Cosmopolitan Sardinia: Cool, hip Ca’gliari

(Almost) Festa di Sant'Efisio
(Almost) Festa di Sant’Efisio

By one day. I missed seeing ‘La Festa di Sant’Efisio’ by one day. Instead I got to see plastic Sant’Efisio as evidenced by the photo on the left. I knew I should have convinced myself to come a day earlier despite all the reports of crowds. Yes, there were bleachers lining the streets everywhere, evidence of the number of people attending. But, it looked like quite a festa – there were red banners draped on every window, corner, balcony surrounding the Chiesa di Sant’Efisio. Sigh.

Sant’Efisio served as a soldier in the Roman army around 300AD and according to tradition, has had numerous miracles attributed to him – including the rescue of the city from a plague in 1652. The poor chap was beheaded in 303 having refused to renounce his Christian faith. Since rescuing the city from the plague, the city hosts Sardinian’s biggest religious festival annually beginning the morning of May 1st.  The procession, carrying the holy statue of the saint, follows a long 40 km walk to the town of Nora and returns to Calgiari on the evening of May 4th.

Although I missed the party, his chiesa and the nearby Cripta di Santa Restituta were fascinating.  Upon entering the church, I realized that folks were kissing the little plastic statue’s feet as they passed – well, actually more like the ankle or calf given the lovely floral arrangement surrounding his little feet.  So I jumped in line and followed suit. The small church was built in the 18th century and at the back of the church, you can find cannonballs still embedded in the wall, fired during the attack on the city by the French in 1793 – apparently the Saint was instrumental in the repulsion of the French as well.

There is an interesting crypt just adacent to the church, Cripta di Santa Restituta, which was originally a place of pagan rites but later provided a home for refugees from Africa during the fifth century and later still served as a prison, an air raid shelter and even a garbage refuge. It was fascinating to read the numerous signatures visible on the walls from those who were sheltered here during the air raids in the 1930 and 1940s.

Scribbles in the Crypt
Scribbles in the Crypt

Ca’gliari, the capital of Sardinia, is a very, very hip city.  I have to admit I was a tad thankful that I had missed the festa after it took me a very frustrating hour to find a spot to park in front of my hotel. Up the main street, around the marina, down the main street; up the main street, around the marina, down the main street. It was a knot of cars everywhere. After finally cutting off another car to scoot into a spot (yes, wild gestures were aimed my way), I entered my hotel to find a very cool, trendy boutique hotel – Hotel Miramare. Was I in NY or Cagliari? Very cool lanterns lined the steps up to the hotel, candles everywhere, bright moroccan colors on the walls…very nice digs for less than 100 euro.  After a rest, I was off to the Bastione San Remy – from which the views of sunset were apparently legendary.  After a haul up an extremely steep flight of stairs, I was amply rewarded.  The view from the top of the defensive walls was stunning – views of the lagoons, port and the old city made the steep climb worth every heart-pounding step…and to top it off, there was a very cool bar, Caffe degli Spiritu, situated just at the top -imagine that?!?!

Caffe degli Spiritu; Cagliari
Caffe degli Spiritu; Cagliari

I forced myself to take one of the hammocks, ordered un bicchiere di vino bianco and waited for sunset , as very cool, hip Buddha Bar-esque music surrounded me.  Sunset was a bit underwhelming due to some unfortunately placed clouds but my sense of peace and sheer happiness could not be quelled. After chatting with a few locals, I headed back down to bury myself under a mountain of pillows and snuggly blankets. Mission accomplished.

It was in Ca’gliari that I had an amazing lunch – after reading numerous recommendations, I headed for Da Lillicu – a simple trattoria with simple marble tabletops, filled with locals and wonderfully fresh seafood.   When I mentioned that I was ‘sola una’ for lunch, the waiter put me front and center alongside tables of locals. He then told the table of four elderly gentlemen next to me to make sure I was comfortable.  Well, this local hangout was a true joy – rather than select from a menu, I asked the waiter to bring me what he recommended – and that he did – as did the table next to me.  The local gents were dishing out their food to me wanting me to try all the local specialities. The seafood was amazingly fresh and the waitstaff was wonderfully friendly. I had a long conversation with my local buddies on the state of affairs in America.  With few Americans in these parts with which they could discuss this topic , they rambled on at break neck speed about ameriga. I could only interject with the occasional ‘si, si’ , certo’ or ‘veramente’ . I ignited another lively round of dialogue when I asked if the word ‘sardines’ actually originated from the word Sardinia. ‘Si,si,si’  they enthusiastically responded – and then launched into a history of sardine fishing around the island – of which I understood only every 3rd or 4th word – but again interjected as needed with the occasional ‘si,si,si’ and vigorous headshakes. I had (either from my waiter or the table next to me) a dizzying array of antipasti on my table – all fresh fish and shellfish followed by an amazing lunch of pasta with arselle (local tiny clams); a delicate filet of branzino bathed in lemon; and a taste of saedas (definitely from the table next to me) – the Sardinian  dessert of delicate pastry surrounding warm, creamy fresh pecorino with a drizzle of honey on top. (We will try our hand at these in the upcoming week.) After my wonderful lunch, I bid my new friends goodbye and headed out to explore.

Allora, it was with a happy heart, filled with warm memories and images, that I headed back to America.  It would be hard to forget this wonderfully diverse island and its warm inhabitants. Check back as we try our hand at the delightful saedas. Next in travel, we will head to the loveable, huggable island of Pantelleria and its amazingly different food. Ci vediamo presto…..Michele

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