Monday, October 31, 2011

September in Sardinia, Part III: Giants' Tombs, Sassari, and the Sinis Peninsula

(A Week in Sardinia, September 2011, Continued)
Arzachena, Tomb of the Giants "Coddu Vecchiu"

Arzachena and Tombs of the Giants
After leaving Su Gologone, we headed north to the town of Arzachena, the center of a half-dozen Nuragic sites. Besides the towers, the other distinctive structures of the Nuraghic culture are the so-called “giants' tombs”, large stone sepulchers, often fronted by a huge stone “door”.  In fact, the graves were not for giants, (the ancient Sardinians were of relatively small stature) but intended for multiple burials.  At first I thought that the tiny opening at the bottom of the center stone was meant for people to crawl through, but then learned that it was symbolic, intended as a door for the spirits.

Sassari, Sardinia’s University Town
Sassari Cathedral, Gargoyle
Our next three nights were spent in Sassari, at the Leonardo da Vinci hotel, in the center of town not far from the university where my husband, Art, was attending a conference for two days.  While he was at meetings, I explored the town, visiting the main square and the Cathedral, the Museum Sanna, which displays both costumes and artifacts discovered in the area, and wandering along the narrow side streets.
Cactus fruit, eggplant, olives
I also did a little shopping, buying torrone (almond candy) and some orange flavored cookies to take home as souvenirs.  I also bought a package of carasau bread to bring home.  The bread, so thin that it is almost a cracker, had its origin in the days when shepherds spent weeks alone in the hills with their sheep and  needed a food that would stay fresh.  We are still enjoying the bread I bought, weeks later!

Bay of Nymphs
Lighthouse, Porto Conte
On the last afternoon in Sassari, we drove about half hour to the coast for a 4.5 mile walk through a nature preserve at Porto Conte, known in ancient times as Port of the Nymphs.  We followed a track through a scrub forest to Punto Giglio (Lily Point) where there are the remains of barracks and gun emplacements from World War II.  On the way, we were surprised to hear the noise of vehicles behind us.  Soon a policeman appeared on a motorcycle, leading a convoy of jeeps, motorcycles, trucks, and other army vehicles, all decorated with American and Italian flags and filled with men and women in U.S. military uniforms.  At first we thought it was some sort of military exercise, but then we noticed that the uniforms were fifty years old!  Perhaps, we thought, we had landed in the middle of a movie reenacting the American liberation of Italy.  It turned out to be a club of people who collect World War II memorabilia and have excursions like this in “costume” to historic sites.  (As it turns out, the war never actually came to Sardinia.  The Americans bypassed Sardinia on their march into Europe from Africa, entering Italy via Sicily.) 
Punto Giglio (Porto Conte)

Roman Ruins and Flamingos
Tharros, Roman Ruins
For our final day in Sardinia, we headed to the Sinis Peninsula, near the town of Oristano, to see the remains of an ancient Roman settlement at Tharros which sit on a narrow spit of land protruding into the bay.  Sardinia became a Roman province in 238 B.C. after the defeat of the Cathaginians in the first Punic War and Tharros developed into a major religious center.  The buildings are mostly collapsed, but the basalt slabs of the original Roman road remain, making it easy to imagine toga clad citizens making their way to the baths and temples.
Flamingos, Stagno Ena Arrubia
After lunch on the beach and visiting the nearby paleochristian church of San Giovanni di Sinis, we drove south to Stagno Ena Arrubia, a seaside lagoon declared by our guidebook to be a “birdwatcher’s paradise.”  It was. From the edge of the road, we were thrilled to see hundreds of flamingoes, as well as coots, gulls, egrets, herons and other birds in the shallow water.

Off the Beaten Track for Americans
Our trip to Sardinia was timed for September to take advantage of the good weather (not too hot, not too cold) and to avoid the summer tourist crowds.  Sardinia is a popular tourist destination for Europeans, especially in summer when they flock to the beaches.  However, few Americans go to Sardinia.  During our week there, we did not encounter any and we only met a few native English speakers including one generous Englishman who helped us navigate our way through Cagliari when we got lost.  Earlier that day, when we asked the hotel clerk for directions into the city, she had asked rather incredulously, “You didn’t get GPS with your rental car?”  We didn’t opt for GPS because of the expense, and although we did manage without it, there were a few times when it might have come in handy.  Much of Sardinia IS off the beaten track.  One of the things we liked best, is that in many places we visited, we were the only ones there.  
Arzachena:  Nuraghic Complex "La Prisgiona", entrance to the tower

Getting there: Sardinia has airports in Cagliari, Olbia and Alghero.  You can fly to Sardinia from several cities in Italy on Alitalia, or from Paris on Meridiana.  I flew from Los Angeles to Paris, and then to Cagliari via Rome.

Shopping:  Most shops, except in tourist areas, are closed on Sundays.  During the week they close for lunch between 1:00 and 4:00 and then stay open until dinner time at 8:00 or 9:00. So, if you need to buy anything, plan to shop when they stores are open!
ATMs: Only the larger towns have banks with ATMs and even then, there may be just one or two.  It helps to ask at the local tourist office for directions to one.

(Look for Sardinia, Part I:  Ancient Crossroads of the Mediterranean posted October 17 and Sardinia, Part II: The Supramonte posted October 24.)

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