Getting to the French island of Corsica might be a bigger adventure than actually being there. For Matt and me, the journey to the famed Mediterranean island was quite a doozy, and it put to the test every scrap of insider travel knowledge that we’ve earned in these past few months.
From Chamonix, we took a minor bus ride from our campground into town and then hopped a bus three hours in the wrong direction to Lyon (intentionally). Of course, this bus ran late and we almost missed our connecting bus, which luckily for us was also running late. After convincing the driver in my very unconvincing French that the tardiness was not our fault, he fortunately let us aboard and dropped us off more than seven hours later at the airport on the outskirts of Nice. (The irony of being lectured about punctuality on a continent that is perpetually behind schedule should not go unnoticed here.)
Since this second bus was also rather late, all normal public transit into the city had ceased for the night. After waiting at the wrong bus stop for half an hour, we finally got on a night bus into town, which we thought would take us almost directly to the hotel room that was becoming more distant a dream with each passing minute. This bus fully lived up to every ounce of night bus infamy and finally deposited us on exactly the opposite side of the city from where we were trying to be.
By this time it was well past midnight and we met a friendly Caribbean woman who took pity on our confusion, though we feared she would abandon us when we told her that we hadn’t bought tickets for the night bus at all. Fortunately she forgave us this three euro oversight and sent us off with excessively detailed instructions to our hotel.
After a 40-minute walk, we turned onto the street of our hotel, a wide avenue with the train station on one side and shops and restaurants on the other. What we found there we can only assume was some kind of crime scene, with police cars parked at jagged angles all along the street and untrustworthy looking people scurrying in all directions.
When we finally reached the haven of the Best Western Rivieria’s lobby, we were greeted by a receptionist who was evidently involved in some sort of competition for Hospitality Employee of the Year, or maybe who was on a mission to singlehandedly disprove every Rude French Person stereotype that has ever crossed a tourist’s mind. Either way, this very friendly man rambled on for at least 15 minutes, offering us ice cream and internet codes even as Matt and I were sidling not so subtly toward the tiny elevator.
We spent the next day exploring Nice, which we concluded to be the French version of Miami, and the following day we packed up and set out to catch a ferry even further south to Corsica. After a substantial walk to the port, lugging our packs through the sun baked streets, we discovered that our boat was a full three hours late. So that’s how we ended up eating sandwiches on the sidewalk and feeling pretty homeless (but, let’s be honest, that’s pretty much how we exist in all the cities we’ve visited).
We finally got on the boat and felt like we were on a luxury cruise ship for about one glamorous hour, until the sun went down and the “luxury cruise” atmosphere was replaced by a less pleasant “outdated overbooked hotel” atmosphere.
We arrived in Bastia at around midnight, and after spending a total of seven hours at a hostel, we got on a train to Ajaccio, a city on the opposite side of the small island. From there we took a pretty quick (but confusing) bus to Petreto-Bischiano, where our WWOOF farm was. The only remaining obstacle was to borrow a phone and call our host to come and retrieve us. The first person I approached responded with what I’m pretty sure was “You’re crazy,” and an unsympathetic eye roll. Our second attempt to borrow a phone was a success and Heidi, our host, picked us up in her VW ten minutes later.
Our actual stay on Corsica was, by comparison to getting there, rather uneventful. We WWOOFed for a family with three small blond kids, their mom Danish and their dad French. (The kids spoke French but were all learning Danish from their summer au pair, Fie.) The family had a personal-use vegetable garden and a fig and olive orchard (which we spent hours watering each evening according to a meticulous schedule), and several bungalows that they rented to tourists. The work we did was pretty minimal and extremely flexible, which we loved. Heidi gave us a prioritized list of tasks upon our arrival and the instructions to get the work done and make ourselves at home. And that was that.
Matt and I had a little room in the back of the house, and we were thrilled to be living indoors for a while. We spent our abundant free time exploring the small village, relaxing by our host’s natural swimming pool, and eating as many figs as possible from the enormous trees in the yard. Twice we were able to hike up Monte San Petru, the nearby mountain that looked down on the village from 1400 meters.
This farm was, until that point, the most “normal” lifestyle we’ve experienced since being abroad. (By which I mean the most like our homes in the US.) This was a family doing regular household things, eating meat with meals and stocking the fridge with Cokes and the pantry with snacks, getting kids in the bath and in bed and to school, feeding the dog, etc. Just like home. (Though at home, you probably won’t find many three year olds eating pate, bilingual six year olds or pre-dinner charcuterie, but still.)
Getting off the island was somewhat easier, though still far from simple. The ride to Ajaccio that Heidi arranged for us forgot to pick us up, but we were able to hitchhike with an amateur sky diver (had he not informed us of this pastime, I think we could have discerned it from the nature of his driving). We took the train back across the island and took an overnight ferry to Livorno, Italy. Next stop: wine country.
Dates on the island: Aug. 24 – Sept. 10
Written: Oct. 2