Saturday, October 15, 2011
Of fairness and unfairness
We came to Bastia two weeks ago on Easyjet’s last flight of the season, so of course we have had to come back another way. We chose to sail with Corsica Ferries from Calvi today, and will board a Flybe flight from Nice to Southampton tomorrow.
Which is fine – except that Europcar’s Calvi Port office has now closed for the season and we had to deliver the hire car back to the airport this morning. So how did we get to Calvi port from Santa Catalina Airport (about 8km) with our luggage? When we explained our problem to the team at Europcar, someone leapt into the car we had just returned and kindly took us to the port at no cost to us, saving us an exorbitant taxi fare. This seems to me to be more than could be expected, and we are grateful to Europcar for their corporate thoughtfulness.
Contrast this with the behaviour of a group of four young girls on the boat to Nice this morning. Having been amongst the first to arrive in the passenger lounge, they promptly sprawled across several comfy sofas, occupying around 12 seats between them. When some older people (not us – we are far too British) arrived and suggested they limit themselves to one seat each, they refused to budge.
Eventually they were shamed into moving up, and I felt justice had been done. I thought the obnoxious culture of getting your towels on the best deckchairs first thing in the morning was long gone – but it seems to have re-emerged in a different form!
Friday, October 14, 2011
Finished the painting at last! And it’s still sunny and warm! We celebrated by making our not-quite-annual pilgrimage to Chez Léon, our favourite village restaurant, tucked away off the beaten track at Cateri, in the Balagne. Here’s why we love it so much (apart from the great view of Ste. Antonino from the restaurant - see right) ...
Starters: we both had Corsican soup. The soup (actually more of a thick vegetable broth) arrived in a huge tureen from which we could serve ourselves. Knowing what was to follow, we ate sparingly and only used half of what was on offer.
Seconds: beignets de courgettes. The thinnest slivers of courgette, deep fried in batter, olive oil and herbs. I am sure there is a secret to the way Mme. Andreani prepares these but we have yet to discover it – delicious!
Main course: I had civet de sanglier (wild boar); Chris had veal (humanely brought up here in Corsica I believe). My wild boar came on the bone, but it was so tender the meat fell off it. Mine was served with dauphinoise potatoes; Chris’s came with aubergines.
Fourth course: cheese - Corsican cheese, of course. We were each served with two smallish pieces of cheese – one a chevre, the other a brebis and a little fig jam. I could happily eat the chevre with the lovely fig jam all day, but when it came to the brebis... hmmh, I think I met my match! It was absolutely inedible. I can honestly say I have never had such foul cheese in all my life. On a scale of 1 to 10, strength was about 19, foulness about 32. But interesting and very Corsican!!!
Last course: tiramisou. Absolutely delicious.
All of this washed down with a glass or two of a Sartene rosé and some Orezza sparkling mineral water. All in all a wonderful meal (I didn’t have to eat the cheese did I?) This five-course meal cost us 28 euros per person with the drinks a little extra.
Great value. If you have just one Corsican menu while you’re in Corsica, make it Chez Léon in Cateri.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
The worst bit of painting is taking all the pictures down (two Doutreleau prints and some photos of echinoid shells taken by one of our sons) plus shifting the furniture around so we can get at the walls.
After a quick trip into Calvi to get some provisions, we launch ourselves at the ceiling and walls. Why have we chosen white? Again? You can’t tell if you have painted it or not and hours after we’d finished, I am still finding bits that haven’t been done.... As I sit here I can see two or three bits of ceiling that look a bit too shiny.
We did escape to the beach at about 4.45pm. It was lovely and sunny and warm as it has been all week, and we had a wonderful swim. Our new pal – the cormorant featured in a recent blog – was there on the rocks keeping an eye on us but he had decided he wasn’t joining us today.
This is the ninth day of continuous sunshine, and the five-day forecast in Corse Matin says it’s set to continue. More painting tomorrow but we should have it licked by around 11.30.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Back to the Balagne - Speloncato
Being a Sunday, the 16th Century church of Santa Croce was open and we loved it. There are two confrerie based in Speloncato, and one of them is based at this church. It is bright, welcoming and airy and the 19th century organ here is a delight visually (and hopefully aurally).
We went into the crypt. This is tiny and even cosy, and contains a number of wall recesses that I presume must have once contained the bones of former churchmen. One of them is still occupied and contains a recognisable skull.
Driving through the village on the way to Ile Rousse was a bit challenging. We managed to get through the gap between a bar and its next-door neighbour without scraping the Peugeot 207 hire car, but I wouldn’t have liked to attempt this with my Peugeot 308SW from home which is a few inches wider!
Like the villages of the Casinca, Balagne villages just weren’t made for the automobile and Speloncato is no exception. A musician once sent me a CD of music he’d made (Hopeland: Jones - http://subscription.we7.com/#/album/Jones/Hopeland) that included a song called called Speloncato. Must have another listen!
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The Casinca – the villages
We went to four villages in the Casinca, of which Vescovato was the first. I reckon Vescovato is the prettiest. We took coffee in the charming and spacious square, then went exploring. To reach the Church of San Martino, practically in the middle of the village and at its highest point, we negotiated numerous enticing stairways and passages, each one of which made us think “Is this someone’s back garden we’re entering?” We weren’t.
Cars just don’t belong in Vescovato (illustrated). There are no roads in the heart of the village and if the people who live in its core possess vehicles, I guess they have to be stored somewhere other than outside their homes.
The other villages we visited were Venzolasca (a little higher up the nearby mountain), Loreto di Casinca (even higher, and a very scary drive indeed to reach it) and Castellare di Casinca (mercifully close to the main East Coast Road).
Loreto probably had the best views of the rest of the Casinca – it’s worth the drive just for that. In Venzolasca, apparently, one can still meet old gents wearing the island’s traditional black corduroy outfits and gunbelts - though we didn’t see any. At Castellare, there’s an ancient Pisan Church built in the 10th Century and named after St Pancrace. I presume he’s the same chap that the London Station serving Britain’s north East is named after.
So if you are asked in a pub quiz which London Station has a connection with Corsica, the answer is probably St Pancras. He is the patron saint of Corsican bandits. And remember, you learned about this right here in my blog.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Casinca - La Canonica
We did it the wrong way round. We ended where we should have started, at La Canonica just south of Bastia’s Poretta Airport where the early Pisan bishops had their see. It seems that Christians were here from the very earliest years of the Christian era.
When the first Cathedral was built here in what we English would call The Saxon period (though there certainly weren’t any Saxons round here) it would have been the most impressive building in Corsica. Information on the site tells us that the first bishops here were in all likelihood from North Africa after they had been chased out of there by the vandals in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries AD. The ruins of the sixth century basilica (see my photo of some of the remains, above) are still very easily recognisable on the site though the later Cathedral, still standing but annoyingly locked when we visited, is the first feature to take the eye.
This site is yet another reminder that there’s so much more to Corsica than the restaurants and the beaches.