SarCorsiParis - The Paris Pictures! - PART DEUX!

This is it! The end of the 2014 SarCorsiParis adventure in images!
Below is a link to the last half of our time in and around Paris and the final photo album from our trip.

2014 SarCorsiParis PHOTOS Album F!...

That's "F" for FIN!  CLICK HERE to view it. When the photo album opens, click on the first picture and then click on "Slideshow" at the top or manually advance the photos at the bottom using the arrow!

Thanks again for coming along!

À bientôt ~ Todd

The French flag hanging beneath the Arc de Triomphe

SarCorsiParis - The Paris Pictures! - LE PREMIER PARTIE!

Come along as we near the end of the 2014 SarCorsiParis adventure in, where else? "PAH-ree!"

Below is a link to the first of the final two photo albums. We found Paris to be a remarkable city although 10 days was barely enough to scratch the surface. 

2014 SarCorsiParis PHOTOS Album E!...  CLICK HERE to view it. When the photo album opens, click on the first picture and then click on "Slideshow" at the top or manually advance the photos at the bottom using the arrow!

Pyramid reflection at the Louvre


Come along for the second half of our Corsican adventure. Our stay on the island simply wasn't long enough!

2014 SarCorsiParis PHOTOS Album D!... CLICK HERE to view it. When the photo album opens, click on the first picture and then click on "Slideshow" at the top or manually advance the photos at the bottom using the arrow!

Incidentally, you may notice I use an effect on some photos called "ortonish." I have used it when what would otherwise be an interesting photo is initially bland or out of focus and would be thrown away. For example, the photo below of Natalie on the TGV heading to Paris was (and still is) out of focus. Yet, ortonish made the photo interesting and, at least to me, appropriate for inclusion in the album.

Up next - PARIS!  Ciao!  ~ Todd

The Third Installment of 2014 SarCorsiParis Photos - LET'S GO TO CORSICA!

Just when you thought you'd have nothing to do for the next few minutes!

Here's a link to the first half of the photos from our CORSICA portion of the 2014 SarCorsiParis Odyssey. 

I admit, there are a few pictures of mountains, clear flowing streams, angel white snow, and deep blue skies. If Julie Andrews could still sing, she would! But I hope you'll like them all the same.

Vas-y! Let's go!...

2014 SarCorsiParis PHOTOS Album C!... CLICK HERE to view it. When the photo album opens, click on the first picture and then click on "Slideshow" at the top or manually advance the photos at the bottom using the arrow!

Coming real soon...  the second half of the Corsica photos!  

Enjoy... Ciao!

The Second Installment of 2014 SarCorsiParis Photos - Sardinia continued...

Here's a link to the second half of the photos from our Sardinia portion of the SarCorsiParis Odyssey.

Photos from Corsica and Paris will be coming soon...

2014 SarCorsiParis PHOTOS Album B!... CLICK HERE to view it. When the photo album opens, click on the first picture and then click on "Slideshow" at the top or manually advance the photos at the bottom using the arrow!

Enjoy... Ciao!

And NOW For The First Installment of 2014 SarCorsiParis PHOTOS!

When I last wrote, Natalie and I were enjoying the end of our SarCorsiParis European odyssey strolling along the boulevards of Paris. It was all blue sky and song birds, baguettes and barrettes! Oh snap! No, it was cool, cloudy and rainy… but we thoroughly enjoyed the City of Lights.

Our trip was coming to an end, but not before we high-tailed it back to Marseille on the Train à Grande Vitesse. We had one more day to have a walkabout before hitching the big bird home. So off we went from our now familiar IBIS hotel in the port area, only this time we steered right toward the Marseille Cathedral.

The Marseille Cathedral
The Cathedral was très cool ! But what surprised us was just beyond the cathedral: an area of modern architecture featuring the Villa Méditerrannée and the MuCEM (the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean).

The Villa Méditerrannée
The MuCEM (the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean)

Our stroll ended with a seafood dinner at an outdoor restaurant in the Vieux Port. Funny thing is, they had a wee tiny sign saying “No credit cards” which we did not see. We now had a wee tiny problem… we didn’t have enough cash and the banks were long closed. And the hilarity ensued… The restaurateur said “No problem. There’s a cash machine right over there!” The restaurateur had apparently not been reading the TourAlongWithTodd Blog and was therefore not aware of our difficulty in using non-chip credit cards during the trip. Luckily for all concerned, the cash machine accepted our card and gave us cash. However, the restaurateur had NO IDEA how close he came to having a dine-and-dash incident as we were in no mood to wash his dishes and the cash machine was at least 200 feet from the restaurant.

Early morning May 30th we took the metro to the train station (we don’t need no stinking taxis!) and then the bus to the airport for the flight to Munich.

Now here’s the thing about leaving Sardinia, Corsica and France and entering Germany… in Germany we were greeted with the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is a bathroom with toilet paper, hand soap AND a way to dry your hands! Thank you, Germany!

Our flight to LAX was essentially a movie marathon. I have no idea how many I watched. Upon arrival at LAX, we were assaulted by three things:

  1. An immigration area that was so loud, chaotic, confusing and out of control one would think it was their first day on the job, EVER!
  2. Restaurants blasting music so loud one would think they doubled as clubs at night. 
  3. Electric assistant carts beeping continually while in motion so one would think… well, I don’t know what one would think except they are SO annoying!
Maybe Americans really are loud…

Well, we had a great time on this 39-day adventure, and boy-o-boy do I have the pictures to prove it!

Over the coming weeks I’ll be posting a series of photo albums… no more narrative, just photos. I hope you enjoy them.

The first photo album begins with brief passes through Marseille and Corsica and then on to Sardinia, the first destination of our trip.

Without further ado…

2014 SarCorsiParis PHOTOS Album A!... CLICK HERE to view it. When the photo album opens, click on the first picture and then click on "Slideshow" at the top or manually advance the photos at the bottom using the arrow!

Ah...Springtime in Paris!

As advertised, the TGV, or Train à  Grande Vitesse, from Marseilles to Paris goes really, really fast. In three hours, we’ve covered the 750 km and were soon navigating the Paris metro for the first time on our way to the IBIS Montmartre Hotel. By late afternoon, we make the rendezvous at the Sacre Coeur with 10,000 of our best tourist friends. After our time on the islands, the crush of humanity is daunting but nothing like what is to come. Still, the hustle and bustle tells us Paris is open for business.

Is that Dustin Hoffman working
the snack bar on the TGV to Paris?

Street performer at Sacre Coeur.

Along the walk to Sacre Coeur, we see a placard promoting a free performance of Antigone at an outdoor theatre tonight! So, with baguette sandwiches and wine in the “sac à dos,” we’re off to the performance. The actors switched back and forth from Italian, French and Spanish rather than telling the story in the universal language – American. Tant pis, but it was a beautiful May evening and a great introduction to the city, and that’s what counted.

It was a fine performance of Antigone...
But spoken in American would
have been better

Tuesday morning and we’re off to pickup our Paris Museum Passes and then have a bit of a walkabout. But before we walkabout, let’s examine the size of this city.

The City of Paris proper (the circular area with all the cool stuff in it) has two million people stuffed inside along with 1 million dogs pooping on the sidewalks. The greater metropolitan area has 12 million people (you can do the math on the number of dogs) and covers 1,000 square miles. If you’ve been keeping up on the blog, you know that this means greater Paris is 1/3 the size of the entire island of Corsica but has 36 times the population. This place is really, really big. Thankfully Paris is mostly flat, so having walkabouts should be a breeze.

Paris is really, really big! The view from the Eiffel Tower.

After our first walkabout, our legs feel like jelly. A look at our handy tourist map shows how little of the circular area we covered. This place is really, really big. That night we vow to walk as little as possible in search of food. Around the corner from the hotel we find an Irish bar where beer is served… mission accomplished. Using my best French, I ask what beers are on tap. The bartender, using his best Irish, asks me where I’m from. Using my best American, I reply, “The States.” “All right then,” he says, “let’s stop pretending.” For the next three hours, we have a hilarious time with the bartender, Tony, his Finnish wife, along with a Paris policeman (who is super funny), his Irish wife and Rudy, who is a friend to all. Near the end of the night shots of savory liquor appear. Twenty minutes later Natalie and I are glad the hotel is just around the corner. Sleep is going to be a good thing.

The gang at the Irish Bar!

The next morning…. STOP! Let’s depart from the chronological format. Shall we?

Next up?  Bike tours, museums, Versailles and funny things about Paris! Vas-y!

A couple we met in Corsica from Bozeman, recommended the Fat Tire Bike Tours of Paris. We booked the day and night tours since each has a different focus. The weather forecast was for sunny skies!

The day tour started… and continued… with a cold light rain. Thin plastic ponchos helped make the 3.5-hour tour a success as we biked from site to site with narration from Sam, our guide, along the way. We rested up at the hotel for the night tour as the afternoon sun broke through pastel Parisian clouds. The love affair between the sun and clouds ended just in time for our evening bike ride. We rode through rain. We rode through sheets of rain. We rode through sheets and buckets and torrents of rain. We did not stop. We did not shop. We skipped the promised ice cream and no one complained. We did, however, have some reprieve during the “boat ride on the Seine” portion of the tour. Four hours later, the tour ended. In a weird way, although our shoes “squished” with every step and our drenched clothes were glued to us, we enjoyed the adventure and the other tourists we met.

Our day bike tour was damp. Our night tour was soaked!

Paris has more than its share of museums and monuments. Small, large, mainstream and bizarre, you name it… Paris has it. Here are a few observations:

1. Large museums, like the Louvre or d’Orsay, have lots and lots of things in them and many of these things are outstanding. The problem is, if you don’t hold a Doctorate in Museums—and that’s 99.9999% of all adult visitors and 150.3% of all child visitors—the plethora of outstanding things is simply overwhelming. Another Renoir? Yawn… We actually found smaller museums, like the Conciergerie—where the guillotine was trés busy during the revolution—to be more informative and much more relaxing. Plus, smaller museums take less time, making it easy to break the day up with a variety of adventures.

2. And because most of us do not hold Doctorates in Museums, we don’t know what to look at. So we are trained to be attracted to certain objects like les mouches (flies) sur merde. One such object is the Mona Lisa. I can’t be sure, but I’m pretty certain it’s NOT the best painting of the 300,000 (really) in the museum. I’m also pretty sure the Venus de Milo is not the best sculpture. Mon Dieu, she doesn’t even have arms!

Quick! Take a picture of the Mona Lisa before it's too late!
The other paintings in the room are clearly inferior.

It was a close call, but I too managed to get a
photo of the Moaning Lisa... as you can see here!
It's a lot smaller than I thought.

The Venus de Milo is also much smaller than
I had imagined...
3. Going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Arc de Triomphe is fun and each view clearly illustrates that Paris is really, really big. And if you’re a pick pocket, you’ll find the very top of the Eiffel Tower even more fun!

I've been sitting here on Notre Dame for 900 years.
I am SO DONE with this place!

4. Security policies are variable. At the d’Orsay, you have to check your rucksack but can take your camera in. However, the camera police are at the ready to wag a finger and say, “Non!” should you try to take a photo. On the other hand, many people get their rucksacks through and hundreds are sneaking photos. I tried to snap one shot and received a good wagging. At the Louvre? Rucksacks are fine! Photos? Take as many as you want! But try to eat ONE PIECE OF CHOCOLATE and watch out! I did… and failed. I wanted to give that Monet a chocolate moustache SO BAD! So, when in Paris, be prepared to be flexible to accommodate a seemingly incomprehensible security net.

5. Monuments are not created equal. The Arc de Triomphe certainly makes a point. And then there’s Napoleon’s Tomb.  It’s enormous! Some might say it’s gigantesque! Like Paris, it’s really, really big. I can’t be sure, but I think someone, even in death, was compensating for a certain shortcoming in life.

Now THAT'S a tomb!

And then there’s Versailles…

The French try to put a good face on the three Louis’ (14th, 15th and 16th), but the enormity of their opulence and power is a wee bit on display at the Palace. Look at it this way, Versailles was an escape for royalty from an increasingly hostile Paris. But for Louis XIV, Versailles and its 10,000 inhabitants (royalty and servants) became too much. To alleviate his suffering, he commissioned the Grand Trianon, another palace at the opposite end of the Versailles grounds, to be built. With the Versailles grounds being 2,000 acres, or about half the size of my home town, Moscow, Idaho, the Trianon was a good place to be… unless you were Louis XVI… for whom there was ultimately no good place to be.  Well, if Louis XIV found the Palace crowded then, he should try it now! Canned sardines have it better. The Trianon was much more relaxing; there was virtually no one else there.

Mooo! Moooooo!
Inside Versailles

Meanwhile, you can hear a pin drop
at the Grand Trianon.

Italian Ice Cream at Versailles makes everything good.

Versailles is really, really big!

And now… a few notes on Paris…

1. The weather in Paris in May can be quite nice. At least it was the week before we arrived. Other than the first day and our Versailles day, our stay has been cool, cloudy and with varying amounts of rain. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We can only imagine moving about the crowded city on a hot, muggy July day. Nope, that’s not a warm steamy crêpe you’re smelling! So, we’ve rejoiced in the cool weather… mostly.

2. Getting around Paris is super easy via the Metro. It’s quick to learn to use and is inexpensive and efficient. We had just one really screwy morning, and that was because a Metro line was unexpectedly shut down. Again, we’re glad we weren’t using it in July. Nope, that’s not fresh camembert you’re smelling!

After another walkabout...
Natalie on the Metro with jelly legs.

3. People are forever losing their gold rings along the sidewalks! In fact, one day early on during our visit, a woman picked up a gold band right in front of us! She gave it to me saying she doesn’t wear jewelry. What good Parisian luck I have! As I walked away, she asked if I could give her a Euro or two for coffee. As I reached into my pocket, a woman behind me—whom Natalie could see—waved her hands in effect saying, “No!”  I handed back the ring and thus escaped the scam just in time. We were approached by two more women within 10 minutes… and a few days later by a man… doing the “ring drop.”

5. Paris is the second most expensive city in the world. We agree. We sat down at Les Deux Magots, a very touristy café, just yesterday but left before ordering two beers… two beers for $28.00. But if you look around you’ll find ways to have fun and live well. Besides, people are throwing gold rings all over the place!

                                              From Paris… À Trés Bientôt!

Along the Tourist Trail – Part 2

Corse isn’t a big island. It’s just 3400 square miles. That’s smaller than Valley County, Idaho, but nearly three times as big as Rhode Island. Whew! That ought to put it in perspective! So getting around should be a snap, right? Well, no. In Corse a “fast” road is a two-lane highway. There are no divided highways and mountains split the island from top to bottom. You ain’t gettin’ no where fast around here!

And the scenic roads our maps suggest? Let’s begin with this…

Located in the northern center of the island, Corte is promoted as the primary starting point for many mountain adventures. Thus our hyper-scenic drive from the Bavella area started a promising day. The exit from the mountains—just 20 km or so—delivered us onto one of the “fast” coastal highways. A short time later, as we neared Corte, we followed the guide book’s advice and took an alternate scenic mountain route.

Lesson #3 – Scenic roads are often dangerous roads. This wasn’t the first time we had encountered narrow roads during the trip. Sardinia had plenty of endlessly winding narrow roads, yet this “scenic” route—and others to come on Corse—achieved a much higher level of white-knuckleness. This road was perhaps 10 feet wide and had a white stripe painted down the middle to suggest that two vehicles could occupy the same stretch of road side by side. In this regard, the Corse are funnier with their road stripes than the Sardinians are with their road signs. Oh yes… we laughed uncontrollably; every blind corner was better than the last. What a hoot!... right up until we encountered a driver rounding a corner occupying our “lane.” He swerved at the last moment. Minutes later we saw an odd sight: a woman sitting on a bench on an outside curve of this road reading a book with her dog lying beside her. We concluded that’s how she spends her afternoon—reading and waiting for car accidents.

So how can this road fun be ever more fun?

  1. Add a tour bus!
  2. Add several tour buses!
  3. Have the tour buses dump their passengers out on these same narrow roads for picture taking!
  4. Place herds of goats here and there!

We actually enjoyed the drives, and we made it to Corte, but we had to always remember Lesson #3 – Scenic roads are often dangerous roads.

Two actual lanes are just an idea.

Corte failed to deliver the charm we had imagined. It’s rough on the edges and has some cleaning up to do, but there are indeed mountains right outside town. We checked into our first hotel, wandered about and ended up having hamburgers and fries for dinner. They were a welcomed break from the now routine pizza. Tomorrow we would hike!

The next day began with a 15 km. drive up a well-traveled canyon on another hilarious winding, single-lane road with stripes painted down the middle; the bridges were even narrower. And the blind corners were to die for! We got back to business at the road’s end: the 3-mile hike to Lake Melo. The trail was easygoing and the rock shoulders were quickly surmounted via permanently installed chains and metal ladders. The lake was still half-iced over and large snow patches were all around. But the lake just above, Lake Capitello, was my target. A half hour and a bit of bushwhacking later, I was standing on top of a frozen lake completely surrounded by snow and granite towers. A goal accomplished—to be surrounded by snow on an island in the Mediterranean. It was a nearly perfect day… right up until…

Lesson #4 – Hotel descriptions are based on a degree of fantasy. The Hotel HR, according to the guidebook, was once a military garrison and looks a bit gloomy on the outside. Yes… that’s true. The book also says its 100+ rooms have all been updated. Maybe… but to what? The book goes on to say the 50 Euro rate makes the Hotel HR a real bargain! You bet!... here are a few bargain-inducing features of the Hotel HR:

  1. The 24-hour check-in counter always has the scissoring metal security screen in place!
  2. The man checking you in —nice as he is—is drinking beer!
  3. Elevators did not exist when the hotel was updated!
  4. The entrance hallway to your room has broken furniture guaranteed to creep you out!
  5. The sink is right by the bed and has no cold water!
  6. There is no TV to help make it all less creepy! AND…
  7. The shower’s so small that the cold wet vinyl shower curtain sticks to you!

Hey, we admit that traveling on the fly requires some thick skin now and then, but this place was just ewwwwwe! To drive it home, the following night we paid just 75 Euro for an absolutely clean, modern room on a beach! So come with thick skin and some skepticism because you’re sure to encounter Lesson #4 – Hotel descriptions are based on a degree of fantasy.

Hooray! Snow in the Mediterranean!

Welcome to our room at the
Hotel HR in Corte. Noooo!

Did I mention “beach?” Yes I did! We ditched Corte and headed for Porto on Corse’s west coast. As we left town, we noticed a tall elderly white-haired man with a rucksack along the road motioning to us. He was hitchhiking. Farther down the road, we stopped for a short hike in the Gorges de Spelunca and, upon leaving, saw the same man wave at us for a ride. How weird! A short time later, we arrived in Porto. That white-haired man was standing on the roadside again. Waving us down again! That guy officially freaked us out!

L’Hôtel Romantique was a breath of fresh air after the Hotel HR, and from our balcony we could see towering granite spires above and giant waves crashing on the beach nearby. Time to get some photos! Minutes later Natalie and I were walking along the pebble beach as sunset neared. Another thing that neared was a rogue wave. In a flash we were inundated. Completely soaked, we both managed to keep our cameras above water. The only casualty was my sunglasses. Back to the room we went… to wash everything in the bathtub.

View from our room at l’Hôtel Romantique!

Soaked from head to toe after
the rogue wave!

The wind and waves had settled the next morning, ushering in a perfect day for another hike. Capo Rosso, a prominent rock cape with a Genoese tower on top, was our target. To get there though, we had to negotiate another super-funny narrow road complete with tour buses and their human cargo. And, although the 8-km hike was in full sun, the view at the top of the ancient tower was extraordinary and worth the effort. We could see the Iles Sanguineres near Ajaccio to the south, and way out on the northern horizon, though tiny, were the Alps.

The view from atop the tower at Capo Rosso
looking toward Porto in the far bay to the right.

As far as places in Corse go, Porto is another thumbs up in our book! We leave Porto but not before we learn…

Lesson #5 – Fill your car with gas always and often. Porto’s only gas station does not accept our technologically crippled credit cards and, being a self-serve station, there’s no one on duty to appeal to. Back at the bakery, we learn there’s another station 6 kilometers away up another wittily winding, perilously narrow, blind-corner-strewn road. Thankfully the station’s open. With the tank topped off, we vow to always remember Lesson #5 – Fill your car with gas always and often. This, by the way, is not the first time we should have remembered this lesson!

Down the coast a couple hours and we’re back in Ajaccio where we officially started the island portion of our trip in April. This time we’re staying so we can explore Corse’s largest city. Ajaccio seems larger and far more metropolitan than its 65,000 population implies. Palm trees, sun, beaches, cafés and restaurants—it’s all here and we really enjoy our time. Among other things, I take note that wearing a top at the beach is optional. Virtually all men elect to go topless and about a third of women do too! Alas, we retained our own tops. Our time was limited and my survey titillatingly incomplete. I vow to renew my research on our next trip. For Ajaccio, it’s two thumbs up!

An afternoon thunderstorm rolls into Ajaccio.

Beachside soccer-volleyball. The rules? No hands!

We’ve come full circle and are back at our IBIS Hotel in Marseille. We’ve driven 1600 miles touring Sardinia and Corse, and we managed to return our trusty Peugeot 200 without a scratch. Well, there is ONE tiny door ding, but I didn’t do that and they didn’t notice; no harm, no foul! Tomorrow starts the third and final leg of our SarCorsiParis Adventure: Onward to Paris!

Gliding into Marseille on the ferry at sunrise.

From the Tourist Trail…. Ciao!

Along the Tourist Trail – Part 1

As the sun sinks slowly into the Mediterranean, Sardinia fades like a distant memory as our bateau approaches l’ile Corse. Well…Sardinia’s just 12 km across the Strait of Bonifacio and the sun has hours to go before it plunged into the sea, but you get the idea.

Anyway, we’re back in Corsica. The French, the current occupiers of the island, call it “Corse,” so I will too. It turns out that the Corsicans feel their island is theirs and leave gentle reminders along the tourist trail by spray painting over the French spellings of towns on road signs or simply blasting the signs with shotguns. Being from Idaho, I abhor the indiscriminate use of spray paint. The travel books suggest NOT entering into superfluous debates with the Corse about who owns what island and who’s subsidizing whom. Because we’re unable to enter into any superfluous conversation in French, we found Corsicans nothing but friendly and pleasant.

Meanwhile, back in Bonifacio, we’ve taken a room in a fine hotel with an awesome view in the citadel (that’s tourist trail talk for “old walled-city). At night we stroll the dimly lit streets with 500 of our best tourist friends in search of a place to eat. We find such a place but along the way learn an important lesson and one that will be highlighted in my forthcoming book, Along the Tourist Trail with Todd (ATTT).

Lesson #1 – Eat where others are eating. It wasn’t that the food was bad. In fact it was quite good. But no one else was there. And when everyone else is eating somewhere else, one can’t help thinking, between each bite, “What do they know that we don’t know and shouldn’t we be where they are?” All of this cognitive dissonant thinking leads to long periods of silence highlighted by the distant thump thump thump pulse of the of house dance music selected by the waiters for their working pleasure. So remember— Lesson #1 – Eat where others are eating.

Natalie ponders our decision to eat where others
are not... while listening to thumping house music.

I awake at 5:45 the next morning precisely as I always never do in order to get THE SHOT! The sunrise photo of the cool house in the citadel perched precariously on a sea cliff. Mission accomplished, Natalie and I spend the rest of the day marching up and down streets and stairs exploring the citadel. Bonifacio makes our list of “thumbs up” places to visit.

This is THE shot - Sunrise on the
old city in Bonifacio, Corse.

From Bonifacio we move up along the east coast and spend a night in Porto-Vecchio. Our room at the Hotel Le Mistral is just large enough for a double bed… and that’s about it. Like many European towns, there’s nothing special going on here but they have a nice old plaza where seemingly everyone gathers before dinner. In this plaza a carousel keeps the kids busy while the parents enjoy a drink. We take this in as we search for dinner (with Lesson #1 in mind) and along the way notice a postcard with spectacular mountains – the Bavella Massif—which we soon learn are just a short drive away. Thus the mountain town of Zonza becomes the next day’s target. But before the mountains, let’s discuss another important lesson from my ATTT.

Lesson #2 – Buy breakfast and lunch at the grocery store. There are two reasons we’ve shared the ubiquitous thin-crust pizzas found in Sardinia and Corse. First, they are delicious. Second, they are much more affordable than almost all other restaurant menu items. Blame it on a poor exchange rate, but you’d better saddle up on the tourist trail with plenty o’ Euro in your saddle bag to satisfy your belly. Here’s how it pans out, on average, in dollars…

  • A thin crust pizza - $14.00
  • A tiny coffee - $3.00
  • A 12-ounce cola - $3.00
  • A 12-ounce cola from a grocery store - $2.10
  • A 12-ounce beer - $5.00
  • A small bottle of water - $1.40
  • A Snickers candy bar - $1.40
  • An ice cream bar - $2.80
  • A donut - $2.80
  • A petite-déjuener (breakfast) at almost any hotel - $12.00

The pasta and pizza have always been tasty...
as have the $5.00 beers!

Here’s the really weird thing: These prices are found NOT ONLY along the tourist trail. They are simply what these items cost along any street. Thus, we found pleasure in shopping at the local SPAR grocery store for staple foods like baguette, dried salami, cheese, tomatoes and bananas. Saving a little here made spending a little more for dinner much more palatable. So remember— Lesson #2 – Buy breakfast and lunch at the grocery store.

The drive to Zonza was pretty quick by Corse standards. Just an hour or so. But what a difference! Here we were in a quaint little town with spectacular mountains to the north; we could be in the Alps. That afternoon we tackle the first of two hikes in the Bavella Massif – The Trou de la Bombe. It’s an easy hike with a spectacular payoff at the end—a brief scramble up steep rock to a “hole in the wall” arch. On the other side of the arch is a 500-foot vertical drop… as in true vertical. The next day we take on a longer hike described as Punta di a Vacca in the guidebook. The views were fantastic throughout—we could even see the Mediterranean—but the hike itself was grueling. I mentioned to Natalie that it reminded me of the approach hikes we use to make to get to the base of rock climbs… only this approach hike lasted six hours. Still we made it and WOW did those $6.00 “beers with a view” taste good back on the terrace at the bar.

The Trou de la Bombe's arch. On
the other side is a 500 foot drop.

The Bavella Massif on a perfect day.

Natalie "hiking" on the Punta di a Vacca.
It wasn't dangerous, just grueling.

The other highlight at Zonza was meeting Viktoria, an early 20-something woman from Bulgaria working at the restaurant. She speaks broken English, but we knew something was up when she told us, after we finished our shared thin-crust pizza (recall Lesson #2) that our dessert was like a brownie with chocolate syrup. Wait a minute! How did she come up with the word “brownie?” She also called us “You guys.” It turns out she’s worked waitressing two summers in Colorado and is now in Zonza doing the same to pay for college. Her dream is to live in America. We have to hand it to her… she’s trying to make it happen.

Viktoria and Natalie at Sunday morning coffee
before leaving Zonza.

After two nights, two hikes and two thin-crust pizzas served by Viktoria, we bid farewell to Zonza… another thumbs up on our list of places to come back to on Corse.

Next up?... You call THAT a ROAD?

Oh Federico! Where Art Thou?

Oh Federico, Where Art Thou?

Federico met us our first night in Cagliari, whisking us away to his family’s home for dinner with his mother, sister, brother and grandparents. The broken Italian-English conversation was a blast and for dinner, lasagna was served. It was so good and so filling. And THEN came the beef and the artichoke frittata, and THEN the homemade ice cream with pastries.

Federico (next to me) and his family at dinner in Cagliari

The next day Federico was off to the mainland for a university entrance exam and would be back to show off his city later. In the meantime, we explored Cagliari, made the trip to Nora mentioned in this blog’s special edition’s first installment, made a trip to the beach and took in the May 1 parade celebrating St. Efisio. The two-hour parade consisted of a 1.5-hour procession of Sardinians in authentic costume representing every hamlet of the island, followed by 30 minutes of Sardinians in authentic costume representing every hamlet of the island… but this time on horses! No politicians, no flatbed trucks from which people threw candy to kids… just a parade celebrating the island and the Saint. It was really nice.

An authentic Sardinian in authentic
Sardinian dress during St. Efisio parade

I forgot to mention they had two enormous bulls along with horses!

May 2 is upon us but where is Federico? He’s still on the mainland tending to the entrance exams! So we entertain ourselves with shopping and prepare to move north the next day. Federico promised to join us along the way.

Earlier in the spring, we met Attilio Cauli in Boise. Attilio’s an enthusiastic but mild-mannered Sardinian from Lotzorai – a small town on the east coast of the island. The map shows Lotzorai should be a relatively short drive – just over some mountains. If we’re learned anything on the trip so far it’s this: The Sardinians are masters at building roads that curve, twist and wind up and down mountains, and they’ve taken every opportunity to show off their skills. The rare straight stretches of road were simply cruel Sardinian jokes played on us during the nearly five hours we spent navigating the roads. Still, the views were absolutely amazing.

Attilio played host, putting us up in his family’s bed and breakfast and showing off his home turf.  First stop? A hike! To get to the hike, we drove up the obligatory curving road to the mountainside town of Baunei. From there the road takes eight vertigo-inducing switchbacks to gain the plateau; many American cars would be unable to navigate the turns. The hike? It was really fine. Three kilometers long with 500 meters of elevation difference down and then back up a canyon to a small beach with giant waves. You know what was more fine? The beer we enjoyed at the topside café! The trip down took 1.5 hours with many stops for photo opps; the trip back up took 1.25 hours, one foot in front of the other, with Natalie stopping only a few times to self-administer CPR.

Cool azure waters are the payoff from the hike. The payup
was the hike back to the top! Oh, and we saw a
wild pig along the way!
Back in Lotzorai, Attilio took us to his friend Vincenzo’s winery for a private wine tasting and to his cousin Carlo’s farm to see cheesemaking first hand. We came away from these experiences with two bottles of superior wine and the best, freshest ricotta ever! Oh, and then there were the oranges Attilio picked off his sister’s tree for us!

Attilio watches cousin Carlo dish
up FRESH ricotta. And we loved it!

With Attilio’s guidance to avoid most of the twisting roads, we leave Lotzorai heading north for Nuoro where our main goal is a cultural museum. The museum turns out to be a bust. We’re not sure if it was actually open or if the kind gentleman accepted our money just to be nice.  Oh well. But before we leave town we need cash! After trips to ATMs at three different banks, trying three credit cards at each, we finally succeed in obtaining Euros. As it turns out, American credit cards have yet to include chips embedded in the cards while it is now mandated in Europe to help reduce fraud. Thus, our cards rarely work in ATMs and the bank tellers don’t have card swipers to make the transaction in person. On the other hand, our card companies tell us there should be no problem. Our cards should work sans chip. And if they don’t work, just get a bank teller to do it for us! Yes indeed, denial is not just a river in Egypt… Our morning in Nuoro is a downer.

When we arrive in the small town of San Pantaleo, it’s like we’ve arrived in a wonderland. Gone is the trash that graces most towns and gone is the graffiti endemic to Italy. It’s like a place that people actually take care of. With panoramic views of granite spires from our hotel room, we dine in tonight. Tomorrow we make the quick trip to Santa Teresa di Gallura where we’ll catch the ferry back to Bonifacio, Corsica.

Most but not all graffiti is without merit - as seen here
along the road from Nuoro to San Pantaleo
Our view from the hotel in San Pantaleo

The one thing to expect about expectations is that they should not be trusted. Roads will twist and curve and credit cards might not work. A downer in one town in the morning can end with an upper in another town in the afternoon. And Federico?

Oh Federico, Where Art Thou?