Alghero and the Wonderful, Watery Caves of Neptune

The boat to the Grotte di Nettuno, off the quayside at Alghero, Sardinia is just about to leave when we make a spontaneous decision to buy tickets and get on board. There’s just enough room inside the boat’s seating area, although when we choose a seat a couple across the aisle shoo us away, which is a mystery, since nobody else takes the seat. It’s a forty-five minutes or so trip, the first part simply going out to sea but then it becomes much more interesting as we near huge limestone cliffs with interesting formations and caves.

The boat begins to pull into a bay, which has us wondering where on earth the caves can be, but it is merely stopping to pick up more passengers. Once they’re on we round a gigantic rock and into a rocky inlet. Along the cliff side there’s a tiny walkway with people clambering along it, up and down- another way to access the grotte.

Once we’re off the boat there’s a mass of tourists to buy tickets- because of course, the boat trip does not include entry to the caves. There are a lot of visitors, and very little in the way of orderly queuing but we get our tickets [and with a concession for old age. I ask the ticket seller how he knows we’re eligible and he tells me; ‘because you are nice’…]

Even in this outer part of the caves the sight is other-worldly. But as we climb the steps and begin to make our way around it’s clear these are no ordinary caves. They are magic! The stalactites and stalagmites, the columns, the pools and the reflections are extraordinary and breath-taking. And it’s extensive, the path winding round and round and sometimes we must duck and walk bent over as we wind around the caverns and pools.

We eventually emerge and there’s a boat to meet us, stopping as before to disgorge some of the passengers.

Back at Alghero, there’s little time to explore the town as we need to get our bus back to site. We’ll return next day.

In the event, the following day we wait at the bus stop opposite the site as before and wait…and wait. It’s hot. We’re on the point of giving up when a bus appears and pulls up. Hooray! But then the driver gives us a stern look and points at his face, which is partly covered by a mask, of course- masks being still obligatory here on public transport. We are wearing our masks. I point to mine, in case he is mistaking it for my face. He shakes his head. Apparently we are wearing the wrong sort of masks. Who knew? Certainly not yesterday’s bus driver. He pulls away without opening the door. We wait.

A kind Irishman, also waiting, gives us the ‘correct’ masks. Another bus comes, eventually. In the town we find the phone shop the lady at tourist info told us about and get a replacement memory card for my camera plus a SIM card for our mobile wifi device.

The old town of Alghero is quaint, though not extensive and we feel we’ve done it after an hour or two. The historic area is behind substantial walls by the port. We get our bus [without incident this time] and return to site. I have the tricky task of getting the damaged memory card out of my camera and downloading the photos into my laptop, which goes fine until I need to remove the card from the computer, when it leaves the broken part inside the slot. I do manage to remove it but clearly the slot is damaged.

Then again, the Italian SIM card does not work. Hmmmmmm…………

Strange and Familiar

We are winging our way down a well-driven, well-known to us route towards south west France and some very familiar places as well as some yet unexplored. This return visit comes soon after our spring Brittany trip, so I’m back into the routine of packing the van [although I’m more efficient with a few days notice] and tackling van life.

The weather on this long, bank holiday and UK Jubilee weekend is what weatherpeople like to term ‘unsettled’, which usually means wet. I’m a little sad to miss our street’s Jubilee party- not because I harbour patriotic thoughts about our monarchy but because I’d have been delighted to mingle with all our lovely neighbours.

As timing would have it, it’s a double bank holiday for France, too, with Monday and Tuesday closing for just about everything- except perhaps the bakeries and restaurants.

On leaving Cherbourg Port we go on a wild goose chase on this last Saturday before the close down, to find an ‘Orange’ outlet and get a sim card, locating it after a time-wasting search and then having to wait 30 minutes for a member of staff who is able to deal with me, the awkward, old bat who wants a new data card for mobile wifi. But the guy is charming and well chosen, managing everything with a smile.

Then we adjust the night stop plan for a more manageable one, opting to pootle down the Cherbourg peninsula coast a bit and park up in an aire, of which there are a few. The aire at Gouville-sur-Mer is busy with French motorhomes but there is space for us and it’s a stunning view of the huge beach, a sky full of glowering storm clouds hovering above. The tide is out and horse-drawn trailer rides make the view more picturesque than ever.

Then it’s on southwards, planning to stop at Nantes for a night but it’s fully booked on this Bank Holiday so we press on and to a town called Parthenay and a site in out ACSI book. It’s nice enough, by a park and a river, for a couple of nights, althought he weather is unsettled and we wake to rain. When it clears up we walk by the river to the centre of the town, which has some medieval parts and a 13th century citadel. We can see the citadel in the distance on our way in, looking impressive, perched on the top of this hilltop town, although finding the entrance is more difficult than Alice finding her way into the garden [in ‘Looking Glass’].

The streets leading into the centre are lined with closed down and dilapidated shops as well as poor condition homes, even the historic, half-timbered ones falling to pieces. But the town’s central square is filled with loud music, stalls and revellers for the Fete of the Pentecote, so it’s not all bad! We have a wander round the stalls and into an enormous marquee which houses, amongst other sellers, a furniture outlet, a stairlift supplier and a purveyor of nougat…

The stalls continue along the streets- churros, gallettes, ice creams, rifle ranges and burgers all in abundance. The road surfaces are deep in confetti- presumably part of the previous day’s [Sunday] religious parades.

A choice of a random street leads us at last to the citadel gate, with no indication of its presence whatsoever; but it’s impressive, if casually presented, squeezed between buildings , the interior a car park.

There are, however great views over the terracotta roofs and down the valley, the gardens lush with flowers and vegetables. We walk back down to our site, past wonderful old medieval walls dotted with wildflowers. Parthenay, like so many places, is in urgent need of an economic leg up and some investment into its historic features.

Next morning we’re off again, heading south- and the weather is hotting up…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Telephony

Twenty four months have elapsed and for once I’ve been on the ball enough to know I’m up for phone and internet software renewal so during a lull in my week I make time to visit the phone shop.

The shop is brightly lit, hot…and chock full of customers. I settle down at an empty desk to wait for service, entertained by three children who are galloping around the small shop floor while their father works his way through the range of products available. The children pause their gallops only long enough for a brief prod at the buttons on a row of tablets lining one wall.

I wait and wait. Shop assistants come and go from the store room. More customers enter the shop. I shed my coat and my scarf, toy with my phone a bit, watch the children.

Some time later an assistant looks up and spots me where I sit at the vacant desk. ‘Have you been seen yet?’ he asks.

‘No’.

He tells me he’ll be ‘one minute’.

After a few minutes he settles across the desk and I explain that my contract has expired. I tell him I am not typical, that unusually I am not a heavy user of my phone, not glued to it, not a taker of selfies [I still use a camera], not a watcher of films upon it, or a downloader of things. I am, still, a laptop user. I type on a keyboard. This explains our use of the cunning, little white pebble that is our mobile wifi, worth its weight in bandwidth, which accompanies us on our travels.

The young man attempts a soft push, offering me extra capacity, extra minutes, an additional tablet device, a line for Husband [who will never be persuaded away from his pay-as-you-go]. I do actually consider the tablet for a few seconds-until I remember the nest of tablets languishing abandoned in a drawer at home. I explain we’ve never, ever exceeded our allocation, never needed to top up. If my existing phone cannot be recycled I’d like a new battery, only. This, of course is not an option-

When I leave the store with my new phone and upgraded mobile Wifi I feel unexpectedly chipper. The new phone is a Huawei. Will I be spied upon? The mobile pebble we’ve used for several years has always been Huawei so I am sanguine enough about having their phone.

At home I follow the instructions for copying everything from  old to new with perfect results. The new phone has a larger screen, is able to alert me with a proper telephone-ringing sound and is fast to respond to my requests.

A few days later the three year old microwave in our kitchen gives up the ghost. Nobody, we find,  repairs microwaves. I go to the appliance store, peruse the display, take my phone, ring Husband, send him a photo of one. He rings me with the results of reviews. I’ve surprised myself by behaving like the rest of society.

 

 

The Not Quite World Wide Web

New year, new phone. My twenty four month contract [with a well known supermarket which shall remain nameless] was due to expire. I’d never been entirely thrilled with the phone. Though larger than its predecessor it was still tiny. It was also slow enough for me to be able to hoover the entire house or read all of War and Peace while it loaded anything and possessed the memory capacity of an average flea [and certainly less than our garden pond fish, who remember they are ravenous a whole winter after they’ve been fed]; besides, its screen size was inadequate for someone of advancing years and less than perfect eyesight.

The expiry gave me a chance to review my technological needs. If I had one, single, overriding aspiration it was to acquire mobile internet-that which some call ‘a dongle’.

If you’ve followed Anecdotage throughout the three [yes, three!] years I’ve been churning it out you will know that on occasions I, along with Husband clamber into a home-on-wheels and set off to destinations afar. Access to internet has always been inconsistent. Sometimes there are extravagant claims that Wifi is free and available throughout a site and there is nothing of the sort. Other times we pay some ridiculous sum for the privilege of two hours access on one device only to find-it is not available. Or we can get internet if we stand on top of a picnic table outside the toilets as long as nobody else in the vicinity is hunched over their laptop. Often we are teased by intermittent flashes of connection only to have our hopes dashed before Google has so much as loaded the local tourist board website or I am halfway through one of the long distance Scrabble turns I’m in the habit of taking. We skirmish over who has priority over the one hour’s Wifi on one device. I stress about getting blog posts published [yes, yes, it is a load of rubbish-but still…].

Now I have it; mobile internet-a ‘dongle’ if you like. It is a little, dinky, white slab like a pebble with a black gash along the centre. That’s all. I have tried it at home and it works. Eureka! Now I just have to travel somewhere.

In a week or so we are off to the Caribbean. Last year I reached a new nadir in my mobile phone experiences when all the credit on the tiny, useless phone got sucked out of it within about twenty seconds as I foolishly attempted a Facebook ‘check-in’. The subsequent complications [when there was no credit to phone the bank regarding failed cash withdrawals] are too painful to relate. Barbados has some of the most expensive mobile charges in the world.

The bad news? The little dongley-thing will not work in the West Indies, due to there being no agreement with any of those islands. One thing I know: I will not be using my new [much improved] phone for anything once I am there!