2000: Cote d'Azur

Antibes Travel Blog

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My brother, who goes by the name of Rob, told me “Communism is the enemy of freshness,” which seemed to sum up most of his trip to Cuba. I can't sum up my trip that well, but here are a few highlights of my summer on the Riviera.

Back to School
In August, I spent three weeks in France. My goal was to 1) get out of San Francisco for the month, which is cloudy and miserable, and 2) attend a language school so I could work hard on my French. I arrived on August Fifth and, after two COACH flights and 18 hours of travel, found myself in the absolutely smallest room in Hotel Juana, an old four-star hotel in Juan-Les-Pins, on the Riviera. This room was so small the bed was cut short to fit against the wall - I had the privilege of paying $280/night for a bed in which I had to sleep diagonally. The bathroom, however, was much bigger than the bed. If you’ve been to France, you know that the faucets are labeled “C” and “F”, which usually stand for “Cold” and “Freezing.” Also, France primarily sits on limestone at lower elevations. Limestone is a soft white rock that gets into the water supply and makes every shower head look like the “before” picture in a commercial for some product that claims to cut through scum and deposits. They should sell special tools on those popular corkscrew pocket knives in France just to keep the shower heads flowing.

The next day I showed up for school. I really arranged it well, because my hotel is in the heart of Juan-les-Pins and my school is in Antibes. They are on opposite sides of the peninsula. The walk is a bit more than a mile, up and over a hill. I arrived at the school and was pleased to find about 150 students milling about and a beautiful campus. As I expected, it’s mostly women - students and teachers alike. The first day I met the only two other Americans there - everyone else is either German, Swiss, or Italian. You’d think this would be great for me, but in fact most are under 25, and almost everyone smokes. Woof.

The first day got off to a great start. We were greeted and oriented by a guy named Jean-Michel, whose French is so clear that I understood almost every word he said. We all went on a bus tour of the cape, and as we whizzed around corners I understood everything he said and got a lot out of the tour. So that afternoon, I went into the test pretty confident. I was the last person to leave the exam room, and I was surprised when the next day I found myself in a beginner class. I guess my test didn’t go that well, but I couldn’t stand being in there, so I transferred to a harder class, where I was the dummy. That made me feel a lot better. I wanted to be challenged.

Most of the kids weren’t there to learn French. They were there to fulfill some requirement and just get their little certificates. Between classes, German was the Lingua Franca of the school - usually spoken with smoke spewing out of the mouth. I told people in perfect German that I spoke no German and joined the very small group of people who tried to speak French with each other because, well, they also seemed to be there to learn French. In some cases, you had to, because although all the Northerners spoke English, most of the Italians didn’t. I must admit I found it hard to keep from laughing when I heard Italians trying to speak French with their bouncy Italian accent - must be similar to the French reaction to my flat American accent. My goal was to speak nothing but French for three weeks, and, for the most part, I succeeded. Most of the time, I spoke French with the two Americans, Ian and Cathy, who were in the school as well.

The great thing about this hotel is its staff. I soon got to know everyone, and before I can bend over and pick up the soap I am friends with Claude, the bowtied housekeeper. Claude is clean cut, with black hair that has some gray around the edges, very skinny, and extremely friendly. Looks like Lyle Lovett. Speaks no English. He is, of course, gay, and when he learns I’m from San Francisco he lets his hair down and tells me EVERYthing. He had a lover in San Francisco who died of AIDS. He still has the ring and the broken heart. He can’t stand this hotel. He thinks I’m cute. He tells me my allergies are psychosomatic and I can conquer them with positive thinking. He tells me he is going to Tahiti, to get away from all this childishness and death. I say good idea, Claude. He wishes he could tuck me in, but I thank him for the extra pillow mint, close the door, and wish him good night.

Every morning, I stopped at one of the bakeries on the way to school, stopped at a fruit stand that was always just opening, bought a banana, and arrived at school about 8am -- 45 minutes early. It was always sunny and warm already, and I would spend the time studying and eating my breakfast among the bougainvillea. Then I would have my long morning class, stay on campus and have my lunch, studying until the afternoon class. I bought raisin bread for breakfast and nut-bread (“pain-aux-noix”) for lunch. I wolfed it down with the 1-liter bottles of Evian that came kachunking out of the machine (ten franks later) almost as fast as the cigarette boxes came cartwheeling out of the nearby cigarette machine during breaks. They had a hot-lunch program, but it didn’t cater to vegans except on Fridays, so four days a week I ate my bread, drank my water, and studied.

The morning teacher, Sophie, spoke quickly and assumed I knew more than I did. She didn’t slow down one bit. She spoke to the class as though we were native speakers. And it was impossible to raise my hand every time she said something I didn’t understand. You know the dreams you have when you’re back in school, and the teacher calls on you and you not only don’t know the answer, you have no idea what they’re talking about? I got to live that dream for two weeks straight. I signed up for the same class the second week -- much to the chagrin of my fellow students -- because I wanted the challenge. Every day, I managed to get by the end of the day most of the material presented, only to be stumped the next day when we moved on to subjects the other students were familiar with. The thing is, most of them didn’t speak French comfortably. They didn’t try. They were just there to do the exercises and pass the class.

In the afternoons, we had Mathilda for conversation. In her class, we played games, had discussions, and worked on vocabulary. It was fun, but it was hard to retain anything. I always beat everyone at French scrabble by a mile, but it was because I was trying to win, not trying to learn useful new French words. Even after a week of losing, the other kids still hadn’t figured out the power of the triple-word score.

I studied from 8am to 3:30pm every day. Flirting with the students was useless - there were plenty of good looking, hip, blonde, German guys with radical sunglasses and cigarettes tucked behind their ears going for the James Dean girl-magnet award. For the most part, it worked. I was the only bald guy in the school, and it wasn't an asset. I made sure to wear a hat during lunch because the noontime sun was so oppressive that I would have burned my scalp in 30 minutes. As for the teachers, most of THEM were too young for me.

Petanque
Mathilda and I had a common interest in the game of Petanque. France is covered with small courtyards full of brown gravel that are meticulously maintained for this national sport. If you look, you’ll find almost any patch of ground that isn’t being used has trees growing in a grid about 40 feet apart, and there is an old tire placed around the base of each tree. Why? To protect it from the steel balls whizzing past. Petanque is played with one small ball (the size of a ping-pong ball) and typically three or four larger balls per player (steel balls, the size of navel oranges, with various inscribed patterns so people can tell theirs apart). You either try to roll your ball close to the little one, or you try to throw your ball so it hits an opponent’s ball away - the object being to have one of your team’s balls closest to the little one at the end. The French play daily between 5 and 7pm.

After our last day of class, Mathilda brought her ball set, and she and I played a few games near school. It was fun. She, of course, killed me, but she was very good at explaining everything in French. It was fun to have my first game of Petanque - it made me feel like a local. Now all I need are some horizontal-striped shirts and a pair of espadrilles.

I met an old man in Juan-les-Pins named Marcel, a former world-class ping-pong player and a lifelong sports coach. He was a real character. We met often to watch and talk about Petanque. He explained the rules and especially the strategies to me. He taught me never to use your best stuff against an opponent until late in a game, when you can do the most damage, demoralize him, and finish him off. He asked me for stock tips. He told me stories of traveling the world as a player and a coach. He told me about the feats of the world-class petanque players, some of whom had retired and were playing among us. The amazing players are those who hit. These people - men and women -- can throw a steel ball 25 feet in the air accurately enough not only to hit another ball but to stay put after doing so. It’s quite athletic. It’s also quite risky and makes the game exciting.

The village of Antibes is charming. I often went into town after class to look around. My favorite place was the produce market, where all kinds of things were sold. It wasn’t a good town for vegans, but at the produce market a lady made garbanzo-flour crepes, fried in olive oil and sprinkled with spices that were, in fact, vegan. I always got two, and they were very filling. There is a small nondescript Picasso museum nearby. There are meat and cheese shops on every block. Just walking around town and having lunch or dinner outside was the fun part.

Juan-les-Pins is a town made for kids. My father took my sisters and me there in 1972, on a trip to Europe and Africa (though the hotel where we stayed closed soon afterward and is now a candidate for best location to shoot Blair Witch III). This is probably the one place in the world where they take small plastic buckets and shovels very seriously, as these are the tools used by most of the visitors most of the day during their stay. There are hundreds of restaurants, many crowded onto the beach, and the town comes alive the minute the petanque players go home and the sun begins to descend over the mountains. It’s the most magic time of the day. To stroll along the beach or out on the wavebreak at dusk is to be in heaven. Everything is right. You’re just the right distance from America, just the right distance from Saint Tropez, and just the right distance from all your cares, your job, and your normal life.

By 9pm, all the tourists have taken their reserved places at all the restaurants, all the waiters are busy ignoring the customers, and all the teenage girls are trying to stay on top of their 5-inch platform sneakers as they troll for boys. At 1 in the morning, all the kids are wandering around town without their parents. That’s normal. The restaurants all serve EXACTLY the same menu. God forbid someone should even think of asking for gespacho, or broccoli, or zucchini, or spinach - forget it. There are hardly any nice restaurants - everything seems to be geared toward the family of five trying to fill up for under $50 with wine. When I order pasta pesto, I get linguini with olive oil and dried parsley sprinkled on top. Or I get cheeseless pizza, which the waiters manage to drop on my table with only a mild sneer.

Most of France descends on the Riviera for the months of July and August. Most families seem to have a tiny apartment there that goes unused the rest of the year. The same goes for many Italians. There are very few Germans or other Europeans vacationing here, and almost no Americans. You can spot the Americans at 100 yards by their waistlines -- the Americans are big, and they travel in six packs. No, this is a place for French and Italian families, which means that women in their twenties all go by the same name: Maman. It is family mecca, and the beaches are the mosques. Many of the beaches are owned by restaurants, so you pay some money for a towel and an umbrella and a lounge chair, and you’re set for the day. Some of the beaches are so crowded that every available inch seems to be bought and paid for. Tanning is something of a blood sport, and topless bikinis are the uniform. This is cause for investigation, especially for a foreigner.

Babes, Beaches, and Boobs
On any particular day, walking through Union Square or standing in North Beach, I see maybe one woman I’m attracted to. In New York, the number goes up to 1-2 per day. But here on the Riviera, I am surrounded by the kind of woman I find attractive. It’s true that they are either too young for me or married, but this is ground zero for skinny women, and being surrounded by skinny topless women takes some attitude adjustment on my part. Actually, it takes some shorts adjustment, trying not to look like a fool as I stroll past the sunbathers. I’m not up for sitting on the beach all afternoon, so I stroll past taking in the view. This is not what the French do. They are families, and in Europe a topless woman on a beach or a woman cleaning a men’s room is not something improper. Toplessness on the sand or in the water is not considered special, or lewd, or inviting, or risqué. They bring the bikini tops to get to and from the car, which is perfectly normal and really a bit silly if you think about it. After a couple of days of investigation, you start to get the idea - it’s not such a big thing.

As an outsider, it makes you think how our cultures are different. The US is full of people who want to maintain the image of propriety everywhere, trying to hold nature back. This makes certain subjects taboo, and it causes people a great deal of angst. In Europe, it’s different. Sex was invented about 20,000 years earlier in Europe, and people have had more time to live with it. Most of the attention goes to a couple of jelly-filled sacks. Ah, the jelly-filled sacks. We men can look at them for hours and talk about them for days. The angle of the sack, the density of the jelly, the valves at the front. I can name at least five $50-billion industries based on those sacks (don’t forget that advertising, if only by about three minutes, really is the world’s oldest profession).

And here’s the bottom line with boobs: you’re a woman, you have ‘em; you’re a guy, you don’t. There are exceptions, but in most cases that’s the reality, and in Europe there’s less separation of boob and body and woman than we have in the US. Here in America, men like to think these jelly-filled sacks are accessories added for their enjoyment. In Europe, it’s less that way. Sure, men in Europe still have the reptilian-brain-stem chemical surges when they see certain patterns, but they don’t have to turn to the next guy and point anything out. They look for the eyes. In Europe, the eyes are the sex pipelines. In the States, the sex pipelines are the sex pipelines.

Speaking of pipelines, men have a couple of jelly-filled sacks too (okay, maybe three, depending how you define jelly and sack.) Do women spend all day trying to get a peek at them and talking about them in the bathroom? Firmness, size, position, and so forth? I don’t think so. In fact, I can only name a few industries based on those sacks, only one of which surpasses $1 billion. Why are women’s sacks so much more profitable? I don’t know, but I’m not about to start buying push-up underwire shorts.

Where was I? Oh yes, adjusting my shorts. After a game-drive past the beach, I would get away from the sand and head around the cape. There’s a narrow trail that takes about 25 minutes if you’re fast - it clambers over rocks jutting out into the sea. As you go around, you can see scuba divers, snorkelers, and all kinds of boats plying the waters. They love to take tourists out behind jetboats and drag them in anything that seems fashionable - paragliders, big huge inner tubes, whatever. And there are these enormous hydrofoil ferries that look like small cruise ships, except they are going 35 miles an hour with a 40-foot rooster tail of water spraying up behind them.

Only the French
French is a language made up of 50% idiom, 50% exceptions, and 50% attitude. If you don’t have a cigarette dangling from your lip and a golf ball in your throat, you should pretend you do, or you’ll never get the pronunciation right. Most consonants aren’t pronounced -- unless they are, of course. Another rule is that you can’t tell what’s going to be feminine or masculine, but the adjectives have to agree, unless it doesn’t sound right. For example, my friend (female) would me “Ma amie,” but no one likes the way that sounds, so they just use the masculine possessive, “Mon amie,” because, well, it doesn’t sound as bad. But you have to like any language that has the same word for “lawyer” as for “avocado."

It’s easy to understand my frustration in learning the French. Rules are always better than rote memorization of exceptions. Take English, a straightforward language with simple rules. At first, a foreigner might not understand that the past participle of “to pay” is “paid.” But on further inspection, you see a pattern: the y is replaced by an I (heck, the two letters are so closely related that most European languages call “y” a Greek “I”). "Oh, I see," says the foreigner. The 'i' replaces the 'y.' I had praid for a solution to that problem, so I could choose which rules to follow and which to lose." English really is easier to learn than French.

After three weeks, I learned the three most important words in French, words that really can’t be spelled but I’ll try. Pfeuh is the national French word. They say it without thinking, the way Ronald Reagan used to say “well…” before beginning a sentence. Done properly, it blows your hair up slightly on one side or the other (if you have hair). If you can’t say this word, you can’t communicate in French. It means everything from “screw that” to “maybe” to “uhuh” to “no way” to “he’s an idiot” to “they’re idiots,” to “everyone here is an idiot but me - isn’t that obvious?” Then there’s woof, which signifies a mistake or disgust or “what a bozo”. it should come out not as a word on its own but as a word enclosed in a sigh. You can’t get through a day without it. And finally boff, which is more active. It means a hit or a miss or some physical effort that either connects or misses the mark. A glass of wine, however, can be either woof, or boff, or (sadly) both. Pfeuh!

Day Tripping
During the two weeks, I took many day trips to various places. Cannes is just a 10-minute trainride away, a place where tourists ask you to take their pictures for them as they pretend to be movie stars. It’s really not much of a place unless you’re looking for somewhere image-enhancing to park your Ferrari. I spent an afternoon in the hilltown of Grasse, famous for perfumes and guided tours of perfume factories. Had dinner in Valbonne, a town that consists almost entirely of restaurants.

When I’m walking around San Francisco, my internal disk jockey is almost always playing Talking Heads or Reggae. Don’t ask me why, ask him. But when I’m traveling, he's spinning a different program. I often find myself singing Jimmy Buffett songs...

Reading departure signs in some big airport
Reminds me of the places I've been;
Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure
Makes me want to go back again;
If it suddenly ended tomorrow
I could somehow adjust to the fall;
Good times and riches and son of a bitches
I've seen more than I can recall.
With these changes in latitudes, changes in attitudes
Nothing remains quite the same;
With all of my running and all of my cunning
If I couldn't laugh I would just go insane.

This inevitably leads into a Jimmy Buffett medley I play in my head as I sit on trains, staring out the windows:

And I’m battlin’ motel maids. Chewin’ on Rolaids. Countin’ the hours ‘til I come home. ... Come Monday, it’ll be all right. Come Monday, I ‘ll be holding you tight -- I’ve spent four lonely days in a brown LA haze and I just want you back by my side. ... Chanson for les petits enfants, Song for the world. ... The weather is here, I wish you were beautiful. ... She loves to ride into town with the top down; Feel that warm breeze on her gentle skin; She is my next of kin. I see a little more of me everyday, I catch a little more moustache turning gray. Your mother is the only other woman for me, Little Miss Magic, what you gonna be? Little Miss Magic, just can't wait to see.

One weekend I took a lovely trip to the villages of Saint Paul and Eze. Getting to Saint Paul was interesting. I took the train about 15 minutes north of Antibes, got off, and looked for a taxi to take me the 14 km up the hill. But there were no taxis. And I was prepared. Everything I needed was in my backpack, so I walked to Saint Paul. It was along a motorway, so just took the roundabouts as though I were a car and kept following signs to Saint Paul de Vence. It was about a two-hour hike with a fairly serious vertical component. I continued through the medieval hilltop town right to the very top, where I found the Hotel Saint Paul. I don’t think many people check into this Relais et Chateau property with a sweaty backpack on their backs, but I soon found myself in a nice small room with a fine shower and hot water.

Saint Paul is famous for its art galleries. 24 hours in the town is one of life’s most charming experiences. 48 hours in this town, however, would be suitable punishment for anyone who has ever used purple and orange paint in the same room. The Gallerie Maeght, a short walk from town, is a jewel. The views are excellent, the art is amazing, and you can even get fresh-fruit smoothies from the little shop at the entrance to the old hilltop. In contrast with almost everywhere else, here you can find Americans waddling their way through the narrow streets, exclaiming how wonderful the art is. For some reason, they all congregate here and seem to disappear elsewhere along the Riviera. There was one painting I liked, just a big red canvas with the words “NO PARKING” inscribed on it, very cool. Too expensive. There were, to be fair, some excellent artists represented. Just nothing I could imagine buying.

The next day, I took an expensive taxi ride straight to the similar hilltop village of Eze, where I spent a few hours hiking and checking the place out. It’s smaller and less interesting than Saint Paul, but the views are better and the steep slope of the hill, with its “exotic” (read: cactus) garden on top, which costs about 15 fr to see, makes it unique. It’s perched high above the water, along the “Haute Corniche,” one of three parallel roads that ply the coastline from Nice to Monaco and beyond. I decided to hike down to the water, a fairly serious project. Along the way, I crossed the “Moyenne Corniche,” the road off which Princess Grace drove to her death. (I am tempted to write my 20,000 word tribute to Grace Kelly here, but I’ll spare you for now.) Much farther down, I crossed the coastal highway and found myself in the town of Eze Sur Mer, where, after a walk on the rocky beach and some serious girlwatching, I went for a refreshing swim. I learned that the combination of a long day’s walk with a swim in the middle and a change of shirt is my idea of a great day. So I got in the habit of packing an extra shirt and swimming whenever I had a chance. Then I put my gear back on and caught the next train to Monaco.

Monaco is like a magnet: it either attracts or repels you. I was repulsed. Except for the train station. It has perhaps the coolest, most expensive train station I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. The town is on such a steep hillside that there are public elevators strategically placed so you can get around with your Gucci shopping bag overloaded with square-toed shoes. The other redeeming feature was the public boardwalk, where people and their children had many games to choose from - most of them played on tables with blocks, or balls and holes, etc. Old-fashioned wooden games of mild skill that would keep a six-year-old amused for four minutes each.

A few days later I returned North to explore Villefranche Sur Mer, a charming village with a rocky beach. All the beaches north of Nice are either rocky or have sand imported regularly. I explored Villefranche with interest, because this is a town with a well-known language school, and I tried to imagine myself hanging here after classes. Not nearly as good as Antibes. Then I took a refreshing swim and walked all the way around Cap Ferrat, which I liked quite a lot. It’s a long hike around the cape. You spend a lot of time on white rocks with sea spraying nearby. And everywhere you go, no matter how far you’ve walked from the parking lot, people - families - are picnicking, snorkeling, sunbathing, and generally having a nice time near the water. It was during this walk that I got out my cell phone and participated in a board meeting while circumnavigating the cape. I lasted for one full battery and then had to say goodbye to the hardworking people back in their office in San Francisco. At dusk, I grabbed something to eat in the charming town of Beaulieu Sur Mer, where I’d like to go back and spend more time some day.

Every weekend, the school puts on trips that students can take to see sights, get to know each other, and practice their German. Most of the reports on these trips were terrible, but I signed up for river rafting anyway. It sounded fun, and it was. About 16 of us took the train to Nice, then we took a smaller mountain train way up into the hills not far from the Italian border. From there, we took vans to a bridge, put on wet suits, and got into our inflatable canoes that were impossible to break. Having done quite a bit of rafting, I took an inexperienced German guy and we got in the water. I expected it to be tame and lame, but it provided just the right amount of challenge, wetness, coolness, and bright sunshine to make a great day and a memorable experience. We followed our guides through rapids, around rocks, and over small waterfalls. It was challenging enough to make the trip fun and still safe for everyone. Toward the end, we parked our canoes and ran up the hill to jump off a rock into the deep part of the river. About half of us did it. The jump was just under 30 feet - not quite as high as the 10m high platform you see in the Olympics, but high enough to be my highest jump without skis or a bungee cord attached to my feet. It was fun. I did it twice. It hurt your arms if you put them out, which of course I did. I had brought boxes of juice to give to everyone at the end, which they all appreciated. It was a great day and we were all exhausted at the end.

Corse
After the two weeks of class, I packed up, paid my four-star hotel bill, said goodbye to Claude and the staff, and headed to Figari airport in Corsica. It’s midway between the two port towns of Bonifacio and Porto Vecchio. Almost every town in Corsica is a port town. It’s similar to Hawaii in that it’s an incredibly tall island that rises over 9,000 feet with a rugged interior, rocky shores, and verdant valleys. Bonifacio is special, as I had been told. It has a lower “new town” and an upper old town that sits perched on stratified white cliffs. It’s as picturesque as it is touristy. I’d be happy to go back because it’s so peaceful and beautiful. Most of the visitors are from Italy, though all the locals speak French. And the knife stores are amazing.

One morning I got up early and took a cab ride for 25 minutes that cost me $100. I arrived at Palombaggia beach just in time to get into a wet suit and on board the dive boat. About 15 people went out for a nice morning dive in the Mediterranean. Okay, there’s not much to see except some small rays, huge groupers, and eels, but I really wanted to get back underwater and this was a great chance to do it. On the boat, I met a lovely young English couple who were eager to talk about e-commerce and the sky-high price of living in London. They gave me a ride to Porto Vecchio, an extremely picturesque town perched on a high hilltop over the sailboat-filled harbor. It seems many Italians have second homes here. There are many interior-decorating shops, and I was surprised to see how up-to-date they were. I spent a lot of time in an exceptional olive-oil store, where I tasted dozens of olive oils with tastes ranging from pepper to apples to raspberry - it’s all in the oil somehow, nothing added, and the flavors are magnificent.

Here’s the difference between Europe and the US: I was recently in Chicago, where I got a photocopied map of downtown from the concierge. A walking map that indicates restaurants, museums, and so forth. On the map there was a box with the words:

You are advised to use reasonable and prudent efforts to ensure your personal safety.
We advise that you do not jog/walk alone and that you travel during daylight hours.
If you encounter anything that causes you concern, go to a public area. We can never
fully guarantee your personal safety while out in a public area.

In Europe, people know this. They don’t need to be told not to fall down the stairs or spill coffee on their laps. They know that if they eat too much they’ll get fat. They don’t tend to sue each other when they make a mistake. Perhaps the clearest example of this difference I experienced was when I was having dinner in the old citadel of Bonifacio.

I was sitting in this café, trying -- as usual -- to avoid the smoke from other tables. I was working on my French in between courses, when I heard a sound just behind me that’s familiar to every parent - the sound of a toddler tripping and falling flat onto hard cement. It’s a soft, full-body splat, something you can’t mistake for anything else, and the kind of sound you can’t make after you’re about 5 years old. After this sound, there is usually a short pause, usually followed by a blood-curdling scream. After a good loud scream, the parents rush over and pick up the child, at which point the tears come and the child becomes the center of attention for a few minutes. I waited during the pause, but the scream never came. I turned around to see the toddler pick herself up off the floor and run to catch up to her family. No noise, no fuss, no parental attention. Just run and catch up to the big people.

That was different, I thought.

Another difference is in the elevators. In Europe, many elevators have no front doors, so the doors and joists of the floors pass you as you go from floor to floor -- an idiot could manage to get hurt in one of these, but in Europe people simply don’t try to get hurt. And if they do get hurt, they don’t sue. In many hotels and apartment buildings, the elevators are big enough for two people who know each other intimately with no luggage, or one person with luggage. Things here are at a different scale than in the US.

The best way to get around Corsica is by boat. I took a ferry from Bonifacio to the capitol city of Ajaccio. It was a seven-hour trip, but the captain stopped to try to run over dolphins as often as possible. All around the island are hundreds of sentry towers built in the 15th Century by the Genoese, who had taken control of the island. It was said that a light signal could go completely around the island from tower to tower in one hour. As you navigate along the coast, you can always see at least one tower.

In the big city of Ajaccio I stayed at a lovely hotel near the beach. The next day, though, I got back on the same boat from yesterday and continued north to the Scandola Nature Reserve, a very special coastline that has been set aside by UNESCO as a world heritage site and a breeding ground for Ospreys. As you travel North, you see a mountain that’s sliced right in half like two scoops of ice cream fused together by pressure - the south side made of the familiar white limestone and everything north of this straight line is in red granite. From there, the granite shoreline is spectacular. The boats go in and out of grottos, fjords, and small islets. Everywhere there are birds and fish. We only saw a few boats. It was a really special trip, well worth spending the entire day on a boat.

I had a great week in Corsica, and I’d love to go back. The next thing to do is bring some friends and backpacks and walk the various trekking routes across the island, staying at small mountain villages along the way. Okay, a Vegan can starve here, or potentially be barbequed and eaten by the locals, but I can always bring Cliff bars. 
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photo by: Vikram