Monday, June 1, 2009

Oristano, Sardinia

Friends: Even before I set foot on Sardinia, I knew I was no longer in France, as the Italian-operated ferry that took me across the seven-mile expanse of sea that separates Sardinia from Corsica had a "no dog" sign posted outside the door to the interior section of the ferry. All dogs would have to remain outside on the deck or in people's cars below. There were none to be seen.

It was a marked contrast to the French-dominated ferry from Nice to Corsica. There were so many dogs, on leashes and cradled in passenger's arms on the ferry, if I didn't know how dog-crazy the French are, I would have thought I had stumbled on a special ferry of dog-lovers. Most of the dogs minded their manners, though some couldn't help but dart at a fellow canine for a sniff. Occasionally the dogs would get so excited circling around each other seeking that prime derriere sniffing spot the leashes would get so entangled, the owners would have to pick up their dogs and unclip the leash.

Though there weren't any dogs on the ferry to Sardinia, there were some dog relics aboard, as I have been transporting a small packet of ashes of Joey Schubert at the bequest of Kathy to scatter somewhere in France, as the two of them bicycled in France a while ago. I am happy to honor Joey, as she is one of the greatest bicycling dogs of all time. She accompanied Kathy on the back of her bike on ten RAGBRAIs across Iowa. They were such a celebrity couple that they were honored with their photo on the back cover of the 30th anniversary Ragbrai book. Kathy had no request where she'd like Joey's ashes scattered, so I will save them for the Tour de France, maybe placing them atop Mont Ventoux.

Besides the dog-free ferry, I knew I was no longer among the French by all the jewelry adorning the men and women on the ferry and the more fashionable clothes. The first time I stopped for a snack in Sardinia, I was treated to the Italian exuberance. As I sat leaning against the wall of a supermarket eating sausage on a tortilla, a fifty-year old guy wandered over exalting, "I'd love to be doing what you're doing." I received a similar response later in the day when a couple of guys amongst a bus load of men in matching yellow t-shirts wanted to hear about my travels. The French may have similar sentiments, but they rarely express them, other than a "Bravo" or "Bon Courage" shouted from their car.

I also saw something in Sardinia that I've never seen in France as I sat out outside the supermarket. The parking lot was full of men standing beside their cars, some talking to a friend, some tending to their children and others simply lost in thought, while their wives shopped inside. The shopping wasn't very good for me, as there was no canned ravioli or spaghetti or stews or bargain priced potato or couscous salads as I can count on in France. I had to settle on a three-and-a-half euro one-pound sausage and a pound of tortillas for my dinner, my most expensive meal in a month other than a cafeteria dinner with Yvon. It is no different than my previous two visits to Italy. Even if I'd brought a stove, the pastas are no great bargain either, though the variety is staggering--a whole aisle's worth, both sides.

Sardinia is flatter than Corsica, but there is still a considerable amount of climbing. I've just descended from a 2,500 foot plateau and had quite a few ups and downs to get there. I've had five straight days of excessive climbing and my legs need a respite. I was hoping they'd have it yesterday afternoon if I could find a bar showing the Giro d'Italia. It was the final stage of the three-week race, a nine-mile time trial in Rome. At 1:30 I passed through a town big enough to have a bar open on Sunday, though everything else seemed shut down. The television was turned to a soccer game. No one seemed to be paying attention, so the bar-tender switched to the Giro for me. The racing hadn't started, but that was okay as the broadcast was just starting with a thirty minute recap showing the highlights and victor of the race's first 20 stages. My dream was to chow down on as big a pizza as I could find while resting my legs and watching the race, but the only food the bar offered was ice cream, so an Eskimo pie had to suffice. The bar tender said I could get a pizza at a restaurant down the street, but it didn't open until dinner time.

After an hour of the Giro, including previews my former racer Fondriest and several journalists, a group of men wearing matching soccer jerseys came into the bar and commandeered the TV, as their favorite team was about to commence a match. So it was back on the road for me through rural Sardinia. I was in search of one its premier archaeological sites, Nuraghe Santa Antine, a mini-fortress castle, dating to 1600 B.C. There are some 200 of these nuraghis scattered about the island. They all have World Heritage status, though one in specific is designated above all others. It wasn't Nuraghe Santa Antine, though some say it is its equal.

I was hoping to find another bar along the way to watch the race, though there wasn't much suspense, other than if Lance might pull off the win of this last stage, a possibility as Lance once dominated the time trials and he was just rounding into tip-top shape. The overall victor was a foregone conclusion. The Russian Denis Menchov had a secure hold on the top spot, and second and third place weren't expected to change either on this short nine-mile stage. But I had no luck in finding a bar.

As I approached Nuraghe Sante Antine a little after five, I wasn't much impressed. I was hoping it was closed, so I wouldn't have to pay for a closer look. A photo from the fence surrounding it would have been enough I thought. The small gift shop and restaurant at its entrance was open. That would have been good news if there'd been a television, but there wasn't. At least the entry fee was a modest three euros. It was a hundred meters to the three story conical rock structure. As I approached its lone small entryway, I could begin to marvel at the huge slabs of rocks used to construct it. When I entered it, I could marvel further at the intricate network of passageways and rooms. One perfectly arched hallway looked holy enough to be in the Vatican, eliciting a spontaneous "wow". It put me in such a state of wonderment I marveled at everything else I saw as I climbed to its summit and circumnavigated its two levels below.

There is another nuraghi of comparable splendour 75 miles further that I am now eager to see. I can finally take it easy, as I just learned there are only two ferries a week for the 11-hour trip from Sardinia to Sicily and the next isn't until Friday. That will give me three extra days to explore. There are loads of Roman ruins and striking beaches and mountain forests.

Later, George

1 comment:

Robert Kennedy said...

Watch out for Palermo when you get to Sicily, George, as they're having a garbage strike at the moment that's getting international press, as the garbage is piled ten feet high into the streets, with wild, mangy dogs hovering around the premises.