Thursday, November 1, 2012

European Zen Navigation Tour 2012 - Part 2 - Sardinia

We flew from Stockholm to Alghero.  The northwest of Sardinia is nice.  Lots of beaches and you could probably enjoy yourself here if you wanted.  Of course, we hopped in the car and got the hell out of there.

We started with brief foray further North and further West.  We drove past some sheep, nice beaches and massive cliff faces on our way to Capo Caccia, so that we could climb up and down a massive staircase.  This was good, but (in my opinion) where the day (the first part of the day) started to fall apart.

The Capo Caccia staircase is a work of magic.  Once you get to the bottom, the grotto is very interesting.  But we discovered that you needed to buy tickets for the tour up at the top.  So we hung out for a few minutes and climbed back up.

It was probably for the best, as on our way up, the tourist boats showed up.  There was a tiny little crack in the rock and the captains had to nose their way in and work around the rocks and the heavy seas.  They had an anchor a hundred or so feet out that they tied to the back end.
As I mentioned, this is where things started to fall apart.  The restaurant at the top of the stairs doesn't take credit cards.  We had no cash.  We had no water.  So we hopped in the car and went in search of a bank machine.  We drove through and around villages and finally found a bank.  Then, we drove around and around searching for a place that sold cold beverages.  We finally found one and then...well...we didn't know where we were going.  East, I guess.  To the mountains, or something.

We arrived in Ozieri because we both thought that the other wanted to go there.  Not really, actually.  We bought some meat and crackers for lunch and hit the road again.  I got stuck behind a bunch of slow moving trucks.  After watching countless cars go blowing by with the sketchiest of passes, I pulled out my inner Italian and went for it.  I ended up pulling in to a turning lane and I thought it was a rather safe option - a long straight stretch with no cars and plenty of room to pass.  The Carabieneri waiting at the end of the straight-away didn't think so.  We got pulled over and I honestly thought we were going to get arrested.  The first guy was pretty large and stern looking.  He spoke no English but we got the idea that he wanted our papers and insurance info.  He called his buddy over who spoke a bit of English.  He said things like "take away" while holding my license and looked rather stern.  Then he made me get out of the car.  He showed me the turning lane.  Then asked where I was from.  "Canada."  That seemed to make them laugh a bit.  They asked me what I did for a living.  "Engineer."  They thought that was hilarious.  Somehow, things seemed to turn around at this point.  They gave us back our stuff, continued laughing and told us not to pass in a turning lane.  I thought it would be pushing our luck to ask for a photograph.

We continued on to the East.  Not sure where, but East.  The terrain was quite open through here, with rolling green hills and the odd cork tree.  Very nice.
We neared Olbia.  All of a sudden a really loud car went by.  Then another one.  Then another one.  We were in the middle of shakedown day for the Sardinia World Rally.  Pretty cool.  Of course, no photos.

We neared Olbia and still weren't sure where to go.  We headed South.  We hit San Teodoro and decided to head North and look for a place to stay.  There wasn't much.  We pulled in to an Agriturismo Bed & Breakfast but they didn't offer dinner so we kept going.  They had lots of dogs and a nice axe.
Onwards we drove.  We saw another sign for an Agriturismo and followed it.  And followed it.  For a while.  It was obvious that we had missed it somehow.  Another sign and...success.

Here is the good and bad of zen navigation, all within the space of a few hours.  To go from hours of angst filled driving to stumbling upon an unexpected gem of perfection is what it is all about.  Agriturismo Caldosa is exactly what we were looking for.

For 100 Euros per day we received:
- A large, comfortable room
- Dinner that just seemed to go on and on - wine included
- Breakfast
- The run of a farm filled with pigs, cows, sheep, olive and cork trees, etc.

Honestly, it was perfect.

And the animals.

They had a pig.  Oh my gosh.  You've just never seen such a pig.  This pig was chest high.  It was the size of a small horse.  And it was destined to become salami, in the (broken english) words of our host.  Poor guy.

Which leads to the food.  These fresh herbs became dinner.
And dinner just went on and on.  Four hot little veggie dishes to start.  A giant basket of bread.  Fresh cheese.  Olives.  Charcuterie.  Two pastas.  Some sort of eggie, cheezy, potatoey dish.  Risotto for Andrea.  Roast pig and potatoes for me.  Fish for Andrea.  A few liters of wine.  All sourced from the farm.  All fresh.  It was crazy.

We spent two days there.  The Agriturismo is only a 10 minute or so drive from some great beaches.  The main one that we found was empty enough that you could do this.
This was the main kite-surfing beach.  It was only a 5 minute walk to get away from the craziness.

Judging by google maps, things get a bit more hectic in the summer.  The beach borders a lagoon that is filled with wild birds and flamingos.  Well, not filled.  But there's lots of them.
And a short drive away is another empty beach.  This one facing away from the water, so no waves and whatnot.
It would have been nice to spend a few more days here eating our faces off, hanging out on the beach.  We might go back.  But, we had to reach Santa Teresa Gallura by the following evening to drop off the rental car.

The space between Olbia and Santa Teresa represents yacht land for rich people.  It was nice enough to drive through, but I sort of felt like it wasn't really for me.

Santa Teresa in the off-season is the definition of a sleepy town.  Even though it's the site of the main ferry between Corsica and Sardinia, it was dead.  It was tough to even figure out a rental car company that had an office open so that I could drop the car off.  Half the restaurants were closed.  The ferry was only running once or twice a day.  Dead.

Just West of Santa Teresa is Capo Testa, land of the weird rocks.  Right at the point is a lighthouse surrounded by crazy rocks.  There're a few small beaches scattered about.

Just back from there is a larger beach that is also the site of Roman quarrying for columns and whatnot.  It's pretty easy to see from the google map image.  On the ground it is just as impressive and is a nice little spot for a swim.

We had one final Sardinian meal before catching the ferry early the next morning.  I decided to have the meal that Anthony Bourdain called one of his favourite ever - Pasta with Bottarga, a cured fish roe.  Man, it was good.
I had a pizza as well, and they wrapped it up for me in the greatest pizza box ever.

Update - I forgot to mention that we also got pulled over by the Carabieniri on our way up to Santa Teresa.  They were just standing on the side of the road and looked bored.  It actually took longer than when we got pulled over for doing something wrong.  We were less afraid the second time around.

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