Ajaccio, Corsica, France
Remember Napoleon – the little guy with his hand in his jacket? The one who caused so much trouble in Europe at one time? Well, we’ve spent today in the town where he was born. He was often called, derogatorily, “The Little Corsican,” because the French (and the English) thought nothing good could come from this small island in the Mediterranean.
We were quite pleased to visit a French island, being the Francophiles we are. John’s French is pretty darned good, and I can read a menu and street signs with the best of them. We also know that we can get a good meal anywhere French (as well as Italy, of course). We began the day with our 10:00 AM arrival here, right in the middle of the city – always a huge plus. We were almost right across the street from the daily market in the Place Foch, so together with Sky, we began there, walking up one side and down the other, enjoying the sights, sounds, and especially the smells of a daily French market. We appreciated the cheeses, the preserved meats, the flowers, fruits, vegetables, and oh, the breads! We tried some offered samples, and just really enjoyed mingling.
The market square is the departure point for the 90-minute tour by little white train around the city and out to the rocky islets next to the mainland. The rocky hills that come down to the sea put us in mind of the coast at Santa Barbara, about 90-minutes from our home. We saw the statue of Napoleon and his brothers, the statue of Napoleon dressed as Caesar, Napoleon in his emperor’s outfit – you pretty much get the picture here. However, there are also Roman ruins and artifacts from early Christian settlements. Ajaccio is really a charming city, the largest on Corsica, and seems to be a combination of Italian and French influences, which is appropriate because it was owned by Genoa until they sold it to France in the late 1700’s.
After we finished our tour at 12:30, the restaurant hunt began. We wanted something identifiably French (not a big challenge here), but also something warm, since it was pretty clouded over and windy. The three of us settled on a little (tiny, really) restaurant whose tables were outside, but with plastic walls and roof – and a heater! John had a chicken sandwich on a baguette, Sky ordered a ham and cheese panini, and I had a croque monsieur, the French version of a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. They were all very good, and the guys decided to cut theirs in two and trade halves. I was the only one whose lunch came with fries, so I shared those, too. Lunch was really very good.
Since we were on the Napoleon trail, we headed to the Maison Bonaparte, the home in which little Napoleon and his seven brothers and sisters were born. It turns out that Madame Bonaparte was an extremely strong woman, and she had to be, since she was left a widow when her 39-year-old husband died, leaving her with eight children to raise Fortunately, she was a very wealthy widow, but it still couldn’t have been easy. The house has four stories and was the largest in Ajaccio at the time. Now it’s down a little alleyway, but the insides have been restored beautifully, with much of the original furniture. I always think it’s interesting to get a picture of another era by going through a home from the past. It’s what’s NOT there that’s interesting: no bathrooms, no kitchen – although there had to be facilities for those things somewhere at the time. Each room had a fireplace and the furniture, although beautiful, didn’t look very comfortable. I think to be middle class now is far more comfortable than to be rich 200 years ago.
By the time we finished our tour, which had included a hand-held mechanical narration device for more information, it was time to head to the Monoprix, far and away one of our favorite French stores. On one floor they carry clothing, toiletries, household goods, and so forth, but either upstairs or downstairs, there’s a great grocery store. We actually didn’t buy anything, but we had a good time wandering up and down the aisles. I’m one of those people who loves grocery shopping, and although John doesn’t like to go with me at home, he enjoys stores in foreign cities.
I’ve been fighting a cold, so I was all toured out, and headed back to the ship. John wanted to see a little more, so he wandered on for awhile. I wanted to get in a nap, since we’ll be spending the next two days with our Belgian exchange student Francoise and her sister Laura and I don’t want to let this silly cold get me down. We really enjoyed our day on Corsica and our visit with Napoleon.
The captain just came on over the PA system and told us that there is stormy weather throughout the Mediterranean which will cause four or five hours of very rough seas tonight. It should be exciting.