France, Corsica and Sardinia, Late October 2012.
There are those who favor cruises based on a certain fundamental view of travel—you only have to unpack once. Pilgrims on the tourist trail find that central to their tour. The security of the same room, the facilities in the same spot, the same steward, the same waiters and the same dinner companions is appealing, comforting to them.
there are times when travel asks something more of us
But there are times when travel asks something more of us. Not to wade in malarial jungles or endure blizzards on a treacherous mountain track, but to adapt, to move, to keep moving, always moving with brief pauses to see, to hear, to work out a sense of place and its meaning, but moving just the same. And moving early in the morning as others are opening shops or heading for work. It means moving after dinner from a small restaurant that caught your eye and onto an unfamiliar street to a hotel which should be near but you aren’t sure exactly where. It reduces, a bit, to the hedgehog and the fox comparison but in this case, the hedgehog masters little.
In late October of 2012, on leaving our rented live-aboard, pilot-yourself boat in Agen, we bought tickets and boarded a train for Aix en Provence. Delays put us in Marseilles late for the connection. Rather than fight with the others trying to find some space on the next crowded train so they could arrive at an hour from midnight, we switched tickets for the next morning.
With a fierce Mistral wind at our backs, we hustled to the nearest hotel, got a room and opened the door as the whistle we first heard exploded into a roar . . . violent shadows tore at the wall, obscure objects swayed wildly. Lights on and it was just a window left open, blowing the curtains and the bathroom door. The window shut, all is quiet. Now, a drink, a pleasant dinner, a good night’s sleep.
Aix was still there in the morning as we rolled our bags down deserted streets. We stumbled across the Hotel des Quatre Dauphins. The location was ideal, the price was more than reasonable, and it was sweetly decorated, charming with small touches not always seen on first glance. As a bonus, they let us check in at 9:00 AM. Aix is a wanderer’s town with enough slight hills and bent streets to avoid getting monotonous, and we walked contentedly.
A bus the next day took us to Toulon by late afternoon. Rolling our bags, we navigated the winding streets of the old section, came to the port, had dinner and boarded our ferry for Corsica, settling into a pleasant private room with a full bath.
The snow covered mountains of Corsica were visible beyond Ajaccio when we docked early morning. Here we were in Napoleon’s birthplace. We found a hotel near the older part of town, ditched the bags, and made the most of the day.
The next morning we rolled our bags to the bus stop and boarded for Propriano. The beautiful mountain scenery, the small towns, and the sense that in many ways this was like rural mainland France of forty years ago stayed with us as we reached Propriano. We found a small hotel right on the harbor and a simple dinner which was just right.
Our ferry was in port as we walked out of the hotel at seven the next morning. A short walk along the harbor, onto the ferry, and off for a four hour sail to Porto Torres, Sardinia.
By late morning we disembarked in Puerto Torres and killed time until bus to Sassari finally arrived. Connections from Sassari forward were spotty, so we found a hotel and headed for a walk around an enormous town square and into a friendly little bar serving snacks. Sardinia, like Corsica, seems an older, quieter version of its non-island country. Sure, both have areas of tourist destinations, large hotels, condominiums, but where we visited that was absent. Instead we had the older tempo and the old local languages not only on street signs but heard in every setting.
Mid morning the following day we were on a twelve-stop Sardinian train, rolling nearly the length of the island to Cagliari. Hotel found, bags deposited, strolling commenced. That evening we found a true mom and pop Sardinian restaurant where the food was copious, varied, and delicious made even better by the friendly sales pitch, in Italian, of the owners.
A bus to the airport the next morning, an hour flight to Rome, a hotel for the night, and our trip would wind up in Las Vegas within 36 hours. But, of course, the story of Rome is a story unto itself.