Cagliari

Apparently you don’t pronounce Cagliari like you would in English. The “g” is pretty much silent, and the second “a” is pronounced more like a long “e”. Making it sound, in English phonetics, like “Calieri”. I learned this after 3 days in the place.

Cagliari was chosen as the destination for this year’s mother and son long weekend break. My Mum had already spent a few days of culture in Budapest, Hungary with my sister so I chose a more leisurely destination with a strong focus on sunny weather.

It was, as always, a begrudging pleasure to pay £200 for a budget(!!!) airline trip via Easy Jet. The flights were perfect in that there wasn’t much to complain about. Easy Jet are not the miserable bunch of jobs-worth morons that are Ryanair (no Ryanair staff ever look happy – I imagine them to be failed tax collectors or ex-traffic wardens). To make the logistics easier this year, my Mum travelled from Stansted at the same time as me instead of travelling on a similar schedule from Liverpool airport.

On arrival we got the local bus from the airport to the city centre. I tried to have a conversation with the bus driver about where to get off the bus. The language barrier prevented this from working, but was unnecessary anyhow as the bus didn’t stop until it got to the Cagliari bus terminus. Pleasingly, this terminus turned out to be just a 5 min walk to our hotel. Although it didn’t take us 5 min to get to the hotel, since we got lost, and had to resort to a combination of printed maps and mobile phone maps before we found the correct street.

The Hotel Italia was as average as it could have been without being disappointing. The rooms were a decent size and had a mini balcony overlooking the street below. The TV had almost 300 channels, all in Italian which I painfully discovered after hitting the “up channel” button on the remote control 300 times one evening.

We arrived by mid-morning on the Thursday and spent our first day seeing the sights of the city. The first stop was a glass of wine, followed by an uphill trek to the old region called Castello. This is a walled section of the city situated on one of the highest points overlooking the harbour and surrounding residential districts in all directions. Inside the walled castle are narrow cobbled streets and a mix of old and very old buildings. We found Cagliari Cathedral and explored there for a short while before making our way downhill slightly to Saint Remy Bastion with its fantastic views of the harbour.

After we had finished wandering the small streets of the Castello we decided to head for the Roman amphitheatre. This took us quite a while as we managed to get a little lost. There seemed to be plenty of road signs for the amphitheatre which sent you around one-way road systems but we didn’t spot too many directions to get there by foot.

When we eventually did get there, the amphitheatre was closed. In fact it looked like it was rarely open. It appeared to be set up for concerts and not for casual visitors. So we looked through the iron railings for a few minutes before moving on.

Next on our to do list was the botanical garden which was found much more easily as it was literally next to the amphitheatre.

The day had been particularly warm and the botanical garden provided some much need shade and a few fountains to cool the air. The garden was nice, but not particularly big or overly impressive.

The botanical garden had one section near some old caves where they sprinkled water into the air to create a misty forest environment. This made for a good photo with the sun shining through the trees and reflecting off the water vapour in the air.

That was our sightseeing fill for the first day and we wandered back to the Piazza Yenne where I had a couple of local Sardinian Ichnusa beers. The beer was perfectly bland without being totally pointless. The brewery is owned by Heineken and seemed to fit their mould nicely. It was a little too late when we noticed we were drinking in an ice cream parlour. This wasn’t necessarily a problem, but did mean we were the only people having a drink while everyone around us appeared to be teenagers enjoying ice cream sundaes.

Dinner turned out to be easy. We stepped out of hotel and had a choice of approximately 10 nice restaurants on the street within 100m in both directions. My Mum’s eternal search for the perfect tourist menu bargain was not going to work in Italian Sardinia. She does not like pasta, pizza or veal – and finding a set menu without any of those options was completely impossible (and, of course, unsurprising). So my Mum had to be contented with ordering off the regular menu.

After dinner we took a short stroll down to the harbour and took a look at the large yachts that were moored there. The harbour front at Cagliari is nicely lit up and well maintained but suffers, like many cities with harbours, from having a large busy road that runs right along the promenade.

The next day, Friday, was also a beautiful day, so it was an easy decision to go to the beach. The nearest beach was a 10 minute bus ride away at Poetto. We bought ourselves a €3 day ticket for the local buses and headed off.

We felt a little unsure exactly where we were travelling by bus, but after 10 minutes at least half the passengers disembarked at the first stop after a marina, so we took the hint and joined them. The beach was only a few metres away and was packed. It stretched for 8km off in one direction along the bay and looked wonderful. The sand was soft and white and the water was crystal clear.

All the Italians (everyone on the beach was Italian) appeared overly stylish and beautiful which made us feel a bit British.

While walking along the beach, we came across a concrete pier supporting a restaurant terrace jutting out over the beach. You can walk beneath the concrete supports which isn’t particularly dangerous. What did catch me out was the height of the concrete pillars. Doing my best to get the perfect photo I head-butted one of the roof supports and, after spluttering some abusive language, was left with a bleeding dent in my skull.

We wandered along the sea line for about an hour or more (approximately 2.5 miles) and eventually found a cafe that suited us. This cafe had the cheapest food and drink of the entire weekend so my Mum had no problem taking an ice cold limoncello off their hands for €1.

We sat in the shade of the bar watching the world go by for a bit and rehydrated with some soft drinks and dehydrated with some alcoholic drinks.

The trip back was taken the same way, along the shoreline, all the way to Piccola Marina. We found a fairly posh and empty bar here with a grumpy waitress. There was no further choice of bars though and the view of the marina was a good one, so we persevered. Following a little meander between the boats and watching some windsurfers from the harbour we got the bus back into Cagliari.

The late afternoon drinks that evening were taken in the drinks bar next to the ice cream parlour we had been to the previous afternoon.

Our last full day in Sardinia, on the Saturday, started out as another scorcher but by lunch had become overcast. We had seen tourist information about a nature reserve that had wild flamingos so decided on this as our target for the day.

We took the bus about half way from the city centre to the beach and got off apparently in the middle of a residential area. Following a street map and some very rough directions the tourist office had given us we found our way to the Parco Naturale Regionale Molentargius. From the outside this building appeared to be an educational activity centre of sorts that focused on the nature found within the large salt-water lagoons that ran parallel to the coastline. The building looked a little formal for passer-bys such as ourselves so we walked on. The path shortly turned off the road and became quieter. It was sign-posted as a path for joggers and we did actually see a couple of them using it as such in the high summer heat. We used it as a walking route for going through the salt-water lakes and found it very peaceful.

After a couple of miles the path took us towards the beach but first passed a couple of lakes with numerous flamingos in. The birds were not as close or as pink as you find them in a zoo, but seeing wild flamingos was still pretty interesting. Just wished I had a bigger zoom on my camera lens.

Back at the beach for the second day, we wandered along it for a short while, but the weather was overcast so it did not sparkle quite as much as it had in the previous day’s sunlight. We stopped off in a different cafe for a drink and got pestered by flies the entire time we were there. Having missed the bus back to the city centre by 15 seconds (or 10 metres) we bided our time for the next bus by walking down the long road back towards town. While waiting at the bus stop we checked the map and decided to do a bit more sightseeing back in the city.

Our next port of call was The Basilica di Nostra Signora di Bonaria. This church has a large set of steps leading up to its entrance, making it seem much grander than it actually is. We didn’t go inside, instead choosing to walk around to the back of it and walk up through the small gardens adjacent to it. As we walked through the gardens in the early afternoon the sun kindly re-appeared from the midday haze and stayed with us for the rest of the day.

These gardens gave fabulous views of the city a mile or so away. You could easily make out the large walled Castello that we had visited on our first day and it looked much more prominent on top of the hill that it appeared when we were within it.

The other area of interest that was visible from behind the basilica was the cemetery (Cimitero di Bonaria). This was unfortunately closed while we were visiting and looked from our vantage point to be in a poor state of repair. There wasn’t much in the way of flat, horizontal space within the cemetery with many of the graves being stacked in large filing cabinet-like structures. Looked interesting, but we didn’t get to explore them up close.

We intended to see one last place on this day and made our way to the Parco di Monte Urpinu. On our tourist map this looked like a massive public park and an English speaking man on the public bus had even recommended that we go and see it. The problem facing us was identifying where the entrance was. We arrived at a wall of rock which signified the park and had to make a decision to go left or right to find an entrance. Since the park was circular we thought we’d go right and walk into the park as soon as we could. What we discovered was that the park was indeed circular but that there were only two entrances, and they were close together and accessed in the opposite direction to the one in which we started walking. We walked for a further hour nearly all the way around the park’s circumference before we found an entrance (reasonably close to where we had started our circular walk). The path around followed a busy and unattractive road so we were not happy tourists when we finally left the main road and started up into the park.

Our feet had undertaken many miles of walking on this day, and in the heat this was taking its toll. Indeed, we staggered up through the park to its obvious summit with quite grumpy, tired looking faces. However the view from the top was superb. On one side we overlooked the salt-lagoons that we had walked around earlier in the day, as well as the beach and harbour from the previous day. On the other side it overlooked the city and the main port. We didn’t realise quite how much height we had gained walking up through the park.

At the top there was a large statue which, set against the blue and white sky, looked rather majestic. However, like much of Cagliari, it was surrounded by graffiti which made taking photographs quite difficult. There was more graffiti in Cagliari than I recall seeing in many other European cities that I have previously visited, and this frequently spoilt the picturesque settings.

The sun was beginning to set now, so it was back to a bar for a drink. We chose a bar two along from the ice cream parlour in the centre. But this place was a pretentious cocktail bar and we used the excuse of them not having a fresh orange to move next door to the bar we had gone to on the previous night. The weather since mid-afternoon had been glorious and we sat in the bar watching the sun go down for the final time in Cagliari.

For the third night running we didn’t have to walk more than a few hundred metres from the hotel to find a restaurant at a decent price. Our Hotel Italia was in the perfect location for eating out in restaurants on the street – which is my personal preference when dining abroad in warmer climes.

We had just about an hour on our next and final day in Cagliari to squeeze in any last sightseeing. The one thing I really wanted to do was to climb the highest tower in the city. It wasn’t completely clear which actually was the highest tower, but the one we had seen on our first day in the old Castello appeared to be a good candidate.

The structure was called The Elephant Tower and was built in 1307 out of limestone. It was built for the defence of the Castello and as such did not have a back wall to it. It was only a few floors tall but the staircases were very steep and reasonably exposed.

The views from the top were predictably spectacular and we spied much of where we had travelled to over the previous days.

And following that final descent from the tower we finished our fairly relaxing time in Cagliari with an ice cream overlooking the harbour before taking the bus back to the airport for our flight home.

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