Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tips for the traveler to Southern Sardinia

Cagliari, Sardegna
As much as I travel and as much as I thought I knew about Italy (and myself in Italy), my latest trip to Sardegna (Sardinia) taught me quite a few things, many of which would have been helpful to know before the trip. Though each of us will have our own experiences, I thought I would share some hindsight on my trip in case it can serve as tips for yours.

1. Figure out beforehand whether you (and your travel companions) are beach people and plan your trip accordingly.

It turns out that, though I love the sun and going and staying in the water for hours, I can't do it every day. Even with the crystal blue, perfectly temperate Sardinian waters, after about 3 beach days, I was ready for some city exploring- my travel partner, a non-water goer, even more so. Southern Sardegna in August at the Ferragosto holiday was not the best region in the world to explore cities. We were often window shopping at closed stores, reading menus of closed restaurants or wandering around empty streets... The beach: that is where the people are; that is where the action is.

2. Pack adequately for the beach, including your own lunches.

Sardinian beaches, unlike most beaches in central Italy (within an hour of Rome), are not overrun with stabilmenti (i.e. more or less legal establishments that have hijacked public beaches with a pretense of renting chairs and umbrellas for your utmost convenience at the "reasonable" price of 15-35 euro). Sardinian beaches are almost all lovely public beaches. We also lucked out by having former visitors of our B&B leave behind umbrellas which we could make use of. I, however, did not bring any other beach entertainment: books, magazines, crossword puzzle, goggles, anything really. Maybe this was Ryan Air's fault with their measly 10kg rule. Or maybe it was laziness. But one comment for vegetarians, the beach bars tend to only have tomato and mozzarella panini. Go to the grocery store to add some variety to your daily lunches.

Is Arutas- the little pearl beach!

3. Get recommendations from your Sardinian friends and other travelers to Sardinia, BEFORE your trip.

I have Sardinian friends. I know a lot of people who have been to Sardinia. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to ask them tips until the second day of our vacation by means of Facebook. We still had enough time to take advantage of some of the great suggestions that we were given (Is Arutas & Teurredda beach were two!), but come on! Getting suggestions from friends is out of Traveling 101!


4. Don't stop on the side of the road to observe/photograph flamingos.

Sardegna has flamingos! In everything I heard about Sardegna, I had never heard that, and it fascinated me. I am not 100% sure why. I just never thought that any part of Italy (or the Mediterranean for that matter) had wild flamingos. They transit through Sardegna in their migration south, but some of them have stayed and you can see them in the shallow marshes by the main roads of southern Sardinia. However, we never found any observatories to properly see them so we stopped by the side of the mainroad to snap a couple pictures. The police didn't like that, and they told us as much...

Fregola ai frutti di mare
5. Try the local dishes, but if you don't love all types of fish, don't be surprised if some dishes don't appeal to you.

I am a fish-eating vegetarian (pescatarian?), but fact of the matter is that I don't like a lot of fish/seafood anyway. I should have therefore guessed that I might not like cold fish marinated in vinegar and covered with nuts (burrida)... I do like couscous though, and Sardinia's version of couscous, fregola, was super yummy. Culurgiones (pasta stuffed with pecorino, potato and mint) were also exceptionally good.

6. Don't assume that Sardegna is like mainland Italy. 

This might have been the biggest of our flawed assumptions. Sardegna in my mind was like Sicily but wilder. It wasn't like Sicily. It wasn't like Puglia. It wasn't like Calabria. It wasn't like any one place we could think of. At varying moments throughout the trip, we compared it to Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo (DR), Novi Sad (Serbia), Romania, Spain (this one kind of made sense with the Spanish occupation) and a variety of other places. Sardegna had its own flag hanging prominently on buildings, car windows and tourist paraphernalia. It has its own beer (Ichnusa- yummy!), even its own potato chips. Sardegna is an autonomous region of Italy. And I think autonomous is the part that is emphasized. Certainly, Sardegna is like no other.

7. Last tip: Definitely rent a car, and enjoy!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Screw you, I'm growing basil

I bought seeds, dirt and pots and planted basil, oregano, mint, rosemary and tomatoes in two sun boxes on my small balcony. There's nothing to it really. Just pouring some seeds out of a little pouch, into an average amount of dirt, patting it down and adding some water. Pre-fabricated cake mixes are more difficult. But I stood back and looked at them with immense pride, like I had just built a house.

A second later, looking at those dirt-filled boxes, it dawned on me how strange that was. Why? Why was this significant? Why, I wondered was I even compelled to write about it.

The answer is because in its small way, it is a significant moment in my life. I have lived in Rome on and off for the last 12 years, for a cumulative total of about 6. In that time, I have lived in 11 different apartments in pretty much all of the major neighborhoods of central Rome. And in those 12 years between the ages of 21 and 33, this is the first time here that I have my own sun boxes. This is the first time that I have my own curtains, my own cushions, my own rugs, picture frames, tablecloths. This is the first time in essence that I have allowed myself to buy non-essentials.

Every time that I have lived in Rome, I have lived like a tourist. Not only in the good way of keeping the awe and the intrigue in day-to-day life, but in the bad way of staying transient. Of feeling here but not here. This is the first time that I am putting down roots.

It is not that I have a longer contract or that I have even decided to make Rome my home. In fact, now more than ever, it is clear that Rome will likely never be my permanent home. But there is a part of me that can’t wait any longer. I am tired of waiting to know whether Rome will be home or not. I am tired of waiting to see how long I will live here based on work available. I am tired of waiting to see what relationships might forever bind me to this city or take me away from it.

I hadn’t realized this before: that I was waiting. I thought I was being pragmatic. I thought I was being realistic about short contracts, family ties in other places, fleeting friendships and long distance relationships. How could I be blind to these major facts and claim Rome as my home? So I was waiting. I was waiting to know. And in the meantime, 11 years have gone by with many big and small decisions in the wrinkles. And Rome, during that time, has been my home only by default.

It is only now striking me how one of life’s truths was staring at me in the face: you can’t wait for things to happen. Rome had been home without my choosing. It had happened in spite of my waiting to declare it.

So now I am choosing to make Rome my home. Honestly, I haven't had a home for so long that I don't really know what that means. But I know that one thing it means is that I am planting my own herbs.

Five months from now, my contact will end, and I will leave Rome, maybe even for good this time. But if I leave, I leave; that is what yard sales and shipping services are for. Now is now.

The essential status of my life may not have changed much in the last 12 years in terms of career, love life, family or property, but to me this is a big change. So while seemingly everyone around me is making what looks like much major life decisions, engagements, marriages, pregnancies, buying property, taking up permanent positions, I am on my own path. And on my path, this was a major milestone. So whenever I feel like the world is mocking my little steps forward, I have to just remember: “Screw you: I’m growing basil.”


Related Posts with Thumbnails