Tag Archives: Sardinia

Travel Review of the Year – 2015

Warsaw Old Town and Royal castle

We went to Warsaw in February, it was cold, very cold.  I liked it a lot but not as much I have to say as the other Polish cities that we have visited of Krakow and Wroclaw.  Warsaw was good but it doesn’t have the historical swagger or confidence of Krakow or the quirky charm of the more manageable Wroclaw because Warsaw is a modern European capital with the raw edge and the buzz of a major city.  Whilst I might consider returning to Krakow and Wroclaw, once in Warsaw I think is probably enough.

Valletta Postcard

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days! I have heard it said that you either love Malta or you hate it, there are no half measures, there is no sitting on the fence and luckily at the end of the visit Kim was inclined to agree with me.

Ireland Dingle

In 2014 we visited Southern Ireland, Eire, The Republic and had such a wonderful time that we planned an immediate return to the Island for the following year.  Not to the South though on this occasion however but to that part of Ireland that still remains part of the United Kingdom – Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Not so long ago most people would no more of thought about visiting Northern Ireland than North Korea, it wouldn’t have crossed their minds to go to Ulster any more than go to Uganda and Belfast would be in a travellers wish list that included Beirut and Baghdad.  Now things are changing and Northern Ireland is reinventing itself as a tourist destination.

We enjoyed it there, the City of Belfast, the Titanic Exhibition, a drive along the scenic Antrim Coast, the Giant’s Causeway and a final night in Londonderry – a place to return to if ever there was one.

Edinburgh Scotland

After a Summer spent in England we travelled in August to neighbouring Scotland.    I am sure that I have been to the castle before, I visited Edinburgh in 1972 and 1984 but I couldn’t remember it at all.  This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience. This is another benefit of getting older, you forget things so even if you do them again they are like a whole new experience.

I liked Edinburgh, it was a wee bit expensive but when I have forgotten the details of this visit I am certain to go back again one day.

Lake Bala Wales

Earlier in the year I had made plans to go on holiday with my daughter and grandchildren and my son and we had chosen a holiday cottage near Boulogne in Northern France.  I like it there.  As the Summer approached there were more and more delays crossing the channel as a consequence of striking French ferry workers and large numbers of migrants attempting to cross from France to the UK.  I love my grandchildren very much but the prospect of being stuck in a traffic jam for up to twenty-four hours with them was just to awful to contemplate so when the critical moment came to make the final payment I cancelled and transferred the holiday to a cottage in mid Wales.

I enjoyed Lake Bala and Wales, it was a simple holiday, the sort that I remember from my own childhood and from taking my own children away when they were young.  I am convinced that youngsters don’t need water parks and amusement arcades when there is a wide open beach and the sea, the countryside, a stream to fish in a thrilling steam engine ride.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she has decided that we are going to live there!

Dinan Brittany France

But we were not to be denied a visit to Northern France because in August I spotted some reasonably priced return air fares at only £49 each to the Brittany resort of Dinard.  We snapped them up almost without thinking and then invited our friends Sue and Christine to join us and they immediately agreed.

I liked Brittany, I liked it a lot mostly because I have always resisted having a bucket list because I couldn’t get one big enough but I am thankful to fellow bloggers Victor (Victor Travel Blog) and Wilbur(Wilbur’s Travels) for reminding me that if I did have one then Mont St Michel would be somewhere near the top.

Kim enjoyed it so much that she immediately abandoned her Wales plans and has decided that we are going to live there!

Castelsardo

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Our flight was to the city of Olbia in the North-East of the island so we planned an itinerary that would take us along the length of the north coast and then to the city of Alghero on the west coast and finally a return journey to Olbia across the northern countryside.

This was our final journey of 2015 and now we begin to make our plans for 2016.

Happy Travels Everyone!

Did you have a good year or have any big plans for 2016?

Postcards of 2015

Warsaw

February 2015 – Warsaw

I had never really thought seriously about going to Warsaw before and I put this down to the fact that when I was younger I always associated it with two things.  Firstly, word association and the town of Walsall, which is a dreary unattractive, industrial town in the Black Country in the United Kingdom which is a place that few people would visit by choice.  Secondly the term Warsaw Pact, which was the name of the Soviet military alliance in Eastern Europe which during my early years seemed to be the sinister organisation responsible for plotting to wipe us of the face of the map in a messy nuclear strike.

Buses of Malta postcard

April 2015 – Malta

I have been to Malta before.  I first went there in 1996 and liked it so much that I returned the following year.  Both times I stayed at the Mellieha Bay hotel in the north of the island.  These were family holidays with two teenage children, beaches, swimming pools, banana boat death rides and Popeye Village.

I liked it so much that I have always wanted to go back.  I have repeatedly told Kim that Malta is special and that I am certain she would like it as much as I did.  Late last year the opportunity arose and I was able to find a combination of cheap flights and a hotel deal at Mellieha Bay for just £200 for four nights and five full days!  A bargain not to be missed.

During the gloomy winter months I continued to try and convince Kim that she was going to really, really enjoy Malta but as the departure date grew closer I began to worry that she might not be so blown away with the place as I had been previously…

Giants Causeway Northern Ireland

June 2015 – Northern Ireland

It hasn’t always been free to visit.  In the 1800s, the Causeway was fenced off by landowners who saw its potential as a tourist attraction and so an easy way to make money but after a long drawn out case the High Court ruled that the public had an ‘ancient right of way’ to visit the Causeway and view the stones.

Now the National Trust wants to turn back the clock.  They haven’t exactly built a fence but they cleverly mislead visitors into paying the extortionate parking and visitor centre admission charge.

Here are my tips for avoiding the Giant National Trust Rip-Off:

Durham Postcard

August 2015 – Durham

For eight hundred years Durham was the most important city in Northern England with a castle and a cathedral built within the natural defensive position of a loop in the river Wear which gave protection on three sides and the city became the first line of defence against any invasions from Scotland and the North.

Abbotsford House Scotland

August 2015 – Scottish Borders

I was staying in the town of Galashiels in the Scottish Borders  which is so far south in Scotland that it is even nearer the equator than the town of Berwick-on-Tweed, the furthest town north in England but what a wonderfully scenic and historic part of the country.

Castell y Bere Wales

August 2015 – Wales

It was quite a difficult drive to the castle and there was a bit of moaning from my passengers and I began to worry that it might be a disappointment but we arrived eventually and made our way to the top of a rocky crag and the extensive ruins of the castle.  It had once belonged to Edward I but in 1294 it was captured by Welsh forces and burnt to the ground.  Edward never rebuilt it, maybe he hadn’t renewed his home insurance policy and he abandoned this once strategic position to concentrate instead on his new defensive ring of castles that he was busy building all along the coast.

Dinard, Brittany, France

September 2015 – Brittany, France

It has been called the Cannes of the north, apparently Joan Collins is a frequent visitor but we didn’t spot here tonight, Winston Churchill enjoyed holidaying on the River Rance and it is claimed that Alfred Hitchcock visited Dinard and based the house used in his most famous movie Psycho on a villa standing over the Plage de l’Écluse, there is even a statue of the man to endorse the claim.  Long before his adventures Lawrence of Arabia lived in Dinard as a small child and Picasso painted here in the 1920s, Claude Debussy is supposed to have had the idea for “La Mer” during a visit to Saint-Énogat in 1902 and Oscar Wilde also visited the place and mentions it in his De Profundis.

Valle de Luna Sardinia

October 2015 – Sardinia

Cheap flight tickets are top of a long list of good reasons to travel and when we spotted some reasonably priced return flights to Sardinia with Easyjet it didn’t take long to make a decision to visit the second biggest island in the Mediterranean Sea (just slightly smaller than Sicily) with our occasional travelling companions Mike and Margaret.

Postcard Maps of 2015

malta-mapWroclaw Poland PostcardNorthern Ireland Map PostcardScottish Bordersnorth walesBrittany Map PostcardSardinia Postcard Map

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye-Spy

Doors of Sigüenza 3Iceland Norsemen ÞingvellirPB290367Venice Carnival MaskCastelsardo Sardinia Art Exhibition

Anyone care to take a guess in which countries these pictures were taken?

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eye-Spy

Durham Cathedral Door KnockerBudapest Hungary MarketBarcelona CatalunyaGermany Black Forest FasnachtIMG_0627

Anyone care to take a guess in which countries these pictures were taken?

Sardinia – More Doors and Windows

Sardinia Door ChurchCastelsardo Sardinia DoorSardinia Worn DoorSardinia Window

More doors…

Doors of Catalonia 1

Doors of Catalonia 2

Doors of Catalonia 3

Doors of Catalonia 4

Doors of Dublin

Doors of Northern France

Doors of Portugal

Doors of Siguenza, Spain

Sardinia, Postcards

Sardinia Postcard MapSardinia Flag Postcardbastioni_algheroValle de Luna Sardinia

 

Sardinia, Olbia and Final Days

Olbia Sardinia

There were three alternative routes from Sassari to Olbia but we held off making a decision about which one to choose until we could properly assess the morning weather.

It wasn’t good!  It was bad so that immediately ruled out the preferred coast road and a stop at a beach and no one was very keen on the country route either because sightseeing is never very thrilling in the rain and using a mountain road Kim and Margaret would be certain to continually criticise my driving again so that left the direct main road route which was estimated to take just a couple of hours.

So, after an excellent breakfast we left Sassari in a fine drizzle and headed east.  It was a long straight road but it was besieged by road works and this meant a tedious journey across the interior of the island towards our destination.  Our itinerary was in tatters now, we were at least twenty-four hours ahead of the original plans and arriving in Olbia at lunch time meant even more rearranging of our carefully made plans.

We were so used to the rain now that we had barely noticed that it had cleared away and the sun was shining all of a sudden and this was a nice if unexpected welcome back.  We checked in and made for the centre where local people were also glad of the sun because they were using it to dry out their shops and restaurants and the boxes of stock that had been flooded and drenched in the previous days storms.

I suppose that you would have to say that Olbia is an unremarkable place, a transit city with an airport and a seaport for transporting people quickly in and out and it doesn’t get many pages allocated to it in the guidebooks but we now had an afternoon spare to explore it.

Olbia Sardinia

We started at the marina where expensive yachts were moored overlooking the ferry port on the other side and then turning our back on the coast turned inland and roamed through the small city centre with its long main street of shops and restaurants and crooked back streets leading off.

You wouldn’t accuse Olbia of being attractive or even particularly interesting but on a lazy Friday afternoon we discovered that it has a certain indifferent charm and the longer we walked around and the more bars we stopped in along the way the more we liked it.

In the evening we dined at a simple pizzeria and before going to bed we rearranged our bags ready for the flight home tomorrow.  If the weather didn’t improve there was the prospect of a very long and tedious day ahead because our flight wasn’t until the evening.

Hip Hip Hooray!

The weather did improve and in the morning there was a big blue sky and if we hadn’t been there we would never have guessed that there had been a cyclone and devastating floods all across the island.

It was a chance at last to visit one of Sardinia’s famous beaches so we asked the hotel clerk for a recommendation and shortly after breakfast headed off towards the coast.  The beach that he suggested required leaving the main highway and driving down an unmade road for about a mile to a dusty car park.  This wasn’t easy because the floods had washed the top surface away and it was deeply pitted with flood gulleys and littered with stones and rocks that had been washed down from the surrounding hills but we persevered and eventually made it thankfully without damaging the car.

The recommendation was a good one and nearby was a caramel sand beach caressing the sea in a sweeping crescent shape like a Saracen’s sword.  The sea sparkled in the sunlight and this was the perfect place to enjoy a peaceful hour or so at one with nature.  Except for one thing.  The hotel clerk had said that he thought this to be the best beach in the region and it was clear that most of Olbia agreed with him because, this being Saturday, the beach was crowded and we were lucky to find a vacant plot of sand on which to lay our towels.  But we weren’t complaining and we enjoyed an hour or so swimming, walking, politely declining the attentions of the lookie-lookie men and just simply being thankful for last day sunshine.

Sardinia Beach

Eventually we had to think about getting our timings right for a final meal.  Most restaurants close at three o’clock so if we were to eat before flying home then we had to make sure that we beat the unavoidable siesta shut down.  Time was ticking by as we searched for somewhere until we came across a place that we considered suitable and we made it with just a few minutes to spare.

Lunch over and the staff eager to close up and go home for the afternoon we now had a couple of hours spare before going to the airport so we drove slowly and took regular diversions down to the sea but this was an afternoon of filling in time and eventually there was no other diversion to keep us away from the airport.  We returned the car and I was relieved when the clerk inspected the car, declared everything to be satisfactory and invited me to ‘close the contract’. Phew!

There was a bit of a wait now so we sat in the bar and reflected on our week.  It had been good, the rain was a bit of a nuisance but we had finished with a gloriously sunny day, a fine meal and in excellent company.  Simple, unspoilt Sardinia gets a big thumbs up from me that’s for sure!

Have you ever come across anywhere unexpectedly good? 

 

Olbia Sardninia at Night

Sardinia, Alghero and Sassari

Alghero Sardinia

The next morning, the night after the cyclone,  when we opened the shutters of the room and looked out into the storm battered streets Alghero looked rather damp, drenched, soggy and windswept, forlorn and feeling rather sorry for itself.

In the lobby there were some newspapers and glancing through one looking for a weather forecast there was a two page spread about the storm and the deluge and the damage and a weather map which explained exactly why.  It seemed however that whilst it seemed quite wild to us that Alghero had got off relatively lightly compared to the disruption and the flooding in Olbia which was where we were heading for our final day.

Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the whole island had been smashed and battered by strong winds and heavy rainfall causing huge widespread damage.  Sardinia had been plunged into chaos as the cyclone slammed into the island, causing two months worth of rain to fall in just twenty-four hours.

Sardinia Cyclone Map

We were in no rush though so this morning we attempted a second walk into the town and were delighted to see that overhead the clouds were occasionally breaking to show a patch or two of blue.

If Castelsardo reminded me of Istria and Dalmatia then Alghero had an immediate Spanish feel and this shouldn’t have been surprising because for nearly four hundred years it was part of the Aragon monarchy which was an empire that stretched as far as Sicily and Southern Italy.

Even today Catalan is recognised as an official language and street names appear in both Catalan and Italian. A good percentage of the population speak this language although being rather isolated from direct Catalan influence over the years the dialect of Alghero today is said to be similar to the language spoken in Catalonia between the middle of the fourteenth and the end of the seventeenth century which for an Algheran to speak to a Catalan today would be rather like me trying to have a sensible conversation with William Shakespeare.

As if to emphasise this Catalan connection Alghero has four twin towns, Tarragona and Balaguer in Catalonia, Encamp in Andorra (almost Catalonia) and Catalan speaking Palma in Majorca.

Sardinia window

There is no getting away from an Iberian influence here and walking through the narrow streets of the old town it was easy to imagine being in Girona or Figueres.  Enclosed by robust, honey-coloured sea walls the imposing medieval bastions and defensive towers mark out the unmistakable outline of the town and inside the walls there is a tightly knit enclave of shady cobbled lanes, Gothic palazzi and cafe-lined piazzas.

We navigated the city and as went peered down slightly shabby narrow streets, disfigured by graffiti, care worn but lived in with brightly colour-washed buildings with ancient coats of paint like fragments of history which have blotched and been blurred by a combination of successive harsh summers, equally hard winters and general neglect resulting in a glorious wash resembling water colours running in the rain, everything dripping and running, liquefying and merging, leaking and fusing.

The streets between the houses were like deep gullies made brilliant by vibrant washing lines even after a night of torrential rain strung outside of windows like carnival bunting as though in anticipation of a parade, stretching across the streets dripping indiscriminately and swaying gently backwards and forwards above the secret doorways and back alleys and with realistically today, in view of the weather, only an outside chance of drying out.

Alghero Streets

Everywhere there was water as we picked our way through the town north to south and then east to west and then walked around the battlements where below the sea continued to churn and surge as though someone was taking great pleasure in stirring it into a froth with a giant ladle.

If the weather had been better we almost certainly would have stayed a little longer, perhaps gone to the beach for an hour or so followed by lunch, but it wasn’t to be so we walked back to the car and on the way stopped at a supermarket called Nonna Isa which as it turns out is the leading supermarket business in Sardinia which you may not find especially fascinating but I mention this because Nonna Isa has a service that I fully approve of – it has a bar!

Now, if supermarkets in the UK had bars then I am absolutely certain that I would find shopping a whole lot more enjoyable.  And it was cheap so before we did our shopping we found a table and had a beer, a Sardinian beer called Ichnusa which we had rather acquired a taste for over the last few days.

Nonna Isa Ichnusa Sardinia

And so we left Alghero somewhat ahead of our carefully planned itinerary and drove east to the city of Sassari, the second largest in all of Sardinia where we would be staying overnight on our way back to Olbia.

We arrived at our hotel which turned out to be a sort of edge of city, functional but not too glamorous sort of place and after checking in and with nothing to excite us very much about the location we decided to bring forward the plan for tomorrow morning to visit Sassari city and do it this afternoon instead and so under leaden skies we drove to the centre.

The guide-book suggested some things to see but I should have consulted my friend Dai Woosnam on the matter because when he knew that I was in Sardinia he emailed me this – “We had an interesting time in Alghero about twelve years ago. Also recall being bored out of our skulls in the second city of Sassari.”

Dai is rarely wrong and he had hit the nail squarely on the head again this time.  The guide-book said that it is possible to see the sights of Sassari in just a morning but having been there I reckon that you can do it in half an hour including time for a beer and a glass of wine.  Sometimes when travelling it is possible to come across an unexpected gem, Bari in Puglia or Trujillo in Extremadura for example but sadly Sassari is not going to get a nomination from me to join that exclusive list.

To be fair the weather was awful, cold and wet and the streets were deserted, it may well be better on a warm sunny day but I have to say that I am most unlikely to ever test this out.  Some places you vow to go back to, Sorrento for example, Sassari is sadly not one of them.

We had evening meal in the hotel and decided to abandon the itinerary altogether now and just leave early the next day and go directly back to Olbia.

Have you ever ended up somewhere desperately disappointing?

Alghero Fishing Boat

Sardinia, Doors and Windows

Sardinia DoorSardinia windowOlbia SardiniaAlghero Sardinia

More Doors…

Doors and Windows of 2015

Sardinia – Doors and Windows

Brittany – Doors and Windows

Blue Doors of Essaouira

Doors of Catalonia 1

Doors of Catalonia 2

Doors of Catalonia 3

Doors of Catalonia 4

Doors of Dublin

Doors of Northern France

Doors of Portugal

Doors of Siguenza, Spain