Regular readers feel free to skim through the content as the majority of the writing won't be immediately relevant to you. Alternatively, just pick out any parts that might be of light interest to you, the small summary at the end for example:
The first piece of advice I have for you is to hire a car. Especially if you really want to see the island in its full magnificence. Same applies with Corsica.
Getting to and from a number of main towns in Sardenga using public transport is achievable - as I've demonstrated. The island relies on the ARST network (TRASPORTI REGIONALI DELLA SARDEGNA) for mass transportation of carbon based life-forms like ourselves. You can buy a ticket from the driver or you can purchase in advance, from the station assuming there is a station. (Take Olbia for example, it has a rail station but as far as I'm aware, not exactly a bus station - rather a bus stop). In examples like this small retail shops often sell the bus tickets so look out for these or just ask around.
The ARST buses exist in abundance coming in all shapes and sizes covering the majority of the island. Some of these are decent enough and some have not been well looked after or maintained as so it's pot luck which one you'll get.
My final bus journey from Olbia to Santa Teresa took 1.5 hours and the bus was in full working condition. Now contrast that with the outward and return buses I caught between Cagliari to Villasimius of similar distance.
If you're wondering what's going on here, well, the air conditioning seems to be permanently on so it blows out cold air at quite a rate. As such, these are people's attempts to cover up some of the smaller holes with toilet paper and whatever else to block out the cold air. Admittedly, this wasn't particularly enjoyable and so even I joined in with finding surplus items to block the holes. After this my attention was firmly back to the stunning scenery on route to what was then Villasimius.
Please note that tickets are to be validated from machines (after you've purchased them from a different machine!) within the terminal prior to boarding the train. This involves swiping your ticket allowing a line of data to be printed on the back. The train conductor will check for this and subsequently then punch a hole through your ticket to complete the process. This process is the same on the mainland of Italy too.
The train network served me well during my time in Sardenga. This positive experience started immediately from the airport to Cagliari, to Oristano and then to Olbia, all without drama or delay. Long distances were covered at decent rate of pace too with it taking less around 5 hours from the south to the north. If you can stop off in between like I did, that'll break up the journey.
Pretty much the entire train network is visible from this sign-board:
Don't expect long or multiple car carriages though. The three journeys I experienced each offered just two carriages. Seasonal? Perhaps.
The next time you kindly think to yourselves, 'fair play to him (me) getting around like he is' - remember there's always somebody doing something more impressive. On the train from Oristano to Olbia I encoutered my first English speaking people for several days. However the conversation didn't last long as she nodded off pretty quickly which was understandable considering she was 76 and travelling via train across Sardinia!!! As for the other photo, well, I couldn't not take it could I - LOL.
Amazing, hey. I'll be sure to point this to my Dad the next time he says...'At our age (early 60s), we'd much rather convenience than any hassle when it comes to holidays'.
Sardinian Siestas. Is there such a thing?
Oh yes, they happen and it's sods law you'll get caught out right when you most need the service your're seeking - supermarket food and drink in most cases for me. I've already spent a few weeks in northern Italy this year and don't remember any frustrating opening hours which cannot be said for here 'down south'. Generally the first stint of opening hours will be until either 1pm or 2pm. The second stint will therefore re-open at around 4pm or 5pm. Doesn't sound too bad when described like this but mark my words, it'll catch you out and you'll exhale the same way that I have done countless times.
Be mindful too of the 'weekend curse' when shops close at different hours to normal working week hours. Remembering what day of the week it is comes naturally when you're having a normal Monday-Friday week but when you're travelling, you can often lose track of what day it is and before you know it you're at a shop with a fat CHIUSO/FERME sign in front of you - cos it's blooming Sunday!
Is Sardenga expensive?
Yeah, it is a little. Certainly it isn't Eastern Europe cheap but then equally it isn't London expensive. If you're a couple both earning an average wage you shouldn't be too dissatisfied with the pricing as long as you didn't come out here expecting a bargain.
A starter, main course and drink will typically see you shelling out between 15 and 20 euros - similar to what we would pay back in the UK. I was lucky enough to have been able to eat like this a couple of times having saved money by staying with Uncle Roberto.
And in normal backpacking mode? Well, you will need to be at your most frugal. On my last day I purchased from a Supermarket a packet of raw meat (Salami, Parma ham etc...) with two small baguettes, some chocolate, yoghurt, water and fruit. This cost me less than 10 euros and that lasted me for both lunch and supper.
I'm also happy to report that there are some things in Sardenga (not many) which aren't too badly priced at all: bottled water, Cappuccino (coffee in general) and..........public transport!
The first two are indicative of prices in Italy I've found but the cost of public transport really surprised me. From the deep south to the high north, I took two different trains and one bus totalling nearly six hours. For this the overall price was around 16 euros (£12 GBP). The same couldn't be said in Corsica.
What are some of the sights?
...You know, the ones that I didn't get to see! :-( Yeah yeah, rub it in. Anyhow, these should help you make the most out of the island:
Cala Goloritze - trekking and beaches
Sa Stiddiosa - trekking and waterfalls
The Little Green Train (Trenino Verde) - A train ride to enjoy the Sardinian scenery
L'Argentina (Torre Argentina_ - trekking and an abandoned silver cave.
Grotte di Su Mannau, Fluminimaggiore - cave
Capo Caccia - cave, beautiful landscape and sea
Golfo di orosei - Lonely planet states "For sheer stop-dead-in-your-tracks beauty, there's no place like this gulf".
Su Gorropu - One of the largest canyons in Europe.
In addition to hotel accommodation, there are (some) B&B's, there is hired rental properties and you even have camping options depending on what your budget/preference. Uncle Roberto reliably informs me that you can pick up a nice rental place in the heart of a busy seaside town for less than 400 euros for the week. You can expect to pay even less if you are prepared to travel a little by car to reach the center and the beaches.
Needless to say there aren't really many 'backpacker hostels' around. In fact, I believe there is one in Cagliari but it gets full pretty quickly for obvious reasons. Still, you can expect to pay perhaps up to 25 euros for 6/8 bed dorm.
I would have happily explored the camping option for a new experience if I had a companion and better means of getting around conveniently bringing us on to....
How should I get around Sardenga?
In the unlikely event of your island-adventure objective being similar to my own, I've proven you can use public transport to get around and reasonably comfortably at that. Getting to and from a single place or destination using the bus or trains is one thing but to make the most out of your Sardinian trip, you'll need to cover more ground; ground that you actually want to cover and not where a bus driver with a fixed schedule wants to take you. Therefore, hiring a car really is the best option for vast island coverage and of course the freedom and convenience it brings with it.
I would really happily return here but it would have to be under different circumstances second time around. I would want a larger budget, a hire car and a companion. Oh, and I'd also want at least 10 days but preferably 14 to make a decent tour of the island including climbing mountains, trekking, enjoying several sunsets, beach time and seeing many of the attractions and best kept secrets this island has to offer.
Don't let the reduced writing pertaining to Corsica that follows fool you into thinking this is reflective of my experience here. It isn't, it's just that the above has exhausted me. Although I only had four days in Corsica compared to a week in Sardenga, you can see from my first post when I entered the island just how fond of it I was. See 'The beauty of Bonafacio'.
To be honest, Corsica was similar to Sardenga except for one notable difference:
The cost of the limited public transport. If you recall, I navigated from the south of Sardenga to the north involving trains and buses and this cost me in total around 16 euros. Here, and for considerably shorter distances, I paid a lot more. In fact, from Bonafacio to Porto Vecchio and a journey time of just 25 minutes, this cost me 9 euros!!! The journey from Porto Vecchio to Bastia was an eye-watering 25 euros so I was glad when I reached my final Corsican destination. Cost aside, the buses were a slight improvement to the majority of the ARST buses in Sardenga.
Regarding the train network, well, from what I understand there are really only two main routes: Ajaccio to Bastia, and Ponte Leccia to Calvi. I didn't use any in the end but if circumstances were different, I would have really liked to have made it those places and attempt the train journeys too.
The external site (http://www.corsicabus.org) offers some decent information in parts relating to Corsica in general and bus/train timetable information:
Accommodation and the cost of food were similar on both islands. The closer to the port you are, typically you'd pay more. I can admit I struggled for the majority of my time on these island trying to find decently priced food. I managed to find some places that served crepes, even panini's but these were rare to find. Also, I was back in the land of 5 or 6 euros for a pint of larger. I'll pass thanks!
One of my most proud solo efforts was getting a takeaway pizza in Corsica. Something that probably doesn't happen too often over here I'd imagine. If I'd have sat in the restaurant, I'd have paid for a drink and probably felt like I'd have to at least leave a one euro tip. Instead, I ordered from the restaurant a 10 euro takeaway Margherita pizza saving me both of the above-mentioned costs but I also used some Salami left from earlier to put on the pizza as well as having my own water.
Then there was the view I'd created for myself...
At least if you are planning to visit these islands you can now have a realistic idea of what to expect - like I should have. In saying that, if I knew the prices beforehand it might well have put me off meaning I'd have never conceived the five island challenge in the first place...?
Recently I learnt from a travel pal, Zach, that Corsica also offers the longest, toughest long distance walking trail. So for those very few of you crazy enough to be considering this, I know Zach would be one them, here's an idea of what you'll be taking on and believe me when I say those mountains are 2000 meters high.
After I left Villasimius, I quickly (and sadly) realised that my time on these islands would be limited. In saying that, I managed to eek out nearly two weeks touring both of them. It wasn't until nearly one week in that I became properly acceptant of this. You see, I spent a couple of days after leaving Roberto and the girls feeling slightly down as I knew I wasn't going to be able to do this again over here and that so I wasn't going to be able to explore this land like I normally would. I was annoyed at myself as I wouldn't be able to make the most of my time here. As time rolled on a little it allowed me to become naturally at peace with this and so I began to evolve a slightly mindset allowing me to feel proud that I can at least say the following...
I experienced four days on different beaches surrounded by the most stunning glass-like effect sea water I've ever seen. I was able to spend this time with my Uncle and his daughter and friend and we enjoyed some good laughs together and some home-cooked food. I would sleep over in five different towns in Sardenga, three in Corsica lasting 12 days in total. One of these towns, Bonafacio, happened to also provide me with one of the most amazing solo afternoon day outs I've ever had. And last but not least, there was my actual touring effort...
I landed by plane, grabbed a lift with Uncle Rob for four days, caught two trains and a bus taking me from the very south of Sardenga to the very north. I then jumped on a boat to take me to a French island that I hadn't heard of until a month or two prior. I took two further buses to again take me from the very south to the very north of the island before catching a full-on four hour ferry ride to land me in Livorno (Italy) before catching a quick train up-the-road to Pisa way. And that folks, is where I now write to you from somewhat exhausted.
Time to rest and do little for a couple of days before thinking up another new challenge/adventure.