Sardinia: Part 1 – Cagliari

We flew into Sardinia via Cagliari, the capital of Sardinia. The city itself was not too big; many sights are within walking distance other than the Poetto beach and Park of Molentargius. In our view, the sights itself were not as impressive as ones you may find in other major Italian cities but we checked them out anyway given that we spent 3 nights in the capital. In hindsight, probably 2 days in Cagliari would have been sufficient.

The highlight of Cagliari was definitely the food which we found to be different from other parts of Italy. Here are a few which we highly recommend:

Clockwise from top: fregola with mussels and clams; Durke which sells the tastiest amaretti biscuits; one of the many seafood dishes in Martinelli’s; squid ink pasta at Sa Picchetara.

  1. Ristorante Martinelli’s – We came here for our first evening. Good thing we booked as we could tell many people were being turned away on the night! On the recommendation of the waitress, we ordered the seafood platter under the Appetisers section of the menu. The seafood included salmon, tuna, swordfish, prawns, octopus, squid and much more. Who knew that the texture of fresh octopus actually tasted closer to fish? We were absolutely blown away by the taste, humongous portion and affordable price (our bill for two came to approximately £40).
  2. Sa Picchetara – This restaurant was slightly further out from the centre but we walked there nonetheless. Here, we had some tasty pasta with fresh tomato and prawns, as well as spaghetti de nero seppia (squid ink) with claims and bottarga. It was the first time that we tried bottarga – salted and cured fish roe, usually from grey mullet or bluefin tuna. I had no idea what the bottarga we ate came from but I prayed that I wasn’t contributing to the extinction of bluefin tuna! Bottarga may sound unappetising but we enjoyed it and even brought back some for cooking at home.
  3. Amaretti biscuits – These biscuits made of almond and sugar are typical Sardinian treats you could find in many cafes but our absolute favourite was from a tiny family-run shop called Durke on Via Napoli 66, which were so fresh and chewy. We only wish we brought back more!
  4. Fregola with mussels and clams – This is a traditional pasta dish you will find in many restaurants in the city but we first tried this in Kasteddu for lunch. Fregola is a pasta shaped like tiny balls and they tend to tuck into the crevices of the mussel and clam shells. We liked that the pasta was cooked in a light stock-based sauce with fresh seafood so you don’t feel too heavy after the meal. In fact, we found that most pasta dishes in this city weren’t loaded with cheese which is quite nice for a change.
  5. Toyo Sushi – At first instance, it seems strange to have Japanese food in Sardinia but the seafood was so fresh which makes very tasty sushi and sashimi.

Clockwise from top left: Antico Caffee has been around since 1855, a great place to take a coffee and patisserie; the main street next to the wharf is bustling all the time with market stalls; snapped this photo while we were cycling along the promenade; Bastione di Saint Remy where we watched a sunset.

Other than the food, we joined a cycle tour with New Way Sardinia which took us out to the places we couldn’t see on foot. We lucked out because it ended up to be a private tour! We were keen to see the Park of Molentargius because it was apparently a breeding ground for flamingos. The best time to see the flamingos is during spring when as much as 20,000 flamingos could be seen in the park’s grounds. Unfortunately, on the day we went in early/mid September, we could only see a few flamingos, and one flamingo in particular was quite close but rather grey than pink. Our guide told us that grey means that the flamingo is young. Following the park, we cycled onto Poetto beach which was the closest beach to the city. It was rather windy on the day so we didn’t swim but we could imagine it would be very busy during summer.

Back in the city one evening, we watched the sunset at the top of Bastione di Saint Remy, a perfect end to the day!

Advertisements

Ferrara, city of the Renaissance

It was a slight surprise that we went on a second day trip when we only had four days, but luckily Ferrara was only half an hour away by train. Upon arrival in the city centre, there was a huge castle with moat, apparently built by the once powerful Este clan. We took our breakfast in a cafe with outdoor seating, sipping our cafe latte and cappuccino while looking into the piazza. It was lively and bustling despite the fact that it was a Monday, and the sun was bright enough for sunglasses. Many streets still had the medieval walls and arches intact, so that everywhere you walked, you feel like you’re living in some historian novel. Unless you’re Italian, of course.

Moated medieval castle where you will find the tourist information office.

Tiny shops along the main square.

Tiny shops along the main square.

Medieval walls are still intact. Often quite colourful.

Medieval walls are still intact. Often quite colourful.

The restaurant we never got to try...

The restaurant we never got to try…

Instead, we went to this restaurant where we had our last dose of fresh pasta.. deliciously scrumptious. This will be one of the things I miss most.

Instead, we went to this restaurant where we had our last dose of fresh pasta.. deliciously scrumptious. This will be one of the things I miss most from this trip.

A day out in Parma

During our visit to Bologna, we decided to stop over at Parma – a small city conveniently situated an hour’s train ride away – to explore some of the other localities within the region.

                          IMG_4987_2              IMG_4993_2

We didn’t manage to visit the main museum housing popular landmarks i.e. the Teatro Farnese and Cattedrale, which wasn’t ideal as it was pouring with rain. However, that presented us with the perfect excuse to indulge in one of the many cafe’s serving freshand satisfyingly warm coffee.

It was obvious from the ambience within the cafe that there was a big coffee culture within the city. Things were a much slower pace here, and more so than Bologna would you believe it! It was only until the mid-afternoon when the streets started to filland the locals started to pour in. We did wonder if people came out of their apartments purely to head over for a coffee – as it seemed like it from where we were!

We weren’t quite sure if we were charmed by everydaylife in Parma. Shops closed by half four. Roads, as a result of the pedestrianisation of the town,  were bare. Would quaint alleys and peaceful days be enough to convince us that there was a better life here? Not at this time of our lives, we thought.

IMG_4990     IMG_5001

A trip to parma wouldn’t have been complete without buying a huge wedge of cheese. And that’s what we did. A whole 1kg.. almost to the span of Sharon’s shoulders.SONY DSC

We discovered Parma was host to a wealth of food festivals. Along the main high street this time, there were stalls and stalls worth of chocolate. One ladyoffered us a sample, which to our surprise, hit like a bomb. With that sort of alcohol content, it must have hit Sharon’s half glass limit in an instant!

We finished off the day with a pre-dinnerwalk through the palace and stopped for a moment to embrace the company of each other among the dazzle of the royal walls. Dinner was at La Greppia, an acclaimed restaurant in Parma. We were again treated to exquisite pasta – unrivalled to London and an excellent waiter who “carried the hairstyle”. It wasn’t long before  time started to haunt us and we hastily headed back towards the returning train to Bologna. With a few minutes to spare, we found ourselves an unoccupied cabin and contently enjoyed a comfortable nap home.

Maybe we should go here..‏

It’s surprising sometimes how people can affect your decision making. From an email titled “maybe we should go here..” we found ourselves, a few weeks later, on the way to Bologna – a large city within the Emilia Romagna region.

Bologna, famous for its “ragu allu Bolognese”, had a character unlike anything back in London. On exploring the old town, the “aperitivo” culture  – unlimited small plates and beverages from ten euros – religiously adopted. Locals could be seen dominating the wine bars from six onwards – although a few could be seen to redefine the meaning of pre-lash! Oh, how we wish London was this laid back!

SONY DSC

No trip would be complete without physical pain and so prompted by the taunting “Dos Torres” we ascended the 498 steps that spiralled the historic tower. After plenty of anti-social behaviour from Sharon and threats to overthrow innocent human beings, we arrived to panoramic views of the city. Absolutely worth it!

IMG_4937   SONY DSC

Walking through Bologna’s “Via Pescherie Vecchie” (Old Fish Street) revealed the city’s real enthusiasm for fresh food and quality ingredients. Furthermore to the fresh fish on display, charcuteries and cheese counters  showed off their largest produce, dried porcini mushrooms amassed and graded into their different categories and home-made pesto from varieties of ingredients widely sold. For  meat and cheese lovers, it was a bonanza.

IMG_4914   IMG_4959

IMG_4974   IMG_4910

We didn’t forget to indulge in one of the culinary hotspots of Italy ourselves, of course and finished a long day at Trattoria Oberdan. Served fresh to our table, we feasted on the home-made pasta – chewy and full of flavour – until our stomachs bulged.

SONY DSC

We retreated to our hotel, where just before collapsing from fatigue, we stepped into the balcony, soaked in the stars and  held our breathes ..for a little longer than what we’re used to.