Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Day 1 (27.6.2010) – Arrival in Cagliari

And so my adventures of solo travelling begin. I have arrived in Cagliari, where I will have less than 24 hours to act like a tourist on speed and see all of the important and beautiful things this city has to offer. Luckily, most of them are a stone throw from my hotel so I should manage to get a fair amount done tomorrow.

With the help of my beloved Sardinian guidebook, and my clearly infallible organisation (speaking too soon, methinks so!) I got from A (the airport) to B (my basic hotel – see what I did there?) with next to no hassle. I found a bus that dropped me at the central bus station, right on the coast and right next to my bed for the night. I quickly went to purchase my ticket for Nuoro tomorrow and attempted to consult a timetable for said journey (there was none!) and so opted instead to chat with a pleasant looking bus driver (as pleasant as bus drivers can look, anyway!). He seemed somewhat puzzled that a twenty-something girl of clearly non-Italian origin was quizzing him, in Italian, about bus timetables. I obviously don’t stick out at all!

Having dumped my obnoxiously heavy bags (I am never travelling with my laptop again! Or yes, I will invest in a MAC. There, I said it!), I wandered along the nearest street which boasted some of the most popular restaurants in the city. I was tempted by the guidebook’s recommendation of a place where “booking is essential” and wondered if I could prove myself to be the exception to the rule. I did, but with a certain amount of confusion. The buzz of young, Italian waiters who initially seemed to keen to seat me, were suddenly overwhelmed with the mathematical problem of fitting one little Celtic girl into a room of matrimonial-length tables which had all been reserved. It turns out the guidebook was right: this place was popular! They finally squeezed me into a corner tucked behind a fridge (!), though this required moving a family mid-meal who thankfully didn’t seem to mind. At this point I was happy to be hidden from the room, feeling self-conscious enough about eating by myself given the attention that had just been drawn to me.

What followed was the most quintessentially Italian experience of eating. They brought me no menu. Instead, I was asked what I would like to drink, twice, since two different waiters appeared one after the other. Only slightly thrown, I suddenly had a wave of inspiration as I remembered that they make my favourite kind of wine in Saridinia: Vermentino. Frankly, a glass of that was all I needed. I could have eaten the tablecloth as an accompaniment and been happy. Cute Waiter Number One then suggested that I begin with the “antipasti misti del mare”. Again, I was not expecting to be told what to eat, but since I had vowed to try traditional things here (except the maggot cheese of course!) I just mentioned my nut allergy and gladly awaited my first taste of Sardinian seafood.

I was brought six plates of food. That’s right: six. And bread. At first glance this was the strangest mishmash of things they could have cobbled together, but I soon realised that EVERY table in my vicinity had the same combination of platters before them. So I thought, it must be good. There were two kinds of squid, one simply marinated in oil and another cooked in wine of sorts (I asked Cute Waiter Number two and he had no idea what was in it. So helpful.), chicken, (I don’t know anything else about what was in that chicken), a salad of tuna, onion and tomatoes which I wanted to toss when I first saw it and then voraciously devoured in its entirety once savoured, deep fried “little fish”, (again, I have no idea what kind of fish), and lastly, the best mussels I have ever, ever had.

I slowly relished as much of this seabed feast as I could manage, all the while sipping on my beautiful Vermentino and delving into the first pages of Eat, Pray, Love. I adore the book, thank Amelia whole-heartedly for the recommendation, and realised that I was laughing out-loud at it in the restaurant. At that same moment I looked around and noticed that I was surrounded by couples. I had a quick pang of “I wish I had someone else here with me” but then realised that they were all sitting in silence, and that I in fact kept receiving envious glances from the girls who seemed rather frustrated with their company. It seems that my novel would have been a happy substitute for any of their partners this evening.

The antipasti proved to be so sumptuous that I couldn’t face another course, which made me quite sad since I had fancied pasta, but too satisfied to voice any such complaint. The icing on the cake came as they’d forgotten to charge me for my wine, a fact which I corrected and Cute Waiter Number One dismissed out of hand with a casual “Non fa niente” and the usually charming Italian wink. I couldn’t have imagined a better start to dining solo in Italy!

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