Monday, August 9, 2010

Discovering Corsica

It sure has certain advantages to have a second home in Europe where we go every year to see the families and friends and where our son Jakub is in a high school. It's always an opportunity to explore new places because everything is quite close - relatively speaking. This time, in June 2010, we chose the beautiful island of Corsica as the destination and it was decided to drive some 3000 km from Prague through Italy ( see my post about our Tuscany trip), around the island and back.
On the way, I learned a lot about the rich history of the island. Corsica was a subject to many invasions and occupations by Greeks, Romans, small Italian kingdoms of Pisa and Genoa, and France. Still, the people didn't loose their sense of pride and honor and lived by vendetta, a social code which required to kill for the tiniest act of dishonor.

The most famous Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte, almost completely denied his origin and as a young French officer lead a military intervention that sealed the acquisition of the island for the French Empire. That suppressed the Corsican fight for independence for centuries. Around this time, the famous Maure's Head was adopted as a symbol of the resistance.
Nevertheless, the separatist movement didn't die out and, after a couple of decades of riots and occasional bombings between 1960 and 1990, when Corsicans felt forgotten by the French government, the island was granted a greater autonomy, in 2000.
The great Napoleon was later forgiven and today, he is like a favorite homeboy. The house where he was born in Ajaccio is now a small museum where I spent over two hours, while my husband was sipping one espresso after another.

There are two official languages, French and Corsu which is derived from ancient Tuscan dialect and it is related to Italian. The people are very nice, love their land and certainly don't want it overdeveloped, with monster hotels and tons of tourists. They are very proud of their heritage and history. They also claim that Christopher Columbus was born here, in the town of Calvi. At that time, Corsica belonged to the kingdom of Genoa which is generally believed to be his birthplace. Anyway, the origins of Columbus are murky at best, some sources say he never was  an Italian, go figure.

Corsica has everything: long beaches, history, lovely architecture, natural wonders, food, etc. It is the greenest island in Mediterranean. Some of the mountain peaks were covered by snow but it was hot by the coast and the water felt really warm.  We hiked a couple of times,  to the pristine glacier lake Mel, around "Needles" of Bavella and Gorges de Spelunca - the views and landscapes were spectacular! After hikes or just laying on the beach or long drives, there couldn't be anything better than stuffing ourselves with local specialities. And there were plenty!
Especially when ordering food, my husband was completely in my power, not knowing a word in French. Later, he started to use me as an errand girl: "Go ask this...go ask that"!!!!  grrrr!

Corsican cuisine is a mix of  French and Italian goodies. The traditional meals we enjoyed were various stews: veal or sanglier ( wild boar, which roams freely and is abundant everywhere ) and the fish soup. We loved the interesting combinations of smelly sheep cheese with fig jam or various Corsican cured meats - similar to prosciutto ... and my husband's favorite: chestnut liquor. The very last day we packed our small convertible with about 8 pounds of meat, 5 pounds of sheep cheese and 20 bottles which included some French wines and Italian Grappa. I was amazed how well we used the trunk and the space behind our seats, considering that the car was already full at the beginning of our trip!
Even now, we are still working on shedding those extra pounds.

Back in Italy, we stopped by Lago di Como ( remember the Ocean's Twelve movie?) and we savored an amazing cappuccino at the same café we stopped at 4 years ago. I can testify that their quality did not decline.
For our journey back, DH planned to drive through Passo dello Stelvio, the second highest paved pass in Alp mountains. It's a favorite drive for many - whether two or four wheels - even from far away. We drove through this beautiful place before but this time we were sort of taken back by piles of snow on both sides of the road. Imagine: around us people in winter jackets and we, top of the convertible down, cooling off our sun tanned skin!

My dear husband immensely enjoyed driving around the island. After all those switchbacks in Corsica, the tires of our little Honda S2000 were gone to the thread - metal mesh, to be exact, especially after Stelvio. Somewhere between Germany and Austria, the worst had happened as anticipated and we had to empty our beautifully packed trunk to get the spare tire out. There was no room for our baggage together with the 18" wheel back there, so the suitcase was placed in the top of the trunk, me holding it with a belt. In this slow, impeding manner, we drove back on the highway in the rain, with the top still down for about 30 km until I had enough. Luckily, we called for a help in advance and our Jakub drove from Prague, in a middle of the night with a set of extra tire, to save us. Isn't it great to have big kids with their own driving license?

Still, it was an amazing trip and I know I will be coming back.
Say: "Corsica" and I will be packed in 5 minutes!

More photos in my Picasa web album.
  1. Corsica! :-)

    Sounds like you had a very lovely trip Romy! I am so envious lol. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow, such adventures!

    I had no idea your son was being schooled in Europe--you must miss him frightfully!