A Travellerspoint blog

A voyage of Titanic proportions

Forget Kate and Leo, we’re the true high-sea-stars

overcast 20 °C

(Sountrack option: For full effect, start playing Celine Dion My Heart Will Go On immediately.)
It didn’t start off well. It was more than a little breezy when we boarded the SNCM ferry for our five-hour crossing from Nice to Ile Rousse in Northern Corsica. We became a bit more concerned when, even with our not-so-great French we managed to understand the announcement that told us we would have to sail to another port instead as the winds were too strong to get to our original destination. But it wasn’t until we left the relative shelter of Nice harbour we began to realise our predicament. It. Was. Rough. Waves smashed against the side of our vessel as we rolled and slithered about in the high seas. It may sound like I’m over-dramatising, but I kid you not. Approximately half the boat proceeded to chuck up their croissants and café cremes. We, thankfully, were spared the horrors of losing our lunch, but were seated next to a dapper-looking French chap who tore his way through the sick bags, hurling loudly, then proceeding to act as if nothing had happened. In a strange turn of events, he kept each sickbag on his lap like little trophies. Smelly ones. Mike, still recovering from The Big Race, managed to snooze in his seat, rocked to sleep by the tidal waves. I on the other hand gripped my chair with white knuckles and tried to block out the sound of vomiting by watching The Devil Wears Prada in French on one of the tiny TV screens. The glamorous Meryl Streep seemed oddly out of place aboard our Titanic-style ship.
Five hours later, we lurched in to a fetching little port called Calvi to the sound of rain beating on the ferry roof. Aah, summer holidays eh! Oh, and just to prove I wasn’t over-exaggerating the whole affair, our journey of doom actually made the newspapers, and they cancelled all other crossings for the rest of that day and all the next. See. (Stop Celine now before she bursts something).
FERRY_.jpg The fateful ferry trip (before Mike drifted off to sleep and left me to deal with it alone)

Posted by millie t 12:33 Archived in France Comments (0)

Fun on the Fragrant Isle

How Corsica became our NFP (New Favourite Place)

-17 °C

Corsica is brilliant for so many reasons (none of which include the ferry crossing you’ll be pleased to note). Here are a few of the highlights:
1. The food. Mmmmm. Sheeps-milk cheese, charcuterie of all kinds (yep, even donkey), chestnut-flour beer and cakes, great (and cheap) rose, good coffee…
2. The scenery. One minute you’re in a cute little Mediterranean port like Calvi, the next you come across a quaint mountain hamlet. You can swim in clear, deep rivers or pure-white sandy beaches. You can hike through the macqui (sweet-scented bushland – it smells like herbs), or stroll through picturesque little seaside villages. There truly is something for all tastes.
3. The ease. Corsica is relatively small, and driving around it is easy-peasy. Well, when you get used to the crazy Corsican driving. The island is very close to both Italy and France…when it comes to road tactics, need I say more? However, once you’ve accepted the fact that any number plate ending with a 2A or 2B will drive right up your, um, botty, until a) you pull over or b) they hoon past you on a blind corner on the wrong side of the road, you’re laughing. The road surfaces are amazingly sound, most are safe and they’re all quite fast, making seeing a lot of the island in a short time entirely possible.
4. The people. Corsicans are proud of their island and rightly so. There is a very strong sense of patriotism – they are part of France, but distinctly separate and always Corsican first. The island has a troubled past but no animosity is directed at tourists and we felt perfectly welcome. There is a local language, but the people speak French to tourists (you may struggle if you didn’t know any at all, we didn’t come across a lot of English speakers), albeit with a strong Italian accent which makes it sound even more exotic.
5. The accommodation. Cheap, clean, fab. What more could you want?
Our highlight? A crazy-cool boat trip (yes, I managed to strap on my sea-legs again!) from Tiuccia around Les Calanches (huge red-granite gorges) and the Scandola peninsula. We saw osprey fishing, dolphins playing in the surf and hundreds of colourful fish. We swam in deep, warm ocean off the back of the boat, and were escorted in style by the glamour-captain fondly named by his crew ‘Mister Corse’ (say it with an Italian accent and you get the drift). His motto seemed to be “No Shirt, No Worries”, or perhaps “There’s no such things as a too-dark tan”.

All told, we had an incredible 5 days and wished it were longer. Our loop of the island took us to some amazing beaches, bushland, towns and villages. We’d go back in a heartbeat, and for longer. Even for Mike to swig some more Pietra (that chestnut-flour beer) and for me to jam in a little more of that stinky sheep’s cheese.

BOAT_RIDE.jpg "The higlight"...our boat trip to Scandola
DONKEY.jpg A friendly neighbourhood donkey encountered during a hike near Corte
BONIFACIO.jpg Beautiful Bonifacio, a daredevil feat of a place, built precariously on a limestone clifftop
CALVI.jpg The "Red Rattler" train we took from Calvi (in the background) to Ile Rousse (and the azure water we took a dip in to recover!)

Posted by millie t 12:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

Anyone for triathlon?

If you’ve got a spare, oh, day, you’ve got time for Ironman

sunny 30 °C

Sunday 24th June. Ironman France. 3.8km swim. 180km bike ride. 42km run. 1500 competitors. If you’re thinking, “Geez, they could find 1500 people that actually volunteer to do that?” I don’t blame you. Still, triathlon is Michael’s passion and in the for-better-or-worse tradition, I supported him in his quest to get Ironman number five under his belt. Four a.m. was getting-up time. Four thirty was eating breakfast and drinking rocket-fuel coffee time. Four forty five was double-checking equipment and getting suited-up time. I remained supportive by lying in bed groaning and pulling pillows over my head. Then it was time to go. Pre-sunrise, the morning was perfectly still and you could feel the nervous energy emanating from of hundreds of super-fit (but potentially not quite of sound mind) endurance athletes zipping themselves into wetsuits, checking their bikes, making last-minute preparations. The starting gun broke the early stillness and they were off – the leaders would return in well over eight hours, while the tail-enders would cross the finish line seventeen hours later. Michael has written his own race report which he won’t let me add to the blog because he has gone all shy, but if you want to read about what it’s actually like to physically, and mentally, put yourself through an Ironman, let us know and we’ll forward it on. And as I simply stood on the sidelines cheering for almost 11 hours, my account is much less exciting and drama-filled. You’ll be glad to know that Mike did us all proud in Nice, with a finishing time of 10 hours, 55 minutes on a thirty-degree day, and he was still smiling at the end (or was that a grimace). And other than having to limp around for a week after, losing a few toenails, sustaining a couple of weeping welts on the back of his neck from wetsuit chaffing and having a really rather nasty case of sunburn, he pulled up very well. And what’s a few toenails between friends? So...any takers for next year?
after_the_swim.jpg After the swim (3.8km in...)
heading_of..he_bike.jpg Heading out on the bike
the_damage.jpg Sunburn and neck welts and heat stroke, oh my!

Posted by millie t 06:30 Archived in France Comments (0)

It’s so much nicer in Nice…

Capers in the capital of the Cote D’Azur

sunny 30 °C

Nearly three weeks in Nice. It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it was true, although we did have to pinch ourselves a few times to make sure. The first ten or so days we stayed in a friend’s apartment with lovely big windows overlooking the port and hence, overlooking how the other half live. Wow. These weren’t simply boats. They were floating palaces – some chic and some, well, big. All day long, in and out they’d glide, flying the flags of Luxembourg, Monaco, Cayman Islands and other tax havens. Girls in bikinis lounging in the on-board roof-top jacuzzis, attentive crew busily washing decks and delivering drinks in their white polos and sharp chinos. We certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto. When we could tear ourselves away from this better-than-Neighbours soap opera occurring outside our front window, we explored the city and surrounds. The highlights? Touring a fragrance factory in perfume capital, Grasse (see, I was working, I swear!), swimming (fully clothed) among the nudies at Eze-sur-mer, a gorgeous, pebbly beach, discovering the cobbled streets of cute-as-a-button seaside town Villefranche, and roaming the narrow, winding passages of Nice’s atmospheric Old Town, or Vielle Ville. And the food…The French sure do know how to enjoy things when it comes to eating. Even a simple sandwich from a roadside kiosk to a takeaway salad from a servo is something of a gourmet delight. Fresh bread, good-quality butter, crunchy leaves and fresh vegetables made even our most basic meals memorable. We also sampled the local specialty, socca – a thick chickpea and olive oil savoury pancake. It became our snack of choice for that hungry time when it was too late for lunch and too early for dinner. Hard life. When we were sick of socca (yes it happens), and croissant-weary, we hit the fruit and veggie market in the town square. Every morning except Monday local producers display their wares on groaning trestle tables under brightly striped canopies. Plump, juicy red berries, ripe tomatoes, smelly sausages, even smellier cheeses, mountains of garlic and at least ten different types of potatoes all jostled for our attention, fringed by leafy herbs and zucchini flowers. And the beauty of our digs – a self-catering flat – meant we could cook with farm-fresh, dirt cheap ingredients nearly every night. We were totally giving Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay (only with marginally less swearing or saying pukka and lovely-jubbly). Nearly two weeks and a few extra kilos later, we had to bid farewell to Nice apartment and commenced location in a city hotel, Le Meurice, in preparation for Mike’s big race – Ironman France. Finally, the bike, still tagging after us along like a bad smell, was to have it’s day in the sun. Speaking of sun, the temperature hovered between 25 and 30 degrees for our entire stay. Sorry. I’d like to say it was cold and miserable, or that the food was nasty, or that we stayed in a rat-infested hovel and had a really bad time, but everything was pretty much perfect. Oh, except the parking and the driving, but a promise is a promise, so my lips are sealed on that particular subject.

market_stall.jpg The fruit and veggie market
eze_.jpg Lovely Eze village
nice_view.jpg The view from our flat...hard life!

Posted by millie t 06:20 Archived in France Comments (0)

Car Trouble

sunny 30 °C

I think I’ve probably been banging on enough about driving in France. “Enough!”, I hear you wail. So, I’ll spare you the gory details. But let me just say this, before I press on with the interesting stuff. Nothing compares to navigating a car around Nice. Not only are the narrow roads packed, and traffic jams rife, the locals just park anywhere. Two, even three cars deep, on the median strip, underneath traffic light posts in the middle of intersections, anywhere they fancy. Scary when you first encounter the city, but after almost three weeks, more than slightly amusing. The whole thumbing of noses at authority was strangely refreshing. In fact, when it comes to road rules in Nice, it’s all very ‘laissez faire’. Coming from an area where parking inspectors arrive in mini-buses in the morning to slap fines on any vehicle remaining a few seconds too long in a space, we rather enjoyed this casual approach. Road works, omnipresent in France, also seem to be undertaken in Nice with this laid-back attitude. Lots of men standing around a small hole in the role chatting – obviously this requires the whole road to be blocked off, only increasing traffic-flow issues. But no one really seems to mind, and road rage is basically non-existent which, in the midst of all that craziness, is really rather nice and very sensible, too. Now, that’s it for my diatribes on French driving. Promise. And I think I ended it on quite a positive note really. Although having said that, the next time we go to Nice, we’ll most certainly be leaving the car behind…

Posted by millie t 06:16 Archived in France Comments (0)

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