Saturday, September 30, 2017

Sardinia - Part I Arrival


Sardinia - Part I

      A long few days of travel had ended while another phase was just beginning.  Without fanfare, its completion had been heralded by modest puffs of smoke as still wheels rapidly spun-up on contact with the runway’s tarmac.  What lay ahead in this reportedly primordial world would all be new to us for we’d arrived in a totally unfamiliar part of Italy, the raw pristine island of Sardegna (Sardinia).  To its west lay the Sea of Sardinia, while washing its eastern shore, all the way to the coast of the Italian boot, rolled the Tyrrhenian Sea, both constituents of the greater Mediterranean Sea.  If you drew a line from Lake Como, close to the origin of my bloodline, due south, it would pass first through Corsica and then Sardinia, a rock of a place bordered by world-class sandy beaches.  I wondered what else we’d find at the end of this line upon our arrival. 
A quick scan on Internet uncovered some interesting information 1.  First off, after Sicily and before Cyprus, it is the second largest island in the Mediterranean.  Like so much of Italy, it has seen its share of occupiers.  Phoenician merchants followed the arrival, centuries earlier, of “sea peoples” who first populated the island from present day France to the north as well as the Italian peninsula.  At various points in time, it has been home to colonization, invasion, foreign occupation, plagues and revolutions, seemingly a steady diet for early Italy.  Among the earliest occupiers were the Carthaginians and then the Romans who dominated the island for 694 years. 
In contrast to mainland Italy, it is surprisingly earthquake-proof with terrain characterized by granite mountain ranges and plateaus separated by wide valleys and flatlands edged by generally high, rocky outcroppings, particularly in the north. 
This geography makes it ideal for raising sheep to the point that today it hosts nearly four million sheep, giving the island one of the highest density of sheep in the world.  The “baa, baas” easily outnumber the number of “ciaos”.  I’m so glad Maria Elena and I like lamb, even mutton.  And there are additional bonuses.  With millions of sheep, in addition to all the flavorful meat, just imagine the amount of pecorino cheese!  Italian word pecora, from which the name derives, means sheep!  Along with the meat and cheese, we only need add the vino, of which there is reportedly no shortage.
As to their wine, there isn’t an objectionable plonk among them for they’ve had time to get it right.  By as early as the 16th century, Sardinia had already earned the moniker, insula vini, wine island.  A mild climate, plenty of good limestone and crumbled granite soil, and a dozen indigenous grape varieties had all conspired to make it one of the Middle Ages’ vinous landmarks.  Some of the island’s wine jewels include grape varieties like Cannonau, Carignano, Malvasia Nera, and Bovale Sardo.  Ruby red Cannonau, the most popular wine found on Sardinian tables, is their standout masterpiece, while white Vermentino, best drunk young, makes a great pick-me-up especially when served cold.  The wines, the bottles, the labels, but why stop there?  To top it off further (keep reading to catch the intended pun) this insula vini also produces about 80% of Italian cork.  Made from
Italian Cork Oak
cork oak trees, it is the primary renewable source of cork used for wine bottle stoppers.  You can believe that we’d confirm all this in due time. 
Additionally, while anchored in the past, Sardinia continues its advance into the 21st century.  The Sardinia based aerospace manufacturer Vitrociset is involved in the production of the U.S Air Force’s new F-35 “Lightning” stealth fighter.  Back on earth, construction is underway of a Sardinian factory for fabrication of the “AIRPod”, a vehicle fueled surprisingly by compressed air.  Forget about the “Tesla”!  Be the first in your neighborhood to have one, for as we understand, advanced sales are already underway.  We’d definitely arrived on a busy island that should prove interesting as the days ahead unfolded. 
Far removed, our journey kicked-off first with a drive to New Jersey.  There was a flux in the air.  While we’d decided on our day, the weather hadn’t.  It was unsettled.  Everything was wet from a late-night storm, a pewter sky shrouded the sun, and the road, itself undecided whether to dry or not, lay streaked with stripes of wet and dry.  The leaves were also beginning to change colors.  While on this trip, we would be missing their red and orange blush to peak color.  Hopefully, it would be a fair trade for the sights that lay ahead.  Once in New Jersey we’d overnight with friends, Jack and Dotty, who’d accompany us on our Sardinian trek.  Jack is a former Navy Captain and fellow aviator.  His wife, Dotty, should have the rank of Admiral for following him around throughout his career.  Together they have seen much of the world, but like us, never Sardinia.

On the cusp of hurricane Jose sliding up the east coast, it was decidedly fair the next day as our troupe arrived at JFK Airport.  We’d not been there since the days when the TWA potato-chip like terminal with its tube-shaped departure-arrival corridors
was still in use.  In the intervening years, we’d relied instead on Boston’s Logan Airport.  While the terminal has since been declared a historic landmark, we thankfully remain without such a designation.  With TWA long gone, our intrepid group would board a Meridiana Airlines flight direct to Naples.  There didn’t seem to be any hurry, however.  Boarding was delayed well past its scheduled time with the takeoff slipping over an hour.  Maybe this was routine at JFK but it only added to the nine-hour flight time.  Outside the providence of man, we’d have to hope for a tailwind, a strong one at that.  This general disregard for time buffered a gradual shift to an Italian mindset.  There was no hurry, the sparkling seashores dotted with crescent-shaped bays with beaches lapped by the bluest blue seas would wait for us.  They had waited centuries and would be waiting still, no matter the conga-line of
seven aircraft ahead of us on the ramp for takeoff.  We needed to slow down regardless of a tailwind.  Our acclimation to Italy began to seep-in shortly after takeoff when Italian wine was served.  Even the bagged chips were labeled “Made with 100% olive oil”!  Lifestyle adjustments were already underway as we headed off to the Olbia Costa Smeralda Aeroporto.  Interestingly, it had the distinction of being the home base to Meridiana Airlines founded by British business magnate, Aga Khan IV, one of the world's ten richest royals.  His millions aside, our magic number was ten, ten days of relaxation, exploration, and hopefully mutton, cheese, and some rebellious wine. 

We had two hiccups in the departure terminal.  One was on my part for not taking my laptop computer out of my backpack before it was scanned.  This faux pas highlighted my satchel for additional scrutiny, which took time.  Mare’s gaffe was more comical and hardly caused the delay mine had.  She was trying to scan her boarding pass at a security checkpoint without success.  Watching her repeatedly try, I realized that she was scanning the bar code of our luggage receipt, not the correct code on the opposite side of her ticket.  Though interested in seeing what she would eventually do, I was in too much of a hurry to get through the maze of security checks not to interfere.  Nevertheless, if either hadn’t happened, we’d not have gotten to Sardinia a second earlier. 
It was while waiting for our luggage, following our landing, that the bus from Olbia to Palau departed.  We were going from one island to another in what is referred to as the Arcipelago de La Maddalena, a series of seven major islands within a grouping of 62 all total, off the northern coast of
Sardinia.  In the ensuing two-hour interim, we had lunch in the terminal along with our first Aperol Spritz’ in celebration of our arrival.  There had been an elderly gentleman in the Naples Capodichino terminal that Jack had helped out when our departure gate changed.  He hadn’t realized there’d been a change, which resulted in a long walk to another gate.  While it seemed an alphabet away, it was only from the “C” to the “A” concourse.  Following our arrival in Sardinia, I recognized him when he arrived at the bus stop.  Luckily, like us, he was also going to
Palau to catch the ferry to the island of La Maddalena.  He lived in Maddalena now and had worked for the Italian consulate system and, small world, had once been assigned to the Boston Consulate, which recalled memories of endless days involved with our Italian passport application.  All we needed was to stick close to him and we’d get there.  His name was Franco.  Once arrived in Palau, Franco told us which ferry to take.  He already had his ticket, no doubt a resident pass of some sort.  We, however, needed to get ours.  We hustled to the ticket office, but although Franco delayed the crew for us enough to keep the loading ramp down, foolish me purchased tickets for a different ferry.  Emerging from the ticket office the realization dawned on me and with a negative shake of my head, the ramp pulled up, the ship departed, and that was the last time we saw our guardian angel, Franco.
But it seems that when one angel disappears, another soon arrives. 
- To be Continued -
From That Rogue Tourist (while on the road)