Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

It Really is "The Happy Isle"

I can count on one hand – and have fingers left over – the number of places in the world I’ve visited and later returned to, and this idyllic island in the Mediterranean is definitely one of them. After due consideration as to where to spend my summer vacation, I decided I just had to go back to Alghero, Sardinia, again. Such a fantastic place. People, food, drinks, weather, atmosphere, beaches, this place has it all. And I needed to experience it for yet another week this summer.

Third week of July, 2016. I packed up my suitcase with swim trunks, tank tops, sandals, Hawaiian-style shirts for my evening dining on the city wall and I was ready to go. The only Alitalia flight from Budapest was still in the evening, connecting through Rome and arriving in Alghero at 10:30 PM. So once more I arranged with my hotel to pick me up at the airport. I was ready for my summer beach holiday.

The weather would be perfect for this time of year: 90 degrees during the daytime (30 degrees Celsius) and high 60s at night (20 C). A friend of mine who’d been to Sardinia last year after my visit told me about a great day trip to Corsica; an hour or two on a bus to the northern port city of Porto Teresa, then another hour across the Med to the fortress city of Bonifacio. I was ready for that. Also, last year I’d passed on another day trip by bus to the little town of Bosa, south of Alghero, so I hoped to remedy that situation this year. All in, all, I was ready for another fantastic week in Sardinia.

The only negative this year would be the loss of my newfound friends at the Alghero City Hotel. It turned out that bartender Tomaso, plus Server Antonio and Receptionist Alessandra (husband and wife team), had all departed for greener pastures. I was sorely disappointed when I found out, as I’d looked forward to seeing them all again. I only hoped their replacements were as friendly and welcoming. I guess I’d find out soon enough. My pickup was ready and waiting for me at the airport and the Alghero City Hotel still stood invitingly when I arrived. Easy check-in and in bed by 1 AM. Of course, before hitting the sack I had to set my watch for Mediterranean time, where the minute hand actually slows down and takes two minutes to go what was formerly four minutes. You know how things are much slower in the Med.

Friday morning I was up and out early. First stop: the tour agency with which I was booking my day trip to Bonifacio, Corsica. They still hadn’t confirmed the trip, as they required a minimum of ten people, and I was the only one booked so far. I was to check back with them later that day to see if the trip was on. After a stop at the central bus station in town to get schedules for Bosa and the airport, it was time for the beach. I only stayed a couple of hours this time, as that waster was cold! An iceberg must have melted farther out in the sea.

A late lunch of calamari and fries at the Taverna Catalan, along with a few Ichnusa local beers. A light rain had started earlier, so any further beach time was out for the day. Then, when I checked back with the tour agency, it turned out they had booked 12 people for the Corsica jaunt, so it was on! Cool! I also made a reservation for that night’s dinner at my “old buddy” Gianni’s place near my hotel, Dietro il Carcere (literally, “Behind the Prison”). Gianni actually remembered me from my previous year’s visits, and seemed happy to welcome me back.

Before my dinner at 8 that night, I stopped in at the Hotel Catalunya’s Sky Bar for cocktails and a great view of the city and harbor. My waitress, Erzsébet, got me a mean Mai Tai from bartender extraordinaire Pasqualino, a friend of Gianni’s. When my lovely young server told me her name, I asked her, “Magyar?” And it turned out, of course, she was Hungarian. They’re everywhere!

I whiled away the time soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the views and the drinks. Sardinia is such a great place to relax and just let all the cares of the world flow away. The people there are so happy and contented and easy-going. As I sat there contemplating life and my navel, I recalled snatches of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses I had read long ago:

“…Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world…
… for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset…..
…It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.”

The "happy isles" refers to the Islands of the Blessed, a place where big-time Greek heroes like Achilles enjoyed perpetual summer after they died. We might say Heaven. While the Happy Isles were supposedly in the Atlantic Ocean west of the Pillars of Hercules, I now firmly believe that the primary Happy Isle is none other than Sardinia.

This particular little bit of heaven is in the Mediterranean Sea, located just west of the Italian mainland and in between Corsica to the north and Sicily to the south. From the instant you arrive and begin to soak up the ambiance and feel the Sardinian lifestyle slowly begin to seep into your consciousness, this happy isle grabs hold of you and dares you ever to leave its warm embrace. I had settled in comfortably and was already snuggled safely in the island’s charms.

Dinner with Gianni was, as always, fantastic. His tiny place only has around 12 tables or so, although for special guests he can trot out another table and take over more of the sidewalk or street. That night I opted for a light meal of Fregula, a sort of large cous-cous-style pasta balls covered with the local seafood.
White wine and a dessert of seadas (remember those from my 2015 descriptions?) meant a night well-spent. Gianni even topped me off with a glass or three of mirto, the local digestif.

Saturday’s day-long “tour” was to start with a pickup at the agency’s office at 6:30 AM. Yucchh! As it turned out, it wasn’t a tour in the strict sense of the word. What I paid the agency 25 euros (about $27 US) for was two bus rides of two hours each, to and from the Port of St. Teresa Gallura on the northern end of Sardinia. There the “tour agency’s” part ended. We were pointed in the direction of the ticket office for the Moby Ferry Line and had to pay a separate fee of about $55 US for the ferry ride to and from Bonifacio, Corsica. No tour guide, no assistance, no group rates, no nothing “extra.” And no other costs included.

Anyway, we got out on the sea around 10 AM for the 45-minute cruise to Corsica. I had been to the northeast corner of this little island to the little city of Bastia a few years ago, and had also traveled overland to Ajaccio, birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, but had never been to this southern extreme of the island. We entered a sheltered harbor which was packed with luxury yachts and gigantic sailing craft of all kinds. A lot of money berthed there. When we disembarked it was a steep hike to the castle overlooking the harbor and sea; wussies could take a taxi, but I toughed it out and hiked uphill with many of the crowd – slowly, to be sure, but I did get there in the end.
The castle district consisted of narrow streets and shops and restaurants and tourist bazaars. There was almost no shade up there, and that Corsican sun was hot. When I arrived at the top, I was sweaty and thirsty and in dire need of something cold to drink. Luckily, they had those icy flavored drinks, sort of like an American Slushy. It was wonderful, and I took it slowly so as not to get one of the dreaded “brain freezes.”

I strolled around a while, absorbing the atmosphere, then settled in for an anchovy pizza at one of the local restaurants, accompanied by a couple of nicely-chilled beers. The remainder of the afternoon was sent just strolling and enjoying the ambiance. I didn’t even buy of the tatty tourist crap, a rarity for me.

The ferry left on its return trip at 5 PM, so I made sure I was there early enough to have my ticket checked and my passport validated. (Yes, even though we only crossed from one EU country to another, we still had to have our passports checked). We arrived back at Porto St. Teresa Gallura around 6 PM and boarded our mini-bus for the 2.5 hour trip back to Alghero. It was uneventful, which is just the way we like those kinds of trips.

Back in Alghero around 8:30, I walked along the Promenade at the beachfront and had a light dinner at one of the seaside restaurants: lasagna, Aperol spritz and seadas was just right. I was trying hard to keep my calorie intake to a minimum. An after-dinner stroll through the Old Town allowed me to make my dinner reservations for later in the week at Trattoria Romani and Mabrouk. OK, so my calorie intake would suffer slightly; I wasn’t going to pass up any of those great Sardinian/Catalan dishes if I could help it. I’d skimp on breakfast and lunch, if need be.

And Sunday it rained! All friggin’ day!! But it was my junior quest day, so I borrowed an umbrella from the hotel and went in search of my previous-year’s friends. I found two of them, husband and wife Alessa and Antonio, working at the Hotel Riviera, along the main beachfront Promenade and, wonder of wonders --- they remembered me! It was great to see them again and I promised to stay at their new hotel when and if I returned to Sardinia. Unfortunately, I never did get to hook up with bartender Tomaso – maybe next time.

The remainder of the day was spent watching TV and reading and listening to the on-again-off-again rain and the thunder and lightning; bummer.
The rain stopped in the late afternoon, so I took a pre-dinner stroll around the old town and along the rampart walls before heading for Trattoria Romani and my dinner of porchetto (roasted pork). I started with some oven-baked cheese (formaggio), then to the main course accompanied by white wine and veggies. The porchetto was perfect again, tender pork meat and crunchy skin crackling. Yummy. A limoncello topped it off and I was once again a happy camper.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were sunny and hot and all were my beach days. I roasted in the sun and swam in the cool surf from morning till afternoon, relaxing and feeling the heat soak into my bones. I had lounge chairs at La Marina and was able to read a little, doze a little, people-watch a little and generally just have a good time.
Lunches were at Maracaibo’s little beachfront snack and bar stand and another pizzeria nearby. Monday’s evening was cocktails at Piazza Sulis and dinner at Movida, along the city wall overlooking the harbor, where I had dined the previous year. A nice octopus salad and a small steak with mushrooms and an Aperol spritz were perfect.

Tuesday was, of course, my second-annual feast at Mabrouk. No menu, just a four-course tasting dinner (although I counted seven different dishes, so make of that what you will). My courses were:
½ liter of local white wine
Starters of shrimp, monkfish, dogfish and seafood salad;
Pasta with meat, covered by a zucchini and cheese sauce
Small pasta shells with tomato sauce
Seafood augusta (rice, clams, mussels, etc)
Shrimp and calamari (as opposed to a full baked fish)
Chocolate cake
Mirto digestif

And all that for only 41 euros (about $45 US). Probably pay $200 for that meal in London or Paris.
Wednesday evening I stopped at the Sky Bar again for cocktails and views and brief chats with my Hungarian waitress, then it was down the street to Gianni’s again for my final meal in Alghero. Gianni was as effusively welcoming as ever; no wonder his diners return again and again. He was only serving dinners this month, but every night was fully booked out. He actually had to “sneak” me in at 8 PM before the customers who had reserved my table for 9:30 PM arrived. I was finished with my last mirto by 9:27. Dinner was another great octopus salad and steak, wine and seadas for dessert. I said my final goodbyes to Gianni and his staff and waddled back to the hotel.

As you can tell, I once again didn’t make it down to Bosa on the bus. The rain scuttled my schedule, but maybe next time around. We shall see.

Thursday’s departure was painless. Local bus to the airport (1.5 euro!), late plane to Rome, connect with another late flight on Alitalia to Budapest, airport bus and metro to Kalvin Ter and a short walk home through a light rain. Will I return next year? Never can tell. I may need to revisit the Happy Isle just to touch base. I could happily die there.