Family Fun in the USA

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Sailing in San Diego Bay with members of my family, from left: Tom, Joan, Steve, Yoshie and Dave.  Capt. Charley at the helm.

First stop, Winchester, Virginia. Stepson Rob and grandsons Samuel and Lang live outside the city in a lovely country location below the ridge of Big Schloss Mountain, part of the Appalachian chain. Their house, which we had not seen, is spacious and tastefully decorated by Rob – with a few treasures from Germany donated by his father.

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Samuel, Rob, Bob and Lang at the bridge.

Rob drove us around the picturesque area with stops at the Muse Winery Swinging bridge on the Shenandoah River and a visit to the Woodstock Brew House in the town of Woodstock,  Va. The artisanal beer was a treat, as was another German favorite,

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Swinging bridge on the Shenandoah River


sauerbraten at a German restaurant 
in nearby Harrisonburg

On the way home from dinner we passed a Krispy Kreme donut store. They were excited. The red light was on. ?? We learned this means donuts are coming off a conveyor belt to be doused with glaze. Purchase them fresh and warm and enjoy on the spot. “You will love these,” they insisted. The boys had more than one each…   Bob and I failed to share their love of Krispy Kreme. We’ll take croissants, merci.  But, good to know about that red light. And, the German dinner was wunderbar.

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Virginia home of Rob, Samuel and Lang

Bob spent several days with Rob and the boys, then flew on to Ohio for a reunion with six of his seven brothers and sisters, as well as many nieces and nephews. They had a belated b’day celebration for Bob, 80 last October.  I flew west to San Diego for a reunion with some of my family.

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Bob, far right, with his brother John and sisters, from left,  Susan, Judy, Kathy and Sandra.  Missing: brothers George and Tim.

My brrother Tom, who now lives in San Francisco, wanted a reunion in San Diego where he had worked for several years. Brother Steve and sister-in-law Yoshie came from Boulder. Nephew David and his mother Joan came from Kentucky. Missing was brother Dave, Joan’s husband and David’s father, who had work commitments and could not join the fun.

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San Diego from the sailboat

Tom was our guide. He made sure we visited famed Balboa Park, his beloved Coronado, downtown landmarks and more. Thanks to nephew David, who combined business with pleasure, we were fullsizeoutput_14fcchauffeured in style. His rental car was upgraded to a gleaming, cherry red Cadillac. A tight squeeze, but we all piled in for a scenic ride up the coast to La Jolla where we took lots of photos of seals.

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Dave and the Caddy.

More seal photo opps awaited on our sailboat adventure with Captain Charley in the San Diego Bay. We enjoyed superb views of the city skyline, sailed past the Naval Base, and, in addition to seals, watched dolphins training to detect mines. All beautiful, fun and relaxing, until Joan realized her Iphone was missing — not to be found on board. It obviously had disappeared overboard. Although the phone was insured,  most of the photos had not been backed up.  Lesson learned: back up all. 

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I went  overboard with seal photos — too many.  But, I like this one.

Balboa Park, San Diego’s “cultural heart” with 17 museums, gardens, the city’s famous Zoo, plus stunning Spanish-Renaissance architecture, is impressive. Tom recommended a visit to the Botanical Building with more than 2,100 permanent plants, including collections of tropical plants and orchids. Alas, it was closed for cleaning. Instead we went to the Japanese Friendship Garden.

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Japanese Friendship Garden, Balboa Park

Yoshie, who is Japanese, enlightened us on many aspects of this marvelougarden with its streams and pools where vibrantly colored Koi (Japanese carp) swim.PFZfUgbsSI29iZgMpO3x4w

My favorite part of the San Diego visit was the Ocean Beach street fair. It is a regular happening, we learned, a feast for foodies with a range of international culinary treats: Mexican burritos, Chinese steamed buns, paella, lobster rolls, tangy East African specials, pizza – even crème brulee. Plus – lively music — and  dancing in the street. Tom and I joined the dancers.

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Joan went for pizza. This is one slice of a monster.

We ended California family fun at the beach in Coronado watching the sun set with a Margarita in hand. All agreed. We should have these reunions more often.  

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Dancing at the fair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scroll down for more of the family photo album.

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And the winner of the best San Diego sunset photo, brother Steve who shot the scene with a Panasonic Lumix LX100.  “I love this little camera,” says the photographer.
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In Ohio:  Bob’s niece Tammy and husband John.

 

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In California: The “boys”:  My brother Tom, nephew Dave and brother Steve.
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In California: The”girls”: sisters-in-law Yoshie ,Joan…and me
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In Ohio;  Bob’s niece Kim, husband Alan and nephew Jim.

Coming soon:  Rajasthan, the best of India, and then, Costa Rica, which followed this US trip.  If not a talesandtravel follower, sign up, upper right.  Your address is kept private and never shared.

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In Ohio:  foreground, Bob’s nephew John and wife Cindy.

A new taste — trout for fish lovers.  See recipe, click on photo above right,

Don’t be shy.  Please comment.  Click below and add your thoughts. I love feedback and hearing from friends and followers

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Les Rosiers: Summer 2015

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In a word, it was HOT. Week after week of temperatures in the upper 90s (Fahrenheit), even reaching 100 and above a few times. My roses, geraniums and petunias had to be watered continually. The grass (what little we have) turned brown. The pool water has never been so warm – too warm for me, but finally warm enough for delicate BB/VR* who was brave enough to jump in. This was only the fifth time he has been in the pool in the 10 years we have lived here. (Thanks to my dear mother who insisted my brothers and I all learn to swim at an early age, I am  a swimmer and love the water.  BB was not so lucky.)blog.pool2

Fall arrived too soon and too abruptly – for me… One will never be content.

Despite the heat, we enjoyed some fun activities and the wonderful folks who rented our guest apartment at Les Rosiers.

Klaus and Eva
Klaus and Eva

The season kicked off with the arrival of Klaus from Austria, his car loaded with Austrian delicacies and beer. He always brings us a generous gift of goodies, too. This was the fifth season that Klaus and his wife Eva have spent a month in our rental studio. She is still working as a legal secretary in Graz, arrives a week later by plane and only spends two weeks here. Klaus likes to cook and grill – lamb is his favorite. They know the area well, take long walks, swim, and visit friends and flea markets.  They have become friends, and it’s always a delight to have them here.

Patrick, Chantal and their bikes
Patrick, Chantal and their bikes

Then came the Belgians, Patrick and Chantal, with two motorcycles and two bicycles towed behind their car. We were amazed. Due to the heat, they spent most of their time on the motorcycles. One of the bicycles was electric, but since the terrain here is anything but flat, they preferred their motorcycles. They took long excursions, almost every day during their two-week sojourn.

Chantal said they have been vacationing in southern France every summer, but always camping. They especially enjoyed the tranquility at Les Rosiers. Camp sites can be very noisy, she said. And, they loved our town, Reillanne.

Sunday market in Reillanne
Sunday market in Reillanne

“It’s an authentic village, not a Disney village like so many in the Luberon,” said Patrick. “There are not that many tourists, not that much traffic.” They like to visit the village cafes and talk to the locals. And, they especially liked the Bar restaurant de la Place where they dined many times.

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Czech cyclists: Lara, Katarina, Luka and Jakub

More bicycles next – a Czech family of four with five bikes. Jakub and Katarina and children Lara, 9, and Luka, 5, were back for the second time. We were overwhelmed with their bicycle prowess two years ago when they set out day after day, all day on bikes, albeit Katarina towing Luka in a carriage and Lara’s bike sometimes attached to her father’s bike. Lara now rides on her own, and Luka rides the bike that can be attached to Jakub’s . We rode with them one day – lots of fun.

Jakub and Luka
 Luka behind Daddy Jakub

They arrived a day late after participating in an orientation competition in the Jura where Jakub took first place in one category. Here he conquered Mont Ventoux for the fifth time. That was the reason for five bikes – a super bike for the challenging climb.

“We always like to come back to Provence, the terrain, the living historic villages that are not just for tourists,” said Jakub.   We were happy to have them back.

The hardy cyclists enjoyed the pool after those rides in the blazing Provence sun.
The hardy cyclists enjoyed the pool after those rides in the blazing Provence sun.

Wine was the focus for Patricia and Serge, visitors who come from Brittany. They traveled far and wide to buy Provence wine, driving 1,700 kilometers in the region, visiting six wineries and ending up with 14 cases of wine to take home.

Serge and Patricia
Serge and Patricia

Each evening when they returned from a buying trek they shared their adventures and raved about places they visited – some we had not known about.   Serge says they always buy the wine of the regions they visit. They live in an area of vineyards near the Loire where he helps harvest the grapes.

Serge's bounty
Serge’s Provence souvenirs

They presented us with a bottle of Grand Reserve Muscadet Sevre et Maine sur Lie which we tasted when they invited us to a super fish dinner Patricia prepared. She served the fish with beurre blanc, a well known sauce for fish in Brittany. She shared her recipe which I have tried to master. Mine could not hold a candle to hers, but I will keep trying. When I am successful, we will open the precious bottle of Muscadet.

Niki from Athens
Niki came to visit from Athens.  We met on a student ship 50 years ago!.

We visited the US this summer (see previous post, “USA: Summer 2015,” July14) and the Mediterranean coast (previous post: “Cannes: Far from the Madding crowd,” Aug. 20).

We recently went back to the coast for a gala evening at the Hotel Belles Rives in Juan les Pins/Antibes. Our Finnish friends, Terttu and Mikko, have a rental apartment which they generously offered us. In addition to dining and dancing, I swam in the Med which sure beats a pool, and we took a short but scenic hike around Cap d’Antibes.

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La Dolce vita.
The Med at Juan les Pins
The Med at Juan les Pins

We are not sorry the heat has subsided, but sorry that summer is over.  The days are getting too short.  Some restaurants will soon close for the season.  No more concerts and village festivals.  Winter can be bleak here, and it’s  a long wait for spring.

Photos of other summer activities follow.

BB/VR and Filippo chill out poolside.
BB/VR* and Filippo chill out poolside.

*Bicycle Bob/Vino Roberto

Lake Vannades near Manosque where I enjoyed a real swim
Lake Vanades near Manosque where I enjoyed a real swim
 A Bastille Day Mechoui-- lamb grilled on an open fire.

A Bastille Day Mechoui– lamb grilled on an open fire.

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The Med at Cap d'Antibes
The Med at Cap d’Antibes

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The lavender must like the heat. The color was especially vibrant this summer.
The lavender must like the heat. The color was especially vibrant this summer.

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Champion swimmers, Koa and Nai'a, friend Lynne's Irish water spaniels. We swim together at Lake Ste. Croix
Champion swimmers, Koa and Nai’a, friend Lynne’s Irish water spaniels. We swim together at Lake Ste. Croix

Tiny Aix – a French Island Paradise

This was my favorite of the recent visit to France’s mid-Atlantic coast. See previous post, “Discovering more of France,” June 2015. aix.blog7

Islands are intriguing. These chunks of land surrounded by water are a curiosity, and much more. They inspire and captivate our imagination, offering a unique way of life, a different state of mind.aix.blog11

The miniscule French island of Aix off the country’s mid-Atlantic coast is indeed an island pearl. Step off the ferry from the mainland and enter an enchanted world – no cars, little commerce, just one hotel. Aix has not been gussied up for tourists. It’s authentic with many buildings in need of a coat of paint. Its few shops seem to have changed little in decades. There are no fancy restaurants, no classy cafes – just a small number of simple eateries.aix.blog8

About 240 residents live on the island which is 1.8 miles long and .4 miles wide.   Of the permanent inhabitants, only 100 remain on the island in winter. In summer, between 4,000 and 5,000 tourists arrive each day to bike, walk, swim, fish and soak in the beguiling island ambience. Most leave in the evening. The nights are silent, magic.

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“I come here every chance I get. It’s a little paradise,” said Christine Lacaud who lives in Rochefort, a city in the Poitou-Charentes region adjacent to the ferry departure point in Fouras.

Island resident and historian Pierre Antoine Berniard sums it up: “When you take the boat and arrive here, there’s something different… Kids can play everywhere. There are no cars to hurt them. It’s really a privilege.”aix.blog4

I spent a night at Aix’s Hotel Napoleon, a charming abode with just 18 rooms and an excellent restaurant, Chez Josephine. Our group had come to admire the replica of the frigate Hermione anchored off shore before its April departure for an amazing journey to the U.S., duplicating a voyage of 235 years ago. During that epic voyage, the ship ferried Marquis de Lafayette across the Atlantic to help General George Washington and the rebels in the fight for American independence. (See previous post, “Hail Hermione,” May 2015)

Aix harbor decorated for the departure of the frigate Hermione to the US.
Aix harbor decorated for the departure of the frigate Hermione to the US.

The magnificent ship was just one attraction. We also biked. You can walk around the island in two to three hours, or take a leisurely horse-drawn carriage ride, but discovering Aix by bike seems to be the most popular. There are several bike rental depots. Ride through lush forests, marshlands, along a rocky coast, past pristine beaches and hidden coves. It’s tranquil, peaceful — and flat. Pedaling is fun and easy.

Plenty of bikes for rent on Aix
Plenty of bikes for rent on Aix

Stop for an oyster break. Aix’s one weather-beaten oyster shack should be on a movie set – the perfect oyster shack stereotype. Oysters are shucked on the spot. Order a bottle of white wine; sit outside surrounded by stacks of oyster-growing paraphernalia, bikes and the sea. Oysters have never tasted better.

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Aix’s deputy mayor, Jean Claude Poisson, told me the island doctor, who lives there year round, does big business in summer thanks to oysters. Tourists comb the shore looking for the mollusks and cut their feet on the razor sharp rocks. The doctor is kept busy stitching wounded feet.

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A wealthy American, Eva Gebhard Gourgaud, gets credit for Aix’s revival in the 1920s. The island, initially settled by monks in the Middle Ages, played an important role in France’s military history throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. During the Napoleonic period, several thousand troops were lodged in forts and barracks on the island. Napoleon even requested reinforcements of Aix’s fortifications after an island visit in 1808.

Carriage rides are popular
Carriage rides are popular

But by the beginning of the 20th century, the military presence was on the decline. The island was dying. A French journalist wrote a report on the island’s imminent demise. Eva, wife of Baron Napoleon Gourgaud who was a descendant of Napoleon’s aide, read the article, visited, and fell in love with Aix. ”She decided to buy everything.” Berniard said. She opened the island to culture and aix.blog6tourism.

A tourist favorite is the house where Napoleon surrendered to the English in 1815, and where he spent his last three days on French soil before being exiled to St. Helena in the South Atlantic. This year marks 200 years since Napoleon returned to France after nine months of exile on the island of Elba.

The house, which has displays on the Napoleonic era, is open to visitors, as is Aix’s Mother of Pearl House where proprietor Herve Gallet will tell you the fascinating story about the island and mother of pearl.aix.blog9

His parents moved to Aix in 1948, hoping to grow grape vines and sell wine. That failed, so they started making objects of shells collected on the beach to sell to tourists. That enterprise took off, and they expanded to make products of mother of pearl. “There are 148,000 varieties of sea shells,” Gallet said, “but only 16 can be used for mother of pearl.” Mother of pearl was imported from India, Mexico, Polynesia and other countries, since shells from Aix are not suitable.

Mother of pearl in the making
Mother of pearl in the making

Between 1720 and 1980, mother of pearl was a major industry in France, Gallet explained, with some 30,000 workers in the country producing buttons. On Aix, however, mother of pearl was used to make souvenirs and decorative items, not buttons. These are still made by Gallet. In his workshop he demonstrates the process of extracting and polishing mother of pearl from shells. His Mother of Pearl house is a type of museum where an audio guide and videos explain the biology and chemistry of sea shells. His shop offers an extensive range of mother of pearl products, from reasonably priced jewelry items to a mirror with a price tag of 1,750 euros.   I bought two pairs of earrings — a pearl souvenir from a pearl of an island.

Hotel Napoleon, http://www.hotel-ile-aix.com

Les Paillotes, island restaurant, http://www.restaurantlespaillotes.fr

In addition to the Hotel Napoleon, Aix offers numerous bed and breakfast accommodations. www.Iledaix.fr

More on Aix: www.iledaix.fr/?lang=en

The Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oléron are two other, much larger French islands off the country’s west coast. Both also offer beaches, biking, hiking, boating, fishing – plus more hotels. http://www.holidays-iledere.co.uk/and oleron-island.com

Try my aioli — the recipe featured in Today’s Taste in column at right.

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Myanmar Beach Adventure

beach.9A long, broad strip of sand, a calm sea, a few lonely swimmers, a few more sunbathers lounging in beach chairs, tranquility: Myanmar’s Ngapali Beach is unspoiled splendor.

After our two-week sightseeing tour of this fascinating land (see previous posts: Burma Background and Myanmar’s Astonishing Sights), we sought seaside relaxation.

Our beach hotel, one of many luxury resorts here, offered a spacious sea-front room, pool, outdoor dining on a terrace above the beach – all in a perfectly manicured verdant setting.

luxury beach hotel--but not ours.
luxury beach hotel–but not ours.

This is Myanmar for tourists. Just outside the hotel grounds is reality: rutted, dusty roads, primitive shacks, broken down temples, wild tropical vegetation. Plus, lots of motorcycles, women walking with burdens balanced on their heads, noisy kids, homeless dogs, monks draped in burgundy, nuns in pink…beach.36

While the hotel world was paradise perfect, we left the sanctuary several times to explore the real world. First, a trip by “bus,” a rickety tuck-tuck type vehicle beach.5with two parallel hard wooden benches for seats, passengers crammed together. The “bus” sped over the ruts, passengers holding on to anything for support while bouncing up and down, jolting to and fro. There were many stops, and not just for passengers to get on and off.

We stopped to pick up a few huge sacks of ice at an ice factory where a vintage machine crushed big ice blocks. The sacks were piled in the middle of the two rows of bus passengers. Then a gas station for a wee bit of petrol. And, stops for giving donations. In Myanmar, a country of devout Buddhists, it’s common to see folks along the roads with large silver colored bowls. These are for offerings for monks. Passers-by often stop and throw in some money.  The bus stopped to oblige those wanting to contribute.

Nuns wear pink.
Nuns wear pink.

A woman with a bucket of live squid sat next to me. Another had a few eels on top of a pail of ice. Most had large parcels. Young men jumped on and off at random, hanging out the back of the vehicle. I was intrigued by the scene, but, BB (husband Bicycle Bob) seemed in agony and was all too happy to finally reach our destination, the inland town of Thandwe, after a 45-minute painful ride. I wanted to visit the town’s market in search of souvenir bargains. Alas, this was just a huge, chaotic, smelly market of produce, clothing, hardware. We did buy some fruit, a bathing suit for BB, some instant coffee, cookies, soft drinks and a couple of bottles of beer – all for less than $10.

Souvenirs for sale on the beach-- but not in town.
Souvenirs for sale on the beach– but not in town.

There are no taxis in these parts. BB was not up for a return bus ride. We walked all over town, looking for someone we could persuade to give us a ride for cash. Finally the driver of an old and dirty station wagon agreed after his friend, who understood our request, translated.

Unfortunately the bus ride did a number on his BB’s butt. He is skinny – no padding, and ended up with rear end welts. The salty sea water only enhanced the pain. Since he is not a swimmer, he did not seem to miss forays into the water.beach.30

I did myself in with a bargain priced all-body Myanmar massage. Huts whose proprietors offer all kinds of massages for less than $10 are profuse at one end of the beach. My masseur, a slight fellow with the power of an Olympic weight lifter, pounded, stretched and jerked my body for an hour.   Not pleasant, especially since I had sore ribs. On the last day of the sightseeing trip I fell, my ribs landing on my hard camera. The massage finished off the rib injury. Moving my arms was agony. I could no longer swim – my second favorite sport after skiing.beach.16

So, we walked along the beach, went to a “cooking school,” and rented bikes. BB, a bicycle aficionado, was not happy with the bikes, simple, ancient models, but there was no choice. The ride – even more ruts than on the bus ride. We pedaled to a nearby town, a wreck of a fishing village. We saw where much of the factory ice ended up. Trucks loaded down with the heavy bags pulled up to a wharf of sorts. Men loaded as many as five of the bags on their shoulders and headed down a jetty to the boats.beach.15

Along our bike route we passed areas blanketed with plastic sheets upon which fish baked in the sun. Dried fish are a staple in much of Myanmar cuisine. While we love fish — the fresh variety which was plentiful and delicious here — the stench of the dried fish was a bit much.beach.17

BB’s butt was still sore, so he passed on a snorkeling trip. I gave it a try since more leg than arm movement is involved in snorkeling. I was the only passenger in a simple motor boat driven by a man and his young son. The snorkeling was a disappointment – few fish. But, the ride was interesting, with a stop at a

Mini island
Mini island

miniscule island with a mini restaurant selling food and drinks at inflated prices.

The women who ply the beach selling fruit from the baskets on their heads have also learned to inflate prices. Why not? If the tourists are dumb enough to pay… But, when one wanted to charge me more than $2 for three small bananas and $3 for a mango, I refused.   Bananas are like peanuts in Myanmar – profuse, and I can buy a tropical mango in France for $3 or less.

Except for the soothing sounds of the sea slapping the shore, the only beach sound is these fruits sellers advertising their wares. They saunter up and down, past all the hotel lounge chairs, calling out in sing-song tone, “Ming guh la ba (hello), pineapple, banana, coconut.”   It was like a ritual chant.beach.13

On one of our walks we had seen a sign in front of a rundown restaurant advertising cooking lessons. We liked the food in Myanmar. Since I love to cook, why not sign up? The kitchen was a health inspector’s nightmare, but our two instructors, neither of whom spoke English, washed their hands frequently. They chopped, sliced and diced with professional skill. The resulting meal was excellent, especially the avocado salad (see recipe in column at right).blog.9

In addition to the beach massage “parlors,”   food shacks are lined up along one part of the beach with tables in the sand. We became regulars at one run by a couple and their niece, a friendly young girl who spoke a bit of English and helped me master a few words of Myanmar. I had befriended one of the numerous homeless dogs and wanted to buy some food for it. I tried several beach eateries. All refused to sell me chicken pieces for a dog, except this one, hence we gave them our regular business.beach.27

The man was the chef. I asked to watch him prepare fish over an open fire in his tiny, rustic kitchen and picked up a few tips. For a beach finale dinner, we splurged on lobster. Perfect, and my friendly dog even appeared to bid good-bye.beach.35

Myanmar is on the move, emerging from decades of isolation and repression. Tourism is booming. Roads, including the one to the Ngapali beach resorts from the nearest airport, are being improved. Soon there will be quality bikes to rent and Cordon-Bleu type cooking schools at the beach. Throughout the country, new hotels are under construction. People are learning new skills, including English, to qualify for jobs in the tourist industry. According to an official estimate, the hotel and catering industry could create over a half million jobs in Myanmar by 2020. Lives will improve. But, hopefully the rapid rise of tourism will not destroy the allure of Myanmar, a place Rudyard Kipling found “quite unlike any place you know about.”beach.2

See below for more photos. And, for a different take on ratatouille, try Lecso, a Hungarian version mentioned in my recent blog post, Swiss Slopes Welcome Journalists. Click on photo at right for the recipe. Comments and new subscribers welcome. Add your email address at top right to receive future posts.beach.19

Village school along our bike route
Village school along our bike route

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Visiting monk from Thailand where monks wear orange.
Visiting monk from Thailand where monks wear orange.

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Sand Art
Sand Art

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Wild and Wonderful Corsica

Bonifacio ,
Bonifacio
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According to the sign posted at the beginning of the hiking trail in the Corsican mountains, it was a one-hour trek to Lac de Melu.  Piece of cake, I figured, and a good test for my new knee.corsica.55,

Two hours later we were still huffing and puffing, scrambling over rocks —   even a few times on all fours for me.  No lake in sight. We had conquered the challenging, extra steep sections of chains and ladders.  But, the trail of all rocks went on and on, up and up.  At times it was frustrating to figure out which way to proceed over this stony sea.  The trail was marked by yellow slashes on the rocks, but often they were hard to spot.

Find the yellow slash -- the trail marker.
Find the yellow slash — the trail marker.

I was about to give up when we encountered a group on their way down.  “How much farther?” I asked.  “It’s not that far.  Will you make it?  If you want I can accompany you,” answered the mountain guide who was leading the others.   I must have looked near death, which is about the way I felt, but there was no way I would ask for assistance.  Now I was more determined than ever to conquer this trail.

After two hours and 10 minutes we reached the lovely lake.  How could anyone make it here in one hour?   We are old, but not decrepit. That sign was meant for Himalayan sherpas.corsica.36b

Getting down was no easy task.  The rocks, all sizes, were demanding.  You had to keep your eyes on the trial below at all times to figure out where to put your foot next, on top of which boulder, into which crevice.  I was petrified of falling, of breaking a leg, screwing up my knee.  How would I be rescued?  No helicopters could land anywhere near this surface of rugged rocks. I did fall once, but fortunately I had given my camera to BB (husband Bicycle Bob) who was more steady a foot.  I ended up with a badly bruised leg, but nothing broken, including my precious camera.

Refilling the water bottles.
Refilling the water bottles.

In our younger days, BB and I did some long and tough mountain hikes in the Swiss Alps – several days on the trail with backpacks.  We loved it.  This was different.  “Most hikes are strenuous, but enjoyable,” he remarked. “This was work, labor intensive.”

What a relief to get the work over with, to reach the hut at the bottom – and to enjoy that satisfying sense of accomplishment after conquering a mountain.  O.K.  This was just a lake, not a mountain, and we were slow.  But, we did it.  My knee passed the test.corsica.14b

Rocks abound in Corsica—not just on mountain trails.  Along the coast.  On the beaches.  In the sea.  Rocks in the shape of animals, human faces, surrealistic

Natural rock.
Natural rock.

sculptures.

Not long after we disembarked from our all-night ferry ride to this island in the Med (Toulon to Ajaccio); we stopped to visit the archeological site, Filitosa, on our way south.  Incredible rocks there. We followed the path through the site where artifacts dating to as early as 3,300 have been found.  Ancient civilizations lived in caves here.  During the megalithic period they erected menhir statues, granite monoliths, carved to represent human faces or entire figures.  They are intriguing, as are the natural rock formations in the area.

Menhir
Menhir

Onward to the coast and the tiny town of Tizzano for five nights at the Hotel du Golfe, which advertises that it has its feet in the sea. The Mediterranean waters were right below the balcony of our room.  Awake to the soothing sounds of the sea gently slapping the rocks. The hotel beach is just a miniscule patch of sand surrounded by those rocks. Getting in and out of the sea was a bit tricky maneuvering over the hurdles, but the water was perfect. I swam and swam and swam with no one in sight.

Mini beach on a windy day --too dangerous to swim
Mini beach on a windy day –too dangerous to swim

During our October visit to this island utopia we enjoyed still warm weather and mostly blue skies – and tranquility.  The tourist season was over.  On the plus side, no crowds anywhere and the highways to ourselves.  On the down side, many shops, hotels and restaurants had already closed for the season.  All four of the restaurants in Tizzano were boarded shut.

There is just one winding road down the mountain from the inland town of Sartène leading to our mini burg and the sea. Winter Tizzano population:

Chopinette, my favorite Corsican,
Chopinette, my favorite Corsican,

30 humans and lots of felines.   In the summer:  3,000 tourists.  In October:  us, the locals, a few other tourists and the friendly cats.  I was in heaven.

Since BB is not a swimmer and we wanted to see more than Tizzano, we set out on excursions every day, to Ponte Vecchio on the eastern coast, to Bonifacio in the far southwestern corner of the island, and on foot one day for a hike along corsica.15bthe shore.  No leisurely stroll along a sandy beach was this, but a demanding trek through coastal bush –and yet more boulders.  The scenery was splendid with more fantastic rock formations to photograph.

Ponte Vecchio is basically a resort town with lots of sailboats in the harbor, narrow streets with cute boutiques (most closed) and restaurants (also most closed).  Not too exciting.  Bonifacio is different, a two-level, lively town.  The haute ville, an amazing sight, perches precariously atop a cliff on a thin peninsula.  Skinny streets twist past ancient buildings, including numerous churches.   We followed the advice of the woman in the tourist office and set off to the Escalier du Roi d’Aragon – 187 steps from a corner of the town’s citadel plunging to the sea.  Scary, steep steps. Descending them is an exhilarating adventure.  They plummet straight down and at times involve big jumps – one step where there should be two.corsica.20b

The winds were ferocious on the day of our Bonifacio visit. Mammoth waves roared and crashed into the rocks. We had been told the best view of the city is from the water, but due to the wind velocity, tourist boats were not running.

So, let’s splurge on lunch. Food is always a highlight of our travels.  Since so many restaurants were closed, our choices were limited.  We had few memorable meals in Corsica, including one we’d like to forget — the $98 (72 euro) fish at a harbor restaurant in Bonifacio.  We like fish and craved a fresh Mediterranean corsica.26catch.  The waiter brought out a tray of specimens and recommended a “Sar.”  We had never heard of this fish, but were game to try, not bothering to ask the price.  Bad move. The astronomical bill  –the fish had been priced at nine euros per 100 grams –was a  shock.   Our Sar was a big fellow, tasty, perhaps not that tasty, but it did come with some veggies and potatoes.

Corte's citadel
Corte’s citadel

Cap Corse, the island finger at the northern tip, was our destination for three days before boarding the ferry in Bastia for the trip back to Toulon.  En route we spent a night at the interior town of Corte so we could do the lake hike.  Hiking is just one of numerous outdoor activities offered in Corsica – all kinds of water sports plus mountain adventures:  canyoning, rock climbing, zip line etc.corsica.3

The drive through the interior is spectacular – miles and miles of rugged nature over excellent roads.   Although Corsica is a vacation paradise, it has not been scarred by mass tourism.  There are vast pristine sections in both the interior and along the coast — no towns, no hotels, no commerce.

Erbalunga
Erbalunga

Our hotel in the coastal town of Erbalunga was not on the beach, but it did have a large heated pool — my private pool – no other swimmers.

We drove along the Cap coast with many photo stops.  We drove through the middle of the peninsula over roads that averaged more than a dozen curves per kilometer.  Along the route:  stops for wine tasting and buying.  Wine is the island’s principal export.  According to my guidebook bible, Lonely Planet corsica.38bCorsica, the wines “are not necessarily the most distinguished of wines.”   Some of the grape varieties (Niellucciu for one) are unique to Corsica.  As BB seems to like wine more than bicycles these days, we bought a supply.

corsica.47Bastia, a town of crumbling splendor, is fun to explore: a busy harbor, imposing citadel, intriguing hillside park, ancient churches – and shops that were open.  Throughout the trip I had been searching for stores where I could purchase Corsican delicacies – cheese, sausage, honey, jams.  No luck. In Bastia’s thriving shopping district, I found my treasures at last.corsica.48b

I hope to return to Corsica, but in late September before so much shuts down for winter.  And, I’d go back to Tizzano and the Hotel du Golfe.  Gil Chopin, the hotel proprietor, told me he was born in the town but moved on to work in Paris and other cities.  “I missed nature, the sea.”  He came back.  “We live in harmony with nature here.  Each day is different.  Each day I am astonished.  For me, this is paradise.”  It was paradise for me, too.

Hotel du Golfe,Tizzano.  A perfect coastal retreat. The simple but comfortable rooms all have balconies above the Med.  Idyllic location. http://www.hoteldugolfetizzano.com

On the terrace at Hotel du Golfe
On the terrace at Hotel du Golfe

Hotel Castel Brando, Erbalunga, Cap Corse. Spacious accommodations including rooms with private terraces, lovely garden for breakfast  (ample, including do-it-yourself eggs and pancakes) and a super heated pool.  http://www.castelbrando.com

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