May 30- June 2 – Arriving in Corsica: Ajaccio to Bastillica to Bastia
Corsica is basically a thin range of ancient volcanic hills protruding from the sea. There are precious few flat parts. The roads are narrow twisty strips of asphalt that wind around the mountainous terrain, usually running alongside the serpentine rivers that crisscross the island.
Above the narrow coast, the land is lush: thick with oaks, chestnut, and various fruit trees, most of them hundreds of years old. Beneath the trees the ground is a dense bed of ferns, ivy, and myriad small bushes and grasses. Birds are everywhere, and their songs create a constant audio backdrop.
The June weather is mild and humid, not tropical, but a hell of a lot moister than Santa Fe.
Small villages dot the island. They are quintessentially French, with more roadside cafes that the village’s size can reasonably justify, and are usually filled with locals sipping aperitifs while having animated conversations about who knows what.
We stayed two nights at a friend’s house “La Manoir” which will be 500 years old in 2015. This is most certainly the oldest home I’ve ever slept in. My room is on the third floor, and I sleep below a massive beam that strains from the weight of the last 500 years. The floors are sloping and undulating in every direction. The walls on the ground level are more than 1 meter thick, tapering as they reach the top floor, but still more than half that thickness at the roofline.
The thick walls hold in the moisture, making this house feel like one massive wine cellar. The daytime temperature outside is several degrees warmer, and a few percentages dryer than inside. And the outside ain’t all that dry!
We had lunch today with our friend Babette and her sister at a nearby restaurant, “Chez Paul” which overlooks the village. Eating in the mountains of Corsica is a feast of meat. Charcuterie is the island specialty, and it shows up just about everywhere. Today’s lunch was a “price fixed” meal: Charcuterie, then cannelloni stuffed with Brocciu (a soft, ricotta-like cheese) covered in a thin sauce of sauce bolognaise.
Dinner at Babette’s was vegetarian, made especially for Dave, which only meant endless amounts of cheese. Being a vegan here would not only be impossible, it would be inconceivable. At lunch today, ALL the salads had some fish or animal in them, with creamy, cheesy pasta as the only option.
We left Babette’s before noon. The drive north was spectacular. This is one hilly island. While driving through the center of the island you would be forgiven if you thought you were in the Alps. The mountains aren’t as high in absolute terms, but the vertical – emphasis on vertical – prominence is amazing.
Oh, we have no cash. There is no place – and I mean NO PLACE – on the island to convert USD to EURO. So, we have dollars we can’t spend, and not all places take credit cards. So money is a problem. We need to figure something out…
Our first day of cycling is tomorrow, Sunday.