Home again

We arrived back from our European trip on Wednesday 25 July.  We could not believe how hot and dry the weather was – unusual for England!  Our plan was to stay home for the school summer holidays, so Charlie and Oscar could stay when Claire was on a work trip.

Family time

The boys arrived on Saturday 28th.  That evening, they went to a wedding party with Claire and Ant; the next day Claire was off on a trip, and the boys stayed with us for four days.

While they were here, we went swimming, which they love, and to the adventure playground at the Rye.  We also went to a large DIY store, to choose wallpaper and paint for the spare bedroom, which the boys use when they are with us.

On Tuesday the four of us went to visit Andrew and his family at Faversham.  Ellie was at work, but in the afternoon the rest of us went to Whitstable, where we played Frisbee on the cliffs, had ice creams in the castle grounds and drinks in the town centre.  When Ellie came home we all went to a local pub for dinner, then it was time for the journey back to Wycombe.

On our own

When Claire did her next trip, Ant took Charlie, Oscar and Logan camping.  This gave us some time on our own, which was a great opportunity to get the decorating done. We cleared the room, and Sandie washed down the walls, then Ian did the painting and wallpapering.  After that we had new carpet fitted, and beds delivered.  All ready for the next visit!

During this time, we made a start on the evaluation we are doing for the Sutton Trust. As we’ve been busy indoors most of the time, we’ve not walked as much as usual, and we haven’t taken nearly as many photos – so this will be a short and not very exciting blog! But we have enjoyed meals with friends (at our home or theirs) and we managed to do a couple of pub walks while the weather was warm and sunny.  On Friday 3rd August we walked down to the Thames at Bourne End, stopping for a drink at Flackwell Heath on the way.  After another drink at the Bounty, we walked along the river to Cookham, and had dinner at the Ferry there.  We got the bus home from Bourne End.  Next day we went to the Crown at Hazlemere – not nearly so far, but we did walk both ways!

By this weekend, the weather had changed.  It was cool and cloudy, with occasional rain – a typical English summer! On Friday it rained, but the evening was dry, so we walked with Caroline through the woods to Penn.  Our aim was the Crown, but we were informed that they could not accommodate us due to a big party, so we ended up at the Old Queen’s Head, where we had a lovely, unusual meal.

On Saturday evening, heavy rain prevented us going far, so we walked to Chutney, our favourite Indian restaurant – indeed, our favourite restaurant of any kind – in Wycombe.  Great food and friendly service – what more can you want?

Fortunately, it was fine earlier on Saturday, when the local Lib Dems had a stall by the parish church and invited passers-by to indicate on a ‘Brexitometer’ how they felt the Brexit negotiations were going.  This was part of their ‘exit from Brexit’ campaign, which we fully support.  New evidence is emerging daily on what a disastrous impact Brexit will have – indeed, is already having – on the country, and we feel strongly that there should be a ‘people’s vote’ when the exact terms of the deal (if any) are known, and the likely consequences made clear.

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Heidelberg and the Netherlands

Our European trek was coming to an end, but when we left Strasbourg on 19th July we had three more stops to make: one in Germany and two in the Netherlands.

Heidelberg

Heidelberg had not quite made it onto our bucket list, but Sandie had long wanted to go there, so on discovering that it was really not that far from Strasbourg we decided it made sense to fit it in.  We spent a pleasant day there.

We did a walk through the old town, and followed the Philosopher’s Walk, high above the opposite bank of the River Neckar, which gave great views back to the town.

We did a river trip on a solar-powered boat, and were served drinks as we glided quietly along.

Probably the highlight was our visit to the castle, which we reached by funicular.  Although it is ruined, large parts of the castle are still standing, and the towering façade with rows of blank windows and carved figure was particularly impressive.

Zaandam

We were pleased – and surprised – to learn that there was a direct bus from Heidelburg to Amsterdam.  It was amazingly cheap, too. The journey took eight hours, but we quite enjoyed it, and had a great view sitting upstairs, at the front, on a double decker bus. The bus terminal was at Amsterdam Sloterdijk, just one stop on the train from Zaandam, where we were going to stay for the next two nights.

Zaandam was the first place on our long trip that was not new to us. Ian was born there, and we stayed (in the same hotel) in 2015, at the beginning of our journey following in his father’s footsteps.  On this occasion, the main purpose of our visit was to meet up with Ian’s cousin Yolanda and her husband Ad.  They collected us from the hotel and took us to their home, where we sat in the garden, drinking coffee, eating a delicious strawberry tart, and talking.  We decided that Ian and Yolanda last met as children, so there was a lot to catch up on!  The house is right on a canal, and after lunch they took us out in their flat-bottomed boat.  We saw some windmills, and at one the miller kindly invited us in, to look round.

Later we walked to see another windmill, not far from our hotel, which Ian remembered being taken by his father to visit.  And in the evening we met Yolanda and Ad again, for dinner in the restaurant of a hotel where Pa used to stay.  A real nostalgia day!

The Hague, via Amsterdam

The final stop on our itinerary was The Hague, but we had to go via Amsterdam, and it seemed a shame not to take the opportunity of spending time in the city. We enjoyed strolling round the canals, and up to the Vondel Park.  We called in at the NIOD, to thank them for the help they’d given us three years ago, and tell them that our book was now published.

Then it was on to The Hague, a city we had not visited before.  In this case, the aim was to meet up with Renée Wachtel-Bech, who helped us so much with research and translating documents for the book.  We’d been in frequent email contact over the past three years, and were looking forward to finally meeting her in person.  She came over soon after we arrived; we had drinks and dinner together, then she took us for a stroll.  We saw some sand sculptures, which we did not expect to find in the city!

Next day we met up again, and this time we were off (by bus) to Noordwijk, further up the coast. We went there in August 2015, hoping to visit the new Engelandvaaders Museum which we’d read about. But after tracking it down, we discovered it did not open until September!  So we were keen to see it this time, as was Renée, as her late husband and his brother were companions of Ian’s father after he crossed the Pyrenees into Spain.   The museum is small but the material is very well presented.  It was interesting to read about the wartime context, and the hundreds of brave Dutch men and women who attempted to escape by sea or land to join the Allied forces.  There is a database of individuals, and you can search for their stories.  We found Pa, and Theo Wachtel, even if some of the details were not quite correct.

After lunch at a café on Noordwijk beach, we returned to The Hague. Renée lives on the coast, and after drinks at her house we walked along the beach to Kijkduin.

Later we went to Scheveningen, and strolled along the pier watching (would you believe?) the bungee jumpers.  After dinner, and a tram back to the city, we went our separate ways, glad to have met up at last.

Next morning (Wednesday 25th) we did some more sightseeing and went to a permanent exhibition called ‘Escher in het Paleis’.   Ian is an Escher fan, and the setting meant that we got to see the former winter palace as well.  Interestingly, several Escher drawings were of places in Corsica, which we recognised.  It made an appropriate ending to a trip that began there!

In the afternoon we took the train to Schiphol, and flew to Heathrow.  Seven and a half weeks of travelling through Europe had come to an end.

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Alsace: castles and yet more castles

As we drove north through Alsace, the scenery changed.  Towns and villages were fewer and further between.  Although there were still many half-timbered houses, they were less colourful than those in the south. But there were many more castles….

Sunday July 15.  During the night there was a heavy thunderstorm. We’d had four days of sunshine in Alsace, and thought maybe our luck had run out.  But when we woke, the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and there was no sign of the rain.  This was another important day for France!  Even if we’d forgotten, we would have been reminded by the hair ribbons and face paint of the waitress who delivered our breakfast.

It was an eventful day for us too.  Our first stop was Haut-Koeningsbourg, a medieval castle that was destroyed and rebuilt in the early 20th century: it was impressive and picturesque.

But our next stop, Mont Sainte-Odile, was disappointing. It is a pilgrimage centre, with three chapels built on a rock.  It looked good in the guidebook photo, but you could only get that shot from a distance.  Two of the chapels had mosaics which were modern, but looked Byzantine.  The gardens were beautiful and the views were good.

We’d discovered that there was a World War 2 concentration camp nearby – we hadn’t realised there was one in France, although Alsace at the time was part of Germany. While we were on our way the rain came down, and when we parked there was thunder and lightning (frighteningly close), plus huge hailstones.  We sat in the car for 35 mins – we could not face getting out, or driving on.  Finally the rain eased a bit, and we made a run for it.  We saw the introductory film about Le Struthof, and did a very quick tour of the site.

Then it was on to Saverne.  The journey took longer than we had expected.  We’d booked an apartment for two nights, and the owner had asked us to arrive early, as he wanted to watch the World Cup final.  We reached the town soon after 4, but had problems finding the place. We abandoned the car and searched on foot.  When we found the apartment, there was no sign of life.  We phoned the owner, who said he was on holiday; his father would come to let us in – perhaps after the match?  But we did not want to wait outside for two hours, especially as it looked like more rain.

We protested, and soon after the father arrived. We then had to go and find the car, which was a challenge.  We went out again at 6.50, just as huge cheers went up – France had won!  Crowds of people had watched the match on a giant screen in the main square.  We had drinks in a small bar, where we watched men replacing the window, which had been removed to make way for a large TV.  Then we went in search of something to eat.  This was not an easy task, as most places were closed, but finally we found a place which rejoiced in the name of ‘Funny Burger’.  It was a kind of fast food joint, but being French the food was decent quality, and accompanied by plenty of wine.  While eating we saw (and heard) people driving by, hooting and waving large flags.

 

Monday 16: Saverne itself is a working town, rather than a tourist town, although there are a few interesting things to see.  But we spent most of the day up in the hills above the town, in order to visit Haut Barr, a ruined castle. The walk there was pleasant, and quite easy. Although ruined, the castle was more extensive than we had imagined, and very picturesque.

Then we did the short walk to another chateau, Geroldseck, more ruined but still a fair bit to see. And finally we visited the ‘ancient telegraph tower’.  The enthusiastic guy there talked us through the development of the system, and explained how it worked.  It was quite interesting to learn about what was the latest communications technology in 1794!

On our return to Saverne we looked round the town, including some old cloisters, the town hall and an impressive synagogue with an onion dome.

Tuesday 17: En route from Saverne to Wissenbourg, we visited three castles.  The first was Lichtenberg, which we found disappointing – the modern additions spoiled the overall look.

In our guidebook, there was a section on ‘The chateaux of the North Vosges’, which described four castles.  We were not sure whether they were linked, close together (joined by a walking route?) or far apart.  We learned that there are many red sandstone castles scattered throughout the North Vosges (our four were just a sample) but they are not always easy to find.

We went first to Wasenbourg, and discovered there was a 50-minute walk to the castle ruins.  But the walk was pleasant, and the ruins were picturesque, well worth seeing.

After that we had time for one more castle, and decided to head for Windstein, as we’d already seen signs to it.  But en route there was a diversion, and we ended up driving miles, with no idea where we were. Rather than completing a very large circuit to get back to Windstein, we decided it would be easier to go to Wasigenstein instead.  In this case it was a fairly short walk to the castle ruins.  Again, very picturesque, and more extensive than we had expected.

We drove on to Wissembourg, where we stayed overnight.

Wednesday 18: We first explored Wissembourg, by following the river around the ramparts, and then walking through the old town.

Then we drove to Strasbourg, and checked into the hotel where we’d stayed last week. Ian returned the car to the airport, while Sandie did some washing at a nearby laundrette.  Later we explored the Petite France area of the city. After dark we went to see the cathedral and other places lit up.  We watched a sound & light show from the Covered Bridges.  We didn’t have a clue what it was about (not because of the language – there wasn’t any) but it was quite entertaining.

Thursday 19: This morning’s sightseeing focused on the cathedral.  We admired the stained glass, the Pillar of Angels, the ornate organ loft and (especially) the Astronomical Clock, though sadly this was encased in scaffolding, making photography difficult. We climbed more than 300 steps to enjoy great views of the city from the ‘platform’ just below the tower.

And we returned to the cathedral (ticket-only entry) to see a film about the clock, followed by a brief demonstration of two of its features.

This afternoon we did a 75-minute boat trip around the city. We saw Petite France, and other places we’d already visited, from a different angle. And we saw some areas we’d not managed to see on foot, including the European area, where there are several important buildings such as the Parliament and the Court of Human Rights. Very impressive – but sad to think that the UK will not be represented in the European Parliament for much longer.

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Alsace: colourful houses and storks’ nests

For many years, we’ve wanted to visit the Alsace region of France.  Twice, before we retired, we took our car on the Channel ferry and drove east, heading for Alsace.  But on both occasions the weather deteriorated and we turned south in search of some sun.  This time, however, we were flying from Sardinia to Strasbourg; we had hotels and a car booked, so there was no going back.  We were going to tour Alsace, come rain or shine!

Wednesday July 11.  After a night’s sleep in a Strasbourg hotel, we took the train back to the airport, collected a hire car and drove to Colmar, the biggest town (apart from Strasbourg) in Alsace.  On the way into the town, we passed a roundabout with a large Statue of Liberty, which confused us.  Had we come to the wrong city by mistake?  Later we discovered that the man who sculpted the Statue of Liberty came from Colmar, and they are very proud of the fact.

We started a walk round the city, following our (ancient) guidebook.  It is so picturesque, with many variously coloured half-timbered houses, some with fascinating sculpted faces.  (The ‘Maison des têtes’ has over 100 different faces, but faces can be found on several other buildings.)  We went in the Dominican Church, where they have a famous painting, the Virgin and the Rosebush. Later we did a short river trip, though we’d already seen most of the buildings on foot.

Thursday 12: We drove to Eguisheim – not far away.  We decided the village is even more picturesque then Colmar, partly perhaps because the streets are much narrower, and so the colourful houses (some apparently leaning) are close together. There are flowers everywhere, several fountains and lots of storks’ nests!   But the village is small – we’d soon seen all there was to see.

We went to a couple of wine tastings, and then drove to the ‘three [ruined] castles’ above the village.  There was a sign to another castle, Chateau de Hagueneck, one hour’s walk away, along an easy, shaded path through the woods.  But owing to misleading (or non-existent) signs, we never found it.  Instead we drove round to the Chateau of Hohlandsbourg, which had lots of children’s activities going on, but not much for us old folk to do, except walk round the walls.

We returned to Colmar and had dinner by the river.

Friday 13: Before leaving Colmar, we visited the Unterlinden Museum.  It was well worth seeing the Issenheim altarpiece, but there was another one that Sandie liked even more.

Then we were off to Keyserberg, another beautiful town, with colourful half-timbered houses, lots of flowers, fountains and storks’ nests.  We walked up to the castle, and were able to climb up the stairs inside; we had great views from the top, not just of the town, but also of the vineyards stretching for miles around.

Next stop was Riquewihr (not far away), where we had arranged to stop for two nights.  We did a walk round the town, which was packed with tourists.

One thing we’d forgotten when planning our trip was that we’d be in France on Bastille Day.  And we didn’t realise that the main celebrations take place the evening before July 14.  Around 9.45 we heard a marching band, so went out to investigate. There were actually two bands, followed by people of all ages, some carrying lanterns or flaming torches.  We joined in (we’ve celebrated July 4, so why not July 14?)  We ended up in the Town Hall Square, where there were lots more people, and stalls selling drinks.  A band continued to play, then there was canned music and some people danced.  We drank ‘cremant d’Alsace’, which we now know is a kind of sparkling wine.  At 11 there were fireworks though they didn’t last long.

Saturday 14: A rather different day.  We’d found a ‘Sentier Viticole des Grands Crus’, a 17km walk around vineyards in the Riquewihr area.

It took us through five smaller villages, as well as past hundreds of vines. First village was Hunawihr, with its fortified church and cemetery – unusual to have walls with arrow slits round a church!

Next was Zellenberg, a small village, but we found an old-fashioned hotel where we were able to get coffee (with gingerbread and biscuits).   A lot of places were closed, but on leaving Zellenberg we found a winery that was open for tasting and sales, and gave in to the temptation.  We tried three wines, but bought only one bottle, as we had to carry it in our rucksack.  Next village was Beblenheim, a ‘centre for winemaking’ (as are all these villages!) with an example of the sandstone fountains you often see there.

The final two villages (Mittelwihr and Bennwihr) were completely different.  Unlike the other villages, which miraculously escaped damage in the second world war, they were completely destroyed, and had to be rebuilt in more modern style – not half-timbered, but still colourful.  In Mittelwihr, a previously shared church was replaced by two churches, in proportion to the inhabitants’ faith: hence there is a small Catholic chapel next to a much larger Protestant church.  They were both closed, but in Bennwihr we were able to go inside the new church and admire the modern stained class.  There was a classic car rally going on, and the cars were parked outside a large bar where we were thankfully able to get drinks.  There were lots of people – a complete contrast from the other quiet villages we’d passed through.

We returned to Riquewihr after our walking tour, and had dinner in the main street.

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Sardinia – west

Our first base in western Sardinia (as opposed to the south-west) was Oristano.  There were a few points of interest, and one beautiful square, but we did not find he city as a whole particularly attractive.

The Sinis Peninsula

From Oristano we explored the Sinis ‘peninsula’, which is not really a peninsula at all, more a bulge on the west coast.  The major stop was Tharros.  In addition to wandering round the Roman ruins (similar to Nora, but here we did not have to do a guided tour) we climbed the tower, walked to the lighthouse and visited one of the oldest churches in Sardinia.

Next stop was the beach of Is Aruttas.  This is white quartz, like the beaches near Sarasota, but it is not fine sand, more like fine shingle.  On to S’Archittu, so called because there is a natural arch beyond the end of the beach.  We were surprised to find it is a picturesque resort, with a beautifully paved ‘prom’, which goes all the way to the arch.  We enjoyed our brief visit, and wish we could have stayed there overnight, instead of going back to Oristano.

North to Bosa

After leaving Oristano, we visited the small museum at nearby Cabras. They have some finds from Tharros, but the main attraction is the ‘Giants of Monte Prama’, sandstone statues dating back to the 8th or 9th century BC.

Next stop was Santa Cristina, where there is an old Christian church and village, a nuraghic village beautifully set among olive groves, and a sacred well. (Nuraghic refers to the prehistoric inhabitants of Sardinia, and the places they built throughout the island.)  Ian was particularly interested in the sacred well, having read that the full moon shines in every 18 years, one month and two days.

Soon afterwards, we saw a sign to another nuraghic site, Nuraghe Losa, and decided we might as well visit that too.  There was a very impressive keep with three towers; we were surprised to find that you were allowed to climb it.

We arrived in Bosa early, so had time to visit the castle; there is a small church with frescoes inside the walls, and magnificent views over the town.  After checking in, we crossed the river and got great views of the colourful houses in the evening sun.

The Valle dei Nuraghi

Next morning we got some more good views of the coast at Bosa, then headed off to Alghero, our next destination.  The distance is not far, but we did not go directly: our plan was to drive through the ‘Valle dei Nuraghi’, where there are lots of prehistoric sites.  Our guidebook mentioned three in particular, which we wanted to visit.  Unfortunately they are scattered among the mountains, and not always easy to find.  After driving through slow and difficult roads, we gave up with one of them.

By contrast, the Nuraghe Santu Antine was easy to find.  The tower was similar to the one we’d visited the previous day, but more complex and even more impressive.

The other place we really wanted to see was the Dolmen Sa Coveccada; the directions in the guidebook were explicit, but we failed on our first attempt to find it. Then we spotted a sign, and on the second attempt we found the right turning, but the road from there was AWFUL, with enormous potholes which could not be avoided as the road was so narrow.  We began to wonder if our hire car would survive, and if we would end up in one piece. Finally a turning brought us to a gate where we had to abandon the car and walk.  And after all that the dolmen was a big disappointment – difficult to see with all the scaffolding around it.  The dolmen is said to be the largest in the Mediterranean, but to us it did not seem as big as the one we saw on Corsica, and certainly not as impressive.

Alghero and around

We spent three nights in Alghero – the only place we’d stayed that long since Bastia at the very beginning of our trip.  Alghero is a beautiful medieval city which has become a popular seaside resort. It is pleasant to walk around the city’s sea walls, but there is little to see in the centre, except churches.  The cathedral was dismal, and the linked campanile was closed for cleaning (!!!).  However, the church of San Francesco was interesting, and their campanile was open. It gave us great views over the city, but was the first tower we’ve climbed where you were obliged to wear hard hats!

From Alghero we did a day trip covering several other places we wanted to see.  The main highlight of the area is the Grotto di Nettuno, which has a great collection of stalagmites and stalactites.   However, the cave can only be reached by sea, or by climbing down 654 steps from the hilltop.  We decided on the latter; going down was easy, and coming back up was not as bad as we’d feared.

While in the area we decided to visit the Le Prigionette Nature Reserve.  We opted for a short walk through the forest, which we thought would be easy.  And to begin with, it was.  But then it went steeply uphill, and was quite tough going.  We continued as we were looking forward to the viewpoint at the end.  But when we thought we were almost there, returning walkers told us we still had 30 minutes to go – so we gave up, and contented ourselves with the views we got on the way.

Albino donkeys in the nature reserve

Heading north, we stopped briefly at Argentiera, once the most important silver mine in Sardinia, and now virtually a ghost town – except for the sun worshippers on the beach below the ruins.

After another brief stop at Stintino, we reached La Pelosa beach. With beautiful white sand and turquoise seas, La Pelosa is not surprisingly very popular, but we managed to find ourselves a small space among the crowds.

Farewell to Sardinia

On Tuesday 10th July, we had to drive from Alghero to Olbia Airport, but our flight was not until 9.50pm, so we had plenty of time for sightseeing on the way.  First stop was the Necropolis of Anghelu Ruju: 38 tombs carved in sandstone rock.  You could climb down into some but the gaps between chambers were mostly too small to crawl through.

We tried unsuccessfully to find Monte d’Accoddi, so went into Sassari and asked at the tourist office there. Sassari, Sardinia’s second city, does not get a good write-up, but we found parts of it interesting and attractive.

After that, we managed to find Monte d’Accoddi, though it was not shown in the right place on the tourist office map. It is a unique archaeological site, centred on a third millennium BC temple, and unlike anything else in the Mediterranean.

We stopped for drinks in Castelsardo, and admired the amazing view: colourful houses on a hill, topped by a castle.  Just outside the town we stopped at the ‘Elephant Rock’, which is right by the road, and really does look like an elephant!  There is a Neolithic tomb inside: Sandie managed to climb in, and took photos of the bull’s horns carvings.

By then it was 5pm, and we thought we still had plenty of time to get to Olbia. Unfortunately, just past the Elephant the road was closed due to falling rocks.  We had to do a lengthy detour, which took us through Tergu, so we stopped briefly to take photos of the unusual church there (built of red trachyte and white limestone).

After that we expected to get a decent road, but it continued winding through the mountains, almost all the way to Olbia. Still we reached the airport at exactly 7.30: perfect timing for dinner before our flight to Strasbourg.

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Sardinia – south

We hit the south coast of Sardinia at Vilasimius, a popular resort town.  Unfortunately, the tourist office was closed from 1 to 5pm, so we were unable to obtain the map we needed in order to explore the area.  We drove down to Capo Carbonara, but wasted time driving round in circles to find a way to the lighthouse. There are several beaches in coves, but we’d had enough of those the previous day!  Eventually, a map given by a kind French couple solved some of our problems, and we did get some good views of the coast.

We headed on towards Cagliari, but stopped overnight at a Bed & Breakfast run by a British/Austrian couple.  This was not the sort of place we normally choose – we prefer to be in the centre of town, and this was ‘out in the wilds’.  But it was in a setting with spectacular views, and high recommendations on booking.com, so we decided to make an exception.  The views were certainly wonderful, and our friendly hosts drove us to a restaurant nearby which made being out of town less of a problem!

Cagliari

Cagliari (the major city on the south coast) was definitely not the highlight of our trip!    Despite detailed directions, and advice from our previous hosts, finding our accommodation was a struggle.  We’d arranged to spend three nights in Cagliari, to give us time to explore the city, and do a side trip to the ruins of Nora, not far away.  However, we made some mistakes when choosing where to stay, and discovered it was not at all what we expected: the bathroom, although private, was not en suite, and the rooms were some distance from the city centre. Worst of all, there was no wifi!!!!! The owners spoke no English at all, and our very basic Italian failed us, so communication was impossible.  They tried to give us separate rooms, having apparently decided that we were not married!

We found that (contrary to what we’d been told) it was possible to walk to the old city, and there was also a cheap and convenient bus.  But the city is on different levels, so it can be difficult to find your way around.  Worse, there was a lot of rebuilding going on, so lifts were not functioning and the grand staircase up to the Citadel was closed off.  Some of the sights we might have visited were wholly or partially closed too.  It is common to find Italian places ‘in restauro’, but here it seemed to be true of the whole city!

After our first night in Cagliari, Ian woke with an attack of diarrhoea, and had to take it easy before venturing out.  We visited the public art gallery as well as the Archaeological Museum (both free on the first Sunday of the month).  Then we detoured the Crypt of Santa Restituta, a natural cave which has had many different uses over the centuries.  After watching a wedding party emerge at the church of Sant’ Anna, we had drinks and then headed up to the amphitheatre.  After that, Ian went back to our room, as he needed some rest.  Sandie visited the Botanical Gardens, the ruins of Tigellio’s (Roman) villa, and some other churches, as well as having another look in the cathedral.

Nora and the south-west

By the end of Sunday, we’d seen all that we wanted to see of Cagliari, which we did not find a very inspiring place.  And we’d certainly had enough of our gloomy and rather creepy accommodation.  So we left a day early; we decided that after visiting Nora it made sense to press on, rather than returning to Cagliari. We felt somewhat guilty, though, when our hosts kissed us on both cheeks and presented us with souvenirs of Sardinia!

Nora itself (a Roman city built on top of a Punic one) is in a beautiful setting on the edge of the sea.  We had to do a guided tour of the ruins, plus the 17th century tower.  The Italian explanations were followed by a rough English translation, but we felt we’d heard a lot of it before, and would have preferred wandering round on our own.

On our way to our next accommodation in Buggerru we stopped at Iglesias, a town with lots of churches and a one-time Spanish colony (hence the name).

Our only problem was the difficulty in getting out of it – we drove round in circles before finding the right road.  Buggerru was a one-time mining centre, now reinventing itself as a holiday destination.  We’d chosen to stay there because we’d read about the beautiful beaches in the area, as well as the evidence of its mining past.

We’d understood that you could do a long beach walk from Buggurru to Portixeddu, but in fact you had to drive over the hill to San Nicolo Beach first, so the walk was not that long.

Afterwards we sat on loungers and read our books.  The waves were very strong, and the red flags were up to stop people going in the sea.  In the afternoon we set off to walk along the cliffs to Cala Domestica, but only got part of the way, as the path came to a dead end.  We did however see the ruins of a mining village, and got good views of the cliffs and the town.

Next morning, we drove round to Cala Domestica, a sheltered bay. The sea there was remarkably calm, a complete contrast with San Nicolo/Portixeddu. We got there early, so there were not many people around, but soon the hordes started arriving – it’s obviously a very popular beach!  We spent an hour or so there, and then detoured to see the impressive Roman temple of Antas, before heading north.

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Sardinia – north and east

We’d travelled through Corsica from Bastia in the north to Bonifacio in the south. On Friday 22nd June we said farewell to the island and took the ferry crossing to Sardinia.  It took only 50 minutes – the islands are that close, although they belong to different countries.  Time to forget the French we’d been practising and try to remember our very basic Italian!

Santa Teresa

The ferry lands at Santa Teresa, a town which was very different from our expectations. We’d got the impression that it was a small place, and our main reason for spending a day there was because we’d read about a walk to a lighthouse, which sounded interesting.  In fact, the town was a bustling seaside resort, with a beach, a castle and lots of bars and restaurants. The ‘walk to the lighthouse’ was not as we imagined either. There was a footpath to Capo Testa, but some of the walking had to be on roads. And once on the cape, there was a selection of short walks.  One went to the lighthouse, but the most interesting was to the Valle de la Luna, where there are rock formations in incredible profusion.

Costa Smeralda

Next day we took the bus to Olbia Airport, where we picked up a hire car. We understood that public transport was not good on Sardinia, so it was best to have a car for our circuit of the island.  First we explored the Costa Smeralda, but were rather disappointed.  This is apparently where the rich and famous come to play, but we are not entirely sure why.  Some of the beaches (tucked away in small bays) are attractive, being framed by pinkish-coloured rocks, but ‘drop-dead gorgeous’ is we feel an exaggeration.  Maybe we’ve been spoilt by Florida!

We stayed overnight in Porto Rotondo, which we did not particularly like, and the next day paid a brief visit to Porto Cervo, which we liked even less. We stayed two nights in Palau, so that we could take the ferry across to La Maddalena on the intervening day.

We visited two of the islands in the archipelago: La Maddalena itself and Caprera, which is joined to the main island by a causeway.  Again, some scenic (but very crowded) beaches; little else to get excited about.

Before leaving Palau we detoured to Capo Orso, where there is a big rock in the shape of a bear. You have to pay to park, and to climb the path leading to the Bear.  But it was worth it.  The rocks (not just the Bear) were amazing, and the views were great.

The Gulf of Orosei

The Gulf of Orosei (further down the east coast) has some stunning beaches along the north of the gulf, but they are quite different from those on the Costa Smeralda: long stretches of sand, backed by pine trees and framed by mountains, as opposed to small rocky coves.  The town of Orosei is attractive too, with more than its fair share of picturesque churches.  It was spoilt only by the traffic thundering through the narrow streets – much better after dark, when streets were pedestrianised, stalls were put out, and the place acquired a magical atmosphere.

On leaving Orosei we went inland from the Gulf and walked to Tiscali, the remains of a neolithic settlement.   We’d heard that the 2-hour hike was difficult, so we were not sure we’d cope, but it was easier than we’d imagined.  The scenery was wonderful, reminiscent of Zion National Park, and Tiscali itself – built within a huge collapsed cave – had echoes of Mesa Verde.  (If you’re beginning to think we’re obsessed with American national parks, you’re probably right.)  Tiscali is high on a hill, but impossible to see from even a short distance away.  And trekking through the mountains is the only means of access. To get to the starting point, you have to drive 12km down a very narrow winding road, which was quite scary – worse than the walk!

Our next stop was Cala Gonone, a bit further down the Gulf of Orosei. The coast to the south is unreachable except by boat, and a cruise is recommended as a highlight of a trip to Sardinia.  From Cala Gonone boats of every shape and size make the trip. We were greatly relieved to discover that we’d come at the right time – boat trips for the previous two days had been cancelled, due to rough seas (seems to be a frequent theme of this year’s travels).  On our day in Cala Gonone the boats were out again, which mean that an awful lot of people wanted to go. Many tours were sold out, but we managed to get tickets for a ‘mini-cruise’ on the ‘big boat’ which sails along the coast.

The scenery was more or less as we expected: steep limestone cliffs plunging into the sea, and riddled with caves.  We visited the one large cave where you can do guided tours (but not take photos).  We made three stops at different beaches.  These were picturesque coves, as anticipated, but the beaches were mainly stone or shingle rather than sand, making it not so comfortable to sit or walk. And they were so crowded – Brighton beach on Bank Holiday Monday would seem deserted by comparison.

Heading south

After leaving Cala Gonone, we headed south down the west coast (more or less).  The first part of our journey took us through the Supramonte mountains: a slow trip along winding roads, but giving us the opportunity to enjoy some beautiful scenery.  We stopped for coffee at Arbatax, an unexciting little port, but (following a hint in our guidebook) we got to see some very impressive red and grey rocks on the edge of the sea.  After that the road became much easier and faster, so it did not take us long to reach the south coast.

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