Monday, October 19, 2009

A Real Italian Holiday

As readers can probably guess from the general theme of our marriage, this blog, and knowing us, we often like to leave things to the exact last minute. I mean, once you plan a full-on wedding in a month, what’s a two-week vacation crisscrossing the country? Child’s play. Of course booking a last-minute vacation in August when nearly the entire country is out and about is not advisable. If it were solely up to Martello, we’d have found hotels at each stop along the way, but since this is a shared venture, Trofie Wife insisted that we have sleeping spots booked for at least the first portion of the trip (in a highly-vacationed zone); an idea that Martello finally warmed up to when he starting noticing the price differential between online rates and the significantly higher rates posted on the room’s door.

So, with the first few days of our lodging booked and all of the most necessary plans made, we left Arenzano and headed to the Genova port, where we boarded the ferry to Sardinia (Sardegna in italiano), a lovely island lying off Italy’s west coast and fully part of the country (although it does have an autonomous regional government, a dialect closely resembling Catalan, and unique cuisine). Its most luxurious stretches are famed for hosting the internationally rich and famous, including Berlusconi’s infamous party villa. For the plebians, there are more budget accommodations, but the entire island is covered in gorgeous coastline, so even if you can’t afford to spring for a resort, you can do quite well at the public beaches.

Because one can reach the eastern portions of the island via a relatively quick nine-hour ferry ride, the eastern coast of Sardinia functions as a sort of Genovese Hamptons (yes, people who live along the sea need to summer along a different seaside). People buy season passes for the car ferries and load on and off every weekend; there’s even a special kennel for the dogs. Since we were heading into the two prime weeks of August vacation, the ferry was quite packed (we chose the budget line to Olbia; there are several companies that service the many possible routes between Genova and several Sardinian ports of call; Trofie Wife was tempted to book the boat bearing Looney Toons characters, but, unfortunately, passage was in the realm of Scrooge Duck's budget). 

All of the ferries have a pricing system that seems weird if it’s unfamiliar. You pay for the right to be on the boat and then you pay for the seats (or cabin, if you want a bed). Seeing that we booked the budget line, we opted to pay a couple euro more for the first-class poltrone (the seats).

However, upon finding our seats we were quite surprised to notice that many—not only in first but also second class—were empty. We soon realized why:

Apparently people take this whole paying for passage thing quite literally. They pay for passage and then camp out in all sections of the boat. They bring sleeping bags, air mattresses, beach chairs; some board as early as possible to commandeer the bar and cafeteria areas or the staircase landings (some even sleep outside, canines beside them, as Martello learned during a middle of the night walk, which nearly ended in catastrophe with his foot brushing, yet thankfully not smushing, a sleeping dog). All violations of the fire code and all blissfully unenforced in carefree Italia. It’s quite insane and reminded me somewhat of a NFTY shul-in. (Trofie Wife was embarrassed as Martello snapped the above photos, yet I’m using them here, so I guess I should be grateful for the few moments of shame).

We docked not too long after sunrise and then took some time to find the pedestrian exit (apparently cars take priority). And as we began our search for a bus to take us to Palau, where we, thankfully, had a room booked, we had our first encounter with what would become a recurring motif: immense hurdles to accessing public transit. It’s pretty easy to get around major cities via train and bus. But to attempt to do so on an island like Sardinia requires immense amounts of willpower and patience (immediately apparent as Martello went through security to enter the building where said bus tickets were supposedly for sale only to learn that he had to buy them from the conductor standing in front of the bus, who had earlier said to go inside…). By the trip’s end we would certainly earn the title of Italian public transit warriors.
As we hurtled toward Palau, it became abundantly clear why Sardinia is the vacation choice of discerning Italians—it is absolutely stunning. And hot. We took a lovely nap in the woods overlooking the sea and then a boat over to La Maddelena. 

Looking out on the water in Palau

Palau Pineta (woods; excellent napping conditions)

Trofie Wife had recalled once reading something about beautiful pink beaches on La Maddelena (though there was nothing in the guidebook accompanying us that day), so we set out looking for them, merely following vague signs (Trofie Wife’s chosen, and usually correct, mode of navigation in Italy) to the beach. As the local road gave way to a highway and we inched along the shoulder, we (well, Martello) grew increasingly skeptical that such a beach existed. Yet finally, we reached a beach. It wasn’t pink (we’d later learn that those pink beaches were ecologically protected zones that could only be viewed during special boat tours), but it was a pretty, almost otherworldly place on which to view a sunset.

Otherwordly (though, sadly, not pink) beach on La Maddelena

We thankfully caught the day's last bus back to the center of town and had our first taste of Sardinian cuisine—spaghetti e bottarga (dried fish eggs; they would grow on us over the course of the week) and then took our third boat in 48 hours (and Trofie Wife really doesn’t like boats) back to Palau where sweet sleep awaited us (vacation was already tiring us out!).

Moonlight on the water between Palau and Maddelena

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

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