Feldman’s on a new adventure to Destination Unknown. Photo provided by Marv and Carole Feldman.
Random travel is our favorite mode of vacationing. We particularly like the Space-A aspect of this. Frequently, we don’t know where we are going, but that doesn’t worry us at all. Additionally, low-cost flights provided by so many discount airlines make it easy and economical to “jump” from one end of Europe and Asia to the other.
The entire month of May had been cleared for us to go wherever the wind blew our sails. Fortunately, in less than 24 hours after arriving at Charleston AFB from Jacksonville, we were on a C-17 en route to Spain. And within three hours of landing at Naval Base Rota, we were on a C-5A for the 2.5 hour flight to NAS Sigonella, on the island of Sicily, with gorgeous snow-capped Mt. Etna giving us a picturesque arrival!
TWO ITALIAN ISLANDS
We had traveled extensively in Sicily on our previous three visits there so while looking for the road less traveled and a “destination unknown” to us, we saw a perfect opportunity to go to Italy’s other big island – Sardinia.
After relaxing at Sigonella, long enough to mostly recover from our jet lag, we were off on Alitalia (from Catania via Rome) to Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital and largest city. The ITT travel agency, Shell Travel, on Sigonella’s NAS I helped us get these last-minute flights.
Enjoying Golfo Aranci, Sardinia. Photo provided by Marv and Carole Feldman.
SARDINIA Cagliari – Our first impressions told us we made the right decision in coming here. Very warm, friendly and helpful locals, boutiques selling unusual cork and wicker handicrafts, tasty and unique island food and drink – this was Old World Italy at its finest!
Our first full day here was in-depth exploration and discovery in “shabby chic” Cagliari. We climbed hundreds of stairs, walked endlessly (taking a little train up and down when we could not go further), popped into several ornate churches and the cathedral. We also visited the Ghetto Museum in Cagliari’s former Jewish Quarter, where Italy openly exhibits the 1492 expulsion and the Fascist/Nazi removal of Jews from here in World War II.
We rested occasionally and drank lots of cappuccinos. Marv even fortified himself with a Sardinian specialty, cream of limoncello, at the island’s oldest bar. A great city and a great experience!
Sassari – After a wonderful introduction to Sardinia by exploring the capital city of Cagliari, it was time to travel further afield. Next stop was Sassari, a comfortable four hour bus ride to the northern part of the island. What a magnificent journey it was as the landscape changed from rolling green hills and scenic valleys, with sheep everywhere, to more rugged, drier landscape.
We had never heard of Sassari, Sardinia’s second largest city, but what a jewel it is. The home of the island’s most prestigious university (founded in the 16th Century), its students give vitality to the city. Elegant buildings and piazzas, gorgeous shops, fine restaurants serving local delicacies, and fashionably dressed residents abound in the compact old city center. We enjoyed meeting many locals, exploring with no agenda and discovering the delights of Sassari. Its excellent National Museum had a superb collection of Sardinian ethnic period fashion as well as archaeological findings thousands of years old. Fortunately, our selection of a “budget” hotel (Hotel Vittorio Emanuele) turned out to be one of the best places in which we have stayed (April is still low season). Our lovely room and lavish breakfast buffet (the best in Italy!) were a bargain.
Marv Feldman at Alghero Promenade, Sardinia. Photo provided by Carole Feldman.
Alghero – Simply traveling an hour west of inland Sassari to coastal Alghero, felt like we were in a different world. This is a “classic” Mediterranean seaside destination, with more tourists here than we had seen in Sardinia so far. We were not so much impressed by the beach here, instead by the high walls and towers surrounding Alghero’s magnificent historical center.
Actually, the city goes back to well before the Middle Ages. Meandering throughout the narrow streets and alleys, relaxing in cafes, window shopping, and tasting delicious traditional local cuisine is what we came to see and most of all enjoy. Yet, we could not resist walking and dining on the walls and viewing the spectacular Mediterranean turquoise waters.
Olbia/Costa Smeralda – After a very relaxing and most enjoyable stay in historic Alghero, on Sardinia’s west coast, we rambled across the island’s “wild” north, via a bone-shaking train, to Olbia, on Sardinia’s northeast coast.
On a hot summer-like afternoon, under clear blue skies, we arrived in Olbia which, for us, has the most stunning setting we saw in Sardinia. While Olbia itself is not a well-known tourist destination, it is a lovely small city. Our modest, centrally-located hotel (rather unusually named Hotel For You) was a perfect base for exploration of the magnificent Costa Smeralda region. No wonder the Phoenicians, Romans and others have inhabited this special area for thousands of years. In the 1960’s, it was “discovered” and developed into the playground for the rich and famous.
We traveled north by bus from Olbia along the stunning Costa Smeralda, through medieval mountain towns hidden among unusual rock formations, to the quaint port of Palau. We then boarded a ferry for the 20 minute trip to the little town of La Maddalena, in the archipelago of that name. Here, there used to be a U.S. Navy submarine base and, on a little spit of land connected to La Maddalena Island, the father of modern-day Italy, Garibaldi, was born.
The next day, our second excursion in the area took us by train to nearby Golfo Aranci. Set on a sparkling bay, Golfo Aranci provided us with a relaxing day and a fantastic al fresco lunch spot, right on its little sandy beach.
Having explored areas outside Olbia, it was time to check out local city attractions, including a morning produce market, the 11th Century Romanesque St. Simplicio Basilica, Roman walls and, best of all, its impressive Archaeological Museum. Not long ago, dozens of wooden ships from ancient Roman times were found here and two of them are on display. It was amazing to stand inches from these boats which were thousands of years old! We also learned that over the history of this city, the name has changed several times. From the 14th Century until 1939, the city was called Terra Nova until Mussolini reverted its name to its Greek original of Olbia (the Greek word for “happy”).
GERMANY Berlin – While Sardinia was a most delightful “destination unknown” to us, we were attracted by further opportunities and selected Berlin as our next stop. We took a two hour non-stop flight on Air Berlin from Olbia and looked over rugged Corsica and the snowy Italian Alps.
Why Berlin? When were last there, during the Cold War, it was a divided city, with heavily armed Russian and American soldiers eyeing each other at Check Point Charlie. However, the “New” unified Berlin to us, is a “destination unknown!”
Friendly locals guided us from Tegel Airport to our hotel (Ibis Berlin West), using a public transport bus and U-Bahn. Our first outing was to Ka De We, Berlin’s famous and fabulous 100+ year old department store. Foodie Carole was like the kid in the candy store at the store’s incredible, enormous food hall, as she darted from one display to another, dubbing it the “Mother of all Food Halls”. The joy on her face made Berlin well worth the effort of coming here. There we had our first German meal (dinner) of delicious goulash soup followed by roast veal with red cabbage – wunderbar!
(Jewish) Berlin – Our stay here coincided with the 70th anniversary of VE Day (the end of World War II in Europe) so it was very appropriate that our first sightseeing visit in Berlin should be at the solemn Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Germany’s Holocaust Memorial. While there are still Holocaust deniers around the world (e.g. Iran), Germany has done a very good job at acknowledging the horrors of its Nazi past. The vast Field of Stelae (2,711 concrete slabs), over the underground museum, set the tone. Written and oral testimonies from the living and the dead (letters, postcards and photographs) were so powerful that we were emotionally drained afterwards.
Continuing our exploration of Jewish Berlin, we toured the magnificently restored New Synagogue, now a museum, which was destroyed during World War II by both Nazis and Allied bombs. We also visited one of several functioning Jewish synagogues, the stunning Pestalozzi Street Synagogue. This was the only synagogue in Berlin not burned down by the Nazis on Kristallnacht “Night of Broken Glass” in 1938, saved because it was sandwiched between two residences. Closed immediately after this terrible event, it re-opened in 1947.
Although well-promoted in tourist brochures, the monolithic Jewish Museum Berlin, in an enormous zig-zag “cutting edge” design building, disappointed us. We found it cold and confusing. Today, a vibrant Jewish community of over 11,000 (and growing) shows it is abundantly clear that the Nazis did not succeed in eliminating Jewish life in Berlin.
To rejuvenate our spirits after looking face-to-face at the Holocaust, we took a lovely tour by boat as we listened to soothing classical music on the River Spree. This afforded us the chance to see both elegant historical and sleek modern architecture, superb gardens, fascinating new sculptures and even a demonstration by people waving banners saying “Nazism – no thank you” on the river bank.
On Berlin’s “Museum Island” are several extraordinary, enormous museums. We chose to spend several hours in the Pergamon Museum where are displayed massive re-creations (originals!) of ancient monumental treasures, taken piece by piece from the Near East, all of which miraculously survived Wor