Corsica! Majestic jagged mountains rising behind the gentle old houses of L’Île Rousse, aka Isula Rossa, the sea so calm so you skim stones to eternity, yachts waiting patiently for their next voyage, dotted around the bay, all bathed in golden sheen of a contented sunset, the end of a happy day.
The young fella the next morning: “I had good dreams.”
Of course, he was kind enough to share his brilliant perceptions over the course of our adventure. On palm trees, because the leaves are plonked on top: “They look like trees that someone did build.”
We liked it so much in Île Rousse – it’s beautiful – that we stayed a day longer than planed. We had a nice hotel with our own balcony and a pool that the young dolphin made ample use of.
We got the train to Ghjorghju, aka Giorgio, where we blinked and missed the stop and then left our bag on the train at the next. The next was a pleasant place to wait an hour and a half for the train to return, which it did, miraculously with bag and all, so we were able to hop a stop back and go swimming at Ghjorghju, which had been the plan all along.
It was magnificent. The water was deliciously inviting, so clean, the beach pristine, framed by rocks. We jumped in and swam and swam and swam. Then we swam some more. I fell asleep on the beach while the young lad dug tunnels and forts at the water’s edge, keeping the sea at bay. I was rudely awoken by a screaming French girl. French girls are trouble, wherever you go. So I went swimming again, swimming with fishes, which I could see thanks to my goggles.
When we got back to Île Rousse someone tried charging us €4.50 for a large bottle of water. This is as good a time as any to mention that the Corsicans are rip-off merchants. A beer generally costs €4 for a 25cl bottle. A half beer! 25cl is simply an insult. Two gulps and it’s gone. Like your €4.
But we hiked up to the lighthouse, clutching our precious water, afraid to drink any of it in case we’d like it and want more, and we enjoyed the magnificent views. Thankfully they’re free and plentiful in Corsica. They haven’t figured out a way to charge tourists for them, yet.
So a day later than planned, we took the train to Corte, or Corti as it’s also called, cutting and winding its way along the sides of stern mountains, tooting its horn to tell unsuspecting locals to get out of its way. Though they would have heard the thing trundling along from miles before – unless they, like us, were still captivated by their surroundings and oblivious to slow-moving trains.
It really is beautiful. The countryside is unspoiled, crowned by jagged ridges like broken teeth gaping up at the heavens, while hardy little scrub trees carpet the valleys in between and tickle their sides with their branches. It’s heaven for wild boar.
We ate wild boar on our last night in Corte, like Asterix and Obelix. Delicious. “Brilliant,” said the young fella.
We learned about Corsica’s history in Corte. There’s a museum there, and a statue to Pasquale Paoli, who fought for Corsican independence. Turns out the French had very little to do with the place. It was the Genoese who were running it until the locals had enough of their taxes and decided to kick them out. The Genoese controlled the coastal cities, the natives the rest.
Well, after losing control of the island in all but name, the slimy Genoese sold their “right” to Corsica to the greedy French with the Treaty of Versailles in 1768. The French conquest of “their island” began that same year and concluded the next thanks to vastly superior numbers.
To this day, place names and street names are in two languages – Corsican, which sounds more Italian than anything else, and French, the colonizers’ language.
Above the colony, countless stars illuminate the sky at night, twinkling without a care for man’s petty dealings. I hadn’t seen as many stars since I was a kid. The sky is almost white, there are so many. It’s reassuring to know that they’re still there.
We stayed at a campsite in Corte, where we played cards by torchlight outside our tent. At night obviously. We’re not eejits – we don’t use torches during the day.
Next day, the young fella ran off to say good morning to the lizard that we saw the night before. Then, when we were leaving for Bastia, he wanted to say goodbye to ALL the ones he met.
“Bye, bye lizards. We’re going off to another town now. Then we’re going to Berlin.”
In Corte, the train station bar is called Bar de la Plage. There isn’t a beach anywhere near.
The hotel was only a ten-minute walk from the train station in Bastia. I told the young fella we’ll go back, drop off the bags, and he finished, “And then we’ll stroll around and look at the place!” He’s a brilliant travel companion.
Bastia was nice, run-down buildings held up by supports, and there are a couple of cheaper restaurants if you get away from the old port, which is thronged with French tourists and hipsters. You could get a mojito big enough for 12 people for €85. At least they say it’s big enough for 12 people. They probably mean half-mojitos or even smaller.
We’d a couple of hours to kill before the ferry from Bastia so we ducked into a café. Not one of the ones on the grand square beside the port, but one opposite on a roundabout with a never-ending stream of cars rolling past, the dingiest café in all of Corsica.
There were cigarette butts on the floor, empty cups still on tables, and the waiter was leaning out of the window, smoking as he chatted to an eclectic bunch of friends sitting at the table beside the window. There was only one initially, a short old balding man with a big belly. Then a huge guy with shaved head and even bigger belly protruding from a black t-shirt bearing some sort of voodoo skull print came and shook his hand, other people’s hands at other tables, then the bar guy’s hand. He wore tracksuit bottoms and flip-flops. Then a skinny hippie fella joined them. They were speaking some weird language – not French, not Italian, nor did it sound like anything in between. So I’m not sure if it was even Corsican.
An old black man with gold-rimmed sunglasses sat silently in the corner, flanked by a board of bracelets and trinkets and hats that no one could know he was trying to sell. And the men kept smoking. And talking. And the bar guy was munching a sandwich as he kept leaning out the open window. We sat for an hour and he didn’t bother us. Then it was time for us to go and get the boat.
There was an announcement on the boat proclaiming souvenirs, local produce and other goodies for sale at “interesting prices.” No doubt they were. We didn’t investigate.
Back in Nice we visited what Sonia reckons is “the best ice cream shop in the world.” The young fella got chewing gum, lavender and cactus flavor scoops. He’s mad. “I thought cactus would chop your arse off,” he said. I got mojito and lemon meringue.
The next time we see Sonia she’ll be a mother. Crazy. Nothing stays the same. She and Ben dropped us to the airport at the kiss and fly. We kissed and flew.
Our conversation took a strange turn on the plane, or maybe they’re always this strange.
“I didn’t know boars could fly so high.”
“Do you remember that fish with the starfish on his face?”
“This is like a submarine swimming under water. Like a submarine flying, because it’s so dark, a submarine really far down.”
“You got a crisp on your face, under your eye.”
I won’t tell you who said what.
And so it continued till we landed at Schönefeld, where the only thing awaiting us was the cold chill beckoning us into the unforgiving arms of inevitable winter. We have to go back, we’ll go back.
(Some of the photos here are from Nice, like the three directly below the first one, which is from Antibes, and the last two. The rest are all from Corsica, more or less in order as described above.)