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?

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