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Trip Report 8 Days in Corsica--Not Enough!

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I am attempting my first trip report for two reasons: I have enjoyed so many wonderful trip reports that others have written; and Corsica is so marvelous and I don't see much about it here. My report may be thin on facts and thick with superlatives, but I hope what I can report about one of the best trips of my life might inspire someone else to go. I went with a good friend in early June, 2008 and we traveled by boat, train, car, and got lost on foot in the mountains--but I'm getting ahead of myself.

An island in the Mediterranean and Napoleon Bonaparte: that's about what I knew when I came to the south of France. It wasn't long before I began hearing more and more about Corsica. There are many people in the south of France who are Corsican or whose families are from Corsica. And for many French people, Corsica is a travel dream, a place they love or a place they haven't been to yet but want to go to. So I began to plan a trip to Corsica. I read, I googled, and I got great advice, particularly from a French friend who discussed various itineraries with me and who told me which ferry boat to take, which side of the narrow-gauge mountain train to sit on for the best views and when to move to the other side of the train. I also got what proved to be not-so-great advice from another French friend, who said it was early in the season so we didn't need to make hotel reservations anywhere. Our lack of a hotel room for our last night became a problem.

We took the overnight ferry from Marseille to Bastia. We boarded half an hour before departure time and we saw no one except the crew member who, when I asked where everyone else was, said with a smile, "This ship is just for you." We laughed and then found out he wasn't kidding. We were on the Danielle Casanova, the newest SNCM ferry, a majestic white ship with gleaming brass fittings and capacity for over 2000 passengers. There were only 137 passengers on that crossing, and I think about 100 of them were in hiding. This was not good for our carbon footprint, but we loved everything about our boat. We learned from an engraved plaque that she is named for a French resistance heroine. Our cabin was comfortable, attractive and clean, complete with bottled water and TV. (Well, we had a lot of trouble opening the door, even after the crew person we summoned showed us how to push hard in a certain spot, but that just made us all the happier every time we managed to get inside.) Marseille looked beautiful as we moved out of the new port and past the old port. As the golds and roses of the sunset faded into dusk and then dark, the 20 or so other passengers on deck disappeared and we were alone. Evening was mild and calm and we stayed on deck for a few hours. In that time only one or two other people appeared briefly and then left. I don't think we realized how lucky we were to have such a smooth sailing until the trip back, when for a while we could barely walk into the wind on the windward side.

We awoke early and got very excited to see the emerging coastline. It was too foggy to make out any landmarks, which was disappointing since that was our only view of Cap Corse, the thumb that sticks up from the fist that is the rest of Corsica. Once on shore in Bastia, we walked to the train station and bought tickets for the 3:23 train that would take us into the mountains and halfway down the island. Left our bags there. We had several hours to explore Bastia and to have breakfast and lunch. I also had the idea that it might be possible to take the bus to nearby Erbalunga. A Corsican friend from there had told me how beautiful it is. And in fact we could have had an hour in Erbalunga if only the not-very-helpful person in the tourist office had told us the bus stop was just across the street. (We asked! She waved her hand vaguely. We should have asked again.) Instead, we wandered around for at least 20 minutes looking for the right bus stop and asking directions of the wrong people. We finally found it back where we had started just as the bus pulled away.

We no longer had time to go to Erbalunga. Instead, we had a leisurely walk the length of Bastia. We had already had a breakfast pastry at an outdoor cafe in the 19th century square of place St-Nicholas where there is a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte dressed as a Greek warrior/bodybuilder. We ended up in the 15th-17th century citadel at A Casarella, a restaurant with a sunny terrace precipitously high above the old port. We asked the waiter what the dishes were at the neighboring table and if they were good and he said, seriously, "No, they are not good at all." He laughed, we ordered them and they were delicious. We left feeling very pleased with ourselves and with Corsica so far. Then we had a nerve-wracking 45 minutes or so waiting for the bus to take us back to town. Made it to the train station in time.

The ride through the mountains was stunning and breathtaking. Steep wooded hills and valleys, rushing rivers. I didn't have to follow my friend's advice about when to change sides because we were almost alone in the train car and I could move back and forth as often as I wanted. I wished we had time to stop in Corte and see the only university in Corsica, but we were on our way to Vizzavona, 2 1/2 hours from Bastia, and what I hoped would be an impressively eccentric hotel and a fantastic dinner. Plus our only chance to experience a little of the GR 20, the 170 km footpath that is considered the most difficult in France.

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