Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Ajaccio, Corsica

Monday, 16 May 2011. The Thomson Destiny sails into Ajaccio on the island of Corsica.

We have not booked an excursion for this day and set off by walking around the harbour, which gives us this great view of the Destiny. Halfway up the chimney stack is a small bar that gives great views in all directions, though with only limited space so after having a look we didn't bother with it again.

The Clipper Bar was our favourite, with its nautical theme and ropes, halliards and mock ratlines as decoration. More or less from the same spot, but taken after twirling round to face the other way. Ajaccio was absolutely lovely.

We walked the full width of the harbour to where the harbour wall sheltered the moorings from the sea and then went back to the centre to explore the town a little.

Old street furniture - one of my great pleasures! Street lighting, signboards, road signs, advertising on walls, bollards, traffic lights, street name plaques... In England the latter are disappearing rapidly from our cities as new modern builds go up and owners or architects refuse to have them "disfigured" by street names. Madness. And maddening for strangers to a town or city, trying to find out where they are in relation to the map they are using.

A last look at the port and harbourside before we head into the town for a look round. There are statues of Napoleon Bonaparte all over the place. He was born in the town over a little shop a short way from the waterfront, which I think was either a dress shop or a tanning salon when we went past it - I should have taken more notice!

This statue has him dressed as a Roman emperor, one of his favourite fantasies so I believe - Josephine must have had an exciting time of it... This diminutive would-be Alexander the Great conquered a sizeable portion of Europe until his march into Russia ended disastrously and even once defeated and imprisoned he managed to escape and gather his devoted armies until he was finally defeated for good by Wellington and Blucher at Waterloo in 1815. Without him where would Sean Bean be today...?

So many inventions and everyday sayings came out of those horrendous war years when the whole of Europe including England were either conquered or convinced it was only a matter of time before he turned his attention their way. Tinned food, rifles, baguettes, "Going off at half-cock", "freezing the balls off a brass monkey" - actually the stand of brass on a fighting ship that held cannonballs ready for use.

We found a small road train and took a trip on it for a couple of hours for a very reasonable price. And look at the phone box too! Nice that a town so proud of Napoleon can find place for a reminder of the country that brought him to a halt!

We sat right at the back of the road train so that every little correction of steering at the front made us sway out into the middle of the road or to the kerb... A small party of French or Corsicans came late and a tiny woman squashed beside me. The commentary wasn't working so well in our carriage so they sang instead, doing drum and symbol noises for added effect. It was very jolly! At first...

The train stopped for photos at a few places then retraced its way along the coast back to where we had got on. The little woman was by now dozing and in grave danger of actually resting her head on my shoulder. I say, this entente cordiale is fair enough, but... with the memsahib sitting on my other side you know...

We returned to the ship and I had time to risk ridicule again by sketching the harbour wall from the Promenade Deck. From Corsica our next stop is Toulon. In Napoleon's time it was a huge French Naval Base - it remains so today, but during NB's war it was the scene in 1793 of a would-be rebellion in favour of restoring the French King which was foiled, resulting in the British Navy under Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, having to scarper as Napoleon retook the city. Napoleon was wounded and missed the brutal massacre of Toulon's rebels. Around 800-2000 people were shot or bayonetted to suppress the rebellion against... er... the rebellion.

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