Corsica - L'ile de Beaute

Trip Start Sep 06, 2005
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Trip End Dec 05, 2005


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Monday, December 4, 2006

Wednesday we had a beautiful morning in Bastia and got our ticket back to Nice for Saturday (no Christmas in Corsica). We also got tickets to Calvi via train, which is a story in itself. First, there are only three lines in the whole island and they only run two trains a day, so you're pretty much at the mercy of the "schedule" and destinations that are given. So on Wednesday our train (aka THE train of the a.m.) arrived a half hour late without explanation, but no one else was really surprised or complaining so we got the idea that this was normal. We didn't know whether to laugh or cry when we actually saw the train, a two-car specimen from approximately the 1930s where the engineer just sits in the same car as the passengers, except he has a special seat with a steering wheel. We couldn't complain about the scenery however, as we tottled along (hearing the occasional coughing and wheezing noises of the train and swaying back and forth on the tracks), which was spectacular (7) . It was fun to drive through each town because since there's only 2 trains a day, people outside would all stop what they were doing and wave at us as if it was the maiden voyage of the locomotive. At the "bigger" stops, the conductors would get off the train and talk to their buddies kind of like the bus driver in Rome decided to take a random break for a snack. At any intersection he'd honk his horn if there was a car there, and it seemed like he knew everyone whose paths we crossed. We encountered several cows wandering alongside (or across) the tracks and saw lots of sheep, goats and dogs. At one point, we broke down in the middle of the tracks, at which point the conductors whips out a rusty toolbox and the two other male passengers on the train headed up to the front to help them. The groupwork (which consisted of much arguing) paid off and we were soon on our way, until the car began to fill with smoke. We got the idea this was also somewhat normal, and the guy just told us to open a window. Anyway, we arrived in Calvi and walked around the town, which is very sleepy in the wintertime so we had it to ourselves. We walked up to the Citadel and watched the sunset (7) and explored the old village on top of the hill. One of the few places open for dinner was a restaurant called Chez Christian, where we ate well and got to talking with the staff. They originally thought we were Canadian, since not too many American tourists go to Corsica. We hung out with one of the guys afterward for a while in French; it was really cool to have an extended conversation fully in French. His observations were interesting so I'll recount them here:
a) Corsicans hate the French because the French refuse to understand the culture of Corsica and want it to just become like the rest of France
b) Americans smile a lot and more people should do that
c) In Europe, it's easy to run away from your problems since you can always escape to another country
d) Corsicans hate chains, and when McDonalds tried to establish there they were destroyed (not sure if this means literally or economically) so there are no fast food chains in Corsica

Thursday we slept in late and then walked along the beaches of Calvi collecting seashells. After a quick lunch we walked along a trail that hugs the coastline and had magnificent views of rocky shores and grassy hills (8). We caught the afternoon train to Ile Rousse, 40 minutes away, which has a massive rock island thing topped with a Genoese watchtower. Way cooler than I'm making it sound right now (8). We had another wonderful sunset, with as usual, no one around, and then walked around the cute little downtown area where we had an great dinner of, one of my favorites, moules (mussels). The owner bought us a digestif as the owner the night before had also done...the one Thursday was actually drinkable but still really strong. We got the night train back to Calvi and turned in early.
Friday we got the morning train back to Bastia and were treated to another three hour tour of the amazing landscapes of Corsica and the quirky personalities of the train and its conductors. We went walking around Bastia in the afternoon, which is bigger than Calvi but still a really small city. Watched another sunset, this time from the Citadel in Bastia (we think all the cities in Corsica have citadels overlooking the sea) and then had a fantastic dinner at a traditional Corsican place. We split lamb and cannelloni with brocciu cheese, and of course, had another digestif, this one the strongest of them all. We got to have Corsican wine, which we both liked a lot, and lots of good bread.
Saturday, we were both sad to leave Corsica. Never before have I encountered such a great mix of beautiful scenery and interesting culture. We were even sadder to leave when there were huge waves during our boat trip back and we felt kind of sick. By the time we got to Nice, the waves were out of control (8)...the weather was mysteriously nice, it was just a really strong wind that caused them. Occasionally the water would spray up to the promenade that walks along the shore in Nice and that is a good 30 feet above sea level, dousing unsuspecting passers-by. I was happy to discover a gelato place that was open so I treated myself before getting the train back to Paris. Kate headed off to Italy for a few days, but I'm ready to go home I think, at least for Christmastime.

You will note I've not given out any 10s. I hesitate because there are many things I still have to see in the world, so I want to keep the spot open (kind of like the judges in gymnastics).
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