Saturday, 7 June 2008


My last little jaunt while I was in the south of France was to Corsica, or more precisely to Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon. Ajaccio is the largest city in Corsica and is the political capital. Napoleon was born here in 1769, but I'm not sure how much he liked to remind people of that fact. They loved him in Ajaccio with all these museums and monuments but I don't think he ever visited again once he was emperor, even though his family all lived here. I suppose he was probably too busy anyway, out conquering Europe and all that.

Corsica was really awesome, flying in all you could see was mountains rising out of the sea, I think it's like the resort of France too, so it has a real relaxed feel to it, but thankfully not the resort of England, so it doesn't have the drunk hooligan feel to it. It really felt like it's a place where only French people come on holiday, there didn't seem to be many other non-French speakers around, so it had a real authentic feel to it.

In fact the whole of the south of France had a different feel to it, especially when compared to snooty Paris. Everyone at work had told me that the people were much friendlier in the south but I was dubious. But after spending a long weekend there I can say that I did have heaps more conversations with people, and French people too I'm proud to say, though I use the word conversation very loosely, which has never happened in the north of France. They really did seem to be more relaxed and friendlier than people I have met in Paris. Not that I mind, I don't really want to get into a conversation with a stranger every time I catch the train to work. But when you are on a holiday it is nice to just relax and chat to people every now and again.

Completely stupid monument to Napoleon, I mean as to how big it was, this thing was massive, easily the biggest thing in town, including the buildings! Well maybe not quite, but it was huge.

Corsica is definitely a place I would like to come back to, but maybe in 10 or 20 years when I feel like slowing down for a while. I'm thinking maybe hire a car (definitely a necessity if you want to see the whole island) and just cruising around. I would love to do these massive walking trails they have over nearly the entire island. Almost the entire interior of the island is taken up by the 3300 square kilometre National Park of Corsica. There is one trail which stretches over 160 km and follows the islands continental divide and so most of the trail is over 2000 m, this walk takes about 2 weeks and is only passable in summer. In the photo to the below left I think you can still see the snow on some of the mountains, apparently the snow remains until July, they are that big.

It would also be nice to catch a ferry over to Sardinia and then maybe to Nice and hire another car there, ahh so many holidays to do, but I only get 4 weeks in the year :(. I didn't realise Italy was so close until I visited, apparently Sardinia is only 12 miles away, it seems strange that Corsica is French, when it is so much closer to Italy. But apparently Corsica was ruled by one of the Italian principalities, Pisa in this case, from the 11th to the 13th century and then it was taking over by the Genoese rulers. During this time the Corsicans were not happy about the foreign rule and then in 1755 after 25 years of war with the Genoese, the Corsicans declared their island independent. They established a National Assembly and adopted one of the most democratic constitutions in Europe, though really I don't think that's saying much back then. This independence only lasted until 1768 when Genoa, even though they had no effective control over Corsica, gave it to the French, whose army then defeated the Corsicans in 1769. The island has been a part of France ever since though there are a few Corsicans who believe they would be better off independent. The island is heavily subsidised by mainland France though and in fact the joke goes that a referendum on Corsican independence would be rejected in Corsica but granted in the mainland. There are on occasion a few bombs going off but generally the rebels don't seem to be too murderous.

My first day I was there I went on a little tour around the city and out to the famous Iles Sanguinaires, yeah I'd never heard of them either. But they seemed quite pretty, they are a little group of islands just off the coast a bit south of Ajaccio. They are meant to have slightly reddish rocks, thus giving them their name, but I couldn't see it. There is also one of the Genoese watch towers built on the mainland here. When Genoa controlled Corsica they built thousands of these watch towers all over the place as they were worried about an attack from North Africa, actually I think this one might just be to defend against pirates, but maybe the pirates were from north Africa?

I also got to see the church where Napoleon was baptised, very important, he was 2 at the time, but the church is still known as that. And the baptismal font, where the priest took the water to baptise Napoleon's noble head is still there, inside the church.

I also really wanted to see the Fesch museum while I was in Ajaccio. Cardinal Fesch was Napoleon's uncle and he built a palace in 1827 where he dedicated three wings to an art museum. It seemed to me that this uncle, who was only 6 years older than Napoleon, just followed him around as he conquered Europe and stole all this loot from the conquered countries, where it then ended up back in Ajaccio, of all places. So I was imagining they would have some pretty impressive pieces, unfortunately it was closed for renovations though.

Adding to the Mediterranean feel they, obviously, had going here, there were orange trees just growing along the streets. The oranges looked pretty diseased though, that's probably why there are still so many on all the trees.

A typical street in Ajaccio, well in the city centre anyway.

with the The next day I decided to go on a little walk, there is a walking trail leaving from behind the massive Napoleon monument that heads up into the hills above Ajaccio and follows the coast for a little bit. I was pretty keen to get out there and have a bit of a walk and it really was fantastic. I got to see heaps of wildlife too, lizards and bees and snakes and even a tortoise, that was definitely the highlight for me, seeing a tortoise in the wild. Here's me being naughty and interfering with the tortoise, it wasn't very big, but it wasn't going any where. It was off in the bush a bit and also quite camouflaged so I was incredibly lucky to see it at all.

There were quite a lot of ants around too, I suppose gathering their store for winter. This one I thought was doing quite well with this grain of grass.

I actually managed to get a bee on a flower, you can even see a little bit of pollen on his fur. I also got an awful lot of photos of just a bee leg or a blurry flower, these things moved pretty fast. I also have a slight fear of bees because I am allergic to them, not anaphalactic shock allergic, but just insane swelling allergic. I do wonder what would happen if one ever bit me on the throat, that could be interesting.

I also saw a snake, I don't have a photo of that though. That was the first snake I've seen over here and it was when I saw it that I got a little nervous. I'd never even thought of dangerous wild animals over here. You just assume that Europe is fairly safe, that you've left the country with insanely venomous reptiles. I just never even thought about snakes in Europe, for some reason I forgot that they have them, but then it is only Ireland that doesn't have snakes, thanks to St George. But just because a snake isn't in the top 10 most dangerous list, doesn't mean it can't kill you, it would just take a little while longer. It was the only one I saw but it certainly put me on the lookout for more.

The views were amazing and I'm now going to bore you with a whole stack more photos. The walk I had planned to do was meant to go for three hours and get me a bit of the way along the coast. The walk did keep going though all the way to the end of the bay and the Iles Sanguinaires and I didn't have a map, but I thought well I'll walk for 2 hours and then keep my eyes out for the turn off. I walked for about an hour and then saw a turnoff but I was sure that couldn't be mine, it would mean a walk of 90 minutes rather than three hours, and let me tell you I wasn't walking that fast. Taking 5000 photos as you will come to see. So I kept walking, but it turns out that no, that was the turn-off I was meant to take. Makes me wonder if the 2 week walk I mentioned earlier can actually be covered in a week.

It was lucky I kept going though as otherwise I would never have got to see the tortoise. In the left you can see the Iles Sanguinaires off in the distance. By this stage the weather was unfortunately turning bad, so every thing is a little misty.
The Bay of Ajaccio with the ferry from Nice just arriving.

There were all these strange ruins up in the mountains which I wasn't really sure what they were from. Shepherd's huts or farmers or independence fighters?

Looking down on Ajaccio with the citadel on the point and yes those are sandy beaches. The citadelle was begun in 1554, but is unfortunately still owned by the military and so is not open to the public. I wonder what they do in there, maybe it is the French version of Guantanamo Bay?

Flora along the walk.

Where am I? Corsica or Canberra? Suddenly along the walk there was this little pocket of gum trees, I don't know if they were planted deliberately, or if they went feral or if they are natives here, but they certainly stood out against the low scrub land every where else. In fact walking on a bit and looking back you could see the gum trees towering over everything else.

Of course it wouldn't be my blog without the obligatory macro-lens shots of flowers. Only two this time though, and I'll spare you the single colour shots, this time at least.

I'll leave you with a few more shots of the Mediterranean sea and the lovely resort-esque look of Ajaccio, but I will say that whilst they had incredible views over the marina and the bay and across to the mountains they did that strange European thing where that fantastic view is ignored in favour of having all the restaurants in a little pathway in the middle of the town. That certainly had it's own appeal but the scene over the marina at sunset would have been stunning and yet they ignore it, strange.

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