Tag Archives: beach

Corsica: Back to Ajaccio

Today really marks the beginning of the end as I return to Ajaccio in preparation for the flight home tomorrow. It’s kind of odd not to have to get up early in order to cram in five hours walking, but, given this is a holiday, it?s also rather welcome. (Well, I could have gone for the early bus to the capital, but I decided to relax in laid-back Porto instead.)

Genoese fort, Porto, Corsica

The curse of the low season strikes again, as the tower is closed at ten in the morning despite the sign saying that it opens at nine. I am told it actually opens at eleven, but at five past the gates are still chained shut.

I head for a coffee in one of the few open cafes. While I wait, the tower opens. Indeed, now the sign says it opens at eleven.

First stop on the way up is a small museum. It starts with a bible passage and heads downhill from there. It?s difficult to tell exactly what it?s for. It?s not exactly about Porto, it’s not all religious or historical. I guess it adds value-for-money to the entrance fee for the tower. Inside the tower is nearly as disappointing — and also only in French — but, fortunately, the same cannot be said of the view from the roof.

View over Porto from the Genoese fort, Corsica

The stop for the bus back to Ajaccio is in some doubt. The tour notes say not to believe the tourist office but it seems slightly implausible that it should leave thirty minutes walk up-hill away from the town centre. Implausible or not, it’s true and I leave Porto with the rumble of my wheely-luggage. Once on the bus, the trip is surprisingly quick and efficient. The roads start very narrow, with magnificent views over the coast and horrifying drops to the same. Once past Piana the roads remain twisty and narrow but are less likely to induce travel sickness.

Ajaccio seems very different on my return. Somehow smaller, but familiar and busy. I’ve spent most of the week seeing almost no one else, just the odd walker and a regular at a hotel bar. Seeing cars zipping in and out of traffic is a shock.

I take a quick wander around before heading back to the airport. On the first night it seemed large and alien. Today it seemed much smaller and more manageable.

Ajaccio harbour

I took Cours Napoleon as far as the beach, took a detour via the the Citadel, which was much more closed than that in Corte. Still a military base, the place is surrounded by barbed wire fences. Nearby is the restaurant I ate at on my first night here — that seemed miles away at the time!

Ajaccio street

I meander back up to the main shopping street, Rue Cardinal Fesch, which at this time on a Saturday is still largely closed. I had hoped to bring back a little something but ended having to go into a super market for a bottle of local wine — not exactly what I’d been planning. (Typically I picked the only bottle in the whole store that would not scan. My French wasn’t really up to the ensuing conversation so I just nodded and smiled until they took some money.)

Overall it was a fairly relaxing end to a great walking holiday. Some of the hikes had pushed my abilities but, ultimately, that’s a good thing. Even at the time where I was totally exhausted, the magnificent sights of the country never let me down. The food and hospitality were a bonus, and I loved the fact that Corsica is not just an extension of France. Despite the links, it truly has its own identity. It’s surprises like this keep me travelling.

The Beach

Baker Beach

This weeks PhotoFriday theme is “The Beach.” Here is my entry.

When I first saw the challenge I thought of the Danny Boyle movie of the same name. Unfortunately I didn’t go anywhere near a beach when I went to Thailand, and when I went to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam it was so foggy you could barely see it was there! So instead my entry is a picture of Baker Beach in San Francisco from my first trip to California.

Also, please vote for my entry in last weeks challenge, “Fantasy.” I’m entry number 160.

California, 2006

Golden Gate BridgeHaving only ever been to the States once before 2006, it came as a bit of a surprise to find myself in California only a month after my trip to New York. To be fair, this one had been planned some time in advance. A good friend of my wife was getting married, so a good chunk of the week would be taken up with bridal activities. However we made sure that there would be enough time for some sight-seeing too, after all, this is where my wife grew up.

Knowing time was limited, we started pretty much as soon as the plane landed. We picked up the hire car and headed straight into San Francisco. Since we had to pass through on the way to Laffayette — where we were staying for most our time in California — it made sense to stop at a few sights.

Sign on Golden Gate BridgeFirst stop was Baker Beach, which provided a great view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and my first glance of the Pacific Ocean. Later, when walking across the bridge we came across this sign encouraging people not to jump. Is it just me, or does that seem to be too little too late?

The day of the dress fitting, I spent some time hanging around downtown San Francisco. As an Apple and email junkie, it was necessary to spend some time in the Apple Store. (If you can’t go “high-tech” in the Bay Area where can you do it?) Later, away from the technology, we found the City Lights Bookstore, Fisherman’s Wharf, the seals on Pier 39 and many of the other things that The City is famous for.

San Francisco cable car operatorAlthough tragically touristy, I felt that I had to ride on one of the cable cars. One of the things that they don’t tell you about before-hand is that they pack you in almost as much as a London underground train. Unlike London Transport, however, the only thing stopping you falling into the street is your vice-like grip on poles on the tram. It’s not uncommon to breath in or clench buttocks in preparation for a collision with a car. The scrapes never actually happened but surely it must sometimes?

For the whole ride, from one end of San Francisco to the other, only takes twenty minutes or so. For the whole time the operator is pulling levers and tugging on a frayed string that rings a bell. It’s anyone’s guess what the levers actually do.

Napa ValleyAfter the wedding was over, we finally got some “us” time and headed north to the Napa Valley, the Californian wine region. We ended up spending most of the money we’d saved by staying in Lafayette the previous week by splashing out on a lovely spa-style hotel in Yountville and dining in a great French-style restaurant.

Only ninety minutes from the Bay Area, we got to the hotel fairly early, checked in and decided to take a look further down the valley. We headed further up the 29 and stopped off at the St Supery Winery for a quick drink. The staff were suitably enthusiastic — unimpressed with our choice of wine, he insisted we try a fifth variety — and the wine agreeable enough to warrant the purchase of a couple of bottles.

Lacking a “designated driver” we decided to steer clear of further wineries (as tempting as further tasting was). We turned off the main road and headed back in a lazy loop back to Yountville. The map we were using indicated a lake but had no suggestions how to actually get there. We guessed and were lucky. It was a nice, tranquil spot just metres from the main road.

The whole area clearly has pretensions to being Tuscany. The green and gently undulating country-side certainly helps in this and many buildings are built in the style. It’s quite surprising that it gets so close!

Sonoma MissionOur last full day in California was busy. Starting in Yountville we had to head back to the Bay Area and then further south to San Jose at the centre of Silicon Valley. Our last evening would be spent in the company of Madonna.

But we had to get there first and it only takes a couple of hours to get back to Oakland. We decided to stay up in the wine region for as long as possible but wanted to nip over to the Sonoma Valley which runs parallel to the more famous Napa Valley but also has its fair share of wineries.

Knowing that we weren’t in a hurry, we took our time, stopping off a few times on the way. A few times just to take the odd picture, once in Sonoma itself and finally for lunch at one of the wineries.

Grapes growing in a winerySonoma had a nice, shady square bordered by shops. We wandered around, stopping at the Sonoma Mission, learning about all the Christian missions that were built and stretched all the way from Mexico.

We eat lunch and head straight down to Oakland (it was inexplicably late afternoon by this point). After all the green and space, even if it was only for twenty-four hours, the dense traffic somehow managed to come as a shock to the system. Perhaps in-keeping with the relative chaos of the freeway, our last few hours in the country would be hectic. There was the Madonna concert and then a last chance to meet up with family. The whole time has gone in a flash.

Back home we collapsed. We covered a lot of ground in California and could happily do with another few days off to recover. No such luck of course. Still, the good news is that we’ll be back.

Sri Lanka, 2001

Sri Lanka (nee Ceylon) is famous for its tea and Arthur C. Clarke, but, as I found out, there’s much more to it than that!

We started in Negombo, a beach resort a few miles away from the airport, moved round to take in the ‘Cultural Triangle’, down to Kandy, Adams Peak and a tea plantation. Finally, we headed to Unawatuna, a beach resort near to Galle (and the England – Sri Lanka test series) and then back to Negombo for the last night. We made plenty of stops along the route.

A combination of a new camera and the beauty of the place meant that I took as many pictures in Sri Lanka as I took in Georgia and Thailand put together! Here I present the highlights.

Click the small pictures below for a full size version.

All these pictures were taken on my Canon EOS300, mainly on Fuji Superior ISO400 film. I ran out of film towards the end of the trip so the last few are on Kodak Max (ISO400).

The same pictures that are on Kodak film have white lines down the middle. They are scratches on the negative that appear to have been put there during either developing or printing. I’m tempted to name the guilty company…

If the pictures have piqued your interest, there are a few web sites that you might want to visit:

  • The Lonely Planet guide is usually worth consulting.
  • If you prefer hard-copy (much more portable than your laptop!), you can buy a copy from Amazon (UK or US).