Not all those who wander are lost, declared J.R.R. Tolkien; that’s my mantra when traveling – this time was Sardinia, that Italian island neighboring Sicily. Timeless, enduring, noble, yet sad – that is how I found Cagliari – a city, where old meets ancient; it dates back to the Phoenicians, was frequented by the Romans, and, over the centuries, invaded by every powerful empire seeking a strategic base in the Mediterranean Sea.
One could tell Cagliari was once magnificent – the architecture spoke volumes – the buildings were grand with decaying beauty – I was reminded of an aristocratic lady, once the talk of the town/fairest of them all, whom time, and a fall in fortune, has not been kind to, rendering her beauty tarnished but her grace and charm undiminished. She remains defiant and proud – guardian of many secrets – she has seen it all – including Allied bombing runs in WW2 – and lived to tell the tale.
This was the first stop on my NCL Epic cruise from Barcelona. I chose not to book a tour; I grabbed the free shuttle and was dropped off at the sea front. My aim was to check out the old medieval quarter, the Castello, which I knew lay up a hill from the harbor, but I hadn’t anticipated such a massive steep hill with no obvious way of getting up to the top!
No worries – where the shuttle dropped me off, there were several locals selling city tours. I decided to pay 8 Euro to Sol Y Mar company to take me up to Castello in a mini bus; the driver assured me it was safe to walk alone and gave me a map of the important sites to see – the price included a return trip, but it was easy to walk down.
After the mad bustle of Barcelona, I was determined just to wander and see what found me, rather than actively seeking to do/find everything; as a consequence of this, I missed the Roman ruins, but heard later that they were closed that day!
Going off-season, in February, when many citizens were away on their holidays, I’d the city pretty much to myself, except for other ship mates, some creepy/annoying hawkers of selfie sticks/cheap trinkets, and friendly locals. The morning was cold, cloudy, with a biting wind and threat of rain.
The Piazza Palazzo, the main square in Castello, has seen better days, but the interior of the elegant 13th century Cathedral of Santa Maria, with the abundance of marble and detailed embellishments, was breath-taking. Make sure you go down into the crypt; it’s worth the climb. I lit my candle and sent up a prayer of protection for all my loved ones – those here and gone.
Not religious, but spiritual in nature, I’m always struck by the sense of history and peace in these old European churches. So much life – beginnings and endings – has been witnessed and celebrated – so much joy, pain, despair and hope experienced – you can sense ghosts/memories lingering in the air. Santa Maria doesn’t have the grandeur of St. Peter’s or the glitz of St. Mark’s – it’s simply beautiful and authentic – it doesn’t need to try, it just is…
The Castello flows down the hill in a maze of narrow streets lined by tall buildings – some with stone balconies and roof terraces – adorned with glorious old lamps – painted the colors of the sun, with some fanciful touches added by the residents; I was happy to see on-going construction – the old dame’s getting a face-lift!
I explored deserted alleys in the company of stray cats, paused to admire graffiti, more art than brainless tagging, and found a cafe that looked perfect for a later lunch, just up from a school yard, where lively children were playing. As the day wore on, the sun glimmered and teased, finally emerging from the clearing clouds, bathing the old buildings in natural key-lighting, bringing their painted facades to radiant life.
Half-way down, I spotted people climbing up the inside of a building with no back wall; it turned out to be one of the medieval watch towers – Torre dell’Elefante, built in 1306 – for 3 Euro, I got to investigate. I was reminded of the movie In Bruges – potentially treacherous for the unaware, the stairs are more of a thick ladder than an actual staircase, and not for the people with weak lungs/hearts, bad knees or those scared of heights! Common sense, people – there are no USA/UK health and safety regulations in place here – this is old Italy – proceed at your own risk! I found it easier to come down backwards like I was climbing down a ladder.
The 360 degree view from the top was spectacular; we soared above the rooftops with the bay/port far below, including the monstrous NCL Epic. What a perfect spot to look for any approaching danger; those old Pisans knew what they were doing! (There’s another tower farther up and back on the hill = Tower of San Pancrazio – if you want an even broader view across the city, but I didn’t bother with it.) At that height, with no shelter from the crisp air and penetrating wind, my fingers were soon numb, and ears burning, as I grasped my trusty Nikon 3300 camera and captured the shots below…
At that point, I met Michael and Greg, two lovely Englishmen from Birmingham; after a long chat, which showed no signs of ending, we adjourned to the cafe I’d spotted earlier. We passed a most enjoyable afternoon eating delicious food, drinking red wine, and talking, on the sheltered terrace of the Caffe delle Arti; it was one of my favorite days, so relaxing and unexpected – just taking in the world one minute at a time.
Our happy little trio left our haven with reluctance and started back for the ship. I know it was mid-afternoon/siesta time, but we were surprised to find no shops open, despite most of them advertising huge sales! We sauntered past the dramatic Bastione di Saint Remy, en route to the harbor, passing modern architectural absurdities as we crept closer to the water, before catching one of the last shuttles back to the ship.
It’s a most beautiful port to depart from at sunset; the abundant twinkling lights of the city glowed with romantic fervor while the towers, turrets and red roofs gleamed as the sun, and us, said farewell; I was at the back balcony of the spa deck, dressed in a robe with bare feet and no camera, just my eyes, as we pulled out of the busy port.
I’m happy with my tranquil off-season experience of Cagliari; I know in the summer that celebrities park their yachts off the coast and the beaches are ripe with burning bodies.
Recently, it’s become more notorious for the camp outside the city – a holding area for people rescued at sea, off the Libyan coast, to be processed. There has been trouble and the locals are not happy; they don’t appear to be real refugees fleeing death and despair in Syria, but more opportunistic economic migrants answering the ‘All is welcome’ call from Germany’s Angela Merkel. I didn’t see any of it, but the same situation is occurring all over Europe.
See this news report from April 2016: http://www.breitbart.com/london/2016/04/05/italian-vacation-island-taken-hostage-illegal-immigrants/
Official website: http://www.cagliariturismo.it/en
Caffe delle Arti is located at Via del Fossario, 1 – Cagliari = reasonable prices, great location in Castillo, secluded terrace with great views
Cathedral of Santa Maria: www.duomodicagliari.it = free admission
Medieval Watch Towers: www.beniculturalicagliari.it = 3 Euro admission
Grazie e ciao, Cagliari, Sardinia…next stop = Sicily….
To all my loyal email subscribers, thank you, I’m afraid you’ll still have to click on link to the website to see the photo gallery – sorry for the inconvenience…hope it’s worth the effort to you!!!