Mon 2 Nov 2009 08:58
We are overwintering in Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. We came here
because it’s a city in its own right and not just a holiday destination,
so it stays open all year. The city isn’t as smart as Palma or Mahon, but
there are some upmarket areas, such as Via Roma, which overlooks the
commercial harbour. Here stands the town hall and some good-looking,
imposing buildings, probably built in the 19th century by wealthy
merchants and ship owners. There is a really old (c.13th Century) quarter
of the city called Castello, built on the hill and it’s worth climbing up
there just for the views over the city and the Bay of Cagliari. The
harbour is busy with ferries, cargo ships and gigantic cruise liners.

The sailing vessel Volare, which brought us safely here from old England,
is tied up in the Marina di Sant’Elmo in Cagliari and we are booked in
until March 2010. There are several other yachts in for the winter, two
from the USA, one from Iceland and two Italians. A very sociable
liveaboard community has quickly formed. We hosted ‘drinks’ on board the
other day, which was supposed to last about an hour. It deteriorated of
course and turned into a party, with the guests tottering back down the
gangplank just after midnight.

The marina toilets and showers are all clean and new and there is a nice,
comfortable sitting area with its own barbeque, overlooking the marina.
The local supermarket is 10-15 minutes’ walk away and the centre of town
about 20 minutes. Permanent staff Andrea and Alessio are very friendly and
helpful and even tolerate me trying out my dodgy Italian on them. They
regularly check the boats, especially when the wind gets up. It can get
quite breezy (we’ve had 40 knots in the marina) which would do some real
damage to a boat that wasn’t properly tied up.

There is a local character here who I thought was a bit dodgy at first. He
was tiptoeing along the pontoon early one morning and looking between the
moored boats. He was also pulling along a shopping trolley, as slowly as
possible so that it didn’t make a noise. I thought he might be looking for
fenders or something else off the boats to pinch. All became clear when he
reached into the trolley and pulled out a wooden pole with a piece of
string on one end and prongs on the other. In a flash, he aimed the pole
like a javelin and flung it really hard into the water. The string was
attached to his wrist and he used this to recover the pole. As it came
out, I could see a really big fish that had been speared on the prongs.
Without ceremony, it was thrown into the shopping trolley and off he went
to look for more. Impressive! Unfortunately, it was grey mullet, which
aren’t good to eat. When I asked him, he said it was for his cats.

Another good thing about Marina di Sant’Elmo is that it’s quite close to
the approach to Cagliari (Elmas) Airport, so I can sit in the cockpit in
the sunshine, watch the jets drive down the glide slope and at the same
time watch the cruise liners and yachts come and go. It’s the perfect
situation for a sailing/flying geek! However, it’s good to see things from
a different perspective and the other day I dipped into a pilot’s internet
forum and discovered that Cagliari air traffic control has a terrible
reputation among professional pilots, some of whom describe it as “total
chaos”. Let’s hope they’re organised on 15th December when we fly home!

We have discovered a venue called Fiera only a ten minute walk from the
marina, where there will be a three day jazz festival in November. There
is also a modern concert hall in town, called the Teatrolirico, which has
a good concert programme, including the Mozart piano concerto no.21. The
slow movement of this will forever be The London Hospital Theatre 2 where
I worked a long time ago. The surgeon used to like to operate to music,
but I don’t think he had many tapes and this piece came round several
times a day, so we got to know it quite well. Another thing I remember
about Theatre 2 was the big windows, which made the nurses’ theatre
uniforms completely see-through in summer. Ah, an old man and his

We go everywhere on foot and this is a good way to get to know the city,
because at 3mph, you have time to take in all the detail. However, a
pedestrian is definitely a second-class citizen in Cagliari. Some time
back, there was an extensive road building programme and a network of
six-lane urban highways was laid down. Unfortunately, in many places they
only left enough pavement for pedestrians to walk in single file alongside
what is effectively a race track, for the culture here is to drive as fast
as possible at all times. As you walk alongside the road, you’re only
inches from the snarling and roaring of engines, which can be intimidating
until you get used to it. Sometimes you have to actually step onto the
race track, because a building has been built over the pavement or a car
has been parked sideways across it and you become undesirably close to the
race action.

Sometimes the pavement will lead you to a roaring junction, with no
obvious way of getting across, so you get pretty canny at spotting where
the zebra crossings are. However, this gives no guarantee of safety. The
rule about giving priority to pedestrians on a crossing is the same as in
the UK, but Italian drivers seem to regard this as ‘advisory’ and simply
swerve round you so that they don’t have to slow down, or heaven forbid
actually stop. It becomes a game of chicken because the only way to get
across the road sometimes is to step onto the zebra crossing, look
straight ahead and start walking. If you hesitate or get eye/Ray Bann
contact with any drivers, the game is lost and you may as well stay on
that side of the road all day. Most drivers, when they see that it’s too
late to intimidate you into staying on the pavement will actually stop.
Like Chairman Mao once said, you just need the bottle to take the first
step (well it was something like that).

You might suppose that all this aggressive driving is being done by the
stereotypically young, testosterone-charged male, but not so. The girls
are right out there on the track, swerving and jinking about with the best
of them. One of our neighbours who is also overwintering in Cagliari was
on a crossing the other day and had to jump out of the way to avoid being
mown down by a signorina in a tearing hurry. I suspect Merrie made the
cardinal error of getting eye contact. She ended up falling over and was
yelled at by la pilota, whom she had seriously inconvenienced. Had it been
me, I think the signorina might have got a few choice words back in olde

It’s also normal to honk your car horn a lot, for instance when the car at
the front of the queue hesitates for a microsecond when the light turns
green. Again, in England, this could be taken as an invitation to step out
of the car and sort things out round the back of Asda, but it’s
interpreted differently in Italy. I’ve heard lots of honking, but never an
actual row.

Last month we hired a car to look for marinas in Sardinia (we could have
sailed but it would have taken a month to get round). Driving round here
can be like stepping into a re-enactment of the Italian Job, so it’s
important to set aside any Anglo-Saxon notions about driving etiquette and
to learn a different set of rules. When you’re driving on twisty,
unfamiliar roads and the driver behind is a few millimetres from your rear
bumper, you have to suppress the northern European urge to stop the car
and initiate a full and frank discussion with the driver. In England,
tailgating is usually regarded as a hostile act and can be a good
precursor to a punch-up, but here it isn’t seen that way. You just have to
learn to not take it as a personal affront.

We walked to Poetta Beach the other day, about two miles east of the town
and saw loads of people lying in sun and sizzling in the heat, or out
swimming in the sea. I knew Cagliari was going to be a bit hotter than
England, but didn’t expect it to be hot enough for a beach holiday in
nearly November!

I recently had to go to one of the local hospitals in Cagliari and
experienced Italian healthcare at first hand, which turned out to be very
efficient. I was seen straight away and various people started to poke and
prod. None of them actually introduced themselves and I had no idea
whether they were doctors, nurses or patients wandering in from the
psychiatric ward. Maybe this was because of my limited Italian, or maybe
this is just the way it’s done, I don’t know. But I was in and out in
about 90 minutes and I reckon this would have been at least four hours in
a UK casualty.

We’re home in about 6 weeks for Christmas...get the turkey in, Mum!