Ajaccio and Away!

Ajaccio, Corsica’s capital, is a beautiful, pastel-coloured city sweeping around a bay in the west of the island. It has a busy port with ferries coming and going, a few cruise ships stopping by and a marina full of expensive yachts.

One of our first jobs in the town is to find the ‘Orange’ shop and renew the SIM card in our mobile wifi device. This is the only way, for now, that we know how to keep internet costs down while travelling in Europe and I’m nostalgic for the pre-Brexit days when we never had to consider such things.

The city is everything you’d expect from a grand, old Mediterranean municipality- narrow streets edged with tall, terraced buildings, grand squares dotted with palms and a beachside citadel, sadly not open to the public but picturesque all the same.

One of Ajaccio’s claims to fame is being the birthplace of Napolean Bonaparte, a historical event much capitalised upon. Boney is everywhere, from pubs to barbers’ shops. We find his actual house in a tiny, cluttered street; a modest building next to a bar. Almost everything in the street is Napolean-related and there are groups of tourists eagerly snapping away.

The town’s main square is huge and houses the Hotel de Ville as well as ornate fountains. There is, of course a plethora of gift shops, bars and cafes. They are competing for cruise passengers’ cash. There’s a huge, white floating hotel in the harbour and it’s easy to spot its occupants as they wander the town dressed in their cruise outfits. They’ll be returned on board by the time we begin to look for a restaurant, so we’ll have plenty of choice.

In the late afternoon we need to look for somewhere to eat, principally because we’ll need to get in the queue for the ferry in a couple of hours. It’s tricky. Here in the Med, folks tend to eat late, with or without children, which means the restaurants don’t open until late, either. But most have a 7.00pm opening, which is just about ok for us to be in time to queue. We gravitate towards the dockside, a location that we know from experience is likely to provide a good choice of eateries. It’s fair to say that the meal we choose is fine, though not as inexpensive as most of our restaurant meals on Sardinia and Corsica have been.

Then we’re negotiating the complex maelstrom of roundabouts and slip roads which take us to the port and thrusting phone screen barcodes at various neon-vested ferry workers. A group of three lads seem to have a bantering discussion over the size of our van, despite us telling them the length but at last we’re directed into the appropriate lane and just have to wait. We’ve done all this enough now, to know the routine. There’s a long wait but once the ship arrives everything happens quickly, the inbound vehicles streaming out and disappearing into the [by now] dark and the processing of the outbound traffic. It’s like some complicated puzzle, fitting all the assorted cars, vans and motorhomes into the hold and then it’s our turn.

There’s little information or direction to the way we must access the passenger decks. This is not Brittany Ferries- where a member of staff hands you a ticket with the coded exit and stairs you need to use. We are left to work it out. We’re sandwiched tightly between huge lorries but there is a lift nearby that we can squeeze our way through to. When we get up to the passenger deck we exit into a large, shiny space with lifts either side of us. I’m weary by now and in an addled state, neglect to notice where we are. We’re intent on 1] finding our cabin and 2] finding the bar, both of which we manage to do.

I’m a little dismayed to find that our cabin has bunk beds, meaning that one of us will have to clamber up and down a ladder. This is not good. Nowadays, both Husband and I need to take nightly trips to the toilet, which is housed in a bijou en-suite in a corner. There’s a hiatus while we both ponder whether we will be the one to undertake this, then I volunteer to sleep on the floor and remove the mattress from the top. There’s just about room to put it on the floor with the end tucked under the bottom bunk.

We decamp to the bar, where we toast our departure amongst a throng of fellow passengers. Through the blurry windows Ajaccio recedes. There’s nothing else but to retire to the cramped cabin. I tuck myself into the duvet on the floor, hoping not to be trodden on by a bathroom visiting Husband.

In the event, it’s not a restful night’s sleep and I’m glad of my Kindle for whiling away the hours until we pull into Toulon. I’m unrested, stretched and brain-fogged from lack of sleep as the ship shudders up to the quayside. It’s still dark outside as we stumble up and stow our things. Now, how do we find the van? Hmmmmm……

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Corsica- the Last Gasp

When we get back to the south of Corsica from Sardinia we head towards Propriano, slightly to the west, although en route we’ve a plan to see a startling outcrop of coastal rock called the ‘Rocher de Lion’. It’s more wiggly, mountainous terrain but worth it, as the lion rock is amazing. We’re lucky to be able to stop for photographs in a small lay-by which houses a cafe, closed when we arrive. It’s also a convenient place for us to make a coffee.

There’s an ancient, neolithic site we’d like to see, inland at Finistola. We’ve left it until now as it’s not too far out of our way. It’s on the outskirts of the village and has a roomy car park, empty when we arrive. There’s a modest charge for tickets but once we’re through the site is extensive and has a wow factor, huge, mossy boulders framing cave entrances, stepped pathways and standing stones everywhere. The Corsicans have done a good job restoring and preserving the site and there’s an excellent visitors centre, too.

There are carpets of tiny, pink cyclamen everywhere, reminders that even here, in the Mediterranean, Autumn is hovering.

Then we’re off again, making for a site around the bay from Propriano. There’s a descent down to the coast before a long strip along by the beach. Again, the site is away from town in a residential area opposite the sea. It’s wooded and very, very quiet with only a handful of vans and one or two tents.

The weather has turned truly autumnal now and begun to be wet and windy. The ground in places is waterlogged too. End of season is upon us! There’s a longish walk to the nearest bar or restaurant, not tempting in a squally gale. A walk along the road in the opposite direction takes us a short way before the footpath peters out. In addition to this, the campsite bar and restaurant seems to be closed, meaning we’ll be thrown back on our own resources once more. I’m full of admiration for those who’ve pitched tiny tents on the soggy, puddle-ridden ground. We’ve brought our half-dried laundry from the previous site, which I hang out between the trees in a dry spell in hopes it will dry.

Two nights is enough and we move on again, this time near to Ajaccio, Corsica’s present capital, to a site near Porticcio, just around the bay. The pitches are a little soggy and the services antiquated but it will do until we depart. A tabby cat takes a liking to us and makes himself at home on our groundsheet but we’re not inviting him inside!

This time we’re in walking distance of the small seaside town so we take advantage and go to look. And it’s just that- a seaside town, with beachside bars, restaurants and shops. Ajaccio can be seen across the bay. It’s tempting to book a table for the evening but the walk home is quite long to be doing late at night. There is also a small bar outside the entrance to our site but it closes in the evening.

Our ferry from Ajaccio to Toulon does not leave until late evening, leaving us a full day to explore the city. It’s not far to get round to the outskirts but finding somewhere to park for the day seems impossible. There’s a car park on the way in, although the town is miles away around the bay. We drive through the centre, which is completely jammed with every kind of traffic. All car parks are full. We drive to the other side, beyond a long strip of cemetery and find a seaside car park, again, a long way from town.

After a coffee we try again, travelling back through the snarled-up streets, parking in a space near the port for a short time, just to have some lunch then noticing the railway station car park is opposite! Hooray! We’re off to explore the town!…