Wednesday 5th May 2010, Torre Grande near Oristano, Sardinia
Oh dear! We are afraid we may have unwittingly transgressed one of Italy's myriad security laws! In the sanitary block this evening we discovered the notice below. We've worried about it a good deal and still cannot understand it. Our concern is that we may have inadvertently imported a Peon Bu or two from Corsica when we arrived and there is a risk they may have escaped and become a menace to the indigenous Sardinian ones! What might be the consequences? Can the Peon Bu division of the Italian police identify us as the perpetrators of any forthcoming demise of the native Peon Bu population? We really do try to behave but no matter what we do, somehow we always end up doing something we are not supposed to do!
This morning we were up and away before most of the other campers were even awake. Parking in Oristano was easier than expected and soon we were on the train heading for the island's capital, Cagliari. The countryside we passed through was generally flat and rather uninteresting, though with curiously shaped distant mountains.
Cagliari, the island's capital, was anything but uninteresting however. It's a delightful town with so much to see and do we could have spent several days rather than several hours exploring it. Initially is reminded us of Portugal, and the town of Porto in particular. The station is convenient for the heart of the old town and the port from where ferries depart for mainland Italy, Sicily and Tunisia. Nearby, an arcade of shops and cafes, shaded from the sun, runs past the early 20th century town hall buildings in neo-gothic style with matching twin towers.
Turning up into the city we passed through attractive streets of busy shops shaded by date palms. Above us rose the citadel with its ramparts, enclosing the early town. To one side we discovered the medical district with a school of anatomy, a military hospital and the town hospital. In the entrance to this were statues on plinths commemorating the great names of medicine that had been connected with Cagliari. There were also several medical bookshops and suppliers of medical equipment.
Up in the citadel we found the mediaeval Elephant Tower, so named from a carving of an elephant on the wall. Here also we discovered the University library where we asked if we might see their early printed collection. The curator of the collections led us into an 18th century room lined entirely with rather worn, leather-bound volumes written in Latin, some delightfully illustrated with medical peculiarities - in particular a 17th century work, printed in Bologna, with woodcuts showing human Siamese twins and freak animals with several limbs too many or too few. Our guide was quite charming, chatting to us in excellent English, explaining how the collections had been built up during the time of Spanish occupation when freedom of thought had been restricted. He then went on to tell us all about his visit to Ramsgate in his youth and explained that he would be retiring this summer and his dream is to explore New Zealand for several months but that his only daughter is expecting a baby in September and his wife insists they cannot go until after the birth! Surely only an Italian bibliographer would casually chat about his personal life while showing visitors around the most impressive book collection in Sardinia! He was delightful.
Beyond the university buildings the impressive ramparts give excellent views over the town, the surrounding lagoons, the mountains and the open sea.
The setting is stunning, the tragedy being that here, as in Oristano, disenchanted youths had spray painted everything within reach. Really, Italy is quite probably the very worst country in Europe for graffiti, though parts of Portugal and Hungary are also very bad.
Within the citadel stands the cathedral. Unfortunately, train times meant that we arrived as many public buildings closed for three hours, only re-opening at 4pm when we were starting to think about leaving. So we could not see inside, where many of the Dukes of Savoy, rulers of Sardinia, and ultimately a united Italy, are buried. (It seems so long ago that we first started to learn something of their history in the Savoyard museum in Chambery last month.)
The palace of the Viceroy of Sardinia stood open. Upstairs the council chamber is open for viewing with its painted ceiling and the coat of arms of the Savoyards. There are also portraits of several of the viceroys and a bust of Victor Emanuel II, the first king of a united Italy.
Nearby stand the buildings of the former Royal Arsenal. They now house the national art museum.
Cagliari also has several sites of Roman interest including the amphitheatre and the vestiges of three Roman villas.
Across the far side of the city stands one of the oldest churches in Sardinia. It is contemporary with the 5th century church we discovered in San Giovanni di Sinis recently. It too was closed and, surrounded by city buildings, its modern glass windows were quite out of keeping with the building.
Finally another moan. Italian bread is horrid. It is made from the fluffy bits left over from the Pampers disposable nappies factory while every bread roll we've seen has a huge air bubble in the centre.
Thursday 6th May 2010, Marina at Arborea, Sardinia
We are vagrants once more this evening, sleeping by the beach and hoping the Caribinieri don't decide to do a night patrol! If they do though, it's their fault we are in this situation and I'm sure our Italian is up to telling them so. The campsite we intended using told us they'd been unable to open on time as the police hadn't yet issued their permit and it would be another week at least before they could legally do so. They couldn't permit us stay as they couldn't take legal responsibility for us. They also confirmed our fear that there is nowhere else anywhere in this part of Sardinia. So what else can we do? It's all very well sticking up vietato notices warning against camping anywhere but on a regulated site, but they need to make sure they are open when they are supposed to be. As I said, we try hard enough to stay legal but in Italy there are so many laws it's impossible not to transgress sometimes.
Today we've not travelled far, simply because we were pacing ourselves in order to arrive at a campsite this evening. The next one is many miles away and there are places we need to visit before that.
So we pottered southwards along the west coast, exploring the area around some of the many lakes along the sea shore where flamingos and egrets breed. Arborea looked a curious settlement on our map and needed investigating. It was built around 1930 in a grid system on reclaimed marshland. It was originally named Mussolinia in honour of Italy's fascist leader, but not surprisingly, it was renamed after the war.
In fact, the houses there are quite nice with spacious gardens. The streets and pavements are clean and smart, there are green areas, a couple of schools and a rather fascist looking church built in 1929. Everything is better quality than is generally found in neighbouring towns and villages but monotonous with every street the same, dead straight and petering out into the marshes. Not a very inspiring place to live though regularly served by buses to Oristano. There was no obvious graffiti there and the police appear to have a high profile.
Our guide book eulogised about the picturesque fishing village of Marceddi. Perhaps it was quaint in its way but very scruffy with decaying fishing boats and wooden lock-up sheds mouldering on the reedy shores of the bay where the beach consisted entirely of crushed sea shells. There were millions of them that stank and crunched beneath our feet. Fishing pots were choked with grass growing up through them – it had been many a long day since they were last in the water. Meanwhile, the only inhabitants we found were all sitting smoking outside the village bar with nothing to do but stare at us.
We decided to abandon our guidebook, which isn't brilliant, and rely on our Michelin road map. We are discovering that's none too good either. It did however mark what looked to be an interesting Nuraghic settlement somewhere in the vicinity. It marked it in the wrong place but we did eventually find it. Like the fishing village and lobster pots, it too had been abandoned for many a long day and had grass growing up though it.
The surrounding hedge and fence were easily climbed and we waded through waist high grass and flowers, scrambling over ancient boulders and through swampy bog until we reached the inner walls of the settlement. Here we found several chambers with interlinking passages leading off from a round central chamber. Built into the complex were the remains of a defensive tower with a staircase leading up the inside wall. The remaining walls were only about four metres high. Sometimes these towers were constructed with several floors. This was quite magic enough for us however, and its overgrown state gave us the feeling that we'd just discovered it for the first time.
There are several thousand Nuraghic sites in Sardinia, dating from around 1800-500BC. The one at Uras, Nuraghi Domubeccia, reminded us very much of the site we visited in Corsica at Cucuruzzu though as far as we know there are relatively few recorded in Corsica and we are unclear whether they are definitely linked to the Nuraghi people of Sardinia.
One site in particular here, in an excellent state of preservation, is built deep in the enclosed crater of the volcano of Tiscali with only one, easily defended way in and out. Unfortunately it is a five hour climb up the volcano to reach it and inaccessible without a guide.
Incidentally, I'd not realised the Internet Service Provider Tiscali was a Sardinian company. It's founder, Renato Soru, was elected President of Sardinia in 2004. Despite all that, we've found it almost impossible to get access to the internet since we've been here!
Our awe and delight at discovering our very own Nuraghic village more than compensates for the various aggravations we've faced today. Watching the scarlet sun set behind the Punic site of Tharros on the isthmus of San Marco - a long, low finger stretching out into the sea, has been ample reward for a night without electricity and sanitation, and as we settle to sleep we can see the regular twinkle of the lighthouse at the far end of the isthmus.