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.

Over the Med to Corsica

On the quayside at Toulon, waiting for the ferry to load we become listless in the oppressive heat of the evening. By 10.30pm we’re still not going anywhere, even though we’ve moved Heaven and Earth to find our way here, to check in and follow all the gabbled instructions. In the next lane there are motor bikes and some ageing bikers who provide some interest. We make tea and continue to wait. In the terminal building a counter is doing furious trade in croque monsieurs and baguettes and I push through the crowd to get 2 bottles of water for the night.

At last a stream of vehicles begins to come past in the opposite direction and foot passengers dragging wheelie cases stagger past looking exhausted. I wonder where they can go at 11pm?

We’re waved on, up the ramp and into the hold. Hooray! We clamber up the inevitable numerous flights of stairs to the passenger decks and flourish our cabin sticker at a crew member. There’s a long series of corridors like a Premier Inn then we’re at our door, although without a key. We’re rescued by a man wielding key cards and we’re in. The cabin is tiny but has two narrow beds, a window and a shower and toilet. Hooray again! We dump our overnight bags and head for any kind of bar we can find and everything is open and serving; the restaurant food looks good but it’s late and we’ve eaten. There’s a wait to get a drink but we do, then sink down into seats, grateful to be on board and on the way. The lights of Toulon slowly recede as we glide out of harbour into the dark.

The ship is busy. Families, couples, singles, dogs- all life is here, passing by, queuing up, bustling, but it all settles down and there’s nothing else to do except get a quick shower and turn in. In spite of my poor record of sleep on overnight ferries, this time I sleep as if drugged and wake to see it’s already 8.30am. There’s no rush because we won’t dock until 12.00midday. When we surface, heading for the bar’s ‘express breakfast’ [orange juice, croissant, coffee] it’s almost as if the bustling has continued throughout the night, with people and dogs everywhere.

This is a ferry with aspirations of cruise ship. On the top deck there’s a tiny pool surrounded by deck chairs, a pool bar serving drinks and snacks. A couple of islands pass by- Elba perhaps?

We wander around the side and I sit down next to an elderly French lady who is going to visit family. We enjoy a chat together, both of us proud grandparents.

Sure enough, as midday approaches, so does Corsica and we’re pulling into Porto Vecchio in stately fashion, turning down along a lengthy inlet, motor and sail boats racing past. Then we’re told to return to our vehicles. we drive off, making for a supermarket first before driving a few kilometres up the road and out of town to our first site, at ‘Baie de Voies’. Down a long track to a beach there are terraced pitches facing the sea. It’s a peaceful setting, small boats moored up and a roped off swimming area. We check in, park up, plug in and relax. It’s been a long old journey!…

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.

Making it Back

With only three days left before the ferry crossing from Bilbao we arrive back to Spain’s north coast and settle in Islares to spend the time. The tiny village, on the edge of a bay is only just off the motorway [Bilbao/Santander] but hosts a secluded, daisy-strewn camp site laid out in neat rows of pitches. It  also houses overnighters making their pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, who can stay in the year-round, static tents [green, seen in the background below].

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At last the sky is an unbroken blue and the sun makes a welcome appearance. While the site is never full there is a steady flow of vans in and out, as well as overnighting pilgrims. Some come to stay a night before or after the ferry, some for surfing and a few have chosen to holiday here.

You would have to go around the bay to find an extensive beach, but at Islares there are small pockets of sand that appear when the tide goes out across the rocky shore and the remnants of a miniscule harbour decorated with the ruins of old fishing huts. It is all outrageously picturesque.

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Santander, a half hour’s drive away, is another city we’ve tended to bypass, however we were tipped it was worth a look and decide to visit, only to discover there is nowhere at all to park the van. We drive along the sweeping seafront and back through the town. It does seem very grand, but will have to wait for another time.

Another excursion, to Laredo and further along the lengthy sandspit, takes us to another point on the Camino, where a tiny passenger ferry carries people across the water to Santona.

We make lunch by the almost deserted stretch of beach then continue around the lagoons, nature reserves and beaches. Nowhere is there more than a handful of tourists or day-trippers.

Our last day brings sunshine warm enough to sit outside and read- a rare treat this trip.

Although we rise early next morning for our drive to the ferry the site office is firmly closed, which makes it impossible to settle up, reclaim our ACSI discount card [an essential camper accessory] detach ourselves from the electricity point and exit the barrier. We learn that all this should have been addressed the previous evening. Horrors! But we are fortunate. The security guys help out, taking our cash and lifting the barrier, and I write a note begging for our ACSI card to be sent on.

Then it’s along the motorway to Bilbao’s ferry port, conveniently sited well away from the city’s sprawl. Once loaded we locate our small cabin before finding a comfortable place to sit and munch Brittany Ferries’ pastries and coffee-and I have to conclude that nobody can do breakfast pastries and coffee like the French.

A wander round, a read, lunch on the top deck [to the accompaniment of the noisy dogs in the on-board kennels], a snooze, a read, a wander. The day passes. After a shower in our cabin we find dinner before spending an hour with the ‘entertainment’ in the bar; the music quiz being the only item we can manage, then it’s off to find a quiet spot for another read before retiring to the twin bedded cabin.

Next morning Portsmouth has arrived.-and the sun is shining…

 

When the High Tide of Expectation Drops to a Catastrophic Low

The research took some time. It was tricky finding a suitable date, near enough to the actual big day plus an itinerary that would be acceptable. It had been impossible to find a Rhine cruise that allowed us to drive overland to the embarkation point, so I’d had to select flights then change them [at a cost] because they were at some obscene hour of the morning like 6.30am. A 6.30am flight, as I pointed out to the lady on the phone hardly constituted a birthday treat, especially as airports these days require you to be there two hours before take-off. This would be 4.30am. 4.30am!
Then there was the complimentary taxi to the airport, which would need to collect us at 2.30am. 2.30am! How would anyone manage this? Would you sleep beforehand, retiring at a ridiculous hour then getting up at 1.30? Or would you stay up and be almost comatose for the first couple of days of the trip?
No. I changed the flights. I reserved a room at the Heathrow Hilton. The taxi would take us to Heathrow at a respectable hour of the afternoon, we’d check in to the hotel and enjoy a leisurely meal, get a decent night’s sleep and be at terminal 5 at around 8.30am for a 10.30am flight. Sorted.
Husband had chosen a Rhine cruise as his birthday treat. These days there is precious little ‘stuff’ that he wants or needs, and being a man, if he wants or needs something he gets it. As regular readers know, Husband, that character who features in many posts, had a particular milestone birthday two weeks ago and as a result had an entire post written about him…
I’d been startled by his choice of a cruise, as we are great avoiders of such holidays [this, reader has also been much documented on Anecdotage], but river cruises are as unlike sea cruises as cycling is to motor bikes. The boats are not vast, floating monstrosities and passengers must not endure days and days at sea getting stuffed with gargantuan meals, enduring endless, tedious cabarets, ‘dressing’ for dinners and making small talk with those with whom they are incarcerated. The modest cruise boat makes frequent stops at places you can walk around and the ambience is casual. There would always be something to see, even from the cabin. We’d have begun at Amsterdam and finished at Basle. I was frustrated that we’d had to fly such a short distance [Amsterdam is a city that can be driven to in a day from Dunkirk] but when the detailed itinerary arrived in the post it looked thrilling. We’d be stopping each day at beautiful, historic places and get walking tours, as well as travelling through the beautiful Rhine gorge and seeing the Lorelei rock.

I bought new suitcases [ours hailing from a bygone era], bought shoes, organised, laundered, ironed, primed the neighbours.

‘You should see this’ Husband informed me as I returned from shopping. It was an email from the river cruise holiday company to the effect that they were changing the itinerary to mostly coach travel. This was due to a lack of water in the Rhine. He [and I] never at any point wished to embark on a coach tour. I cancelled.

I must admit to feeling slightly nauseous [yes, yes I realise it is a ‘first world’ issue].

We packed our camper van and drove off to the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, 30 miles away from our home and parked in the sunshine overlooking the hillside at Corfe Castle. We strode out over the hills and enjoyed the breath-taking views of our lovely Dorset coast. I stopped feeling bereaved.

Out in the van, we are never disappointed. Yes, there are sometimes challenges or difficulties. Yes, we must make the odd meal, wash up, empty various tanks. But we are not dependent on flights, hotels, plans others have made.

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Next week Fiction Month begins! Check in to Anecdotage for fresh, new fiction…