Friday, June 29, 2012

Just How Much Can You Fit in a Day?

After breakfast, we drove to the Necropoli di Anghelu with 38 tombs carved into rock dating from 2700 BC to 3300 BC. We were able to crawl into the chambers and we could just make out bulls horns carved on the walls of some chambers.

Next we visited Sardinia’s top wine producer, Sella e Mosca. We have already drunk the bottle of frizzante and have a few bottles ready to chill at a future destination.

Back on the coast, just 10 km away, we visited the Nuraghe di Palmavera, a 3500 year old Bronze Age settlement. It was not as extensive as Su Nuraxhi that we had visited a few days ago but we recognized the same layout as we crawled in through the tunnels.

We drove to Porto Torres and then back to Spiaggia delle Bombarde where we enjoyed a refreshing swim. This is regarded as the best local beach with its aquamarine water, sandy beach, facilities and restaurants.

We drove back into Alghero, put our wine in the frig for later, enjoyed lunch and a rest before setting out again.

To visit Neptune’s Grotto, you can go by boat or drive and then walk down the 656 steps. Guess which we chose? The cave system is immense and we spent an hour on a tour. It was spectacular – world standard. Not the best conservation practices in place perhaps.

Back to the harbour, we walked up to the cathedral, which is very interesting as it retains strong Catalan influence.

We returned to the B & B and polished off our frizzante, Aliante Isola dei Nuraghi.

Out to dinner, followed by a stroll through the old town and the harbour front, which had a real Friday night buzz.
One of the tombs at the site.

Looking for Robert.

The remains of the central tower in the bronze Age village.

Coming out of the tower.

Neptune's Grotto

The belltower of the duomo as we returned from the grotto

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Three for the Price of One

We headed off to Tharros, a Roman town built on top of a Phoenician town which in turn had been built on the site of an earlier Nuragic village from the Bronze Age – 15th century BC. The Phoenicians came in the 8th century BC.

In places the Roman settlement had been removed to display the earlier Phoenician site. It is only quite recently that the stone houses from the earliest period have been discovered. Quite a fascinating look at history and once again in a spectacular coastal setting.

We followed our exploration with visits to two museums to see the actual artefacts from the archaeological site.

Tharros had been the major town in this area but once Orestano - now the province’s capital – was developed, it lost its significance and was eventually abandoned.

We managed to negotiate the complex maze of narrow streets to reach the old part of Orestano – Centro Storico – and visited the Duomo with its beautiful onion domed bell tower, the main square with Queen Eleanor’s statue – obviously before she died of the plague - and the incredible old defence tower sitting in the middle of a square.

Leaving the highways behind us, we followed the minor coastal road north, stopping for lunch at a beachside restaurant at Torre Su Putu and visited a fabulous growers’ market – where we sampled some very nice local cheese and nougat.

Continued along the winding, narrow road, through quiet villages and eventually reached Bosa, known for its colourful buildings where we visited the marina and the beach. We decided to fit in one more leg so drove northwards.

The road between Bosa and Alghero is considered to be the best coastal drive in Sardinia. It was truly spectacular with stunning views – it was also one of the windiest roads we have ever been on! Again we negotiated the maze of streets and found a car park just outside Centro Storico. We found a B & B in the old town, run by a very pleasant family.

Dinner was in a fabulous restaurant where we sampled traditional Sardinian food. Football fever has hit town as Italy played Germany in the semi final of the European Cup. When Italy won, the entire town erupted and the festivities continued well into the early morning. The final is on Sunday night between Spain and Italy.

Remains of a temple in Tharros

The 2 explorerson the Roman road in Tharros

The duomo and belltower in Orestano.

Waiting for lunch.

Digging Up the Past in Sardinia

We left Cagliari and drove south to visit the ruins of Nora, originally a Phoenician settlement but developed as a Roman town. Roman towns usually have straight wide streets but this one is different. The roads were narrow and curved and show no cart tracks – it seems to have been a pedestrian only settlement! It was in a wonderful position, right on the coast with a beautiful sandy beach nearby. The Roman baths were quite remarkable and you could still see the steps going down into the pool.

Our delve into the past continued as we headed into the centre of the island to visit Su Naraxi Nuraghe near the village of Barumini. This is Sardinia’s only UNESCO listed site. The Nuragic civilization is from the Bronze Age. The defence tower was at the heart of the settlement and the village was all around it. The preservation was quite amazing. We were able to go into the tower, crawled through narrow passages and up and down steep steps to reach the centre. This is one of the great places we have visited.

We headed cross country back to the coast across country. We drove through a series of tiny villages, meeting up with sheep and goats. Eventually we ended up at Torre Grand, just outside Oristano and finished the day with a swim.

                                          The Roman town at Nora.

                                       This is the family bathroom at Su Naraxi.

                                          The tower at Naraxi.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Looking for Beautiful Birds

They were beautiful.  They had sleek bodies,  graceful with slender necks and the longest legs.  They had glamorous attire with just a touch of pink.  They were somewhat aloof and definitely distant.

Yes we went looking for the flamingoes of Cagliari.

We walked for literally kilometres along the paths around the lake and marshes.  We suspected that they were in hides watching us, making comments like:
"I just saw a pair of rare Australian hotbods wintering on our shores"
"You would think that they would stick their heads under the water to cool off like us"

We found the flamingoes but they were certainly aloof and distant.

                                            Flamingoes pretending they can't see us.

Our best close up of the flamingoes!

The flamingoes have recently hatched their babies that are little bundles of brown fuzz.  Not surew if that is one in the foreground or if it is the reeds blowing in the breeze.

Cagliari in Sardinia

Our overnight ferry trip from Trapani in Sicily was very restful as we were asleep before we left the port.

We spent the afternoon exploring the town but as it was Monday, the museums were closed.

The bastions provided wonderful views over the town and we could still see our ferry moored in the port.  We reached the top by ascensore (lift) and our 1st stop was a restaurant for lunch!

St Mary's duomo was spectacular with elaborate carved marble altars and columns.  The crypt was the most elaboratewe have seen built we were told by a pompous bishop who wanted the best in Italy.

We also visited the Vice regal palace with its elaborate rooms and furnishings. It also housed a toy exhibition that was rather an odd combination!
Furnishings from the palace

The marble pulpit that was donated by the church in Pisa

                                       Our lunch spot

Egadi Islands

Having loved the Lipari Islands on a previous trip, we felt we must explore the Egadi Islands off Trapani.

We left our apartment at 8.30 am and returned 12 hours later, just in time to shower, have drinks and dinner and pack for our midnight departure for Sardinia.

We explored 3 islands. Marettimo, the furthest from the coast is sufficiently isolated to have escaped development and local rules keep it that way. It has narrow streets, small local churches and gelateria where we enjoyed pistachio ice cream. Above on the cliff top, are Roman fortifications and towers.

We stopped in a pristine bay to swim and at another bay for lunch of simple Sicilian food washed down with buckets of wine. We shared this with a delightful family from Florence, some of whom spoke English.

We visited Favignana, the most developed of the islands. The temperature was sweltering so we only visited places in the shade. In the square, the restaurants were crowded on 1 side and on the other side, empty.

We also sailed round to a series of grottoes and coastal scenery.

Our final island was Levanzo, a small fishing village. We had our final swim in a picture postcard bay just as luxury yachts were settling in for the night.

The Egadis are a serious challenge to the Lipari Islands and share a lot in common.

                                         The fishing port of Favignola.

Alley in Marretimo

                                         This panorama may have magic duplication.


We have a new favourite hilltop town! It is not in Tuscany or Umbria. It is Erice in the hills above Trapani.

We visited there by catching the local bus up to the funicular for a 20 – 25 minute ride to the top. Instantly the visit was worthwhile because the temperature fell by 5 – 8 degrees giving us some respite from the heat. It was very reminiscent of the hilltop towns of Tuscany. It was established by the Phoenicians who we believe died out after a long series of accidents after they slipped on the marble streets.

It was a wonderful balance of quiet alleys, restaurants and souvenir shops without being too commercial. It is the sort of place where you need to sit as we did in a pasticceria and eat Sicilian delicacies with a good cup of coffee.

Erice can normally be accessed by road as well but not today. It was closed to traffic and turned over to the Erice Hill Climb. We stood at 1 point with views of castles above us and hairpin bends of the road below us, motors roaring and tyres squealing, castles sleeping. At the finishing line, before we left, we set up to take photos, but between seeing the car and the shutter closing, we ended up with a series of photos of bitumen!

Highly recommended for a stay but perhaps when the hill climb is not on. We might buy a Ferrari and enter next year. At least we would look the part.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Last Day in Malta

We stayed in Rabat last night and had a wonderful dinner at a restaurant in Mdina. Our table was adjacent to the walls and we could see out over the countryside to Mostar where the dome of the church was brightly illuminated.

This morning we visited a Roman villa and walked again through Mdina before driving back to return our car and have an afternoon’s sightseeing in Valletta. We visited the War Museum which provided a chronology of Malta’s involvement in WW 1 and 11. We also visited the Museum of Fine Arts as well as finding time to sit at a cafĂ© and drink some fine wine. Funny thing about art and wine – they are always fine or ordinary but the wine changes after a few glasses while the art remains ordinary!

We leave very early tomorrow for Sicily and travel across to Trapani for the ferry to Sardinia on Sunday night.

                                        Mosaic floor in the Roman house - doves drinking.

                                                     Alley in Mdina.

                                           You would not think a truck could fit in such a narrow street!

                                         Sea Gladiator NS 520 at the War Museum

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Old City

After catching the ferry back from Gozo to Malta, we decided to visit Mosta, the town where Lee had been born. We visited the beautiful church there with its huge rotunda ceiling modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. In 1942, 4 bombs were dropped right on the church with 1 going right through the roof during a service. None of them exploded so no-one was hurt. People see this as divine intervention. We saw a replica of the bomb in the Sacristy.

We had left the old city of Mdina with neighbouring Rabat as the last major destination of our visit to Malta. The only accommodation in Mdina is a 5 star hotel so we settled on a guest house just outside the town walls in neighbouring Rabat. By this time, it was extremely hot. Cold showers revived us before we set off to explore Mdina which had been Malta’s capital before Valletta was built in the 16th century.

Only 360 people live in Mdina but the fortified walls are impressive and every building is historic. Restaurants and gift shops occupy old palaces. We visited the impressive cathedral and its museum. There was an excellent display not only of the church’s riches but a wide general collection as well, including Carthaginian coins, each collection reflecting the history of Malta’s occupation. We also visited the Carmelite church and museum.

We also explored Rabat including St Paul’s church and the grotto where he lived when he was shipwrecked on Malta when he converted the population to Christianity.

Our favourite place was undoubtedly the catacombs, as being underground, we gained instant relief from the heat outside.

In the evening, when the temperature had cooled, we walked back into Mdina and had dinner perched on the bastions overlooking the Maltese countryside down to the illuminated dome of the church in Mosta.

Gail entering the old capital of Mdina

The dome of the church in Mosta.

Church in Mosta.

In the quiet alleys of Mdina

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ggantija and Goddesses

Today we visited the megalithic Ggantija Temples, one of the oldest manmade structures in the world, built over many years from 3600 to 3000 BC. Rituals of life and fertility seem to have been practised here and the architectural achievements were quite exceptional considering this was built more than 5000 years ago.

We also visited an old church in Xaghra and a historic windmill built in 1725 and still in use in the 1980s until the last miller died in 1987!

We also visited a grotto- actually a limestone cave discovered in 1922 when a farmer was digging a well. It still belongs to the same family and is in a street surrounded by houses and entered through a door as if entering a house. We descended a spiral set of steps, really narrow and steep, down into a cave with stalagmites and stalactites’, some resembling bacon or weird animals. The guide was the wife of the grandson of the man who originally discovered the cave.

We spent the afternoon at the fabulous Blue Lagoon on Malta’s third island, Comino. The water had incredible visibility and a beautiful azure colour. The small sandy beach and the rocks surrounding the lagoon were packed with sun worshippers. Deckchairs and umbrellas were wall to wall. Thank heavens we did not come on a Sunday. We swam in the clear blue water for a long time then sat and enjoyed a great lunch and gazed at this quite celestial scene.

Returning to Marsalforn to our apartment, we decided to have one last swim – another heavenly experience.

                                        One of the temples at Ggantija.

                                       Can you spot the goddess in pink?  That is Gail.

In the cavern.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Exploring Gozo.

Today we headed for Victoria, the capital of Gozo. We drove along the coast, past salt pans developed by the Romans and still in use today. The road was very narrow with rocky cliffs on one side and the sea right beside us on the other.

In Victoria, we climbed up to the Citadel which dominates not only the capital but also the entire island. The actual cathedral was much smaller than you would expect but it did have an impressive museum with lots of silver and even a bishop’s carriage. We visited a whole series of museums, the best of which was the Archaeological Museum.

Later we drove to San Lawrenz where we visited another Blue Grotto, even more beautiful than the last one, where we went by boat from an inland sea through a cave out into the sea, visiting a number of caves and grottoes and seeing the picturesque azure window arch.

We headed back to our apartment to recover enough to go down for a swim.

                                         Roman salt pans on the beautiful section of coastline
                                       On the road to Victoria
                                               Chandeliers in the Cathedral

                                       An impressive coastline

Tarxien Temples and Malta's Beaches

Heading off on Sunday morning, we decided first to visit the famous Tarxien temples and then check out Malta’s beaches.

The Tarxien Temples date from 3000 BC and are just as spectacular as those we had seen earlier. We saw an elaborate Neolithic structure with decorated altars and some incredible carved figures. It was only rediscovered in 1913 by a farmer when he was ploughing his field.

We walked across to the Hypergaeum but as they only allow 10 people per hour to visit, it is booked a long time in advance. It is an underground burial site.

We drove up the beaches of the coast – St Julians Bay, Salina Bay, and St Pauls Bay. Serious money in the local real estate and pleasure craft. Nothing has been spent on the roads or parking. It was a nightmare. We did manage to stop a few times for photos. We cut across to the other side of the island to what are considered to be the best beaches but everyone else in Malta was there before us. Some very nice beaches, one even had sand.

Giving up on Malta’s beaches, we decided to head up to Gozo island, a day earlier than planned. The ferry trip was straightforward and we drove on through the outskirts of the capital to the beachside town of Marsaskala where we found a very nice 3 bedroom apartment right near the beach and have since enjoyed some very pleasant swims

                                          The fat lady statue at Tarxien.

Marsalforn waterfront.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ancient Malta

Setting out in our baby Fiat Panda, just the thing to negotiate the narrow streets, we had a wonderful day exploring the natural beauty and ancient history of Malta.

Really testing our navigation skills, we found the ancient cart tracks that were deep ruts in the rock, thought to be made by hand drawn carts. Some were nearly deep as your knees. Adjacent to this was a series of collapsed troglodyte caves.

We visited the Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Temples that might not be well known to most but are the oldest constructed buildings in the world. They predate the Egyptian pyramids by 1000 years and Stonehenge by1600 years. Both are thought to be temples with standing stones and doorways as well as altars with elaborate ornamentation. Many of the statues and carvings have been removed but we saw them in the Archaeological Museum the previous day.

During the day, we also walked the cliffs of Dingli and took a boat trip to the Blue Grotto. This comprised about 9 caves with aquamarine water similar in many ways to Capri.

In the late afternoon, we visited 3 coastal villages with the traditional fishing boats in the harbours and with many local people enjoying the sandy beaches. We stayed the night in Marsaskala right beside the beach. All the other tourists were Maltese people.

We gained an interesting insight into an aspect of local culture with the Saturday night barbecue. After our swim in the hotel pool and rest, we ventured back along the beachfront for dinner. On the rocky platform at the back of the beach, there were hundreds of people attending family barbecues, most with at least 3 generations in attendance. They brought their own fold up barbecues as well as tables and chairs, huge bowls of salad and lots of nibbles, including pickled cheese (gbejna) and olives.

Standing in the cart ruts.
Minajdra temple

At Hagar Qim Temple.

The Blue Grotto.

Boats at the fishing village Marsaxlokk.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Day in Valletta

                                         Gail at breakfast.
The view from our room.
Rob meets an armless knight.

A street or steps?  And to think we are hiring a car from tomorrow!

Rob meets a Knight of St. John at the Auberge d'Italie.

Not so armless knight.

St John's Co-Cathedral.

A friendly knight wearing sunglasses perhaps?