinia.
welcome to Orgosolo
Olbia, when we finally arrived, was much more charming than my guidebooks had made it sound, but was another town that I could tell would be unpleasantly swarming with tourists in the summer (and way out of my price range, since it’s close to the posh Costa Smeralda resort area). Now, during the off-season, it was calm and pretty, perfect for window-shopping in the expensive stores, and wandering down the quiet alleyways and along the shore.
Olbia in the morning
I felt like we had just arrived, and it was hard to give up the keys to the rental car, but soon we were landing again in freezing Milan, after having enjoyed the mild weather of the Mediterranean (it was in the 60s for most of the week). During the last 15 hours in Milano, we toured La Scala opera house, and wandered around the fashion district a bit, returning to our new favorite Asian-run Italian restaurant for one last pizza. I’ll be back before long though…I’m returning to la bell’Italia with my Italian Slow Food seminar in just two weeks! We’ll be leaving on the 21st of January, and I’m looking forward to seeing Milan again, as well as journeying on to Bologna and Naples…so look forward to more blogging coming soon! I’m in the process of adding the most recent trip photos to my Shutterfly site, so continue to check back for a closer look.
a Milan office building wishing a happy new year
Update: As of the evening of Jan. 8, the new album is all up. Enjoy!
Filed under Italy, Milan, Olbia
near the Duomo in the castello district
After our day exploring the great outdoors, we arrived in Cagliari–Sardinia’s biggest city (population somewhere around 100,000), situated on its southern coast. I had already seen Cagliari last summer, but it was interested to see the island’s bustling capital in the winter, decked out in Christmas lights, and with a busy night market near the port, selling everything from fresh olives to traditional rugs. We spent the next morning wandering around the castello district, the city’s historic and picturesque area, situated high above the modern city. In the afternoon, we took a short excursion to some of the other towns on the southern coast, toward Pula, Nora, and Chia, where there are now-deserted beaches, that must be packed in the summer, and of course more ruins along the shore. On the drive there and back, we finally caught a glimpse of the island’s legendary wild flamingoes…they’re all over the Sardinian postcards, but I had been starting to doubt their actual existence until we saw tons of them hanging out in the salty pools on the side of the road.
landscape near Pula
I also enjoyed some of the best Sardinian food of the trip while in Cagliari. The hotel where we stayed was in the marina neighborhood, close to the port, with skinny cobblestone streets packed with shops and restaurants. Sardinia cuisine has its own characteristic pasta shapes, and includes lots of sheep cheese, seafood, olives, lamb, and pork. During our two nights in Cagliari, I enjoyed tasting lemon veal, sea urchin, gnochetti, Sardinian ravioli (filled with potato, mint, and sheep cheese), and of course some delicious local wines.
olives at the Cagliari market
Filed under Cagliari, Italy
Sardinian traffic jam
From Oristano we set off for a day trip to the center of the island, where wild and ancient Sardinian sights awaited. Country roads led us through sleepy looking towns, where farmers sat beside their fields selling their radishes and artichokes out of carts, and old men sat outside the local shops watching the lazy Sunday go by. We found our way to Gesturi, where the skinny mountain road, and numerous camoflauged hunters, probably out looking for wild boar, took us to the top of a plateau, the Giara di Gesturi…last remaining wild home of the island’s own cavallini, or miniature horses. At the top, we braved the dirt roads through the natural preserve in search of the elusive horses, of which only 500 are remaining in the wild. I was sure we would never be able to spot them, but eventually we caught sight of some in the distant forest and pulled over the car to catch a closer look. They’re no dog-sized pony, but are considered miniature because they have all of the proportions of a horse but are under-sized. By the end, we even caught one crossing the road, to say goodbye as we left the park.
a cavallino of Gesturi
The horses aren’t the only ones we caught in the middle of the road, though. By the end of the trip, we had braked for goats, swerved to miss calmly grazing cattle, honked at flocks of sheep crossing, and even caught a few plump pigs snuffling in the dirt on the side of the highway.
After the morning’s animal adventures, we stopped at Barumini, a small town not far from Gesturi, best known as the home of Su Nuraxi, a large complex of nuraghe–the prehistoric stone towers found all over the island–and UNESCO World Heritage site. The nuraghe are key to Sardinian cultural heritage and ancient history, as they belong to some of the earliest people of the island, despite the fact that very little is known about them. I took a tour of the nuraghic complex and was able to see the inside of the fortress as well as an overhead view of its layout, set on the bright green pastoral backdrop of Sardinian countryside.
the Su Nuraxi of Barumini
old tower at the end of the Sinis peninsula
After exploring Alghero a bit the next morning, we took the winding road that snakes along the cliffs on the west coast of the island. While my aunt Pat watched out for the insane Italian drivers and cows on the side of the road (more on animals in the road to come), I got to hang out the window and take pictures of the moutains and blue waters down below. Aside from the incredible views, the best part of the drive was getting to experience the eccentric little towns that we passed through along the way–the vineyards and olive groves, colorful houses, and tiny churches. During one quick stop, an adorable lost dog hopped into our car and tried to hitch a ride while we were distracted taking pictures.
We took an additional detour on the way to Oristano, our eventual destination for the night, to the Sinis Peninsula, home to endless crop fields, tucked-away agriturismi, miniscule towns, and the ancient ruins of Tharros. When we finally arrived to the provincial capital of Oristano, we were well taken care of by Maria, a bed and breakfast owner and Sardinian native who talked to me at length about her native dialect over breakfast on her rooftop terrace the next morning. Oristano, while seemingly more urban than Alghero, still had a lovely downtown area, where we enjoyed shopping at the holiday night market, and the extremely friendly owner of a jewelry kiosk who unexpectedly taught me a lot about Sardinian cultural symbols.
happy holidays from Oristano
Filed under Italy, Oristano
It’s been awhile, but finally an update on Sardinia! We arrived on the island from Milan on New Year’s Day, and headed straight to the car rental terminal…somehow they agreed to let us on the road and shortly after we were winding from Olbia to Sassari, along the rural highways of bella Sardegna, which was strikingly green, with flocks of sheep around every bend (source of the ever-present and delicious local pecorino cheese). We stopped in Sassari, a fairly large (by Sardinian standards) university town, but only stayed long enough to wander around the centro storico for a few minutes. It began raining as soon as we arrived, and literally everything was closed for the new year…not that it’s unusual for everything to be closed in Italy–if it’s not a holiday, it’s the siesta, or the locals have left on vacation…
port area of Alghero
After Sassari, it was only a short jaunt over to Alghero, a small and charming town on the west of the island where we spent the first night. The city is perched above the coast, where wintry winds had whipped the waves into a salty foam. In the quaint downtown area, Christmas lights and decorations were strung across the cobblestone alleys, and crowds of people emerged around sunset for an evening stroll and window shopping. We stayed in this neighborhood in an old monastery, which is attached to the still operational church, but has now been fixed up into a hotel. The cloister, and the former solitary confinement room are now a pleasant breakfast area, where we took our first morning caffe the next day.
cloister in Hotel San Francesco
Filed under Alghero, Italy
At last…what you’ve all been waiting for…some more photos! I’m finally done uploading all of the albums from my trip to Corsica and Sardinia, so enjoy!
Nice and Bastia
Corte and Vizzavona
Ajaccio and Bonifacio
Sardinia: Santa Teresa, Nuoro, Cagliari
Paris photos will be coming in gradually over the next week, just click the photos link at the top to see when I’ve added more, or go straight to the shutterfly main page.
My final stop: Cagliari, la porta della Sardegna. It’s the biggest city I’ve been in since leaving Nice, though still in many ways distinctively Italian and Sardinian there is much more of an urban, modern atmosphere (although not a big city by American standards with less than 200,000 inhabitants). And as much more a of a tourist hub (I finally noticed some other Americans) it has many more of the gimmicks and traps that tourists attract: foreigners selling fake Pradas and Fendis, fast food, rip off souvenir shops, street performers (although I saw one of the most original yet today…a man who had some live mice and cats that were playing together on a stool and was charging for a photo), cat-callers. After feeling entirely safe in the other island towns it feels weird to have to remember to watch my purse again and navigate crowded, pigeon-filled piazze, and run across busy streets while vendors try to lure me into their kebab shop/jewelry store/pizzeria.
duomo and the old city
The hostel I’m staying at is great though. This is the first town that has actually had hostels in the traditional sense and I’m very impressed at how impeccably clean and well-run this one seems. The dorm style-room I’m in has 2 private bathrooms and stairs leading to a second level of beds (no bunks!).
I’ve spent a lot of time walking around in this final Sardinian city, from churches, to several museums, to the old castello district, perched high above with views of the water. And on my last evening I met two Canadians, from Calgary, who were in Sardinia as the final leg of a backpacking trip. We took the bus to the nearest beach, Il Poetto, to see the sun set and get dinner together and it was so nice to finally have some company…and people to speak English with! I felt so talkative, realizing I could say anything I wanted without having to think of the right words or wonder whether they would understand me. It was a great way to end the trip.
Il Poetto, the nearest beach to Cagliari
But I’m ready to go back to Paris, feeling worn out from the constant movement from one place to another, and the loneliness of traveling by myself. I’m looking forward to being settled in the Parisian apartment, where more adventures will certainly ensue (though of a different sort). Stay posted for news on life in the “City of Lights” and hopefully soon, all of the photos from this whole island voyage.
Filed under Cagliari, Italy