Just the photos

Sep 11, 2005: Nice/Monoco

Landed in Nice, found our hotel (Comfort Inn Roosevelt), walked around, had mediocre touristy lunch, and then stopped at ice cream store with funky flavours callled Fenocchio (I had cactus, ginger, rhubarb; others tried lavender, beer; strangely no fennel flavour).

Three of us went to the beach for a bit while Jin napped. I was the only one who braved the water, it wasn't too cold, but it wasn't particularly clear either. It started to cloud up, so we headed back to the hotel and then of course the sun came back out.

So, we took the train to Monaco, but we couldn't actually get in the Casino as we were not up to scratch vis-a-vis the dress code. Checked out the Casino from the outside, a Jardin de Something French, and also funky cows from some travelling art exhibition.

We walked up to the castle and took some photographs.
Then we climbed up some pretty steep stairs to the Jardin Exotique, which was closed. So we caught a bus back to the station, just in time for the train.

Dinner was moules-frites at some uninspiring tourist trap, everything that looked decent was either pricey or full or both.

Sep 12, 2005: Nice/Pian Del Fosse

Joanna and Jin went shopping, Yasu and I climbed up to the top of the castle in Nice. Some great views over the beach that we'd visited the previous day, and also a strange waterfall near the top of the hill, with no indication of where the water comes from.

We headed back down to the beach; Yasu swam, I ogled the women for a bit then walked around old city, Yasu joined me for lunch and took some strangely blurred photos.

That evening we flew to Figari. The second half of the flight went all around the Corsican coast to the west; I had fantastic views from my left-hand window. We were suppose to be picked up by Luc, who had arrived the previous day and rented a car. A singular lack of Luc was eventually explained: he was still on UK time. Eventually he did arrive, and we reached Pian del Fosse, where we met up with Max. Drove down to Bonifacio (just a couple miles) for an acceptable-ish dinner on the waterfront and then (natch) had to get gelato. We found a gelateria by an Italian bloke from Pavia, so there was much bonding in Italian between him and Max.

We got back to the campsite, where Luc was immediately fascinated by a giant moth.

The "tents" were absurdly luxurious: electric lights and gas range in each one, though apparently there were others that also had en-suite showers (and toilets?). The weather being fine, I slept outdoors (as I would do pretty much every night; even when that wasn't the plan; more on that later) leaving Luc and Max each to their own "bedroom" .

Sep 13, 2005: Bonifacio

Went into town to buy food, and walked around for a bit.

We spent the afternoon (the first of many) at a beach; this one was Capu Pertusatu.

Sep 14, 2005: Scuba diving

Woke up early to go scuba diving, or at least four of us did (Jin and Luc opted out). "Baptême" for the three novices: me, Joanna, and Yasu. Which meant waiting about 40 min in the boat for the "main" dive, and then chugging to another place more appropriate for baptismal purposes. For a baptême you get one guide/instructor all to yourself; the guide was very attentive, always checking with hand signals to make sure I was ok.

It was awesome! The first half-minute was a bit stressful, couldn't really think about anything but "keep breathing keep breathing keep breathing don't die keep breathing." You get used to it very rapidly though, and then it's absolute mindblowing. We went down to 6m and encountered any number of gaily coloured fish; I looked up them later up on a chart they had on the boat, but I could only identify the "Sar Commun" and the "Girelle" (male and female looking nothing like each other, natch). I particularly remember one largeish fish (a girelle perhaps?), which stayed stationary at about 45 degrees, opening and closing its mouth in that retarded way that fish do, while one smaller fish swam circles around it and another even smaller one poked around the girelle's gill area (cleaning it perhaps?) Anyway, you could come almost right up to the fish, as long as you remembered not to move your hands but only use your flippes to move forward. We also saw many black sea urchins and one violet one; the guide picked it up and handed it to me, and you could get it to fasten its suckers onto your hand. Very cool. Well, if you like that sort of thing.

Did I mention that the guide was one really fit blonde called Laurie. This I only realized after the dive, since 6 m underwater with a giant tank on your back you really can't look anywhere but straight ahead. There was also a very good-looking brunette at the desk of the scuba outfit; Max was blatantly and visibly disappointed that she wasn't coming on the dive (he asked, like, three times!)

ANYhoo, we then dived up into a "cloche" or bell, large enough for us to surface and take a couple of breaths of the air trapped inside. In one place the rock was so thin, the bright sunlight from outside turned it a bright red colour.

Altogether a terrific experience, well worth the 50 euros despite all the waiting; must investigate lessons etc. when back in Cambridge. sure I was ok.

In the afternoon, everyone but Max and Yasu went to Porto Vecchio, where there is truly not much to see, the high point being the purchase of some Corsica-themed beach towels. On the way back we stopped at Palombaggio, one of the famous area beaches. Being famous, it was crowded, the water was crystal clear although the sandy floor meant not many fish except those ubiquitous gray ones that come in all sizes (Sars?)

We had dinner at a wonderful fish dinner at "Le Gregale", recommended to us by Signor Baldini the gelataio. A bit out of the way, but extremely tasty fresh fish (not cheap but well worth it) and surprisingly (to me) good Corsican white wine. The place is run by the Etienne family, and the serve up for dinner whatever they catch during the day. The main menu just had two items: "Soupe du Poisson" to start and "Poisson du Jour" for the main. Our waiter was this a very muscular Corsican fellow (turned out he'd worked for the French Special Forces beore coming back to join the family business). We asked him what the fish of the day was, and he rattled off a bunch of French names; we looked blank; he said "I show you ze feesh", and came back with this enormous tray with what looked like 50 kg of fish on it. This guy was strong. We still looked blank -- all dead fish look the same to me, kind of disgruntled -- so we asked him to pick about 3 kg worth of fish for 6 of us. After much discussion of pros and cons, we eventually settled on a medium-sized one and two little ones, grilled (the other option was a really large one, which we could have had grilled or baked in salt). I think one was a "pagre".

Then Max and I went into Bonifacio again for gelato (but of course), but the gelateria being closed, settled for the ice cream at local café/bar/disco instead. At one point a very ttractive girl came in and frows very hard at me. I'm guessing she is drunk. When sober women usually assume I am sort of part of the background. Then I go to the toilet and she follows me. Not all the way in, eh, she was waiting her turn outside, and as I leave she flashes me a brilliant smile. Definitely drunk.

Sep 15, 2005: GR20 E' Capannelle to Bocca di Verdi

This was the adventure none of us will ever forget. I harassed the others into doing a little 2-day trip: one GR20 stage, stay overnight at a refuge/hostel at the Bocca di Verdi, and then back a different way the next day. It didn't play out quite as planned ... We first drove to E' Capannelle, which took about 2.5 hours, and not having started early enough we only began hiking at 10:30. The first bit was climbing up a bouldery hillside beneath some ski lift pylons (yes, apparently, it is a ski resort in the winter, though at 1700m it can't be all that great). The GR20 book said to turn left at the second pylon. As we realized much later, we had miscounted and turned left at the third instead, which path just kept climbing.

Luc was the first to realize that we were on the "variante" track that goes up and down Monte Renoso rather than around. We'd been considering doing that on the way back the next day. Anyway, no one wanted to go back down except him (we should have, really, if we were being sensible), so we to tackle the variante. At 11:50 we reached the Lac de Bastiani.

At the Lac we ran into some other hikers: a Czech couple and a German couple. After a 40-min rest we started up again. We looked back and the German couple was going a different way, we were climbing up to the ridge by the steeper route (natch), and they came out on top of the ridge a bit ahead of us. Finally made it to the top of Monte Renoso just before 1pm.

Then started walking along ridge, taking photos along the way. We were supposed to turn right and descend steeply down to the Pozzi (ponds), according to the book.

But the cairns were all over the place, and we ended up descending too early (led by Yasu and the suddenly enthusiastic Luc), though we didn't realize it at the time. We could see some water down in the valley, but it was the wrong water. The going got increasingly tougher with very thick bush, hardly any trail, steep rocks, and with the "trail" often going down a stream which made the rocks slippery. It was almost 3 hours before we made it to the bottom.

And then we realized we were not at the Pozzi at all but at the Lacs de Vitalaca, one ridge off. There was much consulting of map and GPS, tempers getting frayed notably mine, end eventually Yasu figures out where we are (GPS agrees) and which way we should go. More climbing in the hot sun to cross another reach, and finally we reached the Pozzi. I took a photograph of the thalweg that (I think) we should actually have descended.

Walked across the Pozzi walking around the very slushy bits, the cows and the pigs. We reached the Bergeries des Pozzi, which contained (surprise) a Berger. He seemed a bit surprised bit surprised that we were not camping there but pressing on to Bocca di Verdi. He showed us the way: follow the red waymarks he said, it'll take you 2-2.5 hours, you'll need head torches in the dark. Only Yasu and I had head torches, but we decided to press on anyway (bad decision #3).

We were soon descending a steep trail through the forest, getting increasingly dark and repeatedly losing the waymarks. At some point I realized I'd lost my head torch, which I had cunningly stuck in my pocket to be ready to hand. We kept going through the forest, with frequent GPS and map checks. We could hear some sort of water to our right. Luc insisted this meant that we were right on the bank of the river (marked "Guado alla Macchia" on the map), even though the GPS put us about 100 m to the north of it (makes a big difference at night on a slope; the GPS was right as it turned out). Hence, he claimed, the thing to do was to press on eastwards and we would hit a footbridge which was on the GR20. He was right about going east, but wrong about the footbridge:we would probably have crossed the GR20 uphill of the footbridge and headed into a different ravine.

As it happened, we reached a little clearning with a sort of shepherd's shelter, where everyone but Luc refused to go further (since we hadn't seen any GR20 waymarks, and ahead of us were more forests and ravines ) yet. So we slept in the shelter (which had 3 foot stone walls but no roof; luckily it did not rain though it was still pretty cold). We had just the one 2-man tent and one sleeping bag that I'd brought (not sure why; but it turned out moderately useful). We'd never have got in the tent, so instead we spread out the tent material below, the sleeping bag above, and just about managed to squeeze in for a very uncomfortable night.

The next morning, we had another look at the map etc. when Luc spotted two girls with backpacks 20 m to the west of us climbing up the hillside. We called out to them and asked them what trail they were following and one of them (Italian I think) pointed downwards and said "this one"; clearly she thought I must be a bit thick. Turns out the shelter was almost right on the GR20, but we hadn't seen the waymarks in the dark. Good thing we stopped though where we did though (sheer blind luck), because we had already crossed the trail. The girls were going in the other direction to us, from Bocca di Verdi towards Vizzavona, on the official/easier route I think, not the variante.

The map shows the route we took (in blue), the official GR20 (solid red), the variante (broken red, though not indicated between Lac de Bastani and Pozzi, we had to follow the book on this one and went wrong). The red-on-yellow are the waypoints I'd entered onto my GPS, as you can see we turned off far too early before Punta Orlandino, and then lost our way again after the Bergeries des Pozzi. The "Shepherd Campsite" is the last track log entry of the day, i.e. where we slept. The last bit is very squiggly because the GPS kept losing the satellites in the forest, and also because we were doing a lot of back-and-forthing due to losing the waymarks.

Lessons learned: 1. Trust the GPS more. 2. Small errors have big effects, especially in the dark. 3. Don't expect to be able to find waymarks on trees in the dark. 3. Stick to the waymarks religiously. 4. Don't be afraid to back up and start over if it starts looking dubious.

Sep 16, 2005: Back on the GR20 and back to Pian del Fosse

The next morning, after being providentially shown the trail by the two Italian girls, bless them, it was an easy hike down to the footbridge, across, and through the forest to Bocca di Verdi. On the way we saw the famous giant fir (Sapin) and took some photos.

We made it to the refuge about mid-morning. As the French speaker, it fell upon Luc to explain to the gérant what had happened. He looked pretty unimpressed. Maybe it was his Corsican reserve, or perhaps he was annoyed at us for booking demi-pension at 30 euros a head and then not showing up. He, we'd even tried to call the guy from the Bergeries (but there was no signal; of course). He unbent eventually and was quite helpful in finding someone driving to Capannelle, so Luc hitched a ride and drove our rental car back. Meanwhile we were having coffee, chatting with a French trio who were doing the entire GR20 from north to south.

On the way back (yours truly at the wheel), we got stuck behind a huge flock of sheep that was following a vehicle with flashing lights. This turned out to be the shepherd's (can yo utrain sheep to follow vans?) This was near some stairs going down to the river, so decided to take a break.

The ovine friends were still moving very slowly, so we turned around and headed to Ghisoni for lunch. Turned back around after lunch and caught up with the goddamn sheep again. We managed to pull up along the shepherd to have a word, and his not very helpful advice was "faites comme vous pouvez" (i.e. get by as best as you can). Eventually we made it back to Pian del Fosse, where after a quick shower, some attention to blisters and wounds (I'd cut myself fairly badly on the shin the previous day), and lunch, we headed to Pertusatu.

Sep 17, 2005: Bonifacio

There was supposed to be some sort of regatta/sailing event for antique roman sails, it was quite fun to watch though not very clear who was winning. It was also a "jour du patrimoine" which meant all the monuments were free. So we clomb down the "escaliers du Roy du Aragon", all 187 steps and then back up. The story is that the King of Aragon's soldiers carved out the steps in a single night while being besieged.

We also checked out an old 13th century church built by the Pisans (interesting but not spectacular) and the local art museum, which was sad, the most interesting thing there being an Inuit whalebone carving that they'd acquired pretty much by chance. We then had a substantial lunch at a creperie in town, the weather had been worsening all morning and by now it was pouring hard. You can't see it in the photo, but it really is pissing down.

Then we sprinted from awning to awning, made it to the waterfront only slightly drenched, and stopped at a waterfront café to ponder our options awhile.

Eventually we headed out, after a quick stop at a boucherie/charcuterie/traiteur called Chez Denis and bought myself some tasty wild board and donkey sausage.

Back at the campsite, dinner was followed by copious drink and various party games, much fun was had despite the occasional flare-up of tempers (charades can get quite intense).

And the next day it was back to Figari, Nice and thence Luton, and finally home to Cambridge late in the evening. The next day we were due to head back after a leisurely breakfast at Bonifacio. Max got into a long conversation with Signor Baldini the gelataio while Luc fretted. Interesting feller, Baldini. From Pavia originally, he was a lawyer and his wife a dermatologist, and one day they decide to quit the rat race and pursue their passions, which were Corsica and cooking (they were about to open a restaurant as well, which would stay open through the year unlike the gelateria).