In September I decided to take a holiday. I have had only a few of these over the years and so rather looked forward to it. I really wanted to go to Corsica, but there were no flights available, so Sardinia seemed like the next best bet. I had looked on the web for a suitable kind of place and was very impressed with a farm-stay that was advertised and so I decided this was what I wanted to do.
The flight from Bristol to Olbia was pleasant, if very uncomfortable. I had flown on an Airbus from Cape Town to Munich earlier in the year and that had proved to be a real mission of discomfort for 12 hours. Aircraft Industries obviously do not have comfort in mind when they design planes. However, I digress. The airport staff in UK were wonderful, the flight was relatively short so comfort didn’t really matter, but the cabin staff were rather ‘couldn’t care less’ and the sandwich I had ordered soon after take-off only arrived just as we were descending to land. It was pleasant to see all of England laid out in its green patchwork far below, with a strip of white where the sea curled in over pebbly beaches. We touched down in Olbia soon after dark, and that was where the nightmare began. We all shot through the airport like a dose of salts, after which I was taken to the next building – some distance away – where all the car-hire companies had their desks. Since I had booked and paid for a car some time in advance I expected this to be no more than a quick formality, but 90 minutes later I was still standing in a long queue, shifting the cases forward inch by inch. When I finally reached the desk – manned by a little man who obviously had been on a very long shift and who longed to see the back of the human race – I was handed a sheaf of forms to sign and the keys were then thrown across the desk. When I asked where the car was I was told ‘Outside, third line on the left, space 28.’
I staggered through the doors and stood on the small landing looking over more cars than you can imagine. Somewhere in the crowd was the car I had paid for, but I had no real idea where. One of the locals took pity on me, took the key, and found the car, bringing it up to the building. I don’t know what I would have done without him. I got behind the wheel, adjusted the hideously uncomfortable seat, set the mirrors, and started slowly out of the airport and onto the highway. Following the instructions I had been given proved to be a mistake, though, because a short time later found me in a town with which I was utterly unfamiliar. For the first time in my life I was lost. I crawled along the main street at a walking pace hoping to see a signpost, but instead, three very drunken youths suddenly fell out of a door and promptly fell on the bonnet of the car, almost smashing the passenger wing-mirror. I stopped and got out, rescuing what was left of the mirror, and decided that the only thing I could do was to rout around in the cases for the satnav and set it for the first town I should see on the map I had been given. It got me there.
So, every town I had to drive through had to be programmed into the machine, which meant frequent stops, but it worked and I arrived at the meeting-point agreed upon two hours late. The roads in Sardinia are not for the faint-hearted; in places the surface has been worn away in great flat chunks, there were no white lines, and every road seemed to careen through horrendous hairpin bends, going ever upward. For some reason the car didn’t like to be driven in 2nd or 3rd gear, which necessitated some quick changes from 1st to 4th, and a lot of grinding and labouring. I followed my host along probably the only straight stretch of road until he got out and opened a gate; we drove up a long gravel road and finally stopped on the lawn of what looked like a glorified garage. This was, in fact, the guest accommodation. Having settled me in for the night, my host left and I was on my own with just the stars for company. A good cup of tea was just what I wanted, or a stiff drink, because it was almost midnight, but I could find nothing for either. The accommodation was good, clean, tiled in white, and boasted a double bed, shower, and small kitchenette/living room with a table and four chairs. I looked in the fridge – empty. I opened all the cupboards – empty, except for a small coffee-percolator, the kind you plant on top of the stove and heat accordingly, managing not to burn your fingers off when you want to pour from it. There was some coffee in a jar, so I made myself a little cup and sat outside on the verandah to drink it and enjoy the night. Finally, I decided that a good shower was just what the doctor needed, but there was no sign of any soap or any towels, and they were the two things that I hadn’t packed, thinking that they would be provided.
After a rather restless night I made my way down to the farm into which I had booked. There was a very long dirt road which took the usual hairpin bends around rocks and would suddenly rise in an unexpected sharp hill, or drop in a dizzying way; finally, the road – if such it was – ran along under a canopy of old gnarled trees, took a very sharp turn, and ran steeply downhill to the guest accommodation. The guest block turned out to be a long modern building where five rooms opened from a long verandah, at the end of which was the common room where people took breakfast. The view from the verandah was very pleasant – a range of low mountains in the distance which a small town nestling half way up it; looking down, one could see the fields of the farm, large squares of dried grasses bounded by a small pine plantation. My room was large, clean, white with the usual tiled floor, a shower, and double and single beds. There was a cupboard for clothes and a dresser, but once again, no sign of any kind of soap in the shower room. Fortunately, in my sponge bag I found a small tablet of soap which I had stolen from some hotel in the past, so this was going to have to do. I was too late for breakfast and there was no lunch served, so I had no choice but to go from mid-day the day before until the evening for food. Not a good start.
I unpacked and nosed my way around, then waited for supper. This was served in another building some distance away and hidden in the woods. There was a cheerful restaurant with red and white table-cloths, candles, a pizza oven, and a verandah. The food turned out to be surprisingly good, or perhaps I was just dying of hunger by that stage! We started with little antipasti – these were small rounds of indestructible bread on which was spread cucumber, cheese, some sort of concrete salami; there were also two slices of delicious Parma ham. The second dish was, of course, pasta. It consisted of small squares filled with some sort of honey mixture and served in a thick, bittersweet sauce. It was delicious. This was followed by slices of excellent veal which came, so mine host couldn’t stop telling us, from his own flock of cattle. There were a few vegetables with it, and some potato. This was followed by a crème-caramel, which came from a supermarket. So far so good. I crept into bed later that night, replete with good food, and even managed to forgive the management for not having duvets on the beds – they were all of the apple-pie variety, but very comfortable. After a good night’s sleep I decided to venture forth once more on the awful roads of the country. Some time later, after negotiating endless hairpin bends, hills,cars which drove like bats out of hell on a suicide mission, I dropped down a bare hillside into the local beach. This consisted of a very grand avenue of palm trees set in the centre of the road; I passed an enormous camping ground on the right and a small mobile home park on the left, and then the road stopped at the beach. There were two rows of modern double-storey buildings facing the sea and painted in pastel shades, and then just sand and a blue Mediterranean softly lapping. There were two bars on the beach – each one very pleasant, with umbrellas at the tables and large courtyards facing the sea. I ordered a large snack and a beer and sat and watched the people on the beach and listened to some rather noisy locals laughing and talking at the next table. Every so often there are little round towers on the beaches, made from stone. They look as if they should have sails, but they don’t, and no-one seems to know why they are there. I decided to explore one of these and so drove down the usual endless gravel strip between low scrub. However, when I finally got there, the tower was all shut up and there was no-one in the car-park, so after a brief walk round I got back in the car and drove home. Sardinia, or at least the northern part which I visited, consists of large heaps of stones, apparently just thrown there by some mighty hand in the far-distant past, surrounded by low trees and scrub. It is not pretty, nor inspiring in any way, and reminded me strongly of the mountains of the Cedarberg in the South African Cape, only these latter were interesting with their jagged teeth pointing heavenwards against the deep blue sky.
They are also riven with long valleys through which flow small rivers and at the bottom of which is always some kind of cultivation – usually vines, but in Sardinia nothing ever seemed to be cultivated, except perhaps money? The following day I went into the local town to buy provisions, but this proved to be an exercise in futility. Firstly there was no parking available, then when I did manage to find a space, there was no sign of any shop. The town consisted of grey buildings, devoid of any architectural nicety, and a totally random mishmash of small streets going apparently nowhere. I wasted no more time on it. The food which had been so good on my first night was never repeated and the meals in the evening became worse and worse, until in the end they were almost inedible. Breakfast was also disappointing. It consisted only of a small percolator of coffee and a couple of slices of bread lathered with honey or jam. The only good thing about breakfast was that there was usually a fresh sponge-cake baked by the host’s wife the day before, and this was truly delicious. I went to the beach a couple more times, but soon found myself counting the days until it would be time to go home. This proved to be the worst mission of the lot. I had to return the hire-car with a full tank of diesel, so my host advised me to drive back on a different route, along which was a garage which was always open. I followed his instructions only to find that the garage was of the automatic variety; it had three different kinds of diesel and I had no idea which kind the car used; there was no-one to ask, and then I noticed that the slot through which one puts the card to pay for the fuel had been taped closed. Without further ado I got back behind the wheel and made for the airport. Along the way I managed to take the wrong turning three times, but finally arrived in time for my flight, only to find that there was no way of getting from the drop-off point for the car into the airport itself. In the end, and after some pleading, the manager of the car-hire took me to the airport and deposited me inside the main door. Once I had gone through the formalities, I was taken to a lounge a long walk away from the airline desk. I need a wheelchair because I can’t carry large bags for any distance, and so was quite happy to sit and watch the planes coming in and going out.
Eventually someone came and wheeled me down to the departure gate where a young chap was standing pounding a computer. After a show of waving his hands in the air and going to another gate and another computer, to which we all followed him like a herd of sheep, he returned to the original computer and started to send us through. The plane was standing at the far end of the apron, a long way from the airport buildings, so the passengers boarded a bus and disappeared into the night. In due course the gangways were wheeled away, the doors shut, and the aircraft was beginning to move, but I was still sitting on the apron, unattended. After a while an attendant came out of the building and commenced running up and down the road next to me, shouting at the top of his voice and talking on a cell-phone. In the end he came over to me and explained that the vehicle that was necessary to lift me up to the aircraft could not be found. Half an hour later, it appeared, and I stood on a lift at the rear and was dully hefted aloft. We drove up to the plane, but no-one was aware that we were there until one of the passengers must have drawn the stewardesses’s attention to the fact that there was a strange vehicle standing right next to his porthole with someone wildly gesticulating outside. The door was then opened and I was able to walk on-board and take my seat.
However, contrary to expectation, the aircraft stood still, engines screaming away. There were urgent conversations going on by the door opposite me and, after what seemed like a long time, the stewardess explained that there was an extra passenger on-board – one that was not on the passenger list. With her colleague she then had to go, row by row, checking all our names and boarding-passes against a list. About half-way down the plane they found the extra person (probably a mistake made by the hand-waving chap in the airport), and the plane finally took off immediately. We had been airborne for more than half an hour and there seemed to be no sign of any service on the flight. One stewardess had disappeared onto the flight deck as soon as we had taken off, and the other simply stood, arms crossed, looking about our heads with an air of tired displeasure. By this time I had had enough so got out of my seat and walked up to her: ‘Are we to all die of dehydration, or do you intend offering us anything to drink?’ I asked. She immediately came to life and asked me what I wanted. I reckoned that there was nothing to be lost by being cheeky so I asked for a double Gin and Tonic. She immediately handed this over and refused to take payment for it! After an otherwise uneventful flight we touched down at Bristol, and things went smoothly from there. My advice to those who may be elderly or infirm and who think of going to Sardinia – DON’T. It’s simply not worth it. The country is not beautiful, nor scenic, and the only thing it could offer me was some warm sunshine. Wild horses will not convince me to give it a second try. It also proved to be a very expensive trip: the flight was cheap enough, and the car-hire average, but the accommodation and food was very expensive and very also-ran, so my advice would be: think twice.