Trip Start May 31, 2006
170Trip End Ongoing
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Our drive is interrupted by the sight of a large deer, crowned with worn-out antlers walking awkwardly by the side of the road. Behind him, a woman dressed in a wildlife protection uniform follows his every step and motions us to slow down. Intrigued, we stop to observe the animal with glazed eyes as he wanders to and from the road, not knowing what to do or where to go. Ed calls out to the sentinel in his disgustingly good Italian and finds out that the deer is old and disoriented, venturing on a road which his instinct would have otherwise told him to keep away from. The deer looks at us for a moment through eerie milky eyes then scampers off into the dense backwoods, disappearing from sight and into safety.
Back on the same road we continue our serene ride closer to sea level. Through the grassy mounds and low hills we can spot coves and small beaches of turquoise water and decide to stop again, this time to get close to the shore. If it wasn't for the guardian of the deranged deer we bumped into, we would've thought the island was deserted. Even the waters seem to be asleep with its lazy waves, its pale colors. A sleepy cat stirs from within a bush, startling us with his insistent purring, following us wherever we step. Plop, plop, plop - Ed stands on the shore and throws pebbles in the water as we gaze on to the surrounding hills and wonder what it'd be like to live here.
Entering Alghero we see more human activity: passing cars and slow-walking pedestrians. A beachside promenade of conifers entices us to stop once again. Thin pine trees twist and coil as they reach upwards, and beyond the sand dunes we get lost in the forest by the beach. Ed picks up a few pine cones and playfully threatens to throw them at me as I run for dear life towards a clearing. The sun filters from behind thin clouds into silver light which masks the sea and sand. Again, all is deserted except for a barefoot man and his dog jogging on the shore. The sand is soft and white, like a fine flour, the kind that makes you want to take your shoes off and walk to the other side, wherever. A pine cones hits the back of my calf which somehow reminds me that I'm still hungry.
It's nearly 3pm. The fortified port of Alghero is bathed by a downward sun and people start to emerge from their homes to sit in the small seaside cafes for a coffee or panino. We find a traditional looking restaurant in the old town, facing the rusty canons of the times of the Doria rule. We were greeted in both Catalan and Italian, a clear sign of the Catalan influence dating back to the 14th century but still omnipresent today. Sitting under a large straw umbrella we enjoy the rosso house wine and a superb dish of seafood spaghetti with clams, oysters, gambereti and fresh tomato sauce.
The late lunch leaves us to delight in the flawless sundown by the fortress walls that face the horizon. The sky is tinted flowingly as blood tints water, and the entire city is left pink. We walk along the old walls observing the waves below and the traditional buildings above, all with their colonial-styled balconies and tiles. Palm trees decorate the walkways where once watch towers and garrisons were posted. As the sun disappears we reach the harbour now reflecting the tiny lights of the boats and yachts left resting.
Eventide encloses Alghero and we walk through the labyrinth of narrow lanes and streets which are virtually car-free with the exception of reckless Vespas. Jewellery shops offer necklaces, pendants, and beads made from Precious Red Coral of the dark underwater caves of the Mediterranean. Local legend says that Perseus, after decapitating the monster Medusa, placed her head by the shore as he washed his hands in the water. When he turned back, he realized that her blood had turned the seaweed into red coral. We prefer to leave the blood of Medusa in the depths of the waters, undisturbed, and move on past the shops.
The neoclassical portico of St. Mary's Cathedral is covered in small paper hearts and fragments of broken plates; the echo of cheering for the newly weds still present. The smell of chocolate and almond crepes seduces the crisp air as we find our way back to the old city walls. Christmas lights and decorations hang from the intersections of every street but are sadly turned off, making them seem as if they'd been forgotten for years.
People are crowding the streets now and our tired feet beg for a rest. Ed and I embrace to keep warm as we decide whether to retire to the hotel or keep exploring until dinner time. Hotel it is then, sealed with a kiss. Maybe later we'll pop out again for a quick dinner and some of those hot chocolaty crepes. Away from the old center of Alghero the residential streets are dimly lit and peaceful; a few passing cars briefly interrupt the silence, but it's just our footsteps and our quiet talking now. Tomorrow morning we'll be flying back to London, back to the cold and madness of the city; the memories of this tranquil undisturbed island as fresh as the seafood, and fruity red wines, the secluded beach forests, that immaculate sundown, and this serene seaside town behind fortress walls and ghostly canons. Perhaps in the summer it's more chaotic and congested with summer tourists and beach enthusiasts, but for us, this part of Northern Sardinia will always be serendipitously chilled.