Sunday, June 9, 2019

Butterfield Biking

Aboard the luxurious SS Catherine.  On the Butterfield and Robinson Rhone River Bike Trip.  The usual cliches apply: unpack once, the scenery outside your window changes every day.  And we have a butler who makes laundry disappear and reappear clean and folded.
It's not too bad living in a cliche. 

We finally get on our bikes - I have an e bike, Wally a racing bike.  At the first hill I turn up the juice and, pedaling ever so easily, I sail past.  At the top of the hill Wally knows how I've felt for years.  The next day he is on an e bike.

We bike down a long allee of Plane trees... a courtyard lunch at an old chateau.  Under more Plane trees.

Fully half the group of avid cyclists are on e bikes.  No shame here.  I am used to a fancy Italian racing bike, not new but light and frisky.  This e bike is like riding a draft horse with a bad attitude - on ice.  It's a fight to keep it upright, it has . a mind of its own and considers my attempts to steer merely a suggestion. 

Lovely countryside:

And we have tablets!  Samsung galaxy tablets that have a lovely map with a blue dot (you are here) and a blue line to follow...and a red line to show you where you've been or when you go off piste.  Which, despite the tablets, we manage to do.

And they talk to you! Tell you where to turn...I miss seeing the clusters of B & R travelers at the confusing intersections, waving their route notes and peering at road signs.  It was a comfort to come upon them, to know you were in the right place and not the only one who was confused.  

But today we learn the tablets' limitations:  on the way home after lunch they - and we - are in full sun.  We fare better than they do; they just quit.  We wish we could quit too...we make it back to the boat, tired but happy.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Still thinking about Corsica...

It took five minutes in Avignon at the Hotel D’Europe to realize the thing that made Corsica so different, so special.  So relaxing, so calm.  Besides the fabulous weather and the multitudinous beaches…

No Brits. No Americans. 

And it took five minutes in the car back to the Ajaccio airport for our driver Philipe to spill the beans about why he didn’t meet us on our arrival in Corsica.  He had called us while we were in our taxi (we snagged the last one at the airport taxi stand, after the last flight of the day) to berate us for being early and not waiting for him, talking over me as I tried to explain that we had waited for half an hour - “But you were early!  How could I know?” Ummm internet?  Cel phone? 

“But I will meet you at Hotel Miramar for your return!  At twelve and a half!”

Twelve and a half indeed.

So! five minutes onto our ride back to the airport, the very ride that started promptly at twelve and a half, Philipe confesses that there were in fact two flights that arrived that fateful day in Ajaccio at the same time from Paris, and he was waiting patiently with a big smile and a  sign with our names - at the wrong flight.

Wild,  Remote.  Self contained.  Self assured.  Content.

Bonifacio. Sartène.  Propriano.  Weathered cliffs of white chalk.  Houses glued to the very edges of the cliffs.  They hang like perched vultures over the sea.  Nothing below. A white wild Petra.

We eat on a tiny balcony in a restaurant where if you drop your fork it will spear a seagull on the way down to a watery end.  We wake with the sun and linger over espresso on our deck overlooking the sea.  

We wander twisting streets and get lost - and found - a dozen times in a day.  We find, on the way down from yet another church that gives me the creeps, a cabinet with a glass front and dozens of juicy chickens browning inside.  We return at lunch time to an empty cabinet, to  locals leaving with bagged chickens, to two tiny tables facing the street, one staked out by a local man and his daughter - they are both on the curb smoking -  and the most delicious smells.  We have no idea what the menu says, the owner asks us what part of the chicken we want by waving his hands over those parts of his body.  I get a whole breast with wing attached and a steaming heap of tiny potatoes glistening with chicken fat.  Wally gets breast leg and thigh with the same meltingly tender potatoes.  We think we can't possibly eat it all - we are so wrong,

We ask for beer - apparently a universal word.  He shakes his head, goes out the door, and returns with the owner of the bar next door.  We pantomime - he returns with two bottles beaded with cold and perfect with the chicken.  

The unexpected, the confusing, the difficult, the spontaneous, the things beyond your comfort zone - they are the best memories.


It was, for about a hundred years, the city of popes.  
When there were multiple popes.  The protestants may be dour,  the Catholics are never boring.  The famous bridge of song - 
 Where would the tour guides take you if there were no partially fallen bridge?   And sometimes the most intriguing photos are accidental... 
We know about Nespresso for breakfast - 

 But we didn't know it was for the shower too.  This is a bit confusing...
 When you're jet lagged and you see this in the shower you want to open your mouth and tip your head back.  
Check out the flavors - bad idea.  Fortunately, thankfully, we have yet to encounter a hotel room without a Nespresso machine.

The fountains:

The markets.  Open air, of course.

I want to sit down on the sidewalk and pour olive oil over the garlic - and eat it.  I settle for a box of strawberries and some crunchy unripe apricots.  

The spices - the hats.  

 There is a provençal version of paella..  Ish. I'm pretty sure the Spanish don't use bean sprouts. 
And the most delicious roast chickens.  I wonder - if I lived here would I ever cook?  Or just eat fresh from the market?
When we finally climb aboard our very luxurious ship, the S.S. Catherine, we are greeted by a terrifying chandelier.  I was looking for a new one for the kitchen - not this one.    It would give me nightmares.  

Sweet Dreams.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Corse. Of course.

Charm is too soft a word.  Rough. Wild. Stunningly beautiful.  Small stone villages tumbling down hillsides, more stairs than streets.  Old fishing villages with seaside restaurants - open air, of course.  Squat towers built by the Genovese, and lighthouses.

Glorious skies.

Funny little cars...

And ancient fortified towns like Bonifacio, perched on white chalk cliffs, being undercut by the sea.

The walls aand cliffs protected from pirates, but how do you defend against the sea?

A few tourists, more locals.  That all changes in July and August - an Island of 300 thousand residents gets 3 million tourists a year.  You do the math.  And come.  Just not in July and August.

Corse, they call it.  We call it Corsica,    Rosé...

and tasty pig parts.  A local version of prosciutto but less fatty, salty and sweet.  Bacon rubbed with myrtle and black pepper and wild herbs from the hills.  Those beautiful green and purple hills. It was sliced as thinly as paper and served raw.  Sounded scary, melt in your mouth delicious.   Best charcuterie I have ever tasted.

A jewel of a  small hotel.  Like being a guest in someone's villa.  Someone's fabulous villa, where every person you meet is charming and wants to make your dreams come true.

Miramar Boutique Hotel in Propriano.  Come and stay.  Anything is possible.  We didn't want to leave.  We're going back.  The pool is calling...

And there are still some fish left to try.

Come for dinner, come for a week.  Choose your dinner.  Just arrived, caught by a Corsican character who has fished every day for 45 years.  Not the guy in the suit - that is Anthony Iglesias, the dapper and charming hotel manager.  He's in charge if making your dreams come true.  As are Ghislaiane and Nathan. Your job is to know what your dreams are.  And to ask.

Watch the sun go down.  Breathe.  Sleep like a baby to the sound of the sea.  Breakfast on your terrace overlooking the beach.  Nap.  Relax.  Sigh.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Crepuscular.  Sounds like aa skin disease.  Or something dry and curled up at the edges.  It is in fact that magical moment when day turns to evening, when light is balanced between two worlds.  A time of superstition and coyotes roaming the street, a moment of memory.  In Corsica, in Propriano at the Miramar Hotel it is cocktail hour.