Van (& boat) life: Sardegna

⬆️ I did break from the digital camera for a little toy camera action. We made the most out of one roll of Kodak Portra 400.

⬆️ We stopped in Pisa just outside the port, which was located in Livorno. What a bizarre and spectacular site this was!

I still can’t believe how easy it is to just rent a boat (I’m talking about a real boat with a 40HP outboard motor, people) and literally go out to sea with it—the Tyrrhenian sea in this case. They call them “Gommone” in Italy, meaning “rubber dinghy.” At any rate, renting the boat was awesome, and it allowed us to see everything from a completely different perspective.

⬆️ My wine knowledge pretty much stinks, but I’m told Vermentino is the most popular grape / variety of wine in Sardegna—this is usually a white grape. That said, we tasted all different varieties of wine, both red and white at a super neat small vinyard called Cantina Ligios just off the Northern Coast. They also let us stay in our camper overnight on their property (photographed). This was a good thing, becasue we had a very generous tasting paired with some food. Other guests who where staying on the property joined us for the sunset event. We literally met people from all over the world—and everyone was incredibly nice. We sat a tables family style and it just felt like a room full of old friends—it was both a beautiful and reassuring experience.

⬆️ My mind was pretty much blown by the experiences on the “traghetti” and ferries with our van. We ended up going round trip from Livorno to Olbia on Moby Lines. The experience was peculiar and exciting, but also relaxing and relatively easy at the same time—it’s like a massive floating parking garage with a hostel built on top. One leg was overnight, which was nice since we booked a cabin space on the boat for both legs. Lots of folks brought blow up mattresses aboard and tried to sleep out in the open. No thanks. I will say boarding and arrival were both pretty chaotic with everyone aboard the ship scrambling to be the first on and off the boat. As a kid from West Texas where there was very little water to be had anywhere, the concept of just driving a large car onto a ship and sailing across the ocean felt pretty crazy. I suppose after a few trips that feeling might wear off a bit. I digress.

Driving vans onto big boats never felt so normal…

S A R D E G N A: Polcenigo > Bologna > Firenze > Pisa > Livorno > Open Sea > Olbia > La Maddalena and back again—a complex trip indeed, but traveling with the van not only made it possible, but fairly easy! We were fortunate to have friends and family visit pretty much every month this Summer. As great as that was, we didn’t get a ton of time to explore new areas of Italy / Europe for ourselves. Sardegna has been on our bucket list for several years, and I’m so glad we go to see it—and experience it the way we did with the van and bikes. We had one week and we made the most of it. Although we only got to see about 1/2 of what we would have liked to have seen, every day was full. We decided to focus on the Northern half of the island for this trip thanks to the guidance of good friends from Italy that were generous enough to sit down with us and a paper map to discuss and mark points of interest. They also warned us not to try to pack too much in. They were right.

We ended up spending three nights on the island of La Maddalena. We had only planned to stay there one night, but it just didn’t work out that way. Once we got off the 20 minute ferry with the van from the main island of Sardenga we just kept finding amazing spots to experience the coast and the water. We stayed at two quirky campgrounds while there. Both sunset shots above were taken just in front of where the van was parked at our first spot, where we stayed two nights—damn, it was awesome.

It was an incredibly hot and dry Summer here in Northern Italy. Days are now getting shorter and it’s definitely starting to cool off. Sardegna was not cooling off so much, lol. It was still hot there in mid-September and I pretty much sweated it out in the van trying to sleep every night. The wind and dust reminded me a little of West Texas, but the landscape was rocky and breathtaking at every turn—particularly when views of the coastline were involved. I don’t think I’ve ever seen water so clear. Many folks compare the landscape to the moon—they even have a stretch of highway there (rocky vista photo sans-ocean above) called the “Lunar Highway.”

We have a solar panel and propane that powers essential stuff in the van, so with a full tank of water we survived pretty comfortably without needing electricity access (thank god for battery powered camping fans, though). Our blackwater tank lasts about 5-6 days—it’s smaller than our last camper’s tank, but MUCH easier and more hygienic to empty 🙏 . All that said—the ability to be mobile seems like a good fit for Sardegna. Even though most of it is rural there are plenty of resources for people in campers. I suppose the locals probably get sick and tired of seeing people like us come through. However, everyone we interacted with was super nice and spoke to us in slow Italian so we could understand and communicate with them effectively. The island has a very complex history when it comes to languages and dialects (and culture/religion for that matter—just read about the flag), so I was pumped we were able to practice our Italian. Of course, almost everybody also spoke English, too—this is always both convenient and embarrassing 😅 We met lots of locals, we bought cheese and wine that came in what I would call up-cycled 2 litre water bottles from their trucks, end we even got a little home-made bottle if Mirto that I’m actually sipping on as I write this. We also met lots of really friendly Germans—I suspect they were soaking up the last bit of sun before they go back to a long and dark Winter season. I even took pictures of a couple that were just married and they shared a bottle of their wine with us on the beach.

All and all the trip was an excellent lesson and an active exercise in remaining flexible. We were able to stay more or less off grid in the van pretty much the whole time. Having the language skills to navigate the ferries and ship boarding process helped a ton. My Italian still stinks after 1.5 years, but I’m still progressing. On the way home we slept in the center of Florence for a night in public access parking. It was awesome! And a little uncomfortable. Having the bikes on the back of the van added to our ability to be mobile. I never thought I’d be able to bike through Florence, but it was definitely nice to test out the bike lines in many parts of the city.

I always say this, but maybe I’ll add to this later. Lots of thoughts that have yet to be articulated, but for now, an abrupt end and bed. Ciao.