by Audrey Mei

It was a good thing I booked my ticket to Italy with Spain’s Iberia Airline because Alitalia went on strike the week I left Portugal. It was a sad occasion to leave that country.

My flight left early on a Saturday morning and from the plane window I could see Lisbon slumbering below, on a pleasantly cool day with the sea breeze gently carrying the brown cloud of diesel exhaust onto the Atlantic…Thirteen hours and four airports later, I arrived on the mysterious, mountainous island of Sardinia, described by D.H. Lawrence as “left outside of time and history,” indeed virtually untouched, but therefore infested with a mafia made up of the taxi drivers who infamously overcharge all visitors to the island. The half-hour ride from the airport costs $100, and the inhabitants point innocently at the defunct bus schedules and shrug their shoulders…One realizes quickly that the taxi drivers are the fathers of the island, and solely through them does the island’s economy stay afloat during the off-season.

And now, my friends, I can tell you about how I spent the week driving around northern Sardinia in a rented Fiat with a Las Vegas show girl! The universe only sends you a person like Melissa when it knows that you’re writing these travelogues and need some interesting characters. Melissa was traveling alone and we met a day after I arrived. She was a tall, willowy blond, somewhat older (a nice thirty-nine years), whose job was Broadway shows, and she had prospered on the game-show circuit during her three years in L.A. in the nineties. With her fiery extrovert personality, she had been on nearly every game show in the ‘Wood, winning amongst other things a cruise on Hollywood Squares and a car on The Price is Right. In fact, she set the all-time record for the closest guess on that show, estimating the total value of the items in the showcase at $18,000, while the actual value was $18,036. When I asked her how she did it, “It was Divine!” said she, who met Tom, her military-pilot husband, through She had also won on The Dating Game once. My friends, have you ever thought about what it means to “win” on the Dating Game? It means that you have to go to Kauai for two weeks with the letch who chose you! And indeed the eligible bachelor was a letch, on that episode, ending up to be a coke-sniffing drug dealer (he had miffed the producers somehow). So Melissa tactfully cancelled her prize and met Tom in the Internet instead. She was also a model and had won Mrs. Texas 2002, where camera-shy Tom had to crown her on national TV.

Melissa and I went on a girls’ trek out in our white Fiat Punto to Alghero in northwest Sardinia. On the way out there, the road snaked through the most incredible pale-rock mountain landscapes. Peter Jackson could have easily filmed Lord of the Rings here, but then he would have had to delete the little Italian farmhouses out of Middle-Earth. And at a certain point, I realized how remote we were when an eighteen-wheeler truck whizzed past us, accompanied by a modest cavalcade of three blue-light police motorcycles. It occurred to me that we had just driven past a nuclear transport procession at 120 km/h when I recognized the giant white coffin-like cylinders on the truck’s bed from the TV reports of the Gorleben nuclear waste transport into France in 2000.

In any case, we avoided a nuclear accident and arrived in the walled harbor city of Alghero, the exotic Spanish Catalonian town in Italy, late that afternoon. The weather was storming and the view from our windshield looked like newsreel footage of Hurricane Erica. People were running for cover and the palm trees were blowing in the wind with their frauds twirled around them like used Q-tips. We sought refuge in a café until the worst died down, and then it was time to hunt for a place to stay the night. And believe me, folks, with Miss America by your side, all possible Italian scum of the Earth oozes out onto the streets of ancient Alghero offering a place to stay. In the end we opted for the crown jewel of legitimacy, the four-star Hotel Catalunya with a view of the port.

The worst is when you’re dining in Italy with a model who eats like a horse. In fact the funnest part of the week with Melissa was going for dinner or pigging out on cheese puffs and pasta at home when it was raining outside. But unfortunately, she’s 5’10” and size 2, and I’m not. The other differences between us, like religion and political bent (she is a Christians who believes that CNN is leftist, and I’m from Berkeley which says the rest), also scarcely got in the way and we had by far the wildest, funniest week together. These seven days ended up being a crash course for me in American culture as well as Sardinian life.

But then came Friday, when I had to catch my overnight boat to Rome. I chose to leave early to hitchhike to the nearest functioning bus to the port, anything possible to avoid the taxi-mafia. A few seconds after I stuck out my thumb out on the lone sea-side road, the next car stopped and a little hobbit-looking man drove me into town. I boarded the ship to the mainland that night and as we pushed away from harbor at 11 p.m., I looked out the window as Sardinia got smaller and smaller, and indeed now it was bye-bye…

Travel Tips Sardinia

It’s best to visit Sardinia in the high-season, as the island’s tourist industry shuts down during off-season. Unless you are staying very close to the airport/harbor where you arrive, RENT A CAR if you plan on getting around the island. At least from my experience in northeast Sardinia, there is virtually no public transportation and the island is too sparse for train travel. Avoid longer rides in taxis as the ticker will be rolling like a slot machine and the driver’s going to cash in when you pay.

What to eat

While I don’t have any specific restaurants to recommend, this is still Italy, so it is easy to find good food, especially seafood. Try the spaghetti com bottarga. Bottarga, a Sardinian specialty, is mullet roe, a very fine, full-bodied caviar. Also, pasta com ricci, or sea urchin, is a local specialty.