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!…

At Last! Return to Corsica

We’re aware that we must pay up for our stay at the site near Santa Theresa Gallura the evening before we leave, while reception is still open, as we’ll need to be early next morning to catch the ferry to Corsica. Feeling noble, I volunteer to make the descent down to the gate and pay, negotiating all the levels then flogging back up all the slopes and steps to our pitch at the top. Getting to the door of the van, I see Husband talking on his phone and once he’s done, he shares the news that our ferry for next morning is cancelled due to inclement weather and we won’t be departing for another couple of days.

‘Your turn’ I tell him. And he makes the steep descent back down to reception to re-book for two more nights. It leaves us with the knotty problem of how to occupy two days here in relative wilderness without beach weather. But it’s true that the skies are overcast and the stiff breeze is strengthening to gale level. Later, squally rain is added to the mix. I’ll admit to disappointment that we’re not leaving for Corsica just yet. There are a few places there left to see and not a lot besides reading or internet we can do here in the middle of nowhere except beach, which is not tempting in the wind and wet. Hmm-

With a day to fill, we opt to secure the van’s interior and go for a look at Santa Theresa Gallura, where we’ll be leaving from when the coast is clear. It’s only a couple of miles down the road. The town is hilly, with narrow streets but we find a car park that will accommodate the van and walk towards the beach front area. It’s very windy though not raining and when we reach the sea, we can see the strip of limestone cliffs that is the coast of Corsica across the choppy waters.

If you cross the sand into the corner of the small, sea-front beach there are steps up to a cliffside walkway. It doesn’t go all that far but is fun to walk round, especially with choppy waves splashing up, although the only option is to return via the same route. After this, we wander the town a bit. It’s pleasant enough, with some attractive squares and plenty of gift shops. Then it’s on to have a look where we’ll be getting the ferry and to ‘Eurospin’ for groceries.

Next morning we’re up early to prepare for the crossing, arriving at the port to join a queue for the ancient ferry, which is already waiting. We get a coffee and pastry from the portside cafe then I’m told to vacate and board as a pedestrian while Husband waits. Soon I can watch while he turns the van and reverses into the mouth of the boat whilst being shouted and gesticulated at. We’re learning, by now, that this is the way of Italian ferry workers.

There’s not much sun, but I can’t help standing to watch as our vessel approaches Bonifacio, the white cliffs growing larger, the medieval buildings on their overhanging ledge. I’ve already taken far too many photos of this picturesque city! Then we’re rounding the cliffs into harbour and as Husband descends to the hold to get the van, I follow the pedestrian walkway out to meet him. There’s just the steep ramp of road up from the quay to negotiate- thankfully without obstacle or need to pause this time. We’re back on Corsica!

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.

Calvi-Solenzara- and Au Revoir for now-

We spend three nights at Calvi, spending our first day wandering the old city, which means more climbing in extreme heat, although near the top of the citadel there’s a strategically placed ice cream shop with shady seating. The views are worth the effort, the harbour full to bursting with some of the most expensive boatage to be seen on the Med.

We’re less ambitious on our second day, opting to do a late afternoon stroll on the boardwalk that runs along the railway line. A tiny train putters back and forth around the bay. In the evening we go and find a harbourside bar for a beer and a people watching session- always a pleasant way to pass an hour or two.

We leave Calvi in the morning to head south via some ancient excavations, a journey which becomes frustrating. The ruins are next to a Basilica- elegant from the outside but tickets are required for a glimpse inside- tickets from some museum or other located elswhere! I wonder how many visitors the church receives! Likewise, the remains of the ancient village- medeival perhaps-who knows?

There’s an annnoying search for a site after this, and we end up checking into an enormous ‘beach village’ with 3 or 4 pools, huge bar, restaurant and ‘entertainment’ area with gift shop etc. I’m interested to see that their FB page is telling everyone to cut down on electricity use when their multiple pools and splashparks are fully functioning! It’s ok for 1 night though and next day we pootle on south to a site near Serenzola on a beach, which couldn’t be more different- a ramshackle bar/reception and choose pitch where we like. It’s bohemian and we spend an afternoon on the beach, although when I attempt entry to the sea I’m stymied by my feeble water skills on the steep ledge and have to extricate myself by shuffling backwards, thus filling my cozzie with gritty sand; then I have to remove it by pulling it out of my pants area- not a dignified look, but one that entertains Husband, of course.

We’ve only one more night on Corsica for now so we head on down towards Bonifacio where there’s a site near the port city, in an old olive grove. It’s still too hot to do much but we attempt a walk along a footpath towards the town which quickly becomes overgrown and impassable. There aren’t many people daft enough to attempt walking into Bonifacio. But we’ve already visited. If you haven’t visited, reader I heartily suggest you do. I’d put it in my top 10 European cities and Number 1 most beautiful harbour!

It just remains for us to get to port next morning and get on the ferry, navigating around the narrow streets and down a very steep road to the marina. I’m glad we’re going down, not up, but we’ll have to on our way back! We get a coffee and settle down to wait, discovering later that we need a barcode for our tickets- not something we knew. I go to the ticket office then a battered, ancient ferry comes wheezing around the limestone cliff. We, the passengers must get out of vehicles and Husband has to reverse into the hold, being shouted instructions at. It may be as well that he’s so hard of hearing on this occasion. Then we’re off! And just across the water, Sardinia awaits!

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.

Coast to Mountains in Corsica

We relax for a couple of days at Baie de Voies, near Porto Vecchio, following our arrival to Corsica. It’s a sheltered bay, the sea glassy and flat with a roped off area for swimming so I take advantage here, where even my lack of swimming expertise can’t lead me into difficulties. But the water is deliciously warm and there’s nobody watching my undignified floundering about.

There’s little else here except for a restaurant opposite our site entrance. When we wander up there, we join a long queue to enter, but we’re soon in and sitting outside. I’m fascinated by the meals at the next-door table, where one of the starters appears to be an enormous bone, halved lengthways, from which the lady diner scoops the marrow.

Next day we’re off up north, aiming for Calvi, but deciding to break the journey at Corte, in the mountains. a city which used to be the capital of Corsica. To begin with the road is busy and especially snarled through the small towns but when we leave the coast road to turn inland it becomes quiet. It’s still hot- the low 30s- as it has been almost since arriving to France.

Along the winding road there are wandering cows grazing and as we round one bend there’s an enormous, bloated corpse of an animal, feet sticking straight up. It’s a wild boar.

The site we’ve found at Corte is tricky to get into- accessed by a very narrow bridge over a river, but we make it. There are only 2 pitches available. It’s rustic, converted farm buildings providing the services, but it’s pleasant enough- and handy for the town. We’re only here for one night, but early enough for a climb up to the citadel, which we can see glimpses of through the trees on our site. It’s another stiff climb up and up and when we reach the entrance we must pay entry to the museum to continue.

I’m not interested in reading the verbose passages in the museum- a few short sentences of information would have been fine, but the views from the very top of the fortification are breathtaking- mountains crowned with wispy clouds and the old towns terracotta rooftops.

It’s a fine, handsome old town with crumbling facades, bust with tourists and locals alike. We get a beer in the square- reward for our climbing efforts, then meander back to our site.

In the morning we pack up and set off towards Calvi, on the north coast, a city with a reputation for tourism. When we arrive, we locate our site, although it’s an inauspicious entrance, like the track into a recycling depot, but we get to reception and duly ring the intercom, to be told to enter through the barrier and cross the site to the ‘second reception’, which we do.

Here it’s hotter than ever, with shade at a premium so we opt for a spot under the eucalyptus trees where one or two others have parked. The site seems unprepared for vans and motorhomes and when I DO find a water source it’s a grubby hosepipe on the dusty ground, the water brackish and unpalatable.

As with most of Corsica so far, the site is crammed with mainly German tourists, a smattering of Dutch, one or two Swiss and not one single British vehicle have we seen. But we’re a step away from Calvi city centre and it’s outrageously picturesque, which is good news if we can summon the effort to go and look in the searing temperatures!…

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.

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.