On Thursday 15 September, we caught a small two-carriage train for a day trip from Ajaccio to Corte. The town of Corte is sometimes referred to as the heart of Corsica as it was the home of the Corsican nationalism movement. Over the centuries, Corsica has been under the control of the Genoese (who built about one hundred watchtowers along the coast), the Pisans and the French. Corsica was an independent country for only 14 years from 1755 to 1769; for the last 250 years, it has been part of France. Nonetheless, there is still political graffiti calling for Corsican independence. While the car number plates use the letter F (for France), they also have a black and white image of a Moor's head (a black head wearing a white bandana), the symbol of Corsican independence (see photo).
Corsica also maintains its separation from France with its own language. Most street signs are in both Corsican and French. The Corsican language is most similar to the Genoese language of several centuries ago. I can recognise the similarity with some Italian words, but many words end in the letter 'u'. It certainly doesn't look anything like French. Fortunately, the shopkeepers speak modern-day French (and sometimes English), as well as the medieval Corsican language.
Today Corte is the home of Corsica's only university. As it is surrounded by mountains, students from other parts of Corsica mostly live in Corte during their studies. There are only about 300,000 Corsicans living on the island. About three times as many Cosicans live and work in mainland France where there are more jobs and opportunities.
Corte has a lovely old town centre, steep cobblestoned steps, tree-lined plazas with statues of famous Corsicans, and shops selling very traditional Corsican foods. I had some gelati that was flavoured with brocciu, a soft Corsican cheese. I know it sounds like an odd mix, but it was actually really fresh and delicious. I had earlier mentioned that it was not brocciu 'season'. Apparently, the brocciu cheese is mainly produced in the winter months, when the sheep and goats can graze on very wet pastures. It is somewhat similar to ricotta cheese. Earlier today (here in Bonifacio), I had a donut filled with brocciu.
There were also some lovely bakeries in Corte. We had pastries, some with cherries, some with figs, some with honey, each of which had been baked onto a chestnut leaf to imbibe the flavour. The bakery lady warned us that we had to remove the chestnut leaves, as they were not suitable for eating! You can see some of the other local food products in a few photos. Many do not transport well for travelling - liqueurs, jams - which is why I have been diligently trying to taste them here while travelling! I will probably buy some maquis (local herbs and shrubs) teabags.
Speaking of food and drink, the other thing that is very different for us is that the shops do not often sell cold bottles of wine. This was the case for us in Nice, as well as here in Corsica. There are shelves and shelves of very cheap European wines in the supermarkets, but none kept cold. That is okay if you have a cold working fridge in your room and can plan ahead to buy and chill a bottle of wine. But not so well when you want a cold wine NOW! It has been interesting to see how many people drink wine with lunch in the street cafes. The French do not seem to worry about 'standard' drink measures; the glasses are filled to the brim. Rose is very popular here; I had some with dinner one evening and it was very pleasant. Last night we managed to find a half-bottle of chilled rose in a tiny supermarket, so we took that to our hotel and enjoyed it sitting outside on our balcony. Grand total of 4 euros (about $6 Aus) for 375ml.
While there is not often cold wine in supermarkets, there are dogs! The French take their dogs everywhere - in restaurants, in food shops, in department stores. You see them going up and down escalators, in the food halls of supermarkets, sitting patiently while their owners have a leisurely lunch. I can't imagine Samantha travelling around with me all day in similar situations. (I should add there is much less dog poo in the streets than years ago). Unfortunately, there is also much more smoking in public places than occurs in Australia. If you sit down for lunch or dinner at an outside cafe or restaurant, there will frequently be someone smoking at a neighbouring table.
One of the other photos shows the approach to moving house in Ajaccio. Rather than try and lift large furniture up narrow stairways in old buildings, there was a ladder with motorised trolley positioned on the outside wall of the building that did the job. Very clever!
Yesterday, Friday 16th September, we relocated from Ajaccio to Bonifacio. You know the saying about be careful what you wish for? I had been hoping in Nice for cooler weather. Well yesterday, we had extremely heavy rain during our minibus trip to Bonifacio. There was flash flooding on the road (although admittedly nowhere near as bad as my sister, Belinda's photos from Queensland this week). But it was a little disturbing to see mudslides coming off the side of the mountains and onto the roads. Fortunately, our driver was very experienced.
The heavy rain was on the rain shadow side of the mountains. It cleared in time for our morning tea stop in Sartene. The church in Sartene has a crucifix that is used during Easter religious festivals. The about 35kg crucifix is carried through the streets of Sartene on a particular route by one man, taking about three hours.
That's enough for this edition! We are here in Bonifacio for 4 nights, so my next blog will include lots of photos of the spectacular scenery.